Star Trek and Red Shirts

I watched Star Trek Beyond last night. No, I’m not the most up-to-date movie fan. I did manage to see the first Star Trek reboot film in a theater (where it was breathtaking). I watched Star Trek Into Darkness on TV. I watched Star Trek Beyond on my Fire, because it’s just come available on Amazon Prime. (I also have all the original series and Next Gen movies on my DVD shelf).

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I enjoyed Beyond. The movie had some humor, LOTS of action and explosions, people in red uniforms lying dead in corridors, fabulous CGI and special effects. Exactly, I suspect, what the movie makers were aiming for and what the audience wanted. There was even a sweet tribute to the late (and so very much lamented) Leonard Nimoy (Spock was always my favorite). Early in the movie, young Spock is disturbed by the news of Ambassador Spock’s death. Near the end, young Spock receives a box of Ambassador Spock’s belongings; he opens one intricate container to find a picture of the bridge crew from the original timeline.

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As much fun as the reboot movies have been, I still can’t quite see Chris Pine as Kirk. Karl Urban comes a little closer with McCoy—he has the acerbic wit and says what he thinks. Zachary Quinto comes closest as Spock—he does the mannerisms well, and he’s physically believable.

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But as much as I love a good alternate timeline story, as much as I’ve enjoyed the reboot movies as visually stunning space opera, I still have a hard time seeing them as “real” Star Trek.

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And now back to books: If you’ve ever been a Star Trek fan, the title of John Scalzi’s RedshirtsRedshirts says it all. Well, maybe not all, because the minute you (and the five newest crew members on the good ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union, or Dub U) think you have it figured out, the story takes off in some new direction. I’m not going to give away much, because I love being surprised by a story, and this one bounced me around but good.

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The Trek universe redshirts were the extras who went on away missions with the regular cast. Guess who got killed. Often for no apparent reason, except to lead into a commercial break. No matter how much you enjoyed the Trek franchise, didn’t you ever suspect that the “science” side of the science fiction equation made no sense at all? And what about all those other people on the ship (three hundred or so on the original series, over a thousand on Picard’s Enterprise, at least 150 on Voyager)? What the heck were they doing in all those labs and on all those decks that we never saw?

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Redshirts is full of the most surprising answers to questions like that, sending up the whole SF TV genre from the inside (and with great love and respect). It won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2013, and it’s one of the most entertaining (and funniest) books I’ve read in a long time. My appreciation for John Scalzi rises another notch.

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It’s been fifty years now, hasn’t it? I still love Star Trek, old and new. Bring it on.

John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Reboot

Several years ago when I heard that John Scalzi had published Fuzzy Nation, a retelling of H. Beam Piper’s much loved 1962 classic Little Fuzzy, my first thought was Why? My second thought was No Thanks.

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Little Fuzzy and its 1964 sequel The Other Human Race (published together as The Fuzzy Papers) have remained on my keeper shelf for decades and multiple readings. Although Piper wrote numerous novels and short stories between 1947 and 1964, influencing many of the science fiction writers who came after him, he is probably best remembered for his Fuzzy tales. Other authors stepped in after Piper’s 1964 suicide and wrote Fuzzy sequels, which were knocked out of Piper’s time line by his own third Fuzzy novel, Fuzzies and Other People, discovered long after his death and published in 1984. (That one is on my shelf, too, along with The Complete Paratime, Piper’s Paratime Police/alternate timeline series.)

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Recently, though, I’d heard so much praise for Scalzi’s work that I picked up his latest novel, The Collapsing Empire, from the New Book kiosk at my local Half Price Books. Fuzzy NationLooked interesting, so I went back to the science fiction section to see what else they had and found a copy of Fuzzy Nation. Well, why not, I thought. If I hate it, I don’t have to read it.

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I didn’t hate it. I loved it.

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In his author’s note, Scalzi calls Fuzzy Nation a reimagining of Piper’s story, a “reboot” not unlike the recent Star Trek movies. I’ve enjoyed those, despite being a Trek fan since the premier of the original series. And I hadn’t read Piper’s stories in at least twenty years (so little time, so many books on my To Be Read shelves, and on my Kindle, and on my Keep To Reread shelves, and people keep writing new ones).

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Fuzzy Nation is indeed a reimagining of the story. It does begin with prospector Jack Holloway discovering a huge seam of sunstones on the apparently uninhabited planet Zarathustra XXIII. And Jack Holloway does indeed meet a family of Fuzzys (Scalzi’s rebooted spelling), adorable, clever, cuddly creatures vaguely resembling large bipedal cats. And Scalzi’s story, like Piper’s, revolves around the question of Fuzzy sentience. If the Fuzzys are people, Zara 23 will no longer be an uninhabited planet, and all the rules for its exploitation will change.

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Scalzi’s Holloway isn’t quite the same person as Piper’s, nor are Scalzi’s Fuzzys, not that they’ve lost any of their intrinsic charm. The supporting cast is completely different, the characters more developed than Piper’s. Not to mention Holloway’s amiable dog, Carl, who lets the Fuzzys into the cabin through his doggy door (when he’s not setting off explosives on command).

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Scalzi has also brought the sensibilities and technology of the story up to date. A lot has changed in the last fifty years, from computers to ecological awareness. He has also added at least two more sentient species to the story (although we don’t meet them), along with the warning story of a possible third which was exterminated before its existence could disrupt the exploitation of its world.

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If you read Piper’s Fuzzy stories back in the day, don’t be put off by Fuzzy Nation. Scalzi’s love and respect for the original is clear, and the book was written with the approval of Piper’s literary estate. If you’ve never even heard of Piper (alas, sadly possible these days), you need no prior knowledge to enjoy Fuzzy Nation.

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I liked Scalzi’s approach and style so much that I ordered a copy of his 2013 Hugo Award winning novel, Redshirts. I mean, how could an old Trek fan not love that title? I’ll keep you posted.

Seven Months of Trek

I’ve been a Star Trek fan since the beginning of the original series. I was in college then, without easy access to a TV, and it probably took me years to catch all the episodes (mostly on black and white sets back in the day). Since then I’ve seen every episode of Star Trek and The Next Generation an embarrassing number of times. I can nearly recite the dialog along with most of them. On the other end, I have to admit that, as much as I enjoy Scott Bakula, I never really warmed up to Enterprise.

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But I loved Voyager and Deep Space Nine, both long off the air. I’d seen all of Voyager, but not since its original run, and I’d missed big chunks of Deep Space Nine, which was shown in syndication and probably moved around the schedule a lot. So I chortled with glee last July when the oldie channel Heroes & Icons announced it would be showing all five series six nights a week, straight through in their original order. Voyager wrapped up (and started again from the beginning) last week, Deep Space Nine this week, and it was great fun to watch the whole sagas in seven months instead of the original seven years.

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voyager-companionI had picked up a copy of Star Trek Voyager Companion at Half Price books a couple of years ago and stashed it on the shelf with my well-worn copy of Captains’ Logs (which covers the franchise from the beginning through the casting of Voyager). Not the sort of book one sits down and reads from cover to cover, the Voyager Companion includes episode synopses, cast lists, lots of pictures, features on the characters, and several passable indexes, but not much behind-the-scenes information. When the series started its run last July, I started reading the book, episode by episode (especially useful when I dozed off during Act 3, not an unusual occurrence given the 11 PM time slot).

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I immediately decided I needed the corresponding Star Trek Deep Space Nine Companion, but that book was out of print and not easy to find. Enter Alibris, where I found a copy indeep-space-nine-companion mid August. I quickly caught up to reading by the episode. The Deep Space Nine book far outshines the Voyager volume (except for its lack of multiple indexes). Detailed synopses of the episodes are followed by behind-the-scenes sections describing the writing process, character development, special effects, connections to other episodes, and more. The tales of “story breaking” are informative not just for screenwriting techniques, but for the choices made in developing character and plot consistent with the long arcs of the series. Many finished episodes reflected only a kernel of the original story idea.

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Why do I continue to watch Trek episodes that I’ve seen over and over again? Not for the plots, good, bad, or indifferent. I know what happens, no surprises there. I watch for the characters. I don’t so much care what they’re doing—I care who they are. There’s a lesson for writers in that: we may have a plot, but without characters that our readers care about, we may not have a story.

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Live Long and Prosper!

Donna Frelick’s Fools Rush In

Fools Rush In is the third installment in Donna Frelick’s Interstellar Rescue series (after Unchained Memory and Trouble in Mind), but it is easily read as a stand-alone novel. In fact it is really a prequel to the other books, introducing Rayna Carver, agent of the Interstellar Rescue Service and Sam Murphy, a space pirate with a passion for liberating slaver ships (supporting characters in the earlier books). Gabriel Cruz, Sam’s friend and the hero of Trouble In Mind also appears in Fools Rush In.

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fools-rush-inFrelick’s universe is based on the presumption that the Gray aliens (Minertsans) are indeed abducting humans (as well as members of many other species) to work as slaves in their mines and factories. Fools Rush In opens as Murphy’s pirate vessel, the ShadowHawk, captures a Minertsan slave ship, the Fleeflek, on which Rayna is undercover, hoping to make her way into the munitions factory on the planet LinHo, one of the acknowledged pest holes of the galaxy. Her plans disrupted but not put aside, Rayna sets out to convince this inconvenient pirate to help her continue her mission. Sparks fly, both professional and personal.

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Unlike Trouble In Mind, which is set largely on Earth, Fools Rush In takes place on starships and occasional dingy and dangerous ports. Frelick’s books are science fiction romance for the science fiction lover. The romance, while satisfying, never overshadows the action plot, which involves sabotage, space battles, and general skulduggery. Frelick does not go out of her way to over explain her universe, either. We meet Thranes, Patarons, Minertsans, and other aliens, with just enough description to make them interesting, but never bogging down in back story. We learn just enough about Rayna and Sam’s earlier live to understand their reasons for fighting the slavers.

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Frelick’s Interstellar Rescue series is set in a grim reality, and there is considerable graphic violence (and some graphic sex), suitable for the tone of the novel. If you enjoy science fiction with a layer of space opera and a believable love story, start the series with Fools Rush In.

Visiting the Vorkosiverse

I’ve been a fan of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series since the early 1990s, and I have the old paperbacks of the first few novels to prove it. Somehow I let Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance linger on my TBR Captain Vorpatrilshelf for quite a long time, perhaps because it wasn’t about Miles Vorkosigan, the protagonist of most of Bujold’s Vorkosigan books. Miles’ cousin Ivan, a supporting character in the saga, takes center stage here, and he is a delight. So is the book. Space opera, romance, intrigue, a marriage of convenience, buried treasure, and two sets of crazy relatives! What more could one ask for?

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Bujold provides a series chronology in the back of each volume, which is how I discovered the one Vorkosigan story I didn’t have and hadn’t read, the novella Winterfair Gifts, originally published in a romance anthology, Irresistible Forces, and also available as an e-novella. Told from the point of view of Roic, one of the Vorkosigans’ junior Armsmen, it tells how he and Sergeant Maura, a genetically engineered member of Miles’ old mercenary crew, foil a plot aimed at Miles and his fiancee, Ekaterin, and lets us attend the Vorkosigans’ Winterfair wedding. It’s a sidebar to the series, and a gift to fans.

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Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is the sixteenth book in the Vorkosigan saga and picks up the story of Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan three years after the death of her husband, Count Aral Vorkosigan. Back on Gentleman JoleBarrayar, their son Miles has shouldered his responsibilities as Count (and as the father of a boisterous young family), but Cordelia remains Vicereine of Sergyar, where she has some surprising plans for her own future. There are no space battles or assassination plots this time; this is a novel about love, and family, and decisions that change lives. Bujold writes about a totally human future (despite a certain amount of genetic manipulation and reproductive technology), and even a few centuries down the road, humans haven’t changed much. Secrets only hinted at in earlier books are revealed, and events from the past are remembered. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is probably not the place to jump into the series, but it makes me want to go back to the beginning and read it all again.

