Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On book collecting: does RPG stuff count?

One of the problems with collecting Star Trek books (not to mention doing a website about Star Trek books) is defining what counts as a Star Trek book. Everyone draws a line between Star Trek books and not-Star Trek books, but not necessarily in the same place. Do you include only licenced materials? Do you include only the printed word, or do comics and graphic novels count? Do you include any fan-produced materials? Do you include everything that's bound in a paper or cloth cover that's entirely or primarily devoted to Star Trek? Do you include stuff that other people would consider booklets or pamphlets?

Do you include role playing game materials?

On the website, I've included the Last Unicorn Games and Decipher Star Trek RPG books because they're very obviously books, some hardcover, some paperback. The content may be a little different but the format is familiar. The original role playing game, though, the 1980s game from FASA, has been somewhat ghettoized, given a page of its own instead of being included in the main part of the site.

The thing is, the FASA RPG materials are often not quite booklike enough. Most of them are stapled, not bound; they're booklets, really. And they often come packaged with other material. Many of the supplements were sold in plastic wrapped packages of two books or booklets, or a booklet and a map, or... and given that they were meant to be sold together, do you consider The Orions: Book of Common Knowledge and The Orions: Book of Deep Knowledge one item or two?

So, all that adds up to why I didn't incorporate the FASA stuff as part of the main site. The thing is, I can't ignore it. There's way too much fun and interesting stuff in those FASA publications. I started buying them in 1986 or '87, even though I'd never played a pen and paper role playing game (still haven't, actually). I think I saw the Federation Sourcebook and picked it up for the hell of it and thought damn, this is actually pretty cool. Sure, some of it's game-specific, but basically it's a fun reference book that makes up a lot of interesting stuff about the Federation that's never been dealt with onscreen. There's other neat reference publications, too, filling in the backstory of the Romulan and Klingon wars, explaining why some types of Klingons look different from others, exploring everything from the culture of the Orions and other civilizations to the role of Starfleet Intelligence, and generally boldly going where canon in that pre-TNG age had rarely gone before. Hell, John M. (The Final Reflection) Ford wrote some of the Klingon material.

Then I picked up some of the adventure modules. Granted, they're for people running RPG campaigns, not for people who want to read a short story or novel, but they're still Star Trek fiction of a sort. It's just that that it comes as a series of infodumps on the situation, setting, characters, and so on. Some of them were pretty interesting, and the art was often very good.

And then came The Next Generation, and in another year or two, FASA was no longer in the Trek RPG business. I remember hearing rumours that the, um, highly speculative material in the TNG Officer's Manual annoyed the Star Trek office, and that the White Flame starship combat module was seen as inconsistent with Roddenberry's new unmilitary vision of Starfleet, but who knows.

But FASA's vision of Star Trek is worth remembering, so I'm punching up the FASA page. More covers are up, and eventually more information.

If you're still here, it may be because you're waiting to ask, okay, Steve, what about Star Fleet Battles?

FASA isn't always booklike enough to be easy to cover on a book site. But Star Fleet Battles is something else entirely, which is why it's so underrepresented on the site. You can buy something like New Worlds II, which looks like a trade paperback in plastic wrap, but what's inside the plastic wrap is not a book. Instead, there's a cover, a 64-page, stapled, hole-punched booklet called Captain's Module C2 - New Worlds II, a 48-page, stapled, hole-punchless booklet called Captain's Module C2 SSD Book New Worlds II, and a card with a bunch of punch-out ship markers. Not a book.

Most SFB material is unbooklike. It's also occasionally revised, replaced, and sometimes apparently abandoned. And then there's the related stuff: Federation and Empire, Prime Directive, Federation Commander. I've been meaning to do something about SFB on the site for years, but aside from a few obvious books, I have no idea how to handle it. There's too damn much. But there will be something. Eventually.

Things you didn't know about Star Trek: The Next Generation

Some samples of the forgotten knowledge buried within the Star Trek: The Next Generation Officer's Manual:

Excerpts from Academy Slang
An individual who is undergoing an examination or test without being aware of the nature of the problem. The term is derived from the "Kobayashi Maru."
A person with no real conception of reality; an Academy midshipman
To be consumed by a violent rage and to lose all emotional control. The term refers to the cranial ridge of Imperial Klingons and to the traditional Klingon tendency toward violent temperament.
Emotionally disturbed or insane. The word is a corruption of the name Tantalus.
Anyone with a weight problem
Excerpt from The Enterprise Legacy
The Enterprise[-B]'s career ended in a fashion befitting its name and class. On Stardate 2/9208.12, the USS Enterprise engaged an IKS L-24 battleship and a Romulan Nova class battleship, which were working together in the Triangle, five parsecs from the Imperial Klingon States. Though the Romulan and Klingon vessels were defeated, it was a pyrrhic victory, for the USS Enterprise also fell. Fearful of losing any more of its already scarce ships-of-the-line, the IKS pulled back its fleet and cut back its Neutral Zone raids almost to nothing.
Excerpt from Friends and Foes
Imperial Klingon States

Not all the inhabitants of worlds formerly part of the Imperial Klingon Empire have gracefully abandoned their predatory ways. More than one member of the Klingon Imperial Navy has sought the refuge of deep space rather than submit to the common good of peace. Indeed, there are thousands of Klingon "refugees" living in the Imperial Klingon States, located in the Triangle Zone between the borders of the Alliance and the Romulan Star Empire. These dissidents gather in small groups to plot continued violence against the hated Federation and their so-called "traitorous" brethren who have joined the Grand Alliance. From their earliest days, the "neutral" Imperial Klingon States were a haven for disillusioned or frustrated glory-seekers from the old Empire. Recent migrations of ex-Imperial Klingons have brought the Imperial Klingon States much-needed manpower and combat-capable vessels, as well as the disturbingly deluded vision of the Klingons' supreme right of conquest and the necessity of war as the natural order of things.
Excerpt from Biographies
Noonian Soong had classically Oriental features and physical build. At the time of his work on the android project, he was a balding man whose beautiful gray eyes were hidden behind thick, heavy-rimmed spectacles.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Hollow Men

Spoilers ahead (for a book from four years ago).
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
I've been eagerly waiting to read this book since it was first announced, and I've had it in the house for four years. So why am I just getting around to it now? Because I wanted to see it in context. I've got all the DS9 DVDs and had started working through them years ago but stalled at some point. Earlier this year I picked up where I left off, and now that I'm near the end of the sixth season, the time finally came to read this. (Yes, I saw the episodes as they aired, but that was a long time ago.) And it was worth the wait. It's a damn good book.

So, a recap. At the time this book begins, the Dominion War has begun, DS9 has been taken by the Dominion and Cardassia and retaken by the Federation, Sisko and Garak have managed to get the Romulans involved in the war using tactics Sisko feels uncomfortable with, Worf and Dax have married, Odo is still in love with Kira but has only recently reconciled with her over his actions with the Founder during DS9's occupation, and Bashir has been abducted and interrogated by Section 31.

Hollow Men, for the most part, follows up on the events of "In the Pale Moonlight." In that episode, desperate to get the Romulans into the war on the Federation's side, Sisko, with Garak's assistance, comes up with a plan to con them by providing false evidence that the Dominion intends to attack the Romulans. It doesn't work as planned, and it's the murders committed by Garak that actually end up achieving the desired goal. At the end of the episode, Sisko says to himself that as awful as that is, he thinks he can live with it. As far as the TV series is concerned, he does. But the book shows that it's not that easy. Sisko wants someone to know what he's done and wants some kind of punishment. Garak is becoming aware of that and is concerned, not least because the two are going off to Earth for a major conference that will involve the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans.

Meanwhile, some of the others at DS9 are noticing that Bashir is not his usual self. After the Section 31 incident, he's lost interest in the romanticized espionage of his holosuite games. And so the b-story begins, as a freighter brings a load of latinum to the station that, everyone is convinced, someone will try to steal, and Dax suggests Odo get Bashir to act as an investigator, to take his mind off things.

Hollow Men is, then, both a suspenseful espionage story and a puzzling caper story, but it's driven as much by character as by plot. Sisko and Garak in particular get a great deal of attention, and McCormack captures their voices perfectly. Occasionally, in a story written by a British author, dialogue may have moments phrased in a way that sound normal to a British listener but not quite right to a North American, and that never happens here. I could really hear Brooks and Robinson's voices doing the dialogue, and, just as importantly, I could always believe their characters would behave as they do here.

It's an interesting reminder of just how much of an ensemble show DS9 is that we don't often think of Garak from Sisko's perspective. We're more accustomed to Bashir's somewhat more positive view of him, and it can be a surprise to be reminded just how little Sisko likes or trusts Garak, even as he puts himself into a position where he has to trust him, because there's no alternative. (Trust, between people, between cultures, is a key theme of the book.) Garak, of course, has his own concerns about Sisko; he can't manipulate him the way he can manipulate some other characters. The irony is that they're both afraid of what might happen if Sisko's conscience gets the better of him and he tells Starfleet what they did, but the reaction is not what either expects. Starfleet is happy with the results and happy to keep things quiet, and Garak is seen as a more valuable asset.

The book gets steadily more suspenseful as it goes on. An old friend of Sisko's is now a leader of a peace movement, but there's something very odd about it all. Meanwhile, Starfleet Intelligence wants Garak to assassinate Roeder, Sisko's old friend. And on DS9, despite Odo's best efforts, someone is about to pull off a major heist. Because the story is so suspenseful and the prose so well written, I raced through the book, not stopping enough to think about what was going on, so the revelation of how the two storylines converge came as a surprise. It probably wasn't for a lot of people; there are enough clues. After all, the b-story's initial focus on Bashir suggests a follow-up to Inquisition, and the a-story is about the ugliness of espionage -- something Bashir's just learned about. it shouldn't be too much of a leap to expect Section 31 to get involved.

One last point... McCormack's written Blake's 7 fanfic in the past and she mentions "the works of Chris Boucher" among others as an inspiration in her acknowledgments. Boucher wrote a lot of Blake's 7, and now I want to read a full length B7 novel by McCormack. Given what she does here with Sisko and Garak, I'd love to see what she does with Blake and Avon, who have trust issues of their own. (And am I the only person who read the Ariadne scenes as looking like something out of B7? Well, probably.)

I started with a quote from Eliot's "Hollow Men," and before I wind this up I'll quote a bit of McCormack, from near the end of the book, that shows in a few lines McCormack's skill with character and dialogue.

    Odo eased himself into the seat next to Garak. "I forgot to ask," he said, "how was Earth?" At the far end of the bar, Quark put the stopper in the bottle of Saurian brandy he had been watering and came over eagerly to listen.
    Garak put down his glass, opened his mouth to speak, stopped, thought for a while, considered replying, and then thought for a little while longer.
    "I was punched repeatedly by pacifists," he said at last.
    "So," said Quark, picking up a cloth and wiping the bar. "Much as you expected, then?"

McCormack should be on any editor's shortlist of DS9 novelists. She's done a relaunch novel, The Lotus Flower, that (among many other things) did more to make Keiko O'Brien a real and believable character than the TV series managed to do; Hollow Men, a novel set during the series and featuring the regulars; and a very different kind of DS9 novel, The Never-Ending Sacrifice, that spans most of the time covered by the TV series but shows its events from a very different perspective. Wherever the DS9 line goes next, I hope McCormack is part of it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


The Complete Starfleet Library is cited as a source in the German book Faszinierend! Star Trek und die Wissenschaften Band 2, or, in English, Fascinating! Star Trek and the Sciences Volume 2.

I'm glad I don't read German, in a way, because there are so many Star Trek nonfiction books published in German that I might otherwise feel the need to buy. Buying books from amazon.de is easy enough, but the shipping costs are a bit much (yes, I've actually looked into this). But still, I'm intrigued by books like Star Trek in Deutschland: Wie Captain Kirk nach Deutschland kam, Jenseits der Sterne: Gemeinschaft und Identität in Fankulturen. Zur Konstitution des Star Trek-Fandoms, and especially Science and a Sense of Hope - Zum Verhältnis von Wissenschaft und Religion in der Fernsehserie Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. (Drifting a little, there's also those six Space: 1999 novels only published in German, two of which I own but can't yet read. Maybe someday.)

It's disappointing to go from Amazon.de, with its large number of translated novels and comics and original German nonfiction, to Amazon.fr, which has very little Trek material in French. Few novels have been translated in recent years, and original nonfiction about Trek in French seems to be all but nonexistent -- a shame, because I'd be able to read it with a pretty good degree of comprehension. Searching for Patrouille du Cosmos, the title under which I sometimes saw it at my grandparents' in Quebec, didn't help. Turns out that was the Quebec title; according to French wikipedia, France didn't get Star Trek until 1982 and kept the English title.

Anyway, here's the cite (from Google Books):

Yes, I am geeky enough to think it's cool that my site's been cited in a book.

Nicholas Meyer's View From the Bridge

Nicholas Meyer's new book is a relatively short and breezy memoir that will probably have a few people wishing for more in-depth material. It could use a fact-check, too -- Meyer acknowledges this, sort of, by stating in the author's note that it's based on his memory, and then referring to the film Rashomon, a movie about the ways people remember a certain event. He gets the number of original series episodes wrong, and he says the Klingons in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country had pink blood because he wanted some interesting weird colour, though as I recall other sources have said the Klingon blood was pink because red blood would have resulted in an R rating for the movie.

There's not much new revealed about the making of the movies, other than the fallings out between various people behind the scenes, and discussions of who actually wrote what, and why the WGA put certain people's names in the credits for certain movies.

If anything, the non-Trek material may be more interesting, because I basically knew Meyer as the guy who did a couple of Sherlock Holmes books (he talks about those a bit, but never mentions the third one) and a few Trek movies. I'd forgotten about his involvement with The Day After, and the chapter on that is fascinating reading.

Unfortunately, I don't think it's an absolutely essential book for Trek fans, but it was well enough written and didn't overstay its welcome. Meyer's authorial voice is engaging and entertaining. Anyone who's read the book but wants a bit more on the nuts and bolts of making the Trek movies Meyer discusses may want to hunt down copies of Allan Asherman's The Making of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, published by Pocket in 1982, and Charting The Undiscovered Country: The Making of Trek VI by Mark Altman, Ron Magid, and Edward Gross, published by Cinemaker in 1992, as well as past issues of magazines like Cinefex and Cinefantastique.


I read Shatnerquake by Jeff Burk a while back. Here's what the publisher's website has to say about it, in case you haven't heard about this book yet:
William Shatner? William Shatner. William Shatner!

It’s Shatner VS Shatners!

It’s the first ShatnerCon with William Shatner as the guest of honor! But after a failed terrorist attack by Campbellians, a crazy terrorist cult that worships Bruce Campbell, all of the characters ever played by William Shatner are suddenly sucked into our world. Their mission: hunt down and destroy the real William Shatner.

Featuring: Captain Kirk, TJ Hooker, Denny Crane, Rescue 911 Shatner, Singer Shatner, Shakespearean Shatner, Twilight Zone Shatner, Cartoon Kirk, Esperanto Shatner, Priceline Shatner, SNL Shatner, and – of course – William Shatner!

No costumed con-goer will be spared in their wave of destruction, no redshirt will make it out alive, and not even the Klingons will be able to stand up to a deranged Captain Kirk with a lightsaber. But these Shatner-clones are about to learn a hard lesson…that the real William Shatner doesn’t take crap from anybody. Not even himself.

It’s Shatnertastic!
It's a thin trade paperback, only 83 pages. And it's very silly, as one would expect of a story in which Shatner finds himself surrounded by the characters he played on TV and in movies due to a fiction bomb gone haywire at a Shatnercon. For the most part it's a goofy runaround with a lot of violence, neither as satirical or surreal as it might like to be. The scene with the two-dimensional animated Kirk was good, almost poignant, though.

Dunno if there's enough Trek-related content to make it worth adding to the website. It's more about the current oddball pop culture icon Shatner of Denny Crane, Priceline, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds on youtube, etc than it is about Kirk.

Oh, and the list of other books by the author includes Shatnerquest and Shatnerpocalypse. If Burk is really thinking of writing those, I can only say, brevity is the soul of wit. 83 pages is brief enough.

Stargazer at last

As I've said here before, I have been behind in some of my Trek fiction reading. So now I'm reading Michael Jan Friedman's Stargazer series. I read the books that laid the groundwork for the series, Reunion and Valiant, as they were published, so I've started with the first book published under the Stargazer banner, Gauntlet. As I write this I've just started the fourth book in the series, Oblivion, but it's not too early to write some comments on the series.

Friedman introduced the crew of the Stargazer, Jean-Luc Picard's first command, in the Next Generation novel Reunion. The Stargazer series begins shortly after a young Picard has been given command of the Stargazer. The books are resolutely old-fashioned. Each novel is a standalone, though there are a few ongoing arcs from book to book. The prose is solid and unpretentious, the types of stories being told the kind that could be adapted to any of the Trek book series. They've generally got good, basic SF stories -- space pirates, space anomalies, and so on -- and there's a lot of focus on the original characters in Picard's crew. The execution isn't always what it could be -- in Gauntlet, there are some brief scenes involving the space pirate that read like something out of a pulp circa 1940, complete with "they'll never take us alive, mwahahaha" dialogue, and the truth behind the pirate's activities and motivations doesn't really make a lot of sense to me. I'm also of the opinion that the crazy Starfleet Admiral is a story element that should have been retired a long, long time ago.

But by and large this is straightforward Trek; I've read a lot of TOS and TNG novels that feel pretty similar to these books. That may be why the series hasn't had a new entry in five years. If there's a book series loosely comparable to Stargazer (a single author, books-only series) it's Peter David's New Frontier. I may not always enjoy it, but New Frontier is undoubtedly idisoyncratic; you won't get that same experience elsewhere. Stargazer doesn't stand out in the same way. And compared to newer series like Vanguard, it feels very dated and old-fashioned. If it hasn't generated the kind of following that New Frontier has, that's not too surprising.

If there's another problem with Stargazer, it's that it's set so early in Picard's command. The one other Stargazer officer fans tend to know about is Jack Crusher, and these books are set years before he shows up. We know how important Crusher's friendship was to Picard -- it's one of the few things we know about the Stargazer years -- and it seems like the sort of thing that might be expected to be explored in a series like this. But it isn't.

I'm liking the books well enough. They aren't bad, though they're sometimes a bit simplistic. The prose is unobjectionable. It's just that they feel like the product of another era -- the Ordoverian era, perhaps. I probably would have enjoyed them just fine fifteen years or so ago. After the DS9 relaunch, Vanguard, Titan, Destiny, and so on, they just don't excite me.

Hoping for a happy ending

Looks like there's been a bit of confusion at Pocket following the layoff of editor Margaret Clark, a few months after the layoff of editor Marco Palmieri. David McIntee was told his proposal for an Abramsverse novel focusing on Scotty, which he'd worked on with Margaret, had been sent off to John Van Citters at CBS licensing for approval. And then Margaret lost her job. And David didn't hear anything, until Greg Cox announced on TrekBBS that he's doing the book David thought he was doing.

This sort of thing should usually be happening quietly out of view of the fans; we're generally told it isn't any of our business. But we're used to hearing regularly from Trek editors. John Ordover and Marco were both regulars on the Trek boards; Margaret didn't appear nearly as often, but she still posted occasionally. All we know now is that Pocket still has a couple of editors on staff who've done some Trek books. We haven't heard from them, we haven't heard how responsibilities for the books will shake out, and we haven't heard whether there may be any changes to the lineup of books Margaret announced for the rest of 2009 and 2010; there were, after all, some changes when Marco was laid off.

But now we're seeing at least one writer getting lost in the shuffle. Someone at Pocket has evidently dropped the ball. (ETA: it's been suggested that the ball was dropped before the shuffle; if the editors still there didn't know about this, they're free of any blame, and, more importantly, that things may improve.) I just hope there's a way to resolve this to everyone's satisfaction.

Footnote: in that Unreality SF roundtable on Pocket Books and Star Trek XI, Jens Deffner asked the participants who we'd like to see writing in the Abrams timeline novels. Part of my response: "I'd be curious to see what someone like David McIntee, who's done some action-oriented Doctor Who novels, could do with this more action-oriented Star Trek." I'm still curious.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Where's our Nick Hornby?

I've asked it before, I'm sure. But I wonder when someone is going to write the book on being a Star Trek fan, the way Nick Hornby wrote the book on being a soccer/football fan (Fever Pitch) and the book on being a music fan (High Fidelity). Sure, we have the movie Free Enterprise, and a very good movie it is, too, but why not a book? A memoir or a novel? Okay, there's Warp, by Lev Grossman, but it's more a novel about an overeducated Harvard grad who doesn't know what to do with his life, as written by same, than it is a novel about being a Star Trek fan.

Doctor Who fans have memoirs like Dalek I Loved You by Nick Griffiths (a bit disappointing, I thought, but still), and soon they'll have something that has the promise of being both fun and special: The Diary of a "Dr Who" Addict by Paul Magrs. Magrs is not only a respected novelist in his own right, he's the author of several Doctor Who novels and audios, including the new BBC audio series starring Tom Baker, and the creator of spinoff character Iris Wildthyme.

Here's the publisher's description of the book:
It's the 1980's and David has just started secondary school. He's becoming a teenager, but still hanging onto the rituals of childhood, particularly his addiction to Doctor Who, sharing the books with his best friend and neighbour, Robert, and watching the TV show. But time moves relentlessly on, and Robert starts rejecting the Doctor in favour of girls, free weights and new music. Against a backdrop of Bowie, Breville toasters and trips to Blackpool, David acknowledges his own abilities and finds his place in the world.
It's aimed at younger readers, obviously, but I'll be getting it, and I expect a lot of adult Who fans, especially in the UK, will as well. So why not try something like this for Star Trek fans? There hasn't been any YA-oriented Star Trek in years; maybe something kind of like this would be worth a shot.