Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Vanguard: Harbinger

While I make my way through Summon the Thunder, I might as well add more content to this blog. And what better way than recycling old material from the now more or less defunct


I keep trying to come up with some cover-blurb-style catchy one-liner summing up the book, and it's not easy. There's too much happening in the book to try to convey it so simply, other than going for something positive but uninformative, like "Vanguard is another winner for Pocket Books and David Mack." There's intensity, tragedy, intrigue, adventure, humour, sex, strongly drawn characters, well-used guest stars, everything you could want in the first book of a new series. There are elements of the story that wrap in the first book and tantalizing story arc elements that will carry over into the next book and beyond.

In other words, I like it.

I can imagine some of the comments some people are bound to make. Lesbian Vulcan? We've seen it in New Frontier. Undercover Klingon spy? We've seen it in Errand of Vengeance. Appearance by a core TV series cast? We've seen it several times. Cervantes Quinn? Another of the original series's lovable rogues. They'll say it, but they'll be wrong. T'Prynn being haunted, effectively, by a katra is a chillingly effective idea, the sort of thing that shows how many ideas are implicit in Star Trek but somehow aren't obvious until someone actually runs with it. Sandesjo... still a bit early to tell, though I suspect she may be a little more conflicted than the average Klingon spy. Neither character can be easily pigeonholed.

As for Cervantes Quinn, he's not the comic relief character I thought he'd be. The name certainly echoes Cyrano Jones, complete with the literary/historical illusions of the first name combined with the more prosaic surname, but I can't imagine the tribble-selling Jones surviving some of the things Quinn experiences. Even Harry Mudd, who has a harder edge than Jones, might think twice before getting involved with an Orion crime boss like Ganz. (Incidentally, is it safe to assume David Mack came up with Quinn's name? The name of Quinn's ship is certainly appropriate for a guy named Cervantes, but it's hard not to think that the starship Rosinante is a Rush reference.) And of course you can't actually just use Jones or Mudd, because Kirk et al. haven't encountered them yet. Quinn is also a bit reminiscent of Quark, but Quark was in a comfortable, privileged position compared to Quinn, having the stability of a fixed business establishment and the assistance when necessary of Odo and Starfleet, despite his occasional
criminal activities.

Speaking of references and in-jokes... I spotted a few, but in general didn't find them disruptive to the story's flow. I assume the Yocarian mentioned on p.204 is inspired by Yossarian from Catch-22; the sonic screwdriver is an obvious tip of the hat to Doctor Who; and there are a couple of lines from Casablanca aptly used on p.356. No doubt I missed some, but that's fine. It's not only possible to overdo that sort of thing, there are writers who overdo it regularly.

The appearances by familiar characters were well done. Setting the story early in the TOS timeframe gave us a different look at the usual faces, and some not so usual, like Piper, D'Amato, and M'Benga, who got more character moments here than they did on TV. Having the Enterprise crew encounter a Starbase they didn't expect to find, during that long trip home from "Where No Man Has Gone Before," added to the mystery of the situation. In short, though we've seen the original crew so many times by now, Vanguard finds fresh new ways of making use of TOS.

As for the new characters, I like the fact that Mack gave some physical descriptions as well as a good mix of species and races. Despite the large cast, we were also able to see a number of the characters grow, change, and experience relationships. The character work was strong enough that I really was surprised when the Bombay was destroyed. Its officers weren't just nameless redshirts, and the battle scene is, I think, going to have people talking.

As for the "DS9 in the TOS era" tag some people have already stuck on it... in some respects, it reminded me more of Babylon 5, which did a lot more with the idea of ancient alien mysteries than Trek generally did, and the new Battlestar Galactica, with its frankness and openness about sex (I also sometimes found myself picturing Reyes as looking like Edward James Olmos). That's not to say that the book feels like a knockoff or an imitation of something else; they're just minor points in common. Vanguard has established its own identity.

Like DS9, though, it looks like this has the potential to be very much a character-driven series. There's no shortage of plot that can be developed from the setting and situation, with the Tholians, Klingons, Orions, and Shedai, but the characters could easily inspire a number of interesting stories that don't necessarily have a lot to do with the major arcs. If Vanguard does as well as I expect it to, maybe a few books down the road we can hope for an anthology of short stories based on the individual characters, along the lines of The Lives of Dax or No Limits.

Vanguard itself is well described, not only through the wonderful schematics but also through the way the story takes us to so many different places within the station. We've effectively been given a tour of the station and it's an environment that I can already picture some areas of pretty well.

I'm happy. I think the people who've enjoyed the DS9 post-finale books, the Lost Era books, Taking Wing, Articles of the Federation, Ex Machina, and the other widescreen Trek fiction we've been getting will also be happy.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Vanguard story continues

Maybe this ebook business isn't so bad after all, if it means getting a little more exposure for new series in a crowded lineup. Though I'm way behind in my SCE reading, I read Distant Early Warning to prepare for Summon the Thunder. It's a good, solid story. I think it drops a few too many reminders that this is set very early in the TOS timeline and everyone's wearing "Where No Man Has Gone Before"-style uniforms, but I imagine plenty of SCE readers don't even realize there were different uniforms then. And if that's the worst nitpick I can come up with, somebody's doing something right.

