Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Star Trek: Crew

Comics legend John Byrne has become one of the mainstays of IDW's Star Trek comics, and I'm coming around to the idea that that's a good thing. Though I haven't been crazy about some of his Romulan stuff, the Assignment: Earth miniseries was a fun read, and I really enjoyed Crew, too.

Crew is a prequel to the original series, featuring Number One from "The Cage" at several points in her career leading up to that episode. It's a great idea, and one that should appeal to fans of the Star Trek: Early Voyages comic that Marvel produced a few years back and IDW reprinted this year in trade paperback.

Crew has a very deliberately retro feel; this could have come from the 1960s in some respects. This isn't the familiar and well-explored galaxy of modern Trek, it's a place with a lot of dark, unexplored corners. There's even what may be a reference to Forbidden Planet, with an image of a colonists' graveyard on a hillside. There's also some nice use of continuity -- when Number One arrives on the Enterprise, Bob and Sarah April are the captain and chief medical officer, and Christopher Pike and Spock are new arrivals as well. Unlike Early Voyages, which gave Number One the name Robbins, Crew doesn't name its protagonist, but it doesn't try to come up with a silly rationalization about Number One being her name, either. There's also some continuity with Byrne's Past Trek comics: one story is a sequel to one of his Assignment: Earth stories.

If there's any downside, it's the high body count (a lot of people get killed in the course of these stories), and the fact that two stories feature impostors posing as crew members. Overall, though, I really enjoyed it, and strongly recommend it, especially to old school original series fans. John Byrne fans will also enjoy the bonus features: original black and white artwork for one issue and a cover gallery featuring black and white and finished versions of the covers.

Memories of the Future Volume 1

Building on some online posts and podcasts, Wil Wheaton's published a new book, Memories of the Future Volume 1. It's the first in a planned series of eight books in which Wheaton reviews the first four seasons of TNG.

The first volume reviews first season episodes from "Encounter at Farpoint" to "Datalore." Each episode summary is divided into sections: Synopsis, Quotable Dialogue, Obligatory Technobabble, Behind the Scenes Memory, The Bottom Line, and Final Grade. The book looks professionally designed and laid out, with just one tipoff that it's a print-on-demand book from Lulu: there are blank lines as paragraph breaks instead of indents.

The tone is generally snarky, and the humour... well, if a friend was making those remarks while you were both watching the show, they might be funnier. They sometimes fall flat as written commentary. But what makes the book especially worth reading are the moments when Wheaton talks about what it was like to be there filming those episodes -- problems with writers and directors, the way the cast started coming together, and that sort of thing. But it's generally a light and breezy read -- a little too light for the cover price ($19.87 -- get it?), perhaps, but fun enough.

Wheaton's demonstrated in past books like Dancing Barefoot and Just a Geek that he can write, that he can be self-deprecating but also stand up for himself when necessary, and that he's come to terms with the whole Wesley Crusher experience, and even when he criticizes his own performance, you'll be laughing with him, not at him.

Monday, October 26, 2009

On the Death of GeoCities

So, in honor of the impending death of GeoCities, I did a little googling to see if the site or two I played around with and abandoned might still be around. Apparently not, as it turns out, but then it's entirely possible I deleted them myself ages ago. But I did find a copy of an early version of the FASA Trek RPG page from my site presented as part of someone else's Trek gaming site. Someone, under the name grethor_qujmey, posted my page with a little added info including a list of "articals" and some wonky formatting without even deleting my name.

It's disconcerting enough to discover I've been plagiarized (it's happened a few times that I know of); it's downright weird when the plagiarist leaves my name on it.

To Go Where No Other Has Gone Before: Gender and Race in Star Trek

Here's one I'm afraid I won't be buying. Nearly a hundred bucks for a reprint of a doctoral dissertation? From a German print-on-demand firm that, according to Writer Beware, has its contracts set up in such a way that the author will likely never see any royalties despite (or perhaps because of) the high cover price, and that under another imprint publishes books that are just unedited wikipedia entries?

