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My STAR TREK BEYOND review (spoilers!)

I wasn’t planning on seeing Star Trek Beyond until Tuesday (discount day) due to my strained finances, but a fan was kind enough to make a PayPal donation as a gift to let me see the movie earlier (thanks, Linn), so I went yesterday. (Plus I needed groceries anyway, so an earlier trip was welcome.)

I generally agree with the consistently positive reactions the film has gotten. It is the best of the Bad Robot series to date (or the Kelvin Timeline, as it’s now been officially dubbed). I liked the first two films for the way they handled the characters, for J.J. Abrams’s good directorial work handling emotion and relationships, and for the superb casting — but they both had pretty major logic problems and plot holes, like Kirk’s ludicrously rapid promotion in the first film, the gratuitous Wrath of Khan callbacks in the second film, and the careless astrophysics and near-instantaneous interstellar travel in both films (justified by an implied time cut in the first film, but harder to reconcile in the second). I also wasn’t crazy about the totally unnecessary disaster porn in Into Darkness‘s climax, and I didn’t like how gray and gloomy Earth’s cities looked in the films. So I liked the films, but with reservations. In the case of Beyond, most of the problems of the previous two movies are absent, and there’s plenty of good stuff still there as well. With a different director (Justin Lin) and writers (Simon Pegg & Doug Jung), it has a different flavor and tone, and it’s one that works well, for the most part.

The first two films were meant as prequels, showing the early years of the TOS cast as they grew into the people we knew, or reasonable approximations. Beyond is the culmination of that process. The characters are now three years into the five-year mission, and they’re pretty much the mature versions of themselves at last. Chris Pine’s Kirk is more seasoned, more thoughtful. On the cusp of his 30th birthday, he’s no longer the delinquent renegade he was just five years earlier, but a seasoned commander, a Starfleet company man, serious and disciplined but with a bit of the old bad boy still peeking out occasionally — essentially just like his predecessor. Zachary Quinto’s Spock and Karl Urban’s McCoy finally get the extensive interaction they’ve lacked before, and it’s a classic Spock-McCoy interplay, albeit a bit more foulmouthed than would ever have been allowed 50 years ago. McCoy is put in a bit too much of an action-hero role at times (when did he ever show any piloting skill?), but it’s in service to keeping him and Spock together, and that’s long overdue. Spock’s romance with Zoe Saldana’s Uhura is downplayed, though not entirely absent, which allows Uhura to stand on her own as a protagonist; she handles herself well, carrying the brunt of the direct interaction with Idris Elba’s villain Krall, standing up to him, and gaining vital intelligence about his true identity and origins. Pegg’s Scotty also gets a good share of the spotlight, unsurprisingly, as he interacts with the guest alien Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a striking and tough alien of unidentified species, and supports her through her character arc as she aligns herself with our heroes. Not surprising that these movies would prioritize cast members as prominent as Saldana and Pegg. Unfortunately, John Cho and the late Anton Yelchin are still basically wasted as Sulu and Chekov, never really given a chance to emerge from the background, which is particularly tragic given that this was Yelchin’s final turn in the role. Chekov is pretty much just there to follow orders and be comic relief, and he has even less of an arc than in the previous two movies. Sulu is given a bit more character depth as we learn that he has a husband and daughter on Starbase Yorktown, and we see his worry about them when we learn that Krall intends to attack Yorktown, but it’s a character arc that’s conveyed almost entirely without dialogue, relying purely on Cho’s silent reaction shots — and of course Cho is more than good enough to put volumes into those wordless looks, but still, guys, he’s probably the best actor in the whole damn cast (other than Yelchin — damn it, I’m getting teary-eyed), so give him something to do! (I wonder if there were more scripted lines that got cut because the studio was nervous about focusing too overtly on Sulu’s gay marriage.)

I liked the way the film compensated for the male-heavy core cast by featuring mostly women in the supporting cast. We still had Elba’s Krall as the main villain and Joe Taslim as his sidekick Manas (who was such a minor character that I didn’t even notice him as a presence until Jaylah established in dialogue that he was her nemesis), but we also had Boutella’s standout work as Jaylah; Shohreh Aghdashloo as the Yorktown commander (Commodore Paris!); Lydia Wilson as Kalara, an alien refugee playing a significant role in the first two acts; and Melissa Roxburgh in a small but important role as Ensign Syl, an alien crewmember with a special skill that Kirk cleverly takes advantage of.

Beyond also avoids a lot of the crazy science of the previous Abrams films. Warp travel actually seems to take time (and the new warp effect is utterly gorgeous, the first one that actually looks like it’s representing the warping of space, at least in a stylized way), there’s no transwarp beaming or super-healing Augment blood, and it’s essentially the first Star Trek screen work that’s ever handled alien languages and translations in a realistic way, with aliens either speaking their own languages, speaking accented English, or speaking in their own voices while a computer translation runs parallel, in Kalara’s case. This is what we were always supposed to assume was going on when we saw aliens seemingly speaking English, but now we actually see it shown literally, and it’s refreshing, if a bit distracting. I wouldn’t have minded, honestly, if they’d emulated The Undiscovered Country‘s Klingon courtroom scene and started out that way long enough to establish it, then transitioned to having Wilson just speak English. The science of Yorktown’s outwardly spherical artificial gravity, and the weirdness that results in the center of the field, is a bit fanciful, but no more so than artificial gravity in general, and it’s the basis of a really clever action sequence at the climax. Yorktown itself is a gorgeous setting; unlike the Earth cities in the Abrams-directed films, it’s bright and inviting enough that it actually looks like the Federation should look. (Although I wish it hadn’t been filmed in Dubai, a country that I gather is prone to rather atrocious human-rights violations toward emigrant workers. That hardly seems fitting.)

