Monday, February 27, 2006

Complete Starfleet Library website updates

I've added the Drones, Clones, and Alpha Babes book described below (I've put it on the 2006 page for now, but if it actually was published in December, I'll move it). Also added recently: the new Voyager and New Frontier novels, which I don't actually have yet but which are reportedly showing up in bookstores. I've also updated some of the general website nuts and bolts, so that most pages now acknowledge the year 2006.

Another new academic book on the way

From the University of Calgary Press website:
The Star Trek franchise represents one of the most successful emanations of popular media in our culture. The number of books, both popular and scholarly, published on the subject of Star Trek is massive with more and more titles being printed every year. Very few, however, have looked at Star Trek in terms of the dialectics of humanism and post-humanism, the pervasiveness of advanced technology, and the complications of gender identity. Relke sheds light on how the Star Trek narratives influence and are influenced by shifting cultural values in the United States, using these as portals to the sociopolitical and sociocultural landscapes of pre-and post 9-11 United States. Maintaining focus on Star Trek’s liberal humanism and extending it into a broader analysis of ideological features, Relke avoids a completely positive or negative critique, choosing rather to honour the contradictions inherent in the complexity of the subject.

About the Author

Diana Relke is founding member and professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, where she teaches courses in feminist theory, science fiction, and popular culture.
The U of C site has a publication date of December 2005, but according to, it hasn't been published yet. To see whether this is likely to be your cup of tea, you can read a 1995 paper, "Roddenberry's Humanist Vision: Using Star Trek in Women's Studies," at her University of Saskatchewan faculty web page.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A few quick reviews

Orion's Hounds by Christopher L. Bennett

If there's one thing most current Star Trek fiction has that didn't always seem to be there, it's a kind of thoughtfulness, an eagerness on the part of the writers to really think through what it would mean to live in the Star Trek universe, and an undeclared intent to live up to the series premise in ways the series themselves don't always do. The reader can sense that the writers love and understand Star Trek, its strengths, weaknesses, and potential.

The Titan series takes on two of the core concepts of Star Trek: diversity and exploration. The TV series have an obvious excuse for not really taking advantage of the diversity of aliens in the Trek universe when it's time to create a new cast of regular characters: it's hard to make convincing aliens on a TV budget. The books don't have that constraint, but too often they've relied on the equivalent of aliens with bumpy foreheads. Titan, like Christopher Bennett's post-TMP novel Ex Machina, meets that issue head on, presenting a much more diverse crew than we've seen on TV. The diversity is useful in a number of ways: creating subplots, developing characterization, and serving as metaphor for what the Star Trek universe and the real world could be.

But this novel also kicks Titan's mission -- to explore strange new worlds and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before -- into high gear. This is Star Trek written as science fiction. It's not an adventure story with ray guns, it's a story in which truly alien beings and science fictional premises are essential. Star Trek has used spacegoing lifeforms a number of times over the years, as Titan's crew well know. The original series used the concept a number of times, and the first and most popular of the spinoffs, The Next Generation, began with a story using the concept. And yet in the majority of cases what should be a thing of wonder is usually a threat to be neutralized or escaped, not something to be communicated with and learned from. In a prime example of the kind of thoughtfulness I mentioned above, Bennett here takes the concept of spaceborne life seriously, revisiting the jellyfish-like beings from Encounter at Farpoint and developing for them a culture and an ecosystem. He seriously examines the very concept, looking at the regions of space in which such life is most likely to exist, questioning whether such life could have arisen independently, and done all this in the context of a novel in which there is action, intrigue, and a large cast of characters. He's clearly done some research -- he even mentions astronomer Fred Hoyle's classic SF novel The Black Cloud -- but the story isn't a dry succession of infodumps.

I'm not sure I found it quite as satisfying a read as Ex Machina, because some of the guest characters came across as one-dimensional -- but no one was painted as a black hat villain. The regular crew are portrayed well, as are the new Titan crew. There's sense of wonder galore here, and if it doesn't quite push as many buttons for me as Ex Machina did, that's not a problem. Orion's Hounds boldly takes Titan into exciting new territory, and confirms that Christopher Bennett is another in the succession of top-notch Trek novelists that Pocket has discovered in recent years.

