When the original Star Trek series aired the episode Space Seed back in 1967, they had no idea the stories it would spawn, including the second Star Trek movie. Author Greg Cox filled in the backstory to that episode nicely in the first two books he wrote in the series. Here, with the third, he fills in what happened in between the events of that episode and the second Star Trek film.
The story is told partially from the point of view of Captain Kirk. He returns to Ceti Alpha V to try and gain an understanding of just what went wrong. He’s wracked with guilt and looking for absolution. Between watching Spock die (and come back) and losing his son to the Klingons, he’s trying to get a grasp on just why all of this happened and what his part was in it. As they search the settlement where Khan and his fellow colonists were living, he comes across journals and data discs that tell much of the story.
After Khan tried, unsuccessfully, to take command of the Enterprise, Captain Kirk marooned Khan and his followers on the planet Ceti Alpha V. He gave them enough supplies to get them started, but the landscape is quite lush and promised that if they worked hard they can carve out a civilization here. They are given few weapons, but one of the last things Chekov does before leaving is hand over one phaser to Khan. It would appear he is the true leader of the 72 new residents of the planet.
However, there is strife in the colony, which was carried over from days past. Even worse, Khan taking Marla McGivers as his wife angers the rest of his genetically engineered followers. There is opposition to him brewing within the colony. As they camp the first night on the planet, native species attack, and two of the colonists are killed despite their biological engineering. Still, Khan manages to temporarily squash the unrest and build a fortress protecting them from outside threats.
It would seem, for a time, that there is peace. Couples have paired up and the first children of the genetically-engineered parents are about to arrive when Ceti Alpha VI explodes in the night sky. The survivors retreat to a series of caves and survive underground, but the strife is reawakened as others attempt to overthrow Khan.
The book is well-done, showing what Khan and the other exiles went through until they were found – accidentally – by the Reliant. It sets up a conflict within the exiles themselves and shows that Marla McGivers wasn’t welcome with open arms as a part of the community. There are those that come to appreciate her, but for the most part, she is resented as an outsider. There are at least two assassination attempts on her, believing that her presence is a detriment to them, particularly her influence on Khan.
It also shows how he developed his fixation on Captain Kirk, blaming him for everything that went wrong. Once Ceti Alpha VI explodes, he thinks there is a chance someone will check up on them, but as the years go by and that doesn’t happen, his anger grows. He also descends into an almost madness once his wife dies, and obsesses over that death above all others. It gives much more background as to why he is the way he is in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and does a great job bridging the gap between the series episode and that movie.
The weakest part of the book is actually the story of Captain Kirk, Spock, and Doctor McCoy going to Ceti Alpha VI. Wouldn’t the Federation have already looked through the remains of the Exiles’ camp when they rescues the crew of the Reliant who was stranded there? Wouldn’t that crew or their rescuers have first encountered the children of the colonists who were exiled by Khan after their parents attempted a coup? The answer here should have been yes.
Despite that, To Reign in Hell is a good book, especially for fans of the original series and the movies. To understand the story, you’d have to have at least seen both of those as it references a lot and explains some of the gaps that fans noted (such as how Chekov knew Khan). It’s a great almost ending to Khan’s story and sets up that film quite nicely.
Previous book in the series (link): Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars Volume Two