27 October 2013

History Boy Turns Pro

Former History of the Doctor contributor and prolific Doctor Whoniverse fan fictioneer, Daniel Tessier, has been commissioned to pen a short story in Obverse Books’ upcoming Iris Wildthyme anthology, Iris Wildthyme of Mars. Daniel has previously been published in the Factor Fiction charity anthology, Shelf Life, but this is the first time that he will be paid for his efforts.

Daniel explains that his story is “…a sequel to Edwin Lester Linden’s 1905 novel Lieut: Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, better known as Gullivar of Mars, which was something of a milestone in science fiction and fantasy. It comes across as very dated now, and is ripe for the Wildthyme treatment.” Tentatively entitled “Lieut: Gullivar Jones: His Bad Weekend”, Daniel’s gin-fuelled homage is sure to be the perfect fit for the transtemporal adventuress.

The Immaterial blogger’s only regret is that licensing issues prevent the use of any Doctor Who characters in his tale. “I’d love to have Sil the Mentor turn up, just so that he can sneer “Gullivuuurrgh...”, he quips.

Iris Wildthyme of Mars, edited by veteran of Obverse Books and Big Finish Productions, Philip Purser-Hallard, will be available next summer from Obverse Books.

Is Mars a dead and sterile desert, or teeming with life? Are the Martians long gone, or waiting still? Will we become the Martians? Will humanity settle Mars in gleaming antiseptic domes, or terraform it into a lush new paradise? Will invaders from Earth come from the skies, raining down death on the innocent canal-dwellers? Are the Martians beautiful humanoids or tentacular monstrosities? Unfallen angels, devils welcoming us in order to corrupt us – or worse? Will humanity’s Mars colonies be utopian or hellish? How many different colours can you put in front of ‘Mars’ to make a clever title?

These Marses are, of course, mutually incompatible, contradictory and in many cases quite impossible. And Iris Wildthyme has visited them

26 October 2013

Book Review | Star Trek: Typhon Pact – The Struggle Within by Christopher L Bennett

The United Federation of Planets’ expansion of the Khitomer Accords is, in many respects, significantly less surprising than Pocket Books’ extension of its Star Trek: Typhon Pact saga beyond its initial four-book run. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed two of them, and quite liked another, general reaction was considerably more mixed, with many readers lamenting the arc’s languorous pace and failure to capitalise upon the potential of the Pact’s hitherto-uncharted societies, such as the Holy Order of the Kinshaya and the Tzenkethi Coalition. It’s ironic, then, that an almost afterthought of an e-book not only sets the storyline off on its finish push towards climax, but also sates much of the hunger that the initial run left unsatisfied.

In part an unlikely sequel to the 1990 TNG episode “Suddenly Human”, Christopher L Bennett’s novella sees the Enterprise visit Talar, where Jono – the young man raised by the Talarians following the death of his human parents – has grown into a diplomat of some note, and is now assisting his adoptive father, Endar, to negotiate an alliance with the Federation that it is hoped will strengthen both in the face of mounting Typhon Pact antagonism. However, through they mirror the traditional veiling customs of the Middle East more closely than they do, say, calculatedly oppressive Ferengi practices, Talarian attitudes towards females don’t sit well with Federation ideology. A group of militant freedom fighters decide to take advantage of this, as well as the Federation’s famous championing of freedom of expression, by using the Enterprise’s visit to mount an attack Talar’s patriarchy under the cover of a peaceful demonstration, kidnapping Dr Crusher in the process and leaving her husband and captain in the conflicted position of having to weigh the mother of his son’s life and the Federation’s desperate need of an ally against not only his strong views on Starfleet’s deep-rooted non-interference doctrine, but also his personal sympathy for the women of Talar’s cause, if not their methods. Meanwhile, T’Ryssa Chen and Jasminder Choudhury, the next generation of Next Generation bridge officers, are recruited by Starfleet Intelligence to go undercover on Kinshaya. There they are to pose as Romulan members of Spock’s Unification movement who are visiting the world to show their support for the under-heel Kinshayan masses, with a view to helping them to foment rebellion, and perhaps even bring about a regime change that could tip the delicate balance of power within the Pact in favour of those less aggressive towards the Federation.

The Enterprise half of the story is an impressive and intricate tapestry of both welcome fan service and clever, careful storytelling. Its “Suddenly Human” heritage is something of a red herring for readers as, save for Jono’s unique pedigree playing a hand in the conclusive events of the story, the events on Talar could easily have unfolded on any non-aligned planet. The real meat of its drama turns upon how Picard balances his duties as captain – essentially his duty to his conscience – against his personal responsibilities as a husband and father. Ever the remote bachelor on television, Captain Picard’s never had to struggle against his feelings in the way that he does here, and he can’t even rely upon his first officer’s counsel to help shape his decision as the otherwise-redoubtable Commander Worf has a solitary black mark on his own service record, earned through his deliberate dereliction of duty when trying to save his own wife’s life whilst posted to Deep Space Nine during the Dominion War. It’s an enthralling read in every respect, and, like Paths of Disharmony before it, both bold and surprising in its resolution.

Bennett also uses the Talar storyline to finally take a more detailed look at the elusive Tzenkethi, further fleshing out the basics of their form and examining the history of their species as it is understood by other races. A species of matchless ethereal beauty, the once-fragile Tzenkethi were long exploited as “novelties and slaves”, eventually driving them to turn inwards, closing their borders and even going so far as to edit their own genomes to instil an innate loathing of offworlders – their newfound Typhon Pact friends included, towards whom they feel little but paranoia and a fanatical need to control. Unfortunately the nature of the Tzenkethi involvement in the plot and the brevity of the piece conspire to keep them in the wings here, but it’s nonetheless a testament to Bennett’s skill that he’s able to convey more through one well-written character appearing in just a few fleeting chapters than had been done across the whole media spectrum previously. The Kinshaya, conversely, are explored in immense detail by the author, who seems to share T’Ryssa’s enthusiasm for the race. As the Enterprise’s unconventional contact officer so succinctly sums up, “They’re basically griffins… xenophobic, isolationist religious fanatics, but still, griffins!”

“I know, I know. It’s like they teach us in Prime Directive 101: A cultural change doesn’t really take hold unless it comes from within.”
            Jasminder smiled. “Nor does a personal one.”

In his acknowledgements, Bennett tellingly dedicates The Struggle Within to “the courageous resistance movement in Egypt, whose members provided that nonviolent action can achieve what violence cannot,” and these sentiments are keenly felt in the Kinshayan limb of his narrative, which serves as inspiring counterbalance to the women of Talar’s violent deeds. But the mission to Kinshaya is as much a sabbatical for Jasminder as it is an intelligence operation, as the once-serene Denevan looks to put the destruction of her world and the comfort that she’s since found in aggression – and, by extension, the arms of Worf – behind her. But shaving her head and adorning it with Romulan mourning tattoos, รก la Eric Bana’s Nero, isn’t nearly enough to help her bury the past and find her centre again – for that, she needs the company of the Enterprise-E’s loveable and exuberant half-human, half-Vulcan Spock antithesis, who has to suffer like she has never done before her commanding officer and friend can find herself anew.

But the most wonderful thing about this book isn’t its deft handling of action, intrigue, or even character. It’s most outstanding quality is that it feels exactly like an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation – or, at least, an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Next Generation. The limited word count of the piece instils the sort of pace that the television series used to deliver on a weekly basis, even mirroring the two-thread narrative structure invariably found in most stories. The only things that set The Struggle Within apart from a bona fide TV episode are its heavily-featured non-humanoid contingent (that even TNG’s budget probably wouldn’t have convincingly stretched to realising on screen), and its heavy grounding in post-Nemesis arcs, both of which I feel add to rather than detract from the piece in any event. If you’ve a TNG itch that needs scratching, but find that time or funds are in short supply, then you could do a hell of a lot worse than throw a few pounds at The Struggle Within – without a doubt Star Trek: Typhon Pact’s finest hour.

The Struggle Within is currently available only as an e-book (£4.41 from Amazon’s KindleStore or £4.49 from iTunes).