TOS: The More Things Change by Scott Pearson Review Thread (Spoilers!)

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Defcon, Jul 2, 2014.

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  1. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    More to the point, people mistakenly assume that any story centered on a guest character is a Mary Sue story, when the label was actually meant to describe (or rather, parody) examples of that kind of story done badly, with the author's wish fulfillment outweighing decent storytelling. People forget that in '60s and '70s TV, it was quite common for episodic shows to center their episodes on guest characters, because guest characters could go through actual growth and change and life-and-death drama while the leads had to remain permanently the same. TOS was supposed to be that kind of show, which was why Roddenberry pitched it to execs by comparing it to Wagon Train, a show that actually named each of its episodes "The [Guest Star] Story." You can see it in the early first season -- the second pilot centered on Mitchell and Dehner, "Mudd's Women" focused on Eve and Harry, "Charlie X" centered on Charlie, etc. That changed somewhat when Spock became the breakout character and the network wanted him to be the focus, with Roddenberry and Shatner pushing to keep Kirk ahead of Spock in importance, so that the show ended up centered on the two of them plus McCoy.

    There's also the fact that Piper is not the guest star of her novels. She's the lead character of a semi-spinoff starring Piper, Sarda, Merete, and Scanner and following their adventures as junior crew of the Enterprise, with Kirk, Spock, etc. being the supporting cast. In other words, it's pretty much exactly the format of the new animated series Lower Decks, or of the TNG episode of that name. (Or Babylon 5: "The View from the Gallery," or Stargate SG-1: "The Other Guys," or the Young Justice animated series vis-a-vis the Justice League.)


    I've never had a problem identifying with characters of a different gender. If you can make believe you're a different person in a different time, it shouldn't be that much harder to make believe you're different in your physical attributes. And it's not like it matters that much to most of the experiences the character would have, aside from situations that would be unlikely to be depicted in a PG-rated narrative.


    In my experience, it's not hard to keep that straight. It's the same as writing dialogue, except that it's the whole thing instead of just parts. If anything, that makes it easier.
     
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  2. hbquikcomjamesl

    hbquikcomjamesl Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    One of my favorites among the classic Infocom text-based games is Plundered Hearts, by Amy Briggs.
    And if I ever manage to get my own novel back on track, its protagonist (a child-prodigy organist) is (and always has been) female.

    And Re: the Piper novels and the "Mary-Sue" trope, I would argue that they subvert that trope (and lampshade both the trope and the subversion), probably by design, and that subversion of the trope is, for me, a very endearing characteristic (Certainly far more endearing than the intrusions of the author's hard-libertarian politics).
     
  3. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    I hate writing first-person, except maybe at short-story length. It's way trickier and more limiting. You're stuck in one head for the entire book, so you can't cut away to another location or character, which means that, invariably, important stuff is going to happen "offscreen"--unless you can somehow contrive to have your narrator physically present at every crucial moment, which can get ridiculously contrived and tie your plot into knots.

    I still remember reading a historical novel set in ancient Rome that went to absurd lengths to get its first-person narrator on the scene of one major historical event after another, even to the extent of hiding her behind tapestries so she could overhear confidential conversations she had no business hearing. The author would have have made their life a lot easier, and their book a lot less convoluted, if they'd just written it in third-person.

    Don't get me wrong. The world is full of wonderful, exquisite books written in first-person. I can rattle them off myself. But there's a much higher level of difficulty involved . . . and traps that await the unwary.
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2019
  4. JD

    JD Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Christopher already mentioned the Captain's Table, some of which were in first person, but there have also been a few short stories in first person too. The Robin Lefler story in New Frontier: No Limits is presented as a series of "log entries" she's making on an old tricorder when she's a kid. There's also astory in The Lives of Dax that is done as letter from one of Dax's hosts to their kid.
    And I guess they technically aren't novels, but there is also the two, soon to be three, autobiographies. So far we've gotten Kirk and Picard, and there is also a Spock one coming out sometime soon.
    I'm pretty sure there's more differences between writing first person than just the different pronouns.
     
