Saturday, 25 April 2015

Come's the Executioner('s Daughter)

Welcome to our latest reviewer, Dan Adams who has taken the reins for Greg Cox's latest, Foul Deeds Will Rise. As always, be ready for potential SPOILERS!

Some years ago when I took some old Star Trek books to my local charity shop, the sweet looking elderly lady quickly, (and gleefully) asked “any murders in ‘em?” Thinking she was hoping I had handed in a pile of contemporary murder mysteries I said “no, they're all Star Trek”. To which could almost hear her disappointment. 

But on reflection, the “whodunit” genre has been part of the Star Trek Universe since the very beginning. The beauty of a whodunit in a science fiction setting is that you have to keep your mind open to more than just the who’s, the how’s are equally rich and diverse. 

An early example of this genre of Star Trek is the episode the Conscience of the King. In the episode, Kirk is trying confirm that the actor Anton Karidian is the mass murdering Kodos the Executioner. As the evidence gets stronger that this is indeed the man who murdered thousands, the body count in the present day begins to rise. The victims? Those that could identify Kodos.

It turns out that, while Karidian was indeed Kodos the executioner, he had completely repressed his past. His daughter, who Kirk manipulated to get closer to her father, was the killer and killed her father accidentally in the episode’s climactic scenes, before suffering a complete mental breakdown. 

Lenore returns in Foul Deeds Will Rise, which takes place between the fifth and sixth Star Trek movies, in keeping with The Original Series' notion that mental illness can be cured as quickly as most illnesses in the Star Trek universe, Lennore is now rehabilitated, volunteering relief efforts on the planet Oyolu, who have just signed a delicate cease fire with the neighbouring Parvak. 

As part of the peace negotiations, The Enterprise–A is providing neutral ground for representatives from both worlds to resolve their differences. Meanwhile, Spock and Scotty are acting as Federation weapons inspectors, making sure that deadly protomatter warheads are being disposed of. 

By night, the group of relief workers that Lenore belongs to performs drama. It is at once such performance that Kirk lays eyes on Lenore for the first time in decades. She returns to the ship, at Kirk’s invitation and soon the body count starts to rise. Is Lenore still a deadly murderer? Or is she in the wrong place at the wrong time? 

What Cox does particularly well in this novel is revisit some familiar Trek Tropes. As mentioned above, in The Original Series, criminality was largely seen as a form of mental illness, easily treated by the technology of the day. Without going into too much detail, we learn that Lenore has regular doses of zetaproprion, the same drug that was used to completely cure the insane Garth of Izar in the episode Whom Gods Destroy. Considering the madmen we’ve seen in Star Trek before and since the idea that madness could be cured seemed a bit convenient. However, the characterisation of Lenore here helps to explore some of those themes. Is her madness gone? Or is it simply contained? 

Another familiar “Trek Trope” is that of the consequences coming back to haunt Kirk. In order to get closer to her father, the dashing Captain Kirk seen in The Original Series played with the emotions of Lenore Karidian, then a 19 year old girl. While Karidian was no angel, Kirk believably haunted by the actions he took in the early part of that episode, which fits in with the Kirk we see in The Wrath of Khan who faces the consequences of dumping the titular baddie on Ceti Alpha V. 

One of the welcome things about this book, is the pick up and readability of it. These days a lot of books set in the later Star Trek canon require awareness of what has happened in previous books across the range. With this book, it harkens back to the old days. The Pavakans and Oyolo, seen here for the first time are a throwback to Star Trek books of old. Their motivations are sensible, and are familiar both in terms of what we have seen in other fiction, and in terms of the real world. The Pavans with their faces adorned with thin fur, and Oloyu with their yellow skin and horns would be prohibitive on a The Original Series or The Next Generation budget, but work in the context of this novel. Finally, although Kevin Riley’s past in the novels as the former Admiral Kirk’s attaché is referenced, it’s a nice Easter egg that doesn’t take away from the experience of those who haven’t read the trucks of the motion picture era novels. 

The races themselves are interesting. The Pavakans are militaristic and had occupied great chunks of Oyolo territory. The Oyolo had been waging a savage war of attrition against them. Heroes on the Pavakan side are seen as butchers and murders on the Oyolo side. Meanwhile Oyolo figures revered as freedom fighters and martyrs are seen as savages and insurgents on the Pavakan side. Huge swathes of the Oyolo home world are destroyed, leading to a massive humanitarian crisis. 

With the presence of weapons inspectors and hostage taking, it’s hard not to draw parallels to today’s world, right down to the fact that Osama Bin Laden is mentioned in the book. I’ll avoid spoilers, but the murders that may or may not have been committed by Lenore, have ongoing implications for the peace process, as do Spock and Scott’s ongoing weapons inspection work. 

The biggest flaw I found in the novel is that the last few moments before the resolution to the threat there are a few things that would be impossible on a starship, particularly in the ease in which a shuttle can be stolen by a certain type of thief without triggering alarms. However, the final scenes keep you guessing as to the resolution, and you can easily imagine it as a set piece taking place in a full scale Star Trek motion picture. 

Like any good whodunnit, there are clues scattered throughout the story. Some are red herrings (my pet theory was proven wrong) others prove to be useful (keep an eye on Chekov) and there is a big clue as to the method used. 

Overall, I would call this a great book that expertly weaves a good whodunnit with some exciting action scenes.

Have you read Foul Deeds Will Rise? Did it fit your expectations for a movie-era novel and if not, what was missing? Let us know in the comments below!

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Thursday, 23 April 2015

Return of the Exeter

Updated and reworked with additional information from Exeter Trek

Back in the "dark" days when all we had was new Enterprise, a fan series came about that would energise fans and help inspire those who became the semi-pro Star Trek film-makers of today.

The show was called Starship Exeter and between 2002 and 2014 the universe of The Original Series and NCC-1706 lived on via the wonder of the internet. I say live on because, shockingly, there were only ever two episodes made in that 12 year period. The first, Savage Empire, was released in 2002 with its breakthrough coming in January of the following year due to coverage via SlashDot which crashed the hosting servers.

The sequel, The Tressaurian Intersection was filmed in 2004 with segments being released over a number of years with the full episode only being available in 2014; ten years later.

But why are we bothered about this show now? Surely everyone out there has reviewed it to death and it's "old news" as far as us writers and fans are concerned - seen it, done it, move on.

Not so. 

It seems someone out there wants to keep the Exeter name alive with... Exeter Trek.

If you've not seen it, Exeter Trek is designed as a prequel of sorts to The Original Series on the apparent secret prototype starship, the USS Exeter. Erm...At this point I shuddered as 50 years of canon was seemingly chucked out of a very tall building but I pray you refrain from that social media onslaught and read on.

I have supported fan projects a lot through Some Kind of Star Trek but with this I was initially disappointed before a minute of the trailer had run. Not because fans have come together to create a new Star Trek film but because they could have chosen another name and kept the canon. That said, it also provided a great chance to discuss the classic fan show, something one of my readers did ask about a while back and also to get in touch with the Exeter Trek team to understand more about their vision.

So it's time to set out the stall here. Starship Exeter's two episodes broke the fan film into the mass market and their legacy should really be respected. This new show could have chosen any name which could have helped circumnavigate that tricky prototype scenario they've cornered themselves with but no, instead they chose this one.

Let's step back and look at the legacy of those two episodes produced a decade ago. The Savage Empire might not be up to the levels of magnificence now being aired by the latest Star Trek Continues episodes but for its time it was mind-blowing, jaw-dropping; add your own cliché as applicable. Standing it next to the early Phase II (then called New Voyages) it's an equal in quality but their later offerings are much better which does hurt these stories a little. Remember - it has been 10 years since this was made and at the time, "cutting edge" would easily have applied.

The Savage Empire takes place for the most part on the Andorian homeworld on and below the surface. That fact in itself makes this an odd fan series with a lot of location work and, even more significantly, no full bridge set which is betrayed only by the fact that all the bridge shots are blue-screened and focus on just one portion of the command deck. Being a Star Trek show without much action aboard ship is very brave, removing the need to build some expensive sets but the budget could have stretched to a decent monster as perhaps the most hokey bit is the plastic alien Captain Garrovick and co fend off before heading below the Andorian surface. 

The minuscule budget does show through with some ill-fitting uniforms and questionable makeup for the rebellious Andorians and their Klingon associate but don't let that dissuade you from enjoying this snapshot of how fan-films started out. The cast itself is fairly small with The Savage Empire focusing mainly on Garrovick (understatedly portrayed by James Culhane), security chief Paul Cutty (Michael Buford) and Andorian comms officer B'fuselek (Joshua Caleb). The second installment take more time to also develop the character of first officer Commander Jo Harris (Holly Guess) who is confined to the bridge in episode one.

But before you start ripping the first installment to bits, remember that this was a more "primitive" time and this show effectively helped kickstart (all puns intended) the fan film explosion and thus the race to improve quality in what was being brought to the screen. The acting is perhaps more miss than hit but the soul of the show is there, the key elements of a starship, a planet in peril, aliens, phasers and a fist fight are all in droves. The scenario is very much A, B, C yet it feels exciting, refreshing and nothing if not experimental, testing the waters of what would be a continually developing medium. No doubt Gene would have been proud to know that the vision had been kept alive however it's The Tressaurian Intersection which makes the original Exeter's disappearance so disheartening.

