Sunday, 22 December 2013

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Doomsday World review

The behind-the-scenes story of Doomsday World the first collaborative Star Trek novel is more interesting than the novel itself. It was written by Carmen Carter, Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman and Robert Greenberger during TNG’s first and second seasons and while it doesn’t succeed as a good Star Trek novel, it’s nonetheless an interesting Star Trek curiosity. In the introduction written by Greenberger, he shares the story behind the writing of Doomsday World. The writers were inspired by a shared fictional universe in which many writers contribute stories and narratives with the intent of creating a larger fictional tapestry which can provide seemingly endless entertainment to readers due to the scope of the world building and the multitude of characters which all co-exist. Star Trek is a good example of a shared universe since dozens of writers have all contributed stories to several of the series both on television, film, games and novels.

Greenberger goes on to specify that they were more interesting in something akin to the Wild Cards science fiction series edited by George R. R. Martin. Wild Cards is a series of anthologies which include several stories by many writers between two covers, all of them taking place in the same shared universe. Greenberger and his friends had the idea of writing a single novel with three or four plots all of them connected and written by different authors. Although a handful of writers showed interest for the project, nothing was done for several months until Greenberger decided to write an outline. Once the outline was done, sub-plots were assigned or chosen and the writing began. Once the manuscript was completed, Friedman did a bit of a rewrite to smooth out the inconsistencies in the tone and writing styles. I have to give credit to the writers; it’s surprising that they managed to write a book that didn’t feel like it was written by four individuals. Especially considering that the segments were not as clearly defined as Greenberger’s introduction let on (you can read more about that here).

The downside of this collaborative effort, I believe, is that Carter, David, Friedman and Greenberger were too busy on trying to make their project work; they forgot to write an interesting Star Trek story. The Enterprise visit the artificial planet Kirlos to assist the Federation with an archaeological study of the planet to uncover how and why the planet was constructed. The planet is populated by the Sullurh, descendants of the Ariantu (the race that built Kirlos) and colonist from the Federation of Planets and from the K’vin Hegemony. A conspiracy plot develops and they try to frame the away team which is made up of La Forge, Data and Worf.

To everyone’s surprise, descendants of the Ariantu return to Kirlos. The Sullurh are also descendants of the Ariantu. They are the ancestors of the Ariantu that stayed on Kirlos. Over the five millennia since the creation of Kirlos, the Sullurh has progressively and intentionally changed their culture and their society to distinguish themselves from the Ariantu. They feared the arrival of the K’vin from their home world nearby would visit Kirlos and the Sullurh didn’t want to be recognized as descendants of the age-old enemies of the K’vin Hegemony. None of that really matters now since Ariantu have arrived. It’s so weird that the writers point out that the Sullurh intentionally changed their culture. You would think that 5,000 years of progress would have made them sufficiently distinguishable from the old Ariantu. Following the terrorist actions and the unexpected visit of the Ariantu, the delicate diplomatic balance of Kirlos crumbles and chaos ensues.

I have no interest in the plot what so ever. The idea of an artificial planet which was constructed to be a weapon is interesting but the story that takes place on and around Kirlos could easily have been told without the planet. The idea of a world being a weapon is poorly integrated into the story. I don’t see how the story benefitted from taking place on and around an artificial planet.

The book suffers due to a plot that is at times boring and needlessly complicated. As if that wasn't enough, the characters act nothing like they did on the TV series. Data is concerned with learning to be more authoritative after realizing that this mission is his first command of an away team. It's ridiculous. I really don't think Data would care because it doesn't help him understand the human condition in any substantial way. La Forge is similarly out of character. You would think that being the chief engineer aboard a Starfleet vessel he would be more than a little curious as to the mechanical composition of the artificial planet. Instead he plays a love sick puppy infatuated with his former archaeology professor. Speaking of archaeology, why the hell isn't Picard part of the away team? His interest in archaeology was established early on in the series and even though it's uncommon for the captain to be part of the away team, there are precedents of him doing so. The only character that doesn't act completely out of character is Worf but even he’s been better written elsewhere. 

I would qualify Doomsday World as the least favourite Star Trek novel I’ve ever read. The idea of a collaborative novel written by several writers who have experience writing Star Trek stories has quite a bit of appeal but the execution left me cold. Three of the four collaborators, David, Friedman and Greenberger, wrote another novel together: Star Trek: The Disinherited which is a TOS novel. I can only assume that Doomsday World receive a positive response during its initial release which is why another multi-writer novel exists but I really hope The Disinherited is a better book because I’ve included it on my list on my to read list because of David’s inclusion as one of the writers. At the very least it will be interesting for me to go back to a novel that takes place during TOS since I’ve spent a great deal of time watching and reading TNG in the last few months.

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