I understand that academic texts are often expensive because of small print runs, but that doesn't apply to print-on-demand. If you were to publish a 180-page trade paperback book through, your cost would be in the ballpark of ten dollars. You wouldn't necessarily have your book available through Amazon, as it is if VDM Verlag publishes it, but Amazon has its own POD company, Createspace, which appears to work much the same way as Lulu, and Createspace titles can be listed on Amazon.

It's a shame this book is so expensive, because it sounds like interesting reading, as academic dissertations go: "Casavant analyzes the construction of race and gender in the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, uses post-colonial theory to examine the ways in which power functions in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, offering that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the most subversive of all Star Trek shows, and examines how dominant constructions of femininity are both interrogated and reaffirmed in Star Trek: Voyager."

Fortunately, there is an alternative. The dissertation is available through UMI/ProQuest, a company that has specialized in making theses and dissertations available for decades. They don't print nicely bound books, but if you're not affiliated with a university (as staff, faculty, or student) you can buy a pdf for $41; if you are affiliated with a university, you can probably get a copy if the university has access to the database. (If you're worried about losing the author a bit of income by taking this route, go look at the Writer Beware link above; she'd have to sell a lot of copies to get any royalties on sales, and that's not likely to happen with that cover price.)

So... a look at the bibliography shows a number of academic theory sources, but also a lot of Star Trek-related citations. Looks promising.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Trapped in Time

Spoilers. There are often spoilers here. I sometimes forget to point that out.

The last of the DS9 YA novels, Trapped in Time is almost as much of a departure from the original format as the previous book, Honor Bound (see below). Okay, it's a Nog and Jake adventure, but instead of being set during the first couple of seasons, it's set during the Dominion War, with Nog at Starfleet Academy. Jake's visiting Earth with Miles O'Brien, and the three set out to France to visit a scientist who's researching time travel. Before you can say "look out he's a changeling and he's going back through time to change history," well. Off they go to World War II, just before the D-Day Invasion of Normandy.

Miles, Jake, and Nog have to find the changeling, who's taken the form of a Nazi officer and is heading to Paris to inform the regional Nazi military command that the Allies are going to hit the beaches in just a few days. They have run-ins with Nazis and French resistance fighters and Jake gets a bit of a crush on a French girl, at one point saving her life. It feels a little too familiar -- it seems like everyone who does time travel will meet Nazis eventually, whether in Star Trek or Doctor Who or....

There are also some indications that the author hasn't thought this whole changeling thing through: Miles and the others think that tying him up while he's unconscious (from being hit on the head -- would that really do anything to a changeling?) will keep him safe and secure. They learn otherwise, of course, but they should have already known that.

The end of the book may strike some more jaded and cynical readers as fanwanky, but I liked it. First, Miles arranges for Jake to meet someone Miles knows pretty well: Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Second, Picard reveals why he wanted to meet Jake: he has a letter one of his ancestors wrote after the war that the family has passed down until the right moment. Yep, that cute French girl was Picard's great-great-etc-grandmother, and she sends Jake a letter to tell him she survived. Once Picard enters the scene, the family connection's not hard to see coming, but it's a nice touch to end a series of DS9 books with an appearance from a guest star from the very first DS9 episode. And the letter, about surviving the war, strikes a chord for Jake, who's living through the Dominion War.

Overall, I liked it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Honor Bound

Still catching up with the backlog...

Eleven of the twelve Deep Space Nine young adult books are about the misadventures of Jake Sisko and Nog during their early years there. This one's different. It's about Alexander, son of Worf, living on Earth with Worf's adoptive parents, the Rozhenkos. It ties in with the 1997 Day of Honor crossover about the Klingon holiday of the same name.

Unlike most of the Trek YA books, this one is a problem novel. Alexander is experiencing rages he can't control at a time when just being a Klingon on Earth is bad enough, because of the short-lived war with the Klingons prior to the Dominion War. He doesn't fit in at school any more, he's getting into trouble, fighting other kids, and the Rozhenkos are worried. So Worf comes home in time to visit for the Day of Honor.

