Saturday, January 5, 2013

Mundane, Glorified Fanfic: Star Trek: Triangle Reinvents Star Trek To Sell Its Own Convoluted Premise.

The Good: Moments of character insight, Moments of concept
The Bad: More convoluted than clever, original, or complex, Mundane writing, Lack of genuine character understanding.
The Basics: Triangle collapses as a small book that reads as an exceptionally bloated and contrived pulp novel.

As part of the New Year, I am refocused on reading more. Having finally finished reading Thomas Pynchon’s Against The Day (reviewed here!), which became something of a Herculean task, I intend to get more reading done (and more than just graphic novels) this year. That means that I am going through the library I have moved with me across the country and reading all the books I have never reviewed and culling out the ones that I do not enjoy enough to want to reread in this lifetime. The first casualty of its own lack of quality is sure to be Triangle.

Triangle is Star Trek novel #9 and it is one of the slimmer volumes of Pocket Books’ Star Trek novel line. In fact, at 188 pages, Triangle is one of the least hefty books I have read in years and one that is unfortunate for its lack of substance, character insight, and true originality. I can understand how Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath managed to get the book published. Marshak and Culbreath were two of the writers that kept Star Trek alive in novel form for the time that Bantam owned the license to the Star Trek novel franchise, before Star Trek: The Motion Picture made its cinematic debut. The pair were custodians and fandom owed them a debt of sorts.

Unfortunately, Triangle is a tough sell, even for a devoted Star Trek fan. To be honest, it is hard to go back to Triangle, which was originally published in 1983 and complain about one of its apparent faults (lack of originality). In fact, given that Triangle precedes Star Trek: The Next Generation’s introduction of The Borg, it is almost tempting to claim that Triangle is, in fact, wildly original in its incorporation of science fiction ideas. Unfortunately, the main villains in Triangle are basically an amped up version of the space hippies from “The Way To Eden” (reviewed here!) and that severely diminishes the claim of menace presented by the collective consciousnesses in this novel. Triangle reads as a skeleton of a story that tries to mix a love story with a possession story and services neither particularly well.

The Enterprise is assigned to ferry Ambassador Gailbraith of Zaran back to Zaran through the treacherous Marie Celeste Sector of space, where several other vessels have gone missing in the past. Kirk is feeling severe fatigue and he is already irritated by Gailbraith and the New Humans who are experimenting with a collective consciousness they call Oneness. When the Enterprise receives a message from a Free Agent within the treacherous space, Kirk diverts the Enterprise to investigate. After a tense meeting with Gailbraith, Kirk confines the New Human to the V.I.P. area, though Gailbraith is mysteriously able to leave that confinement.

Beaming down to find the Free Agent, whose scout ship has crashed, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy meet Sola Thane, who was presumed lost years before. Sola Thane, who is half human, half Zaranian, bonds psychically with Kirk moments before he is wounded by animals on the alien planet. Rescuing the exhausted and injured crew, Spock and Sola Thane experience a powerful drive that leads them to mate, despite Sola Thane’s love for Kirk and both knowing that Kirk reciprocates those feelings. But soon, their romantic entanglements become minor complications as the Enterprise faces off against the Totality, a collective consciousness of the natives of Zaran. Facing the villainous collective consciousness on one side and the arrogant collective on the other, Kirk must put his trust in a woman who loves him and Spock, perhaps equally, to help save the galaxy.

By the time Soljenov and the Totality make an explicit appearance in Triangle, the book is so muddied and emotionally confused that it is hard for the reader to will themselves through reading the last fifty pages. Quickly degenerating into a variation of “Arena” (reviewed here!), Triangle pits Kirk, Spock, and Sola Thane against wildlife and natural dangers before settling on a preposterously simple conflict for Sola Thane to resolve in order to stop what is supposed to be the biggest menace in the galaxy.

If the quality of the hero is judged by the quality of the villain and the conflict, Triangle does no service to any of the recognizable protagonists in the Star Trek universe. On the love story front, Marshak and Culbreath make a mess out of the romantic entanglement between Kirk and Thane and Spock and Thane. Sola Thane is explicitly declared to be the next Edith Keeler, alluding to what many fans (not me, because I actually watch what’s in the episode) consider the seminal Kirk romantic relationship in “City On The Edge Of Forever” (reviewed here!). Like in that episode, the love is more declared than shown in Triangle. Kirk’s feelings for Sola Thane are essentially an exaggerated love at first sight.

In a similar fashion, Spock’s sudden relationship with Sola Thane is regarded as the work of pon farr, essentially making Triangle the logical successor to “Amok Time” (reviewed here!). Sadly, though, the relationship has one quickie (to keep with, apparently, Pocket Books and Paramount wanting to keep the Star Trek franchise PG at this point, the sex scene is a blink and you miss it implied scene!) and then Spock acting like a lovesick puppy dog the whole time.

The conflict between Spock and Kirk over who should get to have an actual relationship with Sola Thane is ridiculously drawn out and is basically eighty pages of both men saying, “You take her!” Perhaps Marshak and Culbreath thought they were being clever when they tried to pair a romantic triangle with two villains both of whom seek to reduce masses to One, but the conflict reads as a remarkable non-starter. In fact, it doesn’t take the mind of a slash fiction reader (which, admittedly, I have never genuinely been) to consider that the solution to Sola Thane’s problem is not to either choose neither or choose one of the two men, but to pitch a polyandrous relationship. Kirk has never shown any real commitment or sense of monogamy, so it seems like he might be game. So, the resolution to the romantic subplot is a lot of build-up to something entirely uninspired (it doesn’t even have the benefit of “tragic” to it) and the reader who actually experiences love will be sorely disappointed. Just as the villains always compare individuals to amoebas in Triangle, Spock, Kirk and Sola Thane feel passion simply by the words “feel passion,” as opposed to actually illustrating that emotion in truly demonstrative ways.

As for the villains, so much build-up, such a pathetic resolution, they hardly seem villainous. Rather than waste any more time on them, I’d like to take one final moment to discuss the writing.

Triangle reads like fanfiction, and half-assed fanfic at that. I have no objection to adding to the universe one is playing in when one writes something new for that franchise. However, when one has to add so much to it that it is almost unrecognizable for what it is supposed to be, that is some combination of sloppy, lazy or simply not wanting to follow any of the rules. Under those circumstances, I always say, “Go start your own universe!” With the addition of so much about psychic potential, equipment like life sign detecting belts, and sensors that cannot distinguish human life forms from bear-cats (as well as references to giant wolves as “werewolves”), Triangle contains an unfortunate number of references that seem like the authors either are making it all up as they go along or are not really interested in the characters they are writing about and the Star Trek universe.

Triangle could have been a strong, character-centered novel that took the familiar Enterprise crew to somewhere new emotionally. Instead, it reads like a bad mash-up of original Star Trek episodes with new elements that do not successfully gel. It is a book that may easily be passed by.

For other Star Trek novels, please visit my reviews of:
#1 - Star Trek: The Motion Picture - Gene Roddenberry
Ashes Of Eden – William Shatner
Federation – Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing of the novels I have reviewed!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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