<originally published on Medium on 27 Oct. 2017>
Maybe We Should Stop Waiting To Say Things Post-Mortem
Here and now, an unseen something fleets by so swiftly an observer would probably never perceive her at all. A flicker, a shimmer, a passing thought in the endless silent ruminations of the universe, the USS Enterprise cruises through on patrol.
That was, I think, the fifth paragraph of The Wounded Sky, by Diane Duane, the 13th of the Pocket Books Star Trek series, and the first book that showed me just how much more those books could be than just an adjunct to the television show. Another bit, where Sulu and Chekov are demonstrating to some very angry Klingons why they are considered one of the best nav/helm teams in Starfleet:
But Enterprise wasn’t running her part of the battle according to the sensible, reasonable tactics they were expecting. Since nearly everyone in the Galaxy now had the Romulans’ “cloaking device” — making it almost impossible to initially detect a ship in realspace, let alone bring it to battle there-the methodology of starship-level warfare had changed in recent years. Ships running almost entirely on instruments ambushed one another in warp, where the cloaking device didn’t work, and fought whole battles there; or forced a ship in warp out into realspace, where running tended to be difficult for large ships and firepower was the determining criterion.
Enterprise, though, wasn’t following the rules. She would not fire. She would not duck into warp, however closely Kaza and his brother destroyers followed her. Instead, she swooped and soared and dipped and rolled through realspace as if a suicidal maniac piloted her. The Klingons’ battle computers didn’t have the necessary protocols programmed into them for this kind of realspace fighting; no one could get close enough for even hyperphaser fire to pierce those shields powered by the whole unreserved output of an undamaged warp drive. Anyone who tried soon enough heard the sound of screaming, overstressed metal in his ship’s structure, and fell back to a saner, straighter pursuit, swearing.
What a great visual, one that no movie or TV show has ever come close to.
That was the first thing I’d ever read by Diane Duane. Blew my mind, because it was the first time that Star Trek became what I thought it could be. It was the first time I’d seen the Klingons treated with some respect (duh, they have an Empire, they probably aren’t stupid.) It was also the first Star Trek book I’d read where all the crew, even the ones not on the bridge were treated like they were smart and well, a part of Starfleet:
Still working on her doctoral thesis, Jim thought. Uhura was busy working on improving universal translator theory, mostly by taking the old theory to pieces and putting it back together in shapes that were causing a terrible furor in academic circles on various planets. Jim vividly remembered one night quite a long time ago when he had asked Uhura exactly how she was going about this. She had told him, for almost an hour without stopping, and in delighted and exuberant detail, until his head was spinning with phoneme approximations and six-sigma evaluations and the syntactic fade and genderbend and recontextualization and linguistic structural design and the physics of the human dextrocerebral bridge.
Did you know that in the real military, before one decides to attack an enemy asset, one has meetings wherein a plan is devised, and that it’s not just 5 people all the time? That in said meetings, people think about things that might cause problems so that they might plan around them?
“Captain,” said Mr. Matlock, “one thing before we start …”
“Commander,” the dark young man said to Ael, “what color are the halls in that station going to be?”
“White, mostly, or bare-metal silver.”
“Captain,” Matlock said to Jim, with a faintly ironic expression, “I don’t think it would be wise for us to attempt a board-and-storm operation dressed in bright blue and black, or gold and black, or green and black — or especially orange and black. Everyone in the party would stand out like zebras in the snow; and as for my people, they might as well have targets painted on them.”
“Noted, Mr. Matlock. Order light gray battle fatigues for everybody.”
“Already done, sir,” said Matlock, just a little sheepishly. “Quartermaster’s working on it now.”
“Colin,” Jim said, “I have great hopes for you. Just be careful.”
Over and over you see this in her writing, this attention to detail. Diane Duane, along with her equally talented and amazing husband, Peter Morwood, has written some of the best Sci-Fi I’ve read. But more than just genre, she’s written some of the best books I’ve read, period. Her Rihannsu series, her other TOS books, a smaller number of TNG books, the Young Wizards series, some amazing marvel novelizations (her Spider-Man books get that character and all the others better than anyone else.)
