Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Admiral is still dead. So far.

When it was leaked that Admiral Janeway was likely to die in a "Star Trek: The Next Generation" original novel, "Before Dishonor", I happily consigned the rumour to the "she'll be back in time for the next big anniversary" pile of story arcs. Margaret Clark, then-Pocket editor, later explained the reasoning that went into choosing this new direction for the "Star Trek: Voyager" characters. And being promoted to the Admirality in the canonical movie, "Star Trek: Nemesis" meant that Kathryn Janeway really couldn't suddenly return to her old ship, and her original Delta Quadrant storyline was done and dusted. The old "demoting the admiral to captain" chestnut had also been done - several times - with James T Kirk.

I remember another then-editor at Pocket Books, Marco Palmieri, saying he'd rather a ST novel polarise the audience with strong reactions than to produce a bland, throwaway novel that offended no one and was quickly forgotten. If I may say so, many of the numbered VOY novels were bland, throwaway novels that offended no one. I do tend to remember plot details of ST novels I read, but the early VOY ones were very hit-and-miss, with lots of misses.

Was it about a year after the character died that a group of TrekBBS Janeway supporters heard that the licenced fiction had dared to kill off their favourite character while they weren't looking? Some of us tried to say to them, "Don't worry, science fiction deaths of regulars - especially in licensed spin-offs - are rarely/never permanent", but some of their bizarre reactions seemed to make the possibility of Janeway actually staying dead an interesting, refreshing change from the status quo. If I'd been a Pocket editor, I'd be tempted to do something radical just to keep everyone on the hop. Despite Margaret Clark saying that, as far as she was concerned, Janeway was dead and never coming back, I've seen the same things said by others about Jean Grey, Spock, Superman, Batman, Tasha Yar, Kirk, Wonderwoman, Wondergirl/Troia, Bruce Wayne, The Joker, Captain America, The Flash, Ben Sisko and Data/B-4. And they've all come back! Even Janeway is in "Star Trek Online", a game which is long set after the events of "Before Dishonor" and "Full Circle". Not the same timeline, but she is back!

I still think Janeway will be back in time for the next big anniversary of VOY. However, even that will not satisfy the avid Janeway supporters - many of whom stated, very proudly, that they gave up on licensed ST tie-ins many, many years before Janeway was killed off - since they also seem to want her to undergo a demotion back to captain and somehow end up back in command of the USS Voyager, which is, I suppose, supposed to be her 'first, best destiny"? The solution we offered some of them was the concept of in-series novels, set during Voyager's seven year mission, but no, those stories would be forever tainted because they'd know that Janeway would be slated to die. This really is a "no-win scenario" for them. But it was a problem with its roots waaaaay back when they stopped supporting VOY novels. I wish I could offer them some advice that would be worth having, but I'm really at a loss as to what would pacify them. A personal re-set button? A Klingon bird of prey to slingshot themselves around a sun and reverse history? I really don't know.

From what I've heard, the recent VOY novels have sold extremely well and have been positively reviewed. The old numbered VOY numbers did not do the sales figures Pocket wanted, and that was when the series was on-air, providing a theoretical prominence for those books. I started reading "Voyager: Full Circle" recently, and really only got through the prologue before I had to do other things - but it was beautiful! Can't wait to get back to it. I still think it's inevitable that Janeway shall return from her sojourn with Lady Q. It won't be to pacify anyone; it'll be because a clever idea comes along. The challenge will be giving her storylines that will make the most of the character's renewed potential. Spock, Kirk and Sisko returned from the afterlife changed people. As you would.

Captain's Log: Supplemental.

Before Admiral Janeway was killed off, there was a huge, angry, raging thread in the TrekLit section at on TrekBBS, which was polarized into two groups:

* One side demanding that Pocket Books "grow some balls at last" and be brave to kill off a regular character of "Star Trek", to make the ST novels more like real life.

* And the other side defending the fans of individual fans who might be advocates of a particular ST actor/character.

Some measure of begrudging consensual leeway was suggested that, when a regular ST actor dies, maybe it was time for that character to be "retired". eg. it was suggested that McCoy could be killed off now that DeForest Kelley had departed. (Mind you, that elderly TNG McCoy had already had a death scene in a comic didn't seem to ruffle anyone's feathers).

Then Margaret Clark started teasing about the then-forthcoming "Death in Winter" hardcover, and then the cover art sent the Crusher fans (and the ST Anti-Death Lobby) into a frenzy. The debate was renewed but, ultimately, there was no "death in winter" and the book seemed to disappoint a lot of people, probably because the book ended up covering very different ground to their expectations.

But the challenge had been issued: Pocket Books might soon "grow some balls at last" and be brave to kill off a regular character of "Star Trek". Who would it be. I recall Marco Palmieri and Margaret saying that, if it ever happened, it would be because the death set up the most, best story opportunities for all the other characters, and I do think they chose well.

Lurking in the background were "No more Re-set Button!" lobbiests. Hilariously, every time Paramount, CBS or Pocket grows some balls, someone else wants the Re-set Button to be pushed. Poor ol' Janeway.

Then along comes JJ and Bad Robot. They avoid the temptation to push that Re-Set Button at the end of their 2009 movie - and different people are angry and upset.


Rich said...

Ooh, thank you for this blog post! I love to see other people who are at least aware of the current books in Trek literature.
I'm not sure where Trek literary fiction, or Trek at all, is going, especially after the new movie and then the Destiny trilogy, and apparently no one else does either.
I think the current crop of Trek authors has improved quite a bit since the old days, and I think there are two greater emphases that are making a difference: a move away from "juvenile literature" through vocab and story complexity, and a concentration on the greater-impact stories you were talking about.
Not all recent stories have been "high impact" stories, though. A few Titan stories especially seem to be "one ship, one crew" stories that don't have much of a wide effect.
Going back to how the Trek literature is changing, one of my favorite authors, Christopher L. Bennett, mentioned on his website that his "young Kirk" universe books were put on hold, unpublished and unscheduled despite being bought, paid for and written.

Therin of Andor said...

Yep, there are four post-movie novels completed, but on hold for now. It was decided only to allow comics and novels set before the events of the first film's status quo, so as not to confuse people if the next movie ends up disagreeing with the way those four books were written.

IDW has released pre- or parallel comic mini-series tying into the movie ("Countdown", "Nero" and "Spock Reflections") and Simon & Schuster's new "young adult" book line, Simon Spotlight, has announced two "Starfleet Academy" tales sit in the new movie's continuity.

I'm sure Pocket will jostle to eventually get their four books they've already paid for out into shops eventually, but the manuscripts made need some tweaking. It's not the first time this stuff has happened; "Probe", a sequel to ST IV) was delayed a whole year, with dustjackets sitting in a warehouse waiting for the manuscript to be approved.