Tuesday, August 22, 2006

No, seriously, I actually ordered this book...

Where No Car Has Gone Before: Achieving The Impossible by John Mercer and Ken Hudnall, the story of sevenuvnine, Mercer's Star Trek car. I just discovered the existence of this book today, though it was published two years ago. You can see some sample pages here. It's either a self-published or vanity press book. Mercer is the owner of the car, and Hudnall, author of a number of vanity press thrillers, is the writer.

So it appears to be one man's story of putting a bunch of Star Trek photos on his car, getting Trek celebrities to sign the car, and going to cons to show off the car. Not the most obvious subject matter for a book, but at least (unlike vanity press repeat offender Ruby Moon-Houldson) I think I can safely assume it was actually written by these guys and not swiped from a dozen websites.

But wait, there's more!

Two very different books of commentary on Star Trek have just been published. One's a light and breezy (with occasional undertones of cranky) quick read, in which a number of writers talk in different ways about the importance of the original Star Trek and occasionally mention or imply that everything else related to Star Trek since, say, 1968 has been worthless garbage. (I may be misrepresenting it, being less than halfway through, but that's definitely the tone established by Gerrold's and Sawyer's pieces.) The TrekBBS TOS Forum should love this one.

It'd be nice if David Brin had been involved in Boarding the Enterprise; Star Wars on Trial, while frustrating at times, was considerably more structured than this and a lot longer, too. I'm not sure, but I think this may be the shortest BenBella SmartPop essay collection I've bought yet. I've got their books on Firefly, Farscape, Narnia, and the aforementioned Star Wars on Trial. I'll be finished this book pretty quickly. And I suspect I'll have learned a lot less from it than I learned from Gerrold's The World of Star Trek way back when...

The second book is an academic critique of Star Trek and gender in the post-9/11 world, apparently. It looks, on cursory inspection, like it'll be a relatively straightforward read compared to some academic writing on Trek. Relke refers a number of times to the book that's pretty much the model of clarity in academic thinking and prose about Star Trek, the Barretts' Star Trek: The Human Frontier, which is a promising sign.

Monday, August 21, 2006

40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection (Christie's auction catalogue)

Well, I've posted about this elsewhere already, but what the heck.

The scans above show the two-volume standard edition of 40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection, the auction catalogue for the Christie's auction of Star Trek props, costumes, models, documents, set decorations, furniture, and more. About 500 pages in two trade paperback volumes, full colour, text by Michael and Denise Okuda. Click here for the Christie's page about the catalogue.

My reaction? Wow.

Wow first of all because this is the first coffee table book to show so much stuff from every incarnation of Star Trek (well, except TAS).

Wow second of all because frankly I can't believe they're selling some of this stuff. When Star Trek returns, it's going to be expensive, because there really won't be much at all to recycle and reuse. And, frankly, the thought of some of this stuff going into the hands of collectors rather than a museum or something is disappointing.

Descriptive comments from the ol' website:

Though it serves a practical purpose as a description of items up for sale at auction, this book and its second volume (below) also serve as coffee table books for fans interested in Star Trek's costumes, set decoration, furniture, props, models, and more. Every page has full colour photos (sometimes one per page, sometimes more, depending on the item in question) with a brief description and, frequently, a note provided by the Okudas providing extra context or trivia relating to the item in question.

There are two options for potential buyers: the less expensive takes the form of two paperback volumes with a print run of 10,000. The more expensive limited edition is two hardcover volumes in a slipcase (with a lenticular cover image of the Enterprise-A) and a ten-minute DVD with behind-the-scenes footage from the Paramount warehouse and the auction house, as well as interviews with Michael and Denise Okuda, Robert Blackman, Michael Westmore, and Rod Roddenberry. (Thanks to Helen Bailey and Cathy Elkies at Christie's for information on the limited edition.)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Star Trek: The Manga: Shinsei Shinsei

The long-awaited Star Trek manga from Tokyopop has arrived in comic shops. Some thoughts:

Published in standard Tokyopop manga format (trade paperback closer to mass market paperback than comic book size), this is a collection of new comic stories done following the graphic conventions of Japanese manga, though most of the artists involved aren't Japanese. The cartoonish and sometimes simple style (not to mention sound effects captions in Japanese characters and other manga trademarks) may take some readers by surprise, but the art is reasonably good throughout. Unfortunately, few of the artists do a very good job of capturing the looks of the regular characters, perhaps because they're trying to be faithful to manga styles while also trying to create recognizable likenesses. None of the artists follow the approach used several years ago by Atelier Lana in his unofficial Star Trek manga, Star Trekker, in which the regulars were drawn realistically and new characters were drawn more cartoonishly.