The Young Wizards series is especially important to me (and to so many others) because like a lot of people, I see myself in the various characters she’s woven into that series. Including the cats. I first discovered that one via the Sci-Fi book club in the late 1980s and have been buying it ever since. I’ve bought copies for friends whose kids weren’t really into reading, because I knew that series would help. It did, by the way, help. The funny thing is, it wasn’t until about oh…10–15 years ago that I realized that series was considered “Young Adult” fiction. That was handy, because I’d always grumbled about how you could never find the damned things. I was always looking in the Sci-Fi section, it never occured to me to look anywhere else.
But really, the genre is unimportant. Ultimately, it’s the characters. The people. Diane makes you care about the people in her stories, even if they aren’t necessarily human:
“Oh, come on. Love? What would you know about that?” Nita was too pained to care about being scornful, even to the Master-Shark.
“And who are you to think I would know nothing about it? Because I kill without remorse, I must also be ignorant of love, is that it?”
There was a long, frightening pause, while Ed began to swim a wide circle about Nita. “You’re thinking I am so old an order of life that I can know nothing but the blind white rut, the circling, the joining that leaves the joined forever scarred. Oh yes, I know that. In its time… it’s very good.”
The rich and hungry pleasure in his voice disturbed Nita. Ed was circling closer and closer as he spoke, swimming as if he were asleep. “And, yes, sometimes we wish the closeness of the joining wouldn’t end. But what would my kind do with the warm-blood sort of joining, the long companionships? What would I do with a mate?” He said it as if it were an alien word. “Soon enough one or the other of us would fall into distress — and the other partner would end it. There’s an end to mating and mate, and to the love that passed between. That price is too high for me to pay, even once. I swim alone.”
Ed, by the way, is a shark. Imagine a megaldon or a great white. That’s around a hundred feet long. That’s Ed, or more correctly, Ed’Rashtekaresket. Ed the most fuckless creature to ever not give fucks:
“Sir,” she said, not “bowing” but looking him straight in those black eyes, “I’m Nita.”
“My lady wizard,” the Pale One said in that cool, dry voice, “you’re also terrified out of your wits.”
What to say now? But the shark’s tone did have a sort of brittle humor about it. She could at least match it. “Master-Shark,” she said, giving him the title to be on the safe side, “if I was, saying so would be stupid. I’d be inviting you to eat me. And saying I wasn’t afraid would be stupid too. And a lie.”
The shark paused for a moment: then laughed, a terrible sound — quiet, and dry, and violent under its humor. “That’s well said, Nita,” he said when the laughing was done. “You’re wise not to lie to a shark — nor to tell him that particular truth. After all, fear is distress. And I end distress; that’s my job. So beware. I am pleased to meet you; but don’t bleed around me. ”
A football field sized shark who’s a bit of a smartass. You are not supposed to like things like Ed. Yet, by the end of Deep Wizardry, you do. You genuinely like Ed. Even more important, you respect Ed, and his place in the world. That’s what Diane has done over the years. Every character in her books, even ones that might be throwaways, like random lieutenants in the Science department on the Enterprise are treated well, and with respect.
Which I guess is what I loved about her writing from the start. She respects her characters, she respects her readers. It’s little things, like how in her books, all the galaxies and stars she names are real. Paraphrasing, she once said “there’s so many real stars out there to use, why make up my own?” In a book (theoretically) aimed at young adults, she talks about Olbers’ Paradox, as if of course we all know about it, because obviously, we’re all smart people who read about such things.
That’s rare, to find a writer who cares that much about their readers and their characters. I’ve always felt I was lucky to have found her books, there’s something genuinely nice about reading one and feeling that respect, that caring.
It’s not all seriousness and giant sharks mind you.
