Liquorice Beer: A Star Trek Fan Story

The community of spokers/critiquers that I came from and the community of fan fiction writers were always one and the same.  To complete the circle, I offer my own Star Trek fan story for you to critique.  It is another Axanar derivative in that I chose to use the same premise and address the same themes as Mr. Lane’s “Why We Fight.”  It is not an Axanar derivative in that I did not concern myself with keeping it faithful to the minutiae of the Axanar interpretation of Star Trek.

Regardless of your feelings on this story, I invited you join the community by reacting to the work or writing your own.  The joy of fan fiction and fan fiction criticism is that it is equally accessible to all.  A pro-writer is on the same footing as the newest amateur.  When you do something for love, that’s what really matters.

***

Liquorice Beer

A Star Trek fan story (~2,500 words)

 

Jack choked down another mouthful of his drink and grimaced.  The beer was dark and bitter—and thick as tar—but it was real alcohol, not the synthetic stuff he was accustomed to.  He could drink all night and wouldn’t remember a thing in the morning.  He took a last swallow and added the empty glass to the pyramid he was building.  It was like drinking liquid liquorice.  He had always hated liquorice.  Sasha was the one who had loved it.  She would sit with him in the bar and stack glass after glass—

“Excuse me.  Is this seat taken?”

A woman stood across from him with her hand on his sister’s chair.  Cute.  Blue uniform.  Blue eyes.  Black hair.  A pixie cut that he wasn’t quite sure was regulation, but suited her face.  A few weeks ago, he might have tried to charm her off her feet and into his bed.  Tonight he just wanted her to go away.

He forced a tight smile.  “Please,” he said and gestured at the chair.

“Wonderful.”  She grinned.  “What’re you having?”

“Th—“  Jack tried to remember how it was pronounced, but all he could think was the liquorice beer.  “The Tellarite one,” he managed to say.

“Brave man,” she said.  “Be right back.”

She pushed into the crowd, her blue shirt merging with the reds, blues, and yellows of the other ‘fleeters.  “The Rainbow Fleet,” as some particularly cute kid had called them on the News Service.  That comment had crossed the Federation faster than even The Enemy.  But they weren’t a rainbow, were they?  Rainbows blended at the edges.

The lieutenant returned quickly with two mugs of the Tellarite sludge.  She slid one across the table to him and collapsed into the chair with a sigh.  “Drink up before it gets cold,” she said, sipping her own and nodding her approval.  His sister had done the same.  “I’m Valerie” the lieutenant said.  “Val to my friends.  Physicist. Westward.”

“Jack, or John.  Whichever.  Engineer.  Hornet.”  He lifted the beer to his lips.  His stomach turned at the smell of it, but there was no point in giving up now.  His head hadn’t floated off his body yet.

“Did she stand you up?”

Jack thumped down the glass harder than he intended.  “What?”

“Or he,” she said.  “Or xie.  I don’t judge.”

“Why do you think I’m meeting anyone?”

Val shrugged.  “No one comes to this place to drink alone.”

She wasn’t wrong.  People clustered around the room: some at tables, some on their feet, some in large groups, and some in small groups.  Most were human, but there were small knots of offworlders as well.  The Tellarites occupied a large table at the centre of the chaos; the Andorians huddled around an antique juke box, antennae bent towards it; and a small number of Vulcans held court in the quietest corner.  There were some high ranking officers over there too, the only mixed-species group.  But no one alone.

“You’re here alone,” Jack said.

She shrugged again.  “I can talk to anyone.”

“And you decided to talk to me.”  The beer was losing its heat already, thickening further as it did so.  He drank deeply this time.  Get it over with.

“Your table was the only one with an empty chair.”

He was drunk, but not that drunk.  “There’s an empty chair at the Tellarite table,” he said.

“Not for me.”

“What, are you xenophobic or something?”  The question came out harsher than he intended.  Her head snapped up.  Xenophobes didn’t last long in the Rainbow Fleet.  His face burned.  “I’m sorry,” he said.

She accepted with more grace than he deserved.  “You’ve never lived off world, have you?”

He shook his head.  “No.  Have you?”

“I spent a year on Vulcan,” she said.  She stared towards the Vulcan table, her eyes unfocused.  “At the Science Academy.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t freeze to death.”

She blew air through her nose, more marking a laugh than laughing.  Her eyes didn’t leave the Vulcans.  “I won’t say it was easy.”  She paused.  “They feel everything, perhaps more deeply than we do.  I expect the only way they can live with such passion is to shut it out.  Let even the tiniest drop through and the whole dam is swept away.”

A silence thicker than the beer hung between them, isolating them from the noise of the crowd.

“Anyway,” Val said, turning to look at Jack again, “it’s a lot of work when you live off world.  You spend your days either speaking a language that is not your own or trying to piece together meaning from the rough translation the u-tee gives you.  Understanding every cultural marker, every idiom, is a battle.  So when you see someone from home, the two of you snap together like magnets.  You may have never met before, but you become best friends just because—for once—it’s easy to talk.”

“Oh,” he said.  “I just thought they didn’t like outsiders very much.”

“No one joins the fleet if they hate outsiders.”  She turned to the Vulcans again, then brightened.  “Oh, hey.  It’s Val.”  She grinned and waved with a big sweep of her arm.

He followed her gaze.  A Vulcan at the far table was facing them, eyebrow raised.  At least, Jack imagined his eyebrow was raised.  Wasn’t that what Vulcans always did?  He blinked a few times to clear his vision.  There was something off about that one.

The Vulcan was standing, moving, cutting through the crowd like a knife.

Jack stood.  “I should go,” he said.

“No, wait,” Val said.  “Just meet him.  You’ll see what I mean.”

Jack slowly lowered himself back into his chair.  Why did that Vulcan look so familiar?

He was certainly distinctive for a Vulcan.  Shaved head, with the slightly shiny, too-smooth look of newly grown skin across his scalp and half his face.  The tip of one ear had been sheared away, leaving a thick, ragged scar.  He wore a sub-commander’s uniform.

“Greetings, Lieutenant Nelson,” the Vulcan said to Valerie, extending his hand.  The skin was shiny and tight there as well.  “It is agreeable to see you again.”  His fingertips brushed hers a fraction of a second longer than necessary as the handshake ended.

“Val, I told you.  It’s Val.”

Val, she called him.  Where had he seen this Vulcan before?

“I will never understand the human obsession with attaching significance to coincidence,” the Vulcan said.  He turned to Jack.  “Pardon my rudeness.  I am Valerik, formerly of the Seleya.”

Jack went cold.  There was a buzzing in his ears that drowned out even the noise of the room.

“John Wilkinson.  Hornet.”  He barely felt the Vulcan’s handshake.

Valerik.  The Hero of Beta Tauri.

Valerie was chattering away, but Jack didn’t hear what she said.  The story had been all over the News Service for days.  Seleya’s bridge had been destroyed, most of her officers and crew were dead or wounded, manoeuvring thrusters and warp drive gone.  An engineer had taken command and steered her out of the fight from the engine room with only the impulse engines.

“And left the Washington to die,” Jack whispered.

The Vulcan didn’t hear him.  He was wearing soft earplugs, Jack realized.  Some hero.  Couldn’t even handle a little noise.  But he wasn’t really a hero, was he?  The Enemy had won that battle.  Seleya left fit only for scrap.  Washington left as debris.

Anger drove the words from his chest.  “To Valerik,” he cried, raising his glass.  “To the Hero of Beta Tauri.”  He drank and slammed the glass down.

Valerik started at the sound, a slight flinch away.  It was such a tiny movement that Jack almost missed it, but the Vulcan had his full attention now.

“Jack, what—“ Valerie began, but the Tellarites picked up the toast.  The room filled with cries of “To Valerik,” “To the Hero,” “Beta Tauri,” and “Seleya.”  It was always so much easier to talk about the living.  More glasses crashed against tables.

The Vulcan looked almost brittle, each cheer like a tap of a hammer on a porcelain doll.  “If you’ll pardon me,” he said, voice tight.

“Of course,” Jack said.  “Run.  Run, ‘Hero.’  Run like you did at Beta Tauri.”

The Vulcan froze.

Jack.”  Valerie was on her feet.

Jack heard his voice getting louder, but he didn’t care.  “Let me guess.  ‘It was logical?’ Or is it ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?’  It’s easy when you’re one of the many, isn’t it?”

The Vulcan didn’t move, didn’t look at Jack.  His knuckles were white.  The bar was quiet.

Jack ignored it.  His sole focus was the Vulcan.  “Look at me,” he hissed.

“Lieutenant!”  The voice hit Jack with the force of a blow.  He turned, ready for a fight.  A captain marched towards him, her lips thin with anger.  “Outside,” he said.  “Now.”

***

“What the hell were you thinking, Lieutenant?”

The captain barely contained her rage.  Jack stood at attention and stared straight ahead, praying their eyes wouldn’t meet.  His head swam and his stomach rolled.  He felt faint.  “I don’t know, sir,” he said.

