Wednesday, June 23, 2004

More stuff about Star Trek books

Well, that's the raison d'etre for this blog, right?

Going through the old files on those diskettes, I have discovered... a lot of the kind of stuff I would never save these days. Threads of commentary on movies, episode schedules, con reports, and other Trek-related info that these days I get from the web. But there was no web as such back in 1990.

Found one interesting item: a forgotten item for the Lost Books page, Clotho's Loom by Carmen Carter.

I also came across a bit of Ron Carman's TNG Novels Compendium. As late as 1993, Carman was trying to keep track of TOS and TNG novels, with summaries, reviews and indexes of authors, regular and guest characters, alien races and worlds, cross-references, and more. More recently some of the people who hang out at Psi Phi and TrekBBS started a Yahoo group to begin work on a Star Trek Novel Encyclopedia online, but that seems to have died. (I promised to do Mission to Horatius and never delivered. Sorry...)

Meanwhile, however, and apparently noticed by very few fans...

Alva Underwood has published the first two volumes of her own novel encyclopedia through vanity publisher 1stbooks. I went to the website recently to see if any more are coming, and learned two things: first, 1stbooks is now Author House, and, second, there is a third volume, Star Trek Reader's Reference to the Novels: 1984-1985, listed as "coming soon." Although these are vanity publications, Underwood has done a lot of work and her books are better written than a lot of her publisher's other titles. The first two books are already available through

The main problem with Underwood's approach is... assuming she manages to catch up with the novels a few years from now, and you want to look up a name you remember from a novel but you can't remember which novel, you may have to flip through several volumes before finding the entry. Considering she's doing this on her own, though, she's picked the most practical approach for the time being. It would be nice if her books sold well enough to get the attention of a publisher that could put the necessary resources into something like this.

(Now playing: Rachel Goswell, "Warm Summer Sun," Waves Are Universal.)

Friday, June 18, 2004

The Star Trek comic strips time forgot

... but Rich Handley didn't.

Back around 1998 or 1999, Star Trek Communicator, the official fan club magazine, ran an article by Rich on a couple of series of Star Trek comic strips. The American syndicated newspaper comic strip from the era of Star Trek - The Motion Picture is a story for another day, though it was covered in that article. Today's news is about the other strips Rich wrote about back then: the British strips published in various places from 1969 to 1973.

These aren't the UK Annuals that reprinted American Gold Key stories. These are stories that appeared in British publications only and rarely made it across the Atlantic. They've been hard to find; I've never even made an effort. And now I don't have to.

Rich is selling scans of his complete collection of these old British Star Trek strips on CD ROM. The price is reasonable, and it's not a for-profit deal. He's just trying to recoup the cost of getting all of the old comics. And it's not as if there's going to be an official reprint of these any time soon. The much more recent American strips aren't being reprinted because of issues surrounding contracts and other legalities; those factors are likely even more complicated for material from a decade earlier and outside the USA.

I've just ordered mine. For more information, check out Rich's web page at

In other news...

We finally got around to watching the new Battlestar Galactica.

I was pretty excited about Battlestar Galactica in the summer of 1978. I bought the novelization, then saw the premiere as a theatrical release, bought the photonovel, the second novelization, all the Marvel comics... but as the season wore on, the doubts that were conquered during the premiere by the whizzbang special effects came more to the fore. The stories were, to put it bluntly, pretty dumb, for the most part. And I was 15 before the season ended and was developing my bullshit detector. Before the end of the season, I'd given up on Galactica as a potential source for good science fiction entertainment. Galactica 1980 really wasn't that much worse than the average Battlestar Galactica episode.

As a result, I didn't really care much about the new Galactica until I heard a couple of key things about it. First, that Star Trek writer Ron Moore was doing it; second, that he was not adhering to the original series continuity but was just using it as the basis for his own vision.

I liked the new Galactica. I liked most of the casting, I liked the characters having normal names, I liked the fact that they dropped most of the silly words like "centon," I liked the fact that the Cylons were completely reconceptualized, I liked the fact that everything looked a lot more realistic and gritty, I liked the fact that the characters had a little more depth and complexity and the acting was better... yep, I'd watch more of this. It's certainly a better start in many respects than The Gathering was for Babylon 5, and that led to some of the best SF TV we've ever had. I'd watch more.

(Now playing: Sonic Youth, "Pattern Recognition," Sonic Nurse

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Playing games

Star Trek has had a lot of luck in the world of role playing games. Most of it bad. There's a faintly promising sign, though... the new Decipher message boards, which have just gone online recently, still include a Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game forum. It's not very busy, and there's no actual news about any actual new releases, but it may be worth keeping an eye on. (If you're really interested, you also need to check regularly.)

