Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Titan art by Geoff Thorne

Over at the TrekBBS Trek Art forum, Geoff Thorne (author of the Titan novel Sword of Damocles) is doing a series of illustrations for an imaginary Titan animated series, with character drawings and wallpapers inspired by the books in the series. He's also posted them on his Sword of Damocles annotations blogspot site.

The Titan crew is a diverse one, with a number of characters original to the books, so a series of illustrations is helpful. The cartoony style Thorne is using here is simple but fun, and it's not hard to imagine an actual animated series using these character designs. Well worth checking out.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Random news

Kristine Smith, whose vanity press book DeForest Kelley: A Harvest of Memories: My Life and Times With a Remarkable Gentleman Actor was published back in 2001, has a new ebook out: Enduring Legacy of DeForest Kelley. 61 pages for US$4.95. The description from the publisher's site:
DeForest Kelley's former personal assistant Kristine M Smith has compiled the memories and reminiscences of fans and friends whose lives were blessed and changed forever by the career or kindness of the late actor who portrayed Dr. Leonard McCoy in the original Star Trek series. All who contributed to the tome have realized the immense impact that the iconic "Bones" has had on their lives and careers. Smith reveals that Kelley's enduring legacy includes fans who continue to boldly go where few have gone before, making a difference every step of the way."
Meanwhile, Anita Okrent has a book on invented languages that apparently includes some discussion of Klingon: In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language. Looks interesting, but it won't be added to the site, because it's not primarily about Star Trek.

John Erik Ege has found the latest way to risk a CBS smackdown: selling Star Trek fanfic on Amazon for the Kindle.

McFarland, publisher of a few nonfiction books on Star Trek, will be publishing David Greven's Gender and Sexuality in Star Trek: Allegories of Desire in the Television Series and Films in fall/winter 2009.

Publisher's description:
Studying the Star Trek myth from the original 1960s series to the 2009 franchise-reboot film, this book challenges frequent accusations that the Star Trek saga refuses to represent queer sexuality. Arguing that Star Trek speaks to queer audiences through subtle yet distinctive allegorical narratives, the analysis pays close attention to representations of gender, race, and sexuality to develop an understanding of the franchise’s queer sensibility. Topics include the 1960s original’s deconstruction of the male gaze and the traditional assumptions of male visual mastery; constructions of femininity in Star Trek: Voyager, particularly in the relationship between Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine; and the ways in which Star Trek: Enterprise’s adoption of neoconservative politics may have led to its commercial and aesthetic failure.
Greven has an article on Enterprise available here: The twilight of identity: Enterprise, neoconservatism, and the death of Star Trek. It's a good article, so I expect the book should be pretty good.

Out now (and on order from Amazon): Star Trek: A Post-Structural Critique of the Original Series by Michael Hemmingson, published by Wildside Press.
Well-known writer Michael Hemmingson offers a history and critique of the original Star Trek TV series, and the impact it has had on our culture, language, and science. Also included is the first coverage in book form of the 2009 Star Trek motion picture.
In Pocket news, one of next year's TBA novels is apparently Inception, a TOS novel by S.D. Perry. And the forthcoming Enterprise novel about the Romulan War has a subtitle now, Beneath the Raptor's Wing, which may suggest that there will be more than one Romulan War novel. I think one is plenty, but others are free to disagree.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Troublesome Minds


Dave Galanter's Troublesome Minds is a deliberate throwback to the old days of standalone Star Trek novels. He's said he wanted to go back to the feel of original series episodes, so we have a story that focuses on Kirk, Spock, and McCoy as they deal with the alien of the week. So far, so good. He's also said he wanted an ending that doesn't tie things up neatly, that leaves the reader wondering if there might have been another way. Still sounds promising. And the core idea, that an exceptional telepath can take over his or her entire society of telepaths without even understanding that it's happening, is an interesting one.

But the book didn't really work for me. There are some great stories that begin with someone doing what seems like the right thing, only to learn that it may not have been, and every step taken towards putting things right takes the protagonist farther away from any kind of positive resolution. What often makes that kind of story work is a tight focus on a viewpoint character, so we can clearly see the thought processes going into the decisions, understand what seems to be the right way to go, and share the character's concern/frustration/despair/desperation that things keep getting worse. A lot of noir fiction, for example, is built on this sort of thing.