“Don’t give me that Academy bullshit,” the captain said.  “You damn well do know, Lieutenant.”  She stepped closer, and Jack wanted nothing more than to retreat.  A brick wall was cool at his back.  He didn’t move.

“I was toasting our hero, sir.”

The captain’s voice grew quiet, dangerous.  “You did a hell of a lot more than that.”

Jack remained silent.  Anything he said would hurt him further.  Fuck it.  He’d just killed his career anyway.  “He left them to die,” he said.

“Who?  The crew of the Washington?”

“Yes.”  Now Jack met her gaze squarely.  His fists were clenched at his sides.  He spat each word at her feet.  “They had no chance alone.”

“They had no chance together, Lieutenant.  We lost half of Seleya’s crew as it is.  Would you have condemned the rest as well?”

No, Jack thought.  You don’t sacrifice the living for the dead.  But his heart screamed otherwise.  You don’t abandon your friends in a fight either.  He wanted to rage at the heavens or weep like a child.  He did nothing.

“Captain Suleiman. Commander Marsden.” He barely kept his voice from shaking. “Commander Roy. Doctor…Sasha…” His voice trailed off.  He turned his head away.  She would not see him cry.

“You lost someone.”

“My sister.”

The captain pivoted around to stand beside him.  She leaned against the wall, crossed her arms, stared up at the stars, and sighed.  “At ease, Lieutenant.”

It may have been meant as a kindness, but it wasn’t one.  Without rigidity to fight with, Jack felt the dam begin to buckle.  He reached for whatever anger was left.

“They shouldn’t have been there.”  He paused.  “She shouldn’t have been there.”  The anger flared.  He spun to face the captain.  He was yelling again.  It was inappropriate, but he didn’t care.  “So many lives, and for what?  Something we already knew?  It was a fucking waste.”

He waited for the captain snap him back.  Waited for her to defend their commander’s decision.  Waited for some noble speech about sacrifice for the greater good or the defence of one’s allies.  Maybe something about the ugliness and waste of war, or the horrible decisions and uncertain outcomes the higher-ups faced every day.  Maybe a little platitude about how they all lost something.  Hell, he wanted it.  He craved it more than a lover’s touch.  Anything to feed his fury.

But she denied him even that.  “I know,” she said.  Her tone wasn’t placating.  It was sincere.  “I know.”

Jack took a deep breath.  The damp air smelled of rotting fish and liquorice.  The tide was out.  He reached for the anger again, but it wouldn’t come.  His shoulder slumped, his head dropped, and this time he failed to stop the tears.  “She was my baby sister.  She just wanted to be like me,” he said softly.  He looked up again.  “She shouldn’t have been there.  It’s my fault.”

The captain’s eyes softened.  She shook her head and didn’t say anything, just put her hand on his shoulder.

They stood there for what felt like an eternity.  Then the captain released him.  “I want you to apologise to Sub-commander Valerik, if he’ll have it.  Then return to your quarters and remain there until your CO sends for you.”

The apology would be the worse punishment, worse even than being left alone with his thoughts.  Jack already felt the eyes on him.  “Yes, sir,” he said.

***

Jack slipped back into the bar, hoping to go unnoticed.  The tone was more subdued than it had been earlier.  A few of the patrons looked his way before pointedly looking away.  Valerik and Valerie sat at the table.  Valerik had taken Jack’s seat, sitting with his back against the wall.  He appeared to have regained his composure.

He stopped before them.  Valerie watched him with some suspicion.  Suspicion he well deserved.  What Valerik was thinking, he couldn’t say.  His face flushed slightly.  His heart beat fast.  Apologise quietly and leave.  That was the way to do it.

No.  If he was going to do this, he was going to do it right.  Maybe the first right thing he’d done all night.

“Sub-commander Valerik.”  Jack spoke loudly enough to draw the attention of the bar.  The quiet conversation died down.  All the eyes turned towards him.  “I wronged you earlier.  I am sorry for my words.  They were unworthy of us both.”

A stupid apology.  “Unworthy of us both?”  Where had that come from?

But Valerik merely inclined his head.  An acceptance, Jack supposed.  At least, he intended to take it that way.  He was tired of fighting.  He was just…tired.

“I am sorry for the loss of the Washington,” Valerik said.

“It was my sister’s ship.”

Valerik closed his eyes for a moment.  “I grieve with thee.”  He hesitated.  “The Vulcan embassy intends to hold a memorial for those lost aboard Seleya.  I will speak with them about remembering the crew of the Washington as well.  You are welcome to join us.”

“If I can,” he said.

An Andorian stepped forward.  “On Andoria, we share stories of the dead that they may be forgotten by none.  Tell us of your sister’s deeds that we may remember her alongside our own absent kin.”

“Hear, hear,” said a Tellarite.  “Let us name our dead and pour drinks for them.”

They were all looking at him expectantly and Jack found, for the first time, he had nothing to say.  How do you share a whole life with a stranger?  The room blurred slightly, the colours of all the uniforms blending together, but this time Jack kept the tears in check.  “Well,” he said, “She could have drunk any ten of us under the table.  And she loved that Tellarite beer…”

The words came easily after that.

 

~K.S.

 

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Critique: “Why We Fight” (pp. 6-7)

This is the final critique post for “Why We Fight.”  Some time this week, I’ll post an alternate scene of my own for grins and giggles.  I really don’t want to write my philosophy essay.

*****

Apparently, Garth is distressed by the conversation because he has to close his eyes and compose himself.  Truly, I feel for the man.  If only the action wasn’t divorced from the character the dialogue showed me.  When you’re writing a character, you have to keep the two consistent with each other less you inadvertently create something you didn’t intend.

 

He gives a little speech on the nature of war, talking about how it isn’t fair or clean but rather is “the ugliest and most daunting test” Earth has ever faced.  I guess there was neither a Eugenics War nor a World War III in this timeline.  I mean, according to Axanar, Earth hasn’t been attacked yet—if I recall correctly—so that’s probably doing better than something that killed six hundred million people according to canon.   Sure, it could be worse, but it isn’t yet.  Garth might just be a bit of a drama queen.

 

Anyway, he finishes with a statement that every choice made will have a cost due to the nature of the Klingons.

 

Ron isn’t buying it, of course, since he’s, you know, grieving.  He’s not interested in abstractions or the big picture.  All he sees is his sister—burned, hypoxic, crushed, vaporized, any number of ways for an NPC to die in Trek-verse.  She was a medic of some sort.

 

Garth still doesn’t get it, but that’s to be expected from a Sue.  The only valid perspective is his own.

 

GARTH:  Look, I know most of us didn’t sign up to be warriors.  That’s not what Starfleet’s about.  But we have to prove that we can do what we need to do to defend the Federation…no matter the cost.

 

It’s easy to sacrifice other people’s lives, Garth.  Especially when you don’t know who they are.  Again, it’s an interesting dynamic.  Garth is thinking in the abstract and Ron of the individuals.  Unfortunately, there’s no way to bring Garth back from the subtext and text.  He’s not a caring commander.  He’s a ruthless one, just as ruthless as the Klingons.  That’s a fine characterization, but don’t try to tell me he’s a father to his men when you’ve shown me something completely different.

 

I really like TV Tropes.  Sorry, guys.  I’ll send out search parties for you eventually.

 

[Pause.  Thick silence.  Deep breath.]

 

I’m guessing this is Garth.  The story seems to have shifted wholly over to him.  Daria, Thalek, and Matt don’t even exist anymore.  They vanished into the ether.

 

Garth continues to not offer comfort to Ron, instead making it all about him.  Truly, it has to be read to be believed.

 

GARTH: That order…and the destruction of the Tecumseh…will haunt me for the rest of my life, Mr. Tracey.  I see those faces and hundreds like them every night when I wake up from my nightmares.

 

Yeah.  He goes there.  When a real person who is not a narcissist or socially inept offers comfort to a grieving person, he or she does not make it about him or herself.  Yeah, I know, I know.  The author wants to give a hint of the PTSD that Axanar was allegedly going to tackle.  But this doesn’t make Garth look heroic or traumatized.  It makes him look self-involved.  He’s busy nailing the planks together and trying to figure out how to get himself up on that cross.

 

GARTH:  One day when you’re a captain—and I hope you will be—I pray you never have to make the decision of who gets to live and who has to die.  I hope that, by the time you have a ship of your own, that there is peace in the Federation and we can all return to simply being explorers.

 

Oh, and let’s top it off with a little passive aggression.

 

It’s truly strange that the most subtext laden passages in this work run so strongly against the stated character traits.  Garth Sue is stated to be selfless, but is selfish.  Garth Sue is said to be traumatized, but is playing at martyrdom.  It’s what happens when authors fear giving their characters real flaws or weaknesses.  Flaws appear anyway, and they’re not the ones the author might have chosen.

 

Garth then makes a little speech about coming together to win the war.  It’s long, so here’s the end.

