Monday, August 27, 2007
Our book today is “The Rules of Gentility” by Janet Mullany, and we must immediately report that it’s unlikely to show up on Bella Abzug’s reading list up in Heaven. That’s all in all a good thing for Miss Mullany, we think: Bella was a formidable enemy to have when she was alive - we doubt she’s lost any topspin arguing with God about the fact that He made Eve second.
“The Rules of Gentility” is set in the Regency period, alas. Despite the protestations of our esteemed belle dame sans merci My Lady Disdain, we here at Stevereads have never understood the magnetic appeal the Regency period seems to exert on so many writers. It was a squalid time, full of body odor and disconcertingly large hair-lice and sugar-blackened teeth, so what’s the allure? Is it the psychological undertone of liberation, the father figure of the king being offstage? Is it the very, very temporary absence of the shadow of some awful war or other? We’d ask My Lady Disdain ourselves, but she’s currently skiing in Stade with a ‘spare’ prince of Spain, so we’re on our own,
No clues forthcoming in “The Rules of Gentility,” which is the story of young heiress Philomena Wellesley-Clegg, who’s on the town in London with shopping in mind, for bonnets, shoes, and perhaps a husband:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged,” goes the novel’s rather dire choice of opening, “that a single woman of fortune and passable good looks amuses herself in London with fashion, philanthropic works, and flirtation, until a suitable gentleman makes an offer. I consider the pursuit of the bonnets and of a husband fairly alike - I do not want to acquire an item that will wear out, or bore me after a brief acquaintance, and we must suit each other very well.”
Philomena has several prospects - for the husband, that is, and she immediately gives the reader a quick synopsis of each, the main purpose of which is to start the guessing-game going on which she’ll eventually marry (My Lady Disdain, were she not spelunking in Cuba with Ian McKellan and, um, FRIENDS, would no doubt warn us here that list or no list, there are almost always dark horse complications to this kind of handicapping - and she ought to know! The entire time she was married to her second husband, she thought his younger brother was gay - until he revealed that he was merely patient and became her third husband!)
Mullany is a spirited writer who’s not at all without talent - even readers who’ve never picked up a romance novel before will keep turning the pages right to the end. This is a happy little book, perfect for a guilty pleasure or a long plane ride, although we here at Stevereads must point out the obvious: that time would be infinitely better spent reading the novels of Jane Austen. Still, we know what world we live in, so we won’t preach. For a few paragraphs.
“The Rules of Gentility” is a fun, enjoyable little read, but oh, the price you pay for the pleasure. Mullany has read her Austen, or listened to a chunk of it while on the Stairmaster. She knows enough about the outside TYPE of a Regency to throw in a bit where her fabulous heiress is confronted with the working class, on whom she takes instant pity and is met with the requisite defiant independence:
“I sit beside her on the bed and take her hand ... ‘Kate, you are so brave. But I should like to offer you a job where you could make forty pounds a year.’
Kate laughs. ‘I make that in a quarter year, or less, miss, and with that greedy Mrs. Bright taking most of the money.’
‘You would have safety, security, and a respectable profession.’
‘Miss, I had a respectable profession. I made a few shillings a week, working sixteen hours a day in a basement where the walls streamed water. That’s how you ladies get your pretty gowns. And then I was ill, and my job gone. I’m fortunate that Mrs. Bright took me in.’
What can I say to this? That I am sorry? Even I can see that would be an insult ... ‘I should like to train you as my maid.’
There is silence, or at least silence of a sort as the creaking from upstairs accelerates and next door, loud groans replace the sound of a switch upon flesh.
‘I don’t think so, miss.’ She shakes her head, takes my hand, and gives it a kind squeeze.”
Ah, the brave, proud, and above all complacent poor! Where would Regency novels (or My Lady Disdain’s five villas) be without them? They KNOW there’s a party going on everywhere else in Regency London, but they’re too busy with their sweating walls to throw bricks at all the brightly-lit windows and risk hitting so fair a creature as Philomena. They must be COAXED, CAJOLED out of their poverty, if one is to make anything of them!
