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Posts Tagged ‘David A Goodman’

The idea that Starfleet might make a first strike was a terrible precedent and undermined the philosophy of peace that the Federation had lived under for centuries. – Captain Jean-Luc Picard (who would presumably be as surprised by the new show as everyone else)

Hmm, well, quite. When David A Goodman and Titan Books published The Autobiography of James T Kirk a couple of years ago, the entity that is Star Trek had been coasting along amiably enough for many years, keeping a nice low profile most of the time, with only the occasion trial of an Abrams-directed movie. No-one would have suspected that the power converters would come off the warp core quite as spectacularly as has been the case over the last eighteen months or so, with the most recent movie underperforming at the box office and the release of Discovery being scorned, mocked and reviled by various elements of the fan base (personally, I’m a mocker, and I’m not even that big a Trekkie).

Such is the world that The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard finds itself sent forth into, once again by Goodman (presumably with just a little help from the man himself, I’m not an expert on how these things are done). Once again, the aim of the book is to tell us Picard’s side of the story and basically join together all the dots that the various TV episodes and movies laid out over the years.

Before we go any further, let us take a moment to consider who is most likely to be reading the autobiography of a fictional character from Star Trek. If you are completely unfamiliar with Trek, especially the late 80s and early 90s version of it, then you are unlikely to give this book much time (also, what the hell are you doing reading this blog? Is there no paint drying or grass growing near where you are?). The pleasure of this kind of thing, surely, is not necessarily that of learning anything new, but of feeling rewarded for all those hours and days spent watching TNG episodes again and again: specifically, that moment of slightly smug recognition when the book covers an event only mentioned as a tiny aside on the actual show.

Goodman potentially has a bigger job on his hands than he did when dealing with Kirk’s memoirs, for a couple of reasons. First of all, Kirk was still a young man when his TV career got underway, and the general details of the second half of his life were established fairly clearly by the TV show and the movies. With Picard it’s different: the show makes it quite clear that Picard had a long and distinguished career prior to the start of TNG – one way and another, he spent more time on the Stargazer than he did on any version of the Enterprise – and naturally the book has to reflect this. Also, the history of the Alpha Quadrant during Kirk’s younger life is generally quite vague (or was, if you still think Discovery actually happens in the original timeline, in which case the Kirk book instantly becomes apocryphal), but for this one Goodman has to make some sense of the occasionally confused references to relations between the Federation, the Klingon, and the other main powers in the mid-24th century, not to mention the peculiar fact that the Federation has supposedly been at war with the Cardassians for years prior to TNG‘s fourth season, yet this was never mentioned in any of the previous episodes.

To be fair to him, Goodman does a pretty decent job of trying to get it all straight, although a couple of very obscure continuity points still manage to trip him up (he implies that it’s a youthful Picard who makes first contact with the Cardassians, which seems unlikely given that the episode Destiny reveals that a Cardassian exile was apparently on Vulcan prior to 2250) – and hey, this kind of thing is surely forgiveable, it’s not like he retcons a new magic warp drive that runs on mushrooms, or something. And it’s not as if the series itself is exactly consistent about everything – for the record, Goodman seems to go with the TV series’ suggestion that Picard went bald while captain of the Stargazer, rather than as a very young man (as implied by Nemesis).

Certainly every major reference to Picard’s past that I can think of is picked up on rather deftly, the only time it becomes laborious is when the fact of his presence at Spock’s wedding has to be explained. Given that we know nothing else about this event, Goodman is obliged to turn it into low comedy, with Picard never quite managing to find out who Spock is getting hitched to, not even her name, despite being in the front row of the ceremony.

To be honest, the book has bigger problems than this. There is, for one thing, the fact that there are at least three different versions of Picard that have to be reconciled in order for this book to really work – there’s the young, ambitious, rakish officer who we hear a lot about, the dry and stiff-necked functionary of the early years of the TV show, and finally the warm, subtle, witty man of enormous moral authority whom Picard eventually developed into.

The thing is that none of these guys really show up in the book, or at least not consistently. Goodman just isn’t a good enough writer to make you believe you’re actually reading something from Picard’s own hand (you’d expect Jean-Luc to have a more elegant prose style, for one thing). It’s all a bit pedestrian, not helped by the same simplistic and slightly gloomy cod-psychology that was a feature of the Kirk book – Picard’s life is dominated firstly by the fact of his poor relationship with his father, and secondly by the fact that he is quietly and deeply in lurve with Dr Crusher throughout his screen career. Goodman is palpably much more enamoured of this second notion than Picard ever seemed to be of Crusher on screen, to be honest, but there you go (the book seems to suggest that the possible future of All Good Things is largely how things will turn out).

This is one of the reasons why this book has picked up some fairly toxic feedback on everyone’s favourite on-line site named after a big river – this, and the fact it apparently disregards an actually pretty good novel someone wrote about the decade or so between Picard losing the Stargazer and being given command of the Enterprise. To be honest, none of the things that Goodman suggests happen to Picard and the rest of the gang after the end of Nemesis strike me as remotely convincing (including his role in the back-story of the first Abrams movie, but that’s another set of gripes).

I would have to say the bad reviews are onto something, for the reasons mentioned above, although it would be unfair to say the book has no merit at all. It’s technically competent and very readable, and Goodman pulls off one big moment that the TV show never managed, by making the captains of many of the ships that Picard/Locutus destroys at the battle of Wolf 359 old friends and colleagues previously established and fleshed out in the earlier sections of the book. This gives the battle emotional stakes and sense of personal horror that just wasn’t there in an event which was talked about much more than seen, in TNG at least (I suspect we will not be seeing future volumes on the other Trek captains, and will have to settle for brief appearances by Sisko and Janeway in this one – Picard describes Sisko as ‘ferocious’, which is just, well, odd).

I suppose the book will also be helped by the sincere affection many people have for Jean-Luc Picard as a fictional character – the most nuanced and interesting of the Trek captains, in many ways. The same goes for his crew – reading this book, I was suddenly aware of how well-rounded and textured his senior staff are as characters, much more so than the supporting members of the original crew. I mean, Scotty’s a beloved character, but even Riker or Troi seem closer to three dimensions than he does. If nothing else, The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard will remind a lot of people of just how fond they are of TNG.

As I say, it’s unlikely that we’ll be seeing any further books in this series (the consensus seems to be that DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise-related books are less commercially viable), and I would have to say that on balance it’s less successful than the one about Kirk. But then it has a harder job to do, covering more ground and dealing with a much more complex central character. Even so, Trekkies should find something to engage them here, one way or another.

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People used to talk about the idea that there were ‘Batman decades’ and ‘Superman decades’, the suggestion being that when everything was going well, people felt guilty and thus became more interested in a darker hero – and when the economy was in trouble and folk felt in need of saving, they focused on a lighter-hued character. Or possibly it’s just a coincidence that Superman was riding high in the 50s and 70s and Batman was much more prominent in the 60s and 80s.

Anyway, it occurs to me that in a similar way, Star Wars and Star Trek have never quite been at the peak of their prominence and success at the same time. And perhaps that’s not surprising, as there’s always been a little frisson between these two, a little bit of not-really-friendly rivalry, and at the moment there’s not much doubt as to which is in the ascendancy. Star Trek may have inspired Star Wars (at least, if you believe Gary Kurtz), but it’s Star Wars that dominates the pop-culture landscape. Star Trek may have inspired a language, but – if you believe the UK census – Star Wars has created its own religion.

Nevertheless, I think you dismiss Trek at your peril, for all that it is currently the sleeping colossus of the SF genre. I know I may be letting my antipathy towards the Abrams-fronted movies colour my judgement (I know, a pattern develops), but given the total ubiquity of Trek twenty years ago – at one point the BBC were showing different versions of it four nights a week – its fall from prominence is little short of startling.

Well, it’s Trek‘s 50th anniversary this year (I have a piece in a celebratory book coming out, apparently), and there will be a new TV show of some description next year, so maybe the fightback is underway. Doing its bit to keep the flame alive is David A Goodman’s The Autobiography of James T Kirk, a book I suppose I would have to describe as cute rather than anything else.

autokirk

The conceit of the book is pretty much what you’d expect: that, between the conclusion of Star Trek VI and the events of Generations, Captain Kirk sat down and wrote his life story, with the assistance of Goodman, who supposedly helped him with the editing. You probably know already whether this book is going to be for you or not, and if your natural inclination is to run a mile then I am not going to try to dissuade you.

But if you find yourself undecided – well, what can I say? As you might expect, Captain Kirk’s prose style is direct and not especially sophisticated, and he sets about his story in a similar no-frills style. As I have suggested, this book is probably going to get most of its sales from people who are already pretty well-versed in Trek, and so the book finds itself in an odd position – it has to stick pretty closely to the ‘established’ events of Kirk’s life, as depicted in the TV show and movies, but if it’s just going to rehash that back story, why bother at all?

Well, there are a few elements to the story with which I was not previously familiar, such as Kirk’s role in saving the Tellarite ambassador from a shuttle crash as a boy and the fact his first command was named the Hotspur – and indeed both of these revelations seem to be original to this book. But beyond this, I have to admit to being highly impressed with the sheer diligence with which Goodman has gone through the original series and sifted out every clue as to Kirk’s early history. Most of these come from the earlier, Kirk-centric episodes, and Goodman deftly slots the puzzle pieces together in a very logical and satisfying manner – the one time I thought he’d departed from the ‘established fact’ of the TV series, a quick check of the DVD proved it was my own assumptions and memories which were in error, rather than his writing.

There is inevitably a bit of a shift in style once Kirk reaches the centre seat of the Enterprise – the previous, reasonably fluid style becomes rather more choppy, as we are treated to selected highlights of scenes from key episodes. Many of them get overlooked completely, including some of the most famous ones (apparently those tribbles didn’t make much of an impression on Captain Kirk). Once the original series is out of the way, the style shifts again, and so it continues as the book negotiates its way between the on-screen events of the movies and Goodman’s attempts at filling in the gaps.

Consistency of a sort, along with some sort of emotional subtext, comes from Goodman’s suggestion that Kirk is ultimately a lonely man, unable to put any relationship ahead of his career, at times almost consumed with guilt over the failure of his relationships with his son and the boy’s mother. If that sounds just a bit heavy and melodramatic – this is Captain Kirk we’re talking about, after all – it’s not as if Goodman doesn’t let his tongue wander into his cheek sometimes.

There are a few very wry deadpan comments sprinkled through the book – ‘the Romulan commander could have been Spock’s father’, Kirk informs us, the gag of course being that the same actor played both characters – and Goodman isn’t afraid to do some fanboy editorialising here and there. The plot of The Enterprise Incident is, according to Kirk himself, ‘ridiculous’, and none of the other third season episodes even warrants a mention, not even the one where an amnesiac Kirk gets married. There’s no suggestion that the events of the animated series ever took place, which I would imagine might upset some people.

Most startling of all is the ‘revelation’ that Star Trek V never took place. Kirk explains that the film is actually a piece of Star Trek fan fiction made by a half-human illegitimate son of Kirk named Eugenio (= Gene, as in Roddenberry). It’s a startlingly bold and bizarre retcon, and one wonders just how on board with it Paramount are. Then again, do they really care about the original chronology any more? If nothing else, it would be interesting to know what William Shatner makes of having his directorial magnum opus written out of history – it would be a shame if this put the mockers on his doing the audiobook version of this (come on, it’s such an obviously brilliant idea…).

This is a fun read, though obviously fairly lightweight – one of the dictums of good fiction is that you should only show your audience the interesting stuff that happens to your characters, which means that most of the new linking material from Kirk’s life presented here is actually a little bit dull, and Goodman doesn’t bother going into real detail about the more exciting events we’ve already seen on screen. Does the book make Captain Kirk come to life as a believeable, three-dimensional human being? I’m not sure it does, but then I’m not sure we want him to. He’s such a brilliant creation, and an iconic fictional character, but a lot of that comes from Shatner’s performance rather than any particular subtlety in the writing. If you really want to learn what makes Kirk so special, go and watch the first two seasons of the TV show and Star Trek II; this book will be waiting for you when you’ve finished. It’s best treated as a tribute to the makers of the series, particularly William Shatner, than anything of real substance in its own right.

 

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I don’t, as a general rule, buy tie-in fiction based on TV or film franchises any more: no, not even for Doctor Who, unless it’s something really exceptional. Time, money, space; all of these are issues. Give me a nice lavish in-universe history or guide book, on the other hand, and I will get interested very quickly. Possibly I just find the background detail of fictional universes more engaging than the plots most tie-in authors come up with. Whatever the reason, there are no Star Wars tie-in novels in my shelf (well, none published since the 1970s, anyway), but an illustrated guide to what is still known as the Expanded Universe and the rather lovely Books of Jedi and Sith.

Now Titan Books, publisher of the last two, have moved on to a different (ahem) enterprise, with the bigger, if less lovingly textured, Federation: The First 150 Years, by David Goodman. This, as it sounds, is a fictional history of Star Trek‘s United Federation of Planets, or the early years of it at least.

fed150

Well, it’s not quite as simple as it sounds, as you’d expect with as big and convoluted a beast as Star Trek. First off, children, this is resolutely old-school, or as I like to call it, proper Star Trek, with only a few heavily veiled references to the existence of the current Abrams-nonsense. Is the fact that Paramount are still licensing books based on the original continuity a hopeful sign, that the illogical and creatively bankrupt reboot is not wholly entrenched as the future of Trek? Quite probably not, but a man can still hope.

Furthermore, the scope of the book covers rather more than the 150 years of the title – it concludes in 2311, with the final on-screen event referenced being the ‘death’ of Kirk on the Enterprise-B at the start of Generations. But the history extends much further back than the foundation of the Federation in the 2160s, all the way to 1992 and the outbreak of the devastating, near-apocalyptic Eugenics Wars, largely caused by genetically-augmented superhumans.

Er, what? you may be thinking, what did I miss? Well, it’s kind of a brave decision on Goodman’s part to accept from the off that Star Trek‘s late-20th century history is radically different from our own (a decision that certain elements of the on-screen franchise have seemed reluctant to take in the past). He tries to cover himself by suggesting that a later mission by rogue time-travellers from 2293 may have created an alternative timeline where the Eugenics Wars never happened (if this is a reference to a piece of spin-off fiction, I haven’t been able to identify it), but to me this seems to go contrary to the general thrust of how temporal mechanics works in Trek, where changes to the past destroy the original timeline rather than creating simultaneous parallel realities.

Anyway, Goodman’s account of late 20th and early 21st century in Trek-world is engaging and relatively plausible, pulling in lots of little details from all over the franchise and making a reasonably consistent whole out of them – although his claim that the 56-year-old James Cromwell was playing a 31-year-old Zefrem Cochrane in First Contact seems to me to be needlessly implausible (there are also in-jokey references to characters from Doctor Who and Space: 1999, which I would never have expected in a licensed Trek book these days, but there you go). The book continues in this vein throughout.

Goodman does a good job of striking a balance between describing events already depicted on screen and filling in the gaps between different parts of the franchise. Particularly interesting is the material on the Earth-Romulus war of the 2160s, which was due to make it on screen in Star Trek: Enterprise at some point had that show not been cancelled. The presentation of the Romulans in Enterprise was fairly problematic from a continuity point of view and Goodman does an admirable job of fixing the most serious flaws; given that he worked on the show, one wonders how much of this was actually planned to appear on screen.

Elsewhere it seems to me that his attempts to fill in the background detail of the series is not quite up to scratch: his account of the events on Tarsus IV doesn’t quite match with the details given on screen, as I recall (though I’d have to watch the episode in question again to be sure), while the suggestion that it was Lieutenant Kirk’s encounter with the gas vampire that led him to become the dynamic, audacious individual we know and love also seems improbable to me – by this point, remember, he had presumably already cheated his way through the Kobayashi Maru test.

This sort of quibbling aside, one might also be surprised by the book’s focus on historical importance over anything else. Many well-loved Trek stories aren’t even mentioned for exactly this reason – the events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Voyage Home barely merit a mention, while many pages are devoted to the build-up to the signing of the Khitomer Accords in The Undiscovered Country. It’s an interesting choice, but an understandable one that gives the book a certain verisimilitude.

It’s all nicely written, with various excerpts from in-universe documents appearing – the Federation Charter, diplomatic messages, and so on – many from other cultures such as the Vulcans, Klingons, and Xindi. However, visually the book is just a little bit disappointing – for whatever reason, the decision has been made to go with slightly abstract-looking paintings rather than photos or CGI as far as the illustrations are concerned. Visually, the book isn’t as lavish or as good-looking as some of the other volumes Titan have put out in recent years, nor is the approach quite as imaginative. The decision to stop in 2311 is a little disappointing, though this no doubt leaves the door open for a further volume covering the remaining 70 years or so of established Trek history (covering, one would expect, early conflicts with the Cardassians and Ferengi, then the various Borg invasions, the Dominion war and concluding with Shinzon’s coup on Romulus and his attempted attack on Earth).

If they do follow this book up, then I’d certainly consider buying it, even though I’m not really a full-blooded Trekkie. Those of that ilk should find this a fun enough purchase that does a neat job of making a coherent story out of a lot of diverse bits and pieces: it’s just a pity the look of thing is ever so slightly uninspiring.

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