The Sky's the Limit
Years ago, TNG supremacists on rec.arts.startrek.current and elsewhere used to bash the original Star Trek for being camp or larger than life or silly, while also bashing DS9 for being boring because it was set on a space station or for not having a proper Starfleet crew. I'd occasionally respond by arguing that, due to Gene Roddenberry's perfect 24th century humans, the crew of TNG was a pretty dull bunch compared to those of the other Trek shows.
But the strength of most of the stories in the TNG anniversary anthology, The Sky's the Limit, is that the writers have captured the characters so well. Despite what I may have said in the past when provoked by the TNG supremacists, the show's characters did evolve into real and believable people, and they're what kept TNG watchable when the later seasons and the movies drifted into some pretty dire storytelling.
Anthologies by nature are variable beasts, the work of different writers looking at the subject/theme differently. And not all writers are created equal, so there's often a story or two that just doesn't hit the target for a given reader. That was certainly the case with last year's Constellations; there were two stories I wouldn't have published, but I won't name names. Other people liked those stories, after all. The Sky's the Limit, on the other hand, was surprisingly consistent,with a lot of good stuff that captured the characters and the series well.
I thought the book got off to a slightly shaky start with Steve Mollmann and Michael Schuster's "Meet With Triumph and Disaster," which didn't really hook me, but it was the first half of a two-part story, and the second half, "Trust Yourself When All Men Doubt You," more than paid off. The first half, after all, dealt with a new character and had only a few pages to make us care about him. The second half lets us see that character through Picard's eyes, and that makes a big difference.
From there on, it's pretty much all good. All the regular characters get a chance to shine, and we get stories ranging from high concept action pieces to more character-focused stories. Wesley Crusher and Kate Pulaski are not forgotten; neither are Barclay, Ro, Taurik, and other less frequently seen characters. There are some stories that manage to work in a lot of creative worldbuilding in their limited space (Scott Pearson's "Among the Clouds"), visit what-if scenarios (James Swallow's "Ordinary Days"), or provide closure to situations from certain episodes (e.g.,Geoff Trowbridge's "Suicide Note," following on from "The Defector," Keith DeCandido's "Four Lights," following on from "Chain of Command"). The stories sometimes engage in dialogue with the TV series, as Christopher Bennett does with "Friends With the Sparrows," a Data story that intelligently addresses the issue of Data's emotions, with and without the emotion chip; it's a must-read for Data fans. And there are stories that are pure fun, like David McIntee's Spot story.
The anthology effectively covers the span of years from Farpoint to Nemesis, lets the stars and the supporting characters and the guest stars all have their share of the spotlight, and ranges in mood from comic to tragic. It's a more than worthy counterpart to the ambitious if at times uneven novels published this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Next Generation.
Strange New Worlds has run its course, so we're not guaranteed an annual supply of short Star Trek fiction. I hope Pocket continues producing anthologies like this one, anniversary year or not, for at least a couple of reasons. For one, a lot of us longtime fans started out with short stories -- Blish and Foster's adaptations and the Star Trek: The New Voyages books, and there's a certain nostalgic appeal there (perhaps best captured by the cover art for Constellations, which drew on the imagery of the '70s Blish books' covers). For another, considering the cutback in the Trek publishing line, it's a good way to ensure a variety of voices in the Trek fiction line (it's good to finally get some Trek fiction from David McIntee, for example). And, finally, short fiction allows for a lot of stories that simply don't need a few hundred pages to be told, stories that can make an impact on the reader with only a few pages.
I'm actually hoping for an Enterprise anthology now....