Star Trek: The Fate of the Phoenix by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath (1979)

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Damian, Jan 28, 2019.

  1. Damian

    Damian Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I finally just finished this book. It usually takes me about 3 weeks to maybe a month to read a book. I started this one back in September and just finished it. It was a struggle to finish. It is a sequel to their earlier book "The Price of the Phoenix." A lot of the homo-erotic overtones present in the earlier book I found to be largely gone in this book (I'm not sure if the editors or PTB told them to tone it down a bit but I didn't really see any of that in this book). As far as the story goes there's a lot of undeveloped bits that could be interesting but were just left unresolved. There's interesting bits about worlds thinking about seceding from the Federation and having issues with Federation laws and regulations, including the Prime Directive. But these are largely brought up and ignored until the end of the book when it's simply noted the Federation is always open to discussing it's policies. Another is Omne, the villain himself. He has the potential to be a very interesting character, and there's little tidbits about an almost forgotten history that is just left hanging. The book ends with the potential for another sequel but as far as I know this was the final book in the Phoenix series.

    I also found the book incredibly confusing at times. There's Omne, then there's the "Other" that is a copy of Omne that appears like Spock. Then there's a copy of Kirk, referred to as James, who is taken in by the Romulan Commander (from "The Enterprise Incident") and they eventually fall in love with one another but James is banished by Omne after Omne is banished, leaving the potential for a future story as the Commander vows to try to find James. But because of that there are times in the novel when you don't know who's who. There's also the Doyen, who I guess is the leader of a group within the Romulan Empire, though I'm not sure if they are subjects or allies, or whatever. I stopped caring. And the Doyen has a prince who's subjected to her and he tries to help James at points, and I think maybe he was copied at one point, I'm not sure.

    Really, it got to the point I just didn't care anymore. I really didn't care for this book at all. I rarely find a book that I just don't like. I never give up on a book so I read it to the end. But it's unfortunately because I think there are a lot of interesting bits but they were just left hanging. And Omne had a lot of potential, but there were too many loose threads. Not only his history but his motives were hard to discern as well. Why was he trying to destabilize the quadrant? He seemed like a much different character in the past, what changed? He's apparently a Romulan but how does he fit in with the Romulan Empire? And sometimes he is helping the heros (Kirk, Spock, the Commander) and other times he's trying to kill them. And the motives of the Other aren't well developed either. Why couldn't they join forces? Why can't they co-exist, they'd be stronger together. Other than some vague plotlines that Omne basically couldn't stand having his 'other self' roaming the galaxy there's no real resolution there. Maybe others have a different take. I just found the story overly complicated in some areas and I found poor development in other areas. I found it a chore to read.
     
  2. King Daniel Beyond

    King Daniel Beyond Admiral Admiral

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    The two Phoenix books were my introduction to Trek lit, age 11 or thereabouts. If it weren't for Cadet Worf, I'd probably have never picked up another Trek book.
     
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  3. TheUsualSuspect

    TheUsualSuspect Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    I first read both of the Phoenix books when I was in middle school, and I think my reaction to Fate was similar to Damian's. I really liked the discussions/debate around the Prime Directive, but the rest of it was kind of a mess. I do think that part of the authors' intent with the "Other" (Omne/Spock) character was to demonstrate the extent to which Kirk and Spock each depend on the other in order to be at their best, but it all comes off as rather heavy-handed and confusing.

    I liked Price better, and remember that I reread it several times in high school and college. I think I only bothered rereading Fate once, maybe twice. It's been years since I've read either, though.
     
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  4. Damian

    Damian Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Yeah, Price was better. There were some undeveloped bits there, things that could have been improved. But it was a pretty straightforward story that I could follow and it wasn't bad. And I liked Omne and thought there was a lot of potential there.

    But Fate was just all over the place. A lot of it was just not well developed. There was the initial planet where Omne was some sort of Regent, but I don't even remember what that was all about, and the whole Doyen storyline didn't make much sense. And the killer for any novel is I stopped caring. It became words on a page and I struggled to finish it.
     
  5. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Wow, I had the opposite reaction. The last time I tried to reread Price, I couldn't get through it, because it was basically just a trashy slash romance novel obsessed with men psychologically and sexually dominating other men. I found Fate much more palatable; while it did lack focus and never followed up on the questions it tried to raise, it was at least trying to be about something other than indulging the authors' fetishes.
     
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  6. Damian

    Damian Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I agree about the homo-erotic/slash overtones. I noted before I found it much more overt in Price than even "Killing Time" (in which case I think the homo-eroticism was overblown a bit). In Fate it was almost nonexistent, other than there does seem to be a tendency to depict men dominated by their female significant others even in Fate.

    But the story in Price was much more linear. You could follow the plot from point A to point B and it made some sort of sense. I found Fate of the Phoenix to be all over the place. I don't mind complicated stories but it just seemed like they couldn't stick with a single story and I got to the point I didn't even know who was who at times or what the point was at times.

    And while I found Price a better novel, it was more from the area of understanding it and following the story line. It's not a book I see myself re-reading.
     
  7. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Yes, the story in Price was more linear and focused, but the stuff it was focused on was unappealing. The greater concentration on the slashy/abusive stuff was the problem. None of the Marshak/Culbreath novels are good, but the more palatable ones are the ones that have the least of the fetishy material (i.e. Fate of the Phoenix and The Prometheus Design).
     
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  8. ClayinCA

    ClayinCA Commodore Commodore

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    And see, I hated The Prometheus Design with the heat of a thousand undying suns. The plot was fine from what I can remember of it, but the characterization of Kirk and Spock in particular was way off, and too tied up in Marshak & Culbreath's weirdo ideas about Vulcans for it to be anything close to the Star Trek I recognized.

    The Fate of the Phoenix...well, I can remember that I did read it...and I did finish it...and I didn't like it...and that's about all I can remember about the book. Doesn't speak too well of it. Your mileage may vary, of course.
     
  9. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Well, yeah, it's terrible, but it's the least terrible of the four. It actually has some imagination to it and tries to tell an epic, cosmic story that engages with some interesting philosophical ideas. As with Fate, it fails to follow up adequately on the questions it raises, but at least it tries.
     
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  10. Therin of Andor

    Therin of Andor Admiral Admiral

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    "The Fate of the Phoenix" was one of my earliest Trek reads. I found it new on the shelf the day I bought my first second hand Bantam and Ballantine adaptations in December 1979. I did wait for a while to find "Price...", so I read a few other novels first. Eventually, I ran out of books so I chose to read "Fate". It was... bizarre. It wasn't long after doing an English Literature course at teachers' college and it was fun using the lecturer's notes on symbolism to analyse what was going on in Marshak & Culbreath's heads! References to K/S ("slash") fanzines in "Star Trek Lives!", also by Marshak, were... enlightening.

    I finally tracked down a Corgi UK edition of "Price" at it was several years before I found a Bantam edition to match my set. So, I read "Price" as a prequel to "Fate".

    I was told by some "K/S ladies" once that there are "missing chapters" of all four Marshak & Culbreath Trek books that used to circulate. Whether written by M&C or other slash fanfic writers, I'm not sure. I suspect more Omne stories are out there.

    I saw several articles yesterday where M&C are complaining how Paramount mandated a changed ending for "Fate". M&C were not pleased, eg.
    https://fanlore.org/wiki/The_Fate_of_the_Phoenix

    Here is some info about the original draft that morphed into "Price" and "Fate":
    https://fanlore.org/wiki/Never_Mourn_Black_Omne
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2019
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  11. Damian

    Damian Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Definitely agree. They bring up potentially good ideas to develop, but then drop them. And Omne had a lot of potential. He's a complicated villain but there are too many loose threads. There is some history there when he was Omnedon that is intriguing, but it's left hanging.

    I do wonder if they were told to tone down some of the slash elements in Fate... In Price....it was much more overt. In Fate...that was largely absent.

    The biggest indictment of Fate of the Phoenix is that it took me 4 months to read. It's rare it takes me more than a month. And the fact that I stopped caring how it would be resolved.

    I still have Perry's Planet, Devil World and Death's Angels to read in my Bantam Collection.
     
  12. tomswift2002

    tomswift2002 Commodore Commodore

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    To date the best story by Marshak & Culbreath is “The Procrustean Pretard”.

