Tuesday, January 31, 2006

January's new Star Trek books

Artificial Life Possibilities cover

Artificial Life Possibilities: A Star Trek Perspective by Penny Baillie-de Byl

Originally announced for last year under a different title, it's finally available. It's a serious look at artificial intelligence and artificial intelligence, looking at the core issues in terms of the current state of the art, the limitations of real-world computer science, and how Star Trek has dealt with the subject.

A decade ago, books on the science of Star Trek were so popular that there were two books subtitled The Biology of Star Trek. There's been a dearth of any kind of Star Trek-related nonfiction in recent years, though, so I'm glad to see this book.

Rosetta cover

Rosetta by Dave Stern

The sixth original Enterprise novel, and Stern's fourth, is finally out. It was reportedly delayed by a line of dialogue from an Enterprise episode that required some rewriting of the novel. The schedule cutback can't have helped, either.

For the benefit of anyone who's stumbled across this item who doesn't follow the Trek book discussion sites, this is set during the TV series. There are plans for books set after the series' end but those books are some time away. Editor Margaret Clark has said that there are hints as to the direction the books will follow in the next Enterprise novel, Last Full Measure.

The Cleanup cover

The Cleanup by Robert T. Jeschonek

Jeschonek, three-time Strange New Worlds winner and contributor to the New Frontier and Voyager anthologies, has his first longer work published this month in the form of an ebook novella.

Welcome to the Starfleet Library blog

This blog is intended to serve as a supplement to the Complete Starfleet Library website. Established in 1999, the Complete Starfleet Library website is one of the most complete and long-running websites on Star Trek books. In addition to covering around a thousand Star Trek books published in English from 1967 to the present day, the site has two unique and often-cited special sections: the Star Trek: The Lost Books page, which describes dozens of lost (unpublished, withdrawn, and otherwise unavailable) Star Trek books, fiction and nonfiction, and a page devoted to compiling information on The God Thing, Gene Roddenberry's legendary unfinished and unpublished Star Trek novel.

What will you find here? If all goes according to plan, links to news on Star Trek books, occasional reviews, links to other useful websites, and Complete Starfleet Library website updates. Don't expect daily updates; the world of Star Trek book publishing is a lot quieter than it was a few years ago.

So why do this blog now? I started sjroby.blogspot.com two years ago with the intention of doing mainly this sort of thing, but it quickly started covering a lot more ground. But it's not ideal for the back and forth kind of discussions that can happen more easily on livejournal, so a lot of what used to happen on my original blog will probably move to steve-roby.livejournal.com. I'm not sure what will happen to the original blog... for the benefit of anyone who has a feed to that one, I may use it to link to the others when something's posted. Or maybe I'll get lazy again and end up with three moribund blogs. But I hope not.

Stay tuned...

Friday, January 13, 2006

2005: The year in Star Trek books

Enterprise cancelled, no movie in the works, Pocket's schedule cut back, startrek.com almost shut down, the fan club and Star Trek Communicator magazine out of business... not a great year for Star Trek.

For the books in particular, it was a year with some very good books and promising developments -- but also a year of considerably fewer books. Checker and Titan published five collections reprinting old Star Trek comics. Pocket published one nonfiction book, a vanity press published a collection of random smatterings of Trek-related material, and there were some new publications from the Star Fleet Battles game, which for a number of reasons aren't really covered by my site. (For one thing, a lot of their output isn't really in book form.) As for the novels... it was very much a good news, bad news year.

Bad news first. Here's the new Pocket fiction book by series breakdown for the last few years, counting Shatnerverse books as TOS:
                            2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
The Original Series 3 10 4* 4 3
The Next Generation 8 7* 5* 9 1
Deep Space Nine 4 5* 5 1 3
Voyager 3 1 2 2 3
Enterprise 1 3 3 1 0
New Frontier 2 0 3 1 0
S.C.E. 0 2 2 2 1
Stargazer 0 2 2 2 0
Lost Era 0 0 5 1 0
IKS Gorkon 0 0 2 0 1
Titan 0 0 0 0 2
Vanguard 0 0 0 0 1
miscellaneous/crossover 4 5 1 3 4
---- ---- ---- ---- ----
Total 25 35 34 26 19

*includes a new omnibus of previously published novels

That's a significant reduction.

On the other hand... 2005 brought the first two Titan novels, the first Vanguard novel, the first Voyager fiction not written by Christie Golden since 2002, a strong debut from Christopher L. Bennett revisiting the TMP era, and Keith RA DeCandido's Articles of the Federation. Two of the Deep Space Nine books were essentially four novels in two volumes. There's no shortage of quality, and many of the books are getting longer. The cutback may well result in a stronger line of books.

Pocket continues to draw on the excellent talent base they've discovered over the last few years, adding a few new writers, and bringing back a writer whose last previous Trek novel appeared in print a decade ago. There seems to be a commitment to continue experimenting and keeping things fresh rather than rely on the tried and true. Trek fiction is in good hands.

Still, with so few books being published now, doing the website is really not taking up much of my time. It's hard to get excited about it these days.

Looking forward, there are some things to get excited about in 2006. Jeff Ayers's book on Star Trek fiction and the BenBella essay collection, for a start, not to mention new installments in some of the novel series. Some intriguing developments on the ebook side of things. The 40th anniversary of Star Trek. Still, 2006 will probably be another year with around 30 books total. On the fiction side, we're still doing a lot better than we were in the 1980s. But I'd love to see more nonfiction. A good episode guide/making of book for Enterprise, for a start.

