Star Trek Captain’s Table: Once Burned
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Pocket Books
I am a huge fan of Peter David. Peter (or PAD as he’s affectionately known by his fans) is a prolific writer, not only for his novels but comic books too, with a run on The Incredible Hulk lasting nearly 2 decades.
Once Burned is not only a chapter in The Captain’s Table sequence of Star Trek books but also part of David’s fantastic New Frontier series but to the writers credit its an amazing stand-alone Star Trek adventure. It was in the previously mentioned Star Trek New Frontier series that we meet one of PADs greatest creations: Captain Mackenzie Calhoun of the Federation Starship Excalibur.
Once Burned is an amazing character study disguised as an action-adventure novel, written in the first person from Calhoun’s unique perspective. There are parts that will move you, parts that will shock you and with Davids trademark humour, parts that will make you laugh out loud. There’s a moment involving Jellico from Star Trek: The Next Generation’s ‘Chain of Command’ getting punched and I actually said: “About Time!”
Calhoun was a character unlike any we’ve seen in Trek before, rash, reckless and fearless with an ego the size of a runabout and a fierce determination to do what’s right. New Frontier established that something in Calhouns past has haunted him forever since we find out his story in Once Burned. Set six years before the first New Frontier adventure during Calhoun’s previous posting on the USS Grissom as he explains to the patrons of The Captains Table the greatest tragedy of his life.
There’s action, romance, intrigue and war. I guarantee you’ll be surprised by the twists in the story.
Revenge is clearly another big theme in Once Burned. One of the major points of the story involves members of the Captain of the Grissom’s family being killed, not in an accident but in a shockingly barbaric way. As a father myself, it was in very upsetting and it was easy to empathize with the Captain’s plight. The way PAD wrote Captain Kenyon’s grief and the struggles he faces in trying to captain a Starship in the aftermath of his family’s murder was gripping. You’d think the question of ‘Would you want to hurt the people responsible for hurting your family’ would be simple to answer, Once Burned adds to that question: What if you were a Starfleet Captain faced with this horrific situation?
You’ll really feel for the characters, want the crew to do well and for there problems and fears to be resolved. The characters didn’t feel like flat characters in a book, they felt real to me, I couldn’t put it down.
What’s amazing is that the book achieves so much without using any (barring a couple of cameos) established Star Trek characters and you can enjoy it as a standalone adventure.
The real winner for me was PAD’s writing, the speed in which the story moves and the amazing characterization of Calhoun. A lot of people say his greatest Trek work is Imzadi (I can see why it’s brilliant) but for me, it’s Once Burned. it moves lightning fast and doesn’t let up from start to finish. It’s a rare book that keeps me reading till the early hours! A Trek page-turner if there ever was one.
Star Trek The Captains Table: Once Burned is not just one of my favourite Star Trek novels but probably one of my favourite stories ever. In any medium. Star Trek has always been about asking questions of us and what it means to be human, this book challenged me in a way I didn’t expect from a Trek novel. I highly recommended Once Burned and the whole New Frontier series actually.
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