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Trek Literature "...Good words. That's where ideas begin."

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Old November 14 2009, 09:29 PM   #1
William Leisner
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Small Universe Syndrome

"Small universe syndrome" was something that was mentioned in the "pet peeves" thread, but I'm interested in hearing some more detailed opinions from folks. As someone who, as a reader and a writer, enjoys the interconnections of the broader Star Trek universe, I'm curious about better understanding the objections to this kind of thing. Where is the line between, "It was cool to see X in a story again after so many years," and "Why drag X into the story instead of using a new character?"? What are some examples of well-handled and appreciated character cross-overs, and what makes them work?
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Old November 14 2009, 09:40 PM   #2
Thrawn
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Re: Small Universe Syndrome

Good: Tuvok being on Titan. Nogura being in Open Secrets.

Bad: Apparently, Dax met not only McCoy, but Christopher Pike, Sarek's dad, the Parasites, and was also working on the Excelsior. For a random character from a reclusive world, this is just a little hard to believe.

As to why, it's hard to put my finger on. It's a fine line to walk between cool references and overwhelming coincidence. I think my problem with Dax was that it was several in a row (in the Lives Of Dax anthology); any one of them would have been fine.
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Old November 14 2009, 09:59 PM   #3
Defcon
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Re: Small Universe Syndrome

Thrawn wrote: View Post
It's a fine line to walk between cool references and overwhelming coincidence.
This.

And, at least in my opinion, an appearance by a known character has to make a certain sense, either by them having a specific role only they can play, or if it is pre-established that they were involved with a specific ship, region or field of work.
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Old November 14 2009, 10:06 PM   #4
Christopher
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Re: Small Universe Syndrome

Thrawn wrote: View Post
Bad: Apparently, Dax met not only McCoy, but Christopher Pike, Sarek's dad, the Parasites, and was also working on the Excelsior. For a random character from a reclusive world, this is just a little hard to believe.
What I find more implausible is that Dax never met Spock (judging from her "Trials and Tribble-ations" comment that he was more handsome in person). I mean, Curzon and Spock were Federation Ambassadors at the same time for decades. Surely they must have met at some point. (Well, maybe that was more Jadzia talking, about being face-to-face with the young Spock rather than just having the symbiont's memories of the older Spock.)

I think the keys to keeping such crossovers believable are:

1) Don't overdo it. If you have your characters meeting up with familiar characters or elements from past Trek history, include enough original characters or elements that the whole thing isn't just one big reunion. For instance, Immortal Coil would've been more plausible if only some of the collected AIs had been familiar rather than virtually all of them. In Orion's Hounds, I brought back two familiar spacegoing life forms, the "Farpoint" star-jellies and the Crystalline Entity, but I avoided having the entire cosmozoan biosphere made up of critters that one Enterprise or another had happened to run into.

2) Have a reason for it. Don't just drop in a familiar character or element for the sake of a cameo, and make it plausible that the character would be involved in the story. In The Buried Age, I initially wanted Worf to play a larger role in the novel, being involved on the mission in Part IV rather than just showing up briefly at the end, but Marco thought that was overkill given the other TNG characters I was including.

3) Don't interpret canon selectively. A story establishing a family relationship between V'Ger and the Borg doesn't make sense because the differences between the two outweigh the similarities and it's contradictory that a purely cybernetic entity that doesn't even know what humanoids are would be spawned from a cyborg race that assimilates humanoids the way Morn downs drinks. And Trelane as a Q doesn't make sense because he was nowhere near as powerful and needed a machine to do his tricks. Drawing a connection based on one similarity between two things is a bad idea if it requires ignoring canonically established differences or inconsistencies between them.
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Old November 14 2009, 10:09 PM   #5
Agenda
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Re: Small Universe Syndrome

I once read this book on Khan. A series of books. They were great. But it seemed like every little Star Trek character from the Eugenic War era had a role in it. It got pretty...distracting after a while.
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Old November 14 2009, 10:39 PM   #6
wew
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Re: Small Universe Syndrome

Well if you consider Starfleet comparable to modern militaries, the small world concept isn't really that far fetched. I had at least three instances of meeting individuals I knew, but didn't actually expect to meet.

