Friday, October 16, 2009


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.


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