Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Sho, Mar 19, 2014.
Well don't I feel stupid now...... I am not a smart man......
Don't forget the Andorian starships that appeared in A Choice of Futures: the Sevaijen class U.S.S. Thejal, commanded by Thanien's cousin Trenkanshent sh'Lavan and the Kumari class U.S.S. Vinakthen, commanded by Nisverin th'Menchal
Yes, I know. I was more curious as to how big the Earth-part of Starfleet is. I mean, we know of three ships so far, but you'd guess there must be more, right?
Usually I don't care so much about things like ships and so. But I'm kinda intrigued about how Starfleet was formed, and since we know now that all founding members contributed ships and performed different functions, I'm curious as to how many ships and what classes Earth was able to supply, after the heavy losses it must have suffered after the war.
The Earth/UESPA ships are mostly involved with exploration and diplomatic missions, so they're not as prone to conducting joint operations as the Andorian defense ships would be. And of course when I have an exploration or diplomacy story to tell, I'm likely to tell it from the perspective of one of my three hero ships, Endeavour, Pioneer, and Essex (yes, I consider Shumar and his crew recurring characters). So there hasn't really been an opportunity yet to portray any other UESPA ships (besides Enterprise in the museum). But I'm sure there will be other ships mentioned as the occasion warrants.
Prepare for words, people. Lots and lots of words.
There are plot-related scenes on the Chelon homeworld and in an undisclosed location with Kirk, Grev and Not-The-Assistant-Director, but the real meat of this chapter is Federation/Rigel relations and the question of politics, so I'll focus on that.
Soval's analysis/judgement of Thoris' speech and the wisdom or logic of it from the perspective of political capital is interesting. I also like his bland internal commentary on the competitive journalism of the non-Vulcans. I think it's all convincing as a logical, Vulcan perspective on what we've just seen.
Lots of interesting points raised. As Thoris says, the Federation has thrown itself together rapidly; if anything, I think he might be understating on this one - a decade ago, most of the founding members were on the brink of war with one another, now they're best friends.
I hope no-one will mind if I get a bit bogged down in personal opinion here, and ground this next piece in my own perspectives. Personally, I really enjoyed this chapter because it deals with the nature of politics. Politics, as I see it, can be understood in two possibly non-compatible ways and that is where the first difficulties come into play for me. It can be considered the means by which people, communities and individuals organize themselves and achieve functionality, an inherent social instinct that is now extended beyond immediate clan but is fundamentally the same thing - in which case, everyone is political and all interaction is politics - or it can be considered a process removed from private human behaviour and instead be a particular type of interaction, or interaction in a particular set of contexts, that employs its own rules. Again speaking personally, the core of politics as I relate to it - and not really deciding on either of those positions - is the tribalistic worldview that most humanoids (to my knowledge...) possess. A perspective that (as I see it) is almost paradoxical in its two primary goals - to be accepted as part of the group (so to gain the security and power that comes from collective identity; strength in numbers, the relief of being un-exposed and unknowable) and to gain status within the group relative to others (affirm the individual desires or ego, get attention), so to be conformist and aggressive in equal measure. I've long maintained that a higher degree of "sociability" goes hand-in-hand with a greater degree of relational aggression. There's little doubt in my mind that most social interaction and discourse has its basis in tribalist assumptions (or tribalist behaviours have their basis in what is normal human social interaction, whatever).
Another paradox is the assignment or acceptance of responsibility (which contrary to what many claim, they do not take automatically as a necessary companion to power). One who affiliates or identifies with a grouping will defend a fellow member on principle, but if they find they truly can't - that the consequences of solidarity and shared protection will be too severe - they'll employ what is almost an opposite response and throw the person in question out, severing them from the group in order to protect it. The individual is subordinated and sacrificed to group identity, with the individual used as a scapegoat to shield the group, indeed often described in terms revealing of what the true concern is: "doesn't represent us", "gives us a bad name", etc. What is often lauded as an emphasis on individual responsibility actually strikes me as the very opposite - it's all about denying the individual responsibility of seeking or keeping membership, official or unofficial, within a shared identity. So there's a fundamental conflict there, between my assumptions and those of others, it seems.
