With time on my hands, and my future on hold, it is the past that occupies my thoughts. Old decisions, and new regrets, haunt me, compelling me to embark on a solemn pilgrimage to the site of what may have been one of my greatest mistakes…..
-From the personal logs of Captain James T. Kirk
With the two books that chronicled the past of Khan Noonien Singh chronicled in The Eugenics Wars, the reader was left with one more major portion of Khan’s life left untold-the time spent between the episode of “Space Seed”, and the coming of the U. S. S. Reliant in “The Wrath of Khan”. Well, the author of those books has written the untold story of Khan’s exile on Ceti Alpha Five. To Reign in Hell is a very appropriate title, given Khan’s classical leanings (and more so given how the exile turned out).
This story, like that in The Eugenics Wars, has a framing story, taking place between the movies “The Voyage Home” and “The Final Frontier”. While Mr. Scott is busy making sure that the U. S. S. Enterprise-A is ready for space flight, Kirk, McCoy, Spock and Sulu head for Ceti Alpha V to see if they can piece together just what exactly happened on this world that Captain Kirk marooned Khan and his followers on after their encounter in “Space Seed”. Kirk wonders if he could have predicted what disasters would befall the doomed world of Ceti Alpha VI, and hopes to discover what drove Khan to his single-minded quest to see Kirk dead. Fortunately, Khan has more than enough ego to record a journal for posterity.
When Khan and his followers-including Starfleet Lieutenant Marla McGivers, who had fallen in love with him-are marooned on Ceti Alpha V, he envisions building a new empire. Even though Khan’s people have only rudimentary equipment (by Trek standards, anyway), he believes it’s only a matter of time before he successfully builds what he calls a superior society. Of course, there’s a number of tiny issues that might interfere-such as the fact that some of his followers are thinking that Khan’s time as a leader is past, or the fact that some of them think that McGivers doesn’t belong with the rest of them, or the fact that the planet has a few predators that even genetically enhanced humans can’t withstand-including the infamous Ceti eels.
And all that is before Ceti Alpha VI explodes….
When I picked up this book, I had high expectations; that’s what Greg Cox gets for doing such a good job with the first two books chronicling the rise and fall of Khan back in the 20th century. With To Reign In Hell, I’d say that Cox does a good job in meeting those expectations. There’s a good supporting cast involved-such as Joaquin Weiss, who doesn’t speak much, but is very much a constant presence by Khan’s side; Zuleika Walker, who quickly makes it clear she isn’t fond of Khan’s choice of girlfriends, and Harulf Ericsson, who thinks that he would very much be the best leader for a new world.
The real gems, though, are Marla McGivers and Khan himself. Marla is faced with a hostile group of super-humans, but is sustained by her love for Khan-a love that he returns; she proves herself to Khan to be a “superior woman”, even though she isn’t genetically gifted (well, not designed, anyway). That isn’t to say that there aren’t some significant bumps. She also demonstrates that her sense of ethics is still strong enough to make choices that she feels are right-even in the face of the wrath of Khan. As far as Khan himself…well, would you believe I was actually rooting for him? Okay, that might be putting it a little too far, but the challenge of taming Ceti Alpha V was something he was certainly rising to. And although he maintains the harsh discipline he was known for, one has to admire how he was able to get his people to the point where they might have thrived-if not for that inconvenient explosion. I did also find it rather interesting that on a number of occasions, Khan would wonder just when Kirk or Starfleet was going to look in on them to see what was going on; as time goes on, the silence from the stars has an effect on Khan, and it isn’t nice.
When Ceti Alpha VI explodes, things start going downhill; a large number of conflicts start reaching their climax, with both man versus man, man versus nature, and perhaps man versus himself.
As far as the framing story goes…naaah, we don’t really care too much about that, do we? It’s a means to an end. I will concede, however, that Cox does a credible job on explaining a few of the little details you’d think would’ve been accounted for in “The Wrath of Khan” (such as, how the heck to you mislay an entire planet on a scouting mission). All the same, To Reign In Hell is all about Khan, and is a fitting conclusion to his story and his legacy in Star Trek. Fans of Khan and original series aficionados would do well to pick up this book.