(Now playing: Sussan Deyhim, "Hamcho Farhad," Madman of God.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Random Notes

This one's a long one, but it's the first one in a few weeks...

Doctor Who

I have officially decided that I will not make any effort to be a book completist, even just with the new stuff. I resisted the temptation to get the official BBC kid books (the sticker books and such, as opposed to the NDAs). But the clincher is Back in Time: A Thinking Fan's Guide to Doctor Who. It's a Christian critique, apparently dealing mainly with the new series. That's almost enough to make it eminently missable, but given that a self-identified Christian Who-associated writer, Philip Purser-Hallard, says it's a bit of a mess and pushes intelligent design (sorry, neither), I shall be only too happy to give the book a pass.

Christmas Invasion? Fun. Not enough Tennant to really judge, and in reading J. Shaun Lyon's Back to the Vortex a few days ago I think I found an inconsistency (is the PM really likely to be a successful three-term prime minister after the Doctor uses those six little words?), but more than enough to keep us entertained and intrigued about both the next season and Torchwood. Speaking of Lyon's book, imagine concentrating a year or two of Outpost Gallifrey news stories on the new series into a cohesive story, and you've got the first half of the book. The second is summaries and critiques of the Eccleston era episodes by several people. It's written very much from a fan perspective, not an insider perspective, so it's like reliving the last couple of years. As such, I think I might have enjoyed it better if I'd waited until more time had passed. Worthwhile, though, and certainly informative. Also worthwhile was Endgame, the first reprint collection of Eighth Doctor comic strips from Doctor Who Magazine.


A few developments. Bought and watched The Call of Cthulhu on DVD. Rather than try to realistically film a story that involves several locations, ships at sea, islands rising from below the ocean, and of course Cthulhu himself and his city of R'lyeh, on a shoestring budget, the creators of this short film took a very different approach. The film is a stylized attempt at recreating the feel of the early days of filmmaking, circa the time Lovecraft wrote the original story, so it's a silent piece (with a musical soundtrack) with German expressionist influences. It's a remarkable piece of work, rather like watching a stage performance in some respects, because the artificiality of it all is so evident. You have to either buy wholly into the experience or just marvel at the ingenuity.

We also bought Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, the new Xbox game, but I haven't managed to get very far into it yet. It looks good so far, but you can't just save the game whenever you'd like to, so you have to have a lot of time to sit in front of the TV to play a level. Still, the atmosphere is remarkable, and the gameplay unique -- in my experience, at least.

On their way by mail are a couple of Lovecraftian books, Move Under Ground by Nick Mamatas (Jack Kerouac and his Beat generation pals versus Cthulhu mythos entities) and Tales Out of Dunwich, a collection of mostly mythos fiction plus a story that apparently inspired Lovecraft. It's edited by Robert M. Price, who edited a number of Chaosium's Lovecraftian anthologies, which helped regenerate my interest in Lovecraftiana about a decade ago. And speaking of Chaosium, their first mythos anthology in some time, The Tsathoggua Cycle, is out now, so I'll have to get that... and probably Inverted Kingdom, too, the second of Kurodahan's four-volume series of Japanese Cthulhu mythos fiction in English translation. The cultural differences gave the book a freshness a lot of other mythos anthologies just don't have.

Film noir (with a Star Trek connection)

I've rambled about how much I love the work of Cornell Woolrich, the novelist and short story writer whose dark crime fiction inspired a lot of movie adaptations, not least of them Hitchcock's Rear Window. I finally found a dirt-cheap DVD set with one I've been curious about for a long time: Fear in the Night, starring none other than DeForest Kelley as a man who wakes from a nightmare about murdering someone... and finds evidence that it may not have been just a nightmare. Unfortunately, it wasn't all that great. Kelley isn't bad, but he's not as good as I'd hoped, either. It's a cheap-looking movie, for the most part, and the story's something that might have seemed novel sixty years ago but comes off almost as a bad joke now. It wasn't so bad that I regret seeing it, but I have so many better Woolrich movies (Phantom Lady, The Black Angel, Rear Window, even Deadline at Dawn) that I won't be in a rush to watch this again.

Star Wars, those crazy Star Wars

Laura and I have spent so much time playing Battlefront, Battlefront II, Republic Commando, and (Laura only, so far) Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II on Xbox that we've been immersed in the Star Wars galaxy a lot over the last few months. Laura's actually been wanting to see the movies again, even though we didn't like the prequels much when we saw them the first time around, but we saw them at Costco on Sunday, not too expensive, and bought all six. (All we had before was an old pan and scan VHS version of Star Wars, fortunately not the special edition.)

So on Sunday we watched The Phantom Menace and last night we watched Attack of the Clones and you know what? They're still absolutely awful as movies, as far as inconsequential things like plot, dialogue, and acting are concerned. But they are very good eye candy, and the real fun in watching them was seeing more of the locations (Naboo, Geonosis, etc) that we're used to blowing stuff up in in games. The movies are about the least important part of Star Wars, as far as we're concerned; it's the long tradition of really good PC and video games that keeps us interested in that universe. (Sentimental trivia: Laura and I saw The Phantom Menace with my sister and her husband before we'd started officially dating; Laura lent me her Dark Forces game around the same time, and I played it to death.)

(Now playing: the Psychedelic Furs, "Mack the Knife," B Sides And Lost Grooves.)