The Psi-Phi Project: Re(8561): Dissappointments

John Ordover has said in the past that Pocket was one of the last publishers to raise the prices on their books. Keeping books smaller in the page count is a way to keep those costs down. If a lower-than-average page count is done in conjunction with a slightly smaller typeface (to fit a 270 page book into a 220 page book), I’m not going to complain. It’s when the typeface typically used in a 270 page book is used in the same point size in a 220 page book that it’s painfully obvious that we’re dealing with a shorter book, and complaints are, I think, justified.

The Psi-Phi Project: Re(8550): Dissappointments

But it does no good to vent your spleen if you simultaneously assure them that you’ll keep buying the books no matter what they do. The only way to get the message through to them is NOT to buy the books. Otherwise, what incentive do they have to change?

Ah, the Catch-22. You buy stuff you don’t want at the risk of missing something, but by buying what you don’t want you’re feeding the ego of those in Pocket’s editorial and marketing departments, those same egos that think taking a five-hundred page book and chopping it in two pieces is a good thing, without realizing that two books slots are being filled by one story and thus depriving fans of storytelling.

Wow, that was a little harsh. No slam intended on anyone.

But that very much describes how I feel on Trek novel matters. I see us getting the same number of books per year as we did five, ten years ago, but now we’re getting fewer discrete stories now than we did then because of the “duology” chop-in-two phenomenon.

I don’t want people to think I’m prejuding Maximum Warp, because I’m not. I’ve read Battlelines, and I’m not prejudging Maximum Warp on the basis of that prior work. Neither will I say a story must be bad because it’s a duology.

The story is what matters, after all. I just have problems with the format.

On Doctor Who: Storm Warning II

It’s amazing. I must be the only person to think the Doctor talking to himself in the first episode of Storm Warning works.

It’s absolutely obvious to me why he does this. Just as those scenes make it plain why the Doctor has companions with him almost all of the time.

Quite simply, he likes to hear himself talk. :)

Now, in this case, the Doctor speaking to himself has a dramatic purpose, to further the plot. The Doctor had no companion, no one to engage in dialogue with, and so plot exigencies force him to speak to himself. (Interesting how The Marian Conspiracy handles a similar situation: Doctor on his own, trying to puzzle out something.)

So, the Doctor’s running monologue doesn’t bother me. I think it shows a facet of the Doctor’s personality that hadn’t previously come to the fore.

Different strokes, though. For a show that’s always been about showing and not telling, for many the opening narration in Storm Warning smacks of a lot of telling.

On Doctor Who: Storm Warning

I got Storm Warning today. What an experience! I’m not sure that it’s the best Big Finish audio yet (the second half is a little weak in comparison to the first two parts), but for reintroducing the world to Paul McGann as the Doctor, this really does fit the bill.

I do have a few complaints, though. David Arnold’s version of the theme? Electronica junk.

Okay, that’s enough complaints.

Seriously, it’s really good. Charley doesn’t grate on the nerves the way Peril did in Winter for the Adept. (Same actress.) Overall, it’s a very well done story.

Storm Warning. When you get it, it’s really good. Now, if only the Beeb will take the hint and make a new series….

On the Icarus and the Kzin

If you accept Star Trek: The Animated Series you have the Kzin attacking Earth almost simultaneously with the Vulcans’ arrival in Montana. And if you accept the UNSS Icarus mission to Alpha Centauri, you have that ship making contact with the native Centaurans before the Vulcans pass though the Sol system.

Putting Star Trek: First Contact‘s World War III in the 2050s solves this problem neatly. The Icarus left Earth in 2048, with a ten-year flight plan reaches AlphaCent in 2058. Radio signals from AlphaCent take four-plus years, so it’s 2062 at the earliest when listening posts on Earth could detect the Icarus‘s signal. However, if Earth is trashed from World War III, there’s no one listening, or if someone is, the signal gets filed away.

In the 23rd and 24th centuries, there’s debate over which contact counts as the first. The Vulcan contact, or the Icarus contact. However, since the Vulcan contact seems to have had more butterfly effects, that’s the one that generally gets the nod.

