Steve's Reviews > The Way To The Stars

The Way To The Stars by Una McCormack
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really liked it

***As per all of my reviews, I like to preface by saying that I listened to this book in audiobook format. This does indeed slightly skew my rating. I have found that audiobooks, give me a better "relationship" with the characters if done well, but also kills the book for me if narrated poorly. Due to the nature of listening to the text, names and places may be spelled incorrectly here as I often do not have the physical volume in front of me. Also, I have written this review in a "rolling updates" style. In that I basically chronicle my reading as I progress. This may make for a jarring and spoilery review so be warned.****

I admit, she's a charming character, but I fear that the Star Trek team maybe leaning a bit *too* heavy into her. Too much of a good thing? Either way it's Tilly's turn to get a full book about her, and this one starts off…wow..very mundane….but hear me's a good mundane. I mean the first scenes get are her (again) talking to her mother, who we finally learn is a sort of big name in the field that she's getting into.
It's been laid out pretty clear that her mother, while loving is very very cold, percise and focuses on the pretty negative in Tilly's life.
Her mother is quite a famous diplomat and has made waves in the diplomatic community.

We're introduced to Tilly on her 16th birthday, her mom is totally giving her grief about her grades… and boy…her curly hair is just the pits! This is how I like to start all my Star Trek books… I actually am NOT being facetious here… There is something very genuine and natural about how this is going. I always complain and bemoan when characters are not fleshed out, or given any backstory. Well…Ms. Una McCormack must have heard my incessant whining cause we are given some deep characterization. We learned about her father as well, who's out on a freighter somewhere, but periodically sends her videos of him being silly, and congratulating Tilly. He seems like quite the opposite of her mother.

The book begins where she's made the decision to go off world to study language. She meets there a few fellow dormmates (all girls and all human I gather) who seem to befriend her….Now this teen YA story would not be complete without the girls turning on her and trying to force her into doing something really rotten for the sake of popularity…Barring that cringe worthy cliché, I like where this is going as we seem to be set to get a lot of Tilly forging her own way through school. Clearly she's not anywhere near Starfleet, and from the first few interactions with her new friends… it actually seems like it's *her* that's the worse influence on them… Not wanting to spend long periods of time outside (Allergies…of course she has bad allergies) She wants to rely on the Universal Translation Device, instead of working on language, and she has no desire to exercise.
Resera, who seems to be the social opposite of Tilly. Tilly clearly has a big case of self doubt…she has little confidence in a lot of the stuff she tries. The girls try to get her into doing some activities and she nay-says the hell out of herself.

We get quite some interesting interaction of her and her mother who has such a stick up her ass it's almost hard to resist slapping her. And this is quite a credit to Ms. McCormack for bringing that reaction out from me. This could have easily fallen into a cliché "I hate daddy" (Mommy in this cause) story beat. But the way she's written, where you can see that she cares… but has such a horrible way of showing it, is enticing. She basically forces Tilly to give up her "nerd club", that she actually formed. This is also what I'm enjoying here… Tilly tried to form this engineering club…but no one really joined so it was sort of a failure…and then her mother forces her to even give it up, further kicking her while she's down. There's a very good scene of her mother having a 'skype' conversation with her teacher and the two go at it. I love how her mother is this ultra critical, stone cold woman who picks apart every flaw of Tilly, but yet her teacher bites back just as hard, even defending Tilly as much as she can. The teacher really lays it out that 'no Tilly isn't slacking', she's done great for someone transiting into the school… If I hadn't mentioned this before, let me state again…this is probably the most 'unTrek' book of the series, but I really enjoy it. It's just good writing at this point.

My one complaint so far is that they've given Tilly the odd obsession with mushrooms…and this is way way too on the nose and sort of breaks the idea that the Discovery had come across this Mycelial network and research on it's own…. It sort of plays way to conveniently into the fact that she'll be working on DSC later in life. I would have liked to think that she was first introduced to the Spore network when she got to DSC but because her interest in sciences was already there, that she took to it. With this approach she'll have some expertise on it already and it's such a …random and specific field, it seems entirely to convenient for her….
Despite that I'm liking all the interactions so far. We can even get a sense early on of a sort of rift between her new dormmates. They all seem very very focused in on their specific area's of study and don’t really enjoy moving outside of that or questioning anything. To call them drones is probably far too harsh, but they don't seem to be as inquisitive as Tilly.

