Star Trek and Humanism: The Novels Part 2
Picking up where we left off in last weeks post about Star Trek and humanist values, lets talk about a couple more good examples from the good folks at Pocket Books. Today we look at the book that laid the groundwork for the Klingon Empire we know and love, as well as a Lost Era story about Jean Luc Picard and his life before becoming Captain of the Enterprise.
<GROUNDED PARENTS EDITOR ALERT! PARENTING CONTENT REACHING DANGEROUSLY LOW LEVELS!>
Oh come on Nomad, we went over this last week, Star Trek is good fun you can share with the whole family. Steph wrote a whole post about male privilege last week that doesn’t even have children in it and you left her alone.
<THIS IS TRUE… IT SEEMS THAT THERE IS NO HARD AND FAST EDITORIAL RULE REGARDING PARENTING CONTENT IN BLOG POSTS. MY PURPOSE HERE IS IRRELEVANT. COMMENCING SELF DESTRUCT IN 5…4…3…>
Hang on a minute there, no need to get all explodey Nomad. I’m sure that there’s a way for you to help out. How about you go and think up some good questions about Trek and humanism and parenting and we can do a Q&A in the next post I do about Star Trek?
<FAIR ENOUGH…CARRY ON THEN.>
Whew… Let’s do this quick while he’s gone.
The Final Reflection (1984) by John M. Ford
Klingon Captain Krenn is a ruthless war strategist. But on a mission to Earth, Krenn learns a lesson in peace. Suddenly he must fight a secret battle of his own. His empire has a covert plan to shatter the Federation. Only Krenn can prevent a war – at the risk of his own life!
I’m going to piss off quite a few people here, but I’m not particularly fond of the Klingons as they have been presented since Star Trek the Motion Picture and Star Trek: The Search for Spock, and as they were further developed in Star Trek:The Next Generation (TNG). They went from the oily, swarthy, incredibly problematic villains of The Original Series (TOS) and were transformed into awkwardly overmade Space Orks, and then rehabilitated by TNG into honorable adversaries and allies.
Pre-dating all that though was John M. Ford’s excellent novel “The Final Reflection”. Ford’s Star Trek work began as the writer of supplements for the FASA Star Trek RPG, where he took the stock villains that were Kirk’s bane and fleshed them out into a more complex and relatable Empire worth respecting. Given the chance to write a Star Trek novel he set the entire story in the Klingon Empire he had created for the game. Told from the point of view of a Klingon orphan, Vrenn, who is a fighter in a live action version of the Klingon version of chess, klin zha. After impressing a Thought Admiral with his resourcefulness and courage, we follow his career until he is finally Captain of his own ship and head of his own house. Now known as Krenn, he is chosen to attend a Babel conference on Earth and to retrieve the Federation’s first ambassador to the Klingon Empire, Dr Emanuel Tagore. The story is a fascinating peek into another culture, an excellent primer on how to “humanize” a previously disrespected “stock villain” very similarly to the way Diane Duane and Peter Morwood do in The Romulan Way. The story touches on the uncomfortable similarities between Empire and Federation, and how important it is for even enemies to have cultural exchange and diplomatic relations. When John M. Ford died in 2006, blogger Eric Burns wrote an excellent essay “Requiescat in Pace, John M. Ford” about the unprecedented impact Ford’s work on the way Klingons were presented after The Final Reflection and it’s companion How Much for Just the Planet?. He not only changed the way we look at Klingons, he also opened the door for other writers to create Sci Fi adversaries that were more than just cardboard cut outs and stock allegories to the Soviet Union.
The Buried Age (2007) by Christopher L. Bennet
- Jean-Luc Picard. His name has gone down in legend as the captain of the USS Stargazer and two starships Enterprise. But the nine years of his life leading up to the inaugural mission of the USS Enterprise to Farpoint Station have remained a mystery—until now, as Picard’s lost era is finally unearthed.
- Following the loss of the Stargazer and the brutal court-martial that resulted, Picard no longer sees a future for himself in Starfleet. Turning to his other love, archaeology, he embarks on a quest to rediscover a buried age of ancient galactic history… and awakens a living survivor of that era: a striking, mysterious woman frozen in time since before the rise of Earth‘s dinosaurs. But this powerful immortal has a secret of cataclysmic proportions, and her plans will take Picard—aided along the way by a brilliant but naïve android, an insightful Betazoid, and an enigmatic El-Aurian—to the heights of passion, the depths of betrayal, and the farthest reaches of explored space.
- The only TNG book on my highly recommended list. Like the best Next Generation episodes, this story glues the camera to the show’s strongest character, Captain Jean Luc Picard, and stays with him throughout. Detailing the years just before Picard’s return to Starfleet at the beginning of The Next Generation, The Buried Age deals in interesting issues of species development and the consequences of a universe as old as ours is populated by galaxy spanning empires. The central adversary of sorts, the seductive and ancient alien dubbed Ariel and her Manraloth companions, present an almost reverse Prime Directive conundrum. When a species is so advanced as to be God like in their power, should we treat them as Gods? Do we owe them deference due to their technological advantage over us?
- I also enjoy this book for it’s look inside the mind of Picard, who some have said is the quintessential Star Trek character. We see him struggle with the aftershocks of the loss of the Stargazer. We see him throw himself into his other love, archeology. And we see why he is destined to get back in the Captain’s chair even though he is reluctant to take on the responsibility.
- So there we have it, a taste of what Star Trek Novels have to offer for Humanist’s young and old. I could literally talk all your ears off about this stuff. I didn’t even mention Peter David’s New Frontier novels, which craft an entirely new sector of space for Peter to stamp his particular brand of fun on the Trek universe. Or The Pandora Principle, which tells the story of Spock’s protege Saavik. Or The Vulcan Academy Murders and The IDIC Epidemic, by Jean Lorrah which explore the rough edges of species living and cooperating. They aren’t all gold. A lot of Star Trek Novels are just another episode in print form. But the best of them bring out the best in Trek. They show us how the ideals of the Federation, a collection of disparate species united in their quest for peace, can be applied to a sometimes hostile universe. They teach us to look beyond stereotypes and rash judgements to see the common “humanity” we all share as sentient beings. And they teach us that Science Fiction need not be dumbed down to be presented to a mass audience, nor is mass audience SF like Trek undeserving of serious treatment by writers.
- Featured Image Credit: from ‘A Klingon Christmas Carol” by Flickr user Anne Petersen.
- Book Cover Images from Pocket Books
- Nomad Probe from the TOS episode “The Changeling”