Friday, May 29, 2009

Star Trek Omnibus Volume 1

For a change, IDW is reprinting material that hasn't been published in book form before. (Well, three issues were.) This omnibus reprints issues 4 through 18 of Marvel's 1980-81 run of Star Trek comics. (The first three issues were a reprint of the magazine-sized special movie adaptation, and they'll be in a future IDW collection of comic adaptations of Trek movies.)

In 1979, Marvel getting the licence seemed like good news. Gold Key was still publishing its comic but it had long been an uneven series, aimed too much at kids and, in its early years, produced by people who knew nothing about the TV series. Marvel, which produced a lot of the best comics of the 1970s, and which had tie-in experience aplenty (2001: A Space Odyssey, Logan's Run, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica) had to do a better job. Hell, it would probably be amazing.

Then the comics started coming out, and all that optimism faded quickly. The movie adaptation was a sloppy-looking rush job. And then the first three issues of the comic, as I mentioned above, just reprinted that adaptation, giving us stuff we already had and didn't like that much the first time. The first original story was about a haunted house in space, a two-parter that was begun by Marv Wolfman but finished by Mike W. Barr, who (IIRC) wasn't told how Wolfman had planned to end the story. Not a good sign. There were a lot of changes in creative staff over the fifteen issues of original stories. Writers included Wolfman, Barr, Martin Pasko, Tom DeFalco, Michael Fleisher, Alan Brennert, and J.M. DeMatteis. There was a similar number of artists. With that kind of turnover in that short a time, there was no way the comic could maintain any kind of consistency, much less develop any kind of vision or story arc, and on rereading this collection, I found, ironically, that some of the better stories read and felt a lot like the better Gold Key comics. And the worst didn't have the so-bad-it's-good appeal of the worst Gold Key comics.

So, it's not great reading, though Barr, at least, went on to write much better material for later Star Trek comics. So, how does the book look? Is it at least a pleasure to look at? No, not really. The art wasn't always all that great to begin with, but it's badly reproduced here. Colours are often faded, sometimes missing, sometimes the wrong colour (I checked against the scans on the Star Trek comic DVD released last year; those look a hell of a lot better). Even the black inked lines and dialogue are sometimes thin and faded.

I'd love to be able to recommend this as a flawed but intriguing look at an early phase in the history of Trek comics, or as some of the first post-TMP tie-in fiction, but it simply isn't very good. I do recommend buying the comic DVD, which includes all these comics and hundreds more for about twice the price of this book. You can read these stories there in the comfort of knowing there's a lot of much better material to be read on the DVD.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

So, there's a new Star Trek movie

And Alan Dean Foster wrote the novelization. Foster's an old hand at this; back in the '70s, he wrote the Star Trek Logs, which adapted and expanded the animated series episodes. He's also written a lot of other high profile novelizations, including Star Wars, as well as a lot of original SF and fantasy novels.

So you'd expect this to be a pretty good book, right? Well, not so much. It suffers from two very obvious problems.

First, this movie was written to be a flashy action blockbuster, and as much as I liked the movie, the story is carried by the cast and the way the film never stops moving. You don't get much time to realize that half of it doesn't make much sense. But it does the job it was meant to do: it makes Star Trek a name that people are excited about again. The thing is, that doesn't make for a great novelization. When you rely so much on the actors' performances and the special effects, and you try to make the story work without them, you're screwed.

Unless you can do what people who novelize movies have been doing for decades: expand on the story, tidy up the plot holes, make it all make more sense. And here's where the second problem comes in. Foster doesn't do that. I assume it's because he just didn't have the time to do it, though it's possible he was asked by Abrams or Orci or Kurtzman or someone not to. But the time argument works for me because the book is just plain sloppy at times. In one case, an interchange between two characters is repeated, reworded, a couple of pages later. Dialogue is rewritten in ways that lose the punchlines. There are some really odd similes and metaphors.
"She looked helplessly toward the doctor, who, despite the desperate situation that had engulfed the Kelvin, responded to the incoming query with the kind of reserve and calm aspired to by every physician who had ever uttered a healing mantra, picked up a willow branch, and twirled it widdershins over a queasy patient."
W. T. F.? That's not just a clunky run-on sentence, it's one with a really odd image. Real physicians may aspire to reserve and calm, but I don't necessarily associate those qualities with witches practicing spells (who else uses the word widdershins?), nor do I see any useful metaphorical relationship between medicine and spell casting. It might seem appropriate in a fantasy novel aimed at the pagan/wicca crowd, but in a Star Trek novel?

This is a disappointing novel, because it's based on a "you have to see it on the big screen" big dumb fun blockbuster, and because it doesn't do anything more than remind you what you saw on the screen.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Random tidbits

The Complete Starfleet Library website was profiled by Jason Boog on mediabistro's galleycat blog a couple weeks ago. I was surprised to realize that we'd swapped emails about noir mystery writer Cornell Woolrich a few years back. Jason is obviously a man of discernment and taste.

An outfit called Premiere Collectibles is doing a fairly reasonably priced limited edition hardcover of Alan Dean Foster's movie novelization. I don't think I'll bother with it, though; I have the Pocket trade paperback already, and looking at the speakers' bureau side of Premiere's business, I don't think I want to give them any of my money. Aside from this Trek book, everything they do seems to be about pushing the right wing Republican agenda. Who the hell picked them to do this?

Yes, I have in fact ordered a copy of Shatnerquake. More info when I get it.

Ed Gross has published a revised edition of his 1991 book Trek Classic, a nonfiction look at the original series. I remember it being a pretty good book and will probably order the new edition. Tom Hultkamp's new cover art is strongly reminiscent of Mort Drucker's art for Mad Magazine. Which is not a bad thing.

Vanguard: Open Secrets

Well, I intended to do the usual longish review, but real life got in the way, so I was a bit distracted at times and utterly frazzled at others and didn't make any notes along the way. Sorry, Dayton, if you're out there.

Spoilers ahead...

What I can say is, Open Secrets was a solid entry in the series, with major developments in several storylines and some big changes for certain key characters. There's a bit of movement in the Shedai story, but T'Prynn and Reyes get a lot more attention. Nothing's neatly wrapped up, though -- this is a middle volume in an ongoing series, and so the big events don't get resolution, they change the course of the story and make you want to read what's coming next. What's next for T'Prynn, assuming the dekatrification actually worked as advertised? How did Reyes end up where he is at the end of the book? What happens next with the Shedai tech and the two remaining Shedai?

So: another really good read in a really good series. It'd be nice to see Vanguard catch on even more if the new movie really does bring some new fans to the books, because even if it's in a different timeline, it's as modern and contemporary as the movie, but with a lot more thought put into the story and the characterization. And no lens flares.

Oh, and I see I need to change the cover scan on the website. Kevin Dilmore appears on the title page and in the acknowledgments but not on the cover of the final version.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

New Frontier: Treason


Another New Frontier novel, another mix of comic book and soap opera. There are a few big developments here, but between PAD's writing style and events in other recent Trek novels, I don't think they had the resonance they should have.

Let's see... we get a character obsessed with a child's health and safety running off in a spaceship while under the influence of a mindstate that occasionally happens to their species, though we've never heard of it before. Okay, so Selar's obsessed with Xy's wellbeing and runs off with Robin Lefler's baby instead, but still, there's an echo of Doctor Ree's actions in Over a Torrent Sea.

There's a death of a regular character. Unfortunately, Selar's death is barely registering online, with all the craziness following Janeway's. She's one of relatively few NF regulars who actually appeared onscreen, and she was played by Suzie Plakson, so I for one am disappointed that she was killed off, and in a generic manner: screws up and puts someone at risk, sacrifices self to remove other person(s) from risk. That, at least, doesn't echo the Ree storyline.

Speaking of death, the late Si Cwan is back. His sister Kalinda was seeing visions of him but now he's taken over her body. There's no explanation, just a lot of "some people understand that there's more to all this than other people understand" stuff. His purpose in the plot is to psychically sense where his newborn son's been abducted to, and to put his widow through a lot of emotional hell. There must have been ways to structure the plot so that the NF regulars figure out where to go without a lot of mystical woowoo. (No, I didn't like the katra stuff in the movies either.)

And the book ends with hints of another big conspiracy involving at least one Starfleet admiral -- and, considering it involves aliens who can appear to be other people, there's an echo of the Founders. With everything that's been going on in the Trekverse, I'd have thought it would make more sense for PAD to focus on his Thallonian sandbox. Not that he's ever really developed Thallonian society and culture to any great extent.

Speaking of the conspiracy, once the story reaches the planet where the mysterious aliens who want Cwan and Lefler's baby are, we're solidly in comic book territory. One of the things that's always bugged me up about comic book writers is their tendency to take an ordinary word that means something related to something that needs a name -- a person, a planet, whatever -- and spell it funny. So here we have the D'myurj (i.e., Demiurge). The aliens who claim to uplift species, to guide them from corporeal to incorporeal existence, have the same name as the evil creator of the physical universe in gnosticism. Their foot soldiers, the Brethren, are described in a way that led me to think of Doctor Who's Sontarans, complete with probic vents, though there were a few key differences as well. But the action scenes felt more like comic book action than Star Trek action.

PAD is known for his dialogue, and it's obvious that he works on it -- not so much to give characters unique voices as to have characters provide setups for punchlines. There were a few times I thought, that's not what a real person would say in that situation, but if they'd said something else, no punchline. It's the sort of thing that can work when it's seamless and not overused. Not the case here. The fact that the characters don't have unique voices is highlighted by one paragraph in which PAD seemed to forget who's speaking. I wish I'd made a note of the page number, but there's a paragraph of dialogue that's obviously by Character A, but it ends something like "'... blah blah blah?' Character B asked." I vaguely recall another conversation between two characters where several lines aren't attributed, but when a character is finally named, if you read back to the last time a character was named, it should have been the other one.

All that said, there is some suspense, some humour that works, plenty of action, and the numerous regular characters, divided between New Thallon, the Excalibur, Trident, the Spectre, the Lyla, and Bravo Station, all have parts to play, which should make fans happy. If you usually like the New Frontier books, chances are you'll like this just fine.