As for the stories themselves, all set during the time of the original TV series, they're a mixed bag. They suffer from being relatively brief, around 32 pages on average. At least a couple of stories seem to have been written with the intention of bringing popular manga tropes into Star Trek, but that's not a problem; though "Orphans" is a giant mecha story, it actually works pretty well. At times there's something of a Gold Key feel to the stories: they're too short to allow much in the way of plot complications, much less character work, a couple of the stories offer overly familiar situations, and I sometimes got the impression that a couple of the writers and artists weren't as familiar with the original Star Trek as they could be. (The only contributors who have written Star Trek before, as far as I know, are Mike Barr, who wrote Star Trek comics for DC and has also written prose Trek for Pocket, and Chris Dows, who did some writing on Malibu's Deep Space Nine comic.)

The book isn't something I can rave about unreservedly, but it's an interesting experiment, and one I'd like to see repeated, perhaps with another Star Trek series. (How much of the planned TNG manga was finished, anyway?) I'd buy more Tokyopop Trek. Well, of course I would. I buy everything. But I'd look forward to it with curiosity and anticipation rather than dread, which is more than can be said for a few Star Trek books I can think of.

But wait, there's more!

The best thing in the book is the story by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore from the forthcoming Star Trek short story anthology Constellations, which is also set during the run of the TV series but which, being prose and getting a lot more words on the page, is more able to capture the feel and tone of an old Star Trek episode. I knew Constellations has an excerpt from the manga, but I didn't realize the reverse was also true. Ward and Dilmore provide a story that really feels like classic Trek: there's the old friend of one of the big three characters who's apparently gone rogue on a pre-warp planet, and Kirk, Spock, and McCoy have to find her. It's an intelligently done Prime Directive story with some nice character work.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Lincoln Enterprises/Roddenberry.com starts script book series through CafePress

Roddenberry.com issued a press release earlier this week about its planned series of script books. Starting this month with an edition of Gene Roddenberry's script of original pilot "The Cage," the series is expected to produce one book per month over three years. Every series, including the animated series, is expected to be represented.

Here's the catch: each $25 (plus shipping) book is available to be ordered for one month only through CafePress. If you want "The Cage" but don't order it by September 5, you'll have to hope it pops up on eBay. I've ordered it, of course. I don't think I really need 36 paperbacks each reprinting a single script, but I'll get the first one and check it out. If it's decently produced I may keep on buying them. Assuming the three year mission actually goes as planned....

Interview with Jeff Ayers, author of Voyages of the Imagination

Jeff Ayers, author of the forthcoming Star Trek novel companion, was kind enough to answer a few questions about himself and the book.

You've been reviewing books, mainly thrillers and mysteries, it appears, for a number of publications. Had you reviewed any Star Trek books before this project?

I have been reviewing suspense/thrillers for Library Journal since 1999. I started writing columns and eventually grew into writing feature articles and interviewing authors for them. At the same time, I started interviewing authors for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. I just had my first interview for Writer Magazine appear in their July 2006 issue. Prior to Voyages, I did write one piece of Star Trek. I submitted a DS9 screenplay to Paramount between the second and third season. It got looked over, but ultimately rejected.

Had you already read many Star Trek novels? Were you a longtime fan of the show?

I’ve been buying all of the Trek books since junior high school. The bookstore owner knew me and would immediately say, “The new Trek book came in.” (This was before preordering on the Internet. I figured out the pattern of Pocket’s publication schedule and then haunted the store until I got it). So, I have been reading them since the late 70s on a regular basis. (And I got to go back and reread them for this project).

Do you have a particular favourite series? Without getting negative (or specific), was there any series you weren't too enthusiastic about dealing with?

