Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Flag Full of Stars

Spoilers for the published and unpublished versions of the book.

Finally. I finally printed out and read Brad Ferguson's original version of his Star Trek novel A Flag Full of Stars, many many years after I first downloaded it. Ferguson made the original available online because he felt the published version, released with his name on the cover, didn't really represent his work, as it was extensively rewritten by J.M. Dillard after Paramount had some issues with his first draft and his repeated rewrites. (It's a similar situation to Margaret Wander Bonanno's Music of the Spheres/Probe debacle; both happened back in the Richard Arnold era.)

If there's a problem with the original, it's that it isn't about James T. Kirk. He's practically a guest star in his own story. Kevin Riley has more of a story arc in the book than Kirk does. So do the Klingon G'dath and the reporter Nan Davis. What happened to Kirk between the end of the five year mission and the beginning of Star Trek - The Motion Picture is supposed to be what this second Lost Years book is about, but there's not enough of that there. Yes, we see Kirk getting dissatisfied, we see his marriage to Lori Ciana crumble, but the whole story takes place over a few days. The scope is pretty limited. It's also a short novel, despite Ferguson's scenes showcasing his Heinlein-influenced vision of 23rd century Earth in general, and the city of "N'York" in particular.

I read it remembering precious little about the published version, and found it a reasonably enjoyable read, but with some discordant tones here and there. The comic relief character who's an excuse for union bashing, for example. The multiple Heinlein references (a student named Rico has to do homework on mechanized armour; N'Yorkers get around on slidewalks out of "The Roads Must Roll;" an unnamed SF writer is the official founder of the first moon colony despite dying before it was founded because he was so goshdarn great and influential) can get to be a bit much. But there's a lot of nice touches, too, with the book's exploration of a Klingon character who isn't a warrior and is having a hard time coping with humans' distrust and suspicion; the 300th anniversary of the first moon landing and the refitting of a certain old space shuttle as part of the celebrations; a flashback sequence to Kirk and Riley's experience with Kodos the Executioner...

Anyway, I very quickly skimmed through the published version, and it follows the original pretty closely in terms of the basic plot (Klingon scientist living on Earth and teaching schoolchildren invents amazingly powerful energy source while Kirk prepares for the 300th anniversary and oversees the Enterprise refit and Kevin Riley tries to figure out whether to become less of a screwup than he is already). There are some significant differences, though. For one, Kirk and his wife Lori Ciana (as established in Roddenberry's novelization of STTMP) are both presented more sympathetically in the published version, and there's a sign of hope for their relationship at the end of the book. A few scenes told from one character's point of view in one version are told from another's in the other. There's a subplot involving G'dath's students that plays into the drastically revised hostage situation that ends the book. Ferguson's extrapolations about future Earth are largely dropped, as far as I could tell. A tense scene involving Kirk and Starfleet Admiral Timothea Rogers, who's been essentially demoted by Nogura to give Kirk a job, seems to be absent (and along with it the revelation that she was Pike's Number One). The hostage crisis plays out very differently, in part because of the student perspective on the events, but also in terms of who's present, who's killed, who's taken captive, who survives the violent resolution of the situation, and Riley's part in events. G'dath is as important in the revised version as he is in the original, but Nan Davis has a significantly reduced part to play.

A lot of the changes in the book seem to be about making characters like Kirk and Riley more active, more sympathetic, and less passive, and making the ending of the book much more positive.

My very hasty skim through the published version wasn't enough to let me judge whether it's a better-written book. Looking strictly at the original, it's not hard to see why some rewrites were requested. It gives too much of the spotlight to characters who should really just be supporting characters in a trilogy that's supposed to tell us what happened to Kirk, Spock, and McCoy at this time, and its science fictional extrapolations don't always, imho, really fit with the Star Trek universe. The union bashing served no purpose other than to demonstrate fidelity to Heinleinian libertarianism; it certainly wasn't funny, and one suspects that Ferguson thought readers would be happy when that character gets killed. That seems a bit excessive.

The book needed some changes and improvements. The original manuscript is not a lost classic butchered by the intervention of small-minded middlemen. Instead, it's a flawed book that needed to be improved, but the intervention of small-minded middlemen happened anyway. Whether it got the improvements it needed is an exercise for the reader.


At 5:59 PM, Blogger Therin of Andor said...

Great review! Thanks!

At 1:59 PM, Blogger Tara said...

Based on your review, I tracked down the author's original draft because I'm a huge fan of Number One and was curious about what she was like in the original draft of the novel.

Wow. I am SO GLAD that Timothea Rogers isn't Number One in the final published novel. Because in the author's draft I found Rogers to be an singularly harsh and unflattering portrayal of a character I adored from "The Cage". I can't get over how much I don't recognise Majel's character at all in the writer's original draft. And the fact that all the other characters are given leave to rip on her any time she appears doesn't help. Even Nogura when he's defending her to Kirk, it's patronising as hell.


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