As for the action overall, I found it kind of meh. It was big and frenetic and everything, but sometimes hard to follow. It was definitely clever in a lot of ways, but the execution wasn’t always there. They did find an imaginatively novel way to destroy the Enterprise, but it gets a little tiresome that deflector shields almost never seem to work in the movies. I’m also not convinced by the claim that the E was unequipped for this kind of attack, given the dozens of point-defense phaser banks it was shown to have in the first couple of films. Most of all, the destruction of the Enterprise had no emotion to it, no pathos. I didn’t feel the loss like I did in The Search for Spock or Generations, because we weren’t shown the characters feeling the loss. The Enterprise wasn’t treated as a beautiful lady that we loved and hated to lose, but just as a vehicle that was abandoned once it was no longer useful. So it was a well-made sequence and all, but rather unengaging. The emotion just wasn’t there. Say what you like about Abrams as a director, but he always focuses on the emotion of an event, no matter how big and frenetic it is. That was missing here.

Now we get into the really spoilery stuff, since I’m going to talk about Krall’s backstory. I guessed pretty early on, as soon as we saw Krall changing appearance when he drained the crewmembers, that it would turn out he was a member of the Franklin crew who’d been changed into an alien. I feel the movie totally failed to explain just how that happened, or where the transformative technology came from. I guess it was something left behind by the previous inhabitants of Altamid, the warrior race that had built the superweapon (and I’m getting a little tired of Trek movies built around superweapons), but the exposition that would’ve tied this together seemed to be absent. As for Krall really being Balthazar Edison, an ex-MACO who couldn’t adjust to peacetime, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s kind of a classic TOS-style plot, with Kirk against another Starfleet captain who’s gone rogue — there’s a lot of Ron Tracey in Edison. I’ve even seen one person express the opinion that it covered similar themes to my novel Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures, though I was actually reminded more of the debates in Into Darkness about Marcus’s warmongering view of Starfleet versus the more peaceful approach Spock advocated. And the tie-ins to Enterprise-era history were interesting. The bit about the MACOs being dissolved and folded into Starfleet meshed comfortably with my own books, although the uniform design is quite different from what I came up with. (I’m not worried about inconsistencies with ROTF, though; Simon Pegg has recently said that the Kelvin Timeline was altered in a way that allows its history to diverge before Nero’s arrival in 2233 rather than after, which is basically a way of saying that storytellers in the respective universes can operate independently of one another from now on.)

But I’m disappointed, because the advance word suggested that the story was going to be about how alien cultures perceived the Federation’s expansionism as cultural imperialism — a post-colonial take on Trek’s ideas, as filtered through the perspective of the Taiwanese-born Justin Lin. As a student of world history and frontiers in particular, I would’ve been very interested in a story along those lines, and looking forward to seeing that new perspective. But it turns out that was essentially all just a fakeout, or else a plan that was changed by the time the film was finalized. This was really just another story about a rogue Starfleet officer turning on Starfleet, like we’ve seen many times before — and it again echoes STID in that the villain’s true identity as a figure from human history was obscured for much of the film. I liked the theme of working for peace versus embracing war, but it was rather more conventional than what I was led to expect.

I also don’t think it sold the message of peace very well, because it fell back on the usual action-movie pattern of just killing the bad guys without remorse or qualm. The bit about using hard-rock music to defeat the swarm ships was kind of cute in a hokey way, but it involved killing thousands of alien pilots, and that wasn’t acknowledged in any way. (How many of those pilots were innocent captives transformed into Krall’s servants?) And I was hoping that the climax would involve Edison redeeming himself — to have a Spider-Man 2-style ending where Kirk would persuade him to regain his humanity and he’d sacrifice himself to stop the destruction he’d started… or better yet, work with Kirk to stop it and then survive to be rehabilitated. It’s only paying lip service to the idea of peace if your hero makes no real effort to find an alternative to killing the bad guy. This is one respect in which I have to give the higher score to the Abrams-directed movies. Kirk at least made a token effort to invite Nero to surrender (though that could’ve been handled much better), and they actually did take Khan alive (though that was mainly with an eye toward sequel possibilities).

As for the closing sequence, I think it’s a bit corny to destroy the ship just to set up an Enterprise-A at the end of the same film, although the time-lapse ending was a clever alternative to ST IV’s approach of just pulling a finished ship out of a hat. But I’m disappointed that the E-A looks basically the same as the original. I was hoping that they’d hold off on introducing the new ship and then would come up with a completely new design for its successor in the next, like the TNG films did with the Enterprise-E. Honestly, I’m not a fan of this Enterprise design. Its saucer is fine, if rather derivative of the TMP ship, but the proportions of the engineering hull and nacelles don’t work for me at all. I would’ve welcomed a completely new design from a different art team.

All in all, this is a very solid Trek movie that handles the characters and ideas pretty well, but that has a certain emotional and thematic superficiality compared to some of its predecessors. Its plot holds together pretty well except where it overlooks some things that could’ve stood to be explained. It has some fantastic action and some overly cluttered action, and some fun-but-hokey moments like the music bit and the motorcycle bit. It handles most of the ensemble well, including Jaylah, but still lets Sulu and Chekov down. I wouldn’t say the problems are quite as frustrating as the problems in the previous two Kelvin films, but there are a few things those films did better, especially when it came to emotional engagement with the characters and situations. So it’s an improvement — certainly the best Trek film of the past decade and one of the best overall — but there’s room for future films to improve on it even more.

Oh, all right, let’s talk about the STAR WARS trailer…

December 3, 2014 10 comments

Everyone else is talking about the Star Wars trailer, so I might as well put in my two cents. Not so much about the trailer itself, since you can’t tell much from a teaser trailer, but about the reactions I’ve been seeing.

First off: Okay, the crossbeam lightsaber is a bit hard to justify rationally, but let’s face it, lightsabers are not a plausible weapon to begin with. A beam of energy acting as a solid blade? How’s that supposed to work? It’s magic. Here’s the thing a lot of people don’t seem to get: Star Wars is not science fiction. Lucas has never claimed that it is. His own term for it is “space fantasy.” The reason he created it is because he couldn’t get the movie rights to Flash Gordon. The opening line of every movie, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” is telling us up front that it’s a fairy tale. It’s not supposed to be a plausible universe, it’s supposed to be a wild adventure fantasy in the vein of the movie serials Lucas enjoyed as a child.

But fortunately the new movie isn’t just looking backward. No more all-white casts like in the bad old days. Our first look at the new generation of Star Wars establishes it as a diverse generation. Who cares if one of them is (at least dressed as) a Stormtrooper? What matters is that they’re there. Inclusion is a good thing, and still far too lacking in feature films.

The other main thread of complaint I keep hearing is about the fact that J.J. Abrams is directing, co-writing, and co-producing. A lot of people are expecting this to be like his Star Trek movies. Here’s why that doesn’t follow:

On Star Trek, Paramount gave Abrams and Bad Robot free rein to recreate the franchise however they wished. They’re making it on behalf of Paramount, but the “Supreme Court” of Abrams, Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman have had pretty much total control over it, and Abrams is the top man. Even though he’s not directing the third film, he’s still producing it, and that means the buck stops with him. But on Star Wars, Lucasfilm executive Kathleen Kennedy is the one in charge. Abrams is hired talent working for her, for Lucasfilm. He’s only directing this one movie, while Kennedy is producing the whole series, including Episodes VIII & IX (slated to be written and directed by Looper‘s Rian Johnson) and some standalone spinoffs (the first two of which are slated to be directed by Godzilla‘s Gareth Edwards and Chronicle‘s Josh Trank).  And he’s been hired, not to reinvent the universe his way, but to make a new installment that’s true to the existing universe, a universe that Kennedy is now in charge of maintaining and advancing. Kennedy, by the way, is the woman who’s produced most of Steven Spielberg’s films and the Back to the Future trilogy, among plenty of others. Think about that. Star Wars is now in the hands of Spielberg’s closest collaborator.

Also, Abrams made his Trek films along with the “Supreme Court” members listed above. But he’s co-written The Force Awakens along with Lawrence Kasdan, and he and Burk are producing it along with Kennedy and Kasdan. Just to be clear, that’s Lawrence Kasdan, the guy who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Frankly I’m amazed I’m not hearing more chatter about that from Star Wars fans. The guy who wrote the best movie in the franchise is back. How is that not exciting?

So yes, of course, The Force Awakens is going to be an Abrams film with his voice and sensibilities, but only insofar as it meshes with Kennedy’s vision. Think of what happened to Edgar Wright on Ant-Man. He spent years developing that film, but when he couldn’t come to terms with how the Marvel Studios executives envisioned the film, he was let go. The same would’ve happened to Abrams if he’d tried to make a Star Wars film in a way that Lucasfilm and Kennedy were unhappy with. After all, this film is the foundation of a whole new series of films that Kennedy is responsible for developing and producing, and that Abrams will have no hand in beyond how he sets the stage in TFA. That tips the balance of power more toward Kennedy.

Anyway, I don’t understand the opinion some people have that Abrams’s sensibilities are inappropriate for Star Wars. His approach has always been to blend big, extravagant fantasy action with relatable, character-based drama. To me, that seems perfect for Star Wars. The problem with the prequel trilogy, with Lucas writing and directing the films himself, was that Lucas never really cared about characters. Abrams always puts characters and emotions at the center of everything, even in the midst of the big flashy action. If anything, the main problem with his series Alias was that it was too tightly focused on characters and relationships, so that all the big worldshaking spy schemes and master plans all ultimately revolved around the family lives of a few core characters to a degree that would’ve made Charles Dickens say “Okay, that’s a bit contrived.” But that’s perfect for Star Wars, a franchise where the big bad turned out to be the hero’s long-lost father and it was their family bond that ultimately saved the galaxy, and, oh, the leading lady is the hero’s sister too. SW is big, broad melodrama and has never pretended to be anything else, just as it’s never pretended to be naturalistic or scientifically plausible.

If anything, Abrams’s main shortcoming as a Star Trek director was that, while he handled the character side well enough to make the stories feel grounded, he treated the universe and its rules too fancifully. Star Trek has always at least nominally tried to be a naturalistic, plausible universe, though it’s often fallen short on the plausibility side. But Abrams has treated it more like a fantasy universe where physics works in whatever way is convenient to the plot and where starships can hop across the galaxy in seconds. In other words, he’s treated Star Trek like it was Star Wars. But now he’s doing Star Wars, and that seems like a natural fit to me.