 

GARTH: Someday this blasted war will be over.  It HAS to end, and we HAVE to win.  There is no alternative for us.  And when that finally happens, we’ll be left with what we’ve been fighting for this entire time: the United Federation of Planets.  Don’t tear apart the very thing that we have been risking and sacrificing our lives to preserve.  Do you understand, Lieutenant?

 

Ron does, of course.  That’s what happens around Garth Sue.

 

Garth then sends everybody back to their quarters, but before he leaves, Ron toasts to all of the species he disparaged mere minutes of stage/screen time before.

 

That’s just pulsing insulting.  You want me to believe that Garth was able to turn Ron’s xenophobia around with one inspiring speech when the root of that xenophobia is a painful familial loss?  Really? Really?  You want me to believe Garth cares about Ron when he a.) explained away Ron’s agony instead of grieving with him, b.) made it all about him and his choices, c.) switched the topic to something less painful, and d.) got all passive aggressive with the whole “I hope you don’t have to make the same choices I did” subtext?  Really?  Really?

 

Yeah, no.  I’m not buying it.  The only way for this to work is if Garth Sue is warping reality around himself.  Characters aren’t allowed to act like human beings because the Sue can’t be wrong.

 

But we can’t just end with Ron’s miraculous transformation, which is a natural ending.  Oh, no.  We have a little coda.

 

SONYA:  That was quite the speech, Kel.  You trying for Ramirez’s job?

 

I forgot.  Even when he’s done something so reprehensible and emotionally manipulative to a grieving subordinate, Garth Sue needs to be told how awesome he is.  I am not buying it at all.  You showed me something far less wonderful than “quite the speech.”  You can’t just tell me now that it was awesome.

 

Meta-Captain Alexander: I was drunk, OK?  Don’t do tequila shots with Vulcans.

 

When Garth nobly says he doesn’t want the job, although you know he loves the ego stroking, she continues.

 

SONYA: Well, your words do lead to actions.  I admire that.  I think you really reached that young officer.

 

Only by authorial intervention.  Not because he was actually good at something.  Just have to get a little more ego stroking in there, don’t we?

 

She then asks Garth how he intends to win the war.

 

GARTH:  Sit down, Sonya, and order a drink.  I have a feeling you’re gonna need it.

 

Meta-Captain Alexander:  Too late.

 

I started off being as generous as possible with this scene—it doesn’t have the structure to be a short story.  From the point Garth entered stage left, I lost that generosity.  Why?  Because what I was being told about the character and what I was being shown were two entirely different things.  Moreover, the character I was being shown was no hero.  He was a vile man.  That’s where it lost my good will.  Don’t give me a narcissist and claim he’s a saint.  Don’t give me a Sue and claim he’s a person.

 

But the characterization and voice were right in line with the feature script I reviewed, so good job.  That doesn’t come easily to every fan fiction writer.

Critique: “Why We Fight” (p. 5)

Page five gives us our first interesting characterization in the story.  Yes, it’s two pages before the end of the story.  What we get is Ron’s motivation.  It turns out his sister was on a ship that was destroyed by Klingons.  A Vulcan ship was present, but didn’t come to its aid.

 

RON: You could have saved the crew of the Tecumseh!  They were being decimated by the Klingons!! The Nike was the first ship to arrive at Altair VI.  But instead of engaging the Klingons, you held back.  WHY???  My sister was on that ship, and you sat back and didn’t fire a shot!  You cowards hid behind a stupid moon!!!  WHY????  Why didn’t you engage sooner?  WHY DID YOU WAIT???

 

I’d ask some questions of this passage, but I fear question marks are on backorder with Amazon.  There’s only one exclamation point left, so order now.  (More are on the way.  Expected delivery time: one month.)

 

Snark aside, that, right there, is solid motivation for a character.  (OK, I kind of take issue with fridging a woman, but it’s in the grand tradition of fiction.  Especially comics.    Essentially, this is when a character exists to be brutalized or killed off solely to provide motivation for the protagonist.  In the Bad Old Days, the character tended to be female.)  At the least, it explains why Ron hates the Vulcans.  Not why he hates everyone else, though.

 

Ron’s reveal reveals something not only about him, but about this story.  You’ve probably suspected it already.

 

There is no central character thus far.

 

We have four interchangeable officers.  Ron stands out the most because he’s been given the most development.  He has a backstory –something that actually influences how he sees and interacts with the world.  Unfortunately, as poignant as his backstory is supposed to be, Ron struggles to resonate with the reader.  The reason for this is because he hasn’t been developed prior to this point.  There’s nothing that allows us to empathize with him or to see ourselves in him.  Before we can care that he’s been deeply affected by the war—before we can meditate on the horrors of war through the character—we need to care about the character.

 

These four characters, poor Ron included, are merely setting the stage for another.  It is literary throat-clearing, or the pre-writing one does and then throws away because you always start as late in the story as possible.

 

The central character, introduced two pages before the end, is Garth.

 

How do we know he’s the central character?  He gets the most focus of any of theme, whether through his dialogue or his stage direction

 

Garth interrupts Ron with “a loud voice” from across the bar.  He must’ve really been enjoying his drink to wait so long before speaking up.  Or maybe he has a good sense of dramatic timing.  I have no idea because there is no description of the action and no illustration to help me out.  For all the reader knows, he poofed into existence.

 

Garth answers Ron’s question by saying the reason the Vulcan ship didn’t assist Tecumseh was because of his orders.  Very dramatic.  Very moving.  Garth taking on the burden of all those deaths and Ron’s wrath.  What a Noble Leader.

 

At least, that’s what the story wants me to believe.

 

And, of course, in grand Axanar tradition, Garth’s entry is followed by awe.

 

DARIA: Holy…is that who I think it is?

THALEK: It’s Garth.

MATT: Captain present!  Ten hut!

 

Since they haven’t noticed him before now, I’m going to stick with my poofing theory.

 

Garth singles out Ron—It’s Ron Tracey, if anyone cares.  I clearly don’t.—and apologizes for the loss of the Tecumseh.

 

GARTH:  Lieutenant Tracey, I’m sorry about your sister.  I truly am.

 

What a nice sentiment.  Shut up now.

 

GARTH:  We lost 184 valiant men and women in that battle…but it could have been more.

 

ABORT! ABORT. ABORT.

 

Sorry.  Ran out of exclamation points.

 

GARTH: I gave the Vulcans on the Nike the order to wait behind that moon until the rest of their squadron could arrive.

 

Well, this fan fiction nailed the characterization of Garth when compared to Axanar.  Garth may be speaking sympathy words at Ron, but he’s not genuinely grieving with him.  Garth’s concern isn’t to offer comfort to someone who has lost and feels that loss deeply.  Garth’s concern is with justifying himself.  It doesn’t help that Garth used a loud voice to tell everyone he ordered the Vulcan ship to hold position.  That makes it look like he’s proud of his choice, not confident.

 

A grieving person doesn’t care about 184 people; he only cares about one.  And a grieving person doesn’t care who gave the order that the ship wait; he only cares that it wasn’t where he saw it needed to be.  Garth might be saying “I’m sorry” on the surface, but subtextually he’s saying “your sister didn’t matter.”  Needs of the many sounds good, unless the one is your own spouse, sibling, parent, or child.  It might be something someone can say to comfort themselves, but it is not something an outsider should ever say.

 

If you are ever offering comfort to a grieving person, don’t be like Garth.  Garth is a dunsel.  (If you need information on grief, check out this Youtube video.  SFW)

 

The author is, of course, trying to portray Garth as a Leader who Makes Hard Decisions and Feels Those Decisions Deeply.  Unfortunately, the subtext is working against this portrayal.  Go figure.  We finally get some good dialogue subtext, and it takes the character in the wrong direction.

 

Garth, in true Garth-style, gets out the jackhammer to start drilling through bedrock.  Ron begs to know why, saying Tecumseh “had no chance against the Klingons.”

 

GARTH: And neither did the Nike, son…not alone.  Over half a dozen D-6 cruisers came out of warp to ambush the Tecumseh.  Had the Nike gone in before our other ships arrived in the system, it would have been a blood bath…and it would have cost us one of Starfleet’s most advanced warships.

 

OK, keep in mind that Garth only met Ron four lines ago—didn’t even know his name.  He’s calling Ron “son.”  That’s not paternal in this context, it’s inappropriate.  Especially given that Garth in Axanar does not have a habit of referring to random crewpeople as “son.”  There’s no relationship between him and Ron that would justify such a familiar term.  Ron shouldn’t be comforted by this.  He should be angered.

 

Pulse you, Garth.  Pulse you.

 

Also, he’s talking to a grieving man in public.  Way to let Ron continue to humiliate himself by falling apart in front of a whole bar.  You just know everyone would be watching Garth the Great talking to a drunk lieutenant who’s falling apart.  That’s what friends and father figures do, you know.  And good leaders too.

 

Ron protests that they lost a ship and crew.

 

Garth doubles down on the subtext, saying at least it wasn’t two.  The way he says it is stunningly Kirk-like.

 

GARTH:  But not two, Mr. Tracey!  Not even an Ares-class could have held off that many Klingons!