    Otherwise I read “Price” about 10 years ago and found it a mess. It felt like I was trying to walk through water. It was a “long winded novel”.

    I haven’t read “Fate”, but I have read “The Prometheus Design” within the past 2 years and I found that it was Average. Interesting thing with Prometheus is that it is apparently in a story arc with “Price” and “Fate” as Prometheus references “Price” (and there are even footnotes to confirm the link.
    https://www.trekbbs.com/threads/tos...hak-and-myrna-culbreath-review-thread.287549/

    (Why does a review for a 35+ year old book have a “Spoiler” on it?)


    “Triangle” I haven’t read yet.
     
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  13. Damian

    Damian Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    It's one of the reasons I didn't bother here. I also didn't bother with a poll question because it's so old, so few people remember it to get a good sampling of votes. You'd probably be lucky to get 2 or 3 votes.

    It's been years since I read "The Prometheus Design". I still have it as I keep all my novels, but I'm not in any particular rush to re-read it. A shame in a way because Culbreath and Marshak bring up some good plot threads that could make good stories, but they failed to develop them in any meaningful way. It's like, ooh, that's interesting, then you get to the end of the book and it's like, well, never mind.
     
  14. hbquikcomjamesl

    hbquikcomjamesl Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I am in almost complete agreement with Mr. Bennett. Be afraid. Be very afraid. (And I'm also in complete agreement with "tomswift2002" about "The Procrustean Petard" being the best thing Marshak & Culbreath ever wrote, at least in the Star Trek franchise.)

    While John Ford's How Much for Just the Planet gets confusing towards the end, at least it's fun and confusing. M&C's "Phoenix" novels are just confusing. And slashy, far more slashy than even the uncut edition of Killing Time. (My copy is the uncut edition, so I have firsthand knowledge of how slashy it is.)
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2019
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  15. Damian

    Damian Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Yeah, I have an uncut edition of "Killing Time" myself and I was actually a bit disappointed after reading all the background behind it. I don't like slash fiction, and I never saw Kirk and Spock as secretly yearning for each other. But it was one of those things I heard sooooo much about how the first edition was yanked and changed around. When I finally read my unaltered copy it was like 'nothing to see here'. If I read my uncut copy without ever hearing about it I'd probably have never given it much thought. I noted in my Killing Time review thread that Van Hise's writing style was a bit unusual, she focused a lot on physical looks. But it's reputation seemed out of proportion to the actual book.

    Price of the Phoenix, however, now that definitely had a slash feel to it. I never knew much about the authors before joining trekbbs (esp. since it's been decades since they last wrote a Star Trek novel). But there was no ambiguity there.

    It's one of the reasons why I wonder if when they did "Fate of the Phoenix" they were told to tone it down, because I found a marked difference in the slash elements. They were practically nonexistent in Fate. It seemed they substituted males dominated males to females dominating males (esp. with the Commander's control over James and the Doyen's control over her prince), but since they weren't Kirk and Spock, but other characters, it was probably not a big deal in that case.
     
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  16. Allyn Gibson

    Allyn Gibson Vice Admiral Admiral

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    When J.J. Abrams was being super secretive about who Benedict Cumberbatch was playing in Into Darkness, there's a part of me that was hoping for Omne instead of the widely-rumored Khan.

    I don't imagine there's an audience for an "Omne Returns" Lost Era novel, and without the original writing team what'st he point? :)
     
  17. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    No, I was talking about The Prometheus Design in the passage you're replying to. It tried to raise some big cosmic questions about whether sentient beings were doomed to violence and self-destruction, though it didn't manage to follow through. Heck, the absence of Omne was one of its good points, although the substitute hyper-alpha male of Savaj wasn't much better.


    That's surprising to hear. From what I recall, that story is loaded with M&C's bizarre, twisted ideas about gender roles and their obsession with hyperaggressive masculinity, leavened with oversimplified (and, I think, subsequently discredited) science about chromosomal sex. I think I always found it distasteful even in my youth before I'd recognized the problems in their other books. The twist at the end that Spock is left permanently hyper-masculine with an extra Y chromosome was ridiculous and self-indulgent, in line with the bizarre "Vulcan command mode" stuff from TPD. Why did M&C have such a strong desire for the pacifist, gentle Spock to be turned into a toxically masculine brute while Kirk was constantly beaten down and forced into a submissive, "effeminate" role?