I've never played a role playing game in my life. Even so, I have most of the FASA RPG Trek books from the 1980s and everything Last Unicorn Games and Decipher have published more recently. I even have some of the Star Fleet Battles publications, RPG-oriented and otherwise, though I've never played battle simulation games either.

And yet I wish Star Trek had a steady and reliable source of RPG material. Why? Because the supplements, guides, and adventures often show us the otherwise rarely explored aspects of life in the Star Trek universe.

FASA in particular moved far beyond canon. Of course, back then, canon was the original series and a few movies. FASA was, for a few years, free to develop its vision of the Star Trek universe, with supplements on civilian traders, Starfleet Intelligence, the Orions (explored in much greater detail than they ever were on TV), and more. Their Klingon supplements included contributions from John M. Ford, author of the classic exploration of Klingon culture, The Final Reflection. Their Federation supplement built on the example set by the Star Fleet Technical Manual and created a mass of detail about the history, development, and member worlds of the Federation. The adventure supplements centered their stories on civilian spacers, spies, Orions, and, of course, Starfleet Personnel. Although the books aren't quite readable in the way a series of novels is, they nonetheless add up to a consistent and intriguingly different take on the Trek universe.

The Star Fleet Battles universe is even more different. Allowed to use material from TOS only, the creators have introduced a number of new alien empires and laid out a future history that diverges dramatically from canon. It's an alternate universe Star Trek, more militaristic by far, and one that I wish could somehow result in a novel or two. There's short stories set in the SFB universe, in the pages of the Captain's Logs publications, but they generally exist to make a point about gameplay. Some longer, more character-based fiction could be quite intriguing. Not that it's likely to happen.

Last Unicorn and Decipher have stayed much closer to canon. Their books are much glossier and better illustrated. As a result, there's less of that sense of exploration there. With exceptions, of course, like Last Unicorn's book on Andorian culture. Some of the many books left unpublished when Last Unicorn lost its licence might also have covered more new territory, but we'll never really know.

Still, coming at a time when Pocket has all but stopped doing reference books, even the more canon-oriented RPG supplements fill a niche. Decipher's Aliens, Starships, and Creatures books include some RPG-specific information but have a lot of material that could well interest non-gamers who like Trek reference books and technical manuals.

So it's frustrating that Decipher is sitting on a number of unpublished RPG supplements. They announced Worlds, Through A Glass Darkly: The Mirror Universe, The Klingon Empire: Blood and Honor, Peacekeepers: The Guide to Soldiers and Diplomats, The Next Generation Sourcebook, The Guide to Rogues and Merchants, The Deep Space Nine Sourcebook, as forthcoming, and at least some of them (and one called Seekers) were in various stages of production when the Los Angeles office was shut down and most of the RPG developers laid off. Some were reportedly ready to go to press. If none of these appear in the next year or so, it may be time to update the ol' Star Trek: The Lost Books page. There's already a lot of unpublished Last Unicorn Games stuff listed there...

(Now playing: Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, "Perfect Skin," Rattlesnakes.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Remembering the forgotten Star Trek series

There's been some discussion of the animated Star Trek over at the TrekBBS, in light of reports that it'll be out on DVD next year. One site said:

Star Trek: The Animated Series has made it to home video before, despite some who claim otherwise. Besides episodes on VHS release, a LaserDisc release also made it out with the series(...)

There are people who claim otherwise? The world is a stranger place than I thought. I posted briefly in one of the TrekBBS threads, but kept myself from blathering on too long and wallowing in nostalgia there. But not here!

The animated Star Trek is not the best Star Trek series. It's not the second or third best, either. It suffers from cheap animation with occasional bloopers. The music is recycled so much that, if you watch several episodes in a row, it gets annoying. The voice work by the regular cast is inconsistent and sometimes lifeless -- they didn't record together, which is made obvious occasionally when words are pronounced differently. (Like Kirk referring to the orry-ons instead of the orRYEons. I'll let you figure out which episode that happened in. Hint: the word Orion is in the title.)

But TAS is hardly completely awful. Some of the key writers from TOS were heavily involved, including DC Fontana and David Gerrold. A couple of classic TOS episodes got sequels. Spock's background was explored. We saw a proto-holodeck. Really alien aliens, including a couple of bridge officers. New starships and shuttles. Even an episode based on a short story by popular SF writer Larry Niven.

When TAS was airing on Saturday mornings, our reception was so bad I was lucky to catch a few minutes here and there. In 1975 we moved to a city that aired it on Saturday afternoons (that's not why we moved, no) and I was finally able to catch up with all of the episodes. Well, maybe. I'm not sure I actually saw "Albatross" before I bought the videos. But I was already familiar with several of the stories.