So too (he says) do people make their affiliations their identity. We don't say "my religious beliefs are Xantist" or "I'm a follower of Xantism", we say "I'm a Xantist". It's I = Xantist; we're not in a relationship, we're synonymous. We don't say "My political beliefs tend to be to the political left", for instance, we say "I'm left-wing". Okay, using linguistic convenience like that is a poor basis for an argument, I know, but it's useful, I hope, in making the point. People take their political (and ideological, philosophical, religious, etc) positions and affiliations as synonymous with - or at least permanently Joined in Trillish fashion with - their very identities. An attack on the former is taken as an attack on the latter.
I also believe that all other concerns are ultimately secondary in the tribal mindset to what - taking a position on that original question - I might choose to call "politics"; that is, to a reading of the social situation in its complexities and the desire to remain both within the conformity of the identified group and in a leading or prosperous position relative to other members. This isn't at all to say that people have no regard for a sense of consistent ethics, reason, truth, or other virtues, or that they don't try to, say, honestly represent constituents or play by principles held to be objective, merely that these will be discarded or ignored when the alternative is to truly disempower or weaken whatever groups one has affiliated or identified with (and not necessarily without regret or internal conflict). I would also propose that this is not so much a conscious decision as a simple consequence of the way most people work.
All this raises some problems, because if politics is the means by which peoples and communities arrange matters for their communal benefit then it can easily be argued that the political system must be tribalist or it isn't effective or representative, despite my rather consistent personal position that tribalism and group identification is "the" problem, and politics should be conducted without them (raising another issue of whether that's anything other than supremely arrogant, potentially despotic and even racist on my part, given that it potentially declares a majority of people inherently excluded). Whether politics is tribalism or whether political systems simply tend to employ it (sort of a reworking of my earlier dilemma of definition) is something I confess to struggling with a great deal. Is tribalism an infection to be removed from politics, or is it politics itself, synonymous? If the former, is that goal rather not the desire to better all individuals but rather to intolerantly declare great swathes of the populace unsuited to participation, implicitly if not in any sort of practice? Is it a case of "have you tried not being gay?".
So many questions, the answers I am unsure on.
A "non-political" position (one that tries to hold to the idea that the desires and drives of tribalism shouldn't be brought into play) is pretty much by default an extremist one, because it doesn't play by the usual rules, doesn't acknowledge the conventions that make the majority of people comfortable. It risks unrest, which is (in my view at least) the only crime and the only enemy in the perspective of a community, at the deepest levels, and understandably isn't something they want. Given that I think the person given to group affiliation always has a keen, quite possibly unconscious sense of how the group is reacting, and seeks to ensure they remain "safe" with its shifting tides, collectively feeling their way to a sort of consensus even as individually they try to assert themselves against others, I also question some of the fundamentals of a democratic and/or inclusive system, do I not? Because how can there be change at anything less than a glacial place under such a self-censoring system, when some might think drastic change completely necessary now? Can there be growth without dislocation, without conflict? Without forcing it? Social evolution. "What do you want?"
(This is also why so many people think as the Planetrists do; they are wary of large government and unifications because they know how strong that conformist instinct is, and fear their diversity being destroyed by the very forces that say they wish to include and preserve it. Think Eddington's comments on the Borg, etc).
I've always seen "my way" - that is, what I strive for based on how I've come to see myself - as ideally finding a balance, or inhabiting the balance, between unity and conflict by combining a strong sense of community (what I call my "natural socialist" ways) with an equally strong sense of independence (what I call my "natural libertarian" ways). There is only the drop and the ocean, and the ocean is made of drops, and all things are fluid but there is an organizing movement to it all.
Tribalist ethics are rather alien, I think. As the Bedouin say, "Me against my brother, My brothers and me against my cousins, then my cousins and me against strangers" - closing ranks against those outside and responding to an attack on one as an attack on all, while jostling for position within. And there are always circles of identity - like how European nations saw themselves as one Christian society at the same time as they were warring and feuding, and not just because all their royals were related now anyway).
