Just reread Dreadnaught!

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by JRoss, Jul 3, 2013.

  1. kirk55555

    kirk55555 Commodore Commodore

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    I liked Dreadnought and Battlestations. I thought Piper was interesting and I think they told good stories that weren't from the usual perspective of the main crew.
     
  2. Therin of Andor

    Therin of Andor Admiral Admiral

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    When it first came out, "Dreadnought!" was so fresh and innovative! The first person narrative had not been done by ST tie-ins before. We recognised it as the author having fun with the Mary Sue fanzine trope, but not replicating it. And yeah, Kirk and his colleagues were always way ahead of Piper and her team.

    Neither were Diane Carey's political leanings part of any of the early reviews. I guess you can now go through her first two books and find plenty of "evidence" of her politics on display. If anything, there was more surprise that a tie-in novel had come out acknowledging the dreadnought class of starship (and on the cover, no less, and in the title), since Roddenberry had already made some very public, dismissive comments about Star Fleet Battles' so-called "war games" ("role play games" wasn't really a term back then), and aspects of Franz Joseph's work in the "ST Technical Manual", upon which much of SFB was based.

    I imagine this novel won't ever seem as fresh to today's readers.
     
  3. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    This is correct.

    Heck, I used a bunch of Diane's characters when I did a Robert April story years ago . . . .
     
  4. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I think its innovative nature was part of the reason it's so widely misunderstood. These days, we have a bunch of book series focusing on characters other than the main cast, often with TV cast members appearing as guest stars. But at the time, there was nothing else like the Piper books; there'd never been a professional novel that approached ST from such a radically new perspective, a first-person narrative as told by a junior officer aboard the Enterprise. So the only thing there was to compare it to, the only thing that was even remotely similar, was the Mary Sue formula.

    That said, one thing people forget today, as I alluded to before, is that it was commonplace in '60s and '70s series television to do stories centered on guest stars rather than the leads -- since the classiest TV dramas in the early days had been anthologies, and thus many shows with continuing characters still aspired to a somewhat anthology-like approach, giving us shows like The Fugitive and The Time Tunnel and, to an extent, Star Trek, shows designed to move a familiar lead or leads into a totally different, self-contained story every week, often built around the dramatic arcs of guest characters. Mary Sue stories, as I said, represent this trope handled badly, with the guest characters not worthy of the spotlight given to them; yet these days the convention has become less familiar, and thus many readers assume that any guest character who becomes the focus of a story is a Mary Sue -- such as Evan Wilson from Uhura's Song.

    Granted, it was pretty common in early Trek Lit for authors to introduce impressive new female characters who took center stage -- Mandala Flynn from The Entropy Effect, Evan Wilson, Ael from My Enemy, My Ally, Anitra Lanter from Demons, etc. But there was much more to the introduction of these characters than the authorial self-indulgence or self-insertion underlying the Mary Sue trope. After all, the vast majority of Trek Lit writers at the time, and about half the readers, were female, yet TOS was notably lacking in strong, central female characters. It's natural enough that writers would've sought to correct that deficiency by adding new ones to the mix.

    Although sometimes, yes, the guest characters were outright Mary Sues. The classic examples IMHO are Elizabeth Schafer in Death's Angel and Sola Thane in Triangle, and Anitra Lanter fits the pattern pretty well too, though I found her to be better-written than the others. (No trope is always bad. Even Mary Sues can be entertaining sometimes.)
     
  5. Defcon

    Defcon Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Evan Wilson (from Uhura's Song) is another "positive Mary Sue" in my opinion,
     
  6. zarkon

    zarkon Captain Captain

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    I don't really see Evan as a Mary Sue. The only things that hint in that direction are the bizarre conversations she has with Kirk & Spock that don't work at all. Other then those she's a good character.
     
  7. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    As I said, Evan Wilson is an example of the common trope in episodic fiction to do stories centered around guest stars. Serial storytelling revolving around the leads has become so pervasive in the past few decades that we've forgotten how routine guest-star-driven stories used to be, and not just in television. Many of Sherlock Holmes's prose adventures, including two of his four novels, were just frames for extended chronicles of the adventures of different characters altogether, which they narrated to Holmes and Watson in flashback.

    A featured guest star is only a Mary Sue if he or she is handled badly or exaggerated to the point of unintentional farce. Evan Wilson doesn't fit that description.
     
  8. Allyn Gibson

    Allyn Gibson Vice Admiral Admiral

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    To be fair, Roddenberry had some legitimate reasons to despise Star Fleet Battles. He and Paramount had no control over it due to the generous licensing and copyright terms Franz Joseph received for the Starfleet Technical Manual. Combine that with Roddenberry's evolving belief in his own utopianism throughout the 1980s, and it's not surprising that Roddenberry would have taken issue with a war game set in a universe that looked very much like his.

    Two or three years later, Dreadnought! wouldn't have been published. That's unfortunate.
     
  9. Therin of Andor

    Therin of Andor Admiral Admiral

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    Based on Janet Kagan's own mother, so not quite the way Mary Sues are usually derived.
     
  10. Therin of Andor

    Therin of Andor Admiral Admiral

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    Hey, I agree with you! I wasn't trying to be unfair. The whole "What is canon?" thing came about from incidences at conventions, such as when techie minded fans challenged Roddenberry on why the movies weren't using the "cool" designs of Franz Joseph and SFB, or why the UFP wasn't declaring war upon the Klingons and Romulans.

