In the classic Star Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever," Doctor Leonard McCoy -having accidentally injected himself with an overdose of powerful medication - fled the starship Enterprise and, after traveling back in time to Depression-era New York City, prevented the death of social worker Edith Keeler. Keeler's vitality energized the pacifist movement in America and effectively destroyed the future that Leonard McCoy knew. Only the intervention of James Kirk and Spock saved McCoy and the future that they knew.
Except, they didn't.
In Provenance of Shadows, the first book of the fortieth anniversary Crucible trilogy, David R. George III paints a picture of two lives, struggling to find purchase in an ever-passing existence.
In the `restored' timeline (i.e., the story we know as Star Trek), Leonard McCoy returns to duty shortly before the events depicted in the episode "Operation -- Annihilate!" and we follow the good doctor's loves and losses, professional triumphs and personal sorrows, for close to a century. In the `altered' timeline, we follow the life of Leonard McCoy the lost... lost in a time that is not his own, unable to practice his passions, and fearful of altering the timeline.
But all is not well in either timeline as Leonard McCoy must deal with the echoes of his past: the loss of his mother, his painful relationship with his father, and an ill-fated marriage. McCoy, in both timelines, holds his secrets close to his vest, hiding who he truly is from those who love him, and often from himself.
If I have any complaint concerning this book, it is actually the `restored' timeline's attempts to cover such an expansive life in brushstrokes. We learn a great deal about Leonard McCoy's life in the familiar timeline, but the glimpses we get only serve to whet the palate for further adventures and stories (for both McCoy and the rest of the crew) set in some of the `lost years' of the crew of the Original Series. These fleeting glimpses, however, often raise more questions than they answer (at least for this reviewer), and as a result lead me to want to see those details filled in. While it in no way detracts from the mission of the book, the brevity of the snippets was a bit distracting to me on an individual level. Others may find it to be far more palatable. After all, the mission of the story is to share the broad story of Leonard McCoy from the time of his encounter with the Guardian of Forever through the history we have of him.
In one respect, George is able to take a greater deal of latitude in dealing with McCoy's life and details, because (as he notes in the foreword) he deliberately decided to use only the televised details of McCoy's life as the basis of the story. In another, however, he has total freedom, because the details of McCoy's life in the altered timeline are completely open to interpretation.
George, while weaving a masterful tale of what McCoy's twentieth century life would have been like, does so in such a manner that the circumstances of world affairs - details that lead to McCoy's continued presence in the twentieth century - don't undermine the character work that Provenance of Shadows attempts to be. In the best tradition of Star Trek, the interweaving tales featured in Provenance of Shadows uses technology, politics, and adventure to explore the human condition in a way that serves the story without overriding the prose. Ultimately, the `altered' timeline accomplishes this far more effectively than does the `restored' one, but both lives remain eminently readable to those interested more in a character piece and less in a space-based shoot-em' up.
Of personal interest is the interplay between Leonard McCoy the Humanist and the religious townsfolk he encounters in the south of the 1930's. George incorporates a typical southern Church into his story in credible way... something of a second town center where people go for comradeship and support just as they would go to town hall for assistance in temporal things. George's positive portrayal of a small-town Church in the midst of a Star Trek tale is most gratifying.
Shockingly, in the spirit of confronting social ills of the times, Provenance of Shadows also has a deeply riveting exchange that nearly sends McCoy packing again when he discovers the true nature of his community's attitudes towards others.
There is just so much within Provenance of Shadows that it is nearly impossible to truly review the book without spoiling the entire story. Needless to say, this -the longest ever- Star Trek novel is a unique and worthwhile beginning to the Crucible trilogy and the fortieth anniversary celebrations of Star Trek.