Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Review of "The Siege" [1993 tie-in novel]

This review was originally posted on Loaded Couch Potatoes in 2009.


Here’s a bit of analysis of the first original Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel, 1993’s The Siege, by Peter David.  This, of course, is not to be confused with the second-season episode of the same name.  Doesn't it seem like somebody ought to have said, "Hey, there's a DS9 book with that title already, y'all.  Gimme something different"?

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Review of "Ghost Ship" [1988 tie-in novel]

This review originally appeared on Loaded Couch Potatoes in 2009.


This is the first review in what I hope will be a long-running series looking back at the many original Star Trek novels.  [Bryant's note circa 2013: how'd that work out...?]  Up first: Diane Carey’s Ghost Ship, the 1988 novel that debuted the Pocket Books line of originals based on The Next Generation.
From the back cover:

1995: A mysterious creature destroys a Russian aircraft carrier — and just as mysteriously, disappears…
And three hundred years later, Counselor Deanna Troi awakens in her quarters from a nightmare, a nightmare where she senses (and understands) the voices of the crew lost aboard that ship, a crew whose life-essences were somehow absorbed within the creature that destroyed their ship long ago.
Now, Picard must find a way to communicate with the creature — or he and his crew will be similarly absorbed by the “ghost ship”!

According to Diane Carey (as quoted in Jeff Ayers’ Voyages of Imagination: The Star Trek Fiction Companion), this novel was a tough write: “I was asked to launch the new series by writing the first TNG original fiction book — interesting mostly because it was written without ever having seen the series because TNG hadn’t aired yet.  [M]any of the characters hadn’t been cast yet, so I couldn’t even look at photos of the people.”
For this aspect of TNG’s newness alone, Ghost Ship would be well worth reading for fans of the show; it represents a rare opportunity to see what amounts to an alternative version of the series as it could have evolved.  Obviously, as would have been the case with virtually any novel written under such circumstances, there are many elements here that do not jibe with Trek canon, but that probably shouldn’t be held against Carey.  In fact, it’s surprising how much Carey “gets right” in comparison with the series itself.  It may be that this says less about Carey than it does about the series bible, which was (I assume) written at least in part by creator Gene Roddenberry; if so, then this novel becomes even more interesting, and can be considered a near-direct descendant of Roddenberry’s vision for the series.
The novel’s characterizations of Picard, Riker, Date, Troi, and Geordi are good … provided that you can accept the differences between the characters as written here and the characters you’ve been familiar with since 1987.  And there are definitely differences.  For example, Data’s speech patterns include making contractions between words (and it’s worth noting that even a few of the early episodes also had this “mistake”).  Another example: Deanna’s nickname for Riker is “Bill,” rather than “Will” (David Gerrold’s novelization of “Encounter at Farpoint” also uses this nickname, which suggests to me that it might have come from the bible).
Probably my favorite element of this novel is the way in which Carey examines the tension between Picard and Riker.  Each officer has serious reservations about the other, and about himself in relation to the other, with the implication being that such doubts are completely internalized but always present, and that that is part of what it means to serve in Starfleet in a command capacity.  This fits in quite well with the first couple of seasons of the series, during which the dynamic between Picard and his first officer was filled with confrontations over away team assignments, and so forth.
Carey is, in general, pretty good at character scenes.  Take this passage, which follows Picard’s having chastised Wesley for referring to an alien vessel as being haunted:
“As he caught Wesley’s whipped-puppy expression, Picard felt once again the sting of his decision to make Wesley an ensign, a decision no good parent would make, yet one that he, as a man who had never had children, had made without realizing the consequences.  He should have known better, for as commanding officer he was indeed the father of all his crew and complement.  Wesley’s face was the face of a child; no seasoned officer would take the reprimand so personally.  And having given it, Picard could not take it back.”  (p. 69)
The chapter that passage comes from is probably the best of the novel, and contains multiple such bits of solid characterization.  It isn’t great writing, per se; but it’s a great example of why tie-in novels like these were so popular for so many years.  Seeing that side of Picard spelled out is a rare thing for the series.  It’s there in Patrick Stewart’s performance, but by using prose, a novel has the opportunity to make the interior more plain.  When done well, it’s captivating for a fan of a series.