To get back to the book at long last (I've no doubt lost 80% of the readership by this point ). Thoris, in his campaigning at Babel, is trying to balance what many would call "the necessities of politics" with his personal sense of what's right (what the Vulcans might say is cthia, as well as what will, in his personal ethics, be best for the Federation and what will be most responsible of him). He's trying to navigate the system while remaining true to his convictions; Soval is probing as to whether he truly understands the potential consequences or complications he'll be facing through doing so. This is a conflict that I really relate to and I like seeing brought into play here.
The young Federation is negotiating its sense of a shared identity and the degree to which its singular, unifying identity trumps, incorporates or stands uneasy in proximity with the smaller, original national and cultural identities of its member worlds. It's also easy to see why the Rigel admission debate is so relevant and so provocative. With Rigel, it strikes me that we have here an admissions process of a nature that we're likely never going to see again in Federation history. From here on, it'll be small states agreeing to become part of a bigger nation that dwarfs them, to incorporate themselves into an ever-bloating political/national juggernaut, a clearly unequal meeting. While that's technically true here, this is really more akin to two more-or-less equal alliances negotiating the possibility of their coming together. That is surely going to exacerbate the existing dilemma faced by the Federation's member populations. So the linking of "is Rigel right for the Federation and is the Federation right for Rigel?" with the Federation's sense of identity is very useful and provocative.
As Garak put it in my beloved A Stitch In Time: "the great determining factor of our becoming is relationship. Unrelated, I become unrelated. Alienated. Opposed, I become an antagonist. Unified, I become integrated. A functioning member of the whole".
T'Pol and Endeavour have arrived at Rigel; thus far, T'Pol hasn't had as much to do as she did in the first novel, and since I like how Christopher writes Vulcans (as I've said in the past), it's good to see her back in the thick of it.
More political matters, and more discussion of the intricacies of Rigel/Federation relations.
An exploration of Rigel IV now, with its feudal, technologically-stratified society, which exists so that the First Families can be as decadent as possible. I quite enjoyed the scenes of Williams sneaking around, aided by the ability of the guards to be bribed and for everyone, Families and serfs alike, to gossip more-or-less freely. A strange and endearing mix of high-stakes danger and doors left open at opportune times due to the rather ludicrous nature of IV's society (ludicrous as a reflection on them, not the writing, just to be clear). It was also rather amusing when Williams attempts to keep herself attendant to the wider good and stick to her high-stakes mission, but of course gives in to save an adolescent girl from being raped by one of the reigning dandies. And then again faces a mix of surprisingly easy windfalls and real danger, which ends with her capture. All enjoyable, if possibly a little rushed.
I wonder who Grennex are? They seem to be producing a lot of Rigelian ships, of varying classifications.
As for Rigel IV, it's a good look here at the nastier side of this highly diverse, richly populated system, and the sheer decadence and self-absorption of the First Families comes across well. (And apparently, despite everything, some of them remain just as awful even into the 2360s, in attitude if not in overt excesses. It's almost impressive just how deep an amoral groove they've dug for themselves).
Rigel IV should not be confused with Rygel XVI, though both are decadent, despotic and self-centred:
I guess they're a Rigelian shipbuilding firm. Probably one of several, given the lively capitalism of the Rigel system.
This post is sponsored by Grennex Transportation, for all your Rigel-related needs.
I see that James Bond has survived into the 22nd Century - or that his name and its associations have, at least. I'm genuinely curious as to whether he has in fact endured, or if the name Bond has simply become convenient shorthand for "spy" to the point where you don't have to be familiar with the character or franchise to understand/use it as a reference. Whether it's that, whether the series is considered classic entertainment, whether it's just a favourite of this one Earther, or whether we're on Bond Movie Gazillion by now is an interesting question.
So, Call Me Al and our other Sauria-side human have a nice scene here, one that's a counterpart of sorts to the sneaking that Williams is doing on the other side of the Federation. Once again, I like the slow-burning nature of the unfolding Sauria crisis, and it gives Trip something worthwhile to do, which is certainly welcome.
Next, we get to see the Chelons in their own environment (doubly so, given that these are the traditionalist Chelons). I liked the character of Jetanien in Vanguard (though he only really came into his own once he left the station, funnily enough - Nimbusian Jetanien is better than Vanguardian Jetanien), but I was somewhat disappointed that we learned so little about Chelons or Rigel in general. Aside from interesting revelations about secreting deadly poison when under stress and a running gag about foul-smelling food, the Chelon remained a mystery. One of the few wasted opportunities in Vanguard, I always felt. I'm glad that we're seeing the Chelon homeworld here and I'm glad that another Federation member race is being fleshed out. I thought the rainforest environment was well-described; certainly I got a good sense of what this part of Rigel III is like.
