Monday, February 28, 2005

The Joy of Star Trek vanity press books

I have no idea how many Star Trek-related vanity press books have been published over the years, though I've bought a number of them. The Internet makes it easier to track their existence, especially since some of the bigger companies have started selling through Amazon.

So, last Friday, I received from Amazon the first two contributions to Star Trek nonfiction and fiction from Ruby Moon-Houldson, A Tribute to Spock: A Reference Guide and A Tribute to James Doohan "Scotty": A Reference, the first from 1stBooks, the second from the same company under its new name, AuthorHouse. They're the company publishing Alva Underwood's Trek novel reference books, which are a lot better than one would expect from a vanity press, as well as a book on DeForest Kelley. Those books may make some readers happy. I'm not sure who would find Moon-Houldson's books enjoyable or useful, though.

Here's more or less what I wrote for the Complete Starfleet Library. First, A Tribute to Spock:

Whatever else this is, it isn't a reference guide. Instead, it's a random mishmash. Reprinted online posts about Star Trek movies, a few pages of quotes from episodes, one of those clueless Trekkie or Trekker comparisons, more than 40 pages of Star Trek poetry and monologues, a nun's comparison of Spock's experience with Jesus's that originally appeared in Best of Trek 11 back in 1986, not that that's mentioned here... this is just deeply weird. On one page, there's a poem in two columns. On the left, it's called "Spock ce mortuus," on the right "Spock is dead." It's the same poem, but the one on the right is in English, the one on the left in a strange combination of Latin and French.

This is not a reference book in any useful way; it's not useful as a guide for new Star Trek fans because it almost completely ignores everything that came after Star Trek: The Next Generation; and it reproduces material first published elsewhere without properly attributing it. Not recommended.

And the Scotty book:

Like its predecessor, A Tribute to Spock: A Reference Guide, this vanity press publication is an odd mishmash of stuff, including a reappearance of some of the poetry/monologues from the first book, several pages of trivia regarding the episodes in which you can see that James Doohan is missing a finger on one hand, material reprinted from other sources without proper attribution (for instance, the Federation Articles and General Orders from the Star Fleet Technical Manual, some recipes from Pocket's Star Trek Cookbook), and a lot of other material likely to confuse anyone who might expect an actual tribute to Doohan or an actual reference book. Like the first book, this makes very little reference to anything post-Next Generation, and there's not much Next Generation content there, either. It reads like a series of infodumps from random Trek websites shoved between the covers of a book. Not recommended.

And she's working on her third book.

And because I'm a completist, and do my darn website, I'll buy the thing, and curse and grumble again.

(Now playing: Brian Eno, "Fields of Ice," Curiosities Volume II.)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Bloviation about science fiction

Okay, over at the TrekBBS someone started a thread about Star Trek vis a vis science fiction in general. Books, that is. It's the latest take on an occasionally popular subject: why don't the "real" science fiction people take media tie-in SF seriously?

This time around, the poster asked about Star Trek in relation to "cutting edge" science fiction.

The problem is that there are two science fictions being discussed here. There's science fiction as a literary genre and science fiction as a TV/movie genre. The two have not developed together, not have they developed at the same speed. A lot of what has been called "cutting edge" in print SF has never been translated to film or TV, sometimes because it wouldn't have the kind of mass appeal necessary for the larger audience TV and movies demand, sometimes because the story just doesn't lend itself to the medium.

A number of people would probably faint if they read the following, like Brian Aldiss, author of Trillion Year Spree with David Wingrove. It's probably the best history of the genre available. Likewise Robert Scholes and Eric Rabkin, writers/editors of Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision, which was one of the texts in the SF course I took in my English major days. I'm going to give a ridiculously simplified set of generalizations and call it a history of science fiction. It will ignore all kinds of contradictory evidence for the sake of convenience.

Depending on who's telling the story, science fiction begins with Apuleius, or Mary Shelley. or H.G. Wells, or Hugo Gernsback. To a considerable extent it depends on how you define the term "science fiction." We're talking about Star Trek here, so let's jump to the 1930s and 1940s.

Space opera was invented in the 1930s by E.E. "Doc" Smith, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, et al. Ignoring the philosophical focus on writers like Shelley and Wells, the space opera writers provided slambang action in outer space.

The story of American pulp science fiction begins with those adventure stories, but before long John W. Campbell, Jr. took over the editorship of Astounding, and cultivated a number of writers, not least Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. Campbell's early tenure is considered an early high point in the development of American SF, as Campbell pushed for better written stories with more thought put into them. A lot of the great SF of the 1940s and early 1950s appeared in Astounding.

A.E. van Vogt's Voyage of the Space Beagle, cited by some as an influence on Star Trek, originally appeared as short stories in magazines, the first, "Black Destroyer," being published in Astounding in 1939. The stories describe the adventures of the crew of the Space Beagle, a starship exploring strange new worlds. In 1950, when it was first collected and published in book form, it would already have struck some readers as old-fashioned.

In the 1950s, with most of the old pulps dead and gone but Astounding still going, a couple of new magazines appeared. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is generally thought of as the more literary, less genre-bound magazine. Galaxy was more strictly SF but ran to social satire and humour. Astounding's best writers, Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, et al., were moving into book form and developing beyond Campbell's limits, while writers like Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth used satire to take on advertising, law, and other aspects of modern life. Science fiction started drawing on psychology and sociology instead of just the hard sciences and engineering. Distinctive new voices like Cordwainer Smith and Alfred Bester took some of the stuff of space opera and turned it into exotic new forms.

As with culture in general, the 1960s brought a lot of new developments. The move to literary experimentation and social commentary intensified and developed into something of a movement, the New Wave. This time around, women and British writers were strongly involved. Some of the results of that experimentation would have been almost unrecognizable as science fiction to fans of the old 1930s pulps. See, for example, Brian Aldiss's Barefoot in the Head, published in 1969, and presenting the perspective of a character in a world where everyone's hallucinating and unable to think normally. Or Joanna Russ's 1970 novel And Chaos Died, which not only deals with homosexuality but tries to depict telepathy from the telepath's perspective. The New Wave didn't sell a hell of a lot of books; there were still a lot of writers doing more conventional SF, but the New Wave's influence rippled through the decades.

One of the writers whose career kicked into high gear in the 1960s was Frank Herbert. Astounding had by then become Analog, and it was there his first Dune fiction was published, bringing into SF not only ecological concerns but also the thinly veiled influence of Middle East history and Islam. Herbert was a mainstream SF writer by New Wave standards, but he was doing something far more sophisticated than Captain Future.

And while all this ferment was going on, and Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick were making a psychedelic space movie in the form of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek was on TV. A decade after bold explorers in space were generally seen as just kiddie TV (e.g., Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, and his fellow Solar Guard cadets and officers aboard the spaceship Polaris), Star Trek's main innovation was in taking old-fashioned space adventure seriously as adult fare. But it wasn't really a lot different from the 1950s movie Forbidden Planet or some 1940s print SF.

In the 1970s, for a few years at least, the literary experimentation and focus on the soft sciences were being subsumed into the mainstream in the form of books as disparate as Vonda McIntyre's Dreamsnake and John Brunner's near-future dystopias, which actually started circa 1969 with Stand on Zanzibar. SF was getting a bit more mainstream, and big sense of wonder/hard SF novels like Larry Niven's Ringworld and Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama were actually selling well. Then 1977 happened. On the one hand, Star Wars dramatically increased the demand for media SF tie-in novels and relatively straightforward SF action-adventure novels that might recapture the feel of the movie. At the same time, Del Rey Books began their fantasy line with Terry Brooks's The Sword of Shannara, fueling a boom in epic fantasy, a genre that had pretty much not existed as such until then. There was Tolkine, there were a handful of fantasy novels by SF writers, there were fantasies for kids, and there were fantasy stories from decades earlier. But the large sections marked "Fantasy" in bookstores these days simply could not have existed before 1977; there wasn't enough of that kind of fantasy in print.

At this point, everything goes kablooey, and it becomes harder to talk about trends in the field as a whole. There was some concern that the dual attack of Star Wars and post-Shannara subTolkien retreads would dumb down the genre, but that didn't really seem to happen. Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, which had begun publishing as a quarterly in 1976, went to monthly publication before long, and became one of the most important breeding grounds for new SF writers in the next couple of decades. Established writers like Asimov, Clarke, Herbert, and Heinlein started showing up regularly in bestseller lists, while younger writers like Joe Haldeman and John Varley made names for themselves with bold and innovative work that was still readable and entertaining.

By the 1980s, there was no shortage of any kind of science fiction or fantasy. There was right wing militarist stuff, satire, sense of wonder stuff... but in 1984 the big trend of the decade appeared. The information technology revolution had begun a few years earlier, real life was starting to look more like science fiction, and William Gibson's Neuromancer captured and projected the zeitgeist, and a lot of SF afterwards seemed like an attempt to ride its wave or reject it completely. Asimov's SF Magazine ran an article by Michael Swanwick, "A User's Guide to the Postmoderns," which divided the current crop of new writers into the cyberpunk and literary humanist camps, the most famous of the latter being probably Kim Stanley Robinson. The idea was that, on the one hand, there were writers fascinated by technology, punk and other subcultures, crime fiction, squalor, and the dark side of life in general, and on the other were more literary writers more concerned with the human condition than the machine condition. Of course, a lot of the writers mentioned in the article -- and Swanwick himself -- had written fiction that could fall into either category. As a manifesto, it left a lot to be desired, but as with the New Wave, it got people talking and writing, even while the average SF fans may have been unaware of it all.

So, while a lot of SF was about people using direct neural interfaces to interact with visual metaphors of computer information for criminal purposes, doing drugs, having sex with people of any gender imaginable, and generally not being clean cut engineers and space explorers, Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered, showing some signs of developments in television but only a few indications of any awareness that science fiction had also developed. Meanwhile TV and movies had given us Blade Runner, Brazil, and Max Headroom, which presaged and/or paralleled cyberpunk in a number of ways.

More recently, SF has been absorbing influences from here, there, and everywhere, and feeding them back into the culture. Space opera has been brought back in a newer, more cynical, form by writers like Iain M. Banks. New scientific developments have inspired some wild speculations from the likes of Greg Egan, even as the world seems more and more like science fiction, thanks to the ubiquity of personal computers, cellphones, the Internet, terrorism... and while American SF TV continues to refine space opera through Star Trek spinoffs, Babylon 5, Stargate, Andromeda, Farscape, etc, Japanese anime takes cyberpunk a few steps farther along in movies and series like Ghost in the Shell and Serial Experiments: Lain.

So, as to the concept of cutting edge: Star Trek was in some respects cutting edge as SF on TV a few times. It pioneered the space opera as an adult form of television entertainment, it pioneered the use of syndication for hourlong drama series, but it's generally been pretty conventional and mainstream in its storytelling, and well behind even sitcoms in its willingness to deal with controversial subjects. Compared to Farscape or a lot of anime series, it looks old-fashioned on screen, even with its high quality special effects.

Now let's consider Star Trek books. In a number of ways the books are ahead of the TV series. Some of them have done a much better job of using ensemble storytelling than most of the Trek TV series have done, even though it's been common on non-SF TV series for at least the last 20 years. The books have certainly done a much better job on issues like homosexuality than the TV series have generally managed to do, bringing them up to speed with print SF circa 30 years ago.

But as far as cutting edge goes... there are two good reasons why Star Trek can't be cutting edge. First, the cutting edge is a transient thing, moving forward restlessly, not staying in one place for decades. Second, the cutting edge isn't generally where the audience is. Max Headroom was much more cutting edge than The Next Generation was. It didn't last a full season on TV. Star Trek, on TV and in books, can certainly learn and borrow from whatever's on the cutting edge, but it can't hope to take its place there, because it's not sustainable. You can't take a lot of risks with something that has to be pretty much the same again next week. And in the books, you can't blow up someone else's playground.

Now, as far as reading some good cutting edge SF goes... if you haven't read any non-media SF, some of the cutting edge stuff isn't necessarily going to make a lot of sense. A lot of it builds on, critiques, appropriates, or detournes (can I use that as an English word?) what came before. And some of it is wilfully difficult. Some of the cyberpunk writers and critics hailed Kathy Acker's Empire of the Senseless 15 years or so ago, and yes, it's innovative and new in a post-William S. Burroughs kind of way, so it's cutting edge. It just isn't a lot of fun to read, unless you're really into challenges and already know all of the material she's reworking and commenting on.

