Sunday, 8 September 2013

Review: Maximum Warp

Last month, Cross Cult, the current publisher of (most) Star Trek books in Germany, released Maximum Warp - Der Guide durch die Star-Trek-Romanwelten – Von Nemesis zu Typhon Pact, a new guide book to the Star Trek literary world. Friend of the site, and my regular source of German Trek news, Jens Deffner, kindly offered to review this intriguing new book. So over to Jens (continues after the jump):

This is very unusual review for me to write for a plethora of reasons: It's for a non-fiction book, it's for a German book, and it's not written for Unreality SF (yay, shameless plug). But beyond all that there's a bigger reason why this review is very unusual and hard for me: While reading the book very early on I realized that the book wasn't what I thought it would be, and that in the form it was produced I'm not really inside the target audience for it. To give it a fair shot I'll give you what is more or less a two part review: part one written from my actual point of view as someone who has been deeply entrenched in TrekLit fandom for more than a decade now and has been reading pretty much all the Star Trek novels in the original English as they came out for almost the whole time. In the other part I will try to look at it from the perspective of an average German reader, who has just been (re-)introduced to Trek Literature with the reemergence of the line a couple of years ago.

But before we start I guess I'll give you a translation of the books Table of Content to give you an idea what topics the books deals with:

1. Foreword: Only the Sky is the Limit

2. A Franchise grows up - About the emancipation of the Star Trek novels from their source material
2.1 Tentative Beginnings and literary revolutions - The way of the Star Trek novels into autonomy
2.2 Hope or exploration? - About the question of the compatibility of science and religion in Star Trek

3. Native universes - Star Trek novels in Germany
3.1 Star Trek novels in Germany - A look back
3.2 A look back: Interview with Andreas Brandhorst
3.3 A look ahead: Interview with Markus Rohde
3.4 Drawing looks: Interview with Martin Frei

4. Going to faraway skies - Introducing the Star Trek novel series

New Frontier
4.1. New Shores - New Frontier (2373 - 2380)
4.1.1 A cosmos of characters - the characters of New Frontier
4.1.2 Talking with the author - Interview with Peter David

Deep Space Nine
4.2 What lays ahead of you - Deep Space Nine relaunch (2376 - 2378)
4.2.1 Old Faces, new faces - The characters of the DS9-relaunch
4.2.2 Talking with the author - Interview with S.D. Perry
4.2.3 Talking with the author - Interview with David R. George III
4.2.4 Talking with the translator - Interview with Christian Humberg

The Next Generation
4.3 Exploration was yesterday - The Next Generation relaunch (2379-2384)
4.3.1 Does grow together what belongs together? - The characters of the TNG relaunch
4.3.2 Love at second sight - Picard and Crusher's relationship through the ages
4.3.3 Talking with the author - Interview with William Leisner
4.3.4 Talking with the author - Interview with Keith R.A. DeCandido

4.4. Number One is on his own - Titan (2379-2383)
4.4.1 First and second row - The characters of Titan
4.4.2 With dignity to the stars - The creation of the U.S.S. Titan
4.4.3 Ecosystem space - background of an extraordinary mission
4.4.4 Talking with the author - Interview with Christopher L. Bennett

Destiny and Typhon Pact
4.5 The big incision - Destiny and Typhon Pact (starting in 2381)
4.5.1 Meetings with Horror - The Borg chronology from 2153 to 2381
4.5.2 Federation 2.0 - The Typhon Pact as a new threat
4.5.3 New times, new ship - the creation of the U.S.S. Aventine
4.5.4 Talking with the author - Interview with Dayton Ward

4.6 The Alpha-Quadrant is not enough - Voyager relaunch (starting in 2378)
4.6.1 Heroes of the Odyssey - the characters of the Voyager relaunch
4.6.2 Talking with the author - Interview with Kirsten Beyer

Other series
4.7 A good day to read - Other Star Trek novels series shown exemplary with I.K.S. Gorkon
4.7.1 Resist the beginnings? - The Klingons between discrepancies and continuity
4.7.2 On the doorsteps - The fascination about Klingons and Worf as a commuter between the cultures
4.7.3 To boldly conquer - Continuation of the Klingons

5 Entities, many and collectives - About intergalactic troublemakers and populaces
5.1 The nature of the augments - About a futuristic taboo
5.2 Q means Quälgeist (translates to nuisance) - Why a god needs friends
5.3 The worst enemy - Answers about the Borg from the Star Trek novels
5.3.1 Errors in the Systems - Individuals in the collective of the Borg
5.4 This isn't Jim Beam ... I mean Kirk - The Doppelgänger motif in Star Trek's upper echelon
5.5 An Adventure within the big adventure - About family life in space
5.6. Children of the Future - Reproduction and pregnancy in Star trek
5.7 Dying race - The grim destiny of the Andorians
5.8 Dark, tragic and believable - the soul of the Cardassians
5.9 Governing Utopia - the political system of the Federation

6 Turbulent times - The progress of Earth and interstellar relationships between 1993 and 2382
6.1. 21st century: Catastrophes and lessons
6.2 22nd century: Stormy formation
6.3 23rd century: Chauvinistic Klingons and revanchist Romulans
6.4 24th century: Wars, crisis, catastrophes
6.5 Closing remarks: A challenging environment for Earth and the Federation