We end the chapter with one team in trouble on III, another in peril on VII, and Williams remaining in trouble on IV. You can see why the blurb calls attention to the dangers of Rigel.
Christopher, did you take some inspiration from the novelverse's depiction of the Breen when you were crafting the specifics of the Rigellians?
Not in the least. I took inspiration from the fact that the writers of TV Trek have been incredibly profligate and inconsistent in their use of the name "Rigel," applying it to numerous different and incompatible species -- the Kalar from "The Cage," the humanlike Rigelians implied by the cabaret girls in "Shore Leave" and Hengist in "Wolf in the Fold," the Vulcanoid Rigelians mentioned in "Journey to Babel," the chelonian Rigelians of ST:TMP, the tattooed Rigelians of ENT: "Demons"/"Terra Prime." My portrayal of the Rigel system would've been very different if the creators of the shows could've just made up their damn minds about what Rigelians were like and which planet they lived on.
What about the part about how the people of the United Rigel Worlds and Colonies consider themselves first Rigellian, second individual species?
Well, for whatever it's worth, I think that the version of Rigel you worked out to try to reconcile all those things turned out to be a lot more interesting and creative than another "planet of hats" would have been.
What about it? There are plenty of societies in real life that have been comprised of diverse communities who place their united identity first (or who at least tried to) -- immigrant communities in Canada; Muslims on hajj; Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jewish communities in Israel; Russian, Georgian, and Lithuanian Soviets; etc. No need to draw upon David Mack's admittedly excellent work in developing the Breen.
Though it is fair to say that canonical contradictions about the nature of the peoples being described drove both David Mack and Christopher to develop them as diverse species with a common cultural identity. So the development impetus is parallel, but it leads to radically different variations on the theme -- the Breen are all about suppressing diversity and forcing homogeny in the name of a false egalitarianism; the Rigellians are all about accepting and respecting their differences to the fullest extent possible while also building a free and egalitarian society.
Well, what choice did I have? Canonical productions have never called them anything but Rigelians, and their planets have never been called anything but "Rigel II, Rigel IV," etc. Again, I was constrained by what's on the screen. Earlier novels have coined the term "Chelon" for the TMP Rigelians, but that was it (not counting RPGs).
All this is explained in my annotations, by the way.
Actually I was thinking more along the lines of the United States. We usually think of ourselves as Americans first and whatever ethnic or cultural group we belong to second. (Even those intolerant or extremist groups that see themselves in a culture or race war with other citizens of the country still think of themselves as Americans and their opponents as non-Americans.)
That's a good point. Canon provided conflicting data points on the Breen -- they needed cold, they didn't need cold, nobody knew what they looked like despite Kira and Dukat stealing some Breen's uniforms (leading some to speculate that they vaporized when the uniforms were removed), etc. Dave found a way to incorporate all of those by making the Breen a multispecies community. But it was actually easier for me, because canon has already shown us multiple species of Rigelian, and it was simply a matter of figuring out how they coexisted.
I'm glad to see that few people save the Martian representative are taking the accusation against Archer seriously (and even the Martian is more interested in scoring points against the Federalists than condemning Archer directly). It would stretch belief if people thought Archer capable of the crime he's accused of; playing it as a complication causing further political discord is preferable to playing it as an actual threat to Archer's reputation.
Not much to say about the Rigel VII scene. Most of the interesting points regarding the Kalar were introduced earlier in the novel; little more is revealed here. It works well enough.
Continuing on to the next chapter, we have interesting revelations regarding the Chelon - a reconciliation of the old "hermaphrodite" detail from the original description of the species with the distinct genders that they seemed to have in the novels. It turns out they are hermaphrodites, and their use of permanent gender isn't linked to biology but is entirely a product of their interactions with the other Rigelians. Centuries of contact and encouragement by the more technologically advanced Zami and Jelna led to their adoption of such conceits. I enjoy these details suggestive of an involved history to the Rigel worlds.