    The story also has a clumsy title, trying to be literate but overdoing it with a mixed metaphor.


    Oy. That's the most self-indulgent and romance-novelish one of the whole lot, with a plot involving Spock's second pon farr and a female lead who's one of the two most archetypal Mary Sues in Trek Lit (the other being Elizabeth Schaeffer from Death's Angel).
     
  18. Damian

    Damian Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Oh, sorry. But even Price and Fate bring up some ideas that if developed could make for a pretty good story. I thought Omne had potential, I inferred there was more there than met the eye, but the problem was I had to infer there was more there than met the eye because they didn't develop that angle. His history is muddled, why he became what he was, that was left ambiguous, and even his motives were mysterious to me. I mean, I don't think he created the Phoenix device just for immortality sake or even just for the sake of power. I got the sense there was something else motivating him, but I could never discern what that was.

    That's probably at the root of it. There was a lot of dominating going on. I saw that a lot in Price of the Phoenix with Kirk and Spock. It was much less prevalent in Fate. Though in Fate is was females dominating males. Kirk is a bit stronger in Fate, and ultimately prevails over Omne using his wits (it was a bit more Kirk-like), but Spock is rendered almost impotent by his battle with Omne. He is almost a shadow of himself in Fate and then he was barely a factor of the story later in the book until the end. And of course my complaint about the meandering storyline, characters coming in and out, and sometimes not even knowing who is who. It was such a struggle to read and maintain interest. It was really one of those stories I'd be reading thinking about other things (and having to re-read paragraphs because I lost focus on what I was reading).

    Yeah, I think it's safe to say they'll be no more Omne books. Esp. since it's been, what 40 years since his last appearance. The book seemed to leave open the possibility of a follow up, esp. with the Commander's vow that she would find and bring back James, and of course Omne and James are still alive on the other side of the vortex.

    As much as I didn't care for the Phoenix stories (though Price was easier to read at least), it'd be interesting if someone were to give a proper end to the story, resolve all the hanging threads, explain more about Omne's motivations and history and bring it to a conclusion. But I honestly don't see any of our authors deciding to take that on, first of all because it is 40 years old now. But also I don't see fans clamoring for a proper conclusion to the Phoenix storylines (certainly not enough to go back and read or re-read Price and Fate), and it doesn't seem to be a highly regarded series anyway, certainly not by me.

    And of course it would mean someone completing someone else's work. While not unheard of in Trek lit (not counting the relaunches which are continuing stories), I don't see that happening here.
     
  19. hbquikcomjamesl

    hbquikcomjamesl Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Everything is relative. In this case, it's a product of its times, and its authors; its premise is certainly more interesting than that of their other works, and IT'S MERCIFULLY SHORT.

    Last night, it occurred to me that if Ensign George, arguably the prime mover (because of a lapse of judgment) of Cogswell & Spano's Spock, Messiah!, had been the same gender as the authors*, she would have been a Mary-Sue (albeit not a classic "does everything disgustingly well" one) as well.

    Then again, the earliest Star Trek novels tended, at least by comparison to what's currently being written, tended to fall into two categories: (1) bad Star Trek, and (2) just plain bad. Bad enough that Spock Must Die! and Mission to Horatius were actually among the best of the earliest stuff. And for a while, during the Bantam era, even when some good stuff was making it into print, it seemed like literally every other opus (e.g., The Starless World, World Without End, and the ever-popular Devil World) fell into both categories.

    _____
    *Spock, Messiah! was written by two men, but Ensign Sara George was a woman. And she became the prime mover by tampering with experimental cultural observer gear, plugging herself into the mind of (as I recall) a severely nymphomaniacal prostitute, and plugging Spock into the mind of a religious fanatic with a messiah complex.
     
  20. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Sara George was not a Mary Sue, she was a sex object in the same vein as a lot of TOS female guest stars -- except with looser restrictions on sex and nudity.
     
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