“Indeed not,” said the Vulcan. “It is a classic error in thinking, particularly, if I may say it, of the human sort. The illusory or internally subjective nature of physical existence is perhaps its most important and revealing characteristic. When one remembers that, on most levels of consideration, one does not exist, such matters as the question before us today assume their proper aaaaaaaiigh!”
The gentleman had been so busy expounding on the illusory nature of matter that he had never noticed K’s’t’lk come softly down from the stage and walk down the aisle next to which he was standing. As for the rest of it — even a Vulcan will react when a silicon-based life form bites him in the leg.
“Fascinating,” K’s’t’lk said. “For someone whom on most levels of consideration doesn’t exist, you scream with great enthusiasm. And I heard you, too. Better have that looked into.”
“Naraht wasn’t being damaged, but he was angry, confronted with ludicrously imbalanced odds and doing whatever had to be done moment by moment, whether that meant barging about like a sentient tank, breaking things and people with the brisk efficiency he brought to everything. “Took you long enough to get here!” McCoy shouted at him across the room.
“Doctor,” Naraht said, ramming a firing guard into the wall, “let’s see you burrow through two hundred fifty-three miles of rock that fast.”
“And another thing,” McCoy shouted, “what happened to you? You’re twice your size!”
Naraht laughed, a sound so bizarre that several Rihannsu who had been about to concentrate their fire on him broke and ran away. “You’re the one who’s always twitting me about needing to put on some weight! So I snacked on the way. Besides” — and the artificial voice got unusually cheerful — “the granite here is very good.”
Naraht is a Horta, by the way. He’s also known as “Ensign Rock” a name given him by another character in “My Enemy, My Ally” Both are from the Rihannsu series of the Star Trek TOS books. Wherein Diane and Peter did such a great job with turning the Romulans into something far better than they had been, PocketBooks gave her a…pocket…universe to play with. The Rihannsu have never been canon. Pity, lord knows no one else ever gave them the love and attention they deserver. Certainly the movies didn’t. Remans. Really? Really?. Even J.J. Abrams missed the mark.
Over the years, through some serious fortune, I’ve been lucky enough to become, if not a friend, then a good acquaintence of both Peter and Diane. It’s kind of funny, around the house, if either Melissa (my wife) or I talk about something Peter or Diane said, there’s literally only one person who belongs to either of those names.
They’re both funny as hell, well-traveled, and as near as I can tell, know something about everything. They’re also genuinely nice people, so really, pretty much what you’d expect them to be based on their books. That’s something that’s often disappointing, right? You finally meet the person behind something or a lot of things that mean a lot to you, and they turn out to be right proper dickheads and even though you try hard to separate the art from the artist…it’s always a bit tainted after that. It is a sign that there is regularly good in the universe that Diane Duane and Peter Morwood are not only as awesome as you’d expect them to be in person, they are more awesome than that.
Since I started reading her books back in the mid-80s, they’ve meant a lot to me. They’ve helped me get through some tough times, they’ve been an escape when I desperately needed one, and they’ve been just this part of my life. When Melissa and I started dating, I sent her a copy of the complete Young Wizards set. It was kind of a “no, really, I’m kind of serious about you here” gift. It seemed to have the desired effect.
At one point, I couldn’t find some of my Young Wizards books, and then I realized my son had taken them all into his room. They were all across his bed, he’d read one, finish it, start another, fall asleep, then pick it back up the next day. So two generations in my family, all reading that series.
The subtitle of this piece is why I wrote it. Especially across 2016, when so many people who had been a huge part of my life (PRINCE) died, I realized that we so often, as people, wait to say “thank you” to the people who have helped our lives be better. There’s a lot of reasons why, it can seem silly, or embarassing, or whatever. But I realized, I would hate to give in to that fear and have either of them leave this world without once saying “thank you” to them for being who they are.
So Diane, Peter…thank you. Thank you for the words you’ve written, the words you’ve said, and the friendship you’ve shown. You have made a difference, a good one, in people’s lives, especially mine and my family’s.