Alexander's problem is simple: he's a pubescent Klingon. As is often the case in Star Trek, nature trumps nurture, and Alexander doesn't know how to deal with his inherently violent nature. Worf teaches Alexander mok'bara and reinforces the importance of honour for Klingons; he also tells Alexander about how he accidentally killed a classmate when he was young. Everything gets neatly resolved by the end of the book.

On the one hand, the book is kind of interesting because it does something the TV series almost never seemed to do: it treats Alexander as a character in his own right, not just as a problem for Worf to deal with. On the other hand, it does so in a very conventional story that could be turned into a 20th century YA book about, say, an Asian kid in the US during the Vietnam war, or an Arab kid more recently. Despite the reference to padds and Starfleet and shuttles and whatnot, life in the 24th century is essentially unchanged from 20th century American life. Home life, school, nothing's changed much at all.

As a character story, and a YA story, it's reasonably competent and entertaining, if a bit too easily resolved at the end. But for me, what it does most is point out that Alexander never got the character development he needed onscreen, and it's welcome for making an effort.


Today we take the wayback machine to the late 1990s and then go off on a tangent to the 1950s.

The last of the Next Generation Starfleet Academy young adult novels, Bobbi and David Weiss's Deceptions is an entertaining read. Data and some fellow cadets are on assignment at an archeological dig, where some odd artefacts cause unexpected problems. It's a solidly Star Trek kind of story, the science fictional elements being not very scientific at all (storing emotions in physical objects) but consistent enough with a number of Star Trek episodes. Data is appropriately characterized, a bit more naive than he was at the beginning of TNG, and learning how to get along with humans and aliens. His android nature comes in handy over the course of the story, though none of the other characters really get a lot of development. It's a plot-driven story and moves along quickly. Nothing really special, but it does what it sets out to do.

Pocket published twenty young adult Starfleet novels: fourteen Next Generation books and three each from the original series and Voyager. (The dozen Deep Space Nine YA novels weren't set at the Academy.) The academy setting is an attractive one for both science fiction and young adult fiction. It has built-in character development, because leaving home for school is something of a coming of age, as characters face new responsibilities, take new roles, meet new people, encounter new ideas. It has some audience identification elements, because although no one's been to Starfleet Academy, everyone's been to a new school at some point. It also allows for some major league infodumping: about characters (where are you from? why'd you come to the Academy? what's your homeworld like?), about setting, and about whatever the story ends up being about. You expect infodumps when you're at school.

So it's no wonder so many people have decided to do Academy stories -- Harve Bennett wanted to do Kirk and the gang at the Academy, J.J. Abrams actually did it, Marvel produced the Starfleet Academy comic book series, and so on. Academy days were often discussed in the various Trek TV series, and one episode was specifically about Academy life (TNG's "The First Duty.")

If Yvonne Fern's Gene Roddenberry: The Last Conversation is to be believed, the science fiction novel that had the most influence on Roddenberry when he created the show was Robert A. Heinlein's juvenile (the 1950s term for young adult books) Space Cadet. That book was the direct inspiration for the 1950s multimedia phenomenon Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, which was a TV series, a radio series, a series of novels, a series of comic books, daily newspaper comic strips, and a lot of toys. The show was aimed at a younger audience than Heinlein's novel, but the basic premise was the same: a few young men meet at the Space Academy, become cadets, and have adventures while working for the interplanetary body that defends American values in space.

I loved the Tom Corbett books as a kid. Like the Starfleet Academy books, they're kid-friendly reads with fun space adventures, but the Tom Corbett books, being a few decades older, have a few drawbacks (they're very much from a white male American world, and they're dated scientifically, too) and arguably some strengths (they don't have that awareness of YA as problem novels that modern YA books, even those that aren't about teenage alcoholism or abortion or drug abuse or crime, always seem to have somewhere). There are only eight novels and they aren't that hard to track down -- seven of them are available at Project Gutenberg as free ebooks. Oddly enough, someone seems to have produced a Kindle version of those seven books, with what looks like a photoshopped publicity shot of Chris Pine as James T. Kirk from the Abrams movie on the cover. You can find a few episodes of the series online at the Internet Archive, but the books hold up a lot better than the no-budget, live-to-air TV episodes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Self-indulgent post on the site's forthcoming tenth anniversary

I don't know the exact date, and I'm not even sure about the month, but the Complete Starfleet Library is damn near ten years old. The oldest backup CD ROM I can find right now is from March 2000, and the first version of the website logo there is dated December 14, 1999. Maybe I should go with that as the official date.