I met two different students from my high school in the military, even though none of graduated in the same year, and while in California, I had left the army and joined the air force, where one day while at language school, my former army Executive Office saw me during a break and asked how I was doing. Which was odd, he was still in the Army in the Field Artillery, which I had left about two years earlier.

I'd says similiar opportunties would occur in Starfleet.
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Old November 14 2009, 11:40 PM   #7
Greg Cox
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Re: Small Universe Syndrome

Beyond Antares wrote: View Post
I once read this book on Khan. A series of books. They were great. But it seemed like every little Star Trek character from the Eugenic War era had a role in it. It got pretty...distracting after a while.

Mea culpa. What can I say? Some fans love that kind of thing. It drives other readers nuts. I'm basically resigned to the fact that it's going to annoy as many readers as it delights.

My rationalization was that, since those books weren't set in the future and didn't really feature the crew of the Enterprise, I wanted to throw in as many STAR TREK elements as possible, to justify the fact that it said STAR TREK on the cover!
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Old November 14 2009, 11:42 PM   #8
TerriO
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Re: Small Universe Syndrome

One thing I've always used as a consideration is the goal of the characters in question. No matter how far apart two characters may seem, if they've got similar goals in the story, their paths are going to cross. If two characters, for instance, are working for Vulcan/Andorian peace in the ENT era, they're probably going to be going to the same destinations and meeting with the same group of people. As long as the origin of those goals is believable and in character, it's got a better chance of working.

However, that said, just because you can do something like that doesn't automatically mean you should. There is a point where it stretches credulity. Truth may be stranger than fiction, but we expect fiction to make sense. Truth doesn't have that requirement. I suspect that is a major criterion as well.
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Old November 15 2009, 02:00 AM   #9
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Re: Small Universe Syndrome

Christopher wrote: View Post
And Trelane as a Q doesn't make sense because he was nowhere near as powerful and needed a machine to do his tricks.
How about if Trelane is a child Q and Q from TNG is an adolescent or adult Q?
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Old November 15 2009, 02:29 AM   #10
Daneel
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Re: Small Universe Syndrome

This was one of my problems with the Countdown comic: having four different TNG characters show up stretched believability too much, IMO, especially since they were all coming from different places.

Data as the captain of the Enterprise I could kind of buy, although I still have a bit of an issue with the idea that the B-4 now has all of Data's memories and essentially is Data. Same with Worf being a commander of a Klingon fleet; given his relationship with Chancellor Martok, it doesn't seem too unlikely.

However, I found Picard being the ambassador to Vulcan a little hard to swallow. I could see him becoming an ambassador, but to Vulcan? That doesn't seem like a terribly important position, especially for someone of Picard's career and abilities -- but it did put him in the convenient position of being able to help Spock and Nero.

And Geordi being the designer of the Jellyfish? Pretty much a pointless cameo that adds nothing to the story. Also, it doesn't really fit with what we're told in the movie (that the Jellyfish was commissioned by the Vulcan Science Academy -- yeah, if you use your imagination you can might be able to explain it away, but it's still a little awkward).

Ultimately, the TNG character appearances just felt overly coincidental to me. One or two would have been fine, but Countdown overdid it. So when it comes to this sort of thing, I think "everything in moderation" would be a good motto to follow -- if there's too much of it, then you arguably end up with what they call "fanwank", and strain believability.

That's what I think, anyway.
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Old November 15 2009, 02:48 AM   #11
Christopher
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Re: Small Universe Syndrome

Cuhl wrote: View Post
How about if Trelane is a child Q and Q from TNG is an adolescent or adult Q?
Well, we now know thanks to VGR: "The Q and the Gray" that the Q had never procreated before (unless you count the two Qs who became human and gave birth to Amanda Rogers), so that explanation can't work. Before then, it couldn't be ruled out, but I still consider it to be a textbook example of why Small Universe Syndrome is a problem. Think about it. The universe is 13.7 billion years old; humanity is about 40,000 years old. So the number of really, really ancient species in the galaxy must be far, far greater than the number of species that are rough contemporaries of humanity. Given the Trek conceit that old, advanced species eventually evolve into superbeings of one sort or another, that means the superbeings must hugely outnumber the corporeal races. So the odds that any two given superbeings happen to be related are infinitesimal.