One of the major elements of Ghost Ship is the antagonism Riker feels for Data, based on his assumption that the android is not, and cannot be, a true life form.  Carey presents this as a rather dark facet of Riker’s personality, and his arc over the course of the novel involves his feelings of guilt over thinking of Data in that way, and his eventual acceptance of the android as a valuable crewmmate and living being.  Data’s arc lies in accepting — with his customary brand of emotional emotionlessness (which could have come right out of an episode of the series) — that Riker’s doubts about him mirror his own doubts about himself; his attempts to prove Riker wrong about him are more or less the same as his attempts to prove to himself that he is a living being.
I can well imagine many TNG fans hating these parts of the novel, but I find them to be pretty fascinating.  Riker and Data are two of my favorite of all Star Trek characters, and I don’t find anything in Carey’s writing here to be contradictory to how the story unfolds during the actual series.  Granted, we’re not used to seeing Starfleet personnel as bigots (The Undiscovered Country notwithstanding), and you can certainly make the case that Carey goes a bit too far; Riker seems just plain callous at a few points.  It is interesting that even this early on, Diane Carey seems to have intuited that some interpersonal conflict was going to be necessary to the series lest it seem too pleasant for people to take it seriously.
I was a bit annoyed by how annoying Carey makes Wesley in this novel, but once again, it seems as if she correctly intuited how people would respond to the character.  Me, I kinda like Wesley on the show, but a lot of people didn’t.  The standard anti-Wesley rant involves him either saving the ship too often or getting the ship into trouble too often.  Personally, I think this is a bit of an urban legend, a bit like Kirk’s cocksmanship on the original series: Kirk kisses a bunch of dames, but if you take a look at things closely, he actually only screws a small handful of women.  Likewise, Wesley’s ship-saving and ship-wrecking are implied more than actually shown, and I think people have built it up a bit artificially over the years.
Not in Ghost Ship, though.  Here, Wesley is running an experiment that is so dangerous and irresponsible that he really ought to be tossed off the ship for it.  And then, of course, it ends up helping to save the ship.  I hate all of this, but I do love Geordi’s reaction to finding the experiment: “Goddamn, Wes!”  Can’t help it; I’m a sucker for curse words in Star Trek.
Other points of interest:
Ghost Ship contains what might well be THE first attempt to deal with the fact that Klingons circa 1987 look very different from the Klingons of the original series.  Check out this sentence from p. 27-8: “Worf’s big brown face didn’t look in the least apologetic, given a particularly animalistic texture by the riblike cranium of his Klinzhai racial background, the strain which had emerged dominant during the last Klingon purge.”  Interesting…especially if this, like so many other elements of the novel, came directly from the show’s bible.  There were later elements in both Deep Space Nine and Enterprise which would seem to invalidate this idea of a “purge” as having been responsible, but I’d definitely be curious to know if Roddenberry had attempted to account for the discrepancy in developing The Next Generation.  More likely, this was simply an aside by Diane Carey.  Although that would have been an awfully big aside to take it upon herself to toss off; so maybe not.
Carey also attempts to deal with the fact that the position of Counselor is new to the Star Trek universe by making it clear that it is also a new position in Starfleet, and adding that Starfleet has not yet really figured out what to do with the position.  This mirrors what ends up happening on the show itself; the writers never seemed to figure out what to do with the position, either, and if J.J. Abrams ever decides to remake The Next Generation, he’d be well-advised to consider making the confusion over the position a part of the story, as Carey does here.  It’s another good example of prose doing something screenplays failed to ever get around to doing.
One thing the series definitely did not fail to do was deal with matters of ethical and philosophical complexity.  Ghost Ship does so, as well, and it’s one of the best elements of the novel.  Here, Carey tackles the hot topic of euthanasia, which Trek had never dealt with up to this point in its history (with the slight exception of Spock wrestling with whether or not to have his pet Sehlat put to sleep in “Yesteryear”).  It would become a major element of the Next Generation episode “Ethics,” but Carey probably deserves credit for recognizing this as an issue rife with Trekkian potential, and she deals with the subject quite well.
Final thoughts: well worth reading for fans of The Next Generation, but probably skippable for anyone else.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Review of "Spock, Messiah!" [1976 tie-in novel]

This review originally appeared on Loaded Couch Potatoes in 2009.

