Book Trek #9: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – ‘The Beginning / Forgotten Light’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

These stories take place, in part, 200,000 years ago.

One of the most exciting aspects of the Strange New Worlds, non-canonical anthology books which were released amidst Star Trek novels over roughly a ten year period, is how they could explore all kinds of territory the TV shows or movies would never have gotten near – perhaps even to a greater degree than the tie-in novels, which always usually had to revolve around characters we know from the screen. The Beginning and Forgotten Light are two such key examples.

Now I’ve decided to talk about these short stories together because both of them, unusually, cover the exact same topic, just in different ways and contexts: the creation of the Borg. If ever a race in Star Trek were likely to have an origin story, it would be the terrifying cybernetic beings first encountered by the USS Enterprise-D in The Next Generation’s second season episode Q-Who?; a collective of telepathically linked drones who travelled the galaxy in cubes assimilating every species they come into contact with, believing they were technologically superior and that knowledge of all cultures inside their collective would allow them to reach perfection. A fascinating alien creation, the Borg cast arguably the biggest shadow over Star Trek in the 90’s as the Klingons or Vulcans did in the 1960’s.

What both of the series that featured the Borg did, TNG and Star Trek: Voyager, was explore what the collective and ultimately their Borg Queen meant in terms of their ideology as much as their biological and technological menace – they never even really hinted at where the Borg came from. Given the Queen instigated a drone force of beings who assimilated others into becoming more Borg, like a technological zombification, then how did she come to be? Where did *she* come from? As the Borg’s rationale edges close to a near-religious level of searching for ‘perfection’—which Voyager dealt with in Season 4’s The Omega Directive—then does the search for the Queen’s origin end up as elusive as the search for God? Does the answer only lead to more questions?

The Beginning suggests the answer to that, in some form, may be ‘yes’. Annie Reed’s short story for the Speculations section of Strange New WorldsVI details what could have been the Queen’s origin, almost a quarter of a million years earlier on a technologically advanced, if seemingly rather autocratic world, with a civilisation plagued by a virus which is on the verge of wiping their race out. Reed successfully manages to convey the transformation of a frightened, plague-addled girl into a cybernetic-enhanced proto version of the Queen, who begins to assimilate her first drones into what will become the Collective. It’s a rather creepy and frightening piece of first person prose which shows the birth of a monstrous, very alien entity.

What Reed doesn’t give us are the answers, or even much of the context. The race are an unknown species, presumably far across the galaxy. She is the granddaughter of a hardline leader, perhaps a dictator even given how he executes the scientists who fail to cure her. The virus’ origin which ends up being part of the Borg’s creation is equally unknown. What The Beginning does is sow the seeds of what will become a hive mind and leaves plenty to the imagination, which is perhaps fitting if the Queen should be equated to some kind of cybernetic ‘creator’. Perhaps there is more power in the Queen being a mystery, even if a story such as this explains the Borg and the point they came into being.

Forgotten Light, which appears a year later in the Speculations section of Strange New Worlds VII, operates more in the manner of a traditional Star Trek episode, just in miniature. The Beginning was a blast of internal thought-process, divested of detail, whereas Frederick Kim’s tale is ostensibly what could have been a ‘Season 8’ episode of The Next Generation, not to mention a spiritual epilogue to Star Trek: First Contact. It explores the origin story of the Borg in less of a personal, horror-story quality, and more of a philosophical one, which certainly feels in tune with TNG and the continued development of Jean-Luc Picard in how he deals with the torment of what the Borg, and the Queen, put him through in Season 3’s epic The Best of Both Worlds.

Kim understands quite rightly that Picard will never truly escape the experience of being Locutus of Borg, when he was assimilated in a Borg attempt to invade Earth and destroy the Federation. First Contact almost certainly repaired some of the damage, with Picard finally facing the Queen and preventing yet another Borg attempt on Earth, but Locutus haunts him through Forgotten Light, which posits the idea that the Enterprise-E investigates a planet called Havarrnus and their long-destroyed civilisation, who originated in the Delta Quadrant, and may have been the focal point for how the Borg came to be. You can also feel the DNA of an episode such as The Chase here, which delved into Picard’s love of archaeology.

If you really want to create some level of ‘head-canon’ for these origin stories, you could posit that the events we see depicted in Forgotten Light that took place 200,000 years ago on the living, breathing Havarrnus, in which a scholar named Vorlkai attempts to use interpretive art to try and prevent his people, fearful of a dying sun which will destroy them in the future, passing a law which will allow the use of cybernetic technology, as a precursor to The Beginning. Perhaps the events Vorlkai fails to prevent, his wisdom and cautionary tales falling on death ears, lead to the development of a virus over the next two centuries which leads to the evolution of the Queen. Perhaps. In the end, both have one primary connective piece of tissue.

Both of these stories posit the idea that the Borg can only be created out of impending self-destruction, whether it be natural or biological. The Beginning sees a deadly virus a scared race attempt to tame, which only serves to create a monster beyond their control, while Forgotten Light concerns the short-sightedness of a race who can see their own natural end and do not consider the consequences in trying to forestall it. Both of them races who tried to ‘play God’ in a sense, only to find God came back to bite them. Whether either Reed or Kim realise it, that feeling of some kind of warped divinity behind the Borg, and their mission statement, comes through in both of these satisfying short stories.

In the end, of course, neither of these origin stories will ever be considered canonical. The closest we have to a canonical Borg creation story is the grand saga of Destiny in the post-Nemesis continuation books from the 24th century, TNG-era, and even that one day could be contradicted should any official series tackle the Borg again. In the short term, it seems unlikely we’ll be seeing the Borg again any time soon on screen, so it leaves tie-in fiction and tales such as this to fill in fascinating, tantalising gaps in the mythology of Star Trek.

For now, in my head-canon, I’m planning to take The Beginning and, maybe, Forgotten Light, as gospel.

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