With only a fraction of the location filming we saw in The Savage Empire, this second episode took a staggering NINE years to come to fruition with segments being finished and released sporadically until the final act was posted early in 2014. In the space of time from the opening of their first story to the closing titles of the second, there was such a radical jump in technology and opportunities. Not only is the video a lot clearer, the audio crisper, but the acting is a quantum leap from where they were in 2003. Add into that the CGI work here and Exeter had so much to offer yet never got the chance.  Just for that shot of the Kongo saucer section I could watch Exeter again and again.

The Tressaurians themselves are reminiscent of the rubbery (and much loved) Gorn from Arena but you're not really that bothered since the story itself is a big step up from its predecessor. I watched them in the wrong order so the step back was a fairly large shock considering the professionalism of The Tressaurian Intersection.

In contrast to The Savage Empire it's also set purely onboard the USS Exeter and this time with use of the bridge and a much more professional edge. This episode is a substantial step up from The Savage Empire in just about every sense, the acting, the story, the writing - and that's why seeing the name Exeter being used by another fan series just felt wrong. We get not only action inside the ship but no rogue plastic aliens instead we have the Tholians and a much tighter script which gives the cast some breathing room. This, sadly limited, production is one of the foundations for everything that's come since - would we have Continues or Axanar pushing the levels of expectation with each new release if it wasn't for the standards that the Exeter production team established?

I'd say "No" and I think a lot of fan-film fans would agree. In some respects, keeping the Exeter name alive is a great way to make sure this key segment of Star Trek fan history is remembered. Rumours do abound that the abandoned third episode, The Atlantis Invaders is being adapted as an audio adventure but for now, the only way that USS Exeter will arrive onscreen will be at the hands of producer John Sims who is also starring in the production as Captain Ellison J Moorey.

Based in the Pike era (and featuring Pike era titles), Exeter Trek has been searching for funds on GoFundMe but, as we'll see, that's just a small piece of the bigger plan. It's ambitious, Trek-retro and doesn't just follow either Continues or Phase II. Explained John, "Despite the small amount of money we have raised from GoFundMe, I have received private contributions in excess of $5,000. Not to mention my own payouts that exceed $10,000! Plus, we have set up a barter system for the post production as well as other aspects concerning the show. Basically, we have had the money and just needed some fandom help to push us over the edge to cover what we needed to bring a quality, action packed adventure-ala-1965!"

Getting very excited by this - maybe, because any vision of Star Trek and any opportunity to see something a little different even more so. The Pike-era setting is a curve-ball, a unique angle, but the level and quality of production is continuously being improved and redrawn and that's even true here with Exeter Trek that is barely recognisable from where it started.

It's also important to note that Exeter Trek has no link whatsoever with the Starship Exeter show and are more than aware that there's been use of that name before; "I and others are huge fans of what Jimm and Josh have done as well as their talents." said John,  "The reason we chose to use Exeter as our ship is simple and not because of Starship Exeter

I am the president (Captain) of the local chapter of Starfleet International. (John is here, far right) Plus, each chapter gets to choose a ship name and class of vessel. Seeing my family is from England and Scotland, I chose Exeter. She's been a main stay vessel in Her Majesties Navy since World War II and I thought it fitting. Also, being in the Pike era, we can explore a lot territory that is only mentioned on occasion in The Original Series."

The way that I discovered Exeter Trek was through falling onto the original trailer but times have changed since those couple of minutes were embedded online; "That promo video was made two years ago," recalled John, " and is very different to what we have filmed recently. Not to mention, major castings changes and a whole new direction I decided to take after we made that. We will have a new promo coming soon....."

And how has this all come about then, who has John got involved to make such a difference since those early days?

"Most of the production staff are folks that are good friends of mine. We, as a team, are the ones who helped out every Saturday to build the sets for Farragut. With Mike Bednar (big thanks for the support), Greg Greene and Royal Weaver leading the teams, we built the sets over a four year period. These folks have also come aboard to help with Exeter to help me see my vision of the future-past. They have also worked as Director, assistant director, sound engineers, lighting gaffers, etc,. These great folks have been on set for all the Farragut episodes filmed in Georgia as well as the early Star Trek Continues offerings. Plus, the all -new series Dreadnought Dominion (need to find out about this!!! - Clive) is another that some of my team worked on." said John.

"Our production team is simply put,..The Best! They care about making Star Trek that will entertain. Also, our acting talent, despite being local in nature (stage work, TV, commercials and theme park entertainers) have really brought out some great performances that will have a very organic feel. I personally have invested 1000's of man hours between writing the story/script, creating the characters, designing the costumes and constructing a number of them with the help of Lisa Colon. Props with help from Douglas Glenn and my main man with the set pieces...Mike McGee. Talent second to none."

And to back those statements up - not that he needed to after such in depth info on what's been happening - John kindly provided us with some great new promo shots including some of those Pike-era props including the phaser, communicator and console mini-monitors plus some shots from on-set filming. John, I was very honoured to receive them!

John has very clearly been super busy since I originally put this article together last year and through various events we've missed each other but finally I got a few words from the man behind the project; "On the weekend of January 4, we converged on the Farragut Films sets in Kingsland Georgia to shoot our interior scenes."

And remember that, unusually, this is pre-Kirk? Well - "We back-dated the sets some what to appear like those from the Captain Pike era (comparisons at the bottom of the article!). We spent two days there getting some rather good footage for our pilot. Very longs days, but we as a team, completed what we needed and then some."

In April this year the Exeter Trek team headed out to their location shoot and an abandoned cement facility to finish off the exterior scenes. Following that the story goes into post production for editing, effects, sound and the rest. "We also plan on filming a 30 second advertisement for a fictitious product that would seem right for 1965." added John, indicating that they'll be looking to recreate the effect of watching a whole hour of 60's TV, break and all. Add in the potential for some mini-sodes to keep us hooked..."Not to mention that we are in negotiations for a building space to build and house our own sets. But that's a story for another day I suppose!" he revealed.

The "original" Starship Exeter was a landmark, if a little rough around the edges - so maybe this new take is the perfect sequel if somewhat distorting the timelines we might have come to know and love. Now this unconnected production is making a bold step backwards if you will, exploring a time rarely seen in fan productions if only due to a lot of standing sets being from the Kirk-era.

Maybe we've now come to a turning point where there are two levels of fan production? On the one hand we have those which truly are done on a microscopic budget with little more than love and a prayer while on the other there are those vying to be the next big thing that every Star Trek fan wants to see and hold dear. Exeter Trek seems to fall more comfortably in the latter even though it is using one of the highest quality standing bridge sets in the US. However, although we might not appear to be highly confident now, in another two or three years who is to say that this won't be as big and as popular as Star Trek Continues?

John and the team are placing a unique spin on the fan series by placing it in the Pike-era which will make it stand out in the landscape of fan films which have traditionally walked the Kirk line. I am especially intrigued as to how they will have "de-aged" the sets to take them back to the look and feel of The Cage. I certainly look forward to hearing more from Exeter Trek as they develop their work.

Are you a fan of Starship Exeter and lament it's short appearance in fandom? What would you want from another Exeter installment if it was to happen? Does Exeter Trek raise an eyebrow? Drop us a line below!

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Images from Exeter Trek courtesy of John Sim

Friday, 17 April 2015

The John Doe Starship and the Intergalactic Binmen: The Official Starships Collection Issues 44 and 45

Has it really been four weeks since the Pasteur and Species 8472 bioship?

I only clicked yesterday and had to do a quick tally on the calendar but I reckon the arrival of the fourth special knocked my internal chronometer out of alignment.

So yes...another great Enterprise starship -  and only the second Starfleet vessel from the show believe it or not - the Intrepid kicks off April's entries. 

Making two episode appearances the Intrepid is a much more compact entry into Starfleet's ranks, acting more as a defensive craft rather than an exploratory vessel like it's warp five peer. This model is very, very plain but with good reason as I discovered and it does have a more cumbersome feel than the NX Class.

As always the primary hull is the more weighty piece here with the lower section in metal only. There is some dark window detail picked out across the surface which lifts the surface of the ship from being fairly non-descript. The aztec paint scheme does make its way right across every inch of the hull, nacelles and connecting section In contrast to the Enterprise it's also white rather than silver adding that note of distinction between the two which is probably more about making sure we, the viewers, could tell them apart on the small screen. 

The Intrepid is a little bendy in places and getting her out of the box was a careful operation - work from the front rather than trying to pry her out by the nacelles as there is some flexing in everything to the rear of the half-saucer primary hull. The shape is lovely and certainly holds firm as a precursor to the warp five craft but this model, perhaps because it was intended purely as a background starship, is very blocky in it's detail with a gold deflector, bridge dome and warp nacelle end caps with no blue sections to enhance the sides of those nacelles. That deflector isn't very accurate either, being more a slab of colour than screen accurate although scale and safety might be a factor here.

