Monday, December 10, 2007

A novel argument

Over at TrekBBS, the old chestnut of stand-alone versus serialized Star Trek novels has again arisen.

Some fans seem to yearn for simpler times, when they never feel tempted to read beyond one tie-in product to truly get the gist of one particular adventure. They don't want any sharing of original characters, which essentially puts an end to any continuing characters past the credited headlining stars of a series. Some have speculated that Pocket Books is no longer soliciting manuscripts that tell self-contained Star Trek stories.

Of course they do! Happens often enough. There's no ban on stand-alone adventures at all. I take it some are not enjoying some of the so-called "relaunches" and serialized stories, even though the authors seem (to me) to tell a complete story within their instalment. A great recent example is the "Crucible" trilogy by David R George III. The first one, "McCoy", is totally stand-alone, even to its trilogy mates, if one so chooses.

First-time authors following Pocket's official ST submission policy must submit a stand-alone novel that makes no reference to existing novels. (Mind you, that's to prove that they can write in the genre, and can follow guidelines.) But even in the supposedly "good old days" of the 1980s, a stand-alone novel could become so successful that it spawned a sequel. So one might say that today's readers would be hesitant to pick up AC Crispin's "Time for Yesterday" if they hadn't already read "Yesterday's Son" - but neither the editor nor author knew that the first adventure would extend beyond one book. The first ST novel I ever read was Bantam's "The Fate of the Phoenix", a sequel to "The Price of the Phoenix"!

I say, trust the authors to make every ST novel as stand-alone as possible - which they do! There are very few novels, except perhaps a few early duologies and trilogies that were designed as duologies or trilogies, that can't stand alone.

Many readers also don't want any novels to ever conflict with another. And that becomes harder and harder to achieve every month. I recently chatted with a high school student who has to write a science fiction short story for an assignment, and he wants to imply that it is part of an arc of stories that might eventually lead to a novel. It's essential, for the assignment, that the short story actually also be self-contained.

You know, I've met many Star Trek fans over the years who seem to be always looking for a chance to opt out of something, ie. so they have an excuse not to read/see it. "Oh, this novel requires a knowledge of the one ST film I hate so I won't be reading that one." "I heard that book had too many unexplained in-jokes." "The books aren't canonical, so I refuse to read them." "I only read novels written by people who have direct connections to canonical ST". Etc.

If readers truly want stand-alone ST stories, then they are going to conflict with all the others. We also end up with hundreds - thousands! - of interesting guest crew characters who never get to grow beyond one story. A volume of "The Best of Trek" had an article where somebody tried to do a definitive list of original Enterprise crewmembers who had appeared in the novels. Initally I was excited as I remembered there'd been a small amount of character sharing and sequeling in the Bantam and early Pocket novels (Dr Ruth Rigel, Ingrit Thomson, Mahase the Eseriot, Naraht the Horta, Harb Tanzer, Lia Burke, etc), but the resulting list seemed totally useless and pointless, since most other characters received one appearance only - and often it was for a redshirt whose entire contribution to the plot was "Please sign this" or "Aaaargghhh!".

And whenever an author decided to make use of minor TOS guest crew, such as Freeman ("The Trouble With Tribbles"), they'd give him a different first name anyway. I can't see why some readers say they lack of character-building across novels something to celebrate? If an author tried to give every character in his/her ST novel equal time to get a story arc happening for them, and each arc completed in the one novel, most of it would be described by most readers as "wasted filler". The arcs they complete in a single novel ultimately contribute to the plot of that novel. Also, the authors would eventually exhaust the 420 or so TOS crew, or the 1000 or so TNG crew in just a few years of novels, because some readers say they don't want any minor characters ever being shared between books.

Minor characters don't have to have a story arc at all, of course - that's why they are minor characters - but if a new author can add a dimension to a few of them in some future novel, that's good. But you still don't have to read every instalment to get resolution of the major arcs of the first novel. It's an Easter egg for those who notice it.


For example, we learn a tiny bit more about hortas each time Naraht (above left) appears in a novel. (I guess you don't want to know that he's also popped up in a computer game and a few comics, and each time we learned more about the oddities of silicon-based life.)

Referring to JJ Abrams' upcoming TOS movie, they say, "An ambitious and risk taking studio would be making a new space opera, instead of remaking Trek."

Sorry, I don't want "a new space opera". I want more Star Trek, and the thought of a new TOS adventure, where the characters are all young and virile again, is very exciting.

I was also asked, "Have you ever invested in something, be it books, music, movies, TV, whatever, that you collected eagerly as it was being released, experienced it once at the time of purchase, then never looked at it again? Did that collection wind up in a yard/car boot sale twelve months later?"

Nope, not really. But even if I did only see/read/hold it the once (and a lot of my books await unread), it was the buying of it that had some exhilaration, and was probably worth the price of purchase. A bit like seeing a live stage show. I usually buy the souvenir program, but the memories of going to and seeing the actual performance is what I paid the initial ticket price for. I could live without the program, I guess, but it's handy for later reference.

If they do all end up in a car boot sale or eBay someday when I'm 90, so be it. I've had a lifetime of memories from the initial outlays of money. But I agree, any collection you choose to stop adding to eventually risks falling from grace, and the collector must go in search of new thrills. Human nature. Enjoy it!

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