 

I’m actually impressed.  Of course, Kirk used that cadence usually only when saying something inspiring, which I’m not sure this is.

 

Now, this is a nice bit of conflict since both characters have equally valid perspectives.  The problem is that it is supposed to portray Garth as a suffering leader who feels those losses and only manages to show him as someone who doesn’t know how to talk to a grieving person.  Someone who is more concerned with himself and how he’s perceived than with the suffering of others.

 

Perfect Axanar Garth.

Critique: “Why We Fight” (pp. 3-4)

The conversation continues with the old Alien Misunderstands A Human Idiom And Then Takes Something Literally joke.  Because we want to emphasize Thalek is an alien.  It’s not like he hasn’t spent years living and working closely with humans, after all.  This is humor that works far better on screen than on the page.  It’s all in the timing and delivery.  Without those things, it just comes off as cliché.

 

Thalek then helpfully informs the reader that the different species “don’t get many opportunities to interact with each other” because “without warp-six capable starships, it can take weeks or even months just to get from one star system to the other.”  Because people who live and work in space—and are, in fact, the best of the astronauts of the age—don’t understand what their own technology can do and how it influences interspecific relationships.  Yeah, it’s another “As You Know, Bob.”

 

Daria follows it up with a “why aren’t we all just getting along because we have a common enemy” statement and, out of the blue, Ron says

 

RON: I don’t want to get to know each other…

 

Daria acts appalled and Ron doubles down.  Also, we get another “pulse you” and the context confirms that it’s meant to be “fuck you.”  Yeah, I say “fuck.”  That’s the joy of being an adults.  (I know, I know.  This was a choice made to respect the beliefs of the illustrator.  That’s a good choice.  A better choice would have been to rework the characterizations and circumstances so the dialogue would be more natural.  It may not be affecting the story too much, but it’s choking the characters.)

 

Daria helpfully informs the reader that Ron is drunk as he launches into a tirade about…everyone, really.  He’s downright xenophobic, which is a bit of a problem for someone who belongs to an organization with a mission statement that includes “seeking out new life and new civilizations.”  It makes one wonder why Ron wanted to be in Starfleet in the first place.  He’s not down with the military angle, and he doesn’t seem to be down with the rest of Starfleet’s job either.

 

Here’s the thing.  It comes out of nowhere.  There is no indication leading up to this point that Ron is xenophobic.  There’s also no indication that he’s reached his limit on alcohol.  He just flips.  The inconsistency doesn’t do the story any favors.  Instead of a sense of rising action and tension running through the conversation to this point, we get a conflict tacked on.  It’s a false tension, as if the author belatedly remembered that something is supposed to happen in the story and so threw something in.

 

This is why showing, either through subtext in dialogue or through specific description, is so critical to a story.  The writer might see the slow build in his or her head, but if it doesn’t make it onto the page then the reader does not.

 

Ron works his way around to criticizing the Vulcans.  He more or less repeats Captain Archer’s complaints about them.  If you’ve watched ENT, you know his general view.  They’re arrogant, don’t share technology, and so on.

 

Daria and Matt take the opportunity to talk about their ancestors who worked with members of the Archer family.  It looks like they might be trying to change the subject—in a diehard Trekkie-friendly way—but the tactic feels out of place.  It doesn’t feel out of place because it’s not what people do, but because it strains suspension of disbelief.  We have two officers in a massive organization, and both have ties to canon characters?  When did the Trek universe get so small?  (I have this problem with official Trek as well.  It’s OK to have a character that’s not associated with a canon character.  Really.  Maybe a tall order for fan fiction though, which would be a fair counter argument.)

 

Ron’s on a roll, flipping out about withheld technology, namely weapons.  I can’t imagine why a species devoted to peace and logic would be reluctant to provide weapons for a war.

 

RON: But they held back the weapons!!! Why?  YOU HEAR ME, YOU POINTY-EARED HOBGOBLINS?

 

Remember, the more exclamation points there are, the more strongly readers will feel emotion.  I see it on Twitter so it must be true.

 

What really doesn’t work for me about this line, however, is the last sentence.  Again, it comes to characterization and understanding subtext.  Yes, “pointy-eared hobgoblin” is technically a canon phrase, a favorite of McCoy’s in TOS.  But in order to understand the phrase, you have to understand McCoy and Spock’s relationship.  They aren’t enemies.  They’re frequently philosophically opposed—McCoy represents the id or heart and Spock represents the superego or mind—but they are ultimately friends with respect for each other.  One can’t exist without the other, most literally in Star Trek III.  Yes, McCoy may be angry with Spock when he uses the phrase, but there’s affection and respect beneath it.  It’s not an epithet.  To see it used as one is jarring to say the least.

 

Yes, call-backs in fan works can create a sense of connection to the original universe.  To work, however, they must be used with a full understanding of the original use.  (By way of another example, the use of “dunsel” in “don’t be a dunsel” on the previous page fails in the same way.  In TOS “dunsel” does not equal “dunce” or “idiot.”  It means someone who has been made redundant.  It doesn’t work in this context.)

 

Ron keeps it up, calling the Vulcans “green-blooded cowards” and using plenty of exclamation points and question marks for emphasis so that we know he’s really angry.  Because we don’t get any description.  Given how little subtext and characterization the dialogue carries, this is a significant flaw in the story.

 

The dialogue further suffers from being on the same level.  In stage, film, and, yes, prose, there’s just you need variation to hold the audience’s attention.  If you have a character who is just angry all the time, it quickly gets dull.  The character needs to move between emotional states.  Ideally, the other characters change tactics as well to keep the tension shifting.  There’s none of that here.  It’s just angry, angry, angry.  Ron should seek therapy.  And stop drinking.

 

We also haven’t seen any choices or actions thus far.  There’s no real act structure to this story.  Even shorts have a beginning, a middle and an end that are driven by character choices.  None of the characters has been faced with a choice or made a decision.  This strikes me as far more of a rough scene than a complete story.

 

I know which one he is now though because an illustration shows a blonde officer shaking his fist at some Vulcans.  Would’ve been nice to know that sooner than halfway through the story.

Critique: “Why We Fight” (p. 2)

We’re about a page into the story—if this were a stage play it would be forty-five seconds to a minute of stage time—and we don’t have a strong sense of the things that make a story go.

 

We do, however, get Daria’s unintentionally hilarious “Pulse you, Decker!” in response to Matt’s light ribbing about her knowledge of Greek and Roman gods.

 

Oh, hey.  It’s a young Matt Decker.  So nice to know that now…after we’ve spent a page with the character.  Still don’t know which one he is in the illustration though.  Maybe I’m just a failure as a Trekkie.

 

The reason why I say “pulse you” is unintentionally hilarious is because it feels like a rough stand-in for the more adult “fuck you.”  It’s just not a very good stand-in.  At best, you’ve got something akin to calling a rabbit a smeerp.   (This is when a sci-fi or fantasy author wants to do a little world-building by substituting a sci-fi-y or fantasy-y word for a common one.  It’s not a perfect parallel here, but it’s close.)  At worst, you’ve bowdlerised your story, watering it down instead of telling it differently from the start.

 

Here’s why the phrase stands out as not belonging: it’s unnatural for the context.  The word “pulse” is not one that can be spat out easily due to the medial vowel/consonant combination.  You end up swallowing half the word as you say it.  Try it.  Compare “Pulse you” to your own favorite phrases.

 

When writing dialogue, it’s imperative that it always sound like something a person would say given the circumstance.

 

Anyhow, juxtaposed with my new favorite not-quite-profanity, is our first glimpse of a Deep Theme, which all Star Trek stories are contractually obligated to have.

 

DARIA: Pulse you, Decker!  When I signed up for Starfleet, I figured I was gonna EXPLORE alien societies…not shoot at them.

[Long, quiet stare.]

MATT: Yeah, I think that’s true for most of us.

 

The theme isn’t quite in the subtext, but it does feel like something two characters would say.  That works for me.

 

Thalek wants to fight, of course, because let’s go ahead and play right into the Trek stereotype for an Andorian.

 

We can’t stay with the theme for long, however.  It gets in the way of valuable time to nerdgasm over the Ares-class ships.  Yup, we traded character building for information on how many Ares ships are in the fleet and how many are in drydock and, of course, what their names are.

 

This exposition is just handy set-up.  What we really need to know is that one of the new ships will have an all-Andorian crew, which Thalek will be joining. Part of me feels like the last page and a half of names was solely to set up this reveal.  Why is this reveal important?  It allows the story to segue into the next Deep Theme: racism in the Federation.

 

Ron asks Thalek why he spends social time with humans instead of Andorians.  Thalek is somewhat confused by the question, so Matt explains.

 

MATT: What he means is that most of the crews stick with their own species.  Look around.  The Tellarites drink with other Tellarites.  The Andorians drink with Andorians.  The Vulcans…well, I don’t think they even drink, but they certainly don’t socialize with us.

