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1960s TV being what it was, Star Trek’s original series spent little time on backstory. One of the few things we learned about Captain Kirk’s childhood was his brief stint on the colony planet Tarsus IV, where an unexpected famine led to a brutal massacre.
Tarsus IV originated in the 1966 episode “The Conscience of the King,” in which Kirk confronts his memories of the colony. During his time on Tarsus, an exotic fungus destroyed their food supply, leading the governor to deliver a grotesque solution. Governor Kodos ordered the execution of 4,000 civilians, chosen using a twisted, eugenicist vision of “survival of the fittest.”
Prolific Star Trek novelist Dayton Ward revisits Tarsus IV in Drastic Measures, tying into Star Trek: Discovery. Set 10 years before the show, it sees Gabriel Lorca and Philippa Georgiou join Starfleet’s relief effort on the colony, with Lorca investigating Kodos while Georgiou assists the traumatized civilians. It’s our first look at what the “real” Lorca was like, and it’s interesting to see how he compares to the Mirror Universe imposter we know and love. You can see the similarities in their determination and efficient combat skills, but without Jason Isaacs’ performance and the Mirror version’s manipulative side, the original Lorca is (dare I say it) nowhere near as fun. Georgiou’s role is more welcome, showing how this competent and compassionate officer matured into the captain we met in Discovery.
Tarsus played a pretty minor role in the Original Series, but it looms large in the fandom’s imagination. Specifically, it appears in a lot of James Kirk fanfic. As a defining moment in his childhood, it sets Kirk apart as a man who experienced trauma at an early age, yet grew up to embrace an optimistic outlook.
Ordinarily, I’d avoid making comparisons between fanfic and official tie-in material. The topic is kind of a minefield, with some fans arguing that the only difference is the novelist’s paycheck, while others point out that fanfic is the product of a specific subculture. To my mind, they’re different genres serving different purposes. Tie-in novels offer new insight into unseen moments in canon, while fanfic typically focuses on fixing canonical problems, exploring relationships, and messing around with total freedom to experiment. In the case of Tarsus IV, many fans have written novel-length works involving the emotional fallout of the massacre—and if that’s what you’re expecting from Drastic Measures, you may be disappointed.
Drastic Measures follows a similar tone to The Next Generation, emphasizing Starfleet procedure over emotional depth. It’s primarily about the logistics of the relief effort, and it sometimes feels like the main characters aren’t reacting enough to the disaster around them. There’s also a certain hint of writing to meet a word count, padding the story with unnecessarily detailed descriptions.
Politically, Drastic Measures adds a contemporary update on the circumstances behind the massacre. The general idea is the same, but while the Original Series highlighted Kodos’ role as a eugenicist, the book introduces a secondary theme of immigration in a secluded community. This time around, Tarsus IV is home to two populations: the original settlers and a group of new arrivals who relocated after their own planet succumbed to a natural disaster. Many citizens believe the crop-killing fungus arrived with the migrants, and thanks to the increase in population, there’s less food to go around when the famine hits. On top of the disaster relief and the hunt for Kodos, Starfleet must also deal with these political tensions, creating a classic struggle between utopian Federation values and human fallibility.
Compared to what we saw from Burnham and Saru in the first Star Trek: Discovery novel Desperate Hours, Drastic Measures isn’t quite as satisfying. It’s a perfectly serviceable depiction of Starfleet characters working hard against difficult odds, and if you’re interested in seeing more of Lorca and Georgiou, it’s worth picking up. But as a Tarsus IV story, it felt a little too clinical in tone for such an intense scenario.
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor