Category Archives: Books

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A Second Year of Watching Star Trek (Sort Of)

Two years ago, I realized that if I watched an episode a day, I could get through all the many Star Trek series in two years, and decided to try it. Grad school and life continued to happen, so I didn’t get anywhere close to an episode a day, but in that first year I got through the whole original series, read a few things, went to a convention, and generally had a great time. I thought it would be reasonable to watch all of The Next Generation in 2017, and maybe do some more cons or events, but haaaaa, I didn’t. I got halfway through TNG season one and every month swore up and down that I’d get started again, and now it’s 2018 and I haven’t.

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Instead, I’ve been reading and playing games and watching documentaries and all kinds of other peripheral things. You can tell from the kinds of monthly posts I’ve been putting up:

 

Trekkies_Spock-1 Q-Pop

Look at this stinkin’ cute Q-Pop Spock

My favorite post from last year was Data, Spock, and Star Trek Emotions, and that also began as a response to a Trek-related nonfiction book. Plus I’ve been reading original-series cast memoirs and funny books (Star Trek Cats) and buying merch when I can. And, if I’m honest… I’ve still been generally having a great time. There are advantages to being in a huge fandom, and one is all the stuff you can do besides just watch the same thing over and over. I loved Trek novels when I was a kid, but it had probably been a decade since I’d read any, and this is the first time I’ve really branched out into the comic books.

 

I talked about my favorite comic books in the “Where can I get more episodes” and “comic book crossovers” posts above, and Killing Time is definitely a new favorite novel, but I also started Diane Duane’s Rihannsu series about the Romulans and am loving not only the Romulans (my favorite Trek race) but also the sense of strangeness and mundanity she gives to Starfleet. It’s like a more-realistic version of the original series and it’s great. Not to mention the Vulcan travel guide, which I reviewed on my book review blog and am still trying to convince other fans to read because it’s amazing.

Anyway, I’m happy to have read all the books I got through last year, but I miss the actual show and I still want to see everything. I’ve seen precious little of the later series, to be such a Trekkie. 2018 is, once again, the year of TNG! Wish me luck!

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Really Strange New Worlds: Star Trek Comic Book Crossovers

Most of the time, crossovers between fictional properties are the stuff of fanfiction. In comics, though, they’re a longstanding tradition. In some cases, like with Star Trekthere are comics based on a TV show or movie, and the medium allows for some interesting mashups we’d never get to see otherwise. These can be a little tricky to find or hear about, but Star Trek has five that I know of, ranging from natural teamups to more unexpected combinations:

  1. Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation2 by Scott and David Tipton – This 2012 crossover comes in two collected volumes, although the second is a little harder to come by. It’s probably the most natural combination on this list, being two of the most famous sci-fi TV shows ever, and seeing as how the Doctor can appear pretty much anywhere and have it pretty much make sense. The dialogue is in character and the art actually looks like the people, plus I love that they worked in a Tom Baker/TOS crossover flashback and how the art changed for the “past.” I haven’t been able to read the second volume, though, so I can’t say how it works as a whole story.
  2. Star Trek/Green Lantern: The Spectrum War by Mike Johnson – Six issues, collected in one volume in 2016. MY FAVORITE of all five, because it’s not just an interesting crossover, it’s a fantastic book. I expected the usual thing where everyone misunderstood each other and Hal punched the Enterprise or whatever, but it’s more thoughtful than that. It starts simple and slowly adds characters so you can appreciate the different dynamics involved. You get to see the Trek characters with rings, of course, and it never gets hung up on how “unlikely” it is or sucks up time with characters demanding explanations, it just happens and tells a whole story. It goes big stakes, but simple plot, which is ideal for a limited-time thing like this, BUT it actually doesn’t reset to normal at the end, it starts its own continuity! I haven’t read the second volume yet, it only came out in September.
  3. Star Trek/Legion of Superheroes by Chris Roberson – Six issues, collected in one volume in 2013. I’m a little disappointed in this one, because it could’ve been a really interesting exercise. Both stories are about hopeful, technological futures driven by humanism. Plus it puts both sets of heroes into a universe new to both of them, a creative idea that works really well here, but there’s no depth to the character interactions. And Kirk is gross to Shadow Lass, which is not cool at all. They do the usual reset to status quo at the end.
  4. Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive by Scott and David Tipton –  This one is a five-issue volume from 2015, and it starts off great. The Tiptons do a great job of creating a TOS-episode atmosphere — after all, discovering incredibly Earthlike planets with slightly different development is par for the course in TOS. Unfortunately it spends a lot of time on buildup and then just fizzles out into nothing (although I did like the little twist at the end). This is the comic that provided this post’s entirely appropriate featured image.
  5. Planet X by Michael Jan Friedman – The oldest and perhaps oddest of the bunch, this is a 1998 novel crossing Next Generation with the X-Men. I’m including it here not only because it started my childhood obsession with the X-Men and later love of comics, but also because it follows on early TOS/ and TNG/X-Men one-shot comics, which I haven’t been able to purchase as yet. It’s kind of a boring book re-reading it now, but I loved it back in the day, and it avoids all the comic book problems of not enough characterization and no continuity or lasting effects. So, it’s worth a go for novelty alone.

Did I miss any? And which unread items are worth pursuing? Info-share in the comments.

Star Trek, Kirk/Spock, and the Status Quo

There’s a tendency in fandom — and I’m by no means calling it a bad tendency — to idolize the way a show “should” be. A certain arrangement of characters feels like the right way for them to be related, and that makes sense because the characters were designed that way. This was maybe more prevalent in shows of a certain era when the style was more episodic, less miniseries-like, but it’s certainly still present — Supernatural is the first example that comes to mind. For now though we’ll stick with Star Trek.

The clearest examples of what I mean are in The Next Generation, where it’s a little awkward (in a charming way) because TNG landed right in the middle of the transition from standalone episode shows to the current miniseries-inspired style. So many episodes present a challenge to the status quo when an officer is offered a promotion but return us to it at the end — usually with a handwaved explanation like “Ah, why would I want a command position anyway, that’s a lot of stress,” which clearly means (both within and without the confines of the episode) that they just didn’t want to change, that something felt right about the milieu as it is. Riker was offered three or four separate captaincies, particularly in “The Icarus Factor” and “The Best of Both Worlds,” but turns them down, and is unable to explain why except that those ships aren’t the Enterprise.

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Riker in the captain’s chair, “The Best of Both Worlds”

In the original series, the circumstances and setting allow the milieu to attain almost mythical proportions. The show is more stylized, there’s no realism there to insist that people’s careers will grow and change, and the status quo is never challenged in the same way as in TNG. Instead it’s challenged more obliquely by violence or injustice (as in “Court Martial”), and the characters are always back to normal by the time the next episode starts. Fanworks and tie-in works go absolutely nuts with this — for TOS and just in general — about the way things should be. It should always be Kirk and Spock on the bridge of the Enterprise. Place a young Kirk in a situation where he has to work with a Vulcan, and you can bet he’ll mention that “something feels right” about it. (This happens often enough to be a trope, but one example is the first Trek graphic novel, Debt of Honor.) Even the new Trek movies, especially the third one, do it. Kirk and Spock are both thinking about leaving the ship, but in the end they decide to stay because it feels right.

Killing Time coverWe know that the reason characters do this is because they can’t leave the confines of the show without some external reason, but the characters will never understand that because they’re characters. They just know that something keeps them on the Enterprise, in the relationships established by the show. Enter the 1985 licensed novel Killing Time by Della van Hise. This book is rightly famous in certain circles of Trekdom, because Pocket Books recalled it after 250,000 copies to make changes that were supposed to have been made before publication… Specifically changes to make it less openly a Kirk/Spock fanfic. Van Hise was already known as a K/S author, and the edited version is still incredibly shippy.

The book is actually really interesting in itself, though. Rightness is built into the plot, into the very molecules of this universe. It’s hard to sum up fairly, but the basic idea is that Romulans go back in time and change the course of history to eliminate the Federation, but it doesn’t go quite the way they planned. Not only is the Federation replaced by a Vulcan-led alliance (which rightly terrifies the Romulans), the universe remembers the way it was and should be. People remember the way they ought to be, subconsciously and in dreams, and are going very quickly mad because their minds can’t reconcile their new identities with the old.

While there are several diversions into Romulan intrigue, the centerpiece of the book is Kirk and Spock’s relationship. In the new universe, Spock captains the Enterprise (now called the ShiKahr), and Kirk is a reluctant ensign drafted as an alternative to prison. I know, it’s fanficcy, but it provides an opportunity to do some creative worldbuilding about how the Vulcans and humans relate in this world. It’s also romantic in both senses of the word. The book is about their romance, it’s super obvious even in the edited version, but it’s also Romantic in the poetic sense, exalting nature and natural impulses above intellect. This is right, they are right, as a unit. It almost doesn’t matter if you ship it or not, although this is indeed the most overtly shippy licensed work I’ve ever seen. It’s about how they belong together; the universe itself insists on it. I can recommend the book (CN: dubcon twice) for shippers, but also for Romulan/Vulcan worldbuilding and a full-fledged in-universe examination of the whole status quo phenomenon we’ve been discussing.