The bussard collectors do stand out against the rest of the ship in their crimson-red transparentness reminiscent of the USS Enterprise in The Original Series and, of course, the NX-01. Decal-wise there seems to be even less with a total of four - two around the sensor palettes at the edge of the primary hull and two on the underside of the nacelles.

Yet despite the very plain nature of the Intrepid, which meant it could be copied and pasted into scenes multiple times without fear that the registry would be spotted as the same ship, it's a beautifully crafted vessel with lots of recessed hull detail to the rear (which could have been a little more well-crafted) as well as a full covering of plating lines which, again, help to break up the plain paintwork. 

Stand positioning gets a nice tick here with the clip fitting to the nacelles and connecting section giving that more satisfying "flying" look.

For an Enterprise entry though, the Intrepid does seem to be very understated, Usually the series' entries are all bells and whistles with every intricate detail filled in to CGI-realised perfection and here the ship seems to go, quite interestingly, against type. Compare it to the complexities of the Romulan Drone or even the NX-01 and you're likely to agree.

The magazine covers the Intrepid's two series appearances in The Expanse and the show highlight, Twlight which saw it take an engine-breaking beating from the Xindi. Sadly there aren't a lot of photos of the ship from the show included in the magazine so we do get some fuzzy shots of the Enterprise alongside the computer created images for the production.

There's also some focus on the "Warp Delta" style ships from the title sequence and that were seen alongside the Intrepid in the series which means we will/won't be seeing a model of these in the future?

Designing the ship explores the discarded ideas and how Rob Bonchune tried to leash the concept firmly in the 22nd Century rather than the 23rd or 24th where some of the first drawings might have taken it. Unusually for the magazine series we get a close-up on a member of the show production team in the form of four pages dedicated to Bonchune who has already graced the collection through his work on the Nebula Class CGI model which he attempted to scratch-build for Voyager.

This is perhaps the stronger section here, understanding how Bonchune made his way through the ranks through knowledge, experience and a touch of luck to land his dream job and create ships and effects for Star Trek.

Going from the pristine curves of the Intrepid we jump a couple of Star Trek centuries and land heavily in the Delta Quadrant with the grimy, pollution-soaked Malon Export Vessel first seen in Voyager's fifth season.

At first the impression it gives is similar to that of the Intrepid in that it looks pretty bland as just a big stick but there's definitely more to this one than you might think. Looking particularly bulky and cumbersome, the export vessel doesn't scream spaceship at you being more function than form. 

Designed by Rick Sternbach, the Malon vessel is actually very impressive particularly around the waste containers and the cabling which wraps around them. 

For note this is the smaller of the Malon vessels seen in Voyager -  from the episode Night - while a larger version was seen later in the same season,  Juggernaut but the overall structure is very much the same. 

Rendered in a grim brown which adds to the pollution-soaked, unclean image of the Malon, the export vessel upper hull also carries the small exhaust towers and plating detail. To the rear there's the propulsion section which seems to have been a little sloppily painted.  It's also how the ship is attached to its stand with a clever little plastic sleeve/stand holding it at the back end. A clever way of displaying her but it might put a lot of stress on the engines over time given the weight of the rest of the ship hanging out in nowhere.  

However, it's the structure and detail of the waste containers that is the best bit here thanks to those unusual curves and the way they sit under the metal ship body. What does give me a bit of a head-scratching moment is that the pictures/CGI images in the magazine seem to give the ship a lot more shades of colour - albeit shades of grey as well as brown - they do make a better impression on the model but in "reality" it does look like it got a slap-on coat of brown all over.

Yes it's about the detail but also the way in which Eaglemoss have put the ship together. It can't have been a simple design process on this one but the result is certainly one of the best.  I'd go as far to say this is one of those months where the Enterprise release isn't the stronger of the pair and is definitely the less interesting of the two.

The magazine for issue 45 treads the familiar episodic details path for the introduction, covering the standard foray of details picked out from the ship's onscreen appearance plus a few titbits from the second Malon episode, Juggernaut.  The plan views are nicely presented but do re-affirm that the model which was used for reference didn't have quite as much detail as you might have expected which means that the recreation on the page does look a fair amount better than the model provided.

Time seemed to be the biggest enemy in the design of the Malon export vessel from Rick Sternbach but ultimately it came good with the final craft taking at least some of its inspiration from the 1950's trains of the USA. Certainly function takes priority over form here including one feature that Sternbach didn't purposefully add in but was suggested by fans. In some ways I'm surprised that we've had this before a Vidiian, Hirogen or even a Kazon ship considering their greater impact and larger number of appearances in Voyager - it'll be issue 51 when we get a Hirogen ship by the way.