7 Appendix: "I think the tie-in books are Star Trek at the moment" - Genre authors develop the future

8 Reading Tips
Based on the title (which translates to Maximum Warp – The Guide through the worlds of Star Trek novels – From Nemesis to Typhon Pact) I assumed it would mainly deal with the mentioned time frame and the novels set within it. There's a two-fold problem with that: First of all, the parts of the book directly dealing with several of the novel series are little more than expanded teasers for newbies, unwilling to get into any depth about the series (to avoid spoilers I assume) and basically only giving the basic set-ups and characters. While the accompanying interviews with authors are nice, none of them really cover any ground that hasn't been covered by other interviews I have read over the years – heck, I've covered similar grounds with some/most of them in my own interviews years ago. To be honest the only interviews that really piqued my interest were the ones specifically talking about the German ST line, one in particular sent chills down my spine when Andreas Brandhorst, who worked as a translator for the former publisher Heyne, states that - and I'm paraphrasing here - they sometimes had to rewrite large portions of books because they were written so badly. Reading that I suddenly had the urge to rebuy all the Star Trek books I have as German translations in English, simply to be sure that I have read the books the authors intended me to read and not the distorted versions some translators with sense of grandeur made out of them. I guess luckily I neither have the time, nor the money to do that. In case you're interested Markus Rohde, the current editor for Cross Cult on the German Star Trek line said in his interview that they sometimes change things in their translations as well, but mostly smaller things like wrong deck numbers or little factual errors.

Anyway, after this little shock and the novel specific topics are out of the way the book delves into the less series specific topics you can see in the ToC above and the second part of my problem comes into play: Beside the fact that a majority of the essays again lack any real noticeable depth, most of them deal way more with what happened on screen than with what has happened within the novels. Granted, some novels are referenced here and there but most of the essays summarize on screen stuff and offer little original thought or research. To be fair that is mostly true for the essays written by Julian Wangler, whenever someone else has contributed (like Anika Klüver or Christian Humberg, both work as translators for Cross Cult's Star Trek line) the quality and amount of original thought and research increases, but since Wangler wrote what feels like at least ¾ of the book that is little more than a mere drop in the ocean. Speaking of Wangler, at least for me his writing style was hard to get through: he seemed to be hell-bend to sound intellectual, while at the same time offering little real content.

Cross Cult's Mackenzie Calhoun illustration
Something that is also a bit disappointing is that the only pictures in the novels are the book covers and character pics that already have been published online, some character pictures of novel only characters exclusive to the book might have been an added bonus.

Overall the book for me personal was a total failure and the most disappointing read in several years.

Now to the harder side of the review for me: looking at it from a newbie's side. And there are probably quite a few newbies and people who haven't followed Trek Lit in ages out there: Before Cross Cult picked up the Star Trek Books, the preceding publisher Heyne had pretty much run it into the ground by only publishing Shatnerverse novels and the odd (and old) TNG novel here and there over the last few years of their stint. So by the time Cross Cult picked up the license in late 2007 and started to get fully into the modern continuity a few years later, only those who had transitioned to reading the original U.S. releases were really up-to-date in Trek Literature.

So for those who had fallen out of touch or only got into Trek books with Cross Cult – as a comic publishers they probably got quite a few buys from comic enthusiasts that would never have given Heyne releases a second look - what I called expanded teasers above, those parts of the book where the series are highlighted, probably is a good way to see which of the series might be up their alley or to get a general feel what Trek in prose form is about. For them much info from the interviews are probably new and actually give them added insight on the novels and the authors behind the different series. Looking at it from this POV also makes it more understandable that they choose to not spoil too much to not scare away (potential) readers that don't like to know too much about what is coming up. So overall this part of the book is much more useful for new readers than it is for me, but even for those the second part is probably as hit-and-miss as it is for me, especially if they expect to learn more about the novels and aren't that interested in thematically organized rehashes of onscreen Star Trek.

Overall I think the book is in a kind of lose-lose situation. One the one hand people most likely interested in a non-fiction book about Trek novels are already familiar with most of the subject matter and therefore probably won't pick up the book once they have read some reviews and/or the excerpt, on the other hand people who are the target audience for this are less likely to stumble upon it.

To sum it up: If you are familiar with Trek and TrekLit even on a casual basis you probably won't find much new in this book, but if you're new to the whole topic and try to get a collected insight on what is out there at the least the first half of the book should be helpful.

My thanks to Jens for casting his eye over this book, even if it did turn out to be a bit of a missed opportunity. Make sure to check out UnrealitySF where Jens regularly reviews Star Trek novels, and other tie-in fiction.


daytonward said...

Are the interviews with the authors repurposed from other interviews/etc.? I only ask because I don't recall being interviewed for the book. Not saying it didn't happen...only that I don't remember an interview for that specific purpose.

Of course, I don't remember what I had for dinner last night, so take that bit as you will. :)

Defcon said...

Yeah they reused old interviews. I'm kind of shocked they haven't asked/informed the interviewees before doing so, though, out of professional courtesy at the very least ...

daytonward said...

It's too bad this isn't available in 'Murican, so I could read that stuff and see if anything rang any bells. I know I've been interviewed for TrekZone once or twice, but it's been a while...likely in the lead-up to the first set of Typhon Pact novels.

Defcon said...

MMh, I found CLB's interview within a minute or two, but I can't find your's online.

I think they sometimes have/had interviews in the back of the books themselves. Maybe it is one of those?

FWIW, the interviewer according to the book was Julian Wangler.

The final question was if the Typhon Pact still exists when the Hobus supernova destroys Romulus in 2387 and your answer was that we will have to wait, and that there are a lot of good stories still to tell till then.