And who has time for that, when there’s the aforementioned husband to find? Readers who stick with “The Rules of Gentility” for any length of time will be reminded very forcefully of “Sex and the City,” but maybe the forlornly loyal Austen fans among them will hope for an ending with even a nod toward wry detachment, even the hint of a knowing smile. Alas, for them the wait will have been in vain, however pleasant the journey. In the end, Carrie Bradshaw carries the day:
“His lips brush against my hair, and it is the most natural thing in the world for us to kiss. “And I love you too,” he whispers. ‘You may put your hands in my pockets as much as you like, and you can buy bonnets to your heart’s content.’
What woman alive could refuse such a proposal?
Every Jane Austen fanatic could of course name at least one woman then alive who could have refused such a proposal, which raises another question about Regency novels: why on Gawd’s green Earth would any writer with an ounce of sense in her head actively INVITE comparison with the author of ‘Pride and Prejudice’? The brand name ‘Jane Austen’ has become in recent years a booming cottage industry full of writers doing just that, without seeming to care that they can only come off poorly in comparison to one of the greatest novelists of all time. Or is it that they know what we here at Stevereads would hate to admit, that the times have changed, lessened, sufficiently so they might WIN such a comparison?
My Lady Disdain could no doubt enlighten us, but alas, she’s boogie-boarding in Cabo with Johnny Lang and won’t be back until he’s won a Grammy. Until then, with books like “The Rules of Gentility,” we’re, as noted, on our own.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Our book today is ‘The Outer Lands’ by Dorothy Serling, copiously illustrated by Winifred Lubell. It’s a natural history of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Long Island. But oh! such a description falls well short of doing the book - or the subject - justice.
We here at Stevereads have traveled the length and breadth of this beautiful world, and we’ve seen enough of it to know that although a great many stretches of it are lovely, we can attest to a fact long attested to by countless other travelers throughout history: a precious few places are imbued with a kind of magic, a place-grace that seems to spring from the physical contours of the place itself. The gardens of Cyprus are one such place; the jungles of Kauai, the beautiful Aran Islands, the wonders of Donegal Bay, the lures of eastern Iowa along the path of the Mississippi, the islands of Venice.
Foremost among such blessed places is the narrow strip of Massachusetts coastal land called Cape Cod and the Cape’s two distant moons, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
If you’re lucky, the time you spend there is measured in bands of gold. We here at Stevereads spent 32 summers returning to the same snug, cluttered, beautiful little saltbox house just off the dunes at Falmouth, at which we slept the deepest sleep of our lives and from which we explored every last inch and cranny of the whole of the Cape. Then a time passed, and after that, we spent a idyllic year on the distant and perfect little island of Nantucket, experiencing the seasons in a way that has vanished with the advent of year-round ferries and super-mansions and the Internet (we also experienced the buoyant affections of a group of long-haired good-for-nothing kids and the stiff, malachite affections of two enormous Irish wolfhounds, but that’s a homily for another time), and after that we spent a series of perilously ill weekends in a frightfully beautiful house in Sandwich, eager for the experience but too sick to move much beyond the driveway. After that, there were ten exquisitely weeks in yet another gorgeous little saltbox cabin - this one smack-dab on the dunes - at Truro, in the company of a smart, troubled young man striving to find his art.
Then years passed, as is the way with wonderlands. The young man became a lauded writer, the tides rose and fell, but we never doubted the Cape would bring us back - such is the way with magical places. And it did indeed happen, just mere months ago, when a high-spirited young friend invited us for a weekend at yet another quaint old saltbox house, this one located at what used to be called Harwich Port. Our young host, technically ignorant of the Cape’s hospitality traditions (or perhaps not so, perhaps imbibing them all unconsciously from the dunes all around, or from the past), nevertheless provided the quintessential Cape extended weekend: leisurely planning, improvised scrambled-egg breakfasts, endless walks along the Great Beach, and enchanted talks in screened porches late at night over wine, talks punctuated by the curling crush of the tide, crashing out there in the dark, yards away.
That was the last, but not the last: the magic places of the world, OUR magic places, have a way of calling us back again and again. We here at Stevereads have no doubt it will happen again, quite without the sweat of tickets, travel, and travel agents. Once upon a time, we lived up the Cape lane from a gleefully, deceptively curmudgeonly old physician who was not so secretly writing about the Cape experience, trying to capture it in print. There were storms in it, and fogs, and stooping hawks, and darting sand pipers, and he ended up capturing it as well as anybody, but it was all shadowplay in the end. Nobody has ever completely captured the experience of living on the Cape, although many have tried.
Perhaps nobody can, and our book today doesn’t propose to. It’s goal is far more humble: it wants only to tell us all about the nature that still remains in the area when the book was last updated, in 1978. Fortunately, the areas in question are peripheries, containing neither ‘apex’ predators nor what loathesome analysts refer to as ‘exploitable bio-resources.’ So the wildlife is both a miniaturist’s dream come true and largely unchanged from that day to this.
In short, there are still jellyfish, still hawks and foraging raccoons, still unpalatable saltwort, and still darting sand-pipers. Only dedicated fishermen would be able to testify to near-catastrophic stock depletions; the rest of us get to pretend nothing’s changed in thirty years.
Miss Lubell’s profuse illustrations are charming, and so is Sterling’s steadfast, kindly attention to every living thing she encounters. There’s a great deal of information in this charming book, but it’s couched always in graceful, lightly playful prose. Here’s our author describing the lowly Sanderling, that signature shorebird:
“Seldom alone as they trot across the sand, they walk and run, wheel and fly in unison, like the members of a well-trained ballet corps. Hunting from dawn until sunset, the Sanderlings take catnaps on the beach during the day. Some squat on the damp sand while others balance on one leg, swinging around like weather vanes as the wind blows.”
Or this, on baby crabs:
“Although all marine young are odd-looking, the oddest are probably the crabs. Bright-eyed, long-tailed, with curved spikes growing from their heads, they resemble miniatures of the men from Mars in the pages of science fiction. The young crabs reach adult size in a year or a little longer. Some live to be two years old, but only a few reach the ripe old age of three.”
It’s true, “The Outer Lands” is not technically a perfect book, seeing as how it includes in its scope not just the Elysium of the Cape and the islands but also Long Island, which, as every intelligent Bostonian will tell you, is littered with dead gulls and used crack needles. But readers can simply skip those pages, like they would step gingerly over a mob-hit washed up on Coney Island, bearing in mind that New Yorkers really deserve our pity more than our contempt.
“The Outer Lands” is out of print and shouldn’t be, but for those of you planning a trip to the Cape - or only dreaming of it - the search for it will well be worth the time.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Our book today is “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Volume 10,” edited by Dean Wesley Smith (with an assist from Paula Block), and it stands as a monument to faith, obsession, hope, and the weirding-ways of bottomless geekdom. Because the ‘Strange New World’ series - now unbelievably in its tenth year - is brought to you by the fans themselves, stories written about every manifestation of Star Trek throughout its forty-year history.
Those manifestations will define you, and your friends. It’s the essential question of ur-geekdom: which Star Trek is your favorite?
There’s the Old Guard, those of us who remember deciding to watch this new show on television, back when there were only three networks and most new shows were absolutely forgettable tripe (those of you who are TV-snobs and think this still applies to TV as a whole should manage to look at some of those old shows - today’s TV is effortlessly, handily more sophisticated than anything back then). We watched, and we were very pleased, and we wrote letters (these were parchment documents placed in paper envelopes and stamped with postage sufficient to ensure their passage to their intended recipient - just google it) to the network, something they’d never seen before. We saw, and suddenly we believed, and for us ever afterwards ‘Star Trek’ would mean Captain Kirk, Mister Spock, Doctor McCoy ... Scotty, Sulu, Chekhov, Uhura, and of course the Enterprise herself, NCC 1701 (“No bloody A, B, C, or D,” as Scotty says in one of the most affecting scenes in all of Star Trek)(a free Star Trek book - quiet, Kevin - to the first of you bloodthirsty little ewoks to identify the scene).
That cast, and of course those original episodes From the great height of our scientific advancement, it’s easy to mock some aspects of those early shows, but it’s important to remember that at the time, those advancements were the stuff of myth. A computer that can run an entire starship (or dilithium mining facility, for that matter)? Totally non-invasive medical imaging? Doors that open automatically at your approach? Hand-held communication devices you just flip open and use? In 1966, these things were unthinkable except as science fiction, and to find them as built-in components of a new show, things not seen as marvels in themselves but as backdrop details for broader dramas was a little revelation.
And those dramas, most of them in the original series, are exceptional stuff. Oh, we know there are howlers, horrible embarrassments, stuff that’s parodied to this day. And William Shatner as Captain Kirk is parodied even more, entirely unjustly in our opinion here at Stevereads; Shatner is a skilled actor, and some of his best early work can be found, openly and unapologetically, in ‘Star Trek.’ What later, too-cool-for-school Trek fans need to remember is that the great demographic pod of their new varieties, ‘Next Generation,’ ‘Deep Space Nine,’ ‘Voyager’ and even ‘Enterprise,’ all manifested in the same epoch, relatively ‘modern’ times. The original series was birthed in an entirely different world, a world where households (ten percent of them in America, that is) had one huge TV and no others, one phone mounted on the wall (usually, and very awkwardly in the case of teenagers, in the kitchen), and no computer or any thought of computers - they were something egghead scientists at Cal Tech tended, things as big as airplane engines, things that would obviously never have any application in private homes. Also a world of race-hatred and everyday sexism.
Into this world, one so radically different from the roughly in-common world joining all other versions of Star Trek, came this new show in which all this futuristic technology is neither magical (Gene Roddenberry went to great lengths to make sure all these gizmos were portrayed consistently from episode to episode) nor perfect (it’s startling, when rewatching those classic episodes, to see how often characters are griping about the miracles in their midst), and in which not only is racial diversity a background commonplace, but in which more strong, three-dimensional women appear in three short years than any other show in the history of TV. There’s Areel Shaw, Jim Kirk’s former lover and legal eagle; the strong-willed Elaan of Troyus, imperious and yet nobody’s fool; there’s the steel-willed T’Pring, Spock’s ultra-Vulcan former fiancee; there’s Nurse Christine Chapel, never portrayed as anything but a partner to Dr. McCoy; there’s gentle, intelligent Amanda, who has the unenviable job of being Mr. Spock’s human mother; and of course before all, there’s our glorious Uhura, the voice of the Enterprise, a woman effortlessly holding her own in ‘the Enterprise Seven,’ Uhura, who was always about so much more than ‘hailing frequencies.’
It was, in short, a marvel, right there on the TV every week, for much too short a time. It produced drek, yes, but in only three years it also managed to produce what still remain the best Star Trek episodes of the entire series. The political intrigues of ‘Journey to Babel,’ the sheer alien-ness of ‘Amok Time,’ the psychological tension of ‘Balance of Terror,’ the compelling drama of ‘The Doomsday Machine,’ the note-perfect comedy of ‘The Trouble with Tribbles,’ ‘Tomorrow is Yesterday,’ and ‘I, Mudd,’ and of course most of all, the heart-wrenching brilliance of ‘City on the Edge of Forever’ ... these episodes, all the more amazingly considering the entire world separating them from all their more modern counterparts, all the more amazingly considering they have about a buck-fifty for a special effects budget, are some of the very best all of Star Trek has to offer.
Then the network closed down the show, and fans lamented the loss. They were stunned at first, but in short order they began organizing, conventioning, fanzining, and, through it all, writing their own ‘Star Trek.’
Long, long before the first volume of ‘Strange New Worlds,’ there were two precious, lovingly produced mass market paperbacks edited by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath, featuring carefully selected fan fiction and titled ‘New Voyages’ and then ‘New Voyages 2.’ For Star Trek fans, those two volumes were an intensely personal find of gold, treasured and re-read through all the lean years in which there was no talk of a new TV series and no thought of a multi-million dollar movie, much less a whole series of them.
Then, a long time later, came ‘The Next Generation.’ It came with grumblings (Shatner said he was OK with the show but “I just wish they wouldn’t call it Star Trek” - which is a Hell of a ‘but,’ when you stop to think about it), but it came: a new Enterprise, her adventures set seventy years later than the Kirk/Spock era. The large jump in years had a practical reason behind it (the original cast members were still alive and very well able to play their characters, and they - and maybe Gene Roddenberry too - would have wanted a very good reason why they shouldn’t) but also a psychological one, perhaps a little smug: to emphasize the huge gap of time between the original series (about which, by this point, all the smart set had the perception to be embarrassed).
The new series was awful enough to warrant Captain Kirk’s coy disapproval. The first two years - the same length of time the original show needed to produce a baker’s dozen great episodes - are painfully embarrassing to watch; stupid scripts, awkwardly over-earnest acting, and worst of all, a choking aura of bland sanctimony (something the original show never even approached) that took on physical form in Patrick Stewart’s slumming portrayal of Captain Picard. Here we had a bureaucrat in the place last occupied by a hero. Instead of an inspiring leader whose people faced death and demigods out of loyalty to him, we had a bossy taskmaster whose people spend most of their time swapping out plasma relays, whatever the Hell that is. Outwardly, the cast appears to be the same collection of easy gimmicks as the original show boasted - but only outwardly. The difference lay in the details: the original cast very quickly outgrew their demographic reasons for being. Not so the new cast, where the one note the characters were created to strike is the only thing they do for two long, dreary seasons.
Even when the show began to find some kind of purpose, it did so haphazardly. There were glimmers of potential here and there, but overall everything was still flat souffle to watch. For a show that lasted seven seasons, this Star Trek left behind a remarkably small roster of good episodes and virtually no excellent ones. Yes, Tasha Yar dies, and that was unprecedented for Star Trek - but the episode itself was disposable garbage, and that’s how Yar was treated (seasons later, she was brought back in an alternate-timeline episode that was one of the series’ shining high points). Q and the Borg were introduced to provide a continuing thread of menace, but they quickly lured the writers into box canyons. Q’s caprice and omnipotence made him reek of desperation, and the minute the Borg assimilated Captain Picard and then (after he was rescued) he was allowed to return to command of the Federation’s flagship, the entire show lost a gaping chunk of its credibility.
Of course you can’t be on the air for seven seasons and not hit paydirt every so often; the Next Generation has the occasional bright spot here and there. Picard is forced to live out the whole length of another man’s life, and Stewart rises to the occasion; we’re treated to a glimpse of Picard’s home life and his domineering brother (masterfully played by Jeremy Kemp), and again Stewart rises to the occasion. And then there’s the entire series’ best episode, ‘Darmok,’ in which the mighty Paul Winifield plays an alien captain from a race who communicate only through references to their own literary history. Picard eventually breaks this code and very movingly recounts the tale of Gilgamesh just as his counterpart dies, and the whole episode works wonderfully.
Still, the series as a whole was one long snooze-fest, which makes its status as the most popular Star Trek of them all doubly mystifying, and yet it’s certainly the case. Ask virtually anybody familiar with Star Trek, and like a procession of Borg drones they’ll trot out the same hypnotized lines: that the Next Generation is better acted, that it’s better scripted, that Patrick Stewart is a great actor, that one-note parodies like Q and Data are compelling characters. etc, etc. It’s no use telling them they don’t know what the sprock they’re talking about - and it’s no use pointing out that for most of them, the Next Generation coincided with their adolescence, that their dismissal of all other types of Star Trek are based on nostalgia, not on actually watching any of those other types.
The two types to branch off from the Next Generation were Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Deep Space Nine was the elder and the more problematic, since for the first time it took as its setting not an itinerant spaceship but a static space station in orbit over a non-Federation world called Bajor.
The premise had potential, and not just because its basics were entirely new. Into the mix was added the extremely talented character actor Avery Brooks as a Starfleet commander who refreshingly hated Captain Picard specifically because he’d once been co-opted by the Borg and cost lots of Federation lives, including our new commander Benjamin Sisko’s wife. This hapless officer is given command of a space station in orbit over Bajor, a station only recently evacuated by the ultra-badguy Cardassians (and more importantly, a station sitting right alongside a ‘wormhole’ to a neighboring quadrant of the galaxy). Sisko in the first episode is a very appealing fish out of water, a single dad trying to care for his young son while also adapting to the wild frontier ways of the station, Deep Space Nine. The station is ruled by three very different beings: a strident, strong-willed female Bajoran lieutenant, an alien, shape-shifting chief of security, and a scheming, devious, sniveling Ferengi shopkeep called Quark, immortally portrayed by the great Armin Shimmerman.
There are great dramatic possibilities here, and Deep Space Nine at first largely squanders them. Some of the acting is quite good, but the show flops around aimlessly until its writers cook up the mother of all plotlines: a full-blown invasion by a warlike civilization called the Dominion, coming through the wormhole in a seemingly unstoppable armada.
The reason this is a killer plotline is simple: once the writers get cooking, they’re able to paint a vast, very satisfying picture, a genuine piece of multi-chaptered science fiction, in which, eventually, a long-held dream of every Star Trek fan is beautifully realized: the Federation, the Romulans, and the Klingons united against a common foe.
The second half of the series is therefore an odd but pleasing alteration between small-scale very funny episodes (most driven by Quark, although the instant-classic episode ‘Trials and Tribble-ations’ fires on all cylinders with only his peripheral involvement) and grand-scale episodes painting the present-history of the Federation itself in a way that neither previous series did or could do (although the original series certainly tried, in episodes like ‘Balance of Terror’ and ‘The Ultimate Computer’). The dichotomy could be jarring at times, but even so: the series yielded up dozens of entirely first-rate episodes that reward re-viewings.
Hard on the heels of ‘Deep Space Nine’ came what is almost certainly the most despised Star Trek variant of them all: ‘Voyager.’ There are many theories as to exactly WHY ‘Voyager’ is so despised, but most of them boil down to one thing: Neelix. That is, the character Neelix, as portrayed by the talented actor Ethan Phillips. When we meet him in the series’ first episode, he’s a happy-go-lucky freebooter in the far corner of the galaxy to which the starship Voyager is hurled by a mysterious near-omnipotent alien. But once that fabulous, totally assured premiere episode is over and Neelix is installed as a regular - as the ship’s cook, no less - some alien bug crawls up the collective ass of fandom and just sticks there, irritating the hell out of everybody for the rest of the run of the series.
This is why ‘Voyager’ needs its own special angel - because Star Trek fandom, usually an elastically forgiving society, largely has a bug up its collective ass about a show that was actually quite good. ‘Voyager’ boasts three things no other version of Star Trek can: first, the best theme song and opening sequence, a mini-symphonic epic like nothing else in Star Trek, second, the most compelling backstory: a lone Starfleet vessel, trapped on the other edge of the galaxy from their homes and families, just trying to get back, and third - and for any of you card-carrying fanboys out there, this is gonna sting a little - the best Starfleet captain of them all.
It’s not that big a claim, when you think about it. Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard is a cup of cold tea in deceptively elegant china. Avery Brooks’ Captain Sisko is a weirdly stilted and utterly unbelievable. And, as we’ll see, Scott Bakula’s Captain Archer presents no serious challenge. No, the only challenge here is William Shatner’s Captain Kirk, and this hurts us as much as it hurts any of you: Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Janeway is simply the best, most fully-realized, most dramatically satisfying portrayal of a Starship Captain we currently have.
It’s not just that Mulgrew is the best actor to get a shot at the distinction - Shatner could be a fine actor in the 60s (and, in one of life’s little grace notes, he rediscovered this ability in the 90s), and Stewart, the only other serious contender, never took his part seriously enough to qualify.
Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Janeway faces the worst nightmare of any Starfleet captain: charged with the safety of her crew, but in utterly uncharted waters, facing the unknown every day. Mulgrew does a superb job of hewing a path between a totally obsessed Ahab, intent on getting her crew home, and a Starfleet explorer lost in a totally unexplored part of the galaxy, with new wonders and new species around every nebula. This acting task is made considerably easier by the fact that Mulgrew has the best comic timing of anybody in the role except perhaps Shatner. Her extended performance as Captain Janeway, across seven seasons of distinctly uneven episodes, consistently shimmers with a style and wit that more than one observer likened to Katharine Hepburn. There are many episodes made watchable only by Mulgrew’s performance.
