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Star Trek: The Next Generation/X-Men: Planet X

Star Trek: The Next Generation/X-Men: Planet X by Michael Jan FriedmanStar Trek TNG X-Men Planet X
Pocket Books, 1998
Price I paid: 1¢ + S&H

On the planet Xhaldia, ordinary men and women are mutating into bizarre creatures with extraordinary powers. But is this a momentous evolutionary leap or an unparalleled catastrophe? The very fabric of Xhaldian society is threatened as fear and prejudice divide the transformed from their own kin.

Dispatched to cope with the growing crisis, Captain Picard and the crew of the Starship Enterprise™ receive some unexpected visitors from another reality—in the form of the group of mutant heroes known as the uncanny X-Men®. Storm, leader of the X-Men, offers their help in resolving a situation that is agonizingly similar to the human/mutant conflicts of their own time and space.

But when hostile aliens appear in orbit around Xhaldia to try and abduct the transformed for use as a superpowered force in an attack on the Federation, even the combined forces of the crew of Starfleet and the X-Men may be unable to prevent an inferno of death and destruction.

Starfleet’s finest crew and Earth’s greatest mutant heroes will need all their powers and abilities to save the Xhaldian people and stop a deadly threat to the Federation.

I’ve had this book for so long I couldn’t even bear it anymore. I think I bought it in college after I found a reference to it online. I’ve had it sitting around for at least eight years. It’s probably the first book I ever bought solely on the grounds that it was probably awful. I am cheating a bit here, because I read it back then, but it turns out I’d forgotten so many details since then that a full re-read was in order.

You may have noticed I haven’t done any licensed fiction on this blog before. I’d sort of been avoiding it because, well, you can’t really expect it to be all that good most of the time. That’s not what it’s for. As a person who read innumerable Star Trek and Star Wars novels in his teens, I can tell you that quality is not exactly the point. And that’s okay!

Still, I had to do this one because it’s one of the few books I’ve come across that’s a work of double licensed fiction. I mean, it’s a crossover! Star Trek and X-Men! Those two things do not belong together! At all! If licensed fiction is basically legitimized fan fiction, what does that make this?

How do I get paid to write this kind of thing?

It does bring up the question of canonicity. I know that Star Trek does not treat its novels as canon material. In fact, the only canon is what has appeared on-screen as shows and films. The Animated Series is in a sort of weird limbo, as I understand it. What I’m not sure about is how Marvel’s canon works. Could it be that this work is canon in one of its crossover universes but not in the other? Is that not weird on some metaphysical level? Why do I care so much?

Incidentally, if I’d known about this book when it came out (I would have been about fourteen or fifteen)(oh my god that was half my life ago), I probably would have gone mental. In a good way. I would have read this book at least a dozen times, probably.

Hey, I won’t have to spend all that many words introducing and describing characters! That’s a neat change in review structure. Sadly, the book did not think similarly. I get a strong feeling that the author was paid by the word for this book, because sometimes he really does go on when he really doesn’t have to.

The ur-example of that is when the X-Men first cross over into the Star Trek universe. They don’t wind up directly on the Enterprise, which was interesting, but rather on Starbase 88. It just so happens that the Enterprise is in that neighborhood. Anyway, they materialize in a cargo bay and the first person to meet them is some security officer. We get this point of view thing that really just made me cringe with all the extraneous writing.

See, seven X-Men wind up in the Star Trek universe in this book. Of course, no one on the Trek side knows who these folks are (I’m lying a bit, actually, but we’ll come to that), especially some dopey redshirt on a backwater starbase. So what happens is that we get at least a paragraph describing these crazy people he sees. Sometimes more. Each one of them.

I guess at this point we weren’t supposed to know, narratively, that these folks were in fact the X-Men. So a little mystery needed to be preserved, maybe. But as soon as the first one was introduced by description that whole mystery was shattered. I mean, we know already that X-Men are in this book, so when you start describing somebody who sounds a lot like a really familiar X-Man, we’re all going to go “Oh okay that’s Nightcrawler.”

DON’T KEEP DESCRIBING HIM LIKE ITS SOME BIG MYSTERY

AND THEN DON’T DO IT SIX MORE TIMES

Ugh

The X-Men that cross over are, in case you’re wondering:

  • Storm
  • Nightcrawler
  • Colossus
  • Banshee
  • Archangel
  • Shadowcat
  • Wolverine

On the plus side, this list includes my two favorite X-Men. Again, fifteen-year-old me would have been stoked.

So it turns out that there are people who are aware of the X-Men in this universe. Those people turn out to be, surprise surprise, Captain Picard and the crew of the USS Enterprise. Well, not the whole crew, but the bridge crew. The people the show was about.

For continuity fans, this book takes place on the Enterprise-E, sometime after the events of Star Trek: First Contact. The Dominion War is still going on, and Worf, who appears in this book for no real reason because he’s supposed to be on DS9 (he was basically visiting), has yet to marry Jadzia.

