With a new Star Trek series will also come new books set in and around the new series. Several Trek regular authors are up to the task of telling some fascinating stories, mostly surrounding the characters we (at least those of us who watch) see on the show. So far, Fear Itself is the third installment of the new Discovery novels, and it focuses on a character that, up until now, I have not really cared for, namely the Kelpien officer, Saru. So before I get any feathers ruffled and generate a bunch of hate mail, or whatever kind of trolling anyone has in mind, just let me say that I personally did not like the character. That is not to say that Saru is not well written, or that the actor, Doug Jones, doesn’t do a great job portraying him, but Saru just makes me nervous.
The events of Fear Itself take place about four years before the premier of Discovery. Philippa Georgiou is the captain of the U.S.S. Shenzhou, and Saru is a lieutenant aboard that ship, along with Michael Burnham, also a lieutenant.
When the Shenzhou detects a damaged ship in a sector that is between space claimed by the Tholians and the Peliar, they send hails to see if the damaged vessel is in need of assistance. When there is no response, Captain Georgiou takes it upon herself to lead the Shenzhou on a mission to offer aid, if needed. An away team is formed that includes Saru. After the Peliar ship is stabilized, Saru discovers that the cargo hold of the ship contains many Gorlans that are living in primitive conditions. When Saru makes contact with the Gorlans, they tell him that they are living as they choose and the Peliar also try to convince him that they are only refugees and are being relocated to another planet. Saru senses that what he is hearing from both parties may not be completely true and begins to investigate. What Saru finds is that things are not all what they seem, nor what he has been told. When the commander of his away mission is incapacitated, he is forced to take command of the away team aboard the Peliar ship and he finds himself forced into making several very difficult decisions. Will he be up to the task or will his natural tendency toward caution get in the way?
As mentioned before, Saru is a Kelpien, a race of humanoids from a planet that has a binary food-chain system, in other words, the inhabitants are predators or prey. Kelpiens are the latter, they are the prey on their planet, and nearly every other species are predators. Saru tells about his race even being hunted, bred, and farmed as livestock. According to Saru, Kelpiens live in a constant state of danger beginning at birth. It is their nature to avoid situations that are risky or dangerous which has earned them the reputation of being cowardly. Kelipens have threat-ganglia that present themselves when danger is perceived. When a Kelpien is faced with a new situation, they automatically assume it is dangerous and that they are under attack until they are not. They would seem not to have the fight-or-flight response to dangerous situations, rather, it is their nature to take flight in any case.
In this story, it would seem that Saru is very concerned with trying to learn how to conquer his fear, but not having a great deal of success. He has a holographic device in his quarters that projects threats to him in different forms and he tries to cope with them. Like many of us who are fearful of things, Saru works to conquer that fears. A person who is afraid of flying might go to therapy, take some sort of medication, or perhaps just force themselves to get on a plane and deal with it. Or one might just take the bus or drive instead and not ever get near a plane. Saru has many fears to deal with in Fear Itself. There is the fear of going into an unknown situation full of unknown people. He also fears that everything he is trying to do might go wrong and someone he cares about, or a crewmate might be hurt or killed. Keep in mind that fear is part of the character’s nature.
It is difficult for one to go against one’s nature. We all have certain propensities that, no matter how hard we try, we just cannot seem to change. In the case of Saru, he temporarily loses the confidence of the away team when the leader is incapacitated and Saru, being the most senior officer, finds himself in command. While there are several themes running through the book, Saru’s fear and how he deals with it is the strongest theme. Most of the way through the book he is constantly trying to conquer his fear and behave as a Starfleet officer should, or at least how he sees most of them behave as they perform their duties. Just when it looks like everything is going to go to pieces, a young female Gorlan tells Saru that instead of trying to deny fear, that he should embrace it and use it to help him solve the problems. This is a huge turning point in the story for the main Character. By taking that advice and using his fear as an advantage, he is able to get things under control and carry forward to the eventual resolution of numerous problems. Bravo to the author for this plot point instead of taking the easy way out and making Saru temporarily fearless.
It is pretty plain to me that James Swallow had to give a lot of thought to this story and it’s telling. Thanks to him, I have a better understanding of the character from the television series and a better appreciation of the behaviors and attitudes that Saru displays on the television show.
Now the question is whether I like Saru any better than I did before I read the book? Well, I am sorry to disappoint you, but I am not going to answer that. However I will say that I liked the growth of the character in this book which made it a fun read. I recommend this book along with the other character studies that have been penned in this new Discovery line of novels.
Well, there it is…