My first Trek web content was a page on the then almost completely forgotten Mack Reynolds novel, Mission to Horatius. In 1995, the Pocket reprint was still a few years in the future and it sometimes seemed, from usenet discussions about Trek books, that I was the only person online who remembered it. So I created a page. It's still online here, last updated in 1999.

In 1997, I decided to do a page on something else that wasn't really covered anywhere online: Gene Roddenberry's unpublished Star Trek novel, The God Thing. And if I was going to have two pages, why not more? And the Lost Books page was born. And Star Trek: The Forgotten Books. The few Trek book-related sites that existed pretty much covered only Pocket's books, and not even all of them; a number of early books had somehow faded from Pocket's institutional memory. The first version of the Forgotten Books page covered those Pocket books; basically, any Trek book from 1979 to 1987 or so that wasn't a mass market paperback novel was unlisted on the official Pocket site.

By 1999, the Forgotten Books page had expanded its purpose: "This site includes officially licensed Star Trek novels, adaptations, and nonfiction books from Bantam and Ballantine, early Pocket books not listed on their website, and dozens of unauthorized Trek books. As of October, 1999, there are over 250 books described here." But as I added more content, it seemed obvious that the site should cover everything, not just the stuff not covered elsewhere. And by December 1999, the madness had begun in earnest...

It's not like the site started ten years ago, was quickly developed and completed, and just gets the occasional book added to it now. Every year there's new developments. There have been a few feature articles (SF Media Tie-Ins: A Brief History; Stardate 7600, or what a Trek fan's website might have looked like if there'd been a web in 1976; From Star Trek to Star Wolf: David Gerrold's Worlds of Star Trek; and the Fanzine Gallery). This year I added the schedule page and improved the FASA page and I may yet finish the short story and essays/articles indexes. One of these days I'd like to have something on Star Fleet Battles. There's always something.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Comics, Gender and Sexuality

Just got a couple of books from Amazon. Here's some quick thoughts, because it may be a little while before I read them.

Alan Porter's book is the first guide to Star Trek comics and comic strips in print. (If you're interested in Trek comics and aren't already familiar with Mark Martinez's Star Trek Comics Checklist site, go check it out and bookmark it already.) This is a large trade paperback, well illustrated with comic covers, sample panels, and original artwork. Each section of the book begins with a page or two providing background on the publisher and the series described, followed by entries for each issue (or storyline, for the comic strips) giving the stardate, title, issue number (where applicable), writer, artists, and a synopsis. The chapter "Creating Trek: The Interviews" includes material from interviews with over a dozen comic creators.

I should point out that this is a US$40 paperback, which strikes me as a bit much. I paid C$27 at Amazon. Shop wisely.

David Greven's Gender and Sexuality in Star Trek: Allegories of Desire in the Television Series and Films is the first full-length book to examine representations of homosexuality in Star Trek. However, early in the introduction Greven makes it clear that this is anything but a definitive work on the subject, saying "I freely admit that I'm not a follower of Deep Space Nine." Sure enough, a check through the index reveals very few references to DS9. Greven's main interest is in Voyager, which is no doubt why, when he announced the book on TrekBBS, he did so in the Voyager forum in a thread called "My new Trek book, especially for VOY fans." So, nothing about the Garak/Bashir subtext, and "Rejoined" is only mentioned in passing. Not quite as bad as writing a book called Race in Star Trek that ignores DS9, but it still strikes me as a lost opportunity.

