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Star Trek: The Next Generation/X-Men: Planet X
Michael Jan Friedman
Pocket Books, 265 pages

Star Trek: The Next Generation/X-Men: Planet X
Michael Jan Friedman
Michael Jan Friedman is thoroughly immersed in the Star Trek universe, having written over 15 novels and DC Comics' Star Trek: The Next Generation. He has also written heroic fantasy and, more recently, Batman and Robin. When writing fantasy, he learned fencing and sailing to add authenticity to his novels.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Star Trek: Federation Travel Guide
Pocket Books: Star Trek
Paramount Star Trek

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Mark Shainblum

I suppose it's appropriate, in one of those darkly ironic ways, that I finished reading this book in a fast food restaurant while consuming a burger, fries and large cola.

Ideologically at least, I tend to shun Wendy's, Harvey's and McDonald's for all the right reasons. In practice -- a couple of times a year -- I'm hungry and in a hurry and give in to the illusory promise of fast food heaven. My stomach always punishes me later.

Star Trek novels generally have the same effect on me. I hate to sound like a codger, but there was a time when real SF writers wrote real SF novels using the Star Trek cast. In the period between the cancellation of the original series and the release of the first Star Trek movie, James Blish, Joe Haldeman, Vonda MacIntyre and Alan Dean Foster -- among others -- wrote some solid books with real resonance. Okay, these were still sharecropped licensed properties, but they were largely written by people who loved Star Trek and wanted their own chance to play in Gene Roddenberry's universe.

Often these books were quite daring, pushing the characters in dramatic new directions, and adding a veneer of hard-SF veracity to the extremely fuzzy logic of Trek-physics. Feminist interpretations of Trek, in particular, flourished at this time. Nobody upstairs really cared much, because Trek was a dead property based on a cancelled TV series.

Then came the movies, and Star Trek: The Next Generation and all the subsequent Nutrasweetened, Olestra-fried versions of Star Trek Lite. Paramount suddenly realized they owned a franchise, Golden Arches in outer-space as it were, and Star Trek stopped being science fiction and became a weird sub-genre all its own. Literary Star Trek in particular became a tightly controlled intellectual property and the books started hewing to a completely self-referential logic. An entire generation of writers who seem to read and write nothing but Star Trek arose and the literary standards of the series essentially crashed.

Which brings us, in the end, to Star Trek: The Next Generation/X-Men: Planet X, a novel as convoluted as its title. If you think for a moment that I'm going to criticize the book for crossing over the Trek characters with Marvel Comics superheroes, you don't know me very well. (See my SF Site review of the superhero novel Kingdom Come, for example.) What are the Star Trek characters but superheroes themselves, really?

Think about it. They wear skintight costumes, fire ray-blasts from their hands (albeit from their phasers) and fly through space with god-like power and invulnerability (albeit behind the Enterprise's shields). In fact, the parallel between Star Trek and Superman is even more obvious, down to the problem of conceiving serious opposition for beings with god-like power and mischievous omnipotent adversaries named for consonants. Tell me honestly you never saw the parallel between Q and Mr. Mxyzptlk! (Although one can argue for an even closer match with the Flintstones' Great Gazoo, but that's another story...) It's sad, in a way, that DC Comics never produced this obvious crossover while they held the comic book rights to Star Trek.

No, Planet X falls down not because it dares to mix fictional universes but because it is so clearly and obviously a product and not a book. Friedman is a competent enough writer in this genre, and his background both in comics and in Trek would seem to make him the obvious choice to write this tale. However, it just never gels. Both the X-Men and Trek characters are so locked in stereotype and corporate rigidity that little can be done with them anymore. Characterization and interaction between the two teams of heroes is mostly limited to fanboy riffs like "Captain Picard looks just like Professor X" and "Wolverine scraps with Worf." (Shades of "Who's stronger, Thor or Hulk?")

The subplot involving the rise of beings with mutant powers on the planet Xhaladia is mildly more interesting if only because these characters, not being part of the established continuity, can go through some growth and change. The incipient romance between Picard and Storm, leader of the X-Men, might have led somewhere interesting if Friedman had been allowed to follow it to its logical conclusion, but of course everything must return to the inoffensive, corporate beige status quo by the end of the book.

Heroes meeting heroes across legends is a process as old as mythmaking. The Morte d'Arthur and the entire myth of the Round Table can be viewed in one sense as a giant medieval team-up, as the legend of Arthur swept up the concurrent legends of Gawain and Lancelot and all the rest before it. However, no one owned Arthur and Lancelot and Guinevere, they were the collective intellectual property of Western Civilization. If nothing else, this book is living proof that no one should own the basic archetypes and myths which define a culture.

Copyright © 1998 by Mark Shainblum

Mark Shainblum is the co-editor of Arrowdreams: An Anthology Of Alternate Canadas (Nuage Editions, 1997) the first anthology of Canadian alternate history. A veteran of the comic book field, Mark co-created the 1980's Canadian superhero Northguard and currently writes the Canadian political parody series Angloman both in the form of a paperback book series and as a weekly comic strip in the Montreal Gazette. He lives in Montreal with his computer, his slippers and a motley collection of books.

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