I'd say, don't worry about the cutting edge just yet. Find a good reading list of classic SF from the last hundred years or so and immerse yourself. Read Stanley Weinbaum, "Doc" Smith, Heinlein, Asimov, and so on. Check for lists of Hugo and Nebula winners and try some of those. And then move on to the fringes a little. Read magazines, book reviews, textbooks, and just learn.

I don't even remember the original question now. If I have a point, it's that there's a lot of great reading out there. And you can spend many happy years exploring it.

If you read this here, you might consider going to the livejournal version to comment. It does dialogue a lot better.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Big Star Trek publishing change

Marco Palmieri speaks, quoted from PsiPhi:
Beginning in June, there'll be one mass-market ST title per month.

We've been discussing such a change internally for over a year. Our feeling is that we can do a better job, both editorially and sales-wise, by putting greater energy and effort into fewer and more carefully chosen projects, making the line leaner, meaner, and stronger. The respite being take from studio-produced Star Trek reinforces that strategy. And when you think about it, a media tie-in publishing line consisting of one mass-market book per month, (plus a handful of annual trades and hardcovers), during a time when no new studio-generated material will exist to support it, is still an amazing thing.

First, though I'm sure there'll be a lot of kremlinology going on, I think Marco's earned our trust by now. So I doubt that this is bad news delivered with a cheery face. (Now, when BBC books went to one Doctor Who novel a month, I took some of the kremlinology a little more seriously.)

But what does it mean for the future of the Star Trek books program? Consider how many series there are. Star Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, New Frontier, Stargazer, S.C.E., Gorkon, Vanguard, Titan.... Will some series end? Or will a decent balance be maintained in the form of more frequent hardcover novels and trade paperbacks?

This could be good. If the Pocket gang have been seriously rethinking their strategy, if they plan to put more work into developing and publishing the best Trek fiction they can do, this may not be a problem. We are, after all, talking about the folks who have given us the Deep Space Nine relaunch and the Lost Era books. And it sounds like a repudiation of the age of gimmicks: books padded out to trilogy length, cliffhaners resolved in hardcovers, etc. If the point of this is to really focus fans' attention on one book a month, that one book is more likely to be something special. Not only because it's presumably had more editorial attention, but because it will have more fan attention, instead of being one of a number of products released simultaneously. Each book will become more of an event. Well, it could play out that way.

And I'll be spending less money. Except for the fact that I'll probably have to start doing the ebook thing, because unless SCE goes to semi-annual trade paperback reprints, the available slots for reprint volumes will be fewer and farther between.

These are interesting times. There's plenty of potential downside here. Series could be ended or effectively abandoned; some of the great talent pool discovered by Pocket in recent years may move on to other things rather than fight over a much smaller number of available spots on the schedule. But for now I think I'll keep looking on the bright side of life.

(Now playing: Jack Dangers, "Planet of Rain," from Sci-Fi Sound Effects, disc 2 of Forbidden Planet Explored.)

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Improving Star Trek Communicator

First improvement: get a helpful new Data Access columnist. Of course, there's always something entertaining in Richard Arnold's column, but not in a helpful way. In the latest one, someone asks a simple question: is Shran's captain's chair actually Janeway's captain's chair? Richard demonstrates how connected he is by quoting someone who works on the show, who says that stuff is recycled all the time, then goes on to the next question. Earth to Richard: you didn't answer the question you were asked. Is it the same chair? That's a yes or no question. I don't happen to think it's a tremendously important or interesting question, but it is the question that was asked.

But Richard really shines later in the column. Someone asks how Khan got a Starfleet insignia that appears to be movie-era instead of original TV series era in design. Richard's response? Yep, that's a big mistake. There's no way anyone could possibly rationalize that one away. Hoo-boy, what a screw-up. Awful shame, really, no possible reason exists anywhere in the known universe, and none could even be imagined, it's just a great big booboo.

Okay, the outside-the-box answer probably is that it's a blunder on someone's part. But there are two possible ways to look at Richard's answer. First, the eagerness to bash ST II for making a mistake is interesting, because the sainted Gene really hated that movie. Where did he say that, you ask? Well, Halifax, Nova Scotia, circa 1983/84, for one, when he did a lecture there, at the Dalhousie University Student Union Building, which I attended. It didn't fit Gene's evolving conception of Star Trek as conflict-free and unmilitary, and it was a movie made with little input from Gene, as Harve Bennett took over the franchise for a few years.