The Kzin question I handle a little bit differently. Whatever propulsion system the Icarus uses, it would be the rough equivalent of a minor cosmic event, emitting tons of hard radiation and generally making a lot of noise in the background cosmic junk. That’s going to be pretty obvious to anyone who’s looking, and so I have the Kzin follow the Icarus into AlphaCent (relatively speaking; I put the Kzin there about the time the Icarus is ready to head back home). So, the Man-Kzin Wars Sulu and Spock talk about happened, but in the AlphaCent system.

Random, true. Competely non-canon. But it’s how I view the muddled years of the mid-21st century in the Star Trek universe, keeping all the cool stuff that’s been tossed around for years.

On Nuclear War in the Star Trek Universe

Nuclear war happened in the Star Trek universe. “Encounter at Farpoint” talks about the Post-Atomic Horror. Star Trek: First Contact tells us 600 million dead. But where?

Asia and the Pacific Rim? Gone, reduced to radioactive slag. That makes sense, given what Q showed us of the court from the Post-Atomic Horror, and the fact that there doesn’t seem to be anyone of Asian descent in the 23rd and 24th centuries (and those that we do see clearly hail from North America–Sulu from San Francisco, Harry from South Carolina [I think], and Hash [from NF] probably from Georgia).

North America? Europe? Largely untouched. San Fransisco looks a little different, the Eiffel Tower still stands, so we know these cities didn’t get hit with mushroom clouds. (On the other hand, a lot is going to depend on the yield of the weapon and whether it’s an airburster or a groundburster, so these cities could have taken a nuclear hit.)

Something to remember, though. A nuclear war in the 21st century won’t render a place uninhabitable; you could in time (a decade at most) return to the area and resettle it. (Brendan DuBois’ kickass alternate history Resurrection Day deals with that very point.) So, just because Asia is a radioactive parking lot in 2060 doesn’t mean no one’s living there in 2360.

Essentially, the point I’m trying to make is this: a nuclear war doesn’t necessarily have to be global. Something beginning in India, Pakistan, or China wouldn’t necessarily involve everyone. (Though I would question a situation where India and China were exchanging nukes and China didn’t take a pot-shot at Russia or the United States just to get one in.) The Cold War mentality is that a nuclear war would affect everyone , and while there would be some global cooling in the short term (since it looks like Carl Sagan overstated the nuclear winter hypothesis), a limited nuclear exchange is more probable in Trek‘s history.

Or at least, that’s the way I see it.

On Quintin Stone

Here’s what I think would be an interesting way to play with Quintin Stone in Star Trek: New Frontier. A Rock and a Hard Place makes the point that Stone used to be a quiet, by-the-book officer, until the Prime Directive situation on Ianni that drove him over the edge and made him the rough-and-tumble gritty officer that he became. Let’s suppose that either Shelby or Calhoun knew Stone back in his quiet, bookwormish days, and now they have to deal with the hyperintense Stone on Paradise. Could be very intriguing, especially if Stone and Shelby had a history together. (Perhaps Stone was Shelby’s first sexual experience, alluded to in Martyr.) Hmm.

On Borg History

I’ve been puzzled about the timeline for Annika Hansen’s meeting with the Borg. In tonite’s episode of Voyager, Janeway says to Seven that the Borg took away 20 years of her life and it was punishment enough. How is this possible if it was Q who brought the Enterprise and Picard to first contact with the Borg 10 years ago?

There are two theories. One is that the Borg time travel in Star Trek: First Contact mucked up the timeline so that the first contact between human and Borg occurred before “Q Who” and that this episode didn’t happen at all.

The second theory, which I’m sure others have developed as well, is this:

Starfleet knew about the Borg from the late-23rd century. The evacuation of the El-Aurian homeworld was the first clear sign, the number of El-Aurian refugees heading to Earth showed that something major was afoot. Starfleet intercepted what El-Aurian refugees they could, debriefed them about what happened to their homeworld, and learned of the threat of the Borg.

However, not all of Starfleet knew this. This information was classified at the highest levels. Section 31 knew undoubtedly, Starfleet’s Commander-in-Chief and his inner circle knew as well. But the rank-and-file didn’t know. (I postulate Starfleet sent a ship, the Excelsior under Sulu’s command, to investigate what happened to the El-Aurian homeworld. I suspect Sulu might have been the first in Starfleet to make contact with the Borg. I think what he found scared Starfleet intensely.)

