Greg Bear’s Star Trek novel offered advanced tech and threats

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 30: General view of the Starship Enterprise inside the Star Trek: The Star Fleet Academy Experience at Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum on June 30, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 30: General view of the Starship Enterprise inside the Star Trek: The Star Fleet Academy Experience at Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum on June 30, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage) /

Corona is the only Star Trek novel by the late science fiction author Greg Bear.

When science fiction author Greg Bear died in November 2022, his colleagues and fans remembered him for not only his prolific output but also “his kindness and generosity.” A full-time professional writer since 1975, Bear wrote more than 50 books, including several “whose importance to the realm of Hard SF”—science fiction rich in real or carefully extrapolated scientific detail—“…would be hard to overrate,” according to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Greg Bear won five multiple awards, including five Nebulas; helped found San Diego Comic-Con; and served as both Vice President and President of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA).

Many Star Trek fans who enjoy other science fiction have no doubt read Bear’s most famous and significant novels—Blood Music, Eon, The Forge of God, and Darwin’s Radio among them. But they may also remember Bear for his sole Star Trek novel, published a few years into Pocket Books’ tenure as the franchise’s fiction licensee: Corona (1984).

Corona was not Greg Bear’s first connection with Star Trek books. As Bear notes in his acknowledgments, he helped illustrate the first edition of Dorothy J. Heydt and Bjo Trimble’s famous Star Trek Concordance. In Star Trek: Voyages of Imagination, Bear told Jeff Ayers he wrote Corona in about 90 days, using his first computer, and been given “the freedom to write the novel pretty much the way I wanted” (p. 51).

Greg Bear aspired to hard SF in a Star Trek setting with Corona

Starfleet dispatches the Enterprise to investigate a decade-old but only recently received distress signal from a Vulcan science team aboard a research station in a far-off nebula. On board to observe the mission is Rowena Mason, journalist from the human mining colony on Yalbo. Greg Bear plays up Starfleet’s paramilitary aspects—the ranks, the protocol—to show her being out of her comfort zone.

She is also uncomfortable with aliens. Mason was raised with decidedly parochial views about non-humans. She tells Uhura at one point, “I don’t have anything against other species, but I do believe humans are important.” “Important, yes,” Uhura responds. “More important, no” (p. 54). It’s no spoiler to say Mason’s prejudice eases as she interacts with the Enterprise crew. Her progress is one aspect of the novel that feels most familiar to Star Trek.

Other aspects of Bear’s story seem less familiar. For instance, Bear introduces a new species known as the Kshatriyans. New alien species are common in Star Trek tales, of course, but the Kshatriyans are spoken of as casually and in the same breath as the Romulans, as though readers are expected to know about this galactic political and military power. At first I thought “Kshatryian” might be a name Bear invented for the Klingons, as Diane Duane invented the name “Rihannsu” for the Romulans. As it turns out, the word is the actual name of the Hindu caste “traditionally assigned to governing and military occupations.” How odd of Bear to take this name to designate aliens of his own invention, especially when the only representative of the species we meet, however briefly, is described by Kirk as “a devious son of a bitch” (pp. 45-46).

More impressively, the threat Bear invents for our heroes to face feels “higher concept” than most Star Trek threats. Corona, for whom the novel is named, is an extremely advanced sentient force that flourished in the first few moments of the universe’s existence. It has taken control of the Vulcan scientists in hopes of recreating the conditions of being most favorable to it. Star Trek does not lack for ancient alien intelligences capable of controlling our characters. But Corona as a threat benefits from Bear’s penchant for hard SF. He conveys the magnitude and radical otherness of this sentience in ways no camera work or visual special effects can.

Bear also gives us a more advanced Enterprise than the one we saw in the original series. Bear’s Enterprise has its own dedicated computer officer, Jan Veblen, who oversees a new initiative known as the Monitors: the disembodied experiences of six Starfleet captains, “staring over [Kirk’s] shoulder, offering friendly advice” (p. 42). The Monitors are an intriguing concept—discredited by the novel’s end, of course, as broad continuity with the franchise demands. Yet in its own way, Bear’s Monitors anticipate the introduction of Hologram Janeway in Star Trek: Prodigy.

Corona is an entertaining and fast-moving novel in which Greg Bear wove both familiar and new characters, as well as fascinating extrapolations of established Federation technology, into a high-stakes adventure that reaches toward the higher limits of science fiction as a genre. While it won’t and shouldn’t be the book for which Greg Bear is most remembered, it clearly shows off his scientific, philosophical, and storytelling talents. Star Trek fans are fortunate to have it.

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