 

Either Thalek is remarkably oblivious—to the point he doesn’t even notice that everyone else in the bar self-segregates—or we have an “As you know, Bob” moment.  The “As you know” moment occurs when two characters know something, but the audience doesn’t.  The storyteller desperately wants the audience to know the thing, but can’t work out how to show it or work the information into the story naturally.  So the author has one character tell the other the thing they both know.  It’s always an awkward exchange.

 

Thalek points out that humans aren’t any better and is rewarded with “looks of embarrassment.”

 

This sort of description may be useful to a film or stage director, but doesn’t go far in establishing character.  Thus far, the three humans are interchangeable.  People don’t react the same way when embarrassed.  Maybe one won’t make eye contact with Thalek, maybe another blushes.  Maybe another wasn’t even paying attention.  That’s the value of more standard prose: you can give more description here and there, fleshing out the characters.  Sure, it’s possible to do it solely with dialogue, but your characters need strong voices for it to work.

Critique: “Why We Fight” (p. 1)

Part One of Whatever

 

Hey, I’m doing this on my Friday night for free.

 

I had to really think about whether or not to go ahead with the critique of Axanar’s first short story.  After all, it doesn’t hold as much interest for Trek fan film fans as a script at the center of a multi-million dollar copyright lawsuit.  Additionally, as fan fiction, it’s an amateur piece written for fun, which makes any critique feel a bit mean-spirited.

 

But I have a black diamond where my heart should be, and we can learn just as much from fan fiction as from Shakespeare.  (As I have very little background in art, I cannot critique that aspect other than to say that I quite like the illustrator’s work.  I wish it had been a full comic instead of an illustrated short story.)

 

Give Your Story Identity

 

“Why We Fight: An Axanar Short Story,” written by Jonathan Lane and illustrated by Mark McCrary, opens in the 602 Club on Earth.  The story never leaves this location.  Of course, a single location is not necessarily to a story’s detriment.  Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants” takes place at a bar on a railway platform and it’s the sort of story that you feel in your chest long after you’ve finished it.

 

I mention the single location, however, because it (along with other elements) influenced how I understood the text as a reader.  I didn’t visualize this story as narrative prose; I visualized it as a stage play.  My interpretation is not unique to me.  Lane wrote in a blog post on 22 February 2018 that what he wrote was similar to a short stage play, making it a poor candidate for conversion into a comic book.

 

Let’s look at why this text inspires both the author and a reader to draw similar conclusions about its identity.

 

Short plays—such as ten-minute, one acts—are almost always set in a single location.  They’re written for quick changes and minimal sets.  (By way of example, here’s an adaptation of a Melville short story that I particularly love.)

 

A more compelling indication of the story’s identity is its style.  It’s almost entirely dialogue, with little narrative description.  The story opens

 

At a table…

RON: Ajax

MATT: Apollo

THALEK: Ares

DARIA: Artemis

 

The formatting is faithful to the original.

 

There’s no description to set the scene such as in “Hills like White Elephants.”  Presumably, the author expects the reader to be familiar the interior of the 602 Club.  If one comes to the text without that Trekkie background, however, one will have to create a bar setting out of whole-cloth.  That’s the sort of thing a set-designer or director would expect to do: take the lack of specificity as license to do whatever they wished.

 

The sense of reading a play is heightened by dialogue formatting.  It doesn’t go

 

Ajax,” Ron said.

 

And so forth as one might expect from prose.  The capitalized name, colon, dialogue is standard play formatting, however.  What little action exists reads as stage direction, e.g. “long, quiet stare” given its own line between lines of dialogue.

 

I find this lack of commitment to an identity somewhat frustrating.  It has illustrations, but it’s not a comic book or graphic novel.  It’s formatted like a stage play, but it’s called a short story.  It could be a dialogue-only short story, but it has those stage directions.  It’s a story with an identity crisis.  And if form or structure is a critical component to the success of story, this arrangement does not bode well for it.

 

How do I even read a story like this?  Do I read it as dialogue-only prose short story?  Do I read it as a stage play?

 

Good thing both share many traits because I just don’t know.

 

I do want to take a minute to say that dialogue-only stories exist.  The Newberry Medal-winning author Avi wrote a children’s novel called “Who was that Masked Man, Anyway?” entirely in dialogue.  (Amazon link for those who want to take a peek.)  There’s a hilarious short story called “They’re Made Out of Meat,” by Terry Bisson, which is also crafted only out of dialogue.  Finally, there are many contests for dialogue-only short stories.  The linked one was just the first Google hit.  So I hope I’ve convinced you that the format of this story alone does not mean it is not a short story.

 

You Need a Strong Start for a Short

 

The story opens with names.  Lots and lots of names.  There are four characters—Ron, Matt, Thalek, and Daria—and they’re listing a bunch of Greek and Roman gods.  The only way we know who these people are is from the illustration.  Alas, it’s difficult to tell who is who.  One can assume Thalek is the alien.  Yes, yes.  I know it’s an Andorian.  Ron, Matt, and Daria are up for grabs, however.  Sure, you could say the female name goes with the female character, but that strikes me as quite gender normative for a Trek story, particularly now that we have a female Michael in the canon.  Anyway, even if you do take the gender normative interpretation, which one is Ron and which one is Matt?

 

What might have been useful here is if the illustrator had drawn the characters left to right in the order they spoke.  This would quickly establish the characters for the reader in the absence of description.

 

In any case, they’re listing a bunch of ship names.  We know they’re ship names from the start because they’re italicized.  Unless they’re just the names of gods being spoken with unusual emphasis.  Daria doesn’t actually say they’re ship names until page two.

 

Short stage play or short story, four talking heads listing ship names is not an engaging beginning.  When you have very limited space to tell your story, you need to establish your location, plot, and characters very quickly.  In “Why We Fight” the location is established by the illustrations.  That leaves the text to established character and plot.

 

A list of names does not do this.  You could take any character name and switch it with any line of dialogue, and nothing would change about any of the characters.  If you cover the characters’ names with a sheet of paper, you can’t tell who is saying what.  They have no voice and no personality.

 

Worse, the list of names doesn’t provide a sense of story or plot.  Take a look at “They’re Made Out of Meat.”  The first five lines read

 

“They’re made out of meat.”

“Meat?”

“Meat.  They’re made out of meat.”

“Meat?”

“There’s no doubt about it.  We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through.  They’re completely meat.”

 

Seriously, just go read the whole thing.  It’s really short.  And hilarious.  And makes you think deep thoughts.  It does what a good SF story should.

 

In these five lines Bisson establishes two characters.  The first is a scientist-like character.  The second is likely a superior.  The first is making a report.  The second disbelieves it.  The kicker is that fourth line, which tells the reader that this story is an alien abduction story…from the aliens’ point of view.  More than that, this story sets up interesting subtextual conflict: that the aliens are not “meat” and that humans are.  The word “meat” also implies something non-living, something non-sentient, which heightens the tension and makes the reader wonder how it will be resolved.

 

What do we learn in the first five lines of “Why We Fight”?  Five ship names.

 

There’s a little banter about one of the officers forgetting a ship name and a little more about one ship bearing the Roman name in place of the Greek, but there’s no tension here.  Why not?  Well, there’s no tension because there are no stakes.  There’s no goal and no conflict.  There’s no subtext.  It’s a list of names.

 

Now, if the author really wanted to work in ship names and also insert some stakes, conflict, goals, and subtext into the story then it would’ve been possible.  Just make it quiz night.  Your segregated tables of Andorians, Tellarites, Vulcans, and Humans all battling over nerd questions.  As they get tipsier, they get less diplomatic.

 

That could’ve been an engaging circumstance for the characters (or actors, if you read this as a play) to work with.  There’s a story there.  Alas, we must play it safe.

The Epilogue

This is the final post of the Axanar critique.  Thanks for joining me on this ramble through the script.  I hope you enjoyed it.

 

Axanar ends on the planet. I’m guessing this is the peace conference. All of the delegates and bystandards are mingling. Travis has survived. Even though we won’t see it, I bet he’s changed.

Garth is busy looking at the sky.

April: None of this would have happened without you, Kel. I’m proud of you.

Meta-Captain April: We gave you a task a cadet could handle, and you didn’t fuck up. Good job.

Garth needs to get some angsting in before the end.

Garth: A lot of good people gave their lives up there. They’re the ones who made this possible. Not me.

That’s why the script has been all about Garth and not about those good people, right?

Since the script has focused on Garth to the exclusion of everyone else, as much as the writers want it to be seen as humility, it strikes one as false humility.

April: That’s it. You’re teaching humility at the Academy next semester.

Meta-Captain April: You’ll serve as a horrible warning.

(they both laugh)

For different reasons.

Here’s what I know. When the moment came, you made the tough calls.

It’s easy when you don’t have real relationships. From page one, the other characters were there for Garth to use to their advantage. Throwing them away took no more effort that throwing away a tissue.

That’s what it means to sit in the big chair.

What is with the constant references to the captain’s chair as “the big chair”? Once is a nice character trait, but this happens in dialogue and description.

Now that he’s praised Garth, April gets back to the Enterprise, probably so someone else can come kiss Garth’s feet.