Then, after the Tomed Incident in 2311, the Borg fell upon the Romulans.

The Hansens I suspect were part of Section 31. Assigned to survey the Borg, trail one of their ships. Boom, they get assimilated.

When Picard stumbles across the Borg in System J-25, he doesn’t know anything of the Borg; they’re classified far above what he needs to know.

After the first Borg assault on Earth, Starfleet levels with its officers about what it knew about the Borg. Not how it knew it, but what it did know. Even what Section 31 knew, but not revealing how they knew it. Thus did Janeway have the logs of the Raven. So, there’s a bit of revisionism in the history of the Borg and how Starfleet encountered them.

A possible history.

More on Sulu novels

From John Ordover:

Yes, we could use Spock as a prop for Sulu, just as we used Picard and Spock in the first New Frontier book – but why should we?:)

For the exact same reason as the NextGen angle was played in New Frontier: to draw in readers. For the same reason Picard features on the cover of Avatar, Book One: the draw in readers. It’s the same reason Batman appeared in damn near every DC comic in the summer and fall of 1989. It’s the same reason Spider-Man will appear in damn near every Marvel comic next summer. It’s because Batman in 1989 and Spider-Man in 2002 will have drawing power. It’s the same reason Peter David writes New Frontier: his name has drawing power.

I wonder if The Captain’s Daughter might have sold better had it had someone in addition to Sulu on the cover. I’m willing to bet The Fearful Summons had higher sales than TCD because of Kirk’s presence on the cover. Once again, it’s the drawing power.

NextGen obviously sells. I’m assuming Spock sells. Sulu on his own you’ve said doesn’t sell. NextGen is mainstream. Spock is mainstream. Sulu is a niche concept.

Do we agree thus far? Props are used for drawing power, and Sulu lacks drawing power on his own? That Sulu is a niche concept in the Trek community? I think we can agree on this, John.

The question is whether or not the drawing power of another part of the Trek universe can be or should be used in conjunction with Sulu. I know we will disagree on this. Certainly another part of the Trek universe can be used with Sulu, but should it happen? You’re the editor, I’m just the reader, but I’m not so sure you have the magical answer in this case.

Sulu, IMHO, doesn’t have a particular draw nor does he provide a character that we would be able to change and grow at will, ala New Frontier. We’re better off putting our energy in other directions.

I wonder about this, however. If Sulu is the blank slate you’ve said he is, John, if Sulu is a character that the Paramount production offices have zero interest in, as they apparently feel, then why can’t Sulu be grown as a character? Given the definition that you’ve long claimed is lacking? I know your analogy–we knew more of Shelby from “Best of Both Worlds” than of Sulu in the past thirty-five years–but I question this assertion. In terms of sheer knowledge about the characters, Okuda’s encyclopedia gives us more on Sulu than on Shelby. And we’ve had twenty-plus years of novel adventures with Sulu, detailing his history from his childhood on Ganjitsu to when he took command of the Excelsior. Non-canon, I realize, but certainly background color.

In terms of providing a link to Trek‘s past, Sulu would be more interesting than a non-Classic Trek character in a hypothetical novel about Spock’s first ambassadorial mission, for instance. The unknown character would have zero history with Spock, while Sulu would have a history with Spock that could lead to unexpected conflict if Spock and Sulu came to loggerheads on the best route of action.

I’m not convinced, then, that starting from a blank-slate unknown character is the best route to take.

You’re assuming your conclusion – you’re saying “Sulu is worth concentrating effort on, therefore here’s a way to concentrate effort on him that might be effective, and you should do it because he’s worth focusing energy on.”

Well, we can play at syllogisms all day if that’s what you want. :)

Honestly, the syllogism I’d have thought you’d take away from the Sulu question is:

1) Sulu is an interesting character in his own right.
2) Interesting characters deserve storytelling.
Therefore,
3) Sulu deserves storytelling.

And you’d question the initial premise, and you’d have that right. The second premise seems self-evident, otherwise why bother with storytelling to begin with (and you’d be out of a job, John)?

