Saturday, March 24, 2012


Has it really been seven years? Well, almost. It was in June of 2005 that I raced through the uncorrected advance proofs of Harbinger that Marco Palmieri was kind enough to send a few lucky readers. And I liked it. A lot.

Vanguard hit a lot of the right notes for me. It was set very firmly and believably in the 23rd century of the original series, but with some DS9/Babylon 5 elements and the feel of an HBO drama series for adults. So maybe we should have assumed from the beginning that this would be a story with an ending, not just a series of adventures with a common setting and cast of characters. I wouldn't mind if it had gone on, but Storming Heaven (and Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore's What Judgments Come) prove that a limited series has its own strengths.

A lot of the power of these books comes from knowing that things are coming to an end. There's an inexorability to events that means there may not be a lot of plot twists or surprises out of left field towards the end. Instead, there's the suspense of knowing that the shit is about to hit the fan, and wondering who's going to make it out alive. With Babylon 5, the characters sometimes took a back seat to the plotting, and with DS9, the plotting sometimes took a back seat to the characters; Vanguard gave the impression of riding that balance pretty well. Despite the action, many characters had moments to reveal who they really were. And, as ever, bits and pieces tied into the filmed Trek continuity in interesting ways.

I charged through Storming Heaven too quickly to really come up with any deep and analytical review. I did notice a couple of little things in passing -- a couple of character names taken from a certain TV show that I suppose had to show up in a Trek novel eventually, and musical references to someone other than Rush in the form of a couple of vehicle names. A character whose absence I'd been thinking about showed up at a key point. Some day it'd be nice to reread the whole series and see how it stacks up as a complete story. Pretty well, I suspect.

And now to go read the bonus material at David Mack's Vanguard Finale page. I'm especially curious about the series bible and the bible addendum.

Six novels, an anthology, and a related novella -- no Trek fan has an excuse not to read Vanguard.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Lost scripts

A week or two ago, Norman Spinrad made his unproduced script, He Walked Among Us, available as a Kindle ebook. I've bought it but haven't read it yet. So I won't review it now. Instead, I'll blather a bit on the subject of unproduced scripts.

The Star Trek That Never Was coverOne of the lost Star Trek books I really wish had been published is Allan Asherman's The Star Trek That Never Was. "Available at last! What you could never see on TV: adventures written for the original series and its planned sequel -- kept secret until now!" Scheduled for publication in October 1988 but pulled at the last minute, this book, according to its cover, "compiled" material by Spinrad and others. It may be a coincidence, but around the time the book should have been on shelves, a TNG episode based on an unproduced Star Trek Phase II script -- "The Child" -- was airing on TV. Years later we got a book by Gar and Judy Reeves-Stevens about the unproduced Phase II series, with some information on episodes that would have been included in Asherman's book, but Pocket never released anything like the Asherman book.

The Star Trek That Almost Was coverBack in 1985 Files Magazine, one of the incarnations of the Hal Schuster empire of poor quality unauthorized tie-in books, published two very thin magazine-sized trade paperbacks by John Peel under the titles The Star Trek That Almost Was and The Star Trek That Never Was. The latter had a handful of pages on Phase II, but the former described several unproduced Star Trek episodes from the 1960s.

The stories Peel summarized are "Rockabye Baby, Or Die," by George Clayton Johnson (who wrote "The Man Trap" and several Twilight Zone episodes), "The Joy Machine" by Theodore Sturgeon (who wrote "Shore Leave" and "Amok Time" and many classic science fiction stories and novels; this was turned into a novel by James Gunn); "The Lost Star" and "The Godhead" by John Meredyth Lucas ("The Changeling" and several other TOS episodes), "Shol" by Darlene Hartman, "Pandora's Box" by Daniel Louis Aubry, "The Aurorals" by Frank Paris, "Perchance to Dream" by J.M. Winston, and "He Walked Among Us" by Norman Spinrad ("The Doomsday Machine" and several classic SF stories and novels). If you ever saw the summaries of some of these episodes over at the Forgotten Trek website, they were reproduced from this book without attribution. They don't seem to be on the new version of the site.

Lost Voyages coverIn 1992, Cinemaker Press published Lost Voyages of Trek and The Next Generation, as by Bill Planer (actually Ed Gross and Mark Altman, according to the UK ediiton). Though Gross had worked for Schuster's content mill, his books with other publishers were often well researched and useful, and this one is no exception. (Gross did recycle some of his content from book to book, though.) The book starts with a five page summary of Spinrad's "He Walked Among Us," but it's the only original series TV script discussed. The rest of the book covers Phase II and unfilmed Next Generation episodes.

David Gerrold had a few stories that never made it past a pitch session, as described in his nonfiction book The Trouble With Tribbles; one eventually became a Star Trek novel, and another was adapted in one of Tokyopop's Star Trek manga paperbacks.

