Before Star Trek: First Contact established April 5, 2063 as the date of humanity’s first contact with Vulcans, Star Trek fans didn’t have a First Contact Day to celebrate. But nearly a decade earlier, in 1987, we had gotten Strangers from the Sky, a novel revealing how Earth and Vulcan’s first contact really happened.
It was also the second of Pocket Books’ “Giant” Star Trek novels. It more than earns the adjective. Strangers from the Sky is a true Star Trek epic.
How Strangers from the Sky straddles three eras of Star Trek
Strangers from the Sky is almost two novels in one.
The first is a book by the same title which tells how a Vulcan scout ship crash-landed near a South Pacific kelp farm in 2045, two decades before humans officially met Vulcans.
Kelp farmers Tatya and Yoshi take in the two Vulcan survivors, Commander T’Lera and her son, Sorahl. But it isn’t long before United Earth AeroNav officers Captain Jason Nyere and First Officer Melody Sawyer discover the Vulcans’ existence—as do xenophobic terrorists bent on killing the new arrivals.
We don’t get to read the complete “book within the book,” though, because we’re also following Admiral James T. Kirk’s traumatic reactions to this 23rd-century bestseller.
Kirk suffers recurring nightmares in which he interacts with the novel’s historical characters, knowing them in greater detail than he could from the book alone, certain he witnessed and perhaps caused the Vulcans’ deaths. Even stranger? Captain Spock is having nearly identical nightmares.
Through a blend of Starfleet psychology, Aboriginal Dreamtime, and Vulcan mind melding, we learn Kirk, in his earliest days as the Enterprise’s captain, actually was present and involved in the events of 2045.
Kirk, Spock, Gary Mitchell, Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, and Lee Kelso traveled back in time thanks to a mysterious sorcerer-being on a now-it’s-there-now-it-isn’t planet. The second half of Strangers from the Sky (Bonanno’s book) recounts Kirk and company’s long-forgotten efforts to save the stranded Vulcans’ lives and their own future.
Why Strangers from the Sky still rates respect
Strangers from the Sky is a complicated novel. Rereading the book for Tor.com in 2012, Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer criticized its “convoluted and squid-like mass of plots.”
Still, there’s lots to love about Strangers in the Sky.
I give it huge points for sheer audacity. Pocket Books published a lot of great Star Trek fiction, but no one before Bonanno tried to wrangle the whole 23rd-century timeline, from the second pilot episode to the movie era, into one story—let alone invent “future history” for the 21st century, too. The book’s concept is beautiful even if its execution occasionally falters.
Bonanno also adroitly handles existing characters while creating memorable ones of her own, something Pocket and Paramount used to give authors much freer rein to do. Her choice to bring back and expand our familiarity with crew from “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is inspired. Her two Vulcan castaways are compelling. And Melody Sawyer, torn between fascination with the Vulcans and her duty to a still fragile United Earth, is believable, sympathetic, and often quite amusing.
Finally, Strangers from the Sky resoundingly reaffirms the optimism and hope at the heart of Star Trek. Kirk and Spock defy the odds to ensure a future in which Earth is not isolated and afraid, but lives by the belief that we are all stronger together, understanding and accepting each other in our infinite differences.
Strangers from the Sky doesn’t line up with current Star Trek continuity. But on this First Contact Day, it’s still a first contact story worth reading!
You can also listen to George Takei and Leonard Nimoy perform a severely abridged version of the book on YouTube: