Star Trek Novels

Once upon a time, there was a teen aged boy who loved Star Trek. He watched the show every day after school, starting just a few minutes after he got home on the bus. This was in mid 1980s, in the days before Star Trek: The Next Generation, at least two years before he even heard rumours of a new series in production.

One Saturday afternoon, stranded in the grocery store waiting for his mother to finish shopping, on a spinning book rack near the cash registers, he found a novel with the holy phrase of Star Trek on the cover and the promising title of “Web of the Romulans”. In that moment, the universe expanded and he knew he could not leave the store without that book.

And he didn’t. I didn’t. And it was the first of many, many Star Trek books. For the next decade or so, I picked up every Star Trek novel I came across, eventually collecting the first sixty or so Original Series and twenty-five-ish Next Generation numbered novels and most of the one offs published as hard covers (though I usually waited for the mass market paperback). Throw in a few of the older books discovered in used book stores and, all told, I probably had something around 100 Star Trek novels in the house. And I read a lot of them more than once.

It wasn’t necessarily about the stories because a lot of them weren’t terribly original and some of them weren’t very good. It was about the characters. More adventures for each of the main characters from each crew. In a novel, you can give them a lot more screen time, see deeper into their thoughts and their world.

I stopped buying Star Trek novels after a while, trailing off to only the big ones and ignoring the DS9 and Voyager books completely. My tastes moved on to other things, mostly, but I’d reread one once in a while. Maybe partly for nostalgic reasons to remember my own youth, but also partly to stay in touch with the characters between movies.

Recently, delving deeper into the e-book world, I’ve picked some up again. I still prefer paper books, but seem to be able to read more electronically. Portability, ease of storage, convenience. Whatever the reason, so far this year I’ve read 10 books and 7 of them have been Star Trek novels. Of the three in progress, one of those is a Star Trek story, too.

A return in excess to my youth, perhaps. It’s still about the characters, only now I’m getting back in touch, and wondering if I started with the right book. You can dive into the universe almost anywhere, I think, but it seems like Pocket Books is attempting a Star Wars: Expanded Universe type thing, picking up after the end of Nemesis. But don’t quote me. That’s just an impression based on what I’ve read so far, and maybe things will change.

Or maybe I’ll get bored after I’ve touched based with the characters enough. I’m already easing back a bit, reading one Star Trek story while I’m reading two non-Trek e-books and a paperback, but I’m not giving them up completely. While I haven’t found one yet that I could say more than “I liked it”, there’s nothing saying that every book you read has to be awesome. Liking something is good, and I mostly like Star Trek books.

Because, and I’ll say it just one more time, it’s all about the characters.

Pick a crew, pick a member of that crew, and s/he is someone’s favourite, a great many someones. Pick another, and we probably all still like them. We enjoy reading about them. We want to read more, to see the universe get bigger, to believe in the power of the Star Trek future. We understand, we identify, we enjoy.

I’m going to step out onto a limb and say that in some ways Star Trek novels are the equivalent of series romance novels for a certain segment of the reading population. Fast, easy to digest stories but with familiar characters rather than familiar plots and plot points (yes, there are some of those too).

And that’s okay. It’s more than okay; it’s Star Trek.

Live long and prosper.

A Long, Long Time Ago in a Year or Two

Since the Mousketeer takeover of a galaxy far, far away was announced, every now and then, I debate in my head how I feel about the production of a new Star Wars movie.

I grew up on the original trilogy almost as much as I grew up on Star Trek, at least in terms of toys, and I watched all three over and over again whenever the opportunity presented. Yes, Luke is pretty whiny in the first act of A New Hope; yes, there are some inconsistencies in writing; yes, I would have preferred Wookies rather than Ewoks in Jedi; and yes, it would have been nice not to have any retconning done in the 90s. But I love Star Wars, to the point where I read the first few dozen expanded universe novels (and some of them were great).

In the very late 1990s, when we started seeing news and then trailers for Phantom Menace, I got excited. We all did, I think, the entire geek world, going to the theatre of films we wouldn’t have bothered with if they hadn’t been playing the trailer for it. For many, it was the movie we’d waited most of our lives to see.

And it sucked. Really, really badly.

Attack of the Clones was prettier, but worse. Not only was the writing horrible, but the actors weren’t allowed to actually act, with the possible exception of Ewan MacGregor as Obi Wan.

Revenge of the Sith started out better, but I started losing interest less than half way through and it was a long downhill slide as every conceivable item that might have been considered loose end got tied up, and most of them didn’t need to be.