Of course, there’s no sense in judging a movie good or bad based on its teaser trailer. But it seems to me that fandom today is dominated by voices that look for excuses to criticize and carp, and usually those excuses don’t hold up to analysis. And that’s frustrating. Fandom is supposed to be about enjoying stuff and being excited by stuff. Fandom is love, and love should be optimistic. Even when you’ve been burned by love in the past, even when you’re afraid to take a chance on love again, it’s still important to let it give you hope.

Granted, I myself only like Star Wars rather than loving it. But I love Star Trek, and that love makes me want to see the best in it, even when it disappoints me. Because forgiveness is part of love too. I wish more fans would remember that.

Chronological order?

September 16, 2010 1 comment

I’ve just finished rereading my two Marvel Comics novels (the ones I wrote, that is, X-Men: Watchers on the Walls and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder), and I realized that for some reason I like to reread them a lot more than I do my Trek fiction.  Maybe because I’ve usually got a new Trek project in the works and that holds my attention.  Anyway, I’ve been giving some thought to rereading my Trek stuff, just to keep my memory fresh about it, and I thought it might be nice to read it all in chronological order.  So I thought I’d put together a list of the chronological order for my fiction (going by the main portion of the work as opposed to any flashbacks or prologues or what-have-you).  And I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone if I made the list here, since I haven’t done much posting lately.

So here goes, the chronological order of all published Star Trek fiction by Christopher L. Bennett, based on the assumptions I make in my own chronology, and numbered in the order they were published:

  • 6: TOS: “As Others See Us”: August 2269
  • 3: TOS: Ex Machina: October-November 2273
  • 7: TOS: Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again: January 2274; November 2279; December 2282; September 2283
  • 8: TNG: The Buried Age: May-August 2355; October 2358-May 2360; June 2363-January 2364
  • 9: TNG: “Friends With the Sparrows”: October-November 2371
  • 2: DS9: “Lov’d I Not Honor More”: January 2374
  • 10: VGR: Places of Exile: January-February 2374; August-November 2374; June-September 2375; February 2376 (alternate timeline)
  • 4: VGR: “Brief Candle”: February 2376
  • 1:  SCE: Aftermath: August 2376
  • 12: TTN: “Empathy”: October 2376 (Mirror Universe)
  • 5: TTN: Orion’s Hounds: February-March 2380
  • 11: TNG: Greater Than the Sum: September 2380-January 2381
  • 13: TTN: Over a Torrent Sea: (Prologue) February-April 2381; (body) July-August 2381

I didn’t include Seek a Newer World because it hasn’t been published and I can’t know how it might change if it ever does get the go-ahead; however, the version I wrote is set in October-December 2258, which would put it at the beginning of the list.  As for DTI: Watching the Clock, I don’t want to give too much away yet, but the main portion of the narrative takes place overlapping and after Over a Torrent Sea, in 2381-82.

So the most recent thing I’ve had published is also the most recent chronologically, and that will still be true once DTI comes out.  However, if SaNW had come out on schedule, then my most recent published work would’ve been set the earliest.

Some interesting patterns there.  I’ve got a block of three works, from #7 to #9, where the writing order and chronological order match up.  Moreover, of the first three things I wrote, each took place earlier than the last, and everything from #6 to #11 was moving forward chronologically.

In the coincidence department, my chronology lists Places of Exile as starting two days before “Lov’d I Not Honor More” begins and ending two days after “Brief Candle” ends.  Other than that, the shortest gap between two works set in the same timeline is between GTTS and OaTS, with only seven weeks separating them.  To date, I have no overlaps between works set in the same timeline, but that will change when DTI comes out.

So am I going to reread all my stuff?  I don’t know.  If so, probably not all in one clump.  But if anyone out there wants to read it all in chronological order, there’s your reading list.

Thoughts on TERMINATOR SALVATION (spoilers)

I came upon the DVD of Terminator Salvation at the library, and decided that since it was free, I might as well take a look at it in the name of completism, despite having read a lot of negative reviews.  I don’t intend to add in-depth to that catalog of reviews, but I figured I’d write down a few thoughts.

Basically, the reviews were right.  This isn’t a good movie.  It might make a good video game, since it puts all its effort and attention into action and spectacle, but has little interest in character, dialogue, or story.  The first half-hour or so of the film is almost monosyllabic, as if they were paying the actors by the word and trying to cut costs as much as possible.  It got somewhat better in this regard later on, but it sure as heck wasn’t a film driven by dialogue.

The film failed to do the most important thing it should’ve done, which is to make John Connor convincing.  Christian Bale’s Connor is just plain unsympathetic, and the film never showed me why anyone would follow him.  It’s like they just expected us to buy him as the leader because he’s John Connor.  Which, okay, is exactly what Terminator fans would expect, but what about the characters in the movie?  What’s their reason?

The one really engaging performer here is Anton Yelchin as the young Kyle Reese.  Despite the limitations of the dialogue, he manages to come off as the kind of charismatic, natural leader that John Connor should be.  This performance just underlines for me what a terrific casting job they did on Abrams’s Star Trek.  Yelchin was the most effective cast member here, just as John Cho was on FlashForward.

