Data-centric, Part 1

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As previously mentioned, I have a new book coming out in late June/early July, depending on your locale.  The title is The Light Fantastic, or Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Light Fantastic. It’s a sequel of sorts to my 2002 book Immortal Coil and very much follows on the heels of David Mack’s excellent Cold Equations trilogy, which, among other things, brought Data back from the pitchy abyss where he was sent at the end of Nemesis, the last Next Generation movie.  

Margaret Clark, who has been working with the Star Trek franchise for the better part of a decade, contacted me in early 2013 after Cold Equations was published to report that (understandably) Immortal Coil had benefitted from David Mack’s trilogy with a bit of a bump in sales.

“Talley ho!” I exclaimed, or something very like it (In fact, I almost never say “Talley ho!” but since what I likely uttered was an indecipherable “Blargh?”-like noise, I’m going to tart this up a bit).

“Indeed,” Margaret likely said.  And then, “Maybe you’d be interested in following up on the events of Mack’s story?”  This was spoken in the Long Island lilt in Ms. Clark’s voice that, if you’ve ever spoken to her, you immediately understand to mean, “You really should write another book if you know what’s good for you.”  I don’t mean to imply that Margaret is harsh or punitive in any way, but she has a way of phrasing things that you know what she means, even if she isn’t stating it flatly.  Have you ever heard a character in any Quentin Tarantino movie?  It’s something like that.

To which I replied, “Let me think about that.”  Pause.  “Okay, sure.  How about this…?”  Because, friends, as it happened, way back in 2002, after Immortal Coil was published, but before Nemesis limped into and out of theaters (No, in fact, I didn’t like it very much), I had concocted an idea for a second Data-centric story that would have picked up some of the threads of Coil, but headed off in a somewhat different direction.  My thought, at the time, was to push Data into a less sunny, funny place.  Not necessarily “Dark Data,” but I thought it would be interesting to introduce some ambiguity into his usually Ones-and-Zeroes/Black-and-White worldview.  In retrospect, I’m not sure I could have pulled off this kind of transformation back then, but, as it worked out, I didn’t get the chance.

They blew up Data good – boom-chakalaka-crash — broken crockery everywhere.  Even though I knew it was coming, I was surprised by how sad it made me, not the least because the character’s sacrifice seemed so meaningless and undramatic.  It felt, for want of a better word, limp.  Not a noble passing and certainly nothing like the drama they had wrung out of Spock’s “death” a couple decades earlier.  Perhaps part of the reason it didn’t work for me was because it felt so impermanent and reversible.  The set-up was so obvious.

And then the Star Trek franchise holders surprised me by not taking the obvious route and reviving Data in a couple years.  A decade passed and then a little more and, man alive, it seemed like something was going to stick.

And then David Mack came along and put Humpty Dumpty back together again, but in a way that actually mattered.  There were stakes, dammit.  He didn’t take the easy path and while Data’s “death” still felt cheap, David made his resurrection count. Pipers were paid.  It was very well done.  There was the moment in Persistence of Vision where it dawned on me what was going to happen, when I figured out Soong’s plan, and I actually said, aloud, “Oh, no!”  Which, frankly, surprised me because, despite having written as much about Noonien as most of the Trek writers combined, I never really liked him that much.  It was always kind of a dick, if truth be told, even when he was trying to be a good dad.  

But, here he was doing something not only noble and self-sacrificing, but doing it in a very self-aware manner.  I don’t have the book anywhere near to hand, so I can’t quote the scene precisely, but I have a distinct memory that Soong more-or-less said, “I haven’t always been a good father.  I hope this makes up for some of that.”  Which, if you know me even a little bit (and I know some of you don’t) is precisely the kind of thing that goes to the core of my Grinchy heart.

And there, I think, I have to stop.  This post has already gone on much, much longer than I had expected.  I just added “Part 1” to the header and will return as soon as possible with, as Paul Harvey used to say, “The rest of the story…”

“Who’s Paul Harvey?” you ask.  Go look it up.  The wondernet is your friend and wants you to use it all up…

– From my hotel room in lovely Durham, NC.

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