TOS: The Captain’s Oath

Star Trek The Captain's Oath cover

Cover by Stephan Martiniere

Star Trek: The Original Series — The Captain’s Oath

The saga of James T. Kirk’s historic command of the U.S.S. Enterprise is known throughout the galaxy. But one part of the legend has barely been touched upon until now: the story of Kirk’s first starship command and the remarkable achievements by which Starfleet’s youngest captain earned the right to succeed Christopher Pike as the commander of the famous Enterprise.

From his early battles with the Klingons to the rescue of endangered civilizations, Kirk grapples with difficult questions: Is he a warrior or a peacemaker? Should he obey regulations or trust his instincts? This thrilling novel illustrates the events and choices that would shape James T. Kirk into one of the most renowned captains in Starfleet history.

  • “Bennett does not disappoint. Inspired by real-world events, current scientific speculation, and a hefty dose of social allegory, “The Captain’s Oath” weaves adventurous wanderings with new alien life forms, interesting extrapolations of planetary environment theory, and a strong, passionate commentary on the challenges and perspectives that surround extending welcome to those who have lost everything.” — Robert Lyons, Treksphere
  • ” Bennett… is almost certainly the best Star Trek novelist at deploying real science in a way that works with the Star Trek mythos, and he has such a solid command of the Star Trek canon that his books always feel totally grounded in the Star Trek universe.” — Alex Perry, TrekCore
  • “If you’re a fan of Kirk, you’ll love this.” — TrekToday

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The Captain’s Oath is my first Star Trek novel in over a year and a half, due to an extended delay in the renewal of Pocket/Gallery Books’ license to publish Star Trek fiction. It was a very lean time for me financially, although I managed to publish a collection of my original short fiction and a new trilogy of Hub stories in the interim. When the renewal finally came through, editors Ed Schlesinger and Margaret Clark asked me to pitch a “major” story in the TOS era — something more than just a routine adventure, but in the time frame of the 5-year mission, since that’s the perennial best seller. And I needed to come up with it fast, to make up for the delay. I was stymied at first — how could I tell a “major” story within the episodic context of the 5-year mission, where everything had to reset to normal at the end?

But I remembered an idea I’d had a few years before as a potential pitch for the Star Trek e-novella line, to tell a new version of Kirk’s first mission as captain of the Enterprise. There are at least eight different prose and comics versions of the end of the TOS 5-year mission, including the version I first alluded to in Ex Machina and depicted in Department of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History. (The others include the novel The Lost Years, DC’s “The Final Voyage” (Vol.1 Ann. 2), DC’s “Star-Crossed, Part 3” (Vol. 2 #75), “Empty” in Strange New Worlds 10, the Crucible novel trilogy, IDW Comics’ Mission’s End miniseries, and David A. Goodman’s The Autobiography of James T. Kirk.) Yet versions of Kirk’s first mission as Enterprise captain are rarer. The main ones were both more than 30 years ago — DC Comics’ first ST annual “All Those Years Ago…” by Mike W. Barr and Enterprise: The First Adventure by Vonda N. McIntyre. More recently, there’s been hardly anything — a few stories set near the start of Kirk’s ENT tenure (such as Mere Anarchy Book 1 and the flashback opening of Mission’s End) and a brief flashback to the change of command in one of John Byrne’s IDW photo comics. And of course it was covered in The Autobiography of James T. Kirk. But I felt it was high time that the Pocket novel continuity got a new version of that first mission.

However, I was more interested in exploring Kirk’s previous command, which was mentioned in The Making of Star Trek back in 1968 and alluded to in passing in the second TOS pilot, but has hardly ever been addressed in the tie-ins. A few stories have given brief glimpses of the beginning or end of Kirk’s first command — it was the Saladin in “All Those Years Ago…,” the Lydia Sutherland in Enterprise: The First Adventure, the Oxford in DC’s “Star-Crossed, Part 2,” and the Hotspur in Goodman’s Autobiography (which I hadn’t yet read at the time I conceived of this idea or plotted the novel). But it’s still largely a blank slate, so naturally I was drawn to it. Goodman’s book is the only one I’ve seen that shows any actual missions of that ship, though it only portrays a couple of them, mostly versions of events we already know from Kirk’s past, like the Dimorus incident mentioned in the second pilot. I was more interested in exploring things we didn’t already know about Kirk’s early career and how it shaped him into the captain we knew.

Back when I was considering doing one or the other of these as a novella pitch, I couldn’t decide between them or settle on a specific plot that would make it worthwhile, so the idea languished. But now I was being asked to pitch a “major” story in the TOS timeframe, and I realized that in a novel-length format, I could do both stories, with Kirk’s Enterprise debut as a frame for an episodic novel chronicling a number of different missions and adventures of the fledgling Captain Kirk and his “forgotten” ship and crew. That pitch was enough to get me a contract, and I then assembled the plot specifics from various unused TOS story concepts, including several I was developing for the Star Trek Adventures role-playing game.

Purely by accident, I seem to have worked my way backward through Kirk-era milestones: the first mission post-TMP in Ex Machina, the end of the 5-year mission in Forgotten History, the transition between TOS and TAS in The Face of the Unknown, and now Kirk’s first mission as captain of the Enterprise as well as his previous command. So I’ve now bracketed the entire 5-year mission, chronicling both its beginning and its end as well as significant portions of what came before and after it in Kirk’s career.

Filling in the unexplored gap in a Star Trek captain’s life before the Enterprise is also something I’ve done before with Captain Picard in The Buried Age, which is why I’m pleased that that book’s cover artist, Stephan Martiniere, has returned to do this one as well. It’s a neat-looking cover that reminds me of the vintage Bantam Trek novel covers from the ’70s, with the Enterprise streaking past a vast, mysterious construct in space.

This is my first full Star Trek novel in trade paperback; all my previous Trek TPB appearances have been in multi-author anthologies and collections. (My original books are all available in TPB form, though Only Superhuman was originally a hardcover.) But it seems that mass-market paperbacks are a dying breed; their place in the market has been largely supplanted by e-books. But I like the larger size. It makes it feel more prestigious and hefty. And I get a bigger royalty for each copy sold, which hopefully improves my chances of earning out my advance on the novel (something that, to date, I’ve only done with Only Superhuman).

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