When I heard Disney had bought out Lucasfilm and immediately announced its intention to start producing a new Star Wars movie every couple of years, I was cautiously optimistic. My first thought was that Disney could hardly do worse on the next three than Lucas did on the last three. I got a little more positive from there because Disney has managed some great stuff in the last decade or so, and they’ve slowly been taking over a lot of proven, awesome properties: The Muppets, Pixar, Marvel, and now Star Wars all come to mind. It’s hard to dispute the awesome of 2011’s Muppets. Pixar is mostly back on the uphill climb disrupted by Cars (the upcoming Monsters Inc prequel saddens me, but Brave quite makes up for Cars 2, which I refuse to see). And everyone caught the whole Avengers thing, right? Their recent track record is pretty good.

The latest announcement, with J.J. Abrams taking over the director’s chair for the first movie, leaves me a little less sure, but I’m not sure that’s fair. It’s well known I’m not a Lost fan, and that the Star Trek reboot of 2009 irritated me in a lot of ways. But in both cases, it’s because of major problems with the writing.

Lost was just ridiculously fragmented and confusing. I didn’t stick with it long enough to figure things out. If you liked the method of storytelling, it was probably fine. I didn’t. ‘Nuff said.

The 2009 Star Trek had half a good script and half something thrown together in a single sleepless night without the benefit of enough caffeine. It was well cast, well acted, beautiful, sounded awesome, and the opening scene was worth the price of admission, but it fell completely off the rails forty-five minutes or so in and the story never really recovered. I had a lot of issues with it, but, if you subtract a few really bad scenes, I can still watch most of the movie.

But we were talking about Star Wars, so I’ll sum up what I currently think about the next movie, and I don’t promise it won’t change in the light of additional information: if Disney hires actual writers and gives them time to come to terms with a good story, it’s going to be awesome. If they don’t, it’s going to be mediocre at best. Disney’s got a decent track record with writing the last few years, so I have high hopes. And besides, the world can never have enough awesome.

Be well, everyone. May the force be with you, and especially with the script writers.

4 Levels of Failure

My son and I went to Comic Con Montreal in September. We hit some panels, crisscrossed the convention floor several times, saw William Shatner speak and then at the end of the day went to the William Shatner/Patrick Stewart “Reunion of the Generations”. It was a great father-son experience and the only thing at or around the Con we didn’t do together was early in the day when he went to a Mass Effect 3 panel while I went to see Wil Wheaton speak.

It was a really fun day, marred only by a single, short experience.

This picture has four levels of failure in it and two of them are mine. Combining those four levels together has more or less soured me on the whole Photo Op experience which, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t all that keen on to begin with. I’d rather go and listen to someone speak for an hour, even if it’s at the back of the room, than stand in line for the same hour to get my photograph taken with them. Aside from being far cheaper financially, the time investment feels better spent to me. I really enjoy the presentations and Q&A sessions I go to, though I’ll admit that’s probably a lot because I pick the ones I known I’m going to enjoy.

When I really want that personal touch, I go and get an autograph, something I only recently started to consider as part of my fan experience. The minute or so of small talk while you’re picking your photo and it’s being signed is generally enough to give me that inner thrill. Deliver a quick thank you for the work you’ve enjoyed by that person and another for taking the time to sign for you, and sometimes you come away with a quick fist bump or even a handshake. My autograph experiences have been uniformly positive so far. I won’t go when the line is huge as there’s always too much else to see at the Con, but if you’re paying attention, you can often time things really well except for the super big names.

But, as I was saying, four levels of failure.

1. The Convention

Enamored by the vast, insufficiently tapped geek wallet, some power behind the Con decided that it would shove as many people through the photo ops as possible, which makes the experience measurable by a tiny march of seconds. I know this makes a certain kind of financial sense—more photos = more $$ —but it’s also not treating your customer base with respect. More irritated people is going to equal fewer $$ next year for similar events. Sacrificing the long term for the short is never a good business strategy, but it seems to be the way things work lately. Comic Con fail.

2. The Photographer

Either because s/he had no option due to the over-scheduling or because s/he was just too lazy, the Photographer didn’t have enough pride in his/her work to take the extra second or two with each person that would make a good picture. The words “squeeze in” followed by a shuffle to the right by my son was all that was needed. Photographer fail.

3. I’m too Canadian

I could have complained. I should have complained. Yes, I’m far too polite. Yes, it’s a culture stereotype in the Great White North, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes you need to complain, even if you know it won’t do any good, and I know it wouldn’t have in this case. How do I know? I saw some of the other photos people were picking up. Ours may not be that great, but there were a lot worse on the table and you can be damned sure the Con wasn’t letting people circle back through for another try. The process isn’t set up to allow it. Personal (cultural?) fail.