Meanwhile, former Pocket Books Star Trek editor John Ordover was quoted at, mentioning that he had copies of a few of these unproduced scripts in his Pocket office and that for all he knows they may still be there...

Catching up on some reading

I have a shameful confession to make: I don't automatically read every Star Trek novel as soon as I comes out. Sometimes I let them wait. It may be because I'm on a binge of some other kind of book, or because it's part of a trilogy, or because I just have too many other books to read... well, anyway, I've read a few Star Trek books recently.

Shattered Light coverShattered Light is the third volume of the Myriad Universes series, presenting three short novels set in alternate universes. Like the other two, it's a fun and inventive read with very good work from David R. George III, Scott Pearson, and the team of Steve Mollmann and Michael Schuster. George's story features two key changes from TNG continuity as we know it: Locutus dies, Data's "daughter" Lal doesn't. From those two points the storyline takes a progressively darker turn, with a focus on Riker and Data in particular. Mollmann and Schuster look farther back in time for their point of divergence, with a Vulcan where Surak's philosophy never took hold. Demora Sulu is stranded on Vulcan, and her father Hikaru comes to her rescue as part of an Andorian-dominated Starfleet. Finally, Pearson's tale, modeled loosely on Citizen Kane, looks at the life of Nilz Baris from "The Trouble With Tribbles," taking a typical TOS bureaucrat and telling a surprisingly involving story about his life, Federation colonizing efforts, relations with the Klingons, and the mysterious Arne Darvin. Mirror universe stories are always a good way to explore character, putting familiar faces in unfamiliar situations, but this goes above and beyond by making the reader care about someone much less familiar than the likes of Riker, Data, or Sulu.

Garth of Izar coverI've had Garth of Izar, by Pamela Sargent and George Zebrowski, sitting around unread for nine years, for a couple of reasons. "Whom Gods Destroy" is hardly one of my favourite episodes and I hadn't been eagerly awaiting a sequel. Second, while I haven't particularly disliked other Trek books by Sargent and Zebrowski, I haven't been particularly impressed by any, either. Anyway, it was a fairly typical old-school TOS novel that could have been published in the 1980s or '90s. It's a standalone with no real surprises. If there's one thing I'd criticize, it's the portrayal of the Antosians. Maybe I'm forgetting something from the episode, but I had a hard time buying the mechanism presented as the basis for the shapechanging ability, or some of the uses for it in the story. I didn't mind Garth's character development through the book; there were some nice touches and some playing around with the question of whether he really was cured. Not much development for the regulars, though. And the dialogue didn't always ring true. I can't say I'm kicking myself for not having read this earlier.

Errand of Fury book one coverNow, this was a pleasant surprise. I remember really not liking Kevin Ryan's previous trilogy, Errand of Vengeance, for a few reasons. So when this one was hit by sliding schedules, I just let the books pile up and gather dust. But it was much more enjoyable than I expected. There are still a few things I might grumble about, but basically it's a solid take on the events leading up to and culminating in "Errand of Mercy." The original characters seem to be a bit better developed than the ones I remember from the first trilogy. The situations allow for some good action sequences and a bit of suspense. Unlike Garth of Izar, it feels true to the original series but its frequent use of viewpoint characters far from the Enterprise helps make it feel more in line with more recent Trek novel storytelling. It's possible that this trilogy's been helped a lot by having low expectations rather than being a very strong story well told, but I don't think that's all there is to it. It may be that the longer gestation for this trilogy (published in 2005, 2007, and 2009 instead of over two months) helped Ryan polish it a bit more. Errand of Fury isn't one of those gamechanging events like Crucible or Destiny but I suspect the average TOS fan would enjoy it.

Rings of Time coverAnd now for something a little more recent. Like the books above, Greg Cox's Rings of Time has its roots in a particular episode, and like most of the above it's an original series five year mission story. This time around the source material is "Tomorrow is Yesterday" and its reference to Shaun Geoffrey Christopher's role in the first Earth-Saturn probe. I've occasionally been turned off by Cox's tendency to throw in as many in-jokes and continuity references as he possibly can into his books, and there are a few here, but I found this story felt a bit more tightly focused than, say, the first two Khan books. (There were some references to those books, but they made sense in context.) There are two storylines set at different times: one set aboard Christopher's ship, one aboard the Enterprise. Eventually some distinctly parallel events begin happening around a couple of similar gas giants centuries and light years apart, and then the stories come together with a bit of time travel and mental transference. What I enjoyed most was the Christopher stuff. It had something of a 2001/2010 feel, that near future solar system exploration focus with some strange goings-on. If I have a quibble this time, it's that I'm not sure a certain character was absolutely essential from a plot perspective. It was too obvious too quickly that the parallels in the storylines included the mysterious female character featured in each one, nor was the ultimate explanation of who she was much of a surprise -- but she brought a certain spark to several scenes, so I can't complain too much. Overall this book was a lot of fun, another counterpoint to the fans complaining that the Trek novels are too dark and grim these days.