Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: Spock's World by Diane Duane

This review may contain spoilers

Spock’s World is Diane Duane’s fourth Star Trek novel.  It was originally published as a hardcover edition by Pocket Books in 1988 and featured cover art by Joseph Csatari.  It has since been re-printed in various mass market editions and also in the 2004 “Signature Edition” omnibus, Sand and Stars.
The story takes place in 2274 or 2275, which places it after the events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture but before Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  The chapters alternate between current events and the evolution of the planet Vulcan beginning several billion years ago. 

In the “A-Story,” Sarek is recalled to Vulcan to participate in a debate.  The High Council has called a referendum to decide if Vulcan should secede from the United Federation of Planets.  Later, T’Pau requests that Spock, Kirk and McCoy also go to Vulcan to offer testimony at the debate.  On Vulcan, McCoy (with the help of an intelligent Enterprise computer called Moira) uncovers a series of secret financial transactions that link T’Pring to the groups in favour of seceding.  Once revealed to the public, these secrets cause quite a stir and, coupled with the testimonies of Sarek and the Starfleet crewmembers, sway the vote so that Vulcan remains in the Federation.

In the “B-Story,” Duane explains the birth of the planet Vulcan.  Jumping ahead, she describes early Vulcan hominids learning to survive on a planet with little water.  She describes a tribal society that unites under the leadership of “Oldest Mothers” thus establishing that Vulcan’s preference for matriarchal leadership has its roots in their pre-history.  In later chapters, Duane describes the beginnings of language.  The Vulcans begin to notice that certain of their number have special traits such as the inner eyelids that help prevent blindness in the desert and advanced mental and telepathic abilities.  They begin to breed selectively, making matches to favour mixing of these traits to strengthen their tribes.  This history then jumps forward to the birth of Surak and describes the group that would come to be known as Romulans (Duane’s Rihannsu) leaving Vulcan.

Of the two stories, the Vulcan history was more interesting to me.  Duane does a good job of creating a believable history and evolution for the Vulcans.  She presents Surak as sort of a Dr. Phil-like self help guru which is not at all how I have pictured him but perhaps it makes sense for how his ideas became part of Vulcan’s popular culture.  Duane establishes that T’Pau is the matriarchal leader of Sarek and Spock’s family.  It seems a little convenient to me that so many important Vulcans are part of the same family but it would explain T’Pau’s officiating at Spock’s koon-ut-kal-if-fee in “Amok Time.” 
There are several things about the main story that I don’t care much for.  I don’t think Duane quite nailed Kirk’s voice.  I could not picture him saying some of what he says in his testimony on Vulcan.  I also didn’t like the idea that McCoy was the one to uncover T’Pring’s involvement in the plot to have Vulcan secede from the Federation.  It’s not that I doubt McCoy’s ability to do that kind of research but it just seems the obvious role for Spock to play in the story.  In fact, for a novel where Spock is the titular character, he appears very seldom.  I also didn’t like the characterization of Sarek.  I found him too emotional.  Duane had him as an expert at human idioms and puns and though I can imagine he would understand them after living so long on Earth, I cannot imagine him ever using them in day-to-day speech.  Duane presents a Sarek that is much more expressive than the one Mark Lenard portrayed.

The novel seems overly preoccupied with finance and capitalism.  There are constant mentions of Enterprise crewmembers spending money and the relative costs of things to Starfleet or the Federation.  I know that it’s difficult for us to understand a world without money but that idea was central to Gene Roddenberry’s concept of the future. 

Finally, I was a little unsure about the technology on the Enterprise.  The novel is clearly a product of its time.  Duane establishes a shipboard BBS (Bulletin Board System) of the type that were becoming very popular by the late 1980s.  I can imagine a system like this on the Enterprise but the way it’s described is a bit dated by today’s standards. 

Duane also creates a recreational computer called Moira who is intelligent and who has a personality.  It seems to me that if Starfleet had the ability to create this kind of artificial intelligence then they would have used them to create Soong-type androids like Data rather than simple recreational computers.  These kinds of details are exactly why most of the Star Trek novels are not considered “canon.” 

Though I really enjoyed most of the Vulcan history that Duane weaves, I was bothered by some of the characterizations of well-known characters.  I was also bothered by the lack of Spock!  I probably would have enjoyed this novel more when it came out in 1988 before Star Trek: The Next Generation hit its stride and we learned so much more about the Trek universe.  Reading it today, it seems a bit dated and there are many details that conflict with things established in on-screen Star Trek.  Nevertheless, it’s entertaining.  I give it three dying Vulcan matriarchs out of five.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Robert Fletcher's Movie-Era Vulcans

Three-time Tony Award nominee Robert Fletcher was the costume designer for the first four Star Trek feature films.  His designs would be used or referenced in almost every subsequent Star Trek production.  More than a costume designer, Gene Roddenberry gave Fletcher the task of developing overall looks for the entire Klingon and Vulcan cultures.  It was Fletcher who first sketched the ridged forehead for Klingons.  Fletcher also designed the Vulcan symbols which would adorn their costumes and form the basis for the Vulcan writing seen in later Star Trek series and films.
Fletcher began his career as a costume designer on Broadway where he created noted costumes for How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Hadrian VII.  He also designed for ballet and other theatre productions before going on to work in television, designing for specials featuring Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Mary Martin.  After a more than 30 year career as a costume designer, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was his first feature film, and his first foray into science fiction.