Distant Shores, edited by Marco Palmieri

The Voyager premise had a lot of great potential. A ship cut off from home, from Starfleet, from anything familiar; a divided crew, Starfleet and Maquis; no Starbases for repairs or supplies, a journey home that might take a lifetime... it sounded very much as if it were created to be the flipside of The Next Generation, which, with its oft-cited Holiday Inn in space look, sometimes seemed a bit too cosy. Voyager looked set to be a much grittier proposition, with a crew that would undergo any number of physical, emotional, and psychological hardships. A crew that would have to struggle to pull together, a crew that would have to consider whether it might be better to find a new home, a crew that would begin to form families and raise children for a trip that might take generations.

But all that was discarded before the first season had even kicked into gear. The revolving door of producers meant that there was no consistency in terms of how serialized the show should be. On the one hand, it took Voyager three years to get away from the feeble threat of the Kazon and they spent much of the rest of the journey encountering the Borg; on the other, major developments occurred never to be mentioned again. Meanwhile, the crew acted as if they were on Picard's Enterprise most of the time, generally not bothering to form attachments or families, and having fun in the holodeck.

All of which makes Voyager a great opportunity for Trek fiction writers. There are so many dropped threads and missed opportunities, so many unanswered questions, that there's no shortage of compelling stories that can be told about that ship and its crew. It's a shame the TV writers didn't realize that, but someone did.

Distant Shores is a strong collection of stories, with only a couple of stories that really struck me as duds. First, as important as it was to have stories dealing with the Equinox crew, it hardly seems necessary to do it as a barely-disguised Farscape crossover (Geoffrey Thorne's "Or the Tiger"). It doesn't just have the too-frequent inside-jokiness of using Farscape cast names for characters, it features a Leviathan, like Farscape's Moya. The aliens are called -- wait for it -- the Moyani. I like Farscape, too, but two great tastes don't always go together. (Also, if I recall correctly, this story is the one that suggested different galaxies might have different laws of physics. Universes? Maybe. Galaxies? Unlikely.)

The other story that left me cold was Robert Jeschonek's "The Secret Heart of Zolaluz." I didn't like the way it was told. I didn't care for the overuse of italics, I didn't care for the fairy tale feel, I didn't care for the high school poetry "secret heart" business.

The highlights? "Letting Go" by Keith RA DeCandido, "Closure" by James Swallow, "Isabo's Shirt" by Kirsten Beyer, and "Eighteen Minutes" by Terri Osborne. Maybe I'm just a big ol' shipper, but each of these stories dealt with some of the show's relationships (albeit, in one case, from a single episode) and told a compelling and emotional tale. The stories I haven't mentioned were generally good solid stories, some of them dealing with important elements of the show that needed more exploration (the Equinox crew, for one). But these four were the wow stories, the ones that I'll remember a few months or years from now when the details of the others havefaded from my sievelike memory.

I've griped about the hyperemotionalism of Christie Golden's approach to the Voyager relaunch, so it may seem odd that emotional stories like these were the highlight of the anthology for me -- but the emotions in these stories were real and raw, not melodramatic gush. They came from treating the show's characters like real people. If these writers participated again, I'd love a second volume of Distant Shores.

Rosetta by Dave Stern

A solid read, Rosetta is a good fix for Enterprise fans. Though set after the Xindi experience, it shares some of the feel of the first two seasons, as we encounter a number of new alien species and major players in the quadrant -- not to mention significant backstory on the ancient history of the region of space yet to become the Federation -- but it leaves me wondering why such significant players are unheard of a century or two later.

That aside, it's an entertaining read with some good mysteries, some intriguing alien cultures, and decent use of the characters.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Tribute to Walter Koenig? A Reference? If you say so...

Ruby Moon-Houldson's third vanity press Star Trek book is out, and I finally have a copy. And, once again, it's not something I'd recommend to anyone but completists.

Moon-Houldson seems to be a nice and well-meaning person who wants to provide books that will be useful to new Star Trek fans. That's a good and valid goal. But a mishmash of plagiarized content and stuff pulled off the Internet (which, given the lack of attribution, may also be plagiarized) doesn't constitute anything this librarian would recognize as a reference book.

