Oct 11 2012 11:00am

Captain Robert April, You’re Doing it Wrong: Objectivism, Climate Control, and Diane Carey’s Final Frontier

Captain Robert April, You’re Doing it Wrong: Objectivism, Climate Control, and Diane Carey’s Star Trek novel Final FrontierFollowing the successes of her 1986 Star Trek novels, Dreadnought! and Battlestations! Diane Carey took another run at the Star Trek mythos in Final Frontier, a giant novel about Kirk’s dad. Not to be confused with the movie of the same title, Carey’s 1988 novel describes George Kirk’s involvement with the first ever mission of the as-yet-unnamed Enterprise, the first starship ever constructed, under the command of its first captain, Robert April. They’re off to rescue a colony ship from an ion storm, when a computer malfunction sends them on a side-trip to the heart of the Romulan Empire. George and Robert spend most of the story embroiled in an argument about the ethical use of physical force, allowing Carey to spend a lot of time explaining her political views, in case you missed them in the earlier books.

Carey is engrossed in her love affair with Ayn Rand. This is not without precedent – Piper’s lecture to Sarda in their prison cell in Dreadnought! is a reasonable, if ironically-timed, summary of Atlas Shrugged. This embrace of personal striving would be understandable if Star Trek was Little House on the Prairie in space, but you really cannot pretend that your life path is entirely a result of individual striving and/or your ability to escape from a society that robs individuals of the rewards of their achievements in order to serve the needs of those who do nothing WHEN YOU ARE FLYING THROUGH SPACE IN A SHIP YOU DIDN’T BUILD.

As far as I can tell, Robert April’s past actions did not fund the construction of the starship he is flying around in with a hand-picked crew, nor does his effort to prove something about the use of force justify his decision to abduct of some of the crew members who come along on his mission. Little Jimmy Kirk has done nothing to earn the sailboat his dad is saving up to buy him. Ayn Rand has done nothing to earn a place in the hearts and minds of Star Trek fans. And while I’m sure she’s an amazing person, Carey didn’t build this fictional universe. They’re all playing with someone else’s toys, and then claiming that they built the toys themselves. Carey tries to slap a patch over this hole in her philosophy with an anti-violence quotation from Rand at the end of the book, which makes the story seem like a 434-page effort to call Kirk’s dad a dick. It’s clear that Carey doesn’t care about him.

Carey’s interests lie with the fictional embodiment of her personal philosophy, Captain Robert April. Unfortunately for Carey’s thesis, she has not picked up Rand’s ability to craft a compelling fictional world that neatly proves her point, albeit in a completely fictional way. April’s decision-making is capricious to the point of stupidity.

Also, he wears a cable-knit cardigan.

If internal temperatures on a starship prototype cannot be maintained in a comfortable range for an all-human crew, I feel strongly that this should be regarded as an early sign of an alarming situation with the environmental control systems, not an opportunity to explore the world of fashionable knit-wear.

And indeed, there is a problem with the environmental control systems. They’re offline in large parts of the ship. These sections, unused because the as-yet-unnamed prototype is cruising with a skeleton crew, are being maintained at absolute zero and zero G. Isn’t that a safety hazard? Yes, especially with the automated sliding doors starships are so famous for. A wolf-like creature inadvertently beamed up from an alien planet and a Romulan spy both fall prey to these unsecured danger zones. Both were being pursued by security teams at the time of their unfortunate accidents. If those teams had been slightly more efficient, they would have been freeze-dried. And floating. Until someone flipped the gravity on. Using the wall switch. Yes, Virginia, some decks on our brave little flying dinner plate have gravity that can be switched on and off from a wall switch. Some sort of dimmer might have been more humane, but it hardly mattered to the Romulan spy, who froze to death before he hit the floor and shattered.

The next important piece of any rescue mission should probably be medical staff. You need the best possible care for families with radiation poisoning. Hire your vet! Or your girlfriend! Too many decisions? Date your vet! I commend Robert April for finding a DVM who also holds an MD, surely one of the few people in the Federation ever to leave practice for many more years of training and student loan repayment in order to work in the lower-paid field of veterinary medicine. I do not commend him for redecorating her workspace with lit candles in order to ensure romantic ambiance for the delivery of a letter (from the bridge? They are on the same ship!) containing his marriage proposal, at the crucial moment when she finally has radiation-sick children who desperately need medical care.