And Pocket is certainly doing something right these days, finding new ways to explore the Star Trek universe without falling victim to the play-it-safe mentality that kept Voyager and Enterprise too often feeling like reheated TNG leftovers.

I don't want to say too much about Distant Early Warning until I've read Summon the Thunder, when I'll know how the two tie together. But I did manage to start Summon the Thunder last night. I'm going to be an Xbox widower for the next several days, as Laura plays through the Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six games she bought on Sunday, so I should have plenty of time to devote to Vanguard.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Lincoln Geraghty is a busy man

As I mentioned below, things are picking up again in the academic Star Trek nonfiction book biz. Lincoln Geraghty, Film Studies lecturer at the University of Portsmouth, will be responsible for two of them in the next year or so.

From I.B. Tauris comes Living with Star Trek: American Culture and Star Trek Fandom, which appears to be based on Geraghty's Ph.D. thesis, Living with Star Trek: Utopia, Community, Self-Improvement and the Star Trek Universe. He describes the thesis on his faculty web page:
In it I focus on a broad range of primary material including film, fan correspondence and the multiple Star Trek series. The thesis examines the more 'ordinary' fan who does not participate in typical fan activities such as writing stories, producing artwork, or dressing up. The first half explores the historical, socio-political, and narrative contexts of the Star Trek series. The second half is a reception-based investigation of the ways in which ordinary fans then engage with that text through writing letters published in fan magazines and edited collections. has a blurb for the book:
There is a wealth of literature on "Star Trek", and this book is a welcome and original contribution to it. The book not only sets "Star Trek" in dialogue with ideas and stories of utopia, community, self-improvement, that are central to American culture and history, but goes further to examine the complex ways in which these are taken up and used by 'ordinary' fans, who engage with "Star Trek" in complex and significant ways. Lincoln Geraghty explores, for example, "Star Trek's" multiple histories and how "Star Trek" and the American Jeremiad, one of the nation's foundational texts, refer back to the past to prophesy a better future. He reveals how fans define the series as a blueprint for the solution of such social problems in America as racism and war and shows how they have used the series to cope with personal trauma and such characters as Data and Seven of Nine in moments of personal transformation. This is all in all a revelatory and original book on "Star Trek" as both TV and cinema.
From McFarland, publisher of The Literary Galaxy of Star Trek (and Susan Gibberman's Star Trek: An Annotated Guide, way back in 1991), comes A Science Fiction Phenomenon: Investigating the Star Trek Effect, which will be a collection of papers by different writers. The Call for Papers describes Geraghty's plans for the book:
Intended as a broadly interdisciplinary volume on the series and films of the Star Trek franchise, this book aims at a wide audience including students, academics and interested fans in the areas of film studies, television studies, sociology, communications, anthropology, American studies, philosophy, media and cultural studies, race and gender studies, English, politics, history, and other related disciplines. This collection will provide a multidisciplinary perspective addressing the full range of Star Trek cultural production and will not resemble any volumes analysing Star Trek currently in the marketplace. Because the five television series and ten feature films are the principal avenue of dissemination, it is expected that contributions will reflect familiarity with the entire franchise. Contributions that examine the overall impact of an entire series or compare two or more are particularly welcome, as are those contributions that examine the film franchise in its industrial and cultural context. Having recently survived cancellation contributions dealing with Star Trek: Enterprise and its place within the franchise, including fans, merchandise, new media practices, are also welcome. Previous volumes on Star Trek have tended to look exclusively at either the series or fans, and often ignore the differential nature of the films and relevant merchandising of Paramount's senior franchise. This volume will attempt to gather those strands of Star Trek together and analyse them within the context of a media product that has lasted 40 years in a global television market. Publication of this volume would coincide with the 40th anniversary of the series.
A few of Geraghty's papers on Star Trek are available online. Anyone interested in academic critiques of Star Trek or trying to decide whether to buy his books can check out the following:

Telling Tales of the Future: Science Fiction and Star Trek's Exemplary Narratives

'Neutralising the Indian': Native American Stereotypes in Star Trek: Voyager

'Help When Times are Hard': Bereavement and Star Trek Fan Letters

Creating and Comparing Myth in Twentieth-Century Science Fiction: Star Trek and Star Wars

The Literary Galaxy of Star Trek: An Analysis of References and Themes in the Television Series and Films

After a period of relative quiet on the unauthorized/academic Trek books front, we're getting some activity again.

You can get some info, including the table of contents, at the McFarland site or at the Complete Starfleet Library. Each chapter in the book deals with a particular theme (Journey of the Hero, Quest for Revenge, etc), discussing episodes or movies that exemplify that theme and discussing literary works that may have influenced or been mentioned in those stories. Every Star Trek series is represented by at least two or three episodes, some by more, and approximately fifty literary works, poems, plays, novels, and other forms, are listed in the first appendix.

Though Broderick is a university professor, teaching English literature and journalism, his book is not an advanced critical work but appears instead to be aimed at younger readers who enjoy Star Trek and are interested in literature. I haven't read the book yet but it looks like it'll be the easiest read of the critical works being published this year.

So long, Paramount, hello, CBS

Something I noticed after downloading Distant Early Warning, this month's SCE ebook. What used to look like this:

now looks like this:

Too bad none of the books ever had this logo:

(Image from Memory Alpha)