    I recall my announcement of the then-upcoming "Dreadnought!" in our Trek fan club newsletter of the day. I predicted, knowing of Roddenberry's then-recent convention outbursts about SFB, that the design would "probably be declared a failure" in the context of the novel. In those days, GR himself was supposedly vetting the tie-in manuscripts, although it was probably Susan Sackett on his behalf. (She had definitely been vetting the Bantam titles, and Richard Arnold didn't start on them until the ST IV novelization, six months after "Dreadnought!")
     
  11. JRoss

    JRoss Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Mary Sue, maybe not, but very, very self-indulgent. Of course the joke is on DC as she is now immortalized on two novel covers with a hideous disco outfit and a femullet.

    Seriously, though, someone involved in STID was inspired by Dreadnaught!
     
  12. Therin of Andor

    Therin of Andor Admiral Admiral

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    Three. Piper and Sarda (Carey and her husband) make cameos, along with the other "Captain's Table" authors, in that six-part painting.
     
  13. Allyn Gibson

    Allyn Gibson Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I didn't say you were. I said "To be fair," because this was a rare instance of me giving a sympathetic perspective on the Rodster. :)
     
  14. King Daniel Beyond

    King Daniel Beyond Admiral Admiral

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    She'd look right at home with Disco Bones from TMP!
    I'm sure Bob Orci has read it. I was thrilled to bits to see a Dreadnought-class ship on the big screen. And I think USS Star Empire is a much cooler name than USS Vengeance.
     
  15. TheAlmanac

    TheAlmanac Writer Captain

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    No offence, Christopher, but the reason I think of Piper as a Mary Sue isn't because I'm at a loss to frame her narrative any other way, or because I can't tell the difference between a Mary Sue and a prominent "guest star." As a reader today, I'm familiar with plenty of ways to tell a Star Trek story in prose, and I still believe she fits the "formula" (IMO) quite closely, unless you use the really narrow definition you came up with.

    For one thing, I'm not sure why you insist a Mary Sue has to be a guest star, since even the original Mary Sue was the star of the fanfic story that originated the term. To use an outside example, Anita Blake is the star of her own book series, and I would still describe her as a Mary Sue.

    My own sense of a character's "Mary Sueness" doesn't depend on a character's abilities--or any trait that revolves entirely around how the character compares to other characters--but rather on the degree of the author's idealised self-insertion or general "self-indulgence," as mentioned earlier. (Basing a character on your own mother is certainly a step in that direction.) They can be written well or badly, but they're more common (and we tend to notice them more) in tie-in fiction because these elements often occur at the expense of the main characters we expect to read/watch in action.

    The list you gave is a good example of how you need to give readers more credit for recognising this trope, since we can tell that some of those are Mary Sues and some of them are not. (For example, I would say that Evan Wilson and Sola Thane are Mary Sues, but Ael isn't.) Differences of opinion are more about matters of literary interpretation than about "misunderstanding" a work--like arguing whether a character qualifies as a tragic figure or not.
     
  16. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I just don't think the Piper of Dreadnought! fits enough of the diagnostic criteria for a Mary Sue to qualify -- althoug the Piper of Battlestations! might, given how swiftly she's been promoted in rank and become a member of Kirk's inner circle. In Dreadnought!, at least, she's not smarter and better and more successful than the leads -- indeed, that's the entire point of her character in that book, that she's far, far behind Kirk in her ability and experience, even if she has a potential comparable to his.

    And I don't accept her central role as making her a Mary Sue, because she's just the lead of a whole ensemble of lower-decks characters, rather than a single standout guest star. Why is she a Mary Sue if Sarda, Merete, and Scanner aren't? Sure, she's more central to the book, but what else could a first-person narrator be?

    The one criterion I'll grant is author insertion, but that by itself does not make a Mary Sue. There have been some great author-surrogate characters in fiction.
     
  17. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    I still like another author's comment once, when accused of inserting a Mary Sue character into a tie-in book:

    "I don't want to be her. I want to f--k her!'

    (I'll be vague here, since I can't remember if that remark was for public consumption or not.)
     
  18. TheAlmanac

    TheAlmanac Writer Captain

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    Again, I don't think of being "smarter and better and more successful" as necessary "diagnostic criteria" for a Mary Sue. If your self-insertion fantasy involves you becoming a character's protégé (for example) instead of already being more talented than he is, that doesn't make the self-insertion any less a Mary Sue.

    I don't accept that, either. All I was saying is that neither being central nor not-central is a determining factor for me.

    I think of all of those characters as Mary Sues, the author inserting her own characters (based, from what people have indicated about the book's background, on herself and her friends) into the Kirk/Spock/McCoy/Scotty roles.
     
  19. Allyn Gibson

    Allyn Gibson Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I don't expect an answer to this, but I'm going to take a stab.

    Author: Timothy Zahn. Character: Mara Jade.

    I've never thought of Mara Jade as a Mary Sue, but I know a number of fans who consider her to be such.
     
  20. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    TheAlmanac, the difference between us is that you seem to want to define "Mary Sue" broadly and inclusively, whereas I see it as a term of attack and thus feel it's the sort of thing that should be used narrowly and reluctantly, applied only when there's no other interpretation that will fit.
     

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