Buck Rogers vs. Flash Gordon was a thing, right?
One of the oldest arguments on the internet is the supremecy of Star Wars vs. Star Trek, and the passion this argument possesses is both inspiring and terrifying to anyone, involved or not. But if one is a science fiction geek, even if you've taken the opinion (however terribly wrong it may be) that Serenity or the new Battlestar Galactica is somehow better, there remains the fact one has to take a position on the original debate, barring the title's speculation.
I cannot render a verdict based solely on visual material. There is a much larger body of Star Trek visuals out there, it being a TV series, but on a percentage basis, they seem to have just as many brilliant moments (Wrath of Khan, Empire Strikes Back) as they have total dogs (Send in the Clones, Worst Contact). No, this is going to have to be settled out in the Extended Universes, or as I like to call it, the Licensing Expanse.
I have read many books from each of the universes, and one thing stands out: It's got to be a lot harder to be an author for Star Wars. The movies convey the "feel" of the universe effortlessly, but this does not seem to translate well into the novels. When dropped into print form, the novels quickly have to delve into the minutae of how lightsabers, X-Wings, Stormtrooper armor, Star Destroyers, and the various super (and super-duper) weapons work. And the problem here is that it begins to feel a little less "Star Wars-y" doing so, as if it's removing the magic, leaving us with "Industrial Light and".
Star Trek has a similar problem. In it's novels, sometimes the particular licensed author of the month decideds to "action it up." Very few have pulled this off. Outside of the Dominion War, it seems as if the Enterprise crew is mixing it up every chapter, you half expect to see the Millenium Falcon fy in to clear the shot on the Borg reactor port or something. There can be good action in a Star Trek book, but if you get too far into "teh massive space battles", you forget that the Klingon off the starboard bow is not a Victory-class Star Destroyer...
Covering that, we have to look at the quality of the writing, and here we'll find our "winner". Star Wars books are more "pulpy", and when they're on, it's a good rollercoaster ride to be on. Tim Zahn, Mike Stackpole, and Aaron Allison have all written really good pot-boilin' page turners that entertain and manage to convey the Star Wars feel even as we delve into the more regimented areas of Thrawn's fleet or an X Wing squadron. But the massive amount of Star Wars EU novels out there just don't read all that well, certainly not under the scrutiny of repeated readings. "The Jedi Academy" trilogy is rife with overpowered weapons and universe inconsistencies, even if some of the new characters (and there's quite a few during the Jedi Round Up scenes) are particularly interesting. The less said about "The Black Fleet Crisis", the better. The "Thrawn" books are pretty much the gold standard here, and while they are good books, they fail somehow to be more than just "A Star Wars Adventure", even as Thrawn himself transcends the universe.
Star Trek is not without it's own "bad decisions", and in Star Wars defense, the number of bad books seems to be increasing now, rather than reaching back into the library to hold on to what made it great. Star Wars is an adventure, and despite the hints of a "great rebellion", it never conveys that. Star Trek is a bigger setting in this way, because despite the focus on the Enterprise, we still feel as if it's the most important ship in a fleet of ships, a heroic ideal, that lets us be inspired. Yes, we could serve aboard the U.S.S. Butter Cookie as First Officer, but I'd rather be third shift secondary transporter operator number four aboard the Enterprise. Now when this goes bad, it can go really bad. "Dwellers in the Crucible" and "Into the Depths" will literally kill anyone new to the universe. Not kill their love or passion, it could quite possibly freeze their brain from the dumb. But when it goes right... "Federation" by Gar and Judith Reeves-Stevens is a masterpiece that captures the ideal of the universe while using that same universe as a framework for the story. "Final Frontier" by Diane Carey gives us a look at what makes Starfleet and ships named Enterprise so intriguing. And the three "alien race" books: "Spock's World" by Diane Duane, "The Romulan Way" by Diane Carey, and the (in my opinion) unmatched "The Final Reflection" by John M. Ford bring the Vulcans, Romulans, and Klingons alive in a way that Star Wars has failed to do with even the Wookies or Mon Cal, let alone any other alien species.
This is, of course, just my opinion. And in this day and age, I expect to be pilloried for it. But while Star Wars has more action, Star Trek has better stories. Star Wars spans a galaxy we never see, Star Trek inhabits a quadrant of one, vibrant with peoples and interactions. Star Wars has, and continues, to entertain me. Star Trek has, and continues, to inspire me. And that's the reason at the end of the day I'll say "Live Long And Prosper", even as the force may be with you.
19 August 2012
Douglas C. Glendower