April EXITS. As Garth turns to leave as well, he sees Kharn has been STANDING NEARBY, waiting for him.

Of course, he has.

Garth thanks Kharn for the effort he’s put into the peace treaty. So, Kharn has changed from a Khan-type character to a proto-Gorkon. Poor guy must have whiplash.

The pair starts walking and talking because if we’re not going to have a battle scene, we’d better have a walk-and-talk.

Garth wants to know what Kharn will do next. Kharn is apparently going to ride herd on the hardliners to give peace a better chance.

Garth: I certainly hope we’ve done more than simply postpone this war for another generation to fight.

That’s pretty much the definition of warfare right there. When did Garth become the naïve idealist?

Kharn: We Klingons are a proud people, Captain. But some of us know that winning a battle, while losing an Empire, is no victory.

Garth: And losing a battle, while preserving an Empire, is no defeat.

Deep Space Nine’s “Way of the Warrior.”  I don’t really see the Klingon proverbs as being homage or plagiarism. It’s established in Trek that they’re a part of Klingon culture, so I’d expect them to be used sparingly in derivative works.

(smiles at Kharn’s look)

Yeah, I’ve read your book.

I think the script is trying to establish that Garth knew what Kharn was going to do because he read Kharn’s book, but we were never shown him with Kharn’s book so it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Also, there’s something familiar about that line.  Homage or parallel development, you decide.

Kharn: Perhaps if I had read yours, Axanar would have ended differently.

Or if you’d checked out your surroundings. Or not had a shapeshifting spy on your ship. Don’t give Garth too much credit here. (Hah, who am I kidding?)

Garth: That’s why I never wrote one.

“I just let other people write them for me.”

Kharn smiles. Truly, this Izarian is worthy of his respect.

The writers just can help themselves, can they? Three pages to go and they have to work in a little more praise of Garth.

Anyway, they pause in the walk-and-talk.

Kharn: There is a custom, I believe ,from Earth’s age of sail.

That’s “Age of Sail” to anyone who knows a damn thing about it. And why is a Klingon following an Earth tradition that’s centuries out of date by this point? Is there a Klingon branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism? (Fun fact: The offering of the sword dates back considerably further than the Age of Sail. It was also not confined to naval tradition.)

(he pulls out his knife)

Oh, I see. Sue needs a trophy.

Kharn: The master of a ship, having lost in battle, would present his weapon to the one who had bested him.

Why is Kharn educating Garth on Earth history? You know, it would make a lot more sense if this were cast as a Klingon custom. The audience would see the parallels—Garth could even remark on it—but it wouldn’t be as bizarre as a Klingon performing an Earth ritual.

(hands it to Garth)

This was my weapon, Captain.

Garth take the knife, honored. He’d like to return the gesture, but has nothing to give.

That’s why Kharn is educating Garth; Garth doesn’t know anything about his own planet’s history. If he did, he might know that occasionally a victorious commander would return the defeated commander’s weapon or refuse to take it, symbolically allowing him to retain honor.

Of course, once you give a Sue something, you’re never getting it back. It’s like my late dog with a toy.

Then he remembers – there’s an ARES PATCH on the shoulder of his dress uniform.

Garth uses the knife to remove it and hands it to Kharn.

“You get a patch!  You get a patch!  You get a patch!  EVERYBODY GETS A PATCH!”

I am laughing so hard right now that I’m crying. Garth has nothing but patches.  I know, I’m ruining a touching moment between Kharn and Garth. Still, if there’s a moment that sums up all of Axanar, that’s it.

Anyway, the patch stands for Ares, Garth’s weapon. Yeah, that was totally a vessel of exploration.

They shake hands and the script gives us another novel-worthy line: Born under different stars…they are brothers in arms.

Aw, how happy.

We have to have a parallel scene, however, so we jump to Soval and Mor’o, who discuss the future. They talk a little about politicking, apparently Vulcans and Klingons have a bit in common. Soval tells Mor’o he probably had to be more subtle that Soval did.

Mor’o: A Klingon more subtle than a Vulcan?

Soval: (arches an eyebrow) It is most illogical.

M’oro laughs, so I think that’s supposed to be a joke. It will never be as funny as Garth giving Kharn a patch, though.

Back to Garth, who is admiring his new trophy.

He looks at the knife, its blade still marked by the flames. He wonders how many lives it’s taken – a reminder that the price of peace is always paid in blood.

I’d love to see someone try to act that. With the number of unactable (inactable?) character lines in the script, I’d guess the writers are somewhat unfamiliar with how actors work.

Satisfied, Garth heads down the path towards the terrace…

…and is suddenly GRABBED AND DRAGGED OUT OF SIGHT.

My God, will this story never end? So much false tension here you could cut it with a cardboard knife. Wet cardboard.

It’s Corax. Of course, we need a little false tension so at first she’s in her Klingon guise and threatens to kill Garth, but then she changes back after taking his new toy away to show how awesome she is with her combat skills.

Corax: Or…you could just thank me. [instead of her “gutting him like a Targ”] We’ll figure something out.

I bet you will. It still won’t be appropriate.

Garth hails the Ares and says there are two to beam up. Leonov answers. That poor Transporter Chief must be back in the head.

Garth and Corax stand together, looking at one another with admiration and affection.

We’re on the last page, Garth has to get a little more admiration in before we end.

Garth congratulates her on her performance.

Corax holds something up…it’s the PAWN.

Oh, yeah, that had to make an appearance. SYMBOLISM. Of course, it has exactly nothing to symbolize here. It’s just a pawn.

Corax: I know. (smiling) That’s why you hired me.

Yeah, because that’s something that happens in Starfleet.

She tosses it to Garth.

Another trophy for our Sue. He’s getting quite a collection.

They DEMATERIALIZE.

FADE TO BLACK.

THE END.

Thank. God.

 

Now that I’ve made my way through the Axanar script, I can say that I do not believe it measured up to the hype.

From the perspective of someone familiar with story structure, characterization, theme, and so on, it lacks what is required to be a successful story in its own right.  It certainly had no commercial potential, which would require it to have an engaging plot and characters, to say nothing of snappier dialogue and more compelling visuals.  Planning on it being a “calling card” for the team’s industry work was over-ambitious.

That said, I think it could have been a fun little fan film at least on par with Of Gods and Men and Renegades.  Why?  It has a lot of elements that identify it as belonging to the in-group: TNG-style technobabble and briefing rooms; shield percentages and tech-tech exploding; philosophizing, even if it’s quite shallow; Klingon proverbs.  More than that, it has a Mary Sue who doesn’t exist as an independent character.  As with the Twilight or Fifty Shades of Gray series, the main character is a hole the story that the audience can occupy.  Audience members can make the writers’ fantasy their own.  It’s regrettable that the creators couldn’t recognize Axanar for what it was and embrace those qualities.  As those of us involved in community theater recognize, performance is not about being a union actor or winning a Tony; a good show, at whatever level, brings joy to its audience.  As Trek community theater, Axanar could have brought joy to a lot of people.  It just went a little too far, and its pride brought it down.

~K.S.

It’s All About Garth

In the final scene of Act Four, Garth takes a stroll around the ship, which is badly damaged. He comes across a medical team with a dead crewmember. It’s Walker, of course. Poor kid never had a chance. His whole purpose was to die so that Garth could feel bad.

As the medics take the body away, Garth see his JOURNAL lying on the deck nearby. He picks it up, reads a bit of it.

Tanka: What’s that?

Garth: Something worth fighting for.

“It talks about how great I am and how much this dead guy liked serving with me.”

Seriously, though, I’m not entirely sure why someone’s journal would be “something worth fighting for.” The journal doesn’t even symbolize something important. Walker wasn’t writing it for a child, parent, or lover; he was just writing it in case someone out there wanted to know what it was like to serve on a starship.

Tanaka is as confused as I am.

Tanaka: Sir?

Garth: When we get back to Earth, see that this gets to Greystoke at the Starfleet News Service. He’ll know what to do with it.

Now we know how a captain so mediocre that he aspires to be average got to be a hero of Starfleet. He has someone on the inside writing flattering pieces about him.

Garth hands Tanaka the book. They continue on.

A SERIES OF SHOTS

We see Garth and Tanaka talking with CREWMEN…

I’m sure the crewmen are thrilled to have their work interrupted by the guy responsible for the mess.

with the ENGINEERS repairing a SPARKING POWER CONDUIT…

Yeah, that sounds like a job where you want to be distracted by your captain slumming it below decks.

with the WALKING WOUNDED…

But not the ones who are dying. That might be uncomfortable for our Sue.

with Blackshirts helping out as they can.

Because on ships people don’t have specific jobs in the event of emergencies.

As we see all this, we hear an entry from Walker’s journal.

Oh, good.

Walker (V.O.): We’ve been at Axanar for the better part of a day now. Word is the Klingons will be here any time. Everyone’s nervous, but that’s to be expected. We all know how important this battle will be.

Truly, these words will resonate through the ages.

