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Influences Part 1: Star Trek Novels

When you are feeling uninspired it can be good to go back and have a conversation with old friends. I know I have mentioned some of these before,, but I thought it might be fun to go back and talk about the books (and other media) that have an influence on my writing.

And what better place than to start at a beginning (though not THE beginning) that frankly, reignited my desire to write. I can also say that it wet my appetite for science fiction beyond what I could find just in the narrow confines of the Star Trek universe.

But let's not be too dismissive here. There are authors with some chops among the early (and later) writers. And a few of them expand on Trek in a way you never could have done in a 60-minute syndicated show. Star Trek in its earliest form had a fair share of weird shit, not Space 1999 weird, but yeah some bizarre things happened and on occasion, among the social commentary, there was some damn good science fiction to be consumed.

Literature kept Star Trek, and to a real extent, Star Wars, alive in people's minds. Sure they had the movies, but I was not the only one hungry for stories in the universe, even if they often deviated from established canon and were not consistent with one another. As a high schooler, I was frustrated by this but now I look at it with a fondness. Each novel is one person's impression of how Star Trek could or should have been. And some of them

get a bit wild in that interpretation, to good effect. I noted (and so should you) that many of these writers were first timers and women.

Just a note, most of these are from the original run of Trek, mostly from before Star Trek: The Motion Picture in terms of chronology. I read quite a few Next Gen novels (one of which is mentioned below, spoiler), but they were just okay. By this time, at least in the books I read, they were tighter with the constraints? Keeping writers on schedule and in tune with the overall tone of Trek. I mean, I guess? Someone with actual boots on the ground experience could comment and find me a captive audience.

Mindshadow (JM Dillard)

Mom and dad were headed to the store on a Saturday and I had asked them to get me a scifi novel. Both avid readers who encouraged us kids to read, they came home with my first Trek novel, Mindshadow. I was hooked on the Trek novel straight away, with a heavy focus on Spock and Kirk being Kirk, though in the best way. Romulans, who are a recurring villain in many of these stories, are getting their hands dirty here. It is well written, though it rushes to its conclusion and the emotional beats don't all pay off. Strong characterization for the characters introduced in the story.

A little social commentary as well. This is more of a techno-thriller / spy story. But the Romulans do not work as well as cold-war villains. If we piece together some basic evidence, they best metaphor might be China, what with buying technology from the Klingons the way China (and other nations) did from the Soviet Union.. To a darker degree we could see some inherent racism associated with how "sneaky" the Romulans are. I guess my point is that these Romulans feel more akin to the Next Gen era Romulans. Where as in Killing Time (below), they are antagonists in a less stereotypical way. Neither is exactly how they are portrayed in the original series.

The Entropy Effect (Vonda N. McIntyre)

Is this my favorite Trek novel? I think so, yes. I was buying my own books now with work money, because I was not going on dates. The Entropy Effect is another Spock centered novel, though I won't spoil it for you. Where Mindshadow had some good characterization, McIntyre is a step up here in her characters. Sulu kisses a girl and grows his hair and a mustache. Grief and misunderstanding are piled on one another in an almost too much kind of way. One more misunderstanding might have ruined the entire thing. It should be noted that this novel is chronologically after The Motion Picture.

Killing Time (Della Van Hise)

More Romulans and some time travel shenanigans greet us in Killing Time. But the author writes a very serious and frankly, violent novel that explores the relationship between Spock and Kirk. I get the impression that Spock was far more interesting to the writers than Kirk, and I can see that. I do not believe that Kirk is a bad character, nor is his portrayal by Shatner off-putting, but even in his complexity, Kirk is a simple creature. Spock is not. If you are a fan (and caught up) of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds you might find some familiar beats in this story.

The Trellisane Confrontation (David Dvorkin)

It took me a couple reads to appreciate this one. The Trellisone Confrontation is more of an ensemble piece than the previous novels, and the big three all get to shine. However, Sulu has some point of view moments and Christine Chapel has a whole damn sub-plot. The antagonists are again violent in the extreme, not a cartoon kind of way. A character you think is going to be a main player, gets merc'd early on. I am not sure the writing quite kept up with the scope of the story and some aspects of the plot needed more. But switching between so many points of view did not turn me off and eventually this became a favorite to re-read.

The Klingon Gambit (Robert E. Vardeman)

The idea behind The Klingon Gambit makes for excellent science fiction. Unleashed from the constraints imposed on Trek novels, and another one hundred pages, it could be a classic. I will say that the author knows their Trek or had on hand someone who did. The Klingons are a familiar pair from an episode of the tv show. This might be the weakest link from a writing standpoint, but I think the plot is strong and ends in a way I did not quite expect. The characterizations were surface and none of the characters all that interesting.

A couple honorable mentions: Yesterday's Son, AC Crispin's first novel; My Enemy, My Ally by Diane Duane (love this one); The Devil's Heart - TNG era, by Carmen Carter.

Later, Chummers



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