  5. hbquikcomjamesl

    hbquikcomjamesl Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    As always, when the subject comes up, I am sorely tempted to make an off-color remark suggesting what all Hermats can go do to themselves. Do they remind others of Gene/Jean, the "Transmute" from the old Quark sitcom, or is it just me?
     
  6. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I still say that's misunderstanding what the trope is. Centering a story on a guest character is not Mary Sue; it was a normal, common practice in the episodic fiction of the era. Doing it badly is Mary Sue. Mary Sue is not a trope, it's a misuse of a trope. It's the "what not to do" version of the trope. Using a trope well is not a subversion of using it badly; that's too convoluted. It's just using it right.

    And again, the Piper novels were not even guest star-centered, because Piper was not the guest star -- she was the lead, just as much as Calhoun was the lead of New Frontier, Gomez was the lead of SCE, Lucsly and Dulmur are the leads of DTI, etc. Dreadnought! and Battlestations! were not Kirk novels that focused on a guest star -- they were Piper novels with Kirk etc. as supporting cast. They were the first attempts to tell Trek fiction from a perspective other than the TOS leads, although they were only a tentative step in that direction because they were still set aboard the Enterprise, just inverting the perspective so that the junior officers were the stars of the show. That inversion is what made them interesting, and it's missing the point to try to force them to fit under the "Mary Sue" label.


    I've seen some books that use multiple first-person perspectives, although in a case like that you have to be very clear when you're shifting from one to another (e.g. by giving the narrator's name as a heading at the start of each new segment, and ideally by differentiating their narrative voices so it's easy to tell them apart). But it's something that's probably better-suited to short fiction.

    It's interesting... I used to have a lot of credibility issues with first-person stories, like how the narrator got the opportunity to tell the story in prose form, whom they were telling it to, how they remembered the details so precisely, etc. So the first time I wrote a story in first person ("The Weight of Silence"), I made a point of coming up with a logical explanation for how and why the narrator was telling the tale in that form, and the process of how it became a story was addressed within it. But the second time I did it ("No Dominion"), I didn't bother with any of that, and it never even occurred to me to try. I guess I figured out that first-person doesn't have to be taken literally, but is just another way of conveying a character's internal monologue to the reader. It just seemed like the right format for that story.
     
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  7. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    I once read a book with two first-person narrators, one of whom was in present tense and the other in past tense. That was an interesting technique.

    (Twist: the two narrators were the same woman, with two different personalities!)
     
  8. DrCorby

    DrCorby Captain Captain

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    Rick Riordan did this in his YA Kane Chronicles series about a brother and sister learning about their heritage based in Egyptian mythology. They alternate chapters, which (IIRC) had their names as chapter headings. But they also had very different voices and referred to each other during their narratives like siblings do, so it was easy to tell who was telling the story.

    One of my favorite series using first person is Zelazny's Amber novels. You learn about the world(s) of the books through Corwin's eyes and experiences, and find out at the end of the 5th book who he's telling his story to, and why. I thought it worked very well.
     
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  9. Damian

    Damian Commodore Commodore

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    I think what some have mentioned being a Mary Sue type story is "Vulcan!". That probably is a good example. Spock is deliberately made to be wrong and look bad in favor of the guest character (I forget the character's name offhand).

    It's not even that Spock was wrong. No one's perfect. Even he may make an incorrect assumption once in a while. In fact, it might even add to a story if done the right way. It's the fact that he was so unwilling to even consider her viewpoint, which ended up making him an idiot. She was supposedly an expert in her field. Spock would never reject an expert's opinion out of hand. He may not agree with it, but he'd consider it as a possibility at the very least. And I found her blatant racism against Vulcans distasteful. I found it hard to believe someone with that kind of attitude would make it far in Starfleet. And McCoy's fawning over her seemed out of character. There were elements I liked about the story...for instance the aliens in the story, and the idea that a planet might drift into Romulan territory was a bit different.