4. My inner fanboy is a brainless idiot

How much presence of mind would it have taken to grab my son by the shoulder and pull him closer in? Not much, but I wasn’t just getting my picture taken, I was standing a handful of centimeters from Captain Kirk and Captain Picard. Close enough to be able to put a hand on each shoulder. Oh yes, my inner fan boy was running the show and he has no idea what’s going on in the rest of the world. I’d thought myself evolved enough in parenting that this couldn’t happen. I always pay attention to my kids when there’s anything going on. My purpose is always to ensure that they’re having the best time. Always. Only apparently not always. For just long enough to screw up the photo, I let my proximity to a pair of cultural icons suck all of the brains out of my head. This will not happen again, no matter what the experience is. But it happened this time. Parenting fail.

Rectifying any one of these failures would have resulted in a better photo, a real memento to help crystallize the memory of an awesome moment. As it is, I do have the memory of standing with my son next to a pair of bright, shining beacons of Star Trek, the conversation and time we spent in line and moving through the cattle stalls to get there and the excitement of the picture being taken. But I also have the memory of the disappointment in the photographic evidence.

The disappointment is secondary. We were there and we shared the moment, if not as well as I’d like. Given another opportunity, will I shell out for a better photo? Not for myself, but if he wants it, I’ll stand in line far longer and be far more alert while doing it.

For reference, if the picture taken a ¼ second sooner, my son swears he had a giant smile on his face, and I believe that because he was pretty excited, but he was still half hidden behind Sir Patrick.

Also for reference, the picture my girls had done with Rose McGowan at FanExpo in August turned out spectacularly well.

The Girls With Rose McGowan

Each experience on its own terms. Learn and grow and adapt.

Be well, everyone.

Geek Rock of the 80s, Part 2

Digging back through my memory and hitting a few websites tells me that I could probably drag this series of posts out for a really long time. Between my brain and the internet, there’s a lot of great material available, but I’m going for a general survey here, not every possible geek song under a 1980s sun, so I’m going to try to hold to single digits.

The Way Back Machine is still warm, so let’s take another trip back to the 80s. A little more obviously geeky this time, but some of you may find the three songs I’ve picked this week a bit more obscure, depending on the sources of your media consumption back in the day.

“Star Trekkin” by The Firm

I grew up on the original Star Trek. Sitting in my father’s lap and watching the giant space amoeba (“The Immunity Syndrome”) is one of my earliest memories. When this song hit Dr. Demento (which didn’t always come in clearly on the radio station I listened to it on), I was instantly in love. I nearly performed it by myself for a lip synch contest in high school, chickening out at the last moment. Which is too bad, because I think it would have been awesome. Today, it’s on my iPhone and gets regular play. At least two of my three children have it on their players, too.

What makes it Geek Rock? Let me count the ways. No, there’s not need. It’s about Star Trek, and that’s pretty much enough right there. But hey, check the video with the alien hand puppets and Mr. Potato Head style claymation. What else could you want? Built around modified, but still obvious, catch phrases of the main characters and with a bouncy, catchy tune, this was destined to be a geek classic.

“Pac Man Fever” by Buckner & Garcia

Got a pocket full of quarters and I’m headed for the arcade. Ah, those were the days. The video arcade is pretty much gone from North American culture, which is too bad, and not least because it’s something I’d love to share with my kids. You can still get glimpses through classic movies like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and War Games, but that’s as close as we get now. In Japan, it’s a whole different set of pixels, but that’s pretty far away from where I’m typing.

What makes it Geek Rock? Really, it’s hard to think of something geekier than a classic video game. Pac Man defines a generation of video games, that early 80s arcade experience. I don’t know how many sequels and rip offs came from it, but if you went into arcade in the 80s, you’d find a couple of variants near the front door. In the 90s, they’d moved a little farther back, but hadn’t disappeared. If you go to a resort or hotel or bowling alley today that has half a dozen machines stuck in a back corner somewhere, there’s a good chance that one of them is Pac Man or Ms. Pac Man. There’s a free version in the App Store, dozens of versions available online, and Google even did a Pac Man front page doodle for the 30th anniversary of the game. You can still play Pac Man whenever you want, and it’s not just for geeks anymore.

“Believe It or Not” by Joey Scarbury

Who among us has not dreamed of suddenly acquiring super powers? It would be awesome, wouldn’t it? Make way for the new Might Guy/Girl! Evil doers beware! Just don’t lose the instruction manual for your suit.

What makes it Geek Rock? Well, things may have shifted in the last decade or so, but superheroes are something else that used to be the exclusive province of geeks and kids. I don’t know how many comic books I read when I was younger, but I still have a lot of them in white boxes in the garage, and I was a huge X-Men fan. Still kind of am, in spite of the movies, but let’s veer back from that tangent. High school teacher Ralph Hinkley (and you want to say geek right there, don’t you?) has an alien close encounter and walks away with a super suit, but loses the instructions. Regular guy gets super powers and has to figure things out. Spider-Man but funnier and with less teenage angst. This show was tailor made for the 1980s geek and I still sing along with the theme song.

How’s that for Round 2? Next week: zombies and mummies.