But there were 40 or so episodes that are watchable for lots more than that, ‘Voyager’ became notorious among Star Trek fanboys for adding the beautiful (and talented, though in this case that was decidedly beside the point) Jeri Ryan as a huge-boobed Borg convert called Seven of Nine, but exploitative trick or not, Seven’s gradual and often reluctant journey back to her humanity prompted more than a few first-rate episodes.
Like ‘Deep Space Nine,’ ‘Voyager’ had the luxury of living out its contracted seven full seasons, and like its sister show, it indulged in a series climax. In the case of ‘Deep Space Nine,’ the climax was the victory of the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans over the Dominion (with one very predictable sacrifice in order to make it happen). With ‘Voyager,’ of course, the climax was for Captain Janeway to bring her ship home. The final episode is a masterpiece of the whole series and one of the finest acting performances Mulgrew ever did.
Fireworks, celebrations, homecomings, and then ... silence. Where could the franchise go from here, asked innumerable virgins in their mothers’ basements? In answer to that question, the Paramount powers that be decided: backwards. And so we come to the last of the Star Trek incarnations, ‘Enterprise.’
‘Enterprise’ the cursed. ‘Enterprise,’ which was cancelled after only four seasons, prompting newspaper articles wondering what happened to this once unstoppable franchise juggernaut. ‘Enterprise’ which by its very definition couldn't play for interesting stakes - viewers knew the ship would never be destroyed; they knew Starfleet and the Federation would eventually become established and flourish; they knew that all the familiar technology - the communicators, the transporter, the phasers, would all end up working just fine. The show’s writers gamely got around a lot of this, for instance by mining ‘firsts’ as often as humanly possible - first nerve pinch! first phaser cannon! first Klingons, Andorians, Orions, Ferengi, Romulans, and of course Borg! And there was a certain charm to the cast, from Scott Bakula as the rough-hewn Captain Archer (a performance that got steadily better with every season, amply aided by the cheery presence of the Captain’s beagle) to the richly reserved Vulcan T’Pol of Jolene Blaylock (like Tim Russ’ Tuvok in ‘Voyager,’ T’Pol is a Vulcan who actually acts like a Vulcan, unlike the famous Mr. Spock, who was prone to rather hysterical fits of emotion in the original series), and especially to the ship’s wise and surprisingly ‘cool’ doctor, played by talented character actor John Billingsley.
‘Enterprise’ wasn’t hated by the fans (the show’s rock-song opening theme was, but not the show itself), not the way ‘Voyager’ was hated, but neither was it loved by them in sufficient numbers to keep it alive, and so, after four seasons of on the whole very good episodes, the show was cancelled, just as the original show was cancelled. And there was silence again.
That silence continues to this day - although there are promising hints abounding about the next movie in the franchise, TV - Star Trek’s true home and natural environment - has gone without its mainstay since ‘Enterprise’ went off the air. We here at Stevereads find this deplorable, especially when such drek as ‘Stargate’ and ‘Stargate: Atlantis’ (shows which owe 100 percent everything of what they are to the Star Trek template) enjoy such long lives. And we propose a solution: a new hourlong weekly series, featuring a background character mentioned in ‘The Next Generation,’ ‘Deep Space Nine,’ and ‘Voyager’ but never seen - Captain DeSoto. Set the new series squarely in the Picard/Janeway/Sisko time period, populate the new ship’s bridge with seven or eight really good characters (and two really good boobs), and commence telling us stories again about the bright shining future that awaits us all. Our suggestion for who to play Captain DeSoto: Jimmy Smits. A Vulcan played by Jon Foster would be a good idea too.
And what about ‘Strange New Worlds 10,’ the book that started this whole little discussion in the first place?
Well, it largely stinks. The story awarded first prize, a soppy, cliche-ridden piece about the woman Spock’s aged father marries once Amanda dies, is one of the worst in the whole book, but it’s got lots of company. The best story in the anthology, ‘Universal Chord’ by Carolyn Winifred, is a delightful account of staid, conservative T’Pol taking in a rock concert and hanging out with the band.
But even though this particular anthology stinks, we here at Stevereads welcome it - because the world needs all the Star Trek it can get.