The season five overview included here is pretty brief but manages to hit the key episodes (on the whole) in the year where Brannon Braga took over as exec producer from co-creator, Jeri Taylor. It is, as explained, a much darker season; a much stronger season in my opinion which steered away from the Seven of Nine focus that saturated a good deal of the fourth season but still gave us a great deal of Borg action as well as the memorable 100th installment, Timeless.

This variation on features through the two magazines does allow us to get a bigger picture on the Star Trek universe but it does stray from the headline title of a Starships Collection. I realise the magazines aren't the main reason we're collecting this series but on occasion I still find myself a little disappointed that the accompanying literature isn't as exhaustive on the craft and its associated race perhaps as I might have desired.

That said, this month has given us two very good quality entries but they are going to be easily eclipsed by issues 46 and 47 which feature the classic Enterprise-C and the Negh'Var, two of my favourite ship designs from the last 50 years. Also this month we've had the announcement of issues 61 through to 65 featuring the Norway Class from First Contact, the Voth ship of Professor Gegen from the Voyager episode, Distant Origin, the Antares from the remastered Charlie X, Zefram Cochrane's Phoenix and the Xindi Aquatic Ship. Quite a varied selection and I'd never have come up with Gegen's ship as an option even at a much later point - definitely a series curve-ball if ever there was one. Also, does the Antares count since it was only in the remastered version?

Just something to mull over!

Were you impressed with this month's starships from Eaglemoss? Drop your thoughts below! Don't forget you can still subscribe to the Starships Collection by clicking through the link in our left sidebar.

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Sunday, 12 April 2015

FCD: Meeting James and Una

Following on from their excellent Q&A session at First Contact Day I was gifted the chance to talk to authors Una McCormack and James Swallow for 20 minutes. Just beware there might be a couple of unintentional SPOILERS in here...

We'd already discovered Una is a massive Deep Space Nine fan - especially anything Cardassian-related and that James is the reason David Mack's Section 31 novel, Disavowed turned out (to some degree since he broke Bashir out of prison!). From the question I asked we also know that they didn't make the novels end in such a way to "screw over" the one following - there was a much bigger plan...but what else could we find out?

Well, Garak's assension to Castellan wasn't spur of the moment for one thing; "I've long harboured ambitions to do that," explained Una, "It's something I've had in the back of my mind for a very long time. It always seemed like the natural endpoint for Garak's story nut to make him have to do it legitimately."

Una needed Garak to acheive that power - in fact he had always been pretty powerful - "but within the constraints of democracy and I thought that would be the real test for the character; to use power but in a moral way."

Turns out there were some good chats about this move and how it could affect writers in the future; "David R George and I had some debates about it.....It is the end of his story in a way but I think there's still some life in the old dog yet!"

James was keen to note that each of The Fall series is about taking the characters out of their comfort zones and it wasn't something that was evident during the writing but seems to have come about much further down the line. "It's a great idea where we have this character (Garak) who has been all these things and done all of this stuff is suddenly put into this position where he has to be the moral and upstanding citizen and it grinds with him. It's so cool when you put a character in that position."

Una actually finished The Crimson Shadow before any of the others in the series were complete; "Una's book pops in my inbox and I was like oh - I'd better write the book!" revealed James. He knew he was in for a good read; "Una's book exists within it's own bubble of Cardassian-ness," he noted, "but there are still a lot of threads that are dropped in and then pulled back out. There were no overt plot threads but there was a sense of massive political wheels turning and the sense of a world on the verge of a dynamic shift...Every book in The Fall has that feeling that big things are happening and you'd better not get crushed underneath it."

The tasks were handed out and Una snapped up the Garak and Picard two-hander while James looked at the section he had taken in a very different way; "I wanted to do an espinoage thriller but I also wanted to do something that's got some doors being kicked in and stuff blowing up."

In fact the author of The Poisoned Chalice had just finished reading No Easy Day which is about the SEALS who go after Bin Laden. "The idea of the Black Ops and the hunt for a terrorist dovetailed perfectly with the stuff that Una set up with who's to blame for the crisis."

James wanted to push the boundaries on what could be done with the "hawkish" Federation that is evident in the series. He wanted to ask awkward questions "and have some kick-ass stuff too."

While The Crimson Shadow plays with a small deck of characters, The Poisoned Chalice takes a very different approach taking names from The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager; "It was funny trying to put all those characters together," recalled James, "I found that I was writing some of the very first meetings between some of those characters and I didn't realise it. I did a scene where Deanna Troi meets Julian Bashir and I wrote it and thought 'have they actually met?'"