So I'm 100 pages in, not quite half way, but I must say I'm…pretty surprised. I can go pages and pages here and not know or forget that i'm a book with Star Trek slapped on the cover. And that is a HUGE compliment. The story is showing signs of avoiding all he cliché drama that I was fearing would rear it's 'mean girls' head. The drama here is very personal, and not so predictable. Tilly who in the book has a very real issue with self confidence and… I wouldn't say anxiety…but rather slight hints at OCD. This wasn't what I was expecting (again subversion can be wonderful) and it drives a wedge between her social life. And we can trace this back to her mother's constant need for perfection from Tilly, which makes the story so very rich and engaging because I want to see her finally be able to take this all and put a pin in it for when she does make it to Starfleet.
There's a scene in the book of a dialogue between Tilly's mother Siobhan and her own mother, Adele. They go at it back and forth over how she treats Tilly. Adele, the grandmother defends her, saying that Siobhan is just too overbearing, and Siobhan is appalled at the discovery of Tilly being a drummer on a rowboat in school… We learn that Siobhan practised gymnastics when she was in school, but for her daughter Tilly, being a drummer on a rowwing team, apparently is a bit step down. And she relates that her engineering club is just a glorified game club… This constant disappointment that she shows Tilly, I believe speaks to me personally as a reader, so I freely admit I may be more affected and enjoying this story purely on this.

After performing her end of year project, the Winter 'break' is here and Tilly's sort of exiled herself. Another great bit I like is that it would have been easy and commonplace to have a classmate or contemporary try to engage her and bring her out of her funk…but it's the professor that stuck up for her earlier that's the one who takes the lead in trying to reach out to her.

So I reached the mid point and not the 2nd portion of the book picks up. This part, I must admit isn't *as* compelling (though still very interesting!). Tilly basically decides to just runaway… I don't really like this idea that her main instinct, in light of her pushing away her friends, and being far too uptight, is to literally just pack up and leave. Plus we're given this sort of over the top "Speed" type hack that she pulls and loops the security camera's and creates some method of hacking her tracking device (btw…the idea of putting trackers on students…is a bit much..not to say that I can't see that happening, but wow..not the best light). So she throws everyone off her scent for enough time for her to have an eeescape (here's to you Alice's Restaurant). She makes for the only space port in the area and boards a cargo ship. Immediately she's taken advantage of and her bag is stolen.. Meanwhile at the school, her disappearance raises alarms, figuratively, and Ms Keith (The teacher who stood up for Tilly) goes into high alert and spreads the word of her disappearance…eventually they conclude that she ran away and wasn't kidnapped or something nefarious. What I don't really get or enjoy about all of this, is that Tilly has been to this point supposed to be very overly cautious, very methodical, and too analytical if anything. She her reaction to just up and leave, and have no plan or goal, strikes me as out of character. Now what's funny is that I literally just praised the book for being a tad subversive and not playing into character tropes, but the difference is, this one seems not to lend itself to anything, but just a plot point, and such a drastic move needs to be in character a bit more.
Anyway, I assure you that this is actually nitpicking, I really still enjoy where this is going. Her mother, and grandparents are alerted, and there's a great moment of Adele and Quinn (the grandparents) enjoying a quiet morning with baked french pastries and reading the newspapers and them getting the call about Tilly.

I swear this book hits the major points of characterization and making me related to these people and giving us a good story over a science fiction technobabble fest.