Given that Sam Worthington was the star of the film, I don’t really have much to say about him.  He was there, and he yelled a lot.  Moon Bloodgood did okay, but her character had no real personality; she was just The Girl, and she developed an insta-rapport with Worthington’s Marcus because the script told her to.  Michael Ironside was wasted as the one-dimensional obstructionist cliche in charge of the resistance.  Bryce Dallas Howard was… there.  Helena Bonham Carter was… briefly there, then briefly there again as an avatar created by Skynet to provide convenient exposition to Marcus.  (Why would Skynet bother to talk to one of its own drones?  Having it communicate in a human way at all really diminishes the basic inhumanity of it and is really cliched.)

And could that stuff about Marcus’s “incredibly strong heart” have been any more contrived and silly — and any more predictable, once Connor was injured in the climax?

Basically it felt like going through the motions.  They threw in all the lines, “Come with me if you want to live,” “I’ll be back,” “No fate but what we make,” without regard to whether they fit.  They threw in the basic bits, Sarah Connor, Kyle Reese, the birth of the T-800, and it felt more obligatory than inspired.  After a year and a half of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, this just feels lifeless and shallow by comparison.  It is kind of a wild idea doing a story that is simultaneously a sequel to Terminator 3 and a prequel to The Terminator, but the execution doesn’t live up to the potential.

One thing I will give it: in the 7-11 sequence with the big harvester thing, they managed to avert a few tiresome action-movie tropes, at least to an extent.  The action-movie cliche is that any time a gas tank is hit by a bullet, it instantly explodes — something that essentially never happens in real life, as the Mythbusters showed, unless you use tracer rounds and the tank is already so full of holes that there’s enough air and gasoline vapor to allow combustion.  But here, Marcus shot at the tanker truck’s detached tank repeatedly and got no explosion until the little mute kid gave him a flare to ignite the trail of gasoline.  Now, here’s where a mythical action trope didn’t get averted, because the tank really did blow up, rather than just burning as it more probably would have.  But allowing for that conceit, they got the next part right, which is that a liquid-fuel explosion isn’t very powerful, so it didn’t really do any substantial damage to the harvester.  All in all, a surprising bit of credibility in the way the sequence was handled, allowing for a certain amount of poetic license.

Although in the rest of the film, physics was pretty much on vacation, as you’d expect in an action flick.  Connor was unharmed by impacts that should’ve shattered his spine and explosions that should’ve perforated him with shrapnel.  And the whole “blowing up the nuclear fuel cells” thing at the end was wrong on so many levels.

So now I’ve seen Terminator Salvation.  And it just made me appreciate The Sarah Connor Chronicles that much more.

STAR TREK MAGAZINE now available in digital form!

I’ve just learned thanks to TrekMovie.com that Star Trek Magazine is now being offered for purchase in a digital format for PC, Mac, and iPad from Zinio Digital Magazines.  The first issue available in this format is the current Movie Special issue, containing my feature article “The Remaking of Star Trek,” an evaluation of the 2009 film.  You can preview the digital reader and purchase the issue here at Zinio.com.  There’s also a subscription page here.

ST Magazine 26 regular cover

New article in ST Magazine Movie Special (UPDATED)

I kinda forgot that I had an article coming up in Star Trek Magazine #26 (aka #153 in the UK), until I came upon a post about the issue on Allyn Gibson’s LiveJournal.  I then saw the issue on the shelf at the grocery store this afternoon, so I figured I’d better update my homepage and my blog to announce it.

ST Magazine 26 regular coverRegular cover

The issue is billed as “The Ultimate Movie Guide” and has features on all eleven ST films.  My article is the last one in the bunch, covering the 2009 J. J. Abrams Star Trek film.  It’s called “The Remaking of Star Trek,” as a nod to Stephen E. Whitfield’s seminal book The Making of Star Trek, about the production of the original series.  The thrust of the article is to evaluate the movie as a movie, and to address its place in the context of the ST franchise’s history and in the context of the era in which is was made.

So this is some consolation for the shelving of my Abramsverse novel, which would’ve been out within the next month if plans hadn’t changed.  This way I still get something in print based on the new movie.

Star Trek Magazine‘s site is here, though it hasn’t been updated to issue 26 yet.

ST Magazine 26

Alternate cover

EDIT: I’m disabling comments to this post, because for some reason it’s attracting tons of spam.

A bit of info about Abramsverse novels

Over on TrekMovie.com, there’s an interview with John Van Citters of CBS Licensing, talking about all the stuff coming up in Star Trek merchandise and tie-ins.  It includes a little bit about the status of Abramsverse tie-in fiction:

A few weeks ago Pocket Books announced that it was postponing four books planned for 2010 that were tied into the 2009 Star Trek movie. All were stand-alone stories set after the movie. And it appears that it was the time setting of these books that was the issue. Van Citters explains:

“It was decided that the upcoming sequel is best served by having JJ [Abrams] and his team tell the stories of what happens next for these characters. That doesn’t mean we wont have stories taking place in this timeline, and that doesn’t necessarily mean we wont have stories taking place in the alternate timeline before the next movie is released.”

According to Van Citters, CBS, Pocket Books and Bad Robot are currently working together on a plan for books tied to the movie universe. As for the four books that have already been written, Van Citters noted that their status is “on hold” and there was still no determination on when we will see them.

So it sounds like they may have decided it’s a better idea to go with prequels to the movie for now, rather than the followups that Alan Dean Foster, David Mack, Greg Cox, and I were hired to do.   As for those books, including my own Seek a Newer World, there’s no real news, but at least there’s no bad news.  “On hold” is still better than “cancelled.”  And at least this offers some clarification on why the books were suspended.  It suggests that, as many have speculated, the books were postponed for fear of contradiction with the next movie.  And that suggests that maybe once the next movie is done, it’ll be possible to publish these books after all (with whatever tweaks are necessary to be consistent with it).  Let’s hope so.