For TMP, Fletcher designed several Vulcan costumes.  He created costumes for Vulcan extras that were seen at the San Francisco tram station.  For these costumes, Fletcher used metallic fabrics that he worked into unique designs with many strong vertical lines and interesting geometric patterns.  These seem to be a logical evolution from William Ware Theiss’ Vulcan designs for “Amok Time.”
Also for TMP, Fletcher had to create three costumes for the Vulcan masters who presided over Spock’s Kolinahr ceremony.  Some of Fletcher’s original sketches for these costumes have survived.  
Elements of the female master’s costume would be re-used in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, where they were worn by Spock’s mother, Amanda Grayson.  The Vulcan masters’ tabards were sold at the Christie’s Star Trek auction for $4000 and $4500.  The metallic under robes were later sold by It’s A Wrap for a combined total of over $3000. 

Finally, Fletcher had to design costumes for the number one Vulcan himself, Mr. Spock.  First was the design for Spock’s Kolinahr robes.  This is an austere costume featuring an under robe with large bell sleeves; a motif that would be repeated in Vulcan costumes for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV
The real crowning achievement for Vulcan design in TMP was Spock’s black velvet “At-Home” costume.  This is a beautiful costume put to great use in the film for Spock’s triumphant return to the USS Enterprise.  This costume also marks the first time we are clearly able to see Vulcan symbols on clothing.  Fletcher was interviewed by Nick Ottens for Forgotten Trek in 2006 and had this to say about those symbols:
"People always ask me what the writing on front of Spock's black velvet, at-home costume symbolize. I have to explain the language that I invented to decorate those things, and I can't! All I can say is that it's very akin to Chinese; it's non-syllabic, and the various shapes contain an entire thought and you don't use them to make words."
Fans would have to wait until 2007 to discover more about the meaning of those symbols.  It’s A Wrap! auctioned a Vulcan costume and included in the description the translations for those three symbols (rata (concept), tafar (discipline), tapan (process)).  The sentiments make perfect sense considering Spock’s study of Kolinahr at the time.  Those same three symbols which I have referred to elsewhere as "The Trinity" appear on Vulcan clothing throughout the subsequent Star Trek series.

Fletcher would next have the opportunity to design for Vulcans in Star Trek III when he had to create an army of costumes for Vulcan extras.  Each of these costumes for priests and priestesses is a work of art.  Fletcher continued to evolve his TMP designs with the strong vertical lines and geometric shapes.  The large bell sleeves became a staple of Vulcan design that would be carried forward into Star Trek: The Next Generation.  To save time on hair and make-up, the production team decided to outfit most Vulcans with ceremonial hats.  Each hat featured a cast resign “jewel” with a painted Vulcan symbol on it.  Considering none of these costumes were greatly visible on-screen, the costume department did an incredible amount of work on them.  This photo is of several of the Vulcan hats in my collection.
Fletcher worked with Maggie Schpak to design the amazing jewelry and armour worn by Sarek and the guards at Spock’s Fal-tor-pan ceremony.  The beauty and rarity of these pieces have made them highly sought after by collectors.
In Star Trek III, Fletcher also had the opportunity to design some incredible costumes for Vulcan high priests and priestesses as well as the memorable gong player.
Robert Fletcher’s contribution to Vulcan design is immeasurable.  He brought dimension and beauty to Star Trek’s oldest alien race.  In 2005, the Costume Designers Guild honoured Fletcher with a well-deserved Career Achievement Award.

A great source for some photos of Fletcher’s lesser-seen costumes is the Star Trek: The Motion Picture Make-Your-Own Costume Book by Lynn Edelman Schnurnberger.  This book also features a preface by Fletcher.  More information and images of Fletcher’s work can be seen online at Forgotten Trek.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Propworx Star Trek Auction Catalogue

The summer of 2010 was huge for Star Trek prop and costume auctions.  Arguably the most memorable and successful of these was the Propworx auction in Las Vegas.  Alec Peters asked me to write interviews with Michael and Denise Okuda, Doug Drexler, Rick Sternbach and Marc Zicree for the auction catalogue.  It was a fantastic experience!
The auction may be over but the catalogue was crafted to be a beautiful collectable that will last.  It's a large format hardcover book with detailed photos of objects from Star Trek history that may never be seen again.  It's also packed with great information from some of the talented artists and writers who helped make Star Trek what it has become.
I'm very proud to be associated with Propworx and to have my work preserved in this book.  The catalogue is available for order at the Propworx website.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Review: IDW Alien Spotlight: Vulcans

In 2007, IDW began publishing a series of comics called "Alien Spotlight."  The second issue to be released featured the Vulcans.  It was written by James Patrick from a story by Rick Remender and features art by Josep Maria Beroy and colour by Mario Boon.  Four different covers are available:
The story takes place on the USS Enterprise under the command of Captain Pike shortly after Spock joins the crew as science officer.  It deals with the human crew members' difficulty accepting Spock and his Vulcan ways.  It's a bit reminiscent of the TOS episode, "The Galileo Seven" in which Spock's logic puts him in direct confrontation with his Human peers.  In this case, Spock's logic and ability to contain his emotions, impress a race engulfed in civil war and help lead them on a path toward peace.

