The Secret History of the 20th Century
Greg Cox's delightful The Eugenics Wars explains why Earth history as detailed on Star Trek seems different from Earth history as we lived through it from the late 1960s to the end of the last millennium. It's not because the Trek writers guessed wrong, but because most of us have no idea of the influence Gary Seven and his colleagues exerted on global affairs. This hilarious rewriting of current events, which covers most of the period from Watergate to the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Reykjavik, follows the secret agent from "Assignment: Earth," his associate Roberta Lincoln and his mysterious feline Isis as they try to protect humanity from its own self-destructive impulses.
In this case, the efforts of Seven, Lincoln and Isis center on a genetic engineering project called Chrysalis, which will ultimately produce Khan Noonien Singh's crew from "Space Seed" (and later The Wrath of Khan). However, one doesn't need to have seen the episode or the film to enjoy this novel -- in fact, one doesn't even really need to be a Star Trek fan, though numerous references to the series and its characters keep regular viewers entertained. There's enough mystery, intrigue and humor to make this book successful with any reader who enjoys stylized spy novel drama.
The Eugenics Wars begins with a framing story in which Kirk and his crew must negotiate with a colony that practices genetic engineering on humans. This volatile situation inspires the captain to do some research into historical records for the late 20th century, when a group of genetically engineered super-humans attempted a global coup and were secretly launched into space when their efforts failed. The real story opens with Roberta Lincoln in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, wishing she could be more like Emma Peel as she attempts to elude East German psychopaths during a Cold War raid on the Russian Embassy. Her boss, Gary Seven, has recently discovered evidence of a massive genetic engineering project that has recruited the best scientists of a generation, and although Roberta resents his extraterrestrial superiors' meddling in human affairs, she understands enough about the potential hazards to help infiltrate Project Chrysalis.
Chrysalis' attempts to improve the human genome take place in a secret complex beneath India's Great Thar Desert, under the guidance of a brilliant scientist named Sarina Kaur. Unfortunately, Kaur has a megalomaniacal streak to go along with her belief in aristocratic government; as she works to breed a better sort of human, she also tries to develop a flesh-eating streptococcus bacterium to wipe out the billions of lesser men and women cluttering the planet. By tracking the specialized equipment sought by Chrysalis, Gary Seven has developed a pretty good sense of Kaur's plans for world domination. While he follows the lab equipment to its hidden destination, Roberta and Isis infiltrate Chrysalis by posing as a progressive geneticist and her pet cat. Soon they all realize the extent of the threat posed by Chrysalis and its offspring, but Kaur's ruthless ambitions for her son "Noon" and the other selectively bred wunderkind won't easily be deterred, not even by an alien-reared human and a woman who can turn into a cat.
Against this backdrop, the better-known history of last 30 years plays out as expected. In addition to his knowledge of Romulan and Borg genetic experiments, Seven uses dividends from investments into Kodak and cell phone technology to assist his research. Roberta reads Jonathan Livingston Seagull to ward off boredom and compares the Chrysalis cover-up to Watergate. As events unfold, she does some female bonding with marine biologist Gillian Taylor before the latter vanishes into the future along with a pair of whales. Roberta also meets Kathryn Janeway's ancestor Shannon O'Donnell during the engineer's tenure at Area 51, but the circumstances aren't the best, for Roberta has come to retrieve the equipment left behind by Chekov in Alameda.
Numerous Trek characters receive mention alongside Sally Ride, Louise Brown, Michael Crichton and dozens of other familiar names from real life. Young Khan's life is shaped by familiar history as well; anti-Sikh prejudice in Delhi and the disastrous chemical spill in Bhopal have a far greater impact on him than his encounters with a human raised by extraterrestrials. Gary Seven tries to recruit the exceptional young man, but remains concerned that in addition to great strength and intellect, Sarina Kaur endowed her son with unnatural ambition and a lack of empathy for "lesser" humans. This dilemma resonates for Captain Kirk as he studies it in the future, trying to decide whether it's worth admitting to the Federation a group of genetically engineered humans who might otherwise throw in their lot with the Klingons.
Cox writes with great wit and an obvious love of Trek lore, though his greatest accomplishment lies in the way he links together seemingly unconnected 20th century events into a complex conspiracy that makes The X-Files seem unsophisticated. The novel is full of delightful details -- Kaur referring to Gary Seven as 007, Roberta drawing comparisons between the geeks at genetics conferences and science fiction conventions, Isis interfering with a Reagan-Gorbachev photo op, Khan using a chakram to defend himself (the latter being both in character for a Sikh and a clever homage to Xena, Warrior Princess). Cox's historical notes in the afterword set the record straight, offering tidbits about secret tunnels under the Kremlin and secret missions of NASA space shuttles.
At 404 pages, The Eugenics Wars, Volume I makes for a long and satisfying read, though it breaks at an awkward point in the framing story just after Khan has become an adult. I imagine that most of the criticism of this novel will focus on the fact that it costs $25 but leaves the reader hanging in anticipation of the next expensive installment. Still, it's worth it. The larger book format (think Pathways) contains more content than most Trek hardcovers, and this is a book worth reading more than once.
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