Lest you think it’s just shippers being shippy though, don’t forget that the show is built like that. See: all the movies, where the crew somehow always shows up to recreate the iconic bridge. It wouldn’t be right without them. Spock’s absence in particular, as in the beginning of The Motion Picture, is fundamentally off, particularly to Kirk. Kirk is consistently shunted into the role of ship captain, bouncing up and down to admiral but always coming back. He’s the focal point, and usually the character with a narrative arc, whose internal thoughts we see the most, and in the movies they’re all about who he is and who he should be as he ages. It’s a powerful story about aging across the movies, and other things besides, but it’s also a metatextual trauma. The most pointed quotes are from The Wrath of Khan, the best of the movies:

Kirk Spock gif

Spock: If I may be so bold, it was a mistake for you to accept promotion. Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny; anything else is a waste of material.

Kirk: I would not presume to debate you.

Spock: That is wise. Were I to invoke logic, however, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Kirk: Or the one.

Spock: You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been and always shall be yours.

This exchange echoes of course in the movie’s tragic ending, when Spock sacrifices himself to save the ship. Again, we could say so many things about this because it’s a great movie, but for our purposes Spock’s first line has been forgotten in the impact of the other two. Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny. That’s connected to both of the other quotes though: Spock sacrifices himself for the ship, but also for Kirk’s sake, his continuation, the needs of the one. And Kirk cannot live with that, the fans could not live with that, there cannot be another movie without both Kirk and Spock, so we had to have two more movies in service of bringing him back.

The Search for Spock

The Search for Spock

Of course, as shippers already know, the saddest part is that Spock does live on after Kirk’s death in Generations, knowing that Kirk was who he was and retiring would never be part of that, even if he wanted it to be. So that you can all be as sad as I am, I’ll leave you with a quote from an unfilmed Star Trek (2009) scene, in which we would’ve heard the message from Kirk that Spock carried the rest of his life:

You once said being a starship captain was my first, best destiny… if that’s true, then yours is to be by my side. If there’s any true logic to the universe… we’ll end up on that bridge again someday. Admit it, Spock. For people like us, the journey itself… is home.

It’s worth reading the whole thing.

Book Musing – Eragon

I mentioned recently that I had finished reading the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, and that I was trying to think of how to review them. For one thing, the books have been out for years – and it’s even a re-reading for me. For another thing, it’s a four-book series, and I’m done with all of them. So while it’s tempting to do one gigantic review, I don’t think that’s a good idea…

I think that conceptually this series has a lot going for it. It is very much so an author trying to bring a lot of modern understanding into the fantasy genre, trying to bring complex modern thoughts and knowledge both into that realm. Much of fantasy tries to recreate that medieval mindset, but Paolini eschews that.

There’s also the structural conventions of the genre – and of the hero’s journey – that Paolini both incorporates and actively works against. The most obvious is that, while the trilogy is the most common series length, Paolini takes what feels like it is starting out as a trilogy and turns it into a very compelling 4-book series.

So instead of book reviews, I think I’ll write up some musings on each of the books. I’ll think of them a bit in relation to each other, and in these larger terms. But also of course some consideration for the details of the book itself. So first up: Eragon!

The Hero’s Journey

So first up, yep, this book starts us on a hero’s journey, a chosen one who was before totally unconnected to the world he is about to find himself in. Living in a small, out-of-the-way rural village. Actually, scratch that – on a farm, outside the village. Way out of the way. Despite being located near “nowhere” on the map, Eragon the farm boy finds himself soon to be Eragon the dragonrider.

In many ways, it’s hard not to fall back on conventions like this. By having a character this ignorant of the world, the political struggles in it, the magic and races dangers, you have a whole lot of room for storytelling, world-building, and exposition.

There’s a bit of exposition one-upmanship, however, because dragons and their riders can speak telepathically with no one else hearing – thus allowing the main character and his bonded companion, the dragon Saphira, to talk through whatever is going on in the scene. It was a new way of approaching a normal sort of storytelling.

Eragon learns quite a bit throughout the book, but really just enough to be thrust into situations where he is in well over his head. He is saved on numerous occasions by the people around him, which matches with the general reality that heroes need friends, allies, and quite a bit of luck to survive and to be heroes.

There are quite a few normal sorts of elements, as well, especially a set of prophecies that Eragon receives. I do love a good prophecy, and there is a great deal of import given to these prophecies throughout all four books, which just makes them better as far as I’m concerned.

How Much of This Did He Plan?

Alright, I may have been spoiler (or at least detail) light so far, but that may change a bit here. That’s because, there are several items which you learn in later books which drastically change a re-reading of Eragon! That was my number one takeaway from this book, that it had a whole lot more meaning and significance a second time through.

