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

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Old November 28 2014, 03:45 PM   #1
Nathan
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Trek Books without the Trek feel

I've read most of the Star Trek Books over the last 30 years and was going through some older books and thought either, "this was kick @$$" or "this was only so-so" to "this ain't even toilet paper worthy!!!"

I think some of the books it is almost as if the author had his/her own idea about a story, but the ideas won over the Trek Publishers so the author re-formatted the main characters in his/her mind and made them Kirk, Spock etc.

Guess what I am trying to say is the book just has slapped on the Trek banner and used the Trek-speak (shuttecraft, photo torpedos, phasers) instead of non-trek words like personell carrier, ion beam, and lasers --for example).

When I read the book the character doesn't even seem like the Kirk or Spock, but the author uses their name to get there story across.

I suppose authors have to do that, but some I think do it POORLY on making the jump from what their own story to transpose (for lack of a better word) it to the Trek Universe.

Just wondering if anyone else felt the same. I suppose most do as there are so many books now, and just by the law of averages, there has got to be a bunch of trek books that sucked over the 30+ year timespan.

The DS9 hardcover, "Warped", comes to mind where I read it and thought, "Who the hell are these characters?"
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Old November 28 2014, 05:53 PM   #2
TheUsualSuspect
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Re: Trek Books without the Trek feel

I think bad Trek books can be bad for many reasons. Certainly some are bad because the author doesn't get the characters right, but, off the top of my head, I can't think of any where it felt like the book had been written to feature other characters, but just "retooled" as a Trek book by changing names and terms.

Many of the old Bantam books featured established SF authors writing Trek, with mixed results. Spock, Messiah! is generally thought of as a book that really didn't get the characters or the Trek ethos right. On the other hand, Planet of Judgment is often seen as a strong story where Haldeman put his own unique stamp on the series. Sure, many of the details don't fit with what we saw in TOS, but that didn't ruin the story. In both the Bantam books and many of the earlier Pocket books authors had a lot of freedom to give their own interpretation of Star Trek.

It's also clear, if you spend much time on this site, that there's a wide range of opinions about individual novels. Everyone that some people may hate usually also has a group of people who find something to love in it. IDIC.
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Old November 28 2014, 09:29 PM   #3
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Re: Trek Books without the Trek feel

To continue my thoughts, since I got interrupted earlier before I finished (although I see another thread has been started by the OP, so I'm not sure which one may take off).

Some books, especially some of the Bantam and early Pocket books, were by authors who started in fan fiction and then made pro sales. Some of these have been criticized for being too much like bad fan fiction. The books by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath, and Death's Angel by Kathleen Sky are examples of this.

Other books are criticized for simply being poorly written, but, again, standards of what constitutes good writing, and levels of expectation for Trek fiction vary from reader to reader.

We also have had some books that were written in styles that varied greatly from the straight-forward prose, dialogue, and exposition style most commonly used for Trek novels.

The final big factor that has affected Trek novels, particularly the early TNG, DS9 and Voyager novels, is that some were written when the TV shows were still in very early stages, before the author had a chance to really get to know the characters and the kinds of story the series was going to tell. For instance, I believe that with both DS9 and Voyager the initial novel or two was written before any episodes of the series had even aired. So it's hardly surprising if those early works seem different from the series as it was eventually established.

This probably isn't really answering your question very directly, but it does seem to me that it's better to recognize that there's many reasons a Trek novel might "suck" other than that it feels like it wasn't originally intended to be a Star Trek story at all.
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Old November 28 2014, 09:45 PM   #4
Christopher
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Re: Trek Books without the Trek feel

TheUsualSuspect wrote: View Post
The final big factor that has affected Trek novels, particularly the early TNG, DS9 and Voyager novels, is that some were written when the TV shows were still in very early stages, before the author had a chance to really get to know the characters and the kinds of story the series was going to tell. For instance, I believe that with both DS9 and Voyager the initial novel or two was written before any episodes of the series had even aired. So it's hardly surprising if those early works seem different from the series as it was eventually established.
More like the first half-dozen novels in each of those series, since novels need so much lead time. Given that, though, it's surprising how well The Siege (the first original DS9 novel) captured the feel of the first season, even if a couple of its details didn't mesh with later seasons (Odo meeting another shapeshifter, the Rio Grande being destroyed).
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Old November 28 2014, 10:22 PM   #5
Greg Cox
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Re: Trek Books without the Trek feel

I can confirm that I started working on my DS9 and VOYAGER novels before the show ever aired, working from the early show bibles and the scripts for the pilot episodes. Thankfully, the shows debuted while I was writing the books, so I was able to see various episodes of each series before I turned in the final manuscripts.