And since I pointed out the price of Porter's book, I'll also say that US$35 for Greven's trade paperback is expensive, too. Porter's publisher, Hermes Press, aims at the collector market, Greven's, McFarland, at libraries and universities. McFarland has been making more of an effort at selling to fans over the last several years, though; the first books I bought from them was Susan Gibberman's 1991 book
Star Trek: An Annotated Guide to Resources on the Development, the Phenomenon, the People, the Television Series, the Films, the Novels and the Recordings, which was pretty much typical of bibliographical works aimed at the library market: hardcover, no dustwrapper, no illustrations, and quite expensive for the time. The next one was John Kenneth Muir's book on Space: 1999, published in a similar format in 1997 but reprinted in 2005 as a trade paperback with a colourful cover. By then McFarland had started publishing a lot of books of interest to casual readers, not just libraries, and some of those books are decidedly more fanboyish than academic.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Ship of the Line

Digging up some old reviews. Funny how often people still talk about this book.
In 1988, Diane Carey wrote the first Next Generation novel, Ghost Ship. Not long after that, she hit the convention circuit full of stories about what a jerk Gene Roddenberry was and how gawdawful The Next Generation was. In 1990, after TNG's third season (the year of such classic episodes as Sarek, Who Watches the Watchers, The Offspring, and Best of Both Worlds part one), as Carey ranted at Toronto Trek about how gawdawful TNG still was, other con guests, like A.C. Crispin and Starlog's Dave McDonell, were visibly taken aback. They made it clear they disagreed, and most of the fans present seemed to disagree as well.

Not surprisingly, Carey didn't write any TNG novels for the next few years. She did write a novelization of Descent, but until 1997's Day of Honor crossover she pretty much ignored TNG. For that matter, in her Day of Honor contribution, she pretty much ignored TNG, putting all her creative energy into a holodeck story about the American Revolution.

So naturally, in 1997, she was the one who wrote the first novel about the Enterprise E, the first novel to follow the events of ST: Generations. Carey's distaste for The Next Generation in general and Captain Jean-Luc Picard in specific permeates every page of the book. Picard is nominally the hero of the book, of course, so she is usually subtle, but the scene in which Picard interacts with an interactive, holographic Kirk program is a good counterexample. Carey's goal here is to teach Picard that Kirk was the greatest starship captain ever, and she does so by making Picard misconstrue the events of the holodeck program -- a recreation of the events of "Balance of Terror" -- and fills Picard's head with thoughts of what a one-dimensional, blustering, violent slob Kirk is considered to be in Picard's time. She does the latter so that Picard can continue to discover how wrong he was and marvel in Kirk's genius and multifaceted personality; she does the former to criticize modern Trek and Picard's style of command. How? Picard keeps accusing Kirk of starting a war with the Romulans, even accusing Kirk of firing the first shot in the altercation, even though the holodeck program begins with the destruction of the neutral zone outposts by the Romulans. He also accuses Kirk of being too bold and daring, implicitly portraying himself as someone who can't make a decisive move without being told by Starfleet Command what that move will be. There's a kernel of truth in that, but it's something that was increasingly less true as TNG went on.

Carey's antipathy toward TNG, or perhaps her ignorance of it, also comes to the fore during the confrontation between Bateson and Riker. When Bateson rants about knowing more than Riker does about Klingons, Riker doesn't mention his stint as first officer aboard a Klingon ship, the fact that the Enterprise under Picard had a Klingon security chief, or the role that the Enterprise and its crew played in the recent Klingon succession and civil war. All of these things are relevant to Riker's point, but Carey has set him up to take a fall, so none of that is mentioned. Carey thinks Bateson is right, so she ignores everything on TNG that refutes him.

Consider Bateson's remarks on p.199-200: "You look down your noses at the conflicts of the past as if we had wars because we thought they were fun. I've got news for you. It's no fun. Someday you're going to have to fight unthinkable odds too, and on that day you'll remember me. You'll find out that there comes a time when you have to stand up and hit somebody." One word: Borg. Has Carey never seen BOBW? Riker has been through shit that Bateson can't imagine. But again, she has to put Riker and TNG in their place, so again Riker doesn't say what should be said. It's a classic case of the author ignoring character and continuity to make her point.