    That's not the case with Piper. I don't recall all the details but Piper is never made to look good by making the main cast from the series look bad.

    Yes, those would be some of the challenges I would envision. I imagine any writer undertaking such a book would have to be very careful, esp. if they weren't used to writing 1st person stories. There'd probably be a tendency to drift into 3rd person....or forgetting that if the book is told only from one person's perspective you really couldn't get into the minds of other characters. The depiction of other characters would largely be limited to dialogue and actions.

    But from a reader's perspective it has potential. In a way it makes it more personal. You as the reader in a sense are that character. Now by and large I like the way Star Trek novels are written, usually from 3rd person. It works because you don't usually center on a single character...and even when the focus is on just a few or one character there are still a lot of peripheral characters involved and you want to express how those characters are feeling or thinking. But it might be nice to see a one off book now and again that takes a first person perspective. It probably wouldn't work well for the relaunches because of the continuing narrative...but certainly an original series or Discovery book that is a stand alone would probably work.
     
  10. Damian

    Damian Commodore Commodore

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    True. And from what I recall her gender wasn't a significant part of the story anyway, other than she was a woman. In much of the story it could just have been as easily a male character.

    I imagine Carey wrote a female character as the lead because she is female herself. It's probably easier to write in first person if the character is the same gender, if for no other reason it's easier to write about what you know. It'd probably be harder for me to write a story from the perspective of a woman since I'm a man.
     
  11. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    God, yes.

    It's funny. Long ago and far away, I debated this issue with Pocket's original Trek book editor David Hartwell.

    David opined that beginning writers should think twice about writing in the first person because it was full of pitfalls. Being a stubborn beginning writer, I argued the point, rattling off a long list of great first-person books and stories. David tried to explain that, of course, it COULD be done well, but that it was tricker than it looked and was far too easy to do badly.

    Subsequent years of reading slush gave me a better sense of where David was coming from . . . . :)

    Damien said:

    It's probably easier to write in first person if the character is the same gender, if for no other reason it's easier to write about what you know. It'd probably be harder for me to write a story from the perspective of a woman since I'm a man.


    Writing characters of different genders than yourself is actually not that hard. The trick is to not get hung up on the fact that "ohmigod, I'm writing a chick!" and just write them as a character who only happens to be a woman or whatever. Let's be honest: nine times out of ten, if a character is fighting Klingons, trying to defuse a photon torpedo, make First Contact with a new alien species, or even having an awkward reunion with an old sweetheart, it doesn't really matter what gender they are. People are people and they tend to react the same ways under stress.

    In my experience, if a male author messes up writing a female character, it's because they're trying too hard "to write a woman," so they feel they have throw in references to ticking biological clocks, menstrual cramps, shopping, shoes, or whatever, instead of, you know, just writing a troubled Starfleet engineer who also happens to be female.

    Which reminds me of a funny story involving gender and first-person narration. Decades ago, a reader congratulated me on the gay love scene in my most recent story. I appreciated the compliment, but was puzzled because I didn't remember writing a gay love scene in that sorry (not that there would be anything wrong with that).

    But then I realized that the story was in first-person and that I had never actually specified that the narrator was a woman, so when she made out with one guy . . . I guess the reader just assumed that the "I" narrating the story was also a man, possibly because the story had a male byline? :)
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2019
  12. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Yes, that's an example. Another example is Death's Angel by the same author, where the guest character is presented as this tough, dangerous superagent but is perfectly okay with Kirk flirting with her through disgustingly infantilizing baby talk, which is not how Kirk would ever actually flirt with anyone.


    Exactly. It's just the opposite -- Kirk & co. are five steps ahead of Piper's crew, and Piper's crew are watching in awe and trying to learn from them. If anything, Kirk is the Mary Sue in Piper's story.

    Although admittedly Piper does get a bit MS-ish in Battlestations!, in which she's suddenly a valued member of Kirk's inner circle just a month after he meets her, and in which she plays a key role in exposing the second vast Federation-wide conspiracy in as many months.


    Again, I don't think there'd be any real danger of accidentally forgetting you were writing in first person. As I said, writing first-person narration is essentially the same as writing dialogue, so it's a skill that any writer of narrative fiction should have mastered long ago. Once you get started in that mode, it's easy to continue. As Greg's been saying, the real issues have to do with working within a limited viewpoint and figuring out how to convey information outside of it.


    That's not true. If you start out thinking that male and female viewpoints are fundamental opposites, rather than just variations on a theme, then you'll never be able to do it. As many people have said, the key to writing good female characters is just to write good characters, period. Authors usually don't write male characters by constantly obsessing on their maleness (not unless they're MRA types trying to overcompensate); they focus on what actually matters, the characters' beliefs and goals and personalities and reactions to the situations and challenges they face. There are only occasional contexts where the character's gender actually becomes relevant. And it's the same with female characters. Just write people. Gender is not the single overriding trait of a person, it's just one of many ingredients in the mix.

    Yes, there are ways that a woman's perspective and experience can differ from a man's, but a male writer can learn to depict that the same way writers learn anything else outside their first-hand experience -- by observing and listening, by consulting with people who know more about the subject than they do. If you have women in your life, if you pay attention to them and listen to them, if you let them beta-read your work and comment on your characterizations, then that can help you convey a female viewpoint more authentically, insofar as it's relevant.

    Most of my own viewpoint characters in my original fiction have been female. I've never had a problem with that, because I've grown up surrounded by female family and friends and teachers and I've observed them and listened to them and haven't been blinded by the culturally constructed delusion that they're some incomprehensibly alien species. Have I occasionally been too prone to write them from a male gaze? Sure. But I listen to critiques of my work from women and try to take their viewpoints into account. Writing, like life, is a learning process, and you only handicap yourself if you begin with the assumption that something is too hard for you to learn.


    As for why Carey chose a female lead, it's the same reason tons of other early Trek novelists and fanfic writers chose to introduce central female guest stars into their fiction -- because Star Trek was lacking in a strong female presence (Uhura, Rand, and Chapel were never more than secondary characters), yet it had a huge female fanbase who wanted to see more gender balance. The reason "Mary Sue" became a thing is that the practice of centering Trek fanfic (and eventually pro fic) on female guest characters was so widespread and pervasive that the instances of it being done badly were widespread too. For anything that becomes popular, there will be countless knockoffs that do it badly, and all too often, the bad knockoffs damage the reputation of the original. But there were plenty of cases of it being done well, like Mandala Flynn in The Entropy Effect or Evan Wilson in Uhura's Song.
     
  13. Damian

    Damian Commodore Commodore

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    Oh goody. That's on my list of books to read. I'm starting Perry's Planet and that Death's Angel will be my last Bantam novel that I never read (though I plan on re-reading The Galactic Whirlpool).

    At least Kathleen Sky's consistent I guess. :shrug:

    I guess on reflection that's all true. After all, whether you write in first person OR 3rd person, you'll have male and female characters...or even Hermats ;) that you have to write for. Changing 'her' to 'I' really doesn't make much a difference when you think about it.

    Yeah, I guess I wasn't giving Carey enough credit. I sort of thought Piper being female was just sort of a default for Carey, I hadn't given much thought that there may have been other reasons as well (though in all honesty I haven't thought deeply about those 2 novels in a long time). I definitely have to add them to my re-read list because I do remember they were two of my favorite Diane Carey Star Trek novels.

    Though I just took a look at the list of Star Trek books she's written and I found some other's I liked as well like "First Federation" "Final Frontier" and I really enjoyed the first "Invasion: First Strike" novel she wrote. I sometimes complained a bit about her writing style in some novels but looking at the list I find there are actually a couple I recall enjoying.
     