And, personally, I've never converted an original SF story into a Trek project, although I have been known to turn a VOYAGER proposal into a TNG novel, if necessary.
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Old November 29 2014, 12:22 AM   #6
Christopher
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Re: Trek Books without the Trek feel

I converted an unsold Strange New Worlds submission (a Voyager story) into the first half of Orion's Hounds and an unsold original spec novel into Over a Torrent Sea. So both my Titan novels were repurposed.
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Old November 29 2014, 12:52 AM   #7
TheUsualSuspect
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Re: Trek Books without the Trek feel

Christopher wrote: View Post
I converted an unsold Strange New Worlds submission (a Voyager story) into the first half of Orion's Hounds and an unsold original spec novel into Over a Torrent Sea. So both my Titan novels were repurposed.
But Over a Torrent Sea (I haven't read Orion's Hounds reads as though it were completely rewritten as a Titan novel and a followup to Destiny. The OP seemed to be describing a situation where an author took a completed work and just "changed the labels," so to speak, to "Kirk," "Spock," "phaser," "Enterprise," and so forth.
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Old November 29 2014, 03:15 AM   #8
Greg Cox
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Re: Trek Books without the Trek feel

It actually works the other way, too. Back when I was reading slush for Tor Books, I would occasionally encounter a submission that was obviously Trek fanfic with the serial numbers filed off:

"The Klargon battle cruiser activated its stealthing field . . . ."
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Old November 29 2014, 03:28 AM   #9
borgboy
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Re: Trek Books without the Trek feel

I enjoyed Price of the Phoenix a lot, but it's tone was definitely a little off for Trek, particularly the strong slash subtext.
I have to admit that I enjoyed that aspect of the book a lot anyways though. As a gay man who's often been frustrated in the past with Trek's refusal to have open LGBT characters, it was refreshing to have pretty obvious same sex love expressed between lead characters. Giving me a feel of inclusion in that early book, as well as strong characterization of the female Romulan Commander, made for a great read, even if some of what I enjoyed about the book wasn't really in line with their established personalities.
Another odd quality in Marshak and Culbreath's writing is a strong emphesis on Vulcan and Romulan superiority and Kirk's relative frailty. Kirk is a bit of a damsel in their works, obviously as part of the romantic subtext.
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Old November 29 2014, 04:43 AM   #10
Etoile
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Re: Trek Books without the Trek feel

TheUsualSuspect wrote: View Post
The OP seemed to be describing a situation where an author took a completed work and just "changed the labels," so to speak, to "Kirk," "Spock," "phaser," "Enterprise," and so forth.
I've seen this in Doctor Who novels, too. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. If the author does an extensive refashioning like CLB did, you get something that works. If they're literally just slapping the words in there, it's going to jar the reader, and frankly that feels a little insulting. We know these characters, too, and we know when something is off.
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Old November 29 2014, 05:25 AM   #11
Christopher
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Re: Trek Books without the Trek feel

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
It actually works the other way, too. Back when I was reading slush for Tor Books, I would occasionally encounter a submission that was obviously Trek fanfic with the serial numbers filed off:

"The Klargon battle cruiser activated its stealthing field . . . ."
I suspect that's far more common than the reverse. Frankly, Star Trek is a type of space opera that's still rooted in pulp-era and '50s/'60s conventions in a lot of ways. I doubt you'd find much original SF written today that would bear much resemblance to a Star Trek type of story. There's no way you could take something like, say, Banks's Culture or Baxter's Xeelee Sequence or Reynolds's Revelation Space universe or Vinge's Zones of Thought and convert it into anything remotely resembling a Trek story. Really, these days you'd probably never find an editor who was interested in pulbishing an original space opera that reminded them of Star Trek, except as a parody like Redshirts or Willful Child. Which is why modern space opera is so different. The genre was considered stale and cliched for a while, and it didn't resurge until authors started bringing whole new ideas and approaches to it.