1974. I'm 11 years old. It's a cool and cloudy Saturday afternoon. We're at the Towers department store in North Bay, Ontario. I've spent a lot of time and money in their rows of paperback racks, buying Mad magazine reprint books, Charlie Brown books, UFO and Chariots of the Gods-type stuff (I grew out of that within another year or two), and Star Trek books. So I'm looking through the SF books and -- hey! a Star Trek book I haven't seen before! It doesn't even look like the other ones! Wait, there are two of them here! Ballantine Books, not Bantam, Alan Dean Foster, not James Blish, but still based on episodes, according to the back cover. Are they an alternative version of the Blish books? Took me a minute to realize that the front covers were stills from the animated series I'd barely seen any of yet. (I don't like that sentence structure. "Any of yet." But I am possessed and writing at white heat and cannot stop to change it.)

So I bought the two books, excited as all hell, seeing as how there were very few Star Trek books in existence back then and I'd been a diehard fan for months already. (We went to the snack shop and the base rec centre on the way home. Their chocolate milkshakes were almost too chocolaty. And their French fries were superb diner-style fries.) It was a good day. (Well, I warned you I'd be wallowing in nostalgia, didn't I?)

Then I started actually reading the books. Wow. Whereas Blish's adaptations were short and sweet, stripping out a lot of detail from the average TOS episode, Foster's added a lot of detail, fleshing those short 22 minute stories into novellas with more action, more characterization, and (sometimes, where needed) explanations or fixes for goofy events in the stories. Watching the episodes could be anticlimactic after reading his stories. I remember watching one of them, waiting for my favourite scene until the show was over and I hadn't seen the bit I was waiting for. It was only in the book, but I'd pictured it so clearly in my mind I was convinced I'd seen it on TV.

Now, you don't need the Foster versions to make the animated episodes watchable. All you need is 22 minutes of free time now and again. If you're a fan of the original series and you haven't seen these -- if you've seen the worst the third season has to offer without losing your faith in Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the Enterprise, no bloody A, B, C, or D -- you really need to investigate the animated series. Don't expect greatness; even the classic "Yesteryear" suffers from bad voice acting by the kid playing the young Spock. Keep an open mind and accept the fun that's on offer and you'll find it more than worth your time.

Here are a few links with more information on the animated series:

Curt Danhauser's Guide to the Animated Star Trek: history, episode guide, and lots more, from an acknowledged expert on the show. Curt wrote the text for the recent TAS trading cards. (He also has the websites on the old Gold Key Star Trek comics and the Power Records Star Trek story records from the 1970s.)

Star Trek: The Animated Series: lots of stuff here from TAS, including images, sounds, and more, plus new electronic comic book stories illustrated in a style inspired by TAS.

Star Trek: The Animated Adventures at The official Star Trek website has some good info and features.

(Now playing: Ute Lemper, "Scope J," Punishing Kiss.)

Monday, June 14, 2004

Why, Bones, you know this stuff is illegal.

Last summer my sister and her husband went to Las Vegas for a few days. Of course they went to the Star Trek Experience while they were there; Nadja was only moderately interested but Bryan, I think, was keen to go. And they bought back presents.

Romulan Ale, for instance.

Flying back from Vegas into Canada, they could only bring back so much, so I got one bottle of Romulan Ale and one bottle of wine (the Sacred Chalice of Rixx Cabernet) plus a few other things, for which I was thankful. But what would be the right time to drink that one bottle of Romulan Ale? It's not like there was enough to share with several people, so the experience would be limited to Laura and me. And obviously Star Trek should be involved in some way. Well, I dithered and waited for most of a year. Then yesterday, while I tried to argue in favour of watching Annie Hall or Eraserhead or Doctor Who, Laura countersuggested the Star Trek VI Special Edition DVD, which we've had for months and haven't watched yet. And since Romulan Ale plays a key part in one scene, well, it was finally time.

I opened the bottle, which has been in the fridge for quite a long time now, and poured the contents into a Carlsberg Red beer glass. Very, very blue, with a good head of foam. I mean, really, outrageously blue. Nothing like the pale, flat blue concoction Kirk drank with Gorkon. In fact, some of the blue dye had settled at the bottom of the bottle. As for the beer itself... fizzy and bland. Not much flavour to it. Laura settled for one taste of it and let me finish the rest. (She's done the home brewing thing and likes beers like Kilkenny and Boddington's, so her reaction is worth noting.) She didn't dislike it, she just didn't find it particularly interesting or good. I wasn't too impressed, either. It was a plain, relatively flavourless, fizzy beer that wouldn't get a lot of attention without the excessive blue dye.

After the movie, when the lights were back on, Laura pointed at my face and started laughing. The beer had dyed my lips blue. I don't think I'd want to drink a lot of this stuff in public, if that's what usually happens. And in general I'd rather have a beer that I can taste.

Coming up, some day... our Deep Space Wine tasting.

(Now playing: Harmonia, "Watussi," Musik von Harmonia.)

