Tuesday, August 27, 2013

#600. The Cephalopod Coffehouse August 2013

Via our wonderful host the Armchair Squid, here's to the fourth month of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse!

I was going to include this at the end rather than the beginning, which is what I've done in the previous installments, but I figured why break with tradition, and the long list always seems to impress, and this one's long indeed, so here goes, what I read in August:
  • Star Trek Online - The Needs of the Many by Michael A. Martin
  • The Best American Comics 2007 edited by Chris Ware
  • Absolute Death by Neil Gaiman and various
  • CassaStorm by Alex J. Cavanaugh
  • Azlander: Second Nature by Gabriel Brunsdon
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Never-Ending Sacrifice by Una McCormack
  • Harlan Ellison's 7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison and Paul Chadwick
  • Doom Patrol: The Painting That Ate Paris by Grant Morrison and various
  • Doom Patrol: Down Paradise Way by Grant Morrison and various
  • Star Trek: Enterprise - The Good That Men Do by Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin
  • Bayou Vol. 1 by Jeremy Love
  • Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together by Bryan Lee O'Malley
  • Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe by Bryan Lee O'Malley
  • Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O'Malley
  • Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham and various
  • The New Avengers Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Prophecy and Change edited by Marco Palmieri
  • Hellblazer: Rare Cuts by various
  • Gone to Amerikay by Derek McCulloch
  • Batman: No Man's Land Vol. 4 by Greg Rucka and various
  • Captain America and Bucky: The Life Story of Bucky Barnes by Ed Brubaker and various
  • Manifesto by Anonymous
  • Zulu by Caryl Ferey
  • Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco
 A large reason why the list is so large this month is because the move that is now days away that will affect much more of what hasn't already been affected by my formerly regular routines in recent months.  I had made a Good Reads goal of reading 75 books, and I wanted to hit that by the end of the month (I've eclipsed that, too, after stretching from the starting point of 50 earlier in the year) when I was still sure I could make regular and timely updates there.  Lots of graphic novels, obviously, as with past lists, but also a bunch of pictureless books, including intrepid ninja captain Alex Cavanaugh's forthcoming new book, which I won at said Good Reads.

I've said before that when I hit the Star Trek books, I'd talk about Star Trek books, and so here we are, I've finished that set, and I'm ready to talk.

I've fallen in love.  Not with Star Trek books in general, but Una McCormack.  She saved Star Trek books for me.  Chances are if you know much about Star Trek books at all, you still won't know the name Una McCormack off the top of your head.  She's not one of the marquee names, even though she should be.  She's awesome, she really is.

The Never-Ending Sacrifice begins almost like any other Star Trek book.  But it builds.  And builds.  It becomes unlike any other Star Trek book quickly enough.  It becomes simply a work of great literature.  The story is all about a Cardassian youth seen in a single episode from the second season of Deep Space Nine, appropriately entitled "Cardassians" (the really notable thing about the episode itself is that it's the first time we see the inimitable Garak since his first appearance, although it's not until later in that season that he becomes a true icon, in "The Wire"). 

This youth had become an orphan, and became stuck between worlds when he ended up being adopted by Bajorans.  The nefarious Gul Dukat uses him in a political ploy, sending him back to his Cardassian father, which mirrors a Next Generation episode that features the actor who was once in St. Elsewhere and would later become Dr. Quinn's son.  Anyway, McCormack brushes on the events of this episode, but really enters pretty quickly into her own story.

It's a lot about Cardassian politics at first, but mostly it's about damaged individuals, and being caught in the swoop of big events.  It's a true epic, completely breathtaking by the end.  It's brilliant.

And it ended up finally making clear to me that problem I always had with Star Trek books.  Most Star Trek books are written from a sense that really has nothing to do with Star Trek itself.  Star Trek, in its filmed incarnations, has always been an expansive look at the human condition.  Sure, there are a lot of wacky things that happen, and the term "technobabble" became especially informative at one point, but in the end, it was never about the starships, the gadgets, the aliens, any of that.  It was about trying survive in a universe that often seems to make it as hard as it can.  A world very much familiar to Star Trek viewers.

It was never "just" science fiction and space conflicts.  But that seems to be what most Star Trek books are about.  They try to ape certain aspects of the filmed experience.  Some of the books even read as if they want desperately to be a movie or an episode.  But even those never seem to get the point.  Even the Dominion War wasn't just about having a war for a couple of seasons.  For pete's sake, they played baseball on the holosuite during that arc!

