To Reign In Hell told the secret history of Khan on Ceti Alpha V

Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban on the set of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, directed by Nicholas Meyer. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban on the set of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, directed by Nicholas Meyer. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images) /

To Reign In Hell told the story of Khan’s years on Ceti Alpha V.

Last month during Star Trek Day 2022, Nicholas Meyer announced a Star Trek: Khan podcast. The audio drama will be the first official Star Trek production to tell us of what Khan and his followers faced on Ceti Alpha V in the years between “Space Seed” and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

But many fans have heard—more accurately, have read—officially licensed versions of the story before. In 2010, IDW published a four-part comic book miniseries entitled Khan: Ruling in Hell. But five years earlier, Pocket Books had beaten IDW to the punch with a novel by prolific Star Trek and other media tie-in author Greg Cox, titled To Reign In Hell: The Exile of Khan Noonien Singh.

First published in hardback in 2005, To Reign In Hell saw a mass market paperback printing in 2006. Both editions are now out of print. Both are also scarcer and more expensive on the secondhand market than one might expect—testament to Cox’s skillful storytelling, and to the enduring popularity of Khan Noonien Singh.

To Reign In Hell completed Greg Cox’s three-novel “biography” of Khan.

In all but name, To Reign In Hell is the third volume in a Khan-centric trilogy by Greg Cox. In the two volumes of The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh (published in 2001 and 2002), Cox entertainingly situated the Eugenics Wars—described in “Space Seed” as Earth’s “last so-called ‘World War’”—in and around real-world historical events.

To Reign In Hell has a subtitle and cover art resembling the earlier two volumes. It occasionally makes explicit callbacks to incidents in them. Readers unfamiliar with Cox’s Eugenics Wars books may find these callbacks awkward and distracting (“Khan had witnessed many disasters in his time, including the 1984 chemical accident at Bhopal….,” p. 225). But they do help knit the three books together into a complete biography of Khan. They would make an impressive omnibus reprint edition.

Working within the narrative beats Star Trek II mandates, Cox spins a compelling yarn. For example, even though readers know Ceti Alpha VI must explode, reading about the cataclysm is far different from simply hearing about it in a few lines of movie dialogue. The ecological destruction Cox wreaks approaches horrific levels.

Reading about Khan’s increasingly tested resolve to lead his people through catastrophe renders him a less exaggerated and more sympathetic presence than he is in Star Trek II. Navigating the character development difference between “Space Seed” and its sequel must have been no easy feat. At times, Cox relies too heavily on Khan’s penchant for quoting classic literature and making dramatic speeches, even in his own thoughts (“What cruel fate, he lamented, decrees that the women closest to me be immolated upon the flames of destiny?,” p. 121). Those devices don’t work as well in print as on screen. But overall, Cox admirably moves Khan along the line between its two endpoints. (He generally evokes Ricardo Montalban’s “exceptionally rich, sonorous voice” and cadences quite nicely, too.)

Cox also manages to give dignity and depth to Marla McGivers she lacks in “Space Seed.” Her swooning devotion to Khan is too established an aspect of her character to be entirely absent. But Cox also shows McGivers as a scientist and teacher as well as a historian, and elevates depicts her as an active leader among the Botany Bay exiles, despite their initial resentment of her. Of course, some of the superhumans never accept her, a dynamic that plays into the civil war between Khan and Harulf Ericsson (a clever riff on Khan’s name in writer Cary Wilber’s original “Space Seed” proposal) that is the book’s dramatic conclusion. Cox admirably brings McGivers, a cringeworthy character born of 1960s sexist stereotypes, as close to being a strong female lead as she can be without changing her completely.

Cox gives Khan’s story a “framing” story set in between Star Trek IV and Star Trek V. Captain Kirk returns to Ceti Alpha V to find the truth about Khan’s time and there, and to exorcize the doubt and guilt he has been feeling since Khan’s wrathful return. Apart from the time it spends “solving” the perennial imponderables of how Khan recognized Chekov and why the Reliant crew didn’t realize one of Ceti Alpha’s planets was missing, this framing story is entertaining, and in some ways more exciting than the main story because readers do not already know how it will end. It could have been developed into a longer and richer story all its own, had Cox chosen to do so.

As it stands, To Reign In Hell is a fast-paced, clever, satisfying novel. However much or little Nicholas Meyers’ impending podcast aligns with it, it will continue to stand on its own as a rich exploration of the character who is arguably Star Trek’s most popular and easily its most famous villain.

It ultimately reminds readers why, in “Space Seed,” Kirk and Scotty expressed “a sneaking admiration” for this “best of the tyrants.” And it even suggests that, for all Khan’s resentment of Kirk, the grudging admiration one leader gave another went both ways.

Next. Why Khan’s son was cut from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. dark