More SF Romance from Veronica Scott

Star Cruise: Outbreak continues Veronica Scott’s Sector Hub series with another tale of disaster on a cruise ship. Dr. Emily Shane, retired military surgeon with PTSD, has certainly never thought of working as a cruise Star Cruise Outbreakship doctor; she prefers keeping as busy as possible in the emergency rooms of her home planet, Harilon. But when an old friend of her father’s needs a replacement on short notice, Emily finds herself dragooned. It doesn’t hurt that Jake Dilon, the ship’s head of security who comes to escort her to the Nebula Zephyr, is a sympathetic fellow veteran.

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I’m not giving much away in saying that an unexpected, and unknown, disease strikes the ship, turning Emily’s near-vacation assignment into a struggle for survival. Emily works to solve the medical mystery with help from an assortment of passengers and crew, not the least of which is Maeve, the Ship’s Artificial Intelligence, herself a military veteran.

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I enjoy Scott’s novels because she delivers solid science fiction adventure with romance. Her characters develop their bonds while working together through tough situations. Star Cruise: Outbreak can certainly be read as a stand-alone story, but it also refers to events and characters from The Wreck of the Nebula Dream and Star Cruise: Marooned. (I enjoyed a few little genre references, too, including a chief engineer named Takkei, and Emily’s remark, “I’m a doctor, not a film agent.”)

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Hostage to the Stars can also be read as a stand-alone, as I just did, but it also brings back characters from Scott’s Mission to Mahjundar, which I haven’t read yet (but it’s waiting on my Kindle, along with Escape from Zulaire—can you tell I really enjoy Scott’s Sector Hub stories?). This tale begins on a freighter ship carrying aHostage to the Stars few passengers, including Sara Bridges, an archivist with little travel experience and no Kidnap & Ransom insurance. When pirates strike the ship, they carry Sara off, along with a high value hostage.

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Johnny Danvers, retired from the Sectors service, joins the rescue mission so that his cousin won’t have to; he has run missions to the pirate planet and expects that the worst he’ll have to deal with is the resentment of the rest of the team. But when the team retrieves the hostage and leaves Sara behind, Johnny stays behind to find her. And that’s only the beginning of their problems.

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I definitely recommended Veronica Scott’s fast-paced Sector Hub novels for anyone who enjoys science fiction romance toward the SF end of the spectrum.

Veronica Scott’s Sectors SF Series

Veronica Scott’s Wreck of the Nebula Dream, one of her Sectors SF Romance series, has been described as a re-imagining of the Titanic, set in the deep space of the future. But the survivors of the Titanic didn’t have to outwit alien pirates in a combat zone, far from any reasonable hope of rescue. This is a non-stop science fiction action adventure tale with a romance (or two) to savor along the way.

Wreck of the Nebula DreamCaptain Nick Jameson is a Sectors Special Forces officer stuck on what he expects to be a boring trip on the maiden voyage of a civilian luxury liner. Returning to the Hub with memories of a disastrous mission hanging over him, Nick sees only one bright spot: a traveling businesswoman, Mara Lyrae, who crosses his path several times. Before they have a chance to become better acquainted, disaster overtakes the Nebula Dream, and Nick and Mara find themselves fighting for survival, along with two rescued children, a spoiled Socialite named Twilka, who may not be quite the bubble head she appears, and a devotee of the Red Lady, who might be a bodyguard or a killer.

I really enjoyed the Wreck of the Nebula Dream, the second of Scott’s Sector books I’ve read. Star Cruise: Marooned, set in the same universe, is just as good, telling the story of Meg Antille, a crew member on the charter cruise ship Far Horizon, and Red Star Cruise MaroonedThomsill, a former Sector Special Forces soldier now serving on the civilian ship. When the nature preserve planet their passengers picnic on turns out to be not at all as advertised, and their shuttle leaves for the Far Horizon without them, Meg and Red have a lot more than romance to deal with.

Scott has two more Sectors novels available, Escape from Zulaire and Mission to Mahjundar. I’m looking forward to reading those soon.

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