But more interesting is the little fact that Greg Cox just happened to get a book published called To Reign in Hell. It's a novel about Khan's years on Ceti Alpha V. And Cox proposes a pretty reasonable, inside-the-box explanation for that insignia.

I can't help but think Richard was so vociferous in denying any possible explanation specifically because he knows it was addressed in a (shudder) noncanonical source.

Which brings me to the second way to improve the mag:

Star Trek, as TV series and movie series, is over as of May, for the foreseeable future. So what is Star Trek Communicator going to be about? Is it going to rely on interviews with cast and crew retelling old stories about shows that are slipping steadily farther into the past? Will it just wallow in nostalgia?

Or will Larry Nemecek and the Star Trek Communicator crew notice that the real story now is the Pocket Star Trek books? It's nice that there's one page on upcoming books, but they routinely give more space to Richard Arnold avoiding readers' questions or the latest Decipher card game upgrade than they do to the books.

Star Trek Communicator needs to do major stories about the books. Do a big interview with the Pocket staff about their plans. Do interviews with the writers. Do a big SCE feature describing the characters, summarizing the ebooks so far, and interviewing some of the writers who've gotten their start writing Trek fiction there.

This shouldn't be hard to do. Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore already write for the magazine, after all.

Make it so, dammit.

(Now playing: Shriekback, "Lines From the Library," Care.)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Recent reading

Caught up with some Star Trek books not too long ago, as well as some non-Trek stuff (below). The two new Deep Space Nine books came first, of course. Trill was intense and grim, with more of that close-up look at violence and instability that we've been seeing in Star Trek books lately. Some good character arcs, especially for Ezri and Julian; some strong imaginative worldbuilding scenes, most notably Ezri's visit to the old symbionts; and a lot of smart but unobtrusive bits like the reference to Odan-style Trill. Bajor was darn near pastoral by comparison, despite the fact that it had some violence and darkness, but fortunately Jake's storyline was a source of humour and romance in what may perhaps be a bit too dark and depressing a series lately. The story unifies a lot of the different (sometimes bizarrely different) views of Bajor we got in DS9's early seasons, pulling everything together neatly. Ferenginar... well, as much as I like KRAD's stuff, the Ferengi episodes are not my favourite part of the DS9 tapestry. Names like Brunt and Zek do not fill me with anticipation. Fortunately, Ro Laren comes along for the ride. She was one of my favourite characters on TNG, which never really made the most of her, so it's a delight to see her treated much better in the DS9 novels and to see Ferenginar through her eyes for much of the story. The Dominion story... remember what I was saying about dark and depressing? Yikes. But good. Riveting. So some storylines seem to be pretty much finished, as do some relationships, for that matter, and others are moving forward. But it's hard to see any cheer and good times ahead. Trill and the Founder homeworld are in a worse position than they were before. Kira could be doing better, too. And threats are gathering.

The DS9 relaunch has kept itself fresh by not just doing one novel following directly from another. I'm starting to wonder if, in a couple of years, we'll need to see it take a turn in another direction by dealing with most of the nastiness and doing a couple of books of relatively peaceful life for our favourite characters.

Next I read To Reign in Hell. Fortunately, it was pretty much free of all the crossovers and inside jokes that plagued the Eugenics Wars books and Assignment: Eternity. But the dialogue... okay, I know Khan actually did speak some over-the-top dialogue in The Wrath of Khan, but he and his followers must have spoken in relatively normal English sometimes. Or maybe the book used overwrought language out of some imitation Conan the Barbarian comic book to maintain that epic, larger than life feel. Regardless, it tasked me. The book is also predictable for the most part, because we already know what's going to happen. Boom. She's dead. Damn Kirk! Eels. Kids. Reliant. The end. The book had a few other things going on, but it was too short to really flesh things out.

The Voyager relaunch, books three and four. I'm a big believer in constructive criticism, in not simply saying "this sucks," in making some kind of reasoned argument about the merits of a book that someone else can understand even while disagreeing. But I don't have it in me to be constructive about Spirit Walk. I have failed to meet this challenge. It's not Star Trek. It's a new age fantasy drivelfest with a couple of Star Trek names and words used. All I am left with, in trying to criticize this as Star Trek, are the unhelpful words, "This sucks." Sorry.

