This article has been gracefully contributed by Star Trek Adventures Canon Editor Scott Pearson. I asked him the question and he really came through with a great answer.
With each new addition to Star Trek, from the J. J. Abrams films through Discovery and Picard, as well as Star Trek Adventures, a new wave of fans joins the fold. As they dig into the franchise online, a lot of these fans realize for the first time that there are Trek tie-in novels.
Lots of them. Hundreds of them.
With some time spent referencing fan sites like Memory Beta, newcomers to tie-ins can break down five decades of books into manageable chunks tailored to their developing interests.
A common refrain among these wide-eyed converts is “Where do I start?” For most people, simply kicking off with 1968’s Mission to Horatius and charging forward through five decades of publishing seems an insurmountable goal. What follows are some general strategies for narrowing down where to begin.
Start with your favorite series. If you love the Abrams movies, there are four YA titles set at Starfleet Academy before the films, novelizations of the first two films, and two novels set after the first film. If it’s Discovery, only a handful of tie-ins have been published so far, so you’ve got it easy. If it’s Picard, only one tie-in novel is out at the time of this writing, but, of course, there are all the Next Generation novels that came before. But once you’ve breezed through the recent additions to the franchise, you’re back to staring at a wall of books. Even if you focus on a favorite older series, you might still be facing more than a hundred titles. So next let’s talk about one-offs, miniseries, and internovel continuity.
Prior to the late 1990s, roughly speaking, most Trek novels were standalones with little reference to any other novel—much like how an episode of The Original Series almost never referenced the events of a different episode. Obvious exceptions were the occasional miniseries (tied to a single TV show) or crossover series that spanned multiple shows. If you’re looking for one-offs that you can mix and match without thinking about events outside that book, that’s the era of publishing you’re looking for, regardless of which show of the time is your favorite flavor.
If you want longer, more complex stories that play out across a longer time period or across multiple shows, grab a self-contained miniseries of the period.
“Quadrant-shaking plots and intranovel continuity does not mean that you have to read this era of books in a specific order.”
Increasingly in the late 1990s—with Next Generation on the silver screen and Deep Space Nine finishing its own TV run—even standalones started referencing events in other novels. Without having to worry about canon conflicts with forthcoming episodes, the editors and authors wove a broader tapestry in print across the shows set in the twenty-fourth century. (The Original Series novels are still primarily one-offs, and the Enterprise novels, while internally serialized, also remain secluded from significant intranovel continuity by their time frame.)
If something big happened during one of the Enterprise-E’s missions in a Next Generation novel, those events could have ramifications on Bajor in the next Deep Space Nine book. And very big stuff happened indeed; since Picard was far from even a glimmer in anyone’s eyes, the fine folks at CBS allowed the novel writers to shake up the status quo across the franchise far beyond what would generally happen on a weekly TV series.
But quadrant-shaking plots and intranovel continuity does not mean that you have to read this era of books in a specific order; the authors always include everything you need to understand the novel in your geeky hands, but there is a bonus accumulative impact when reading the novels of the last couple decades in roughly the order of publication. Even Voyager, once it got back to the Alpha Quadrant, played a part in this internovel continuity.
Maybe you’ll discover that’s your Trek-reading jam. But there are still other strategies. If you love a particular era, like the Original Series, but wonder about adventures beyond Kirk and the gang, you could check out miniseries like Vanguard or its spinoff Seekers, set in that time frame but with different ships, crews, and stations (and some cameos from familiar characters). The Starfleet Corps of Engineers is a Next Generation–era series. Titan shows you what Riker got up to after the Enterprise-E.
The Lost Era books generally fall between the Original Series movies and the beginning of Next Generation on television. Similarly, the Enterprise books push forward from the end of the series and into events referenced in the past of the Original Series, like the Earth-Romulan War.
Or maybe you have a special fondness for Spock or Data . . . a little internet searching will point you to various one-offs or miniseries that focus on those or other characters, where you’ll learn more about their backstories or destinies. William Shatner has a series of Captain Kirk adventures that largely have their own continuity separate from the rest of novels.
If you’re really strapped for time, there are also anthologies of short stories and novellas, focused on individual shows or spanning the franchise. Many still link into the broader continuity of the 2000s, but the Strange New Worlds anthologies are largely independent stories that branch off from the filmed canon in unique ways. The Myriad Universe novellas change key events in Trek history and then take familiar characters down substantially different roads.
Another helpful resource is the Trek Lit-Verse Reading Guide. The Reading Order Flow Chart gives a good visual diagram on the novels.
There are far too many other miniseries and various fan favorites to go into here (not to even mention the comic books!), but with these strategies, and some time spent referencing fan sites like Memory Beta, newcomers to tie-ins can break down five decades of books into manageable chunks tailored to their developing interests across the Star Trek franchise.
—Scott Pearson is the author of a handful of Star Trek stories and novellas, including the Original Series e-book exclusive The More Things Change. Since 2014 he’s been the freelance copyeditor of the Star Trek fiction line at Simon & Schuster, and he’s the canon editor for Star Trek Adventures.
If you look in “Hearts and Minds” by Dayton Ward, you’ll come across an Air Force MSgt by the name of Scott Reu… guess who he is. 😎
For real??? So cool!
Yup, and I felt bad because it took me a year to sit and read it… I apologized it took so long and thanked him for the nod.
FYI, a more up to date version of the Reading Order Flow Chart mentioned, can be found here: https://www.thetrekcollective.com/p/trek-lit-reading-order.html
I wonder if they are going to continue the current storyline after S:TP came through and pretty much wiped out all the ReLaunch storylines.
I don’t see why they wouldn’t. At this point, several major events in the “beta canon” have contradicted or been contradicted by the shows and movies, so it’s fair to state that the continuity of the books exists in a parallel universe to the main canon of the shows.
That’s why the books aren’t considered “canon” to the shows, as even back in the 60s and 70s when TOS was running, the novels were often contradicted by the show itself, which was a trend that continued in all of the other Trek series.
Honestly I find the “canon” of the Pocket Books novels superior to anything Paramount or CBS have come up with in the past 20 years.
But the nice thing about RPGs is we can all draw our own cut-off points from which we branch out.
Another problem is the quality of these novels varies wildly, usually depending on the author. Some read like the author isn’t familiar with the characters, others insert Mary Sues, and some read like really good extended-length episodes!
The more recent books I’ve read have unfortunately been infected with current politics and not in a subtle way, more like a hammer on the reader telling you how to think.