I’m not sure at what point in the X-Men canon this story takes place, but since its comics it’s probably been shuffled around so much that it doesn’t matter anyway.

Are we all clear on that?

See, Picard and crew know about the X-Men because this book is actually a sequel. It’s a sequel to a comic, though, so that’s weird. The comic in question is a Marvel release called Second Contact, which apparently involves the Enterprise getting sucked into the Marvel universe following the events of First Contact, where they help the X-Men fight Kang the Conqueror for some reason or another. I don’t know, I haven’t really read that one. Anyway, the Enterprise goes to pick up the X-Men from Starbase 88.

A lot of the rest of the book is just fanwanking. We see the X-Men and the Enterprise crew pair off and become pals. On several occasions we get the internal monologue of one of the Enterprise crew saying something like “This X-Man is feral, uncivilized. A result of racism and casual hatred. And yet, there is valor there. This is a true hero. It is my honor to stand beside them.”

That wasn’t a quote but it was basically an amalgamation of quotes. Enterprise crew go from skeptical to hero worship at warp dumb.

Oh and there was this whole extended sequence where each of the X-Men are analysed by people like Geordi or Dr. Crusher and have their mutant powers dissected with a tricorder. It was pretty pointless, basically saying things like “their physics and our physics are kind of different, I guess.” One thing they do establish is that when Nightcrawler does his bamf, he passes through subspace. That one actually comes up again in the plot. Other stuff, like comparing the biomechanisms in Archangel’s blood (this is apparently sometime after he got real messed up by Apocalypse) to Borg nanites, or establishing that Colossus gains mass from an unknown source when he uses his power, or whatever, were just blegh.

One of the reviews I read of this book online (probably at Memory Alpha) said that the book “hints at” an attraction between Storm and Captain Picard. I, for one, will deny that allegation. This book doesn’t hint at it at all. It rams it down our freaking throats like gagh at a Klingon birthday party. It stops just short of having the Captain record a log that goes

Captain’s Log, Stardate Whatever.

This Storm chick totally makes me get my jollies off. I wonder if she can shoot lightning out of her boobies. I long to find out. To quote The Tempest: “She will outstrip all praise and make it halt behind her.”

Okay, I guess I should mention the actual plot of this book. You know what? It’s not actually terrible. It turns out that there’s this planet, Xhaldia (of course it would start with an X), where people are finding themselves, shall we say, mutating?

They never actually use that word on the planet, which I guess is a point in the book’s favor. They call themselves “transformed.”

Basically, X-Men is happening on this planet in the Star Trek universe. Because of this, the actual X-Men tell Captain Picard that they’ll be happy to help out, because they know what it’s like to succumb to weird bodily changes and discover that you’ve got all these new powers that you can’t control.

See, in the Star Trek universe they abolished puberty in 2103.

These transformed are being persecuted by the planetary government and as a result are rebelling and causing a bunch of trouble. Man, Star Trek, you’re supposed to be more enlightened than that.

It turns out that there’s more to it than was initially revealed, though. Once the Enterprise shows up they find another ship in orbit of the planet, one bristling with weapons. In fact, the ship fires at the Enterprise like twice and takes the shields completely down and causes hull breaches all over the place. Enterprise‘s phasers won’t make a dent in the ship. All is lost!

But wait! What about the X-Men! Surely they can save us! And they do.

Nightcrawler and Data bamf over to the enemy ship and take down its shields. Worf and Banshee and Archangel and some redshirts beam over and start to raise some hell.

Incidentally, the names of these redshirts were the most facepalmy bit in the whole book. For two reasons. Their names were Kirby, Ditko, and Lee/Wayne. Yeah, let’s make the references. But here’s the thing, Lee/Wayne goes back and forth between those two names throughout the entire scene. It’s like it was one of those and then got changed at some point in the editing process, I guess, but they missed a few mentions. I have to wonder if it was Wayne first and got changed to make the reference, or was it Lee first and somebody asked the author to change it because he dies in splendid redshirt fashion? I can’t believe it was intentional, because the editing in the rest of the book was pretty terrible, too. It wasn’t that it was necessarily ungrammatical or full of spelling errors, it was just that it was inconsistent with fictional names and concepts from both universes.

All this is seriously like the last fifth of the book.

Riker leads an away team down to the planet. The rest of the X-Men except Archangel, are with him.

Oh, the enemies are called the Draa’kon, we find out. See it sounds like “dragon” so you know they’re trouble.

There’s some crazy stuff on the ground where Starfleet officers are firing phasers while the X-Men are doing their thing. It all goes pretty much exactly as you’d expect.

As things start to go poorly for the Draa’kon, they figure the one last thing they have in their arsenal is the thing to go with. They decide to just launch a big freakin’ missile down to the planet, figuring that if they can’t have whatever it is they came for nobody can. Captain Picard and Archangel spring to action.

Picard pilots a shuttle and scans the missile for weaknesses. Once in the atmosphere, Archangel flies out of the shuttle and disarms the missile. It was all very tense.