Carey's usual stylistic quirks are somewhat muted in this novel, fortunately, making her prose more readable than in most of her previous novels. Still, there are some appalling clunkers that should have been red-pencilled by someone somewhere along the way. Take, for example, "After the horror of the statement thudded to the deck at everyone's feet, Mike Dennis was the only one to speak." [p.32] (Alas, she doesn't mention whether the horror of the statement broke on impact, or bounced, and there's nary a word about who cleaned it up.) The number of people who drawl their sentences is a bit disconcerting, especially when Picard does it (who can drawl with that kind of accent?), but at least no one is "plied with shame." And as usual every character in the book shares Carey's obsession with the Age of Sail, peppering every conversation with some bit of sailor's lingo. Oh, and of course one of the finest touches in this book comes when Carey quotes herself for several paragraphs on p.143, and again on pp.225 and 321, providing a perfect example of her ego and her sailing obsession. Self-indulgence, thy name is Diane Carey.

Something else worth noticing in this novel: women are almost nonexistent in this book. Troi and Crusher are present, but they have about as much to do in this novel as they do in the movies. Bateson's crew is apparently all male; likewise Kozara's. On the one hand it seems odd that someone whose first two Trek novels featured a strong female character as narrator would slight women so often in her other novels. On the other, it makes a certain sense: if Diane Carey can't be one of the main characters (Piper is a classic Mary Sue character; i.e., a wish-fulfilment device for the author), no other woman can, either.

All in all, pretty much a typical Diane Carey novel. Why is she, of all people, writing TNG? Maybe it's because John Ordover isn't a big fan of The Next Generation, either, as he's said on Compuserve and elsewhere. I can only wonder what Carey's books are like before they get edited... assuming they are actually edited.
At the time (1998, apparently) I hadn't seen the TNG episode with Bateson in some time, so I left out another problem with the book because I wasn't sure of my facts. In the book, Bateson's arrival in the 24th century follows a dramatic fight for survival against a Klingon attack. There are no women on the bridge. Bateson is frantic, the bridge a place of chaos. In the episode, Bateson is calm and relaxed, and the crew visible behind him include two women, neither showing signs of fleeing a desperate situation. In other words, Carey didn't even bother to stay consistent with the one little minute of actual canon material about Bateson. (As for the remark about "plied with shame" -- one of her earlier novels used that odd expression several times.)


An old review from rec.arts.startrek of a miniseries that kicked off the crossover trend and still gets discussed fairly often...

"Emotions Crashed Across His Face"

Time for a quick review of the Invasion miniseries. The subject line is a quote from the stylistically challenged Diane Carey. She failed to report whether the crashing of emotions across one's face results in bruises, abrasions, or, for that matter, sound effects. Still, it doesn't sound pleasant.

Diane Carey's TOS novel is, as might be expected, a paean to the embodiment of all that is good in mankind, James T. Kirk. I'm not quite as fond of Kirk as she is, so the scenes in which characters tell each other how superior Kirk is because he befriends The Other (as a general concept) while others fear and flee it didn't do much for me. And her usual military fetish results in a long, drawn-out battle sequence beginning the book. It has essentially no relevance to the Invasion storyline; instead, it's a minisequel to the TOS episode Friday's Child, inserted to show what a fighting he-man hero Kirk is. Boring.

Fortunately, the novel picks up the pace when the focus is on the Furies. Carey, unlike the other writers in the series, describes the Furies as a civilization in their own right, and has at least one sympathetic character among them. They aren't just cardboard cutout bad guys. Of course, the key gimmick is ludicrous. All races in the Alpha Quadrant have a dramatic, instinctive sense of revulsion when they see the Furies because the Furies invaded our worlds five thousand years ago, when we were primitive, and we modelled our evil deities on them. This is patently ridiculous for at least three reasons: it assumes the existence of some kind of genetic race memory (a la Quatermass and the Pit); it assumes that all cultures in the Alpha Quadrant were at the same point of early civilization 5000 years ago; it assumes that our usual visual representation of the devil as a goat-man with horns is 5000 years old instead of a few hundred years old. The concept of Satan in the Judeo-Christian world is a hell of a lot less than 5000 years old, and it's changed a lot in that time, too. It doesn't help that the basic idea is a bit too reminiscent of the TOS episode Who Mourns for Adonais and the TAS episode How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth, in which we learn that some gods of legend were actually visitors from space. IIRC, the TAS episode The Magicks of Megas-Tu covers similar ground, with a devilish character named Lucien.