The politics is also quite engaging here; Rigel seems a pleasingly complicated place, as it should be given its population.
The poor Malurian didn't end well. "Killed through grappling with a poisonous tortoise" isn't the most dignified of death descriptions.
This is all interesting stuff; however, I can't help but feel that it's all a little rushed. Maybe that's not the right word; I mean, it feels like each scene could have been twice as long. The Chelon politics in particular was intriguing - I could have done with more of it.
One question. Since the hermaphrodite idea originates in the original notes for the "sabre-tooth turtle" Rigelians of TMP, when it noted in the text that the chieftain was followed by two attendants I was expecting it to be revealed that they were the real power, in keeping with another claim of the original material. I don't think we were really there long enough for it to matter either way, but is the chieftain a figurehead of sorts or is s/he really in charge? Practically, it wouldn't change the nature of the scene at all, so it's hardly relevant, but I was wondering....
I didn't choose to do anything with the attendant business. After all, the culture I depicted was not the dominant one on Rigel III but a regional subculture.
You know, sometimes I'm disappointed that the modern Trek novels don't have "reference" books released alongside them in the manner of the Star Wars universe, to expand on all the interesting ideas that the novels introduce. Although KRAD's upcoming Klingon book might come close, and we did have Mack's Survival Guide, which is referenced in novels reasonably often...
I just love seeing this universe fleshed out.
The rest of chapter twelve:
I like Archer's correction of "hunch" to "logical deduction", apparently realizing that he may have offended T'Rama, or at the least irked her by speaking inaccurately. The revelation with Hemnask works quite well, with further exploration of the dysfunctional manner in which Zami Rigelians (at least) tend to work. Family as an inescapable web of responsibilities, entrapments and levers of control rather than anything sacrosanct. Too politicized. The earlier conversations with T'Rama of course become all the more interesting here - you start to understand just why the Vulcans make family matters such a private affair. Zami, I can't help but keep reminding myself, are Vulcanoid too. Vulcanoids and their passions, a common problem. Every Vulcanoid race seems initially to struggle with their tribal tendencies; irrevocably tied to kin but always concerned with control and dominance, making family paramount but almost paradoxically viewing it - and them - as political tools. Each seems to try and find a way around the issue. The Vulcans have Surakian values and veneration of cthia, as well as a careful segregation between private matters and public, the Romulans have a strict honour system and commitment to a nationalistic unity that usually trumps the clan, the Zami... aren't even trying. Or haven't found anything yet. That said, maybe many of them have - the values of Rigel at its best, and (prequel faux-spoiler alert ) the values of the Federation. Hemnask and the others who participate in the Trade community have found something better, the First Families have just decided to embrace what they have.
Meanwhile, Garos outlines exactly why the Archer framing plot would never work and was a poor idea. He also seems to be finding cracks in the Three Sisters' unified front, deliberately or otherwise. From his conversation with the Sisters, we have some acknowledgement of Orion values and perspectives and how the Sisters might have miscalculated by failing to fully grasp how their standards might be less well received in the Federation.
Garos' problem is however quite similar, as Williams points out. He's reasonable and calculating in a manner that the First Families, with their baser, less intellectual desires, simply are not, and he makes the mistake of assuming that everyone is working on his level and to similar ends - for all his dismissive thoughts regarding the non-Malurians, he's unable to comprehend their thinking. I'm coming to like Garos a fair deal, by the way. Until now he's been rather bland, but I was rooting for him here. His genuine respect for Thamnos even as she betrays him is a nice touch; I wonder how representative an attitude this is, so far as Malurians are concerned? A more detached, emotionally conservative perspective for the reptilian race, in contrast to the mammals? For what it's worth, I do understand the concerns about similarity to Garak, but obviously I can't say if it would have occurred to me had not Christopher already brought it up here.
It suddenly occurs to me that Williams' descendent will destroy the probe that destroys Garos' people. That was striking to me, though in what manner I couldn't say. Perhaps it underscores the waste.
Wow, I never realized that. So Garos's choice to let Val go, while not helping to save his people, will at least help to avenge them.
Putting it like that, it is quite satisfying, in a poignant way.
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