Jul 28 2014 10:00am

Boy Meets Girl Trek: Peter David’s Imzadis

Star Trek The Next Generation Imzadi Peter DavidIn my life, there are two Star Treks.

The Star Trek I grew up with was mostly novels, mostly written by women. I think of these as “Girl Trek.” Girl Trek has a long, proud history. Girl Trek invented genre media fandom. It produced the first fanzines, which were lovingly mimeographed by hand and shared for the price of postage. It gave the world Sulu’s first name, an explanation for Janice Rand’s hair, and two novels with Uhura as the protagonist. Just for starters.

And there’s the Star Trek I have discovered since encountering television on a more continuous basis (feel free to assume I was raised by wolves)—mostly the movies and the television serials, mostly written by men. I think of these as “Boy Trek.” Objectively speaking, Boy Trek and Girl Trek are equal. Boy Trek created Corbomite, Fizzbin, and Harry Mudd. It offers an infallible method for outwitting computers, and valuable advice about how to behave when super-powered aliens force you to fight other people so they can judge humanity.

I’m not trying to create a hard and fast dichotomy. We live in a universe of infinite possibility. Stories don’t always fit into these categories. Both Treks (and a number of other Treks not described here) are fun and interesting, they just do different things. Generally, I see stories that reveal a lot of the characters’ inner lives as Girl Trek. If characters act like they swore on oath on Rudyard Kipling’s “If,” that’s Boy Trek.

Peter David’s Imzadi series is an uncomfortable marriage of the two. Imzadi, describing Troi and Riker’s deathless love, was published in 1993. It’s a romance and a time-travel mystery. The 1998 sequel, Triangle: Imzadi II, deals with Troi’s relationship with Worf. Neither of these really works.

Imzadi focuses on Troi and Riker’s early days on Betazed. It features a lot of romance novel conventions—characters have complex relationships, there’s a major misunderstanding that keeps the characters apart, and there’s a Happily Ever After ending. Riker is a decisive man of action. Troi is attracted to him, but trapped by her own responsibilities. She tries to soften his rough edges. He rescues her from intergalactic art thieves. Troi and Riker finally give in to their mutual attraction in a jungle that is equipped with art-thief-swallowing mud pits and romantic flora, but miraculously free of parasitic insects. They touch each others’ souls. And then Troi’s mother intervenes, and in a series of unfortunate incidents, their relationship disintegrates until Riker saves her life again. It’s a very romantic story. Too bad Troi is dead for most of it.

Usually, romance novels have a female protagonist. David offers a few snippets of Troi’s perspective, but it’s not her story. Riker is the protagonist. He trusts himself when all men doubt him. Kipling’s “unforgiving minute” takes on a lot of significance when you’re dealing with time travel. There’s some hunting and tracking. The characterizations are classic Boy Trek struggling to escape a Girl Trek plot.

Triangle Imzadi II 2 Peter David Star Trek The Next Generation Triangle: Imzadi II faces greater difficulty.

Three heads and a starship is a standard cover treatment for Star Trek novels. It has no significance.

Three heads is not a standard cover treatment for romance novels. It is very significant. I’m Team Werewolf. But this is not the kind of story where Katniss chooses between Gale and Peeta. This story is all about Worf and Riker making choices for Troi. Riker has failed to follow through on the lessons he was supposed to learn in the first book. Worf asks Troi to marry him. Riker decides to tell Troi how he really feels. Rather than telling the story of how Troi feels and how her feelings change, David focuses on the story of how Worf and Riker work out their feelings. In one scene, Troi and Alexander are kidnapped and injected with poison to force Worf and Riker to carry out an assassination. Worf refuses. Riker caves. Alexander is so angry he leaves his father to live with his grandparents. Troi just wants Worf to do what’s right for him. Ultimately, what’s right for him is to dump Troi, who dutifully reports to Riker to announce she’s free to be his girlfriend now. In a brief afterword, Worf discovers that his true Imzadi is Jadzia Dax. She is also dead.

It’s the privilege of the writer to decide what ideas to use and what story to write. Peter David has taken a collection of love story ideas and written two adventure stories. There are successful marriages of Boy Trek and Girl Trek. Imzadi is like taking a puzzle of the Eiffel Tower and gluing the pieces into a collage shaped like an elephant.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

Paul Weimer
1. PrinceJvstin
Imzadi was one of the few Trek novels I bothered with, because I DID want to know more about the Troi-Riker relationship.

That jungle they wound up in bothered me then, and bothers me still...
Christopher Bennett
2. ChristopherLBennett
"Three heads and a starship is a standard cover treatment for Star Trek novels."

