Greater Than The Sum Review *** POTENTIAL SPOILERS ***

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Mike Winters, Jul 16, 2008.

  1. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    Well, that was one of my jobs, but I was trying to tell an original story in the process as well. I'm glad you liked it, though.

    Thanks! But keep in mind that in an ensemble series, a given character won't necessarily be featured heavily in every volume. Dave outlined Destiny before I was even hired to do GTTS, so there was limited opportunity for him to work T'Ryssa into the story. (Conversely, since Dina Elfiki is Dave's creation, she's a more central player in Destiny than in GTTS.) But Bill Leisner and I had an interesting talk about the character at Shore Leave...
     
  2. historypeats

    historypeats Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2001
    Location:
    Pasadena
    Dammit - I get back from San Diego, and everyone's already said what I wanted to say! Sigh.

    Suffice it to say that I liked the book a great deal; my only quibbles had to do with some of the punning (which has already been discussed) and some overly formal language in conversations between people (which wasn't a consistent problem, and which tends to crop up in almost every Star Trek novel or episode anyway). Minor dislikes aside, I loved the way that a broad theme/motif (family) was tackled from so many angles, and in ways that weren't immediately apparent/obvious. (I'm actually using some aspects of the book to design a fairly unconventional lesson on plot dynamics and thematic structure for my seniors next year - I'll let you know how it goes.) I actually care about the new characters, whereas I felt nothing for any of the "new characters" save Kadohata; however, I now have to spend the next four months worried about David Mack killing off the most interesting Starfleet officer I've seen in a while (Choudhury). Thanks for that.

    The writing is active without straying into oversimplicity, the plot is consistently engaging, the resolution is believable, and the ramifications of the events appropriately affect characters both old and new. Very nice work, Christopher - for someone who seems to have a pretty different personality from me (judging from BBS discourse, which is of course the ultimate measure of someone's character ;) ), you sure know how to write stories I enjoy. Greater than the Sum gives me hope for the future of the NG fiction line, and I look forward to reading Over a Torrent Sea the day it hits shelves - and Places of Exile sometime this week.

    Congratulations.
     
  3. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    Thanks! I'm curious to know more about that lesson.
     
  4. historypeats

    historypeats Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2001
    Location:
    Pasadena
    The lesson’s part of a larger discussion about why we write, and about why writing matters. By the time kids are seniors in high school, they typically know how to regurgitate a great deal of "surface-level stuff" - what a theme is, or what the hero's journey entails - that's been sort of beaten into them over the course of their educational lives. What they often lack is an understanding of why any of these things matter - as well as the relationship between gaining that sort of understanding and being able to pull much more out of experiences that were already enjoyable (watching TV/movies/etc.). (It’s fun to watch The Dark Knight, but isn’t it wonderful to be able to recognize what Nolan’s accomplishing as a writer and director beyond simply following his plot?)

    In other words, there's often a gap between what students know and what they understand. For example, if a fairly intelligent senior in a typical college-prep English course wrote me a paper on GTTS, he/she would probably give me a thesis like "Family is an important part of Greater than the Sum." Then he/she would compose three paragraphs filled with examples of where family appears in the book, paying only cursory attention to why those examples exist in the first place (let alone why the concept of family is worth placing at the heart of a novel to begin with), before concluding with a paragraph that essentially repeats the introduction.

    It’s the sort of essay-writing-from-a-template that’s often encouraged in classes where simply getting all thirty-plus kids to recognize an essay format is a struggle, but it doesn’t say anything. Does the student understand what a theme is? Yes. Do they understand why the theme was used? Possibly, but tough to say. Do they understand why certain examples resonate particularly well in a discussion regarding family as the thematic heart of the book? No.

    The key, then, as an English teacher is not to simply force kids to tell you what you already know. It's to challenge them to surprise you, to enable them to teach or at least introduce you to a new concept overthe course of a few pages.

    Showing them the way you incorporate family and familial concerns throughout the narrative, especially when you're not placing it front and center (such as showing the harm the entity unwittingly causes through its stubborn unwillingness to let those in its "care" risk suffering), can help further our conversation about what makes “good” writing. It can also demonstrate that the best writers aren't the ones with the longest thesaurus-words or the longest essays, but the ones who recognize their opportunity to share with the world through their writing - whether the author is Hesse or Bennett, whether the work is a novel or an essay.

    That’s the final key – to teach that all writing represents an opportunity to say something new, or to announce a discovery that can change someone’s day. A surface-level reading of Greater than the Sum can be enjoyable, but a closer reading is ultimately more rewarding…and if you’re taking the time to read something, you might as well have more fun doing it.


    Don't know if that's particularly clear, but it's what I came up with on short notice. :)
     
  5. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    Wow. Golly. :D

    The ironic thing is, I wasn't going specifically for family. The thematic link I was going for is right there in the title: the idea of a whole being greater than the sum of its parts, of people (or entities) being able to accomplish greater things in partnership than they can on their own -- as represented by such elements as the crew trying to mesh into a unit, Picard and Beverly coming together to start a family, the Liberated trying to consolidate as a civilization, Nechayev and Picard overcoming their differences, and of course the cluster entity and the Borg representing two different approaches to collective existence. I guess what you mean by "family" is pretty much the same idea, but I thought of it in terms of relationships and partnerships in general, whether familial, friendly, professional, or something more alien.
     
  6. JD

    JD Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2004
    Location:
    Arizona, USA
    Are any of the new characters aliens? I was trying to figure it out by their names but some of them are ones that could probably go either way, like T'Ryssa and Dina. T'Ryssa sounds like it could be alien, but then Chen sounds like it could be a Asian human name.
     