Friday, June 04, 2004

Waiting for Unity

Yesterday's mail included a parcel with two Doctor Who hardcovers. That reminded me of a current thread at the TrekBBS in which people are lamenting the long time they have to wait before Unity, a novel in the consistently enjoyable (and often downright brilliant) DS9 relaunch, comes out in paperback. Me, I bought the hardcover and read it in one glorious afternoon.

Anyway, it occurred to me I've been getting a lot of Doctor Who hardcovers lately, so I made a little list.

Shell Shock (Telos novella)

Short Trips: A Universe of Terrors (short story anthology)

Cabinet of Light (Telos novella)

Fallen Gods (Telos novella)

Short Trips: Muses (short story anthology)

Doctor Who: The Legend (big, expensive coffee table book)

Life During Wartime (Bernice Summerfield spinoff short story anthology)

Doctor Who: The New Audio Adventures: The Inside Story

Frayed (Telos novella)

Eye of the Tyger (Telos novella)

Short Trips: Steel Skies (short story anthology)

Companion Piece (Telos novella)

Blood and Hope (Telos novella)

Doctor Who: The Audio Scripts

Doctor Who: The Audio Scripts Volume Two

The Dalek Factor (Telos novella)

Short Trips: Past Tense (short story anthology)

Doctor Who: The Audio Scripts Volume Three

Those are all hardcover books. At least two or three of those are more than one year old, but I bought all of them within the last twelve months. The Telos novellas are hardcover books with about 80 to 120 pages of material for £10 (about $25 Canadian). Most of the other books cost a bit more. To the best of my knowledge, none of them will ever be reprinted in paperback. Making things worse, Telos lost its licence and by the end of this month their books will be pretty much unavailable (fewer books to buy in future, at least). So do some shopping at Telos now! I particularly liked Kim Newman's novella, Time and Relative, but Telos lists it as sold out. They must have copies of some of their books left, though. And you can probably find a copy of Time and Relative on ebay...

Point being, for the folks who can't afford to buy Unity in hardcover: things could be worse. At least you know that there will definitely be a reasonably priced paperback edition in a few months.

Being 41 years old has its downside sometimes, but having a decent job and a working wife with a great deal of patience really helps when you're in the grips of a mad fannish enthusiasm.

And I've been in this mad fannish enthusiasm for Doctor Who for about three years now. That's pretty late for something that's been around almost as long as I have. It would have been a lot easier if I'd started any of the other times I almost dived in, especially in terms of collecting the New Adventures and Missing Adventures books. But three years ago wasn't a bad time to start. The number of available audios wasn't quite as overwhelming as it is now. Doctor Who Magazine and the Toronto-based Who fanzine Enlightenment both ran good feature articles on the NAs (it was their tenth anniversary). Diamond Comics listed what was then the only volume of I, Who, the guide to Doctor Who books. The Telos novellas hadn't yet started, nor had the Faction Paradox moved out of the BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures books and into their spinoff audios, books, and comics. BBC hadn't yet had their distribution crisis and tracking down most of their novels was as easy as making a couple of trips to the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto. Not to mention the fact that I've been able to join the rest of fandom in the excitement over, first, The Scream of the Shalka and, more importantly, the new TV series. I think I got into this at a pretty good time.

(Now playing: Sonic Youth, "New Hampshire," Sonic Nurse.)

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Flash the bridge. Put all decks on the alert!

If you regularly follow the Trek news sources like TrekToday you've already seen this. But if not, and if you're a serious fan of the original series, you'll enjoy this. It's a few brief video snippets that didn't make it into the version of the second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before."

There's a good article at Trekweb that has some screen captures and a good text description of the video footage, for those who have problems with video on their computers. The actual footage is at Trek Brasilis. The text of the latter page is in Portuguese, but the links to the video files (.avi format, a few megs each) are easy to find.

Here's what you get: First, a new intro scene with a shot of the galaxy and a Kirk voiceover setting up the episode and leading into a different set of opening credits with different music (if you have the soundtrack album for "The Cage" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before," you've heard this). Second, the opening scenes from the first act with a few scenes of the various crew members making their way through busy corridors to the turbolift (including a cute bit of business by Gary Lockwood). Third, a different set of closing credits. About two or three minutes worth of video in all.

Okay, so these aren't revelatory lost scenes. I can imagine some people being completely uninterested in them. But for a lot of us longtime TOS fans, this is pretty neat stuff. I'm almost as keen to burn this to VCD as I was to burn my VCDs of Starship Exeter's "The Savage Empire" episode and "Come What May", the first episode of Star Trek: The New Voyages. But this is real Trek, not fan Trek, so even if it's only a couple of minutes instead of a full episode... well, excuse me for geeking out.

(Now playing: UNKLE, "Safe in Mind (Please Get This Gun From Out of My Face)," Never, Never Land.)