"The galaxy is on fire." With these words, James Kirk summarizes the latest threat the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is forced to address: an expanding wave of heat that has already annihilated an entire solar system, including the home world of the Zirgosians. Their investigation takes them to the remaining Zirgosian colony, where they find a massive spaceship in orbit controlled by the "Sackers," a species so physically repulsive that sentient beings cannot stand to be in their presence. The crew soon discovers that the Sackers are at the center of the mystery, with a plan that effectively holds the entire universe hostage unless their demands are met.
Barbara Paul's novel offers readers what is many respects a textbook Star Trek story: the crew faces a seemingly insurmountable challenge, then proceeds to save the day through a mixture of intuitive psychology and teamwork. It's an interesting tale both for the species she introduces and the unusual combination of Kirk, Scotty, Uhura, and Chekov working to deal with the situation in which they find themselves. Yet too much of the novel comes across as contrived, with the Sacker threat both epically dangerous yet in the end ridiculously easy to resolve. Squaring the difference between these two contrasts might have made for a truly excellent Star Trek novel, but as it is the book's strengths can't quite overcome its flaws.