To Reign in Hell: the Exile of Khan Noonien Singh
© 2006 Greg Cox
“No! This is not the end! Khan Noonien Singh will never surrender, not to this accursed planet and not to the treacherous vagaries of fate. Hear me now! I shall show you that the superior man never bends before the cruelties of fate, no matter how hopeless the odds. Let this entire planet die a slow and miserable death. Let Kirk and Starfleet forget us entirely. I will keep you and the rest of my people alive — this I swear upon my sacred honor.”
He shook his fist at the dust-shrouded sky.
“Do you hear me, Kirk? I will survive!” p. 269
Khan Noonien Singh is the most outstanding individual villain in all of Trek lore, a man who took from Kirk his dearest blood. An escaped superman from Earth’s violent past, Khan failed in attempts to take over the world and then the USS Enterprise before Kirk exiled him to a harsh planet in the Mutara Sector to build his own civilization. Such a dream wasn’t to be, however, as only months into exile astronomical phenomena destroyed the planet’s chances of sustaining life for very long. His last hope wrecked, his people dying, a man bred to be an emperor was left to preside over nothing more than the apocalypse. To Reign in Hell is an exceptional tie-in to “Space Seed” and The Wrath of Khan, and an expert conclusion to the Khan trilogy, depicting the demise of a dream and the descent of a man into madness.
The story picks up a year after the events of The Wrath of Khan. Kirk and his comrades have decided to pay a visit to the hellhole that was Khan’s world in order to find out what went wrong; what happened to make the colony fail so catastrophically, and why did Khan blame a man who had been a model of mercy towards him? Soon after landing, Kirk and company discover the underground shelters that Khan and his people fled to when the surface was exposed to the blistering sun and fierce winds that turned grasslands into desert. Within the caverns are historical records, provided by the Starfleet historian who was seduced by Khan and joined him in exile — Marla McGivers. The novel unfolds as Kirk delves in, and the story that Cox builds works wonderfully to iron out “Space Seed” and TWOK’s wrinkles.
To Reign in Hell performs admirably in every aspect; as piece connecting two different Trek stories, as a thriller in its own right, and as the finale of Khan. Khan has never been as human, nor as remotely sympathetic, as he is here. He has no one to villainize, he has only his hopes and ambition, those dreams of creating a world for his people, and it is the environment that renders him a victim. He is doubly human in proving to genuinely love the historian who he took as a wife, Marla; perhaps because the story is told in her voice, readers are given a more tender appreciation of his character. Certainly the warlord is still there — he is called the Tyrant by some on the planet — but here we see aspects of him, like that of a loving spouse, that make him even more fascinating. It’s even possible to feel sorry for him, left to a world washed over in violent storms, with starvation constantly haunting him. Ultimately the book closes in hope, at least for Kirk — who discovers in the ruins one last chance to do good by Khan’s people.