Sunday, October 28, 2007

Looking at Star Trek Magazine

I still remember the day, back around 1986, when I found an issue of the official Star Trek fan club magazine in a comic shop. Star Trek, nothing but Star Trek, and official, too. I think the first issue I found had a very brief news item added at the last minute about a new Star Trek TV series coming soon, more info to come in the next issue... I made sure to get that issue, and every one since. But the enthusiasm eventually faded. It's partly because, by the time the magazine expired (under the title Star Trek Communicator), the Trek series I was really interested in were long off the air; it was partly because in the Internet age I didn't need a bimonthly magazine with a long lead time trying to present time-sensitive information; and it was partly because I had come to decide the magazine itself just wasn't as good as it used to be. Reading it had become homework, not fun.

Star Trek Communicator was painfully earnest and stuck in the past. There was long past his best before date alleged Trek insider Richard Arnold, answering readers' questions with a lot of attitude where anything post-TNG and anything in print form were concerned, and occasionally giving just plain wrong answers as well. Several pages of information detailing everything everyone ever on Trek was currently doing, often too out of date by publication time to be useful. (If you really wanted to see the two guys who played aliens without dialogue in an episode from eight years ago appearing in a little theatre production in Pasadena, they'd have the information for you a few weeks after the end of the play's run.) Way too many "Trek fans are special people" articles, in which people announce proudly that without Star Trek they wouldn't know it's wrong to be a racist and they wouldn't have any idea what career to get into. Dull and prolonged science articles (there are plenty of other sources that cover that ground much better). And the regular interview with Rick Berman, in which he invariably said nothing at all except "You'll love it" and "We don't know why the fans didn't love it, we thought it was wonderful." And, for some time during Decipher's ownership, a lot of material on Decipher's Trek products and not much on the books.

Sure, they still did some good stuff, like Rich Handey's stuff on the Trek comic strips. But there didn't seem to be enough of it.

A couple of years ago, I posted a blog entry called Improving Star Trek Communicator. In light of the financial underperformance of Nemesis and the cancellation of Enterprise, I said that a Trek magazine needs to recognize that the future of Star Trek is in the books for the time being. (J.J. who?)

Anyway, now we have more than a year's worth of the American version of Star Trek Magazine. No Richard Arnold, a lot less space on which actor's doing what, less space on science articles, less of that earnest fan self-worship, and lots and lots of book coverage.

Mission accomplished.

... What? I should actually talk about the magazine? Oh, okay. Though the magazine has been running in the UK for quite a few years, the American launch felt like the beginning of a new magazine. In the first issue we get the first installment of a decade-by-decade look at the series, interviews with every series captain, and generally a solid mix of retrospective and current features, from an interview with DC Fontana to an excerpt from David R. George III's novel Crucible: McCoy: Provenance of Shadows and some new movie news. There's also an episode-in-depth look back at "Friday's Child." It all works as a statement of purpose, telling readers that this magazine is going to celebrate the whole Star Trek universe, new and old, filmed and otherwise. And fourteen or fifteen pages of book-related content -- interview with Marco Palmieri, book excerpt, reviews, schedule, etc.

The magazine seems to be more flexible in structure than its predecessor, some issues looking at a particular episode in depth, others looking at a series or the movies. Given the limited number of series and great number of episodes, I wouldn't be surprised if the series/movies specials are part of the foundation-building, and Flashback may become a more regular feature. Doctor Who Magazine has had similar regular looks back at old stories in depth; it's a reliable way to get some new tidbits for the longtime fans and some basic knowledge for the new fans. I hope the fiction extract remains as a regular feature, too, though I don't actually read that section; I buy every book, after all. But it's important to promote the books to the fans.

Overall, the balance of interviews and features is good, there are some good writers showing up (getting Trek novelists to contribute nonfiction pieces is a good idea, even if Communicator already did a bit of it).

If I have a criticism, it would be to remind the magazine's designer that less is more. DWM has a much simpler, cleaner design, with straight text columns and a lot more pages with black on white text, and as a result it is a lot easier to read. The Star Trek Magazine looks more like it's trying to hard to impress the kids. It doesn't really look like a magazine that a 44-year-old would generally be seen reading in public. I also can't say that any of the covers so far really do much for me. (On the other hand, Starlog has managed to last more than thirty years with consistently appalling and ugly cover design, so what do I know?)

How the coming of a new movie will effect the magazine's balance of articles, its inclusion of books and fanfilms and computer games as worthwhile subject matter, remains to be seen, but I'm hopeful. And I'm actually looking forward to new issues.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

TNG anniversary trilogy -- quick thoughts

On his livejournal, Brendan Moody posted late last night that something big and unexpected happens at the end of Before Dishonor, and that he understood how all the "Snape kills Dumbledore!" spammers felt.

I read that post early this morning and thought, well, crap, he may resist the temptation, but will everyone? So I finished the story I was reading in The Sky's the Limit, set it aside, and started Before Dishonor.

I'll go into more detail later, but damn. Resistance, Q&A, and Before Dishonor make a tighter trilogy than one might expect, given that the first and third deal with the Borg and the second with Q, but that doesn't mean anyone fascinated by the Borg should skip Q&A and plan to get back to it later. It's not a flawless collection of work -- I still think Resistance recycled too much from previous Borg appearances, and it seemed to me that Peter David's characterizations of certain new Enterprise officers were not only perfunctory at best, they were inconsistent with the two preceding books.

But damn. This is a Big Event trilogy in ways the old big annual crossovers weren't: it will have major repercussions. The fact that the word "destiny" is repeated significantly late in Before Dishonor is, I suspect, a big whopping hint that we will see more about one particularly surprising development next year in the Destiny trilogy.

For TNG and Voyager fans in particular, this is must-read stuff.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


As Keith so rightly points out, it is remiss of me to break this long silence (what the heck happened, anyway?) with just a Shatner review. I've had a lot of things on my mind to post about this year. I wanted to talk about the Star Trek magazine, and wanted to wait until I had a few issues to judge it, and now I do, and I like it, and I will go on at some length about it soon. I wanted to talk about IDW's comics and again wanted to wait until I had enough of them to judge them, and now I do, and my feelings are mixed, and I'll go on about that too.

And then there's the fact that we're having another good run of Trek novels, many tying into TNG's 20th anniversary, which should lead to a couple of good long posts.

And the TNG anniversary ebook series, Slings and Arrows, has begun, and that merits a post, too.

So I'm going to make an effort to put some time into doing more than just bbs posts and engage this project more fully. I've had a hard time concentrating on anything more than brief bbs posts because of a lot of stuff going on in the real world, but reality is overrated.

Academy: Collision Course (SPOILERS!)

I mean it:


Judith and Garfeld Reeves-Stevens are reliable writers. They know Star Trek. They can write. So there's always at least some pleasure to be had from the Shatnerverse novels. The problem, which may be their co-author's fault, is that the stories are so damned preposterous that there's just no way I can reconcile them with my sense of what actually happens in the Trekverse. (IOW, they don't fit into my personal continuity.)

Now, when you have a resurrected superhero version of James T. Kirk running around the 24th century and showing Jean-Luc Picard how to save the galaxy, preposterous is pretty much the starting point. Going back to the young Jim Kirk seems to offer the chance for a more realistic and believable kind of story. Something that could appeal to readers who find the 24th century Kirk stories just too hard to believe. Or you could just get a preposterous story in which the Kirk who saves the day and shows everyone how it's done happens to be a teenager.

Unfortunately, we get the latter.

Okay, maybe it doesn't strain credibility too much to have Kirk and Spock meet as teenagers before either joins Starfleet; canon doesn't give us any detail on how long they've known each other or when they first met. And canon doesn't say much about Kirk's brother, so maybe he was a drug addict involved in an alien crime ring before he ended up on Deneva with Aurelan and the kids.

But the idea that Kirk is a genius engineer and hacker, estranged from his father, just doesn't quite feel right to me. The idea that, even before joining Starfleet, he manages to steal the Enterprise from Spacedock and fight the bad guys and blow open an Orion conspiracy... well, that's where we go from "I'm not sure I buy that" to "this is utterly preposterous." James T. Kirk is not just some guy, sure, but making him so much of an overachiever so early takes away from the Hornblowerish self-questioning and self-doubt we see in some TOS episodes.

The portrayal of Spock as a somewhat insecure teenager still not fully in control of his emotions is solid and believable. He's handled pretty well in the story, but I'm not sure the Vulcan artefact smuggling that he stumbles across is really thought through. The bad guys are knowingly buying supposedly stolen forged Vulcan artefacts with tech that fools sensors into showing them as authentic in order to get the tect to use it for another purpose. But how did the process start? Did the bad guys think, hey, let's try to steal Vulcan artefacts, so they'll create fakes with the kind of tech we need? Did the Vulcans think, it is logical to assume that our artefacts may be stolen, and therefore they should all be replaced with forgeries equipped with technology that will enable them to deceive the thieves and their sensors? Maybe that was addressed somewhere and I missed it, but it felt like Braga/Menosky TNG/Voyager plotting: come up with a mystery, add a twist to the mystery, add a surprising explanation to the mystery, but don't look at it chronologically to see if it would actually make sense.

I did like the way the story dealt with the backstory from "The Conscience of the King." It explains why a farm kid from Iowa was on Tarsus IV, it explains why only a small number of survivors could identify Kodos (instead of everyone who wasn't killed during the incident), and it gives the young Jim Kirk some somewhat surprising but plausible characterization.

Two groups of people may be a bit annoyed by this book for reasons that didn't bother me. First, the Enterprisephobes will find a considerable number of references to the prequel series in this book. Second, if I'm remembering Diane Carey's novels about Kirk's father correctly, fans of those books may be disappointed that Collision Course is not consistent with them.

So... overall, a mostly fun romp that's ultimately as preposterous as the 24th century Kirk novels. For me, that's a bit disappointing.