The art is highly stylized.  You can tell who the characters are supposed to be but they don't really resemble the actors who played them on-screen.  Beroy did a great job recreating the early Starfleet uniforms and Landing Party gear.  I think my favourite cover is the "A" even though it has nothing to do with this particular story.  I love the movie-era Vulcan design with the Maggie Schpak-style armour.

Thematically, this story doesn't cover any new ground.  It is interesting to explore the period when Spock first joined the Enterprise.  Overall, I give this book three out of five stars.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Genki Wear Pon Farr Perfume

Genki Wear has released a new fragrance for women as part of their Star Trek line: Pon Farr.
Pon Farr is, of course, the Vulcan time of mating.  Genki has created a pretty clever marketing campaign for this fragrance featuring images from the seminal TOS episode "Amok Time" and taglines like "Drive Him Crazy."  

I can't vouch for the fragrance itself but Vulcan fans and collectors will want to pick this up for the bottle alone!  The whole package is very groovy.  If you visit the official website you'll hear some 60s-style lounge music as you read about the product.
It's pretty reasonably priced (around $29.95 in most cases) and is available all over the Interweb and at a Star Trek convention near you!

I have included screencaps from the Genki Wear website for archival purposes only.  No copyright infringement is intended.

Review: Star Trek Magazine The Vulcan Chronicles

Issue 28 (September 2010) of Star Trek Magazine is subtitled "The Vulcan Chronicles."  It features short biographies of several important Vulcan characters including Spock, Sarek, Tuvok, T'Pol, Saavik, Surak and T'Pau.
For the most part, these articles are pretty basic but they're good introductions for people who are not yet die-hard Trekkies.  I enjoyed Margaret Wander Bonanno's piece on Sarek and Scott Pearson's piece on Saavik.  Allyn Gibson also manages to shed some light on the enigmatic (and non-canonical?) Sybok.

Each article features comments from the actors who portrayed the character and sometimes an excerpt or description from the script.  Also, handy for completists, each article includes a list of "Further Adventures" in which these characters appear.  It lists the novels and comic books which expand the on-screen adventures.

This issue might not reveal anything new for die-hard Trekkies but it is diverting and a must-have for Vulcan collectors.  As seen above, there are two possible covers to collect.

Fun With Vulcans

Here are a few fun images from the Web featuring Vulcans.

Thanks to Doug Drexler for allowing me to re-post the "Vulcans are Mean" drawing from his blog, Drex Files.  If you own one of these images and would like it removed or would like credit please contact me!

Vulcans in Plastic: Star Trek 2009

The license to create Star Trek action figures for the 2009 JJ Abrams film was given to Playmates.  They created three different sized action figure lines: the 12 inch Command line, the 6 inch Warp line and the 3.75 inch Galaxy line.

The Command line features cloth uniforms and quite decent likenesses.  The consisted of nine figures including Spock and Spock Prime.  I don't have these in my collection because I've never really liked cloth uniforms.  The completist in me might pick them up someday.
The first wave of the Warp line consisted of ten figures including Spock and Spock Prime.  For the most part, the likenesses of these figures are quite good.  Playmates seems to have corrected the issue of the disproportionately large heads that its 1990s Star Trek figures had.  I don't care much for the sculpted Starfleet uniforms.  I think they look a bit like sweaters.  I do, however, like the Spock Prime figure quite a bit.
A second wave was announced but never released.  It would have consisted of six additional figures including the creatures from Delta Vega and Spock in his Starfleet Academy uniform.  The Playmates website included a photo of this figure but I doubt we'll ever see it actualized.

The Galaxy line seems to be an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the Star Wars figures of the same size.  Unfortunately, they are lacking in detail and the likenesses are vague.  There is also very limited articulation.  The first wave consisted of eleven figures including Spock and Spock Prime.
As with the Warp line, Playmates announced a second wave of Galaxy figures that has yet to materialize.  It would have consisted of eight additional figures including Spock in his Starfleet Academy uniform and Sarek.  Again, the Playmates website offered photos of these figures.
Though it's not that great looking, I would have liked to have seen this Sarek figure produced.  Sarek is one of my favourite characters.

All told, I only added three of these figures to my collection.  Spock from the Galaxy line and Spock and Spock Prime (Actually, I bought two Primes.  One to open and one to keep sealed) from the Warp line.  These toys were obviously targeted for a fairly young audience rather than the older collector.  Like the film itself, they were designed to try to lure a new audience to the franchise. Unfortunately, they did not sell especially well which is why the second lines of the Warp and Galaxy figures were not released.

I have published these screencaps from the Playmates website strictly for archival purposes.  No copyright infringement is intended.