(beat) I suppose all of us realize there’s a chance we won’t make it back. Most of us joined Starfleet to be explorers, but I guess sometimes you have to stand up and defend your homes, your families…the things you believe in.

His conviction is overwhelming.

I think that’s worth fighting for.

I love how the script just now, six pages from the end, tries to add deeper meaning to what has less meaning than a Transformers film. Even war movies take a position. If this movie has a position it’s “war is really cool and people do badass things like fight with knives and wrestle prisoners for information.” It’s a war movie seen through the eyes of a child.

We end on Garth speaking with INJURED CREWMEN on stretchers in the hall outside Sickbay, helping to lift their spirits.

“Helping to life their spirits” is known in novice writing circles as “I have no idea what a captain does after a fight, so I’m going to have him wander around and get in everyone’s way to remind the audience he still exists.”

I’m just going to guess here that good painkillers and prompt medical attention would do far more for those poor people than Garth acting concerned and spouting platitudes.

Later, Garth is in his quarters listening to classical music–probably Mahler for some proper angsting–with an untouched drink.

The unspecified “classical music” really highlights how much of a non-character Garth is.  He’s so poorly defined that he doesn’t even have specific music he listens to.  Colloquially, “classical music” can represent everything from Medieval to Post-modern Western art music.  That’s quite a range of styles.  Hell, if that’s too overwhelming then define him as a fan of the Classical Era.  Make him a Mozart fan, even if it’s a little obvious.  Just define it.

But, no.  The writers don’t listen to Classical music or classical music–I suspect the only time they hear it is when they accidentally pass a classical radio station while scanning through channels–so Garth can’t listen to specific classical music.  At the same time, they want to show Garth as educated and sophisticated–“classical music” means that to some people–so that’s the shorthand they use.  It’s the trappings of character and sophistication without the substance.

If there are any aspiring writers out there, don’t do this.  Audiences pick up right away on your inexperience, ignorance of a topic, and pretension.

Garth has been recording more messages to the families of his fallen crew members. Too many for one man… for one day.

If only the relationships had been set up so that the audience would care. As it stands, it feels like Farth is going through the motions, but there’s no emotion behind it. It’s completely flat.

And, really, if his messages are like the one we saw when we first met him, how taxing can it be? He can just copy/paste.

His reserves of energy have finally given out.

Because we were shown him being taxed over the past hundred pages, and slowly worn down as we approach this point. Or not.

Walker (V.O.) (cont’d): However this battle ends, there’s one thing we all know for sure: If anyone can save us – if anyone can save the Federation – it’s Captain Garth. That’s why we fight for him. It’s why we’d die for him.

Called it.

Now we know why Garth wanted that published.

This is as close to a theme as we see in this script: Garth is awesome. The only motivations or concerns other characters have are in relation to the awesomeness that is Garth. Walker is a particularly tragic example. The character was only introduced to be killed later so Garth could act like he cares about dead crewmembers. The character’s journal was only introduced so we can end this act with a little praise for the Sue. Walker doesn’t even exist outside of Garth.

I mean, SERIOUSLY?, even the dead guy has to praise Garth!

Out. Of. Control.

Resting his head in his arms on the desk…Garth is ASLEEP.

This is known as “the writer didn’t know how to gracefully exit the scene.” It’s either followed by the character going to sleep or the character being knocked unconscious. It’s a big problem in middle grade fiction books.

Bonus Post: Pastiche

We’ve finally hit the climactic moment of the script: the defeat of the D7 by Garth. Instead of seeing some brilliant new tactic, worthy of Kirk’s admiration, the audience gets a plan taken right out of two Trek films, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek Into Darkness. In short, Garth et al. use the Wrath of Khan strategy of taking over the Klingon computer and forcing the ship to lower its shields, following it with the Into Darkness strategy of transporting an armed torpedo aboard.

This approach is not a bad thing. Indeed, pastiche is a recognized artistic style within film (and the other arts). JJ Abrams notably uses it in his films, to mixed reviews from Star Trek fans. It is also frequently used in fan works, although generally for different reasons. Whereas professionals tend to use it to increase depth or comment on a work, amateurs mix-‘n’-match as they try to cram every single thing they love about a franchise into one story. In both cases, however, the form comes from a fondness or respect for the source material.

As the Battle of Axanar draws to a close, we see pastiche in two different ways. The first, is the taking of lines from Wrath of Khan and remixing them. The second is in the melding of strategies from Wrath of Khan and Star Trek Into Darkness.

One question to ask is, is this homage or plagiarism? Outside of academia, the difference between the two is frequently subjective. Perhaps the broadest definition would be “it’s homage if it’s done well; it’s plagiarism if it’s done poorly.” More narrowly, you can separate the two by looking at how much material is taken and the context in which it’s used. For example, a scene taken nearly word-for-word (or roughly paraphrased) from the original work, which serves the same purpose in the second story that it did in the original, would be a clear case of plagiarism instead of homage. If, however, the second writer took a unique scene element, which he included in a similar, but not identical, scene of his own—using the element only to reference the other work—then it be considered homage. It’s subjective, much like Fair Use.

Axanar, I believe, falls more on the homage side of the line than the plagiarism side. The two tactics are used in an entirely different context from the ones in which they were developed, and the combining of the two is a unique presentation of them. That said, I still find it lazy writing. As I noted in the sporks, if Axanar was intended to be perceived as a part of canon, even if unofficially—and a lot of the hype really fed the idea that it would be more faithful to the ‘verse than other fan films, allowing fans to integrate it into their personal canon—then it undermines the achievements of Kirk and Spock in the future. No longer are they the great innovators; they’re just copying what they remember Garth doing at Axanar. To my mind, it would have been better had Garth come up with a plan equal to something Kirk and Spock would develop, but wholly unique to the character, place, and time. The problem is that it would require that level of creativity on the part of the writers, and that’s a hard thing to do.

The lines that are taken from Wrath of Khan, fall less obviously on the homage side of the line than the plagiarism side. Indeed, I would suggest that they are right on it. Why? Because they don’t come from the character of Kharn and the other characters, and there is too little difference in context between the original and second works.

The first lines from Wrath of Khan, are between Chang and Kharn.

Kretar REELS. There’s massive DAMAGE now. EXPLOSIONS.

Chang: My Lord, we’re losing power. We must withdraw!

Kharn: No! Cut off the enemy’s head and the body will wither. Ares must be destroyed!

Chang takes the Joachim role here, while Kharn plays—well, he plays Khan. There is no way the similarity between those two names is coincidental.

Still, despite the similarities between their names, they are not similar characters. Kharn is written as quite level headed and normal (for a Klingon). He’s not driven by the massive ego that Khan has, nor does he have the tragic backstory that makes him suicidally focused on his goals. He’s not an Ahab.

Chang, on the other hand, could be an Ahab. He’s unstable. His whole character identity is “violence before reason.” And, yet, the writers have him playing the level-headed one.

There’s no reason for this switch, which says to me that the writers really wanted to include a cool exchange from Wrath of Khan, but didn’t have a place for it. So, they jammed it in where it made no sense.

The better move would have been to have Chang give the order to keep fighting, Kharn protest, and Chang argue for the continued pursuit of the Ares. Although it would have been roughly the same as Wrath of Khan, there would have been characterization to support it. Furthermore, it would’ve opened up opportunities for the writers to add their own unique spin to the dialogue.

The second exchange is a little less similar, but still very clearly Wrath of Khan to a Trek fan.

The damage is extensive. PANELS SHORT, FIRES BURN. Kharn stands in the center of it all, with fury in his eyes.

K’Orax: My Lord, our shields are down!

Kharn: Raise them!

K’Orax: Inoperative!

It’s a far less dynamic exchange than the original, which is perhaps its greatest sin. Although there are slight differences in wording, it’s the same context—this time with K’Orax in the Joachim role—which makes it stand out as having come from Wrath of Khan.

This static exchange reveals another problem with Axanar when it’s compared to the sources of its inspiration: it focuses on the wrong things. A “writerly” way of putting it would be to say that Axanar uses summary, where it should use scenes.

For example, here’s how the audience learns about the remote-control strategy in Axanar. (The perspective is from aboard Garth’s ship.)

Arev (V.O.) (filtered): Ares, T’Val. The lead D-7 appears to be sending us a signal of some kind using its low energy shields.

Garth: A signal? On a specific frequency?

Arev (V.O.) (filtered): Yes. We are testing it now. (beat) We have penetrated the D-7’s systems. Attempting to lower shields…their shields are down.

Garth: Bless you, Corax. (thumbs the com) Alexei, now…energize! (to Cross) Helm, disengage. Get us clear!

Yeah, the whole thing happens in a phone call. Compare to the original. (It’s never a bad time to watch a scene from Wrath of Khan. The volume on that clip is loud, though, so beware.)

It’s a breathtakingly brilliant scene. If you start at the beginning, the first thing you get is the character of Kirk, his flaw for this movie on display. Admiral Kirk is rusty, and ignoring regulations despite feeling something is wrong about the encounter; Captain Kirk would never have let reliant get so close. Khan’s victory comes not from superiority, but from the superior commander’s mistake. This occurs through close to four minutes of action, reaction, and dialogue.