So the concept is dumb. Carey, though, keeps the action moving well enough to gloss over the unlikeliness of the whole thing, and only occasionally reminded me of how much I usually hate her books.

On the other hand, I usually enjoy the Rusch & Smith books; they aren't the best, but they're always at least competent, and often quite good. But their TNG novel for Invasion is a bit of a dud. Suddenly the Furies are purely evil, one-dimensional bad guys, and not terribly interesting. So they pour on the action and set the stage for the Voyager novel. Readable, yes, but when Diane friggin' Carey makes me sit up and pay attention, I expect to be blown away by Rusch and Smith. It didn't happen, though the end of the book is reasonably intense.

I've enjoyed most of LA Graf's stuff, but their DS9 novel was so much the highlight of the series that it surprised the hell out of me. (Of course, I am a DS9 fan, but even so...) Among the remarkable things in this book: the Furies don't appear, but their ancient adversaries do, and they're a lot more intriguing than a bunch of bad-tempered demons; there's a twisty, complex time travel element that starts the novel with a hell of a mystery and has a good payoff later; attention is paid to the unique political and character dynamics of DS9; the dialogue is often sharply crafted, the characters well drawn. I like it. Anyone who doesn't give a flying wallenda about the Invasion series as a whole should still give this one a look. It's closer to being a standalone novel than the other three.

Dafydd ab Hugh wrote one of the most intense DS9 novels yet, Fallen Heroes. His next novel was a bit of a letdown. His Voyager novel is somewhere in between. There's intensity to spare, and audacity on a cosmic scale (tossing the Furies' Delta Quadrant adopted homeworld to one of the Magellanic Clouds is almost over the top), but it suffers in comparison to the DS9 book. Time's Enemy had a hell of a lot more going on than just some worry about what the Furies were up to. Final Fury is a more tightly focussed book, which may make it better for some readers, but the characterization and dialogue weren't as strong as LA Graf's.

As for Invasion as a whole...

Worth reading? Sure. It's not literature, but it's entertaining, despite its silly premise. There wasn't really any need to tie the ancient representations of evil stuff in; any large invading force would have done equally well. The Soldiers of Fear is the only book that would need extensive revisions to get rid of that element, and it was the weakest entry in the series anyway.

In closing, from best to worst: Time's Enemy (DS9), The Final Fury (Voyager), First Strike (TOS), The Soldiers of Fear (TNG).

If someone had worked with Ms. Carey to improve her idiosyncratic prose style and dampen her ardor for Kirk, First Strike could well have taken second place. But, apparently, the writer of such unforgettable gems as "Emotions crashed across his face" and "Worf was plied with shame" is too popular with the average Trek consumer to worry about the quality of her prose. As seems to have happened on a much larger scale with Stephen King and Anne Rice, Carey can write badly and fans will buy it anyway, so why bother to edit.

But I digress. Overall, a worthy effort.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


Spoilers ahead...

Okay, it's not the exciting revelation that Full Circle was. But then, how could it be? Full Circle restarted the Voyager line that had so far greatly disappointed me and made me care again; it put characters through a once-in-a-lifetime kind of emotional wringer; it surprised me by making what I used to think was a dumb reset button idea -- sending Voyager back to the Delta Quadrant -- work.

Unworthy, then, had to deal with higher expectations, and it had to do so without the kind of fireworks Full Circle had. It is, really, the first book in the new direction of the series. It had to finish getting all its pieces into place, answer some outstanding questions from Full Circle, and set up some business for future books in the series. And it did that, generally very well (a little predictably in a few cases), by doing a solid Star Trek exploration story and letting all the character stuff come into play in and around that story.