After Spirit Walk I had to clean out my mind with some very different reading material. So I turned to a couple of old favourites.

Back in the mid-1980s, there was a small publisher called Black Lizard. They brought back into print a number of grim and depressing crime novels, reprinting old pulp stories and old paperback originals. Some of the authors were still reasonably well-known; others were all but forgotten. I'd heard of a few and read a couple but quickly learned that darn near anything published under that original Black Lizard imprint was going to be worth reading. (Black Lizard was later taken over by Random House's Vintage imprint and used for reprints of more well-known and respectable crime fiction and mysteries, while the bulk of the original Black Lizard lineup was abandoned.) One of my favourite discoveries was David Goodis.

Goodis was, briefly, respectable, well-known, well-paid. One of his early novels, Dark Passage, became a Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall film. But he ended up writing a lot of novels of squalor, despair, crime, and doomed love as paperback originals, and several of those were reprinted by Black Lizard. Nightfall was probably my first. I was already a fan of Cornell Woolrich, the noir novelist whose stories of love, murder, and despair were more romantic and sometimes even had happy endings; quite a few of Woolrich's stories have been filmed. Goodis had all the darkness and precious little of the light. His prose was also leaner; Woolrich could get a little purple at times by comparison. For whatever reason, this grim stuff made up a lot of my leisure reading in my mid-20s. Maybe it made my minor disappointments in life look pretty good by comparison.

Anyway, Black Lizard never got around to all of Goodis's books. The Vintage version printed a couple more a few years later but they didn't hit me the same way. And a couple of years ago I found a copy of The Blonde on the Street Corner and had a hard time getting into it. I wasn't single, unemployed, and miserable; I was older, more mature, happily married, and suburbanized. But I finally got around to getting the one Goodis in print that I hadn't read: The Moon in the Gutter. And for whatever reason, it worked this time. I was home sick, reading it late at night, and angry about wasting so many hours on Spirit Walk. So the overwrought story of a dockworker trying to figure out who was responsible for his sister's suicide (she'd been raped), prowling the dark alleys on the bad side of town, getting mixed up with a middle class drunk, who comes slumming into his part of town, and the drunk's beautiful sister, who seems like a much better if impossible catch than the slag he's sleeping with occasionally... well, for whatever reason, I enjoyed every desperate, despairing minute of it. (And what do you know... there's another one in print I haven't read: Of Tender Sin. I'll have to order it.)

That was a fast read. Next up was a much slower, denser, and very different read.

H.P. Lovecraft: A Life by S.T. Joshi is 650 pages of small print. It's also one of the first books I bought from, back in 1998. The size of it intimidated me a little so I put off reading it. But, if you're off sick, you have plenty of time to read, so... I sailed through it much more quickly than I had expected. Joshi looks at Lovecraft's life, his fiction, and his philosophy. Never a conventional writer, Lovecraft spent a great deal more time on personal correspondence and what was then called amateur journalism (a distant ancestor of zines) than he did on the horror and science fiction for which he's still remembered. In all that nonprofessional writing, Lovecraft wrote thousands of pages on history, politics, literature, and more. He also exposed some ugly strains in his thought -- racism and homophobia among others. Joshi makes no excuses for Lovecraft, though he does put him into historical context and explores how these themes played out in Lovecraft's fiction. This is not a book for Lovecraftian newbies, but for anyone who's already read all his fiction and has read a bit about his life, this is a rewarding experience.

I'm not finished it yet, but I've read most of Silver Scream, a horror short story anthology edited by David J. Schow, published in the late 1980s (I've got the Tor paperback reprint). I haven't finished it yet because I'm finding it a bit disappointing. The theme of the anthology is horror stories that have something to do with movies; the tone is splatterpunk, the subgenre of horror popularized by the likes of Schow, Craig Skipp, John Spector, and, arguably, Clive Barker, all of whom are included here, and most of whom I was reading back then. Unfortunately, splatterpunk dates badly. Too much of it tries too hard to be both shocking and hip, achieving little of either. There are stories that work (Barker's, Ramsey Campbell's and a few others), but too many of the stories seem to be too busy shouting "Look how fucking edgy I am, man!" to tell a story.