That being said, this current leg of the story, where Tilly is taken in by the ship's main engineer comes off as a bit too cheesy. The dialogue is not very well written and I think Una tries to overcompensate and overtly tell us too much of Tilly giving her this bratty, stuck up and prissy teenager. She's fallen into the trope of being very whiney and actually a bit snobbish. Now I will say that this sort of works in the fact that I think it's a thing that many Federation sheltered planets live a sort of more cushy lifestyle. They aren't exposed to a lot of the dirt, gritty and danker sides of life outside their bubble. So I agree that works but it's sort of no very flattering to Tilly and also goes against what we see and believe what Tilly stands for currently. Up to this point, we sort of assume that Tilly isn't one afraid to get her hands dirty. The story line here is that she stows away onboard a cargo ship and is sort of 'adopted' by the woman who runs the maintenance on the ship after discovering that Tilly was going about fixing things. This was fine, and I enjoyed Tilly trying to make do with her surroundings, but still the idea that Tilly who seems to be very straight laced and 'by the book', it just doesn't sit well for me that she was so eager, and willing to do something so drastic like stowaway on a random ship, with absolutely no forethought.

So after being sort of bummed about the trajectory that the book seemed to be taking, almost immediately I (yet again) had this subverted and thrown for a loop. I really gotta stop pinning Una McCormack's writing prowess onto railroad storytelling. So here we're set up for this new part of Tilly's story, to be yet another pity story of her being adopted yet again by someone. This would have mirrored the previous section about Tilly befriending Salla on the cargo ship. But immediately as she is 'hired' on the new planet that she's fled to, Her grandmother, grandfather and her own father catch up with her. Her father, Ian, was serving on board a science vessel that had to break assignment and divert it's course to 'pick her up'. As well as her grandparents, Adele and Quinn
take a ship out to meet her. Now this is again… so very good. It has so little to do with things are 'star trek', but I love the idea that the origin of Tilly's 'origin' is so heavily based on her personal story and family conflict. Now I contrast this with Saru's story which is far more about him battling his own natural limitations and deep seeded instincts. With Tilly, while similar, is more battling her relationship with her mother and trying to prove herself in her and everyone's eyes.
There's a very big showdown here that is written superbly. I love what McCormack has done with this situation. It could have been too easy to have everything stacked against Tilly and written so that she has to someone take everyone on and come up with some tangible proof that she should have her own independence.. But what Ms McCormack actually has done is gave Tilly a supportive backing from her grandparents an father which delivers this constant blows to her mother's dictator like web over Tilly. And her mother… Siobhan, what a character. You really get the feeling that you would NOT like this person if stuck in a room with her for hours. While she'd put on this friendly face and warm and diplomacy… you'd get this feeling of her judging you for everything you're worth. Anyway, we have another scene of Adele taking on Siobhan, her daughter, and I like how it's still a mother talking to her child, but Adele really lays into her. She puts into question , Siobhan's parenting prowess and lays a lot out in front of her. Of course this doesn't change her perspective, but acts to soften the blow of Tilly confronting her later via holo-vid.
They finally have the big sit down with all parties involved, and it's pretty much made clear that Tilly doesn't want to go back to another boarding school like the one on Tarsus IV…in fact she makes it plain, much to her mother's anger, that she doesn't want to be in the Diplomatic corps. We see Siobhan really struggle with this declaration, and she scoffs at Tilly's choice to want to go into the sciences. She even then upon accepting this, tries to micromanage Tilly and choosing a school for her. This forces Tilly to finally come out and say that the dorm/boarding school life style just isn't for her. Tilly is probably too strict and a bit too "OCD" for others to deal with and she doesn't enjoy having to bend to other people's expectations and dealing with their own habits. (Something I find so close to home, it's unreal…)
As an aside…there's some books that make you appreciate characters more or appreciate scenes in movies, this is one such book. I wasn't exactly on the Sylvia Tilly hype train as everyone else… but after this book, I have really fallen for the character. Her inner problems and habits and need to do things on her own terms really strikes a chord with me.
So Tilly is given a spot on her father's shit the Dorothy Garrad, and at first she's a bit put off by the age gap in people. Either there's too many kids or the cadets (it's a star fleet vessel) are roughly just a bit older than she, but very grown up.
I love how 'small' this story has been. No big explosive action, no un-needed 'fate of the planet hangs in the balance' story. It's a girl, growing up, dealing with her very real issues, her family and her trying to find her niche in life. Feeling trapped, under the thumb of someone else and wanting to get around that to prove to everyone and herself that she actually is responsible and capable…I can't stress how much I can relate…