Wait, aren’t there Romulans in this book? Yes, though they join everyone but Robert April on the list of characters Carey doesn’t care about. The interesting Romulan dies horribly. So does the fascist Romulan. That leaves the crafty Romulan politician who likes gardening, and some humans who somehow wound up in the Romulan Empire during the Romulan War and decided to become secret agents. How would you spot a human acting as a secret agent for the Romulan Empire? They don’t let their foods touch. Suddenly, my 5-year-old’s eating habits look highly suspicious. What about that last Romulan? There’s a vet handy to bob his ears.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

1. StrongDreams
What I have to ask is, are you reviewing all the Star Trek novels in order, or just the bad ones. Because it seems that by 1986 or so, Paramount should have known what a valuble property ST books would be, and would put some effort into making good ones. If you're only reviewing a fraction of the output, then it makes sense that they would publish promiscuously, knowing that many would be crap. But if these were carefully selected -- the few, the proud -- then the mind boggles.
2. tigeraid
Man, I need to re-read these. The read every single original TOS series novel when I was a kid, maybe age 10 to age 13, and I seemed to remember them being a LOT better. Hah!

What are your thoughts on The Lost Years? That was always my favourite mini-series, but I get the feeling you'll shoot those down too. :(

As far as this novel, I recall quite enjoying it, and I really like hearing about how the Enterprise started out.
3. slybrarian
You know, the hard thing with environmental temperature control on a spaceship is keeping things cool, not warm, and that's without antimatter and fusion reactors powering a warp drive. You'd have to put some serious effort into cooling areas down to absolute zero. I guess you might open them up to vacuum but that poses even more issues...
Fade Manley
4. fadeaccompli
If there's anything I've learned from when I was a big fan of tie-in novels, it was that publishers quite accurately realized "quality" was not high on the list of what sold those books. Or at least that's the only way I can explain some of the truly dreadful tie-in novels that I read anyway, because I wanted more stories about my favorite characters.
5. wiredog
Some of the 80's tie-ins were awful, some were great. The authors and publisher weren't (very) constrained by Holy Canon, as only a few movies were out, and TNG wasn't yet, so they could throw all sorts of stuff against the wall and see what stuck.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
6. EllenMCM
Strong Dreams, I'm reviewing the novels I have, in no particular order. I remember loving them when I first read them. I actually still like a lot of them, though my love is often tempered by a large dose of "Wait, what?" True confessions: Can't remember what I saw in this one. I used to like "City on the Edge of Forever" (because I love time travel) before I ever actually saw it, and this novel references that episode in the frame story when Kirk starts looking though his dad's letters, so that was probably a big draw.

Now that I am 36, and own a television and can watch things on it whenever I want, I find "City on the Edge of Forever" deeply distressing. To her credit, Carey did make McCoy apologize for making Kirk give up the social worker of his dreams to put the world to rights. She does not make McCoy explain why he carries around a hypospray loaded with multiple doses of space-epinephrine.
7. StrongDreams
I guess I'm not the best person to comment, since my only exposure to the Star Wars and Star Trek expanded universes is via comments and reviews on Tor, but it seems to me that the Star Wars EU has writers who fix problems in the original trilogies, while Star Trek novelists go out of their way to create more problems, or at least ignore the existing universe as much as possible. (Mary Sue characters, flying unicorns, the ship's doctor on an experimental star ship is a vet, etc.)

My own first nitpick on this re-read: The Enterprise was not the first Constitution class starship and was not experimental. As far back as 1965 the creators realized that if the Enterprise was Constitution class, the first ship in class must have been the USS Constitution.

On the other hand, Carey stuffing the book of Randian philosophy is no sillier than TNG Trek writers making the Federation a socialist utopia where there is no money and no one works except for personal fulfillment (which is amply contradicted throughout the 4 modern Treks proving the writers know as much about economics as they do about genetics...)
Andrew Timson
8. ATimson

I'm pretty sure that Carey included an attempt to justify that (the Constitution was contracted and designed, as NCC-1700, but enough new tech came along that she was cancelled before being built, leaving NCC-1701 as the first build Connie).

That might have come up in Best Destiny (the sequel to Final Frontier), though. I also don't know how well that gels with current naval policies....
9. John C. Bunnell
You're not wrong about the differences between the two novel programs -- but certain points are worth noting here in terms of context.

Notably, the Star Trek novel program has gone through several distinct phases over the life of the franchise, with different editorial philosophies in play at different times. A full discussion of the details would require at least a blog post of its own, if not a series note to self: consider pitching same]; for the moment, suffice to observe that indeed, the editors in the period currently under examination were more or less deliberately continuity-averse. That didn't preclude some of their individual choices from being good stories, but it did mean that one couldn't expect events in any one book to be reflected in any other. So you got half a dozen different explanations for what happened to the Romulan Commander from "Enterprise Incident", and the occasional screwball comedy among the first-contact yarns and battles with Klingons.

By contrast, the present administration is dedicated -- with certain carefully delineated exceptions -- to maintaining the "novel universe" as a tightly integrated, highly cohesive setting. In this respect, they're taking a page from the overseers of the Star Wars literary franchise -- who had the benefit of watching the early development of the Trek novels before launching their own, and chose to take an opposite tack.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
10. EllenMCM
And those screwball comedies are Well Worth Having!

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