That should be "was." It was a common practice in the '80s and '90s, but cover styles have changed since then. "Floating heads" covers still crop up occasionally, admittedly. My first two novels Ex Machina and Orion's Hounds had them, though both with much fresher stylistic sensibilities than the '80s covers (my editor on those, Marco Palmieri -- now with Tor -- has a terrific design sense). But the covers, like the books themselves, have gotten a lot less formulaic than they were in the '90s.
3. shellywb
When I reread all the TOS novels last year (well all up to about number 60 of the Paramount line) I noticed two clear kinds of stories. One was the standard adventure story where someone has to save a planet. The other was a self-insertion Mary Sue/Marty Stu type novel where someone gets to impress the crew and has their favorite character(s) admire or fall for them. There was a third type with hints of Kirk/Spock, but those died out early.

Sure, there are a few outstanding novels that aren't like that, but most fit those molds. It's not to say I didn't enjoy them despite that. But I thought it was funny that they followed the same pattern as teenage fan fiction.
Christopher Bennett
4. ChristopherLBennett
@3: TOS #60 was published 22 years ago, and a ton has changed since then. 1992 was pretty much the height of the era when Roddenberry's assistant Richard Arnold was riding tight herd on the tie-ins and forbidding them from doing anything with any lasting impact, anything that might conflict with or distract attention from "Gene's vision" as it was being defined in TNG. So in the early '90s, the books were required to be rather formulaic standalone tales, and that's apparently when a lot of the audience drifted away.

But Arnold was let go the day after Roddenberry died, and eventually the restrictions began to lift, and the novels were free to take chances and build continuity. Peter David pioneered this with his New Frontier series, a book-original spinoff featuring a new ship and crew that was free to have adventures with real consequences and changes. Other book-original series followed, and once the shows went off the air, the novels were free to tell stories moving those characters forward and making real, lasting changes in their lives as well. For most of the 2000s now, Pocket has been building a rich interconnected continuity in which stories can have real impact and long-term consequences. Unfortunately, a lot of people who lost interest during the Arnold era never bothered to come back, so they don't realize how different it is now.

Just to give a sense of perspective, the first original Trek novel from Pocket, The Entropy Effect by Vonda N. McIntyre, was published in 1981, only 11 years before the last one you read. It's been twice as long since then, and Trek novels have never stopped coming out. Currently I'd estimate Pocket's TOS output alone at over 170 novels, plus hundreds of short stories and novellas in numerous anthologies and collections, or (more recently) as standalone e-books. And that's not counting all the things that cross over elements of TOS with various other series, or spinoffs in the TOS time frame like the 8-book Vanguard series and the upcoming Seekers series by the same authors.

As for the "Mary Sue" stories, those were from an even earlier era, mainly the '70s and '80s, when Trek Lit was in its childhood and much of it basically was fanfiction-style storytelling written on a professional level. Or rather, there was a mix of that with more distinctive stuff written by veteran SF novelists, and it was quite interesting how diverse the Bantam and early Pocket novels were as different authors, both from pro and fan backgrounds, brought their own distinct styles and viewpoints to a Trek universe that was a lot less clearly defined than it is today. So while "Mary Sue" tales were a part of it, there was quite a rich mix in those early days -- and a fair amount of continuity and interconnection that evolved in the late '80s, up until Arnold began his crackdown around 1989-90.
5. Addie
I just want to say "Team WereWorf." That is all.
6. Steven Jacques Roby
It's been years since I read them, but I remember really liking the first book and not much liking the second one at all. But the whole Riker/Troi history was built into the show, whereas the Worf/Troi thing felt like a forced gimmick that came out of nowhere when it started on TNG. PAD had better material to work with first time out.
7. Zeno
Ellen,this is a interesting article about some of the differences between tv Star Trek and the book franchise. However calling it Boy vs Girl Trek is somewhat misleading. The story editor and very popular writer D. C. Fontana was herself a woman. As for your observations about Peter David,he had trouble writing female characters and I think that shows in his earlier writing. At least they never seemed as belivable to me.

One thing that some of the novels get wrong is some of the Mccoy Spock antagoism. Some of the writers make Spock a passive recipent of the doctor's insults. If you watch the show you know that Spock can give it right back to him. The otherwise excellent Diane Duane makes this mistake. So does the book Memory Prime.

Anyone else have any thoughts on these points?
8. Zeno
My last comment is not on your new comment list. Not sure why that is.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
9. EllenMCM
@8 - My new comment list only shows discussions that I have commented in.

@7 - Like I said, these aren't hard and fast dichotomies. I see "Devil in the Dark" and "Charlie X" as good examples of the melding of girl and boy Trek. And I know when I wrote this, I had some novels in mind that I felt fell very firmly into the Boy Trek category (alas, I cannot recall them at this moment).

@5 - Addie, there should be a prize.

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