Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Ship of the Line

Digging up some old reviews. Funny how often people still talk about this book.
In 1988, Diane Carey wrote the first Next Generation novel, Ghost Ship. Not long after that, she hit the convention circuit full of stories about what a jerk Gene Roddenberry was and how gawdawful The Next Generation was. In 1990, after TNG's third season (the year of such classic episodes as Sarek, Who Watches the Watchers, The Offspring, and Best of Both Worlds part one), as Carey ranted at Toronto Trek about how gawdawful TNG still was, other con guests, like A.C. Crispin and Starlog's Dave McDonell, were visibly taken aback. They made it clear they disagreed, and most of the fans present seemed to disagree as well.

Not surprisingly, Carey didn't write any TNG novels for the next few years. She did write a novelization of Descent, but until 1997's Day of Honor crossover she pretty much ignored TNG. For that matter, in her Day of Honor contribution, she pretty much ignored TNG, putting all her creative energy into a holodeck story about the American Revolution.

So naturally, in 1997, she was the one who wrote the first novel about the Enterprise E, the first novel to follow the events of ST: Generations. Carey's distaste for The Next Generation in general and Captain Jean-Luc Picard in specific permeates every page of the book. Picard is nominally the hero of the book, of course, so she is usually subtle, but the scene in which Picard interacts with an interactive, holographic Kirk program is a good counterexample. Carey's goal here is to teach Picard that Kirk was the greatest starship captain ever, and she does so by making Picard misconstrue the events of the holodeck program -- a recreation of the events of "Balance of Terror" -- and fills Picard's head with thoughts of what a one-dimensional, blustering, violent slob Kirk is considered to be in Picard's time. She does the latter so that Picard can continue to discover how wrong he was and marvel in Kirk's genius and multifaceted personality; she does the former to criticize modern Trek and Picard's style of command. How? Picard keeps accusing Kirk of starting a war with the Romulans, even accusing Kirk of firing the first shot in the altercation, even though the holodeck program begins with the destruction of the neutral zone outposts by the Romulans. He also accuses Kirk of being too bold and daring, implicitly portraying himself as someone who can't make a decisive move without being told by Starfleet Command what that move will be. There's a kernel of truth in that, but it's something that was increasingly less true as TNG went on.

Carey's antipathy toward TNG, or perhaps her ignorance of it, also comes to the fore during the confrontation between Bateson and Riker. When Bateson rants about knowing more than Riker does about Klingons, Riker doesn't mention his stint as first officer aboard a Klingon ship, the fact that the Enterprise under Picard had a Klingon security chief, or the role that the Enterprise and its crew played in the recent Klingon succession and civil war. All of these things are relevant to Riker's point, but Carey has set him up to take a fall, so none of that is mentioned. Carey thinks Bateson is right, so she ignores everything on TNG that refutes him.

Consider Bateson's remarks on p.199-200: "You look down your noses at the conflicts of the past as if we had wars because we thought they were fun. I've got news for you. It's no fun. Someday you're going to have to fight unthinkable odds too, and on that day you'll remember me. You'll find out that there comes a time when you have to stand up and hit somebody." One word: Borg. Has Carey never seen BOBW? Riker has been through shit that Bateson can't imagine. But again, she has to put Riker and TNG in their place, so again Riker doesn't say what should be said. It's a classic case of the author ignoring character and continuity to make her point.

Carey's usual stylistic quirks are somewhat muted in this novel, fortunately, making her prose more readable than in most of her previous novels. Still, there are some appalling clunkers that should have been red-pencilled by someone somewhere along the way. Take, for example, "After the horror of the statement thudded to the deck at everyone's feet, Mike Dennis was the only one to speak." [p.32] (Alas, she doesn't mention whether the horror of the statement broke on impact, or bounced, and there's nary a word about who cleaned it up.) The number of people who drawl their sentences is a bit disconcerting, especially when Picard does it (who can drawl with that kind of accent?), but at least no one is "plied with shame." And as usual every character in the book shares Carey's obsession with the Age of Sail, peppering every conversation with some bit of sailor's lingo. Oh, and of course one of the finest touches in this book comes when Carey quotes herself for several paragraphs on p.143, and again on pp.225 and 321, providing a perfect example of her ego and her sailing obsession. Self-indulgence, thy name is Diane Carey.

Something else worth noticing in this novel: women are almost nonexistent in this book. Troi and Crusher are present, but they have about as much to do in this novel as they do in the movies. Bateson's crew is apparently all male; likewise Kozara's. On the one hand it seems odd that someone whose first two Trek novels featured a strong female character as narrator would slight women so often in her other novels. On the other, it makes a certain sense: if Diane Carey can't be one of the main characters (Piper is a classic Mary Sue character; i.e., a wish-fulfilment device for the author), no other woman can, either.

All in all, pretty much a typical Diane Carey novel. Why is she, of all people, writing TNG? Maybe it's because John Ordover isn't a big fan of The Next Generation, either, as he's said on Compuserve and elsewhere. I can only wonder what Carey's books are like before they get edited... assuming they are actually edited.
At the time (1998, apparently) I hadn't seen the TNG episode with Bateson in some time, so I left out another problem with the book because I wasn't sure of my facts. In the book, Bateson's arrival in the 24th century follows a dramatic fight for survival against a Klingon attack. There are no women on the bridge. Bateson is frantic, the bridge a place of chaos. In the episode, Bateson is calm and relaxed, and the crew visible behind him include two women, neither showing signs of fleeing a desperate situation. In other words, Carey didn't even bother to stay consistent with the one little minute of actual canon material about Bateson. (As for the remark about "plied with shame" -- one of her earlier novels used that odd expression several times.)


At 9:35 AM, Blogger Future Guy said...

I bought this book when it came out (I was a foolish 19-year-old who didn't know any better) and was just amazed by how bad it was. I knew that Diane Carey had a major crush on Captain Kirk, but the way she drags him into a book that's not even about him and makes Picard prostrate himself before the Awesomenes of Kirk just strengthened my conviction that she probably shouts his name during sex.

I can't even read her books anymore; they're what I imagine Star Trek novels by Ann Coulter would be like.

At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Edgar Governo said...

The Age of Sail stuff is what got me to stop reading her work. It's been long enough that I don't really recall her other stylistic quirks, but that always seemed self-indulgent and out-of-place, even when I was a kid--I can only imagine how it would look if the hobby were even more obscure and more rarely mentioned on Star Trek.

She quotes herself? Good grief...in what context, exactly?

I bought this as a Christmas present for an ex (unread by me) when it was a new hardcover. That ex cheated on me a couple of months later. I'm still trying to figure out the karmic message in that...

At 3:37 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Yep, she quotes herself. P.143 is a few paragraphs she wrote for a memorial service for someone named Danielle Faucher, who was apparently her shipmate on a schooner. In another section she quotes her ship's log while sailing that schooner, mentioning the star she steered by was actually a comet. She mentions that "Parts of this book were written on board, during that voyage." She ends the book with a page-long poem, "None But the Possessed, Memorial to our ship, sunk off Hatteras, Dec. 9, 1996."


Post a Comment

<< Home