So, is Sulu an interesting character in his own right? I’ve always thought he is? Why have I thought this? Here goes:

Sulu is unique among Classic Trek characters in that he’s the only one of Kirk’s command crew to receive his own command and move outside of the Enterprise sphere-of-influence. After Kirk’s “death” and Spock’s retirement from Starfleet, Sulu is the only Classic Trek character still “boldly going” in the post-Star Trek VI period. More importantly, Sulu would be the only Classic Trek character to be in a position to experience the beginnings of the philosophic turn from the balls-to-the-walls Classic Trek era to the constipated NextGen era.

Do these make Sulu interesting for who he is or for when he lived? Perhaps the latter more than the former, but for providing a route into exploring that change in philosophy, Sulu would be the only viable option short of creating a whole new character from scratch. Spock can’t explore the change in Starfleet’s philosophy as he’s no longer in Starfleet post-2296 or so. McCoy? He wouldn’t fight the political fights. Uhura and Chekov? Here we’re constrained by canon; we don’t know what happens with these two, and while I like Shatner’s future for Chekov (C-in-C of Starfleet) and the Sherman/Shwartz future for Uhura (head of Starfleet Intel) I also know that you’re not constrained by past novels since they’re not canon, even if they happened under your watch. Sulu does appear to be the only route into exploring those changes, if that’s something even remotely of interest.

I’m not going to change your mind, John, but neither will you change mine. I don’t want an on-going Sulu series, but an occasional novel with Sulu and the Excelsior, just as we’ve had occasional novels and stories with Pike and the Enterprise, would make me happy. Doesn’t even have to be a novel with Sulu; an eBook novella would do just fine, thanks.

But there are other things to concentrate effort on that are simply more appealing than Sulu.

Hypothetical question. Suppose George Takei approached Pocket wanting to write a Sulu novel. Would you dismiss him out of hand because the novel would star Sulu?

On Alien3

I watched Alien3 last night. I hadn’t seen it in about two years, and I’d recently picked up Se7en on DVD and thought I’d watch another David Fincher film. Random thoughts….

Paul McGann is completely unrecognizable, and for the role he has I can’t figure how he ended up being fourth billed. He has all of about ten lines of dialogue in the whole film. Not to criticize his performance or the script, but Golic was strictly a nobody character. (Also, we never see Golic die in the film. His last appearance is when the alien is loose in the infirmary with him cowering on his bed, but the alien has left the infirmary at that point having killed the Doctor and breathing on Ripley and heading to kill the Superintendent. While I can I’m sure Golic does die–since Morse is seemingly the only survivor–we don’t know that for certain.)

I always thought Charles Dance died way too early in the film. Damn, the one sympathetic character (other than Ripley) gets whacked early and then the rest of the film happens. The reality check is that Dance dies exactly half-way through, but I think I know why I felt like he’d died too early. The first hour of the film is all character development, and the relationship between Ripley and Clemens the Doctor has some emotional resonnance to it. Out here in the middle of nowhere these two characters find some happiness in their lives, a kindred spirit, and then, BOOM, the alien comes, Clemens gets his head blasted out, and Ripley’s on the run. Okay, so I still think that Charles Dance gets booted out of the film too early. But then, how would you keep him further in the film? I can’t think of any good way to do that.

Elliot Rosenthal sucks as a film composer. Alien3, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin. Why do people keep hiring him to crap all over the films? (The odd thing is, I said at the time Alien3 came out that I could imagine Danny Elfman’s Batman score over some scenes in Alien3; ironic since Ronenthal followed Elfman on the Batman films.) Rosenthal doesn’t write music, he writes noise. Batman Forever didn’t have a score, it had a lot of banging on lead pipes. Alien3 didn’t have horrific music in the background, it had a lot of loud brass instruments blaring.

It’s amazing the film turned out as well as it did. It didn’t have a finished script when filming began. David Fincher was a late minute choice to direct. The script problems are legendary. But in spite of all that, something decent came out it.

I’ve always liked Alien3, and I’ve known a lot of people who absolutely hated it. I think the people who hate it hate the film because it isn’t Aliens. Excuse me, but nothing is going to be Aliens. Even Star Trek: First Contact tried to be Aliens, and that sure as hell didn’t work out. Alien3 was content to be its own film, and a visually stylish one at that. I can forgive a lot things.