First, the tribute to Koenig. The first chapter is a choppy biographical section. It's choppy because at least some of it is simply copied and pasted from other sources, including the cover blurb of Koenig's book Warped Factors. Some of the same material appears twice, on pages 9 and 13. A lot of the same material appears on a number of Internet sites, including the Internet Movie Database.

Then there's Chapter 3: Chekov Bio, which begins with some copying and pasting (with no citation or attribution) from the official Star Trek website's Chekov biography. Then there are some quotes, copied and pasted from, among others, a site on Tripod, again unattributed, followed by a couple of collections of other characters' quotes.

At least some items are sourced this time, however incompletely. One of the two Koenig interviews is credited to BBC Cult. The online version links to BBC's terms of use, which include the following sentences:
You may not copy, reproduce, republish, download, post, broadcast, transmit, make available to the public, or otherwise use content in any way except for your own personal, non-commercial use. You also agree not to adapt, alter or create a derivative work from any content except for your own personal, non-commercial use. Any other use of content requires the prior written permission of the BBC.
I may be mistaken, but I think that if the BBC had granted her permission, they'd want a little more credit than a reference to BBC Cult. On the copyright page, perhaps. Given that she credits "JMS" for an interview transcript from the Sci Fi Channel website, I suspect she didn't make much of an effort to get permissions.

Then there's a section on the animated Trek, with a few episode summaries from, apparently, the Star Trek Animated website. And there's a few pages of movie bloopers copied and pasted from the Movie Mistakes website.

Nearly half the book -- pages 133-239 -- is a series of trivia questions from the Section 47 website. There's no mention of Section 47 in the book.

Emphatically not recommended.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

You can't collect what doesn't exist

It's a fake!
It's really hard to put together a comprehensive list of Star Trek Files Magazines and related publications from Hal Schuster's various companies from the 1980s and early 1990s. I didn't buy many of them because they were overpriced and generally not very good and because there was an unending supply of them. I didn't want to encourage them. So, making a list of them has been difficult.

It doesn't help that their lists of available books often list the same book by different titles, that they published different books with very similar titles, and that they recycled the contents of some of their books into other books. These things are a bibliographer's nightmare. So, on the Hal Schuster page of the website, I listed some items as confirmed and some as not confirmed. And I accidentally included one in the wrong section.

I think I'd been contacted even before then by the mysterious figure I will refer to as Floyd (not his real name, probably). Floyd was desperately seeking the Files magazine on The Galileo 7, as listed in some of the other Files publications. I only had a few email exchanges with Floyd. I was lucky.

John Patuto, whose own Trek books site now has probably the most complete Trek Files list (he's made more of an effort to track them down than I can see myself doing), has been hearing from Floyd for several years. He hasn't been able to convince Floyd the book doesn't exist, either.

And it's not just us collectors and fans being contacted. After seeing my accidental "confirmation" of the book's existence, Floyd went back to hounding some of the writers associated with Hal Schuster. A peeved James Van Hise contacted me asking how the heck I'd managed to confirm the book existed (that's probably the first I realized it was in the wrong spot of the page) and said he'd been hearing from Floyd for almost ten years. That was in 2003, and Floyd's still at it now.

The common thread in a lot of Floyd's emails is that there is a warehouse somewhere full of all the unsold Files magazines, and he just has to find the person who has access to it. What he doesn't answer is who's paying for the warehouse. Hal Schuster died years ago. He had a reputation for not paying debtors when he was alive. The writers were paid little and the ones I've communicated with seem to be glad to have left all that behind. If there's someone out there paying good money to warehouse a lot of this junk, you'd think they'd make an effort to sell it.

I can understand desperately wanting something that doesn't exist. I want to read The God Thing, even though it only exists as an incomplete manuscript (or perhaps a number of different incomplete manuscripts). And I know why I want to read it. It's a very different vision of what Star Trek might have become after the original series went off the air, written by the man who created Star Trek.

I don't know, though, why Floyd wants to read The Galileo 7. Is it because he has every other File publication and thinks he needs this to have a full set? Does he think there's some important information in it? I don't know, and I'm not going to ask.