Seek a Newer World solicitation cover

SEEK A NEWER WORLD has been shelved

January 14, 2010 13 comments

This is out of the blue… this morning I was notified by my editor at Pocket Books that the decision has been made not to publish the four Star Trek novels set in the new movie continuity that were slated for summer 2010.  The only explanation is this brief statement:

With last summer’s blockbuster STAR TREK movie, JJ Abrams created a new vibrant, layered version of the Star Trek universe. After careful consideration, we decided to hold off on telling new stories while JJ and his team continue to develop his vision.

My only guess for why this was done is that it was felt best to avoid publishing stories that might conflict with the next movie in the series.  Hopefully that means these books could still see the light of day in a couple of years.

For now, though, Seek a Newer World is on indefinite hold, along with the other three books in the set: Refugees by Alan Dean Foster, More Beautiful Than Death by David Mack, and The Hazard of Concealing by Greg Cox.  The shelving of Refugees is particularly disappointing, because that would’ve been Alan Dean Foster’s first fully original Trek novel, something that would’ve been really cool to see.  (Although his last several Star Trek Log volumes adapting the animated series were more original than adapted material, particularly Log Ten, in which the adapted episode made up only 3 of the book’s 16 chapters.)

What my friend and colleague Dave Mack said on his own blog about this development is worth repeating, since it goes for me too:

Before anyone writes to me looking for more information, I’ll just tell you that I don’t have any. And, although the book was written and had been copy edited, I cannot and will not share it online or via e-mail. The nature of work-for-hire is that while I am entitled to compensation and credit for my labors, the final product is not my property. In other words, even though I wrote the book, it is not mine to share, sell, or give away, so please don’t ask.

Again, though, hopefully this is just a postponement, though there’s no telling for how long.

Oy, what a week.

Tentative cover to STAR TREK: SEEK A NEWER WORLD

Simon & Schuster’s advance solicitation catalog for summer 2010 is out, and it contains preliminary covers and blurbs for the four Star Trek novels set in the new movie’s continuity, including my own Seek a Newer World.  The catalog’s technically meant for book vendors only, not for public distribution, since its contents are often very tentative.  But it always gets out on the Internet anyway.

I’m not going to bother posting the catalog’s blurb, which is far from accurate and far from the final version of the blurb.  But here’s the low-res black-and-white rendering of the preliminary cover art:

Seek a Newer World solicitation cover

Not bad, and it’s along the lines I expected — using photos of the movie cast and ship to make the connection to the movie clear.  It’s a fairly generic image, but that’s understandable.  This early in the game, the most important thing to sell is the fact that this is a new series tied into the movie, as distinct from the other books in the traditional (“Prime”) Trek continuity.

Besides, generic or not, it works.  I like how it almost comes off as a shot of Kirk and Spock on the bridge, even though it’s clearly put together from different images.  And the image has more relevance to the story inside than you might expect.  The choice of characters is fitting, since the tale focuses heavily on Kirk, Spock, and their developing relationship in the wake of the film.  And the bridge setting on the cover dovetails nicely into the opening scene of the novel.  Indeed, this image could almost represent a particular moment in that scene, if they were “standing” on the other side of the bridge.  Moreover, I think there are reasons why a focus on the bridge — and command chair — of the Enterprise is symbolically relevant to the novel.

More on all four covers and the catalogue can be found here:

http://www.trekbbs.com/showthread.php?t=111934

And of course the book is available for preorder at Amazon.com and elsewhere.

The paradox of STAR TREK in movies

December 9, 2009 5 comments

Star Trek has had a problem when it comes to motion pictures.  On the one hand, a movie is supposed to be a big story — not just the episode of the week, but a transformative event in the characters’ lives.  Particularly if a movie is spun off from a TV franchise, it’s supposed to be a story too big to be contained on the small screen.  Yet on the other hand, people watch a movie series like ST because they were fans of the status quo that existed on the small screen — or at least the studio executives believe that to be the case.  So you have a tension between the pressure for change and the pressure for stability.

Consider the results.  In ST:TMP, we gained two new characters, Decker and Ilia, who were both gone by the end of the film.  In The Wrath of Khan, Kirk was an admiral, Chekov was first officer of another ship, Spock died, Kirk gained a son, and a new character, Saavik, was added to the ensemble.  In The Search for Spock, the Enterprise was destroyed.  But every one of these changes was unmade within at most two movies.  By the end of The Voyage Home, the same old crew was back in the same posts aboard the same ship (or a close facsimile thereof), the new characters were killed off or unceremoniously written out, and nothing else changed until The Undiscovered Country, which was the final film in the series.

In fact, when Saavik was introduced, there was serious thought being given to phasing out the original cast and gradually replacing them with a new, younger crew that would carry future movies.  Instead, it was systematically the new, younger characters who got written out while the old cast continued perpetually in their old roles.

