As many of you know by now, I'm not a fan of J.J.Abrams Star Trek work. He's a fine popcorn film action director, but I really feel that he doesn't understand what made Star Trek so special to those who've discovered admired it for decades. But I'm not writing this to dump on nuTrek (it was bound to get it's own shorthand label…) but rather to point fans like-minded to myself to a great TOS Star Trek fix.
For many this may be old news, but the Vanguard series [link] of Trek novels (eight books and one e-book exclusive "debrief"), which just wrapped up last year, is the best Trek fiction I've read in a long, long time. It captures the spirit of the show and has developed characters that serve the bigger plot of enigma, exploration, conflict, and cloak-and-dagger diplomacy on the Federation frontier. Feels a lot like the D.C. Fontana approach to Trek stories. The books start about the same time Kirk takes command of the Enterprise and the vast story ends somewhere after TOS' third season.
It's important to note that this story begins and ends with the Enterprise and crew as players, but the bulk of the story follows characters (both Starfleet and civilian) on a state-of-the-art starbase. Think "Deep Space Nine" if you must, but for my money the concept is handled better here and is directed in a tighter, more interesting story arc. The Enterprise's adventures come into play vicariously at several points. This serves to lend a feel that what we're reading is all the action the Enterprise missed and the writers do an excellent job of anchoring it to Trek canon while still creating something fresh. So in that sense it feels like "the missing TOS".
Over the past few decades I haven't read too many Trek novels… mostly because the one's I'd try all seemed too mired in the "Starlequin" formula that was promoted by Marshak and Culbreth back in the late 70's. That is that any SF elements are mostly just backdrops to character drama and angst. The Vanguard series flips that equation on it's head, giving us three-dimensional characters who simply try to exist in the context of the greater story of mystery and action on the final frontier.
A word of advice for those picking up the series for the first time: if you, the best place to start is the novella "Almost Tomorrow" in the Vanguard story collection, "Star Trek Vanguard: Declassified". It's a helpful prequel to the first novel… BUT DO NOT (!!!) read any other stories in this volume until you've completed the fifth book ("Precipice") or you'll hit some serious spoilers.
So to anyone who says that TOS is spent and that the only way to do interesting Trek work in this time is to follow the JJ-Formula™, this novel series definitely proves that assumption wrong. It's good Trek and pretty decent SF… and it's written for a mature audience, so no one gets beamed into the plumbing system for laughs or stranded on a ice planet by a petulant Vulcan captain. Plus there's no "supervillains"… at least not anything remotely human
Good stuff. It'll cure what ails ya! And for added fun you can reference author David Mack's annotations [link] on the web as you go. The downside is that the print volumes can be hard to find now, but if you have an e-reader (like a Kindle) you're good to go.
Now ART! New and cool… or older and cool. But cool's the rule: