Monday, December 28, 2020

#StayAtHome: "Star Trek Vanguard: Reap the Whirlwind"


David Mack's "Reap the Whirlwind " is the third book in the Star Trek: Vanguard series, a set of Original Series novels set in the Taurus Reach, an area outside the Federation and bordered by the Klingon Empire, the Tholian Assembly, and the Federation. The Organian Peace Treaty does not exist yet, so the setting features intense espionage, sabotage, diplomacy, and intrigue among these three powers. 

The intrigue isn't just about territory: there is a series of ancient alien archaeological finds on many worlds in the Taurus reach, finds that promise great power for the faction that can unlock their secrets. But one of the three factions would rather keep these secrets buried...

In Star Trek Adventures terms, the Taurus Reach is a campaign setting ripe for exploration and intrigue. There is Starbase 47 (the station name for this Watchtower-class starbase is Vanguard), the Federation's primary footprint in the sector, and the heart of Federation operations covert and overt in the area. There are four important starships in this novel: USS Endeavor, the Constitution-class starship assigned to the sector after the destruction of the USS Bombay; the USS Sagittarius, an Archer-class starship (the small ship on the book cover which is trying to dodge a Klingon D7), the operations "runabout" (as it were) assigned to the starbase; USS Lovell, a refurbished Daedalus-class explorer assigned to a Starfleet Corps of Engineers crew; and the Rocinante, a free trader whose Captain, Cervantes Quinn, is beholden to both the Orion syndicate and to Lt. Commander T'Prynn, the Starfleet Intelligence liaison to Starbase 47. 

Yes, Rocinante does come up as a rogue ship name in SF from time to time, doesn't it?

I am not sure how accessible the book would be to someone just starting the series with this book, but there is a 30+ page glossary at the back. I plan to continue reading the series, even though I am not a huge fan of the ancient alien threat at the center of the series, and I find some of the characterization a bit tiresome; to wit, please either stop referring to female crew as the "brunette", or do the same occasionally with males; consider less frequent introduction of new female characters as annoying antagonists for male characters; consider not blowing up one of the two lesbian characters in the book, especially just after the characters' big break up scene.

So there are things in the series that annoy me, for sure. But in sourcebook terms, it IS a very interesting effort to create a setting for new Star Trek adventures (insert a capital "A" if you like; a Taurus Reach boxed set would be A GREAT IDEA for the RPG). You would really want this particular book in the series for its glossary, if you were going to use the setting in advance of a boxed set, and you'd want the first book in the series, Harbinger, for its nifty fold out map of both Vanguard and the exteriors of the Sagittarius. I know that this Archer-class starship has become a favorite for some Star Trek Adventures fans, as it is warp capable, able to land planetside, and small enough to be crewed by a handful of PCs. 

I have even thought about using the Taurus Reach for convention-based scenarios; it's probably just a matter of time until I figure out a story I want to tell. In the meantime, I am starting in on book four of the series, Dayton Ward's Open Secrets.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

#StayAtHome: Jenny Odell's "How To Do Nothing"


If quitting Facebook forever really isn't an option (and it isn't for most of us), what should you do to avoid doing work for Facebook, Twitter, etc.? By work here, I mean letting the attention economy (pushing the "Like" button, hitting the refresh addictively, and retweeting or resharing the latest outrage) command your attention. Jenny Odell's "How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy" (2019) was written to explore that question. She suggests that the answer is to retrain our attention to notice people and details in our local environment and broader region.

She makes her case through storytelling and theory, ranging from ancient Greek philosophy to the art scene (she is a digital artist by profession), social theory, birding (her hobby), and nature walks. An important insight in the book is that the attention economy produces and relies upon a kind of siloed attention: while people are networked, each person's online experience is profoundly channeled and controlled by algorithms in a way that makes shared experiences nearly impossible. Instead, we have to focus our attention on local people and nature if we want to engage in authentic dialogue, community, and exchange.

Odell is incredibly skilled at weaving together different kinds of knowledge and experience, and she has a gift for explaining art, social theory, and animal behavior in ways that are incredibly accessible to the general reader. This was the December book for the Empire Reading Group, and a great book with which to round out the year.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

#StayAtHome: John M. Ford's "The Final Reflection"


This was my first rereading of John M. Ford's The Final Reflection (1984) since its original publication some thirty six years ago (!).  My first reflection is how much the novel (and, secondarily, the FASA Star Trek RPG supplement The Klingons, also authored by John M. Ford) have shaped my understanding of who the Klingons "really" are. I believe this was the first really sympathetic portrayal of the Klingons, written from a Klingon point of view. I mean, in my current post-Dominion war Shackleton Expanse Star Trek Adventures RPG campaign, there are Human-Klingon and Romulan-Klingon fusions, and there is even a small renascent Imperial Klingon States in the Expanse. In fact, one of my best pieces of game writing for this campaign was their "declaration" of the new IKS.

A second reflection, provoked in part also by some of the journalism about Star Trek: Discovery, is that the Klingons have been reinvented several times. So any Star Trek GM will need to decide which Klingons they are using - or which combination of Klingon-types they are select for the Klingons in their game. For example, while Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation had this weird idea that repairing disabilities with prosthetics was somehow un-Klingon and/or dishonorable, the Klingons in The Final Reflection have all kinds of prosthetics - even obvious plastic facial prosthetics. Similarly, notions like the Black Fleet and the significance of "the naked stars" start here, with John M. Ford.

A final reflection is that whoever wrote Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, must have been influenced by The Final Reflection. There are just to many similarities in themes, and in the core conspiracies present in the movie to make this happen by accident. Some of Ford's themes spill back to Enterprise as well, particularly the "humans first" movement which seeks to cut off Earth from other worlds.

This is a very enjoyable novel, with a lot of action and a lot of heart, and some really evocative literary references as well. Anyone who has Klingons reading The Once and Future King is doing Klingons and Trek the right way. 

It was nice to see an acknowledgement of John M. Ford in STA's new Klingon Core Book.