What I mean to say is, McCormack brought an old world perspective to her book.  Star Trek was always a new world's perspective on the old world.  Most Star Trek books are strictly new world.  They lack any real substance (and sometimes are written fairly poorly besides).  They aren't really Star Trek at all, even if all the trappings are there.  In McCormack's hands, you don't even need to know too much about Cardassians or Deep Space Nine to see the outstanding appeal of her prose.

(And by the way, by complete happenstance, Prophecy and Change features her very first professional work.  I didn't plan that or add it in retroactively.)

After Never-Ending Sacrifice, I also got to enjoy Zulu, which was equally delightful.  I wish all books were as good as these, I really do. 


Maurice Mitchell said...

That sounds like an excellent book Tony. I used to read Star Trek books all the time back in the day. Maybe I'll start with that one. Here's hoping your move goes well!

The Armchair Squid said...

Aha! You've posted early. I love your thoughts on Trek and what it's really all about. There was a time in my life - we'll call it high school - when I found the technobabble oppressive. Once I was able to see past it to the real story, TNG became a lot more interesting.

I've got a Trek post of my own going up in just a few hours.


Good luck on the move.
I want a copy of Absolute Death, just need to get a loan from my wife. I love what Neil Gaiman has done with Doctor Who.

Tony Laplume said...

Maurice, it really is. And if you start anywhere, it's an excellent choice.

Squid, I look forward to reading it! And for some reason, I never really had a problem with the technobabble. To me, it just made everything more "real."

David, it'd be worth the investment. Gaiman does wonders with everything he touches.

The Armchair Squid said...

I think I was intimidated by the science, to be honest. I watched with scientific types who ate it up. Now, older and hopefully wiser, I agree with you that it adds to the realism.

Tony Laplume said...

The thing that's neat about Watching the Clock, which I read last month, is that it so heavily involves one of Star Trek's favorite science (fiction) concepts, time travel. I don't think it's used effectively in the book, but it's still pretty awesome.

Ghadeer said...

I admit that I'm very jealous of your long August's reading list!

Sally said...

Both my husband and I enjoy the TV series of Deep Space Nine and I didn't realise there were books written. Thank you for this recommendation that is now going on our TBR list.

jaybird said...

Nice shout out to Alex. Glad you had the chance to read one of his Cassa books.

Good luck with your move.

Laoch of Chicago said...

I think my favorite Start Trek novels were written by Diane Duane and Vonda N. McIntyre, but of course I am an old timer.

Stephanie said...

Although I'm enough of a Trek fan to have a "Trek" fish on the back of my car, it has never actually occurred to me to read a Star Trek BOOK. I just assumed they'd be cheesy fan-fic, or something. But I have to say, the mention of Garak and Gul Dukat got my heart all a-pitter-pat, and I am intrigued. I miss those guys.

The Armchair Squid said...

...I have issues with Trek and time travel but I'll save that discussion for another time...

Are you a Dr. Who fan at all? I can see your friend Mr. Walston certainly is.

Trisha F said...

Wow - you sure did read a lot this month! Errr, I mean last month now :) Impressive list. I haven't read any Star Trek books, but I do love sci-fi.

Tony Laplume said...

Ghadeer, it was long even by my standards!

Sally, this one has the flavor of DS9 all over it.

jaybird, this last one seems like it's a good conclusion to the rest of the series, so I'm glad that he chose to write it. As Alex says, he didn't imagine writing a second much less third book.

Laoch, Duane and McIntyre are two of the classic writers, definitely.

Stephanie, Garak doesn't have a full scene until near the end of the book, but it's classic Garak. Well worth the wait. It shows that McCormack loves the character as much as the rest of us.

Squid, I'm still working my way toward the Doctor. I read Douglas Adams's lost adventure Shada, but that's about as extensive as I get, aside from a few Christopher Eccleston episodes.

Trisha, there're bound to be Star Trek books to suit your interests, given that there are thousands of them at this point, although a regular bookstore won't be the best place to look at this point.

The Armchair Squid said...

I've recently succeeded in getting Mock and his family hooked on the Doctor. I bring it up here because of the time travel issue. There was a period in Trek's history when they went to that well far too frequently. They encountered space-time anomalies so often that they could hardly be considered anomalies any more.

Dr. Who is, of course, entirely about space-time travel. But I like the way they handle it. They have rules and they live by them. Trek has gone off the deep end on a few occasions.

Tony Laplume said...

Never really had a problem with all the time travel. It became a common and routinely clever Star Trek trope decades ago.


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