Friday, January 11, 2008

Book Review: Burning Dreams

Once upon a time, I read every Star Trek book published.

Then a funny thing happened.  The Bigwigs declared that, essentially, nothing could change from the beginning of the book to the end, so as to stay In Canon.

(Except, of course, that the books were never supposed to be canon, which is why Spock could have a kid, among other things.)

Well, when nothing important is allowed to happen, books become...boring.

But I have fond memories of those early books: if history writers could present history as vividly as Diane Duane did in Spock's World and The Romulan Way, more kids would love the subject.  Margaret Wander Bonanno's Dwellers in the Crucible is one of my favorite books -- note, not "Star Trek books" but one of my favorite books -- ever (though I gather it's controversial).  The Wounded Sky (because any book that invents something called "creative physics" is awesome), The Three-Minute Universe (because appearances can be deceiving), Uhura's Song (because "Eyebrow on stun, Mr. Spock!" still sends me into fits of hysterics).

Then, around the same time as the Edict From On High said that nothing important could happen in the novels, Margaret Wander Bonanno wrote a sequel to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (the one with the whales), but (according to her, to be fair) it was 95% re-written.   She and Pocket Books / Paramount / Star Trek parted ways.

Then, a while back, she announced that she'd written Catalyst of Sorrows, for the series of "Lost Era" books that covered the time after the end of the Star Trek movies.  I bought it, but for some reason never read it.  (I probably will find it and read it now.)

And after that, she wrote Burning Dreams, which is essentially The Christopher Pike book.

Christopher Pike was the captain in the unaired pilot of Star Trek called "The Cage;" he reappeared in a two-part episode called "The Menagerie," which used some of the unaired footage during a court martial.  Without going too much into the story (if you're reading this review, I assume you at least know who Chris Pike was), after giving up command of the Enterprise, Pike is grievously wounded -- paralyzed and able to communicate only by indicating "yes" or "no" -- but is eventually taken back to Talos IV, where he can live a life of illusion.

What always fascinated me about Pike was the depth the character was given in just the few minutes we saw him.  He's passionate, dedicated -- and tortured by the memories of the people who died under his command.  When I came across filk in the late 1990s, and found "The Price of Command," it immediately and irrevocably became my Christopher Pike song.  If I thought I could find enough footage, I'd do a vid with it.

In any event, Burning Dreams is the story of Chris Pike's life -- and the story of what he does with the life of illusion he's been given when he returns to Talos IV.

It's very different in both tone and style -- with the exception of flashback and present being heavily intertwined -- than Dwellers in the Crucible, but that befits Pike, I think.  Dwellers is about an archaeologist and a linguist -- not to mention a human and a Vulcan -- so the narration matches the characters.  Pike is many things, but he's not flowery.

The back story that Burning Dreams develops for Pike makes sense, though it seems to me to be a little melodramatic -- especially his very early years with his mother and stepfather.  The story of his horse Tango, though, was heartbreaking.

The story of his initial acclimation to Talos IV -- wondering where illusion ended and reality began, especially with Vina, rang true.  Despite his injuries, I can't imagine Pike -- especially the one developed in Burning Dreams -- just giving himself over entirely to fantasy easily.  That he's aware enough to wonder whether he's really with Vina or if he's with an illusion of Vina rings very true to character.

Pike's injuries themselves take on an even more horrific context than they did originally, given his past.  Pike is a tragic figure, who spends most of his life beating himself up for not being good enough, strong enough, to prevent the death of someone he cared about.  It makes his reaction to his crewmens' deaths that much more poignant.  But, it makes you wonder: how did someone with that predisposition to take everything so personally make it through the psychological testing you'd assume a Starfleet captain would be subject to?

The end -- the part of the story set in the "present" -- of course carries its own flashback, as it explains Spock's overwhelming loyalty to Pike (while still qualifying it with the proviso that it's Kirk who held the "top spot," so to speak, in the Spock-Loyalty-Hierarchy).  That part seemed...a bit off.  From Pike's perspective, the events were interesting and illuminating -- but why they translated into Loyalty Forever on Spock's part was...confusing.

Interesting to me was the lack of cameos; at least one character from Dwellers (generally Cleante, but with mention of T'Shael) appears, to my recollection, in all of Bonanno's early books; I'd have to read Catalyst of Sorrows to see if she appears there.  I wonder if they were expressly forbidden or if Bonanno has simply moved on from the characters?

I was surprisingly taken in by Burning Dreams.  I had some quibbles -- being the nascent disability rights activist that I am -- with the language used to describe Pike after his injury, but by and large I was able to engage my suspension of disbelief and just go with the story.

To me, Pike remains a sadly tragic character, but Bonanno was able to give him a worthy ending.

It's not Dwellers or Spock's World or The Romulan Way -- or even Chain of Attack or The IDIC Epidemic -- but it's been a very long time since I was sucked into a Trek book the way I was with Burning Dreams.

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