Were there bits I didn't like? Well, I wasn't crazy about the Chakotay/Seven/Icheb scene in Seven's mind early on; a little too woowoo for me, though I seem to recall it was reasonably consistent with some actual televised woowoo. And I think some of the pieces came together a little too easily by the end of the story, but at least the Tom and Harry storyline and the blaming Chakotay storyline reflected the fact that it shouldn't be easy for everyone to move past some of the events of the last few years.

Overall, though, if I'm not quite as blown away as I was by Full Circle, I am nonetheless quite happy with Unworthy. We get to see how the fleet works together. We learn more about newer characters like Eden, Batiste, and Cambridge; the latter in particular still comes across as way too much like Hugh Laurie as House for comfort, but damn if it doesn't work. I wonder whether future books will follow up on the possibility of a Cambridge/Seven relationship.

Seven is only one of the familiar faces to get a lot of development here. She's dealing with the post-Caeliar letdown and trying to work out who she is and what her place is, and she resolves those here. Chakotay, B'Elanna, and Tom also all find their places for the foreseeable future, and though the idea that they're all back off into the Delta Quadrant together again does seem like a bit of a reset button, the stories that lead them back there all make sense for the characters.

The alien culture that features in the story is an interesting one as well: symbiotic aliens who hope to be found worthy of joining the Borg, but who weren't really worth assimilating, because from the Borg perspective, they just don't have anything to offer. However, the Voyager gang seem to vacillate a bit on whether they're bad guys or just good guys who have been misled and too bad about all the death and destruction they've caused in neighbouring systems. They don't seem to need The Eight to do some heinous things, and I'm not convinced that The Eight are a problem in need of revisiting any time soon. Disembodied consciousnesses that can take over bodies have been done a few too many times in Trek.

Janeway, by the way, is still dead, but she's often in characters' thoughts. Tuvok is mentioned a couple of times as well.

The title, Unworthy, comes into play in a number of ways: the aliens are unworthy of being assimilated. Seven thinks she was found unworthy of joining the Caeliar. and there are a couple of story threads that involve people deciding other people found them unworthy of being trusted. Hell, even Reg Barclay feels unworthy; he's interested in a woman but can't imagine she'd reciprocate his feelings.

So, overall, an enjoyable book that tells a story complete in itself while also moving various series arc elements forward, a book I enjoyed and that has me looking forward to the next book in the series and (if they're not the same thing) Beyer's next Trek book, whenever it may come.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Star Trek: The Human Frontier

Doesn't look like I ever posted this on the blog. It's an Amazon review from a few years back of the nonfiction book, a critical look at Trek.

An academic critique of the four Star Trek series, this book has three main sections. The first explores the use of the nautical metaphor in Star Trek. The second considers the many ways in which Star Trek has explored the question of what it means to be human. The third part discusses Deep Space Nine and Voyager as post-modern.

Though that may sound a bit dry, the book is well worth reading, and the authors provide a number of insights into Star Trek. Unlike some critics, the Barretts do not overuse academic jargon, nor do they blindly condemn Star Trek as racist, sexist, colonialist, or fascist. Their approach is more nuanced, and the fact that they seem actually to know something about the show may at least partly explain that. When they label the latter Trek series as postmodern, they explain what they mean by modern and postmodern, and why The Next Generation epitomizes the former and Deep Space Nine and Voyager the latter. Although Deep Space Nine seems profoundly and obviously different from The Next Generation while Voyager often feels like a retread of The Next Generation in many ways, the Barretts find a number of areas (including a greater openness toward religion) that the post-Next Generation series share.

Of particular interest to Trek book fans: the Barretts mention some of the Star Trek novels. Diane Carey's nautical obsession is mentioned in the book's "The Starry Sea" chapter, and Peter David's New Frontier character, Burgoyne 172, is mentioned in a discussion of sexual identity and orientation. Star Trek novels are generally overlooked in examinations of the Star Trek phenomenon, which makes these references a welcome change of pace.