Then again, while it's unlikely you could just change the names and terminology to turn an original story into a Trek story, as some are suggesting, there do seem to have been some Trek novels that reflected their authors' particular storytelling sensibilities and interests, sometimes more than they resembled Trek stories. K.W. Jeter's Warped had the kind of Phildickian reality-bending that one would expect in Jeter's own fiction but didn't really fit the Trek milieu. Robert Sheckley's The Laertian Gamble was a very Sheckleyesque absurdist piece but not a good fit to DS9's style. Even well-received books like Diane Duane's draw on a lot of the same ideas as her original fiction -- Dark Mirror in particular is an example, since Hwiii the dolphin comes from a culture that uses a ritual from Duane's Deep Wizardry, and the portrayal of the Mirror Universe as intrinsically more evil is reminiscent of the differing "ethical constants" from her later novel Stealing the Elf-King's Roses.
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Old November 29 2014, 05:34 AM   #12
Greg Cox
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Re: Trek Books without the Trek feel

One more example: S.P. Somtow's Do Comets Dream? is a reworking of a story he sold to Amazing Stories magazine several years earlier, "The Comet that Cried for its Mother."

(By coincidence, I had a story in the same issue.)

And, looking beyond books, the TNG episode "Tin Man" was a reworking of an earlier, non-Trek short story by the same authors.
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Old November 29 2014, 05:50 AM   #13
Christopher
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Re: Trek Books without the Trek feel

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
And, looking beyond books, the TNG episode "Tin Man" was a reworking of an earlier, non-Trek short story by the same authors.
I know Tin Woodman was a novel (that I've read); I forget whether it was originally a short-form work before that.

Anyway, Tin Woodman was reworked drastically to become a TNG episode. Characters were changed and merged (the name Tam Elbrun was originally used for a totally different character in the book) and events were changed. Basically it was a new TNG story that followed the basic structure and ideas of the original work but was shaped to fit TNG. By the same token, TNG: "Where No One Has Gone Before" was adapted from Diane Duane's TOS novel The Wounded Sky, but even Duane and Michael Reaves's original draft was still very different from the novel.

The one case where a non-Trek story really was faithfully adapted with the names changed was the animated episode "The Slaver Weapon" by Larry Niven, based on his Known Space novella "The Soft Weapon." It retells the exact story, just trimmed a little for length. It doesn't alter any Known Space concepts to fit the Trek continuity, but just plops three Trek characters into what's otherwise the Known Space universe, complete with Kzinti and Slavers and stasis boxes. And it chooses characters that can be plugged into the existing roles in the story rather than modifying the story to work with Kirk, Spock and McCoy. The only concession it makes beyond changing the character names is having Sulu and Uhura not be married. I don't even consider it a Trek episode -- I consider it a Known Space story acted out by Trek characters.
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Old November 29 2014, 06:19 AM   #14
TheUsualSuspect
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Re: Trek Books without the Trek feel

I'd forgotten about Niven and "The Slaver Weapon." I remember reading Ringworld (without having read any of Niven's other work) and being startled when a Puppeteer character made reference to something Spock had done!
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Old November 29 2014, 03:56 PM   #15
Christopher
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Re: Trek Books without the Trek feel

TheUsualSuspect wrote: View Post
I'd forgotten about Niven and "The Slaver Weapon." I remember reading Ringworld (without having read any of Niven's other work) and being startled when a Puppeteer character made reference to something Spock had done!
Well, something he himself (Nessus) had done, and that Spock acted out in the Enterprise crew's dramatization of "The Soft Weapon."

Hey, yeah, maybe that's how to explain "The Slaver Weapon" -- it's Sulu's or Uhura's self-insertion fanfic rewrite of "The Soft Weapon," as acted out on the proto-holodeck rec room from "The Practical Joker"! (Hmm, although I doubt that rec room could've simulated a holographic Spock, and I can't imagine how they could've gotten the real one to play along.) In fact, that makes perfect sense, since nobody ever died onscreen in the rest of TAS, so since the Kzinti died onscreen, they can't have been real! Yes! It solves everything, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!
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