Then look at The Next Generation in films.  Nothing much really changes here from the series, aside from the Enterprise-D being replaced with the E and Geordi finally getting prosthetic eyeballs — essentially cosmetic alterations.  But there is one major, radical change to one character in Generations: Data installs Dr. Soong’s emotion chip and must deal with a profound, irreversible change to his entire existence.  Or so we were led to believe.  In First Contact, he’d learned to shut down his emotions when they became inconvenient, an easy way out of the life-altering challenge GEN tried to set up for him.  In Insurrection, there was a passing reference to Data not taking the emotion chip with him, contradicting Generations‘ statement that it was permanently fused to his neural net.  And in Nemesis, it was as though the emotion chip had never existed at all.  Data grew less in the last three movies than he had in seven years on television; in fact, he grew backward.

And again, it isn’t until the final film in the series that the characters go through any real change — Riker and Troi marry, Riker finally accepts a captaincy, and Data dies.   And perhaps the reason that last fact left so many viewers cold is that it wasn’t really the culmination of anything; Data had spent the last three movies being systematically deconstructed as a character, reverted to his earliest form.  There was nowhere left for him to go anyway, once he’d been deliberately stuck into a rut.

All in all, the only serious character change that came early in a Trek movie series and really stuck throughout all that followed was Spock’s emotional epiphany in ST:TMP.  Everything else was reversed; even Chekov’s move to security chief was abandoned in later films that plugged him back into the navigator’s post, trapping him in nostagic career limbo along with everyone else.  But Spock’s reconciliation of logic and emotion endured — even surviving his death and rebirth (though he sort of went through a quick relearning process in The Voyage Home).  Arguably it’s even survived into the new movie universe; not only is Spock Prime still the same serene, emotionally balanced character he’s been since the end of TMP, but his younger alternate-timeline counterpart has achieved a similar synthesis of his human and Vulcan heritage by the end of the film.

I wonder what the future holds in store for the new movie series.  Since the Abramsverse is a new reality, all bets are off; the characters and situations don’t have to be bound by what came before.  The fate of Vulcan was a bald assertion of that fact.  But how will that freedom fare against the audience’s — or the executives’ — desire for nostalgia?  For what it’s worth, J. J. Abrams’ TV shows have featured lots of changes in the characters’ status and relationships over time.  But with Star Trek movies, will there be more resistance to tampering with the familiar formula?  Will any major character change the filmmakers attempt in one film be negated in the sequels, sacrificed to the status quo?

I hope not.  It would be nice to see these iconic characters grow and progress in ways that their original selves ultimately weren’t able to.  And it would be nice for a movie series to live up to the promise of telling truly important stories with lasting consequences.

(Inspired by a comment by captcalhoun in a TrekBBS thread.)

So what are the “written worlds?”

November 29, 2009 3 comments

Basically, the title of this journal is meant to refer to the various universes of my written fiction.  So far there aren’t too many of those that have actually seen print, but I’m hoping that number will increase over time.  Let’s start with the licensed universes, since they’re what I’m currently most known for:

  • Star Trek. Pretty much self-explanatory.  But one could say it actually constitutes multiple “worlds.”  Not only have I written fiction for many of the series set in Pocket’s main book continuity — The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Titan, SCE/Corps of Engineers — but I’ve also written in three alternate Trek timelines: one of the Myriad Universes (VGR: Places of Exile, an alternate-history short novel), the Mirror Universe (“Empathy” in Mirror Universe: Shards and Shadows), and now the Abramsverse (Seek a Newer World).  So technically that’s several realities right there.
  • Marvel Comics. Only two entries here, X-Men: Watchers on the Walls and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder.  Strictly speaking, these books could be counted as two separate universes.  WotW is intentionally in a continuity slightly different from the comics canon, since it was the only way to get the mix of characters I wanted and avoid certain story complications from the comics (the mandate was to tell stories that worked as standalones, like movies).  But DiT is as entirely faithful as I could make it to the Spidey comics continuity as it existed when the book was written (though that continuity has now been rendered moot in the comics).  There’s actually a passing allusion to WotW in DiT, though, so that complicates the delineation of universes.  DiT is also assumed to be in the same continuity as the prior two Marvel Spidey novels (see previous post), and contains passing allusions to both.

So far, that’s it for licensed universes.  Now on to my original written worlds:

  • The Default CLB-verse. Okay, I don’t have a good name for this yet.  That’s because there’s no single thing unifying it.  It’s just the continuity in which I’ve always chosen to set most of my original fiction, including the first two novelettes I sold to Analog: “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” and “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele.”  I have a couple of stories currently on the market that are also in this universe, and if I sell an original novel anytime soon, it will be as well.  Over the years, I’ve thought of this continuity by various different names.  The first was “Future Prime,” which had various meanings: it was the primary future in which I wrote, it was an optimistic future, and it was also “prime” in the sense that x and x’ (x-prime) are alternate values of a single variable; I wanted it to be plausible enough that it could count as a valid alternative to the real future.  Look, I was younger then.  Subsequently it’s been through various names that would only be meaningful if I’d gotten more of my fiction published by now, like Geminga Universe and Bardic Universe.  But for now let’s just call it the Default-verse (a term I stumbled upon while writing this post).  There are times when I’m tempted to split this continuity into two separate universes, since in recent years it’s kind of coalesced around two rather different series ideas, one set in the colonial age of the Solar System, the other a sweeping warp-era space opera with plenty of aliens.  Splitting them might allow each one to have its own distinct “branding.”   But I suppose different series can still have that even if they’re in the same overall reality, like Asimov’s Robot and Foundation sequences (before he merged them).  Although it’s a moot point unless I get them published.
  • The Hub. This is the universe of my upcoming Analog story “The Hub of the Matter.”  I’m hoping to do a series of stories revolving (pun intended) around the Hub.  This is a humorous universe, but a credibly constructed one.  That is, the world itself is relatively believable, even hard-SF, but the focus is on humorous characters and situations within it.   Unlike the Default-verse, this universe has a single strong core idea, the Hub, from which everything else springs.  Not sure how much more I can say now, but Analog‘s January/February issue is now out, so the March issue containing THotM should be out in just a couple more months and I’ll have plenty to say then.
  • To Be Announced. I can’t talk yet about my most recent sale, but it’s in a universe all its own.  It was written to fit a particular set of guidelines, and though I would’ve liked to put it in the Default-verse, it didn’t quite fit.  No telling if I’ll ever do more with this universe, but it’s always struck me as a waste to create a whole reality and only do one story in it.  Which is why I have a Default-verse.