To be that important, it could really only be one thing, and that’s identities. To be fair, there’s a lot of people met in Eragon, and we learn more about most of them throughout the series, all of which improves our perspective on them. But there are a couple of characters that take the book from interesting to heartbreaking. The amount of innocence contained in Eragon – that is progressively lost as the books drag deeper down until you’re in full-on war at the end – is astounding. I also didn’t remember how late it is that you actually get the most important spoiler!

I’ll avoid actually saying what it is here, although now even just saying something I’ll have new readers trying to guess things they might not have otherwise, and returning readers perhaps trying to remember (like I was) what details they were needing to piece things together at the start. Feel free to message me (@compgeeksdavid) if you’d like the full spoilers!

Much Room for Growth

Kind of like in my discussion about The Gunslinger recentlyEragon is a first book that clearly left the author feeling the need to infuse more into his story, and into his storytelling. It hits on a lot of the traditional elements. I imagine it felt safe for, say, the folks who decided to make a movie of it (I haven’t seen the movie, only a few brief moments on TV before turning away). It seems kind of ordinary.

I think the later books are where things definitely get interesting, in a lot of respects! Throughout the series, Eragon kind of remains a chosen one savior of the world character, on an over-arching quest, but he’s not the only person in the world. He may not even be the best hero they have, as that distinction might need to go to Arya. But he’s the Chosen One, which carries on additional weight in terms of politics, motivation, and war. You can’t afford to lose him. His freedom of choice is limited.

The larger political landscape that Paolini builds does a lot to frame the hero in a larger context. You really only just start to get a taste of this in this book, in its final region, the final climactic battle and fairly abrupt ending – but really, things fall apart from there!

But that’s to be continued when I muse about Eldest!

 

The Inheritance Cycle is informed by Science Fiction

I finally finished listening to the audio books for the Inheritance Cycle, the 4 books starting with Eragon by Christopher Paolini. You can watch his skill as a writer and his world grow and develop through the books, as well as getting deeper as you see more of the cultures and locations in the world as it goes along.

I’ve been trying to think how to write about these books, and a review of each one is probably in order. However, there’s also talking about them as a whole, and for Science Fiction Saturday, it seemed right to talk about just how much science fiction informs these books.


It’s definitely fiction with an understanding of science, that’s for sure. It has all the trappings of fantasy, yes – elves, dwarves, magic, a medieval setting, and a hero’s journey. However, it’s this fantasy world that has a clear underpinning in the laws of our world, and where the magic is different, it’s a highly defined and explained magic system.

Really, the magic system and the way it works and is used in the story is one of the main reasons to read these books, one of the main unique features. Also probably some of the harder parts to adapt into film! (I never saw the movie adaptation, short of a few painful moments caught on TV). And it’s the magic system that both allows for that view into the world of science, and which takes this world and matches it to the definition of science fiction that I’ve worked with here on the site.

Well, matches somewhat. When magic itself is called out as a difference, it’s hard to get past. However, the magic system in Inheritance is all about ingenuity, cleverness, and out-thinking your opponent. It’s a magical language with the names of things, and where the mages have to commit to the spell they have spoken. So what happens with magic is based mainly on the knowledge and imagination of the magician.

Mainly on knowledge… and the rest is about energy. It takes as much energy with magic to do something as to do it in the mundane way, it just happens faster and perhaps differently. But that means the magician expends all of that energy at once – to, say, dig a ditch or descend a mountain. It’s dangerous.

So a lot of the science in this series is about energy – how much it takes to do a task, how much the magician has available. And the distance from a target (it’s harder to do something far away), or the weight of things, or these other physical aspects of the material world.


However, there’s also a mental aspect to the magic system – magicians are telepathic, they can read minds and speak through minds. And through this open mind experiencing the world around him, Eragon discovers a great deal about the natural world – following the lives of ants, for instance, like in The Once and Future King.

There’s all kinds of great scientific discoveries peppered throughout the series, for instance when Eragon discovers the fact that the world is round, or when he hears theories that we are not solid, but mostly empty with small particles holding us together. Lots of information about animals (as well as the invented biology of dragons, of course). About human anatomy as well, ways to kill them for sure, as well as some of the concerns Eragon starts to have about protecting himself or others. His magically calloused knuckles for punching, for instance.


Paolini also worked in plenty of war, and politics, and other problems that are common in science fiction. And the modern world. And fantasy too, I suppose. It mostly just ends up genre-bending, with so many aspects of the world thought out and explored and explained. It’s modern, I suppose, with so many things we know today being an exciting discovery in the medieval world of Inheritance. It has a science fiction feel, with so much focus on science. It’s fantasy in its outer shell, with the races and places and magic. It has elements of horror, of war.

It’s good stuff. I had remembered liking it, but was not disappointed in the re-read (listen). It was quite good.