Continuing with Melissa Davis's questions...
Question 3: In discussions regarding the “Janeway decision,” many fans (including some of your fellow PB writers) have said that using the tried and true Star Trek staple plot devices would “cheapen” the ongoing story. They say that bringing Janeway back from the dead (although she is actually with the Q), demoting her from admiral to captain so that she can return to Voyager’s bridge, or returning her from the Q continuum has “all been done before” and therefore would in some way take away from your work in “Full Circle” and “Unworthy.” Do you agree with this assessment? And, in a broader sense, do you believe that Trek novels should focus on “real life lessons,” on entertaining the reader, or on a nice balance of both?
I think it's a fair point to suggest that death should not be taken lightly in any universe of stories, including Trek. Because science fiction in particular offers so many possible ways to avoid or undo it, it has become expected that characters who die don't stay dead forever. So death becomes a cheap story gimmick rather than something anyone should take too seriously.
How much that affects the audience's enjoyment of these stories is completely subjective. Most people don't tune in each week to a series expecting to see any of the main characters die at the end. Willing suspension of disbelief aside, we live in a world where most people who watch TV understand that the actors who perform their roles are under contract and when there are contract issues that might result in imminent character death, it's usually reported long before an episode featuring such a thing can hapen so there's this odd thing taking you out of the story when you know it really wasn't about the story but about a real world thing that now has results in a story.
So, no matter how dire circumstances become in any given story you're just looking for the solution that is going to fix it because on some level you know they have to fix it, otherwise there's no episode the following week. And honestly, for a lot of people, that is the fun. They don't want radical changes because they like the show the way it is and they get their enjoyment out of just how cool the solution is, not whether or not there will be a solution.
But I'll never get my first experience of watching Star Trek II, Wrath of Khan out of my head. It truly was a defining moment for me as a consumer of stories. I was twelve. I'd seen all of the Original Series by that point, and the first movie and loved Spock like everyone else. And even when Kirk was standing there in engineering and Spock was on the other side of that wall I was screaming inside that he just couldn't be dying. And then he was dead. And I was completely destroyed. I was too young to understand that Nimoy had requested this, or that the next movie could bring him back. I seriously believed that was it. I wasn't angry at the people who made the movie for killing Spock. I was just blown away that it could happen, and did, right before my eyes. It made me feel part of the story in a way nothing else I'd ever seen before ever had. It told me how much I actually cared about the characters. Yes, I was sad, but I was also amazed and impressed that such a huge thing could happen and I was there to see it. What twelve year old me couldn't have said then, but I understand now, was that I was impressed by the bravery of the idea. That was a big storytelling risk to take, and because it moved me so, I loved it.
And then Star Trek III came along and immediately took it back and I couldn't have been less interested. Nothing involving Spock for me, to this day, has ever had the same impact, or seemed quite as brave. I get why the did it. I get what it does to movie sales and the ongoing stories and all that to have Spock gone. But part of me was the littlest bit pissed. I mean, why did they put me through all of that if they didn't mean it? If they were just going to take it back in the next movie? I felt played and as an audience member, I didn't like it.
So, I guess, more than the "it has all been done before" thing, I feel like, for me, if I'm the one telling a story about a character dying...we're going to tell that story. I can't treat it as a game or as a gimmick for the readers. It's got to be what Star Trek II was for me...utterly mind blowing I can't believe they just did that and now what the hell am I going to do...kind of thing. Not just..oh, well, she'll be back eventually..what shall we watch in the meantime?
And if she were to be brought back, it also has to be...utterly mind blowing I can't believe they're just did that and now what the hell is going to happen next. There has to be an in story reason that is so compelling that things just can't happen any other way. This is what I mean by the story demanding Janeway's return. We can snap Q's fingers and she's back. But what's the point of that? Yes, we have Janeway back, but we've lost the respect of everyone who has been along for the ride, unless that compelling story reason satisfies the readers that we weren't just jerking people's chains the whole time.
The fact of bringing her back cheapens nothing. And adds nothing. It's all about the execution. The fact that it's all been done before just makes the execution issue infinitely more complicated. But hard can be good. Just because it's hard, that's also not a reason not to do it.
As to entertaining vs. lessons...I don't know. I tend to agree with Aaron Sorkin on this one...as said through his character Tabitha Fortis (I think that was her name) in the episode of West Wing, "The U.S. Poet Laureate"..."My job..is to hold your attention for as long as I've asked for it. If we stumble into truth, we got lucky." So first, I guess we entertain. For me the best lessons in Trek don't really involve any one character. They're more how issues we are struggling with as humanity are presented allegorically or symbolically in the stories and then possible resolutions are brought forth. Janeway dying certainly wasn't meant to teach anyone a lesson. But showing how people who loved her deal with death...I hope there are lessons there. I know that what little I know of death and what comes after is there on the page and if anyone can make use of it in their own lives...well I guess I got lucky.