I have loved the show since I discovered it and I even have them all now on DVD. (Season sets rule). The original will always hold a place in my heart though I’m a hardcore Trekker of all levels. Voyager didn’t live up to its potential, though the Doctor rocked. Enterprise had problems too, but I thought the 4th season was terrific. (Don’t get me started about the last episode of Enterprise).

How did this book come into existence? Was it as easy as pitching the idea to Pocket, or was it more involved?

I frequently lurk the Trek book bulletin boards and I kept thinking that a companion book to all of the novels would answer a ton of the questions that people were asking. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to write it! So, I wrote a proposal, got an agent, and six months later, Marco called my agent with an offer.

The book includes a wide variety of Trek fiction, from Mission to Horatius through the Bantam novels, including Pocket's various YA books. Was that part of the plan from the beginning, or did the scope of the book grow and change over time?

The original plan was for a 25th anniversary of Pocket having the Star Trek book license. The more I thought about it, and after talking to Marco, we both decided it would be better to be an all inclusive book covering the entire history of professionally published Trek fiction. I think the reason I had the honor of writing this book is I was the first person to say I wanted to interview the writers of the books and discover the “stories behind the stories.” The YA books were included after I had signed the contract and the William Rotsler books were included after you and I chatted. :-)

Looking back at nearly forty years of Star Trek fiction, do you see any patterns or eras? For example, some fans and writers talk of the Richard Arnold years, when there were considerable constraints on the writers, and every fan has a different idea of when the golden age was (or is), and of course different editors have done things in different ways.

The books during the “Richard Arnold era” were primarily cookie cutter style stories. Any conflict had to be brought in from external sources. I think John Ordover brought a sense of the comic book mentality to the line, creating multi-part sagas and crossovers. Now the novels have opened up entire universes with brand new characters in the various Star Trek eras. There has never been a better time to be reading the novels! The storytelling possibilities are truly endless.

How long has this taken? Now that you've nearly reached the finish line, how has the experience of writing this book compared to your original expectations?

I had no idea how time consuming and how much fun the whole process of creating Voyages would entail. The whole process of reading all of the novels, tracking everyone down for comments and other odds and ends took almost two years.

Did you encounter any surprises? Any stories from the novelists or editors that you wouldn't have expected? How hard a time did you have tracking the novelists down?

The biggest surprise for me came right away when I discovered that Pocket Books did not have current contact information for any author who had written a novel prior to 1996. I ended up being a detective and when I found one person, I would ask if they knew any of the other authors I was looking for. You would be surprised how close knit a community the Star Trek writers inhabit! I was amazed how many stories the authors revealed was more than just “I came up with the idea.” Heartbreaking and sometimes shocking details were unveiled. (And some of them won’t make the print version of the book).

Did you find yourself discovering forgotten gems, particular novels or novelists you think the fans should rediscover?

My biggest surprise was how much I enjoyed Mike Friedman’s Shadows on the Sun this time around. My personal favorites, like Federation and Q-Squared, were just as good the second time. My personal hope is that readers of my book will actively seek the novels that are out of print and maybe Pocket will reprint some of them. (Like they are doing now for the 40th anniversary).

How's the book organized? By series? By author? Chronologically?

I used David Henderson’s book list that used to be in the back of the novels as a template. So, you have the Bantam titles, the Ballantine titles, and then the Pocket titles. The numbered ones are first, followed by the unnumbered books.

How is a typical entry organized? Do they vary much in length or detail?

Title of book/author/publication date/pagination
Book Cover
Summary of book (as spoiler free as possible)
Author and editor comments

Each entry varies based on how much information I could get from the various sources. Each page will be double columned. With the timeline and index, the book is over 800 pages.

What are you most proud of about this book?

Besides the book itself, which is still a dream until I see it in the store, and even then it will probably seem unreal. This book has opened doors both professional and personal that I never imagined. I’m another living example of Star Trek changing their life.

What's next? Will you be keeping up with the Star Trek books with an eye to doing a second edition?

I will always be reading Star Trek books and it will be weird to not be trying to track down information when the books come out next year. I hope that fans will want another edition down the road and I would be happy to do it!

Do you have any thoughts, plans, or dreams of future Star Trek-related projects?

