I just finished reading David Gerrold’s “Voyage of the Star Wolf”, a book that has somehow managed to end up as a “classic”. In an odd situation, I think this is actually the third time I have read it, but I had to re-read it again to realize that.
Let me explain-
At some point in the 90’s, I took this book out from the local library, read the first couple chapters, got bored, and returned it.
At least, that’s what I remembered happening. However, as I read the book, I was overcome with a sense of deja-vu and found myself knowing the story and even the lines and situations before they happened. Which means one of two things:
- I actually did finish it that first time, but forgot that I’d finished it.
- I read and finished it sometime during the intervening years, but it was so forgettable I forgot that I finished it.
I suspect the answer is #2, but it could be #1, either way, the key there is that this is a light and easily forgettable book. (It’s not a long read, so this probably contributes to that feeling.)
This book was written around the time Gerrold was the Script Editor for the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and it really really shows. The book itself is basically Gerrold’s critique of ST:TNG, and reads like Gerrold basically showing the creators of the show “how it should have been done” from his point of view.
The plot runs like this- A determined young first officer working under an older Captain (who uses the line “Make it so”, and talks about being honest with your crew, and other getting along stuff) aboard the LS-1197 (a destroyer-class vessel, I think) finds his world turned upside down when the Morthans (read: Klingons) attack a big convoy they’re guarding and leaves the Captain dead (who freezes up in REAL combat, so much for getting along!). The ship is then put under the command of the Star Wolf, a REAL military Captain who tells him what the first Captain taught him was crap, and teaches him the way real military people do things. They then kick Morthan butt and get revenge.
Yep, really subtle, isn’t it?
A character literally ends a chapter with the line:
“For some reason, I have the feeling that this is not going to be a happy enterprise.”
However, the great irony is that once the military transformation is done, the crew does indeed act exactly like the ST:TNG crew for the most part. (They even have a Morthan security officer named Brik, who is Worf, but more competent.) Including a female character (the one who utters the line above) who does things that in ST:TNG would be fine, but aboard a real military ship would get her court martialed in a second, and totally gets away with it. (So much for “realistic” military Sci-Fi.)
Not that it matters much, as the characters aren’t the stars of this book anyways.
What do I mean?
Here’s a hint- you have to read FOUR chapters before a character name even appears. (And it’s a background character we never meet again!) In the meantime, you’ve read two chapters about the setting, and one chapter detailing the ship itself in exquisite detail. These are the real stars of the book (the setting, the ship, and the kinda detailed way ships work and fight), and the characters are more organic components of story that interact with the ship and setting.
Which might be fine if those were interesting, but they really aren’t anything special. It’s generic Starship sci-fi following the Star Trek paradigm while trying desperately to claim it’s not Star Trek. It’s not hardcore enough to be real military sci-fi, and not romantic enough to be space adventure, it just kinda wallows somewhere in the middle and doesn’t quite work as either.
Lest someone reads this who thinks of it as a military sci-fi story, I’ll remind you of the following- when they come across a derelict ship that they believe it a trap that will blow up and kill them all- what do they do? Not only do they decide to send in a boarding party (which is somewhat reasonable, there’s valuable stuff on board), but their “brilliant” Captain Star Wolf actually docks the two ships together, despite having a bay full of shuttles he could send to check the other ship out without putting the entire crew in mortal danger.
I doubt the first captain would have made that mistake, but he wasn’t hardcore military enough and actually cared about his crew.