Reading on, the book takes another seesaw back into into something that I was a bit worried about. The book is winding down and i'm on the last 100 pages or so, because the lead up so far has been pretty "not action packed", It feels now like the editor called Ms. McCormack and demanded some star trek type stuff to happen. We're given a sort of rushed series of dramatic events that stars Tilly saving the day while her father and her go down to do some research on Vesnoy. She makes use of a skill she picked up back in school, and thus saves the crew. This…all seems a bit too convenient and honestly a bit contrived. I know this is a Star Trek book and would have felt "empty" if we didn't get some sort of alien interaction and danger, but I was really on board with the idea of this book being a very personal and more 'down to earth' story. This series of events didn't ruin the book for me at all, but just felt as if it were unneeded. I'm not one for these classic Star Trek situations where the young, inexperienced random newcomer, sweeps in and saves the day, doing what trained professionals couldn't have…let a lot speaking in a dialect of …math. (I'm not quite sure how a quadratic sounds, I barely remember how to solve them)

This does though provide a pretty humorous scene of the 'monster' that they encounter, actually turn out to be a really cool guy. This whole set of events of course gives the captain of the Dorothy Garrond reason to take Tilly in and offer an invitation to join StarFleet.
She has to reconcile this news, and her relationship with her mother, and this is where the book once again picks back up for me. The ending discussion between herself and her mother, who still hasn't come to grips with how independent Tilly actually wants to become is pretty sincere. So basically tells her mother point blank that she's going to choose Starfleet over whatever plan that her mother has cooked up for her that involves schooling she flatly rejects. There's a nice moment after, where Tilly is talking to her father about how and why they split up. Tilly has always believed that she had something to do with it, but her father assures her it was "just because". They found entertainment and lifestyle choices in different area's. Not to get too personal, but this idea and The relationships presented in the book speak so very close to me right now, I really probably am judging the book on a super partial biased… but I love the real life relativity it's keeping. We have so many times where these books are written around some big space battle, or alien standoff or world change event…This book was so refreshing that it was so grounded. (despite the end feeling a bit forced) The characters who all could have easily come off as one note or just very cliché or single serving, don’t' feel that way. The classmates in Tilly's school…don't turn out to be evil super villains, or plan some vindictive nefarious plot to ruin her career…no..they're just girls looking to do well in school… The teacher who goes out of her way to help her, Ms Keith, she doesn't somehow come back into the story later on and surprise us with some twist.. Everything that happens to Tilly, just happens. The unknown mysterious person who steals Tilly's bag and leaves..I could have sworn it would have come back up later and been some over the top reveal, being someone she actually knew… Nope, it was just a petty thief who gets away. And this type of writing works perfectly here. All of these things happen and go about providing some experience and maturity to her character. I enjoyed this book a lot. To me personally it stumbled a bit in trying I believe to create a false sense of drama to sort of make it "feel" more like a sci fi book. But I really feel like this wasn't needed. All the characters seem pretty well thought out and very real, and not very 2D cardboard cut outs that serve only some plot point. For those who don't mind a slower, character driven story that looks to establish who and where the character is from do give it a read. This one actually, unlike the Saru book before it, I think actually really adds a lot to Tilly. The Saru book, does this as well… but if you skip it, you'll not be missing out on anything that you couldn't put together yourself. With this book, it's such a deep dive, this really aids in where she is now…My only hope is that the TV show and how they write her character sort of pulls from these threads that have been set up here.

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Reading Progress

January 5, 2019 – Started Reading
January 8, 2019 – Shelved
January 12, 2019 –
page 160
57.97% "Interesting take...I feel like i"m reading a book that's a character piece with a Star Trek title on the front... Not a bad thing, but just very different than the other super high tech focused books."
January 15, 2019 – Finished Reading

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