Now I'm reading Wilder Perkins's Hoare trilogy. The concept is pretty simple: imagine Horatio Hornblower as a detective. The books are mystery/espionage tales of a naval officer who cannot captain a ship because a bullet wound has left him nearly mute, unable to shout orders on a ship. The Admiralty finds him useful as an investigator. Hoare deals with spies, sabotuers, smugglers, and other miscreants. The books have their share of surprises. For a start, the main mystery, a conspiracy operating against England, carries through all three books. For another, the stories grow steadily quirkier. In the second novel, Hoare is given a ship to command -- but it's a ship that is not allowed to sail, because it's essentially a floating spy office, crewed with cryptographers and other intelligence agents, some of them women, and all but devoid of experienced sailors. There's also a lot of inside jokes and tips of the hat. Jane Austen is a personal friend of Hoare's love interest. Hoare encounters Horatio Hornblower once or twice and remembers Jack Aubrey's "lesser of two weevils" joke. There's a spy named Ambler (no doubt named after Eric Ambler, writer of spy novels), an investigator named Lestrade (an ancestor of Holmes's foil from Scotland Yard, perhaps?), and others, including, I strongly suspect, a considerable number that have gone over my head. Ordinarily this sort of thing, done too much, ticks me off, but the overarching mystery story and the character development have enough seriousness and depth to balance the frivolity.

(Now playing: Siouxsie and the Banshees, "Stargazer (Mambo Sun Remix)," The Best of Siouxsie and the Banshees.)

I'm glad Laura and I had lunch with Marco and KRAD...

The Naked Lunch. John Ordover, the former Pocket Books Star Trek novel editor who now runs Phobos, is interestingly exposed in Time Out New York for 6-12 January -- which reveals, complete with nude group photo, his spare-time activity of running Clothing Optional Dinners for NYC naturists. `The unofficial motto of the COD is "No Hot Soup".' It must be healthier than all those frowsty sf conventions....
From the latest issue of David Langford's SF newsletter, Ansible, always an entertaining read. I especially enjoy Thog's Masterclass (quotes of really awful science fiction prose) and As Others See Us, dimwitted comments about SF and SF fans from outsiders. It's a quick read, once a month, and it's free. Plus, Langford, an SF writer and editor, is the brother of Jon Langford of the Mekons. Which is cool.

(Incidentally, it was back in the summer of '03 that Laura and I visited New York City and got to meet John, Marco, Keith, and some other folks at Pocket, all of whom were very nice indeed. It was even cooler than the time I was walking out of the washroom at Toronto Trek while George Takei was walking in and he said "Hi.")

(Now playing: Troum, "Sigqan Part 3," Sigqan.)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Not that much of a surprise, really...

Not that anyone hasn't heard by now, but Enterprise has been cancelled. Let the post mortems begin. With a little luck, we may get some good magazine articles or books that take a candid look at the behind-the-scenes story of the last few years.

Was a prequel really the right idea? Some TOS fans were alienated by the new show and saw it as conflicting with the original Star Trek. Some fans just didn't care about the past of the Trek universe. For that matter, what was the point of doing a prequel that, until recently, pretty much ignored established continuity? Not that it necessarily violated continuity; it didn't really do any worse than any other Trek series in that respect. But if you set a show early in Trek history, why then spend a lot of time on alien threats and menaces that were never heard of again in the later eras covered by previous Star Trek TV series? And if you want the freedom to introduce big new alien threats, from the Suliban to the Xindi, and you don't really want to just deal with a few human colonies and a limited number of established alien races, why do a prequel? Many of the most popular Trek alien cultures were actually new to Starfleet in the later series, so you can't really do a lot with the Borg, the Romulans, the Gorn, the Ferengi, the Founders, and so on.

Was the storytelling a problem? For much of the first two seasons, the show told stories that could have been told on previous Trek series with very few changes. Similar look and feel, similar casting, similar direction... Enterprise and Voyager, compared to Farscape or the new Galactica, are obviously the same basic series. Add the familiar setting (a starship with a paramilitary crew exploring space with an alien or two for company), and it was hard to avoid feeling sometimes that this was just more of the same. Okay, there was the temporal cold war arc, but that just ended up being reminiscent of the conspiracy arc episodes on The X-Files. There was no sense that the show's creators really had a sensible explanation lined up and ready to go. Then there was the Xindi arc, which actually did try to do something different. Was it too little, too late? Or did it turn off casual viewers who didn't want to have to tune in every week to know what was going on?

