Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Star Trek: New Frontier by Peter David

This will be a brief one today.

I picked up Star Trek: New Frontier a little while ago, and read through it the last couple of nights. It's short -- very short! Coming in at only 168pgs for the main story (and a sample chapter at the back from Vulcan's Forge), it is as brief as can be.

Also, in a way, it encapsulates what I think was going wrong with Star Trek in the latter years.

The point of the story, however, is to setup characters for the launch of the "New Frontier" line, the concept of which holds a lot of promise for me. One of the biggest excuses for the reboot and reimagining (because that is what it really is) of Star Trek is that the canon became unwieldy and a hindrance to the franchise. I disagree with this assessment, mainly because there are two types of canon within a long-running franchise that sprawls across multiple series: global canon and local canon.

Global Canon is canon of the entire franchise. It encompasses the major dates, events, setting assumptions and the like any entry into the franchise should conform to. It is much less interested in what Commander Riker was doing on a specific date, or the career details of Dr McKoy. It is much more concerned with when warp drive was developed, or when the Earth-Romulan war occured, and so on.

Local canon, on the other hand, is canon as it pertains to the specific series. This sort of canon would be concerned with the personal details and chronology of the individual characters, and events within that particular series.

I think part of the problem with Trek, and the reason why it collapsed under its own weight (and thus creating the illusion that the setting needed to be wiped clean and "re-imagined" in order to go forward) was a problem of writing, and a lack of concern about the different types of canon.

This book suffers for some of the same reasons.

The story introduces us to M'k'n'zy of Calhoun, a rebel leader at a very young age, and his struggle to survive. It continues to introduce a handful of other characters, establishing their backgrounds, but really not doing anything with them. In that sense this feels like "episode 1" to a two parter. I think that was the intention of the writer and line developers, but in a book format I don't think it worked well. This book could have easily been 400pgs and have something actually happen in it.

As the book progresses we learn that M'k'n'zy has joined starfleet and was a protege of Jean-luc Picard's, linking it very closely to the Next Generation series. We discover that the main character now goes by Mackenzie Calhoun (wee!) who has been tapped to command a starship sent into the middle of a political crisis.

Despite the almost fanfic development of Mackenzie (this concept really needed some more editorial oversite, in my mind), the fact that the main driver of the story (at this point) is the collapse of yet another Star Empire, and a political mission (rather than "Boldly going where no man has gone before!" an element Star Trek lost over the years and the reboot showing absolutely no danger of recovering) falls into the old trope of the franchise's latter years. The book was published in 1997, two years after the launch of Star Trek: Voyager. At the time, this is what Star Trek had become, so perhaps we can forgive the idea of the book. But nonetheless, it doesn't inspire either.

I am nonetheless still interested in a series that has its own internal canon, but does not find it neccessary to completely reimagine the setting completely. On its own merits, David's book was fairly uninteresting, but then when considering it is (at best) and introduction to the series, I may go on to the next book to see how it develops.

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