Friday, August 11, 2006

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.


Post a Comment

<< Home