Were the cast or characters a problem? I never really warmed to Scott Bakula, particularly. The other cast members were good enough in their parts, when they were given something to do. But Travis, Mayweather, and Hoshi never got nearly as much exploration as they should have.

What does this mean for Star Trek in general? Well, the books will do fine, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for the next Star Trek movie. I wonder if Paramount will shut down the Star Trek office and let the various people there go on to other things. With no TV series in the works, and no movie given the greenlight, will Paramount pay Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, et al. to keep sitting in their cushy chairs? If not, does anyone high up in Paramount or UPN have any loyalty to the current Trek producers, or will they feel free to bring in someone new if or when they decide to revive Star Trek in some form?

In a way, this is an exciting time now. Anything can happen. Quite possibly nothing will happen, for a year or maybe a few years... but the old order is getting shaken up. Business is not as usual. The status is not quo. Which means there are always... possibilities.

(Now playing: Tori Amos, "Ribbons Undone," The Beekeeper.)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Star Trek book news and views

The cover scan of the first Vanguard book, up on Psi Phi, looks magnificent.

Speaking of Psi Phi, David Henderson emailed me a few days ago to bring a couple of books to my attention. A woman named Ruby Moon-Houldson has had a few books published through AuthorHouse (formerly 1stBooks), the same vanity press that's publishing Alva Underwood's Star Trek Novel Reader's Reference books. There's a tribute to Spock and a tribute to James Doohan, with a Walter Koenig book on the way. Looks like the books are a mixed bag of articles and not entirely about the subjects mentioned in the titles. Where Underwood's books are pretty professional-looking, I have lower expectations of these ones, but I ordered them anyway. If they're available through, they're close enough to real books to merit listing on the ol' Complete Starfleet Library... unless they're those Internet guides from Talis Pelucir et al., which look more like pamphlets than books.

And Ian McLean, who's already provided a lot of info for the Lost Books page, has come up with another one, a novelization of the Star Trek comic strip storyline "The Wristwatch Plantation," by Larry Niven and Sharman DiVono. The idea of a Trek novel by Niven, and involving his Kzinti, is pretty darned interesting. Niven discusses it in his book Playgrounds of the Mind. I'll have to update the Lost Books page soon. Ian also provides more information on Robert Greenberger's lost novel, Orion's Belt.

Yes, I've been terribly remiss in keeping the site up to date in the last couple of months. But, you know, Christmas, Laura and I both being sick, Laura being in a car accident (she's fine, the car could be better, idiots running red lights because they're too busy changing the radio station to notice the light has changed should be publicly humiliated), my sister having a baby, life in general... excuses, excuses, I know.

Fun with FreeFind

Every week FreeFind emails me an automatically generated report of the searches performed on my site using the FreeFind search window at the bottom of pretty much every page of the site. And it disappoints me to see how many people I'm letting down.

Here are some search terms that, alas, could not have had good results for anyone searching the site:

  • The Final Frunter
  • Talorytes
  • Deep Sapce Nine
  • Prophesy and Change
  • Star Fleetchronolgy
  • Is there another season in the Lost World series this would probably be season four
  • terre innconnue (misspelled French!)
  • h
  • rihansu
  • lord of the rings
  • startrekcookingpiccard
  • David Gerold
  • president that was a peanut farmer
One obvious trend is slightly misspelled versions of words and names that are, in fact, on the site in the correct spelling, which makes me wonder if I should have a page of misspelled words and names with links to the right spellings. If I had individual pages for each book, I could probably manage that with meta tags, but as it is, I'd have way too much in the tags. But I doubt I could think of all the words that someone might run together into a long single word.

Some of the others, though... maybe people come across the site in their travels and assume the search tool is a google-the-whole-web kind of search. And at least one must think it's an email link, though I really don't know anything about The Lost World.

I think I should revise the template for the FreeFind results page and put in a line or two about "If you didn't find something that really should be here, please check your spelling." Or something.

(Now playing: Carl Stalling, "There They Go-Go-Go (1956) - a complete Road Runner," The Carl Stalling Project: Music From Warner Bros. Cartoons 1936-1958.)