I’ll be the judge of that, Mr. Bantam blurb dude from the mid-’70s.
I’d delete the words “the,” “ultra,” “powered,” “a,” “telepathic,” and “terror.”  Except that would leave “NOVEL OF SPACE,” and since this novel takes place almost entirely on a planet, that wouldn’t be very accurate, either.
Oh, well.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Review of "Star Trek: Mission to Horatius" [1968 tie-in novel]

This review was originally posted at Loaded Couch Potatoes in 2009.

1999 reprint hardback

Mack Reynolds’  Mission to Horatius has the somewhat dubious distinction of being the first original Star Trek novel to be published; it certainly would not be the last.  Whitman published the book in 1968, and as one of the earliest examples of Star Trek being told in a medium other than television, it is of great historical interest to hardcore fans.
To everyone else, though, the novel is likely to be a near-complete bore, and even hardcore fans will be hard-pressed to find much entertainment here.  It isn’t terrible, but there’s almost nothing to recommend outside the historical-curiosity factor.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Trek Movies Worst to Best

This article was originally posted on Loaded Couch Potatoes in 2009.


Like many geeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about Star Trek lately, wrestling with the new movie … not so much in terms of whether I like it (I do) or even love it (I do), but in terms of where I would rank it in relation to the other films in the series.
Keep reading if you want to know the results of all that expended mental energy.  And let’s face it: you do want to know.  So here goes, worst to best.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Review of "Star Trek" [2009]

This review was originally published on Loaded Couch Potatoes in May 2009.


The best thing I can say about J.J. Abrams’ stupendously entertaining Star Trek is that I saw it twice in one day, and not only did I enjoy it more the second time than I did the first, but I could very happily have seen it again the next day.  It is a remarkable piece of entertainment, one that is likely to make Trekkies out of millions of people who could not, with a gun pressed to their temples, tell a Cardassian from a Kazon.  (Yeah, that’s right, I dropped a Voyager reference; whatcha got ta say about it?  Incidentally, alternate comparisons considered include: Bajoran from a Betazed, Maquis from a Mugato, Tribble from a Talaxian, android from an Andorian, and holodeck from a Horta.  I made the right choice)
And for the millions who already were Trekkies (Kirk doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios, and I don’t believe in the word “Trekkers”), it’s likely to prove a source of heated debate for decades to come, with most viewers loving it and a very, very vocal minority carping about the many ways in which it deviates from the previous incarnations of the franchise.

[Bryant's note from 2013: I am both pleased and disappointed to note that that prediction came true 100%.]
Therein lies my difficulty.  Do I critique this movie on its own merits, or do I critique this movie as a shiny new coat of paint on an old, well-loved car?
Well, I'm not known for holding back, so the answer, of course, is "fuck that, I’m doin’ both."

On Spock's Emotions

Originally posted at Loaded Couch Potatoes, 2009:

Over on the message board for the Tuscaloosa Science Fiction society, I recently responded to a post about the more emotional Spock hinted at in bits of Zachary Quinto’s performance from trailers for the new Star Trek.

The quote that got my attention was this one: “The trailers have already shown that the movie  has thrown both canon and fanon out the window. The young Spock would be more uptight, not less so, than in later years. The counter argument, that he so vigorously repressed his human side when we first saw him in the original series because he had acted out at Starfleet, to his own embarrassment, is, frankly, absurd.”
For fans like myself, this type of thing is always worth talking about, so I thought I’d re-post my reply here.  It is as follows:

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Review of "Star Trek: Countdown" [2009]

I wrote for a blog called Loaded Couch Potatoes for several months in 2009, and today, I'd like to begin to repost some of the articles and reviews that I initially put up there.  We'll start with this, a review of Star Trek: Countdown (the official comic-book prequel to the J.J. Abrams reboot movie).


The Star Trek universe is a complicated — some would say overcomplicated — tapestry that includes 28 full seasons worth of television (plus two brief seasons of animation) and eleven feature films, the latest of which will be hitting cinemas on May 8. If you wanted to catch up on all of it, you would have to spend a year doing so, and that’s if you were really, really devoted.  And that doesn’t factor in the thousands of Trek stories that have appeared as original novels and comic books.
Those print-only Trek stories aren’t considered by most people to be canon (i.e., they “don’t really count,” or “didn’t really happen”); however, the screenwriters of the new J.J. Abrams-directed feature film aren’t necessarily most people.