  14. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    Another peculiar challenge of first-person is that it makes it trickier to describe the protagonist physically.

    Which sentence paints a more vivid picture?

    "A tall, dark-haired man in his early thirties entered the room."

    "I entered the room."

    See what I mean? And "I, a tall, dark-haired man in my early thirties" doesn't really work. Sure, you can do the creaky trick where the narrator checks out their reflection in a mirror, but that gets old fast. And this is not just an issue with opening scenes. It can run through the whole book.

    "All the blood drained from his face. He looked as though he'd just seen a ghost."

    "All the blood drained from my face. I looked as though I'd just seen a ghost."

    The latter doesn't work because how and why he is describing his own face? I supposed you could write "I must have looked as though I'd just seen a ghost," but why add that level of abstraction? Third-person is more direct and easier. IMO.
     
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  15. Damian

    Damian Commodore Commodore

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    Yeah, I guess it's own of those things usually a writer wouldn't do unless there was a specific reason they wanted to...or if they are a writer that just happens to like to write in first person narrative and is used to working with those types of limitations.

    It sort of worked if I recall from "The Captains Table" books when it was used because it was used as a storytelling device. Captain Sisko is telling others about his story so he can say things like "I must have looked as though...." because he is telling others about his experience..it makes sense in that context. But yeah, as an entire story I can see some pitfalls and challenges.
     
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  16. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Well, if you're going to cross-post this conversation on Facebook, then so will I:

    On the other hand, you don't need to describe his fear based on his outward appearance if you can have him testify directly to his fear.

    With appearance, though, you have to be a little more indirect. For instance, in one of my two published first-person stories to date, "No Dominion," I had the narrator describe a person she'd just met as having medium-dark skin, a few shades lighter than her own.
     
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  17. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    To be fair, done right first-person can be effective, particularly if the narrator has a particularly distinct voice: Huckleberry Finn, Sam Spade, etc. And I'm told mystery writers like first-person because it makes it easier to trick and mislead the reader, who can only know or see what the detective does at any given moment.

    Come to think of it, that one old story of mine, where I neglected to spell out that "I" was woman, was a cyberpunk yarn where I was going for a hardboiled detective feel . . . .
     
  18. JonnyQuest037

    JonnyQuest037 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Bram Stoker's Dracula is probably one of the most famous examples of a novel using multiple first-person narrators. It's told in the form of an epistolary, where the various first-person narrators are writing letters or diary entries. One character (Dr. Seward, IIRC) even records an audio diary on records! I understand that epistolary novels were quite popular when Dracula was first published in 1897.
    That's certainly the case in Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, where most of the time we're hearing things from the first-person perspective of Dr. Watson. But occasionally, Doyle mixed things up by writing a Holmes story in third-person, or from the first-person perspective of Holmes himself. Since these were later Holmes stories, it was probably just Doyle trying to keep things interesting for himself in a series he grew increasingly tired of writing throughout his life.

    But even the classic Sherlock Holmes stories narrated by Watson shift perspective too, as it's not uncommon for Holmes' client to give background on the case to Holmes and Watson, or for Holmes to return from a solo excursion and explain everything that he did to Watson. In those instances, the first-person perspective of the story shifts over to the person talking to Watson.
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2019
  19. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Then again, the norm these days is to write third-person from a single character's perspective at a time, only switching perspectives between scenes. So you're inside one character's head just as much as in first-person, just with different pronouns. And that makes it just as easy to conceal anything you don't want the readers to know -- just make sure all your POV scenes are from the perspective of characters who don't know the secret. (Although that can allow the savvy reader to tell that a character is hiding something if there's never a scene from their POV.)
     
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  20. JonnyQuest037

    JonnyQuest037 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    And actually, I just remembered a book that combines the Dracula & Sherlock Holmes approaches: Fred Saberhagen's 1978 novel The Holmes-Dracula File, which alternates between chapters written by Dr. Watson and ones written by Dracula.
     
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