I read a Star Trek novel recently.
These are my equivalent of the fluffy romance novel: they’re not too heavy or too hard-hitting, and I can whip through one pretty quickly.
Many are quite mediocre, and The Shocks of Adversity was no exception to this rule. However, it did provide some good food for thought.
I’ll provide spoilers here, but the book is largely spoiled by the blurb… and the plot is not terribly surprising.
I saw Star Trek: Beyond last weekend, and it was basically perfect.
Well, you know, for a Star Trek movie.
I was worried after the first trailer — it looked like Star Trek: Fast and Furious at that stage, and I had no interest in seeing that. Fortunately, that’s not what’s actually in the movie for the most part.
I have issues with each of the other two reboot films — I’ve mentally re-written half the plot of Into Darkness to make it better — but all I’ve really got for this one is nit-picking and the usual Star Trek physics fail.
Naturally, there will be spoilers.
I read a Star Trek novel focused on time travel lately, and it was a blast. The book is titled “Watching The Clock,” with the heading of Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations.
I like a good parody. I am also a hard-core Star Trek fan, so Redshirts, by John Scalzi, is an amusing novel. It turns out, this book has been reviewed by Phil Plait (aka the Bad Astronomer), but I’ve got a few words for it myself. So let’s boldly go.
The Redshirt Phenomenon
Before we get into the plot, let’s consider the humble redshirt. He goes out on an away mission, and somebody forgot to tell him that the air wasn’t breathable. Or that you really shouldn’t fire your pulse pistol at the land worms. Or that you should watch out for ice sharks. Or unhappy locals. Or Klingons. Or what-have-you. The redshift is the guy who dies (often in the first five minutes) just to demonstrate how dangerous the situation is for the protagonists.
Star Trek is notorious for this, with the red-shirted security personnel being a common target. Hence the trope. On the other end of the scale, main characters like Kirk and Spock have Plot Armor, and, as such, are generally impervious to just about everything. Even if they end up dead, they tend to get better. (With an exception for falling bridges, but we’ll save that for the movie.) The novel Redshirts is about exactly this phenomenon… from the perspective of the redshirts in question.
Let’s Get Meta
Oh. My. Goodness. The story rapidly gets meta, as our heroes gradually realize that they are the minor expendable characters in a really bad TV series. Most of the crew is in the habit of avoiding the senior officers, for fear of being drawn into a probably-deadly Away Mission. The impossible science solutions are supplied by a box that goes “ding” when there’s stuff.
Our friendly lead redshirt, Andrew Dahl, decides that this body count thing is terrible. And he doesn’t want to get killed when the Narrative next impinges on his highly futuristic reality. He gets his friends together, along with one of the nigh-immortal main characters from the TV show that’s ruining his life, and proceed to time-travel back to the present day. To talk to the people writing the TV show, and ask them not to kill off so many people in such stupid ways.
I love this. It’s a delightful criticism of some of the silly aspects of episodic TV shows like Star Trek that use unnecessary deaths to add drama.
For bonus points, the meta goes another layer down. At first, it looks like what TVTropes calls “No Inner Fourth Wall” — the interior fictional universe is aware of (and has people traveling to…) the outer fictional universe, which isn’t aware of the reader. And then the outer fourth wall goes down, too, as Andrew Dahl starts counting up his near misses with death… and concludes he’s the protagonist of somebody else’s story. Well played.
So many metafiction tropes pop up, I won’t bother listing them all. Make yourself a bingo card, and read the book.
With A Little Mood Whiplash
Some of this occurs. While much of the tale is played for laughs, there are several sections that are deadly serious. We see a widower whose wife was killed defending an ambassador, and he grieves, trying to understand the Narrative and why she had to die. We see Andrew Dahl mad about the Narrative wiping out one of his friends, and we have some clever, risky actions taken for the sake of a comatose accident victim. The light-hearted puzzlement contrasts with the fact that for these people, redshirts are real people dying, and we see the TV show’s screenwriter agonizing over the characters he’s killed.
And that’s something the original Star Trek rarely shows. There was one episode where a newlywed was killed, and the widow got to be upset at the end… but mostly, the deaths are all about making Kirk angry and so forth. And, often, utterly pointless.
Redshirts does better.
I’m trying to decide which currently-popular franchise has the most devoted fanbase. Since an overall comparison of this would be impossible, let’s do a pairwise comparison. Which of these two has the most devoted fans? Discuss.
Case 1: Tolkien
Master of mythology and codifier of conlanging. Creator of Middle Earth and all of the associated Legendarium. Illustrations of a devoted fanbase: First, the movies, all of the work that went into making them, and all of the arguments about how they could have been better. Second, this research paper:
Case 2: Star Trek
Codifier of space opera television. Series. Movies. Reboots (which were lousy). Fan-made live-action TV shows. Lots and lots and lots of spin-off media. And plays and operas and music videos done in the languages invented for the show.