But we don't really get that character perspective in Troublesome Minds. We're introduced to a number of new alien characters, but the telepathic Isitri never become real characters, much less viewpoint characters, because of the key point in the story: their minds are being controlled by a "troublesome mind," an extraordinarily powerful telepath who may not even realize that he's controlling everyone around him. Berlis himself, the troublesome mind, is presented as a guy who's not necessarily bad. He's not a cackling evil villain, he's a naive nice guy who just has a way of making everyone agree with him on everything, and on agreeing that he's a nice guy. But again he's not a viewpoint character. Kirk, Spock, or McCoy could be -- but a key part of the story is that Spock may be compromised by exposure to Berlis's telepathic control, so he won't work as a viewpoint character. As the man who makes the decisions, Kirk's the logical choice. But instead Galanter opts for third-person omniscient narration. He occasionally gives us bits and pieces of what characters are noticing or thinking, but generally stays on the outside, giving us a lot of what's going on in people's minds by saying that someone is smirking or scoffing or sneering. (There's a bit of Diane Carey-style writing going on here. More below.) That distancing is fatal, because I never really cared about any of the aliens, and I didn't get close enough to the regulars to feel what they were going through. I sometimes wondered, why is Kirk doing this? I didn't get enough of the reasoning behind some of his actions. To mix metaphors, the characters were like pawns in a game of chess played by someone with a stacked deck.

I think the book will do reasonably well, though; a lot of people have been waiting for a straightforward standalone novel. For that matter, a lot of people, including writers whose work I enjoy, like Diane Carey-style writing. There will probably be people who will find this one of the most satisfying Star Trek novels in some time, and fair play to them.

And now for some nitpicking. The main review is over. This is stuff I wrote while reading the book; it's some of the things that bugged me and don't really rise to the level of being a proper review. But still, they tasked me, and I will have them.

Okay... telepathic aliens. They don't use spoken or written language, and a lot of them are deaf (never mind that deafness puts them at an evolutionary disadvantage; hearing's not just good for talking, it's good for knowing there's a dangerous animal growling at you, or a truck behind you honking its horn). They either use telepathy or sign language. They don't string letters together because they have no written language, and they don't string sounds together because they have no spoken language and many of them are deaf. So how do they come up with names like Berlis and Chista?

They're also a reasonably advanced technological culture, but their telepathy does not result in a hive mind, so we can't assume they use their brains for distributed computing and information storage. They have cities and space travel but no books. To take one simple example, what do their engineers use for math tables? If a troublesome mind, as the Isitri call powerful telepaths, takes over everyone's consciousness for a generation or two and people have no memory of what happened during his or her rule, how do they preserve any information -- history, culture, whatever? This is addressed somewhat eventually, by saying that information is shared in the it's-not-a-group-mind, but I'm not convinced.

Then there's the prose.

"He had large eyes that bulged even when closed, and flat nostrils without a pronounced nose -- an interesting evolution." (p.5) Interesting to whom? There's no clear POV in this passage. The scene begins with McCoy talking, but a few paragraphs later Kirk is noticing something. There's no real attempt at portraying the scene's events from one character's perspective, it's written as by an omniscient third party narrator. So who finds it interesting? And for that matter, "an interesting evolution?" Wow, that's quite the evolution you have there, Bob!

Next, let's review a couple of definitions. Sneer: to smile, laugh, or contort the face in a manner that shows scorn or contempt; to speak or write in a manner expressive of derision or scorn. Scoff: to speak derisively; mock; jeer.

On p.113, Galanter has Kirk scoffing at Spock. On p.125, Kirk sneers at Chekov. On TV, Kirk has some disagreements with his officers. But scorn? Contempt? Derision? I don't think so. In this context, I suspect it's just meant as a Careyism: the use of any word other than "said." But those aren't action words (see below), they express a particular emotional state that's wrong for Kirk in general and for Kirk in these scenes in particular.

Action! "Kirk hammered the doctor with a sharp glare." Another Careyism, from a paragraph on p.126. This is a cheap and silly effect. It's not an action sequence. Writing it as if it is doesn't make it exciting, it detracts from any real drama or suspense the scene may be building. Should you really stop reading at this point to try to picture a sharp hammer? Not the only time this sort of thing happens. Still, at least Galanter doesn't indulge himself with this stuff as much as Carey does. And, hell, I doubt Galanter minds being compared to Carey, who I gather has been something of a friend and mentor, along with her husband, Greg Brodeur.