As a result of this book, I found a writing partner and the two of us just had our first Star Trek novel proposal rejected. We will keep trying! Marco was an amazing editor and I hope to work with him again in the future which is why I’ll keep trying for future Trek projects.

Any projects that have nothing to do with Star Trek?

My writing partner and I have a proposal for a Young Adult mystery series being looked at and I hope to be writing another non-fiction book in the near future. I also have a thriller that I hope will see the light of day.

I’m still staying active in my various reviews, interview writing, and book stuff while trying to juggle family time with my full time job.

Voyages of the Imagination will be available from Pocket Books this fall.

Burning Dreams

Margaret Wander Bonanno's novel about Christopher Pike is an event book. It's the story of a man's life. Unlike previous looks at Pike (for example, Where Sea Meets Sky, or the Early Voyages comic) it's not about Pike and the crew of the Enterprise meeting a new challenge. If you've always been more curious about Number One or Jose Tyler than Christopher Pike, this is not your book. The focus is on Pike as a man rather than Pike as captain of the Enterprise, so some of the crew play surprisingly small parts in the story.

Here's where the spoilers (and the quibbles, then back to the praise) come in.

First, the quibbles. There are snake aliens whose name, annoyingly enough, is an anagram for snake and whose biology is too closely related to Earth reptiles. It's as if, because they're reptilian in appearance, they must share all traits known to Earth snakes and reptiles. But there's no reason why they should. For that matter, considering that these "snakes" have limbs, why do they have to share with Earth snakes a lack of hearing, a need to shed their skin, and other traits?

Then there's Siddhe, a character who struck me as more of a plot device or author's darling than a realized character in her own right. She's too much of a cliched witchy woman. The name doesn't help, either the blatant symbolism of it (a woman with "the sight" being named after fairy creatures! Go figure!). Then there's the spelling of the name. Another planet, another alphabet, another language... so her name is transliterated as a variant on an Irish spelling. It seems unlikely to me, at least, that if an alien's name were to be transliterated for the benefit of English speakers, it would be done in a language spoken by a very small number of people and with a very different set of pronunciations of the alphabet from most other languages using it. (Although Google tells me the spelling used here is apparently a Sanskrit word as well... probably not pronounced the way the character says it's pronounced. Its meaning is different, as well, though relevant enough.) As for the character herself... though it's good to see Pike reconcile with his father, it shouldn't have required a third party to make it happen. Aside from that, Siddhe's main purpose is to serve as a harbinger of doom.

Final quibble: the structure of the book. The most powerful and affecting scenes of the book, as the reunited Pike and Vina get to know each other, come too early. Pike's reconciliation with his father, his adventure with Spock, his effect on Talosian society... all have their own power, but none affected me as strongly as the Pike/Vina material. Okay, maybe I'm a shipper.

These quibbles don't add up to an excuse for missing this book. On the contrary, it's well worth reading, as it captures the character of Christopher Pike as seen in "The Cage" and "The Menagerie," adding context to many of the episode's scenes. A lot of us longtime Star Trek fans have been curious about Pike, wanting to know more; we do have a few relatively conventional adventures in the form of a few novels and comics, but nothing like this. We see Pike at a number of key points in his life, from childhood to the end, and part of that process is seeing him in action. I wasn't too thrilled by the adult Pike's encounter with the sentient snake things, but the story of the younger Pike living on a troubled colony world combines family drama with SF and, ultimately, action and tragedy. As with the Pike/Vina scenes, it's among the best stuff in the book.

Burning Dreams also does something no other professionally published Trek fiction (and no fanfic I can recall) has ever done: made sense of Vina, her place on Talos IV, and her connection with Pike. Number One's recitation of facts about Vina (her age and position as a crew member aboard the crashed starship) seemed to be intended to make Vina less appealing to Pike and less interesting to the viewer. MWB has made the Vina we saw onscreen much more of a real person, and has done the same for the Talosians as well, putting some of the events we saw onscreen in a whole new light. She also addresses why Spock is so loyal to a former captain that he risks prison or execution to take Pike back to Talos IV, and she also considers some of the ramifications of the events of "The Menagerie" in particular -- for example, the extent to which Spock was acting of his own will, the implications of the Talosians' power to reach telepathically across great distances, and more.

Burning Dreams is a worthy expansion of a time and a character too rarely explored.