  7. historypeats

    historypeats Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2001
    Location:
    Pasadena
    You weren't going for family? How interesting. I noticed the examples you just cited, but I thought the point you were trying to make was that compassion, collectivism, allegiance, etc. all stemmed from the same drive that encourages us to form families. After all, isn't the purpose of a child to be something that is "greater than the sum" of its progenitors - to not simply represent perpetuation, but advancement? DNA comes together to form a being that can very well outshine its parents if given time - a being that is greater than the sum of the DNA it was provided.

    I also thought you were using the characters to represent the individual terrors of parenting. For example, the Borg lash out at a fundamentally changing world that threatens to pass them by; the entity is paralyzed by (or, in the case of the Rhea, paralyzes in the name of) fear - the fear of harm coming to the beings it wishes to protect; and Picard falls somewhere in the middle, channelling his impotence in the face of fear over suffering and pain befalling his "children" into an all-encompassing rage/hatred of the NewBorg. Then the rest of the crew - T'Ryssa, Choudhury, Worf, Beverly, Guinan - all seemed to represent other fears or concerns of parents.

    Finally, I thought the book's purpose was to show that growth is necessary and healthy, and that it was in that sense a reaffirmation of the Enterprise as a working ship (after the events of Before Dishonor threatened to tear it apart) and healthy family/community.

    Must've been off base. :)
     
  8. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    And those could both be right. ;)

    Dina Elfiki is an Egyptian name, I believe.
     
  9. historypeats

    historypeats Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2001
    Location:
    Pasadena
    Dina and Jasminder are humans, whereas T'Ryssa is half-Vulcan, half-human. (She may seem to take more after the latter half, but look more closely - I'm pretty sure those volatile emotions are meant to be Vulcan, which was a very cool touch on CLB's part. I wish more authors recognized this - that the Vulcans are incredibly volatile when it comes to emotionalism, and that their famed stoicism is essentially a culturally mandated coping mechanism. More often than not, Vulcans are simply portrayed as emotionless when nothing could be further from the truth.)

    Also, stay on the lookout for a Betazoid security officer and a Bajoran counselor - "minor players" in this one, but seemingly worth watching.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2008
  10. JD

    JD Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2004
    Location:
    Arizona, USA
    Cool, I'm glad to see TNG is getting a more diverse cast, both in terms of human and non-human cultures.
     
  11. historypeats

    historypeats Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2001
    Location:
    Pasadena
    I like this as well - and it also seems to be the most female-heavy "command staff" we've seen (as an early conversation between Worf and Geordi briefly highlights). CLB's playing with, what, eight different levels of diversity of GTTS? Woo.
     
  12. tenmei

    tenmei Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2004
    Location:
    Manchester, UK
    I love the idea of a female-centric and alien-centric command staff on a starship as it makes a change to the male-heavy, Human-heavy command crews we've seen in the past.
     
  13. David Mack

    David Mack Writer Commodore

    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2003
    Location:
    New York, NY
    If you liked that, wait until you see a certain crew in Destiny. :)


    It's my hope that the few scenes I was able to include for T'Ryssa were to Christopher's satisfaction and will also please both her fans and her detractors. One of the great things about the way Christopher wrote her character is that she can be a good foil for humor, as well as its instigator.

    Both the name and the description of Dina Elfiki are based on a former coworker of mine (with her permission). So it might be a bit of an exaggeration to say I "created" her; let's say instead that I adapted her from another medium (reality). ;)

    Well, at least "Elfiki" is.

    Another fun note: Although I had "created" the character of Jasminder Choudhury, Christopher got to write her first, and he brought so many great ideas about her character to GTtS that it helped me make her an even more compelling character in Destiny. (I hope.)
     
  14. HappyDayRiot

    HappyDayRiot Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2008
    Location:
    Cardiff, Wales
    All of this is just making me even more excited for Destiny. I loved the latest E crew. I didn't know if more excitement was possible. Oh why why why is it still so far away...
     
  15. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    Well, the E-E command crew is still majority-human. As for the heavy female-to-male ratio, that wasn't something planned, it just kind of happened. Independently of each other, Keith created Kadohata, Dave created Choudhury and Elfiki, and I created T'Ryssa Chen, so we kind of collectively, semi-accidentally stacked the command staff with women. And Margaret didn't raise any objections to that.

    And I'm fine with it too, since as Geordi said in the book, it's only fair after the male-dominated staff of the old TNG crew. But I did try to balance it out with male supporting characters such as Konya and Hegol.

    Not merely witty in herself, but the cause of wit in others? How Falstaffian. I like it.

    :lol:

    Yeah, Jasminder was a collaborative effort. Although I think Dave and I have rather different ideas of what she looks like. He sees Rekha Sharma from Battlestar Galactica, but I imagine someone taller, more statuesque and regal. My mental image is based on a woman I knew briefly in real life, a social worker who helped me with a difficult situation. The best way I can think to describe her is as sort of an Indian Marjean Holden.
     
  16. Turtletrekker

    Turtletrekker Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2003
    Location:
    Tacoma, Washington
    Christopher, is the "Konya" you mention Rennan Konya from the SCE books? If so-- :techman:.
     
  17. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    Yes, it is.
     
  18. Turtletrekker

    Turtletrekker Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2003
    Location:
    Tacoma, Washington
    Very cool. I like most of the SCE characters and really hope that they all find a new home somewhere.
     
  19. fleetcaptain

    fleetcaptain Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2005
    Location:
    Virginia Beach, VA, USA
    I have to say I'm liking Trys myself so far. She's a bit of a different character we really haven't seen before. I think, am I right?
     
  20. Baerbel Haddrell

    Baerbel Haddrell Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2003
    Location:
    GB
    I have just started the book and I am really enjoying myself. It is very early days but I already like Trys. She is fun. :)