The Prime Directive is under pressure in James Swallows The Latter Fire. The Enterprise is on its way to Syhaar Prime to meet with a species that has made remarkable technological advances since their first forays into space and their first contact with the Federation. Now they are seeking membership in the United Federation of Planets, so Kirk and his crew are transporting a diplomatic delegation to assess their application. Everyone is astounded at their advancements since a mere year earlier, first contact was initiated when the Enterprise came across a badly damaged Syhaar starship.
The Syhaar advancements are so unusual that Xuur, the head of the diplomatic delegation, is suspicious that the Enterprise shared technology with the Syhaar when they helped the crippled ship. Kirk and his crew know they didn’t and are mystified by the Syhaar’s new technology. The Syhaar aren’t interested in sharing information about their new technology and refuse to allow the Enterprise to scan their facilities or see them in person. This unwillingness to explain their unusual advancements leaves everyone in the Federation party uneasy and suspicious.
At first it appears that the species attacking them is a living asteroid, something along the lines of a gigantic Horta. The creature is massive and powerful drawing on it’s natural dilithium deposits to move through space and create devastating electrical charges that make short work of the Syhaar’s defensive patrol ships trying to stop it as it enters their solar system. Upon closer investigation, the Enterprise crew finds an insectoid race controlling the beast. They have brought it to the Syhaar system to exact revenge on the Syhaar for murder and theft. The Prime Directive puts the Enterprise in an awkward position between the two groups and it’s up Kirk and his crew to sort the whole thing out before the leviathan reaches Syhaar Prime.
The story asks good questions about cultural differences and whether an entire group should be blamed for the actions of one of its members. Broader issues of technology and when and how it’s used are also explored. Even animal rights are loosely addressed. There is political intrigue, action aplenty, Kirk flirting and fighting, and Spock and Uhura working together to solve a complex problem. This is everything you want a Star Trek book to be and James Swallow knows how to give his readers what they want. Check it out and let us know what you think.