Book Review 60: Tales from the Captain's Table

Soon Demora Sulu came in. She was older than she had been when she entered earlier that day, and older than she had been at the time when she first met Chakotay. Her face betrayed disappointment, as if she was hoping to catch her erstwhile protege. Cap knew, however, that if they were meant to encounter each other, they would have. Instead, he simply poured her another glass from the same bottle of red wine she'd drunk from earlier that day many years ago.

All in all, Cap decided, it had been a good day. He gave Sulu her drink, and then sat back and waited for the next story...

Page 329
Today (Thursday, 2011-01-06) was day 1 of CES.  That means it is once again time for me to make my feet hate my brain and spend 4 days standing on a booth at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The show is going great so far.  And since it's CES time, that means is once again time for Star Trek Book Week at Cromely's World (thought it may be only half a week this year).  I'm doing things a little differently this year and starting with some Star Trek Fiction.

I really wanted to like "Star Trek: Tales from the Captain's Table" more than I did. It's a book that would likely have been better if I was still a teenager. And perhaps it's designed to appeal to a younger audience than I represent.

I have two main problems with it -- the premise, and the writing of the familiar characters. That sounds like a deeper condemnation of the book than I intend.

The Captain's Table is a bar that is located in different places and different times. It seems to exist outside the space-time continuum. Only ship Captains can enter, and the only cost to eat and drink is to tell a story.

This neat mechanism that allows Riker and Archer and Demora Sulu to appear in the same room, and for Chaktotay to be in the same room as Sulu when she is years younger than she was when he met her.

The problem with this mechanism is that it's too magical for me. In another science fiction universe I'd be okay with it, but here it hurts my head. The Star Trek universe relies very little on magic. There is a scientific exploration for nearly everything. There's some mysticism in the Vulcan tradition and of course in the Prophets-Emissary story line of Deep Space Nine, but the magical nature of The Captains' Table just doesn't fit with the rest of the Star Trek universe and at times takes me right out of the story.

I don't know if the stories in here are considered canon, but I have my doubts that they should be. I'd like a place like this to exist in the Star Trek universe, or even in my universe, but it just doesn't fit.

Putting that aside for a moment, some of the story lines in here are compelling.

In the first one, Riker tells the story of a pirate attack while he was on his honey moon with Troi. It was a swashbuckling affair with adventure, risks, costuming and more.

Now Klag threw his head back and laughed. ''Your Betazoid mate," Klag said. "A pirate chieftainess?"

"That's right. Would I lie to you?"

Klag shrugged. "While telling a story, Riker, I would be disappointed if you didn't. Continue."

Page 20

The story does fit well with Riker's character. It's exactly the sort of story Riker would tell, but the writing itself is rather simplistic.

Picard also tells a very Picard type of story -- about scrifice for the greater good, and fighting the good fight regardless of the possible outcome. It's a classic, heroic story about the highest ideals of the human race. The author captures Picard's frank self awareness...

Picard sat back in his chair and sighed. Instead of bringing light into the darkness, he had allowed the lights of twenty-four of his crew to be extinguished. Quite an accomplishment, he told himself.

Page 59

... and his sometimes sanguine good moods.

But to think that one of them had enabled this city to exist, and its people to flourish in freedom and fulfillment... it was remarkable, to say the least. And it reminded Picard of the good he had done occasionally, which-now that he thought about it might possibly have outweighed the bad.

page 76

A Klingon Captain tells a story of battle, honor, and revenge. It's not a tale of huge starship battles, but of the smaller ones that affect Klingons growing up and learning what it means to be a Klingon Warrior.

"We were outraged, with the petulance that only children can achieve, and tried unsuccessfully to defend our honor. "

page 112

Captain Archer tells a humorous story featuring his dog Porthos. The story is all about the comic relief, which sadly seems to be the place in the Star Trek universe to which many people have condemned him.

Kira Nerys tells a story of prostitution and espionage under the Cardassian Occupation of Deep Space 9.

Chakotay tells the story of how he joined Star Fleet and the tension between his Native American roots and the scientific, off-world nature of the Federation.

They're all appropriate stories to the characters that tell them, but they also sound a little hollow. The writers seem to write to characatures of their Captains rather than to the Captains themselves.

That's why the best stories in the book are those of Captains we haven't met before.

It may be that the writers are too wedded to prewritten definitions of who Riker, Picard, Nerys, Archer, and Chakotay are. Or it may be that I am too wedded to them as an audience member. These characters are bigger than life. Captains we meet for the first time do not have that same iconic stature. And that makes for some more interesting stories.

Demora Sulu tells a fascinating story of caring for a relative. It's not typically the stuff of Star Trek, but it makes for a great story about family, honor, obligation and character. In theme, it's the kind of story you could expect from a Klingon, but the content is the kind of story you would expect from a human.

The intersections of these new Captains stories with the universe we know ground them nicely. Demora's connection to Hikaru Sulu and Chakotay, and Captain Shelby's connection to Tom Paris make me even more interested in their stories.

Captain David Gold tells a story of revenge and forgiveness as he prepares to break his Yom Kipur fast. It confuses the heck out of the rest of his audience. Captain Elizabeth Shelby tells a painful tale of a mission gone wrong.

While there are some great stories in this book, overall, it's mediocre. Even setting aside the magical element of the book, the known characters stories just seem a bit weak from a story-telling effort.


Tina said...

Sounds like I would read the book under my typical Star Trek novel rational: answering the question "Do I want more stories in the Star Trek universe?" The answer is always yes even when the stories disappoint and frustrate. Looking forward to the rest of your reviews.

Cromely said...

@Tina: Sounds like a good fit for that. I really haven't read much Star Trek fiction yet, but I'm running out of memoirs so I guess I'll be picking up some more.