As it turns out they hadn't and James had to go back, tear the entire scene out and retool it. "I realised I couldn't do it as a throwaway it had to be a thing and it was the same when I did the scene when Tovok meets with Nog. That was a lot of fun because it almost became a comedy double act with the two of them playing off each other."

With Nog, James saw that he had been played for laughs on occasion but there was a darker side which came out through his experiences in the Dominion War and with Tuvok there was an experienced officer who had done the black ops work and seen a lot; "And I wanted to bring all that out in these seemingly polar opposites. and then seeing them almost bonding...It wasn't a conscious decision it just evolved out of the story."

Una's latest addition to the Star Trek literary universe came out very recently in the form of The Missing (which I haven't read yet) which carries the moniker of a Deep Space Nine novel even though there are a few characters from elsewhere in the universe who drop by. Good news is that there seems to be a renaissance on Deep Space Nine novels as David R George has just announced The Ascendence and we have Sacraments of Fire in July from the same author. Una would love to do some more which I can firmly say is a Good Thing.

Of course, The Fall in some way has to have influenced the thread of The Missing and the book does indeed acknowledge the series in its opening pages. James however managed to remain tight-lipped on just how much The Poisoned Chalice had influenced the yet-to-be-released The Sight Unseen which focuses on the good ship Titan.

I managed to get a "Yes" from James on the subject; "There have been a couple of books between The Fall and the Titan novel," he explained referring to The Next Generation's Takedown and Absolute Enemies from John Jackson Miller. "There's a lot of stuff going on," continued James Swallow, "and I've got to be careful of spoilers here; situations have changed, people are in different places and things have happened not just within the Federation but to the Titan and the people on board the Titan. There will be some new characters, someone will die and Titan will have a brand new mission. It's the fallout from all of that which will take it in a new direction."

James assured me that it will still be a traditional Titan story about the ship going off and exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new civilisations but maybe not in the same format as the original series of Titan."

For me as a reader, the end of The Fall seemed to mark a return to basics for the literary Star Trek universe as the Enterprise returned to its core mission of exploration and the universe seemed to have a minor reset. After all the arcs and series such as Destiny, Cold Equations and The Fall, it appears that the galaxy is settling back into a more singular way of telling stories. I asked the two authors if it was a good way to go forward with the franchise.

"I think it is," said Una, "We were telling a lot of very, very complex stories and it's nice to give your brain a rest. It can't always be about saving the Federation or saving the quadrant or saving the universe or saving reality as we know it. Think how beautiful an episode like The Inner Light is and that's just the drama of a man's life passing and that is as much Star Trek as kicking down doors and blowing things up."

Have to say I did then support James on that very point because we always need doors being kicked in and things blowing up. 

In terms of First Contact Day the two authors were really impressed with the event; "It's been a really friendly, warm convention," said Una who is from the north west, "It's nice to be back amongst my people!"

James was clearly enjoying being at the event too, "Star Trek has been very kind to me," he said, being the only UK writer to provide concepts for Voyager's One and Memorial. "To me that was like winning the lottery."

Getting that second shot at Voyager was all that James needed to know that this was the job he wanted to do for life, "...and the energy from that still propels me forward. Star Trek has given me so much love and enjoyment and it's great to be able to give back to that."

Thanks to Una McCormack and James Swallow for their time at First Contact Day.

Have you read either of these authors? What did you think of their work and are you looking forward to their next novels?

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Friday, 10 April 2015

The Renegades Trailer: The Wait Is Nearly Over

Broken by several of its cast,  the Star Trek: Renegades trailer may well offer hope that the future of fan films doesn't just lie in the realms of The Original Series.

It seems to have taken an eternity to get to this stage but it now feels that we're within reach of seeing the finished product - but what does this brand spanking new trailer tell us about the upcoming Tim Russ movie?

"...Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade..."

It's a slow opener with some non-descript shots of seemingly alien tech, their ships (possibly) and introductory snaps of Lexxa Singh (Adrienne Wilkinson) and Voyager's Manu Intiraymi.

The notable bit we get first though is a young Lexxa with her mother, played by singer Cela Scott from Automatik Eden and it tends to indicate that those two phaser-rifle wielding gents that we've seen in teasers before are out to kill the pair. Linking this to the susequent scene where Tuvok meets Lexxa in prison it's pretty clear that she believes her mother was murdered by the pair of phaser-toters. Finding out if she's still alive provides some motivation for her involvement in Tuvok's Big Plan.