Beyond that, I have ideas for several other universes I hope to do something with someday.  Which is kind of my problem; I’ve generally been better at worldbuilding, creating environments, than at coming up with specific stories within them.  Perhaps it’s telling that, after years of failing to make a third sale in the Default-verse, I’ve sold two stories set in new universes just over six months apart.  Maybe the Default-verse is too weighed down by worldbuilding baggage and I should focus more on fresher, more streamlined worlds.

Or maybe it’s just that, after years of gaining experience writing licensed fiction, I’m simply a better writer now and have a better chance of writing publishable work in whatever universe.

We’ll see.  I’m just starting in on a new story set in the Default-verse.  It’s actually a prequel to the unsold spec novel set in the colonial Solar System.  I figure I might have a better chance of selling that one if I create some interest in the main character first.

(And please, if anyone is thinking of updating my Wikipedia entry or anything like that, please, please don’t treat “Default-verse” as anything like an official name for that continuity.  For one thing, it’s silly and ugly, and for another, it’s really pretty much hypothetical.  Most of the original fiction I’ve written has been set there, but only 50% of what I’ve sold — exactly two stories — goes there.  Hopefully over the years to come I’ll sell enough fiction in that universe that a good name will become evident.)

And I suppose that there’s another written world I could count:

  • The Real World. Or at least my interpretation of it.  I majored in world history in my second college career, and many of my papers are available on the History Papers section of my website.  So I guess you could say this world counts as part of my body of written work.  And of course I’ll be discussing various aspects of real life here on my blog.  (Yeah, I don’t care for “blog,” but “journal” sounds a bit pretentious.)

First Details on Abramsverse Novels (TrekMovie) (UPDATE: Link fixed)

November 29, 2009 8 comments

From TrekMovie.com, a brief item about the descriptions for the four Abramsverse Star Trek novels that are now up on Amazon.com:

http://trekmovie.com/2009/11/29/first-details-on-novels-set-in-new-movie-universe-star-trek-online-novel-tie-in-announced/

The summary for Seek a Newer World reads:

Enterprise under attack escapes and discovers an entire civilization also hiding as is the ship. Kirk decides to find out what are they hiding from.

Amazon’s description is about as accurate as it is grammatical.  Let’s say it’s in the ballpark.  But at this point, with the book still over half a year away, it’s too early for any better information to become available.  Including here, alas.

What can I tell you about SaNW?  Well, it was originally going to be the first original Abramsverse novel; indeed, when I was hired, it was the only one being planned, kind of a way of testing the waters.  So I approached it as pretty much a direct followup to the movie.  But Alan Dean Foster’s novelization did so well that Pocket decided to do more, and they wisely decided to lead off with a novel by Mr. Foster himself, whose name is bound to sell more copies than mine would.  (Though that’s good for me, since more bookstore orders for the book preceding mine means more orders for mine.  I’ll probably sell more copies in Mr. Foster’s wake than I would’ve on my own.  I’m also looking forward to Refugees because it will be the first full-length original Star Trek novel Mr. Foster’s ever written.)

I’m not sure how well SaNW would work as a chronological followup to Refugees, but that’s not really an issue, since the books are all standalones.  There will probably be no reason the books can’t take place in any order.  Mine doesn’t strictly have to come chronologically first, but I wrote it assuming it would be, so… well.  I haven’t read the others yet, so I guess I’ll find out along with the rest of you.

Anyway.  The mandate for these novels is to tell entertaining, self-contained adventures that are distinctly part of the Abrams film continuity.  These aren’t ordinary TOS stories with Pine and Quinto slapped on the cover.  These tales are designed to follow the 2009 movie’s lead, to portray the characters and the world in the same way, to capture the same style and attitude and energy as the film.  SaNW is more action-packed than most of my prior work.  The characters are younger, more inexperienced, still getting to know each other and their starship.  The descriptions of the Enterprise match the movie: the bridge has a clear viewport in front, there’s an airlock as well as a turbolift on the bridge, the corridors are gleaming cylinders, the engine room is more industrial and brewery-like, the ship is huge and has a crew of over a thousand.  Kirk is cocky and arrogant, and his lightning-fast promotion to captain hasn’t helped matters.  Spock and Uhura are an item.  Keenser is climbing all over things in engineering.  And most importantly, the characters are still dealing with the emotional fallout of the film’s events.

But it’s still a CLB-style science fiction novel, with plenty of worldbuilding and exotic vistas and exotic aliens and science that’s more or less grounded in real concepts and the occasional bad pun.  I hope it will appeal to my existing fans as much as it does to the new readers who pick up the Abramsverse novels.

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