So thinking "Well, Trelane was powerful and obnoxious and Q is powerful and obnoxious so therefore Trelane must be a Q" is kind of tantamount to meeting someone from China and assuming they must be personal friends with some other person from China you met 20 years ago. It's an immensely implausible coincidence. So even if it were possible to rationalize the connection, that wouldn't make it desirable to do so. Okay, Peter David managed to get one of his best novels out of the idea, but I still never found the idea itself to be credible.
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Old November 15 2009, 02:56 AM   #12
Nardpuncher
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Re: Small Universe Syndrome

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
Beyond Antares wrote: View Post
I once read this book on Khan. A series of books. They were great. But it seemed like every little Star Trek character from the Eugenic War era had a role in it. It got pretty...distracting after a while.

Mea culpa. What can I say? Some fans love that kind of thing. It drives other readers nuts. I'm basically resigned to the fact that it's going to annoy as many readers as it delights.

My rationalization was that, since those books weren't set in the future and didn't really feature the crew of the Enterprise, I wanted to throw in as many STAR TREK elements as possible, to justify the fact that it said STAR TREK on the cover!
You're right.
If you hadn't done it we would likely have heard complaints about it.

I loved your Eugenics War books, yet I've always wanted one of those "Infinities" type things where you could go back again and do it, but not as a secret war so it could fit into 'our' history, but do whatever you'd like.
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Old November 15 2009, 03:05 AM   #13
Jbarney
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Re: Small Universe Syndrome

The small universe problem was something several of us went back and forth on a couple of months ago with the DS9 books....especially the parasite back story from "Conspiracy" being linked to the Trill. It was a link that just didn't make much sense.
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Old November 15 2009, 05:53 AM   #14
21Spike65
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Re: Small Universe Syndrome

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
Beyond Antares wrote: View Post
I once read this book on Khan. A series of books. They were great. But it seemed like every little Star Trek character from the Eugenic War era had a role in it. It got pretty...distracting after a while.

Mea culpa. What can I say? Some fans love that kind of thing. It drives other readers nuts. I'm basically resigned to the fact that it's going to annoy as many readers as it delights.

My rationalization was that, since those books weren't set in the future and didn't really feature the crew of the Enterprise, I wanted to throw in as many STAR TREK elements as possible, to justify the fact that it said STAR TREK on the cover!
As unrealistic as all the references probably would be, in this case it made for an enjoyable read. I agree, if the books had had Seven/Lincoln and Khan/company, and no other established characters, it just wouldn't have been the same, and probably not nearly as much fun to read.

Really, the only part of those books that I found approaching "over the top" was Gary Seven appearing to Kirk at the end. But the framing story really wasn't the focus, so it didn't really detract from them for me either.
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Old November 15 2009, 03:39 PM   #15
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Re: Small Universe Syndrome

Jbarney wrote: View Post
The small universe problem was something several of us went back and forth on a couple of months ago with the DS9 books....especially the parasite back story from "Conspiracy" being linked to the Trill. It was a link that just didn't make much sense.
It makes more sense if you have read the Lives of Dax anthology.

Small Universe Syndrome stretches credulity when you see some of the TOS crew in the late 24th century. Although I enjoyed Losing the Peace (or was it A Singular Destiny?), I did not feel it right to have McCoy there. He looked about ready to pop his clogs in Encounter at Farpoint, so to have him still alive 16 years later is a bit difficult to see, but I remember checking out the ages of everyone a little while back and they would all be about 130-150 which isn't really a stretch. But it just didn't feel right to have him there.

I really enjoyed the Eugenics Wars books with all the continuity porn.
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