Thursday, November 16, 2006

Voyages of Imagination by Jeff Ayers

First, a confession. I'm still not finished reading this monster of a book. I think I've read enough to comment fairly on it, though -- 552 pages.

Next, the quibbles, starting with the nitpickiest. The grammar in the plot synopses is sometimes shaky. That could be the result of the difficulty of summing up a novel in a few lines, at least in part, but the book has an unusually large number of dangling modifiers.

There were a few entries that, in my opinion, at least, were lacking in key information. For example, the entry on the Generations novelization should have mentioned the fact that the hardcover and paperback have different endings. The Killing Time entry has a Richard Arnold explanation for the situation that doesn't match up with any other account of the event that I have ever read. Some of the synopses are too reminiscent of the back cover blurbs, something I wouldn't expect to notice if I hadn't entered all the damn things on my website a year or two ago.

Another disappointment was predictable and well out of Jeff's control: the unavailability of certain writers. This is a minor quibble, given the number of writers who did contribute.

Finally, reading the book nonstop, I found some of the authors' reminiscences blurring together, especially with the SNW interviews. There are a lot of "And then I heard John Ordover's message on my answering machine and I screamed so loud the neighbours called the police" anecdotes.

But... these are quibbles. Nitpicks. In no way should these minor little things deter anyone from buying a hell of a book that is clearly the product of a great deal of work. Jeff went through all the fiction. He went after all the writers for interviews, and he managed to speak to the majority of them. He whipped what must have been an enormous mass of information into an organized work that people will be referring back to years from now. (Next question for the Star Trek Books FAQ: When will Voyages of Imagination be updated?)

Jeff elicited surprising revelations from a lot of writers. Were some novelists in it for the money and uninterested in Star Trek? Were some cynical about the whole thing? Do some say they got what they needed from the experience and they have no interest in doing it again? Do some exude smugness or arrogance? Do some have horror stories about their editors, or about Richard Arnold? Yes.

On the other hand... do some writers whose work I've disliked come across as well-intentioned and enthusiastic about writing Star Trek? Do some writers come across as fans thrilled by being in a position to write novels about a show and characters they've always loved? Do some writers make the whole Trek novel-writing process sound like a great, fun, challenging adventure? Do some make you lose any shred of cynicism you may have about tie-in writing and just get you excited and happy about this forty-year journey? Do some make you want to read the next story, to get around to reading that novel or anthology or ebook you haven't read yet? Hell, yes.

Voyages of Imagination is a remarkable treasure trove of information, covering everything from James Blish's adaptations and Mack Reynolds's Mission to Horatius right up to the Crucible trilogy, but it's also a celebration of the history of Star Trek fiction. As you read, you can see how Star Trek and the books based on it changed over the years. You can see the effects of different editors and approval regimes.

Let me put it this way: anyone who's bothered to read this review needs this book.

And I haven't even mentioned the Timeline yet. I can only imagine how much work went into it. It's a great supplementary feature for a book like this.

So go. Buy it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will note that I am thanked in the Acknowledgments section of the book. I think my contributions were small enough that I'm not sure I needed to be there, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't make my day. Thanks, Jeff.

One final fannish note... the first Star Trek book I ever got was Mission to Horatius, but that was a birthday or Christmas present. The first Star Trek book I ever bought was a slightly battered used copy of Star Trek 3, purchased at Allison the Bookman in North Bay, Ontario, back in 1973 or '74. It was the first of several hundred Star Trek books I've bought. It was boxed up and moved across Canada several times over the years, and it's on a bookshelf just a cat length or two from me right now. And it's on page 3 of Voyages of Imagination. My copy. You can see the scratches and wrinkles in the scan in the book. How cool is that?


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