The 143-year old Admiral Pavel Chekov certainly looks good for his age although the Starfleet uniforms we've seen in promo shots and here in the trailer do seem to be ill-fitting which is a surprise. Something that might also be levelled at Robert Picardo's outfit as Doctor Lewis Zimmerman - looking unusually happy for once as well you would be too getting to share the screen with Sean Young as Doctor Lucien - or Rachel from Blade Runner as you may know her better. Neither actually get any lines to say in this trailer so I can't pinpoint what their role within the Renegades framework actually is.

The USS Archer looks stunning in her first fly-by, giving us a shot of her registry, NCC-78101 and the detail is certainly impressive, even down to the numbering of the escape pod hatches. The ship gets her first appearance as we're introduced to the new alien race playing nemesis in Renegades and they're stopping at nothing to prove a point, dragging unnamed round corners screaming or killing those who get in the way. Called the Syphon, their introduction isn't the best here and nor does the make-up seem to have any amount of flexibility around the mouth area which could prove difficult in the longer movie.

"The Federation has made a great mistake of interfering. We will not be stopped by you."

That said, they do have a different look and seem to provide a genuine threat, destroying worlds and causing a headache for Admiral Chekov. I'd really like to know what "interfering" the Federation has been doing to get them unsettled and lead into this tale. Certainly there's a lot to fill in about this and more importantly about the crew of characters on the Renegades' ship. What is the path that leads Lexxa from punching seven shades out of Vic Mignogna's Cardassian prisoner Garis to the bridge of that same vessel?

Opposing her or at the least getting in the way for some of this is Corin Nemec as Captain Alvarez on the USS Archer - again in that ill fitting uniform style that everyone in Starfleet appears to be taking on. Note the homage to the Enterprise-D in the style of the bridge console right behind him when we get a glimpse on board as he faces off against Lexxa. Tarah Page gets a brief snapshot on screen in security mustard as Commander Petrona but blink and you'll miss her. Indeed, trawling the main cast there are a few notables who get no screen-time at all but I like that as it means we still have tons to look forward to.

One person who does crop up in a flash here and there as well as on the bridge of the Renegades ship is Edward Furlong, almost unrecognisable as Fixer. So much so I had to cross-check it against the movie's website cast list to reassure myself. From a later shot in the trailer it might be he doesn't last the whole movie since that looks like one of the Syphon is coming up from behind him.

"You will be hunted."
"That's the way we like it."

Also on that rag-tag crew is Gary Graham as Ragnar but more significantly shown in the trailer is Icheb wielding some impressive Borg technology and a neat little effect where the weaponry appears to grow around his arm while Lexxa and a Bajoran look on. Talking of Voyager characters here, Richard Herd's Admiral Paris also pops up, giving some sage words of wisdom to Admiral Chekov as the screen erupts with explosions and phaser fights. Those scenes tend to indicate the team's very survival could be at stake here - will they all make it to the end credits? I'm not convinced that everyone will.

From the latter moments of the trailer there's a heavy sense that this is going to be very, very action orientated with Lexxa and Icheb being in the thick of it accompanied by one Breen at the least while Courtney Peldon's Shree and Chasty Ballesteros' Ronara do get a few seconds of screentime but little more than lip service to their involvement at this point. I suppose the good thing about that is that we'll discover more about them with the arrival of the finished product.. The effects look good so far with the space shots of the Renegades ship and the USS Archer twisting around Klingon battlecruisers demonstrates how far tech has come since Of Gods and Men

As a trailer it does reveal that this crew have been placed together to assassinate the leader of the Syphon before he destroys more worlds. The Federation has to remain whiter than white so Lexxa's crew become their only, unlikely, option to resolve matters.

This movie certainly won't be Star Trek precisely as we're used to and for once it does feel that we'll be viewing the universe from the wrong side of the fence if you excuse the cliche. My fear is that this is a very sketchy trailer only really giving us a nod that the effects are complete and that it's going to have some pace to it. A few of the more static scenes did feel a little stale - those with Admiral Paris or Chekov for example and those featuring characters on more brightly lit stages did feel more false than I would have expected. 

Renegades has certainly become one of the most anticipated fan films of the last few years if only for the interstellar Star Trek alumni associated with its creation. The premier is indeed set for the German FedCon in May less than a month away and then the rest of us mortals will be able to see if the wait has been worth it. Heck, it was mid-2013 when the original Kickstarter campaign closed! The trailer is one of the most opaque pieces of promo material ever. There's no real idea of the story here (expected) but there is a lot going on, a lot to anticipate and the potential to be the fastest-paced, darkest fan spin-off ever. Here's hoping.

"Be careful Pavel; this could get out of hand very easily..."

What did you think of the official full-length Renegades trailer? Did it meet your expectations or is it falling short of the target or other fan productions? Let us know below!

Images screenshot from the Renegades trailer. No copyright infringement intended.

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