When Khan makes himself known, his character is on full display. It’s not enough for his ego if he wins, Kirk must also know it and acknowledge his superiority. In doing so, he reveals his weakness to Kirk: he won’t have his intelligence insulted.

Thus, Kirk is in a Kobayashi Maru scenario—a second theme for this film—and he plays his strength: he changes the rules.

The exchange plays out over ten minutes of the film. That’s the only way you have prayer of developing character and theme to that extent. In Axanar, it barley merits mention. There’s no struggle. This is Garth’s last ditch effort, and the film doesn’t develop it, preferring to spend that time on nameless waves of CGI ships blowing each other up.

The same goes for the second tactic taken from Official Trek.

This is hilarious. Abrams et al. paid homage to the Wrath of Khan scene discussed above in the Into Darkness scene, which Axanar then incorporated into it’s own Wrath of Khan reference.  It’s Wrath of Khan all the way down.

Anyway, whatever you think about Abrams’ use of pastiche, and whatever you think about Orci, Kurtzman, and Lindelof, they still did better with it than Axanar. Why? They made it significant.

It’s as beautiful a scene as the original, but it still pulls its weight, drawing a lot of its meaning from viewers recognizing the parallels between it and Wrath of Khan. Here, the film shows us the character of Spock instead of Kirk. He embraces technicality, as he is a Vulcan, but beyond that, he does something Kirk would have done when faced with his own Kobayashi Maru: he changes the rules.

Significance is what Axanar misses here. It has the pieces, but it’s unable to use them in a meaningful way. It makes the reference, but, unlike Star Trek Into Darkness, it doesn’t make the reference its own. That’s why the entire event takes is summarized in a page instead of developed over several minutes. In doing so, the writers of Axanar deprived themselves of the opportunity to create drama, reveal character, and illustrate theme.

To my mind, that’s a worse mistake for a fan film than a little borrowing here and there.

Sound and Fury: Terrifying Vulcan Tacticians

There are fires burning aboard Kharn’s ship. I guess the fire suppression system is out. Kharn’s pissed off, whether at the Ares or the fire, I can’t say.

Kharn: Why are we not firing?

Chang: The Ares is too close! Our sensors can’t lock on at this range.

Meta-Chang: Also, if we were to fire on Ares at this range, the energy discharge would damage our own hull, and we’re already on fire.

K’Orax is still trying to get the Federation to notice the shield frequency. Now that Ares is out of the way, she should be successful.

T’Val fires on Kharn’s ship. Aboard her, the Vulcan tactical officer—a truly frightening thought—notices the shield layer is pulsating independently of their attacks and in a prime number sequence. It’s a code.

Aboard the Ares, “things are desperate.”

There are casualties. The crew’s holding on for dear life.

I really feel their struggle.

Arev contacts them to let Garth know there’s a signal.

Garth: A signal? On a specific frequency?

That’s a good definition for signal.

Arev: (V.O.) (filtered.) Yes. We are testing it now. (beat) We have penetrated the D-7’s systems. Attempting to lower shields…their shields are down.

Now we know where Spock and Kirk got the idea.

Again, the writers are taking an idea from a better film and in doing so reducing those characters’ cleverness to mimicry of the past (if you put Axanar in the same continuity as Wrath of Khan). I’m not entirely sure how this is supposed to be respectful of the great Star Trek characters the writers presumably love. Of course, it’s right in line with fan fiction, which frequently coopts cool elements from the original work and gifts them to the Author Self-Insert. After all, that’s what fan fiction is for: it’s to allow the creator to imagine him or herself in the role of the fandom hero.

Garth: Bless you, Corax. (thumbs the com) Alexei, now…energize! (to Cross) Helm, disengage. Get us clear!

Good thing Corax was right where you needed her to be instead of dead or elsewhere. You’d be pretty well screwed if she didn’t just happen to get the code to you. In other words, there’s no brilliance here, just luck.

INT. ARES – TRANSPORTER ROOM (OPTICAL)

Leonov is at the controls with the Transporter Chief.

Instead of trying to keep his severely damaged ship alive. That’s a good use of manpower, right there.

Leonov: (pushes the sliders) With pleasure, Captain.

On the platform, a PHOTON TORPEDOES (sic) DEMATERIALIZES.

I told you those Vulcan tacticians were scary.

Yes, in less than a page, this script cribs two iconic fights from Official Trek. No wonder the plan wasn’t disclosed ahead of time. The audience would’ve checked out.

Ares gets the hell out of Dodge…slowly. Meanwhile, aboard the D7 there’s considerable damage. Worse damage than previously, I guess.

K’Orax: My Lord, our shields are down!

Kharn: Raise them!

K’Orax: Inoperative!

That sounds familiar.

They’re interrupted by the explosion of the other D7.

That sounds familiar.

The Ares torpedoes materialize on Kharn’s bridge.

Kharn sees this…and knows he’s been beaten.

But then he sees something else…the pedestal beside his chair is ON FIRE. The FLAMES are licking up around his KNIFE, which has a stylized KLINGON SYMBOL on the grip. It’s his vision come true.

SYMBOLISM!

Seriously, though, I was joking about the block o’ firewood, guys. It wasn’t meant to be taken to heart. Incidentally, if someone’s painfully obvious joke unintentionally foreshadows where you’re going with a story element, rethink the element. It means that it has no good purpose outside of something silly. Here, the pedestal only existed to be stabbed with a knife and burn so that the writers could shoehorn in this bizarre vision. It’s something to look cool, but has no other value. As with so many things meant to look cool, it just comes off as silly.

Kharn: Perhaps today is a good day to die.

Of course. Can’t have Klingons in a fan film without that line, or in Official Trek, for that matter.

Anyhow, Garth hails Kharn.

Kharn: Garth of Izar. You have my compliments. I take satisfaction in knowing that the Federation sent its best to face me.

Meta-Captain April: It’s more like we sent the guy whose schedule was open.

Garth decides now is the time to play negotiator. He suggests they end the war. Kharn tells him to go ahead and destroy him.

Garth: I have a better idea. Order your ships to stand down and I’ll do the same.

I think there are a couple of things going on here. One is that Prelude put the writers in a box. Kharn had to meet a list of criteria: he had to survive Axanar; he had to be a Garth counterpart, leading the Klingon forces; and he had to be very Klingon, so unlikely to surrender. Thus, he couldn’t really be defeated by death like other Trek antagonists. Additionally, I think the writers wanted to show Garth the Compassionate or Garth the Diplomat. The result is that this scene ends not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Chang thinks it’s a trick and Kharn isn’t interested in a surrender.

Garth knows he must play this carefully.

I would love to see someone try to act this line that cannot be acted.

Garth proposes a cease fire so that a peace can be negotiated. You know, because Star Trek VI made it clear how easy it was for the Federation and Klingon Empire to come to a peace.

Kharn: (stunned) Why would you do this, Captain? You can destroy my fleet. The Empire would be wide open to your Starfleet.

Meta-Captain Alexander: Sequels. That’s why he’s doing it.

Garth gets all noble. It’s not exactly a Kirk speech.

Garth: And then what? The Federation invades Qo’nos? Millions more people die? We’re not conquerors, Kharn.

Well, not Klingon-style at least.

And we have no desire to burn the Empire to the ground. The galaxy’s a big place. There’s room enough for both our peoples.

Compelling.

Anyway, Kharn is seriously considering this and Chang is a strong advocate against agreement.

Chang: There can be no peace with the Federation! Not now…not ever!

I’m still not seeing Chang’s motivation here, other than the writers wanted to do something to associate this Chang with the one in Undiscovered Country.

Kharn snaps. He BACKHANDS CHANG IN THE FACE, knocking him back into his console. Chang slumps to the deck as Kharn stands over him.

Kharn: It’s over! There is no honor in placing revenge before the fate of the Empire!

Because “honor” is the driving motivation of Klingons, not protecting their families or culture.  No, it’s all honor all the time.

Chang is shamed…to stunned to respond.

I think he’s more bewildered.

Kharn tells Garth that the Klingons will stand down while he contacts the High Council.

Garth: As will ours. You’ll forgive me if we don’t power down our weapons until we have your Council’s word.

I think Garth doesn’t quite understand what “stand down” means. Fortunately, Kharn is agreeable. The torpedo next to his chair probably helps.

Garth sits back in his chair, wearily.

Imagine how the people who have been fighting from the beginning of the battle feel.

Relief is visible on everyone’s faces. Tanaka walks over to stand beside him.

Tanaka: Well played, Captain.

Garth: That’s Fleet Captain to you, Mister.

Meta-Captain Alexander: I told you, he likes that.

Ajax tells Ares that they’ve found survivors from Hercules, Travis among them. He’s critically injured. I wonder if he’ll enjoy fighting quite so much in the future?

 

Tomorrow, we’ll take a breather with an in-depth look at the craft as it relates to this climactic sequence. I’ll also post a short spork.