From time to time people tell me that they would like to start reading Star Trek books and are looking for recommendations what would be a good one to start with. Just a couple of days ago a friend asked me that very same question and after replying to his mail I decided to create this post in order to have something to refer people to in the future :-)
The whole Star Trek universe has developed a life on its own outside of what is considered canon (TV shows and the official movies) with tons of plot-lines and whole series being integrated into the framework the show provided. For me personally, a good starting point would be something that doesn’t require you to know half of the references (which can be quite daunting) but is simply a good read on its own. Note that I’ve read all the books I’m about to recommend here throughout this post but I haven’t (yet) read all the ST-books there are ;-) If you have other suggestions, please let me know!
I will also try to keep this list as up-to-date as possible when new books are released in the future (or I read them :-P).
The series mentioned here are mostly standalone and have only minor relevance to the rest of the ST-universe. That being said they are just a good read :-)
The Millennium series was what brought me into the whole non-canon Star Trek universe years ago. Written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens the story here takes place at the end of Deep Space Nine (DS9) with some guest appearances from the The Next Generation (TNG) crew and involves tons of time-traveling (always a good thing ;-)).
During the course of the three-books-spanning story a new time-line is explored and the reader visits the station when it was still Cardassian and also explains some aspects of their withdrawal right before the events of the TV show.
Outside of tons of references to TV shows with numerous guest appearances I can’t remember any required “prior-knowledge”.
As mentioned, the story is split into three books: The Fall of Terok Nor, The War of the Prophets and Inferno. You will probably have a hard time finding these books on their own. In 2002 an omnibus edition has been released but this is probably by now also out of print (judging by its price on Amazon).
Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars
Want to know the story that led to the events of the TOS episode Space Seed and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan? Well, here is your chance! Greg Cox wrote a trilogy telling the story of Khan Noonien Singh’s rise to power and his later exile. So far I’ve only read the first two books and was kind of surprised when I noticed that they were actually part of a trilogy… well, more stuff to read then :D
The first two books also tell the story of Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln which you might remember from the TOS episode Assignment Earth and are quite heavily embedded into historical events during the 20th century. Very entertaining :-)
Star Trek: New Frontier
New Frontier (NF) is a totally different beast. Author Peter David created a new crew (with two characters known from the Enterprise-D) and kind of tries to do TOS-style missions in the TNG universe. Captain Calhoun feels like a Kirk 2.0 who handles situations in a completely unconventional way supported by an extremely diverse crew. There is very little reference to any other series here with some exceptions in some universe-spanning mini series like Star Trek: Gateways.
NF shows a totally different side of Starfleet than what we’ve become accustomed to from TNG. Here, diplomacy isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when Calhoun finds himself in a dangerous situation. This is probably the Star Trek series with the most noses being broken … ever. Extremely refreshing and very entertaining :-)
So far NF spans nearly 20 novels and multiple numerous stories featured in other series or collections.
Star Trek: Corps of Engineers
SCE takes place in the TNG universe but does usually not cross the path of DS9 or the Enterprise-D. In a sense, this series is the one you should read when you are more into the exploration side of Star Trek and enjoyed the Dyson’s Sphere episode of TNG. Under the supervision of good old Scotty and on-board the USS da Vinci a crew of mostly engineers sets out to play miracle workers and fix the universe with tech.
The series spans 66 numbered eBooks (collected in 13 print compilations) and a handful of side stories. As of 2007 it seems to be in a hiatus but always pops up in cross-overs. From what I’ve seen so far, going with the omnibus editions (also available in the Kindle store) seems like the way to go given that Simon & Schuster want USD 5.99 for each separate eBook while the omnibus (4 stories each usually) goes for 7 :-)
Star Trek: Vanguard
If you never really liked any of the more modern installments of Star Trek or just have a knack for TOS, Vanguard should be something for you. Set in the same time-frame as Enterprise’s first 5-year-mission, there are some guest appearances from its crew members but for the most part Vanguard focuses on its own characters and what’s going on in a far away sector called “Taurus Reach” which Klingons, Tholians and the Federation want to have a piece of. Combine that with tech of a species that dominated this region of the galaxy millions of years ago, and you get a nice mix of classic Star Trek exploration and potential for all out war in every single of the eight books of the series.
Naturally there are not only new crews out there but also new adventures for the old ones :-) The books mentioned here should help you get into the post-show storylines:
Homecoming & The Farther Shore (Star Trek: Voyager)
So Voyager finally came home but kind of missed out on that whole Dominion War thing. A bit expecting to be welcomed as heroes, the crew of the Voyager finds itself in a world they don’t really know anymore. This mini-series spanning the books Homecoming and The Farther Shore is mostly about what happened to the crew after their ordeals in the Delta Quadrant with a bit of Borg and spy-business being added to the mix.
On its own the story isn’t really all that remarkable but if you want to know what happens to Voyager I’d still suggest you read this. If you don’t care about Voyager skipping the two books won’t hurt all that much since there are only very few references to the events in there from other books outside of the Voyager-novels that come after them, IIRC.
Avatar & Mission Gamma (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Compared to Voyager, which lay dormant for quite a while, DS9’s plot advanced quickly after the show ended and it’s also my favorite post-show story-line. These books tell the story of what happened to Jake, his father and the whole station after the war against the Dominion ended. There is even a new mission to explore the Gamma Quadrant and many new faces. Even Ro Laren gets a second chance … or third … or … whatever.
A time to… (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
The A time to-miniseries spans 9 books telling the story of what happened to Picard, Riker, Troi and the rest of the TNG crew after the events of [Star Trek: Nemesis]. It’s been a really long time since I read this books but from what I can remember they introduced quite a lot of characters that would later become important as members of the USS Titan (spoilers ;-)). Besides the Star Trek: Titan series these books also pave the way for the rest of the TNG series as well as the excellent Articles of the Federation.
In my opinion, spending 9 books to lay some ground-rules is a bit much, but …
The Good That Men Do (Star Trek: Enterprise)
Sadly, Enterprise didn’t receive as much love as the other shows but there are a handful of excellent novels set at the end or right after the show. Probably the most memorable for me here but also the first really relevant for what happens afterwards was The Good That Men Do which is set in the months before the Coalition Pact is signed in the last episode of the TV show.
Btw.: In case you haven’t noticed: Memory Beta is an excellent resource for everything “non-canon” in the Star Trek universe! Big thanks to everyone who contributed there.