Wednesday, March 5, 2014

They've Fallen and They Can't Get Up

During the heyday of Star Trek novel publication, Pocket Books put more than a hundred books into print telling stories from the original 1960s series as well as later spinoffs The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Voyager and Enterprise novels started showing up as the franchise glutted the market and also some non-broadcast series like Peter David's New Frontier books.

One characteristic of most of the novels during the saturation period was how little attention they paid to each other's continuity. Paramount Studios gave some strict general guidelines, but overall very few characters or plots from one novel would show up in another unless they were written by the same author or by authors who knew each other. The retrenching of the different series during the 2000s revised this policy and organized the books into a similar continuity, almost like a gigantic shared-universe novel by several different authors. The Next Generation especially was reined in, with the galaxy's politics determined by the overwrought, overwritten, and not over soon enough Destiny trilogy by David Mack. Mack gave the origin of the cybernetic Borg, as well as offering a welcome solution to remove them from the Star Trek universe. Without his deus ex (literal) machina twist at the end of the triad, the unstoppable villains would clearly have assimilated everything in time. Doing something necessary does not mean doing it well, and Mack's 2008 trilogy demonstrates that in lingering, leaden detail.

The success or failure of this new idea is in the eyes of the readers; you can guess my view. Part of the problem is that the TNG series is seriously a product of its time, a 1980s-1990s version of utopia as imagined by Gene Roddenberry at his least imaginative. It had some great episodes and moments, such as "The Best of Both Worlds" two-part episode or the First Contact movie. But it's just not that interesting a place.

The Titan series follows now-Captain William Riker in his long-delayed first command of the exploratory vessel U.S.S. Titan, and exhibits the problems with the approach. Of the TNG main crew, only Riker and his wife Deanna Troi are around, joined by Voyager's Tuvok. Minor characters from books and different television episodes appear, which is probably of little interest to those beyond the core fandom unless the books are well-written enough to bring those people to life.

Few of them are, and Michael Martin's Fallen Gods is not among them. It relies far too heavily on its own series history to help keep the characters straight, including the apostrophe-laden list of new aliens who make up the "most biologically varied and culturally diverse crew in Starfleet history." It also relies on events from Martin's previous Trek novel, Seize the Fire, to a story-stunting degree and spends too much of its time on a story arc it shares with several other novels that describes the fertility crisis of the relatively heretofore minor (in series terms) Federation race of Andorians.

Fallen Gods' own main plot, involving the remnants of a species barely surviving on a planet threatened by a pulsar's radiation, is not particularly interesting either and wraps up too neatly.

The overabundance of bad Trek novels during the 1980s and 1990s produced some serious clunkers, but I would rather subject myself again to the worst of them (Kathleen Sky's Vulcan and Death's Angel, Margaret Wander Bonnano's Dwellers in the Crucible, A.C. Crispin's Yesterday's Son and just about anything from Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath lurch dully to mind) again because as badly as they may stink, they stink with the cast of characters I know, rather than a roster taken from the "also featuring" crawl at a TV episode's end.

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