Incidentally, the Draa’kon only brought ONE MISSILE? What the crap?

While all this is going on, Dr. Crusher is up on the ship trying to figure out what has been causing the Xhaldians to mutate. It turns out to be some kind of bioengineering used by the Draa’kon. Apparently they seeded the planet with this mutation stuff about twenty years ago and only now are the products of their labors ready to be harvested. Like all truly stupid plans it turns out that they only had a narrow window in which to harvest their mutant warriors and thanks to the efforts of our many heroes, that window has passed.

Dr. Crusher creates a version of Professor Xavier on the holodeck and they figure out a cure for the Xhaldian mutation. Why does Beverly need to simulate Professor X to do that? For countless years she’s demonstrated that she’s the foremost expert on anything medical at all in the Star Trek universe, so she decides to get some help from a 20th century geneticist who deals with a situation that is, essentially, close enough for jazz?

It’s really just an excuse to make several, and I mean at least three, references to the fact that Professor Xavier and Captain Picard kind of look alike. Beverly comments on it, and when the Captain meets the holodeck simulation they both comment on it too. I was like ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh

BUT

At first I was all YEAH I GET IT THEY WERE PLAYED BY THE SAME ACTOR but I was kind of wrong! This book was written in 1998 or so and Patrick Stewart didn’t play Professor Xavier until 2000 or so. You might say that at that point the resemblance was just uncanny.

So with holo-Professor’s help Dr. Crusher finds a way to reverse the mutation on Xhaldia, although when she announces it a bunch of the transformed decide that they rather like their powers and decide to keep them. She also announces to the X-Men that her research has found a way to reverse their mutations if they want it, but the X-Men decide that no, it’s not time for the franchise to end yet, so they won’t accept it.

The crew finds a way to send the X-Men back to their home universe and then do so. At the very end of the book we get an epilogue where Q is talking to Uatu the Watcher and they discuss how this was all Q’s fault and he’s all evasive about what his plan was.

The end.

Okay so the thing about this book is that while it was pretty bad because it was all just fan service and the two universes that crossed over really don’t need to, it wasn’t especially bad compared to some of the Star Trek books I’ve read. It has its problems, but on the whole I think those problems just relate to that. It was actually decently written, for what it was.

One thing that really got to me, though, was the reactions of the Enterprise crew to the X-Men in a lot of cases. For one there’s the quick turnaround hero-worship we get for basically each individual X-Man, but the other thing that bugged me was how so often we’d get a crew member’s thoughts on how weird the X-Men are. Things like “It’s so unbelievable that people could have powers like they do!”

Here’s the thing: this is the Star Trek universe. There are all sorts of aliens that have been encountered that are much weirder and more powerful than the X-Men. In some ways they shouldn’t be all that out-of-place in a galaxy where almost anything can happen and frequently has. Why are you freaking out over Archangel’s wings, man? There are probably at least a dozen winged species in The Federation. It’s not that crazy.

Furthermore, you’re in Starfleet. Your job is to find weird things. And you do. Constantly. Even more furthermore, you’re on The Enterprise, the biggest weirdness magnet in the damn universe. You’d think you’d be inured to that kind of weirdness after dealing with things like Q, or the Borg, or aliens that eat bad feelings, or Data, or whatever. There is absolutely no reason for any member of the crew to be weirded out by the X-Men or by even by the fact that they’re from another universe. This is routine for you guys.

Really the worst thing about this book can’t be blamed on the author so much as the premise as a whole. See, the Star Trek half of this book already brings us a pretty hefty ensemble cast. There’s a lot of characters to keep track of. And now you’re bringing in seven more characters with motivations and crazy powers and whatnot. So the problem is just fitting them all in without making anybody seem like dead weight. It didn’t always succeed. Most of the mutants have their moment of glory and help out some Enterprise crew at some point, but each time it felt like it only happened because it had to and not because it really progressed the plot. Take Shadowcat, for instance. She shows up on the Enterprise and gets introduced, then we don’t see her again until the fight scenes at the end of the book where she basically uses her powers to reach up out of the ground and trip people. Then we don’t see her again until the finale. Colossus had a similar problem. The others got more screen time, but even Storm felt like her powers had to be shoehorned in while she wasn’t being ogled by Captain Picard.

Incidentally, I thought Storm’s powers were due to some connection with Earth? Do her powers even work on alien worlds in the comics? Does it come up?

For all its flaws this was a pretty fun read once I got into the right state of mind. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a pretty big Star Trek fan who also has a passing affection for comics. My big complaint is that I just feel like Star Trek is a more self-contained universe than Marvel comics and so mixing it up with something else just feels more jarring than anything. I don’t want Geordi telling Nightcrawler that he bamfs through subspace. The phenomena are two completely different things and there’s no reason to try to conflate them. I don’t want Star Trek high technology mish-mashing with the borderline magical science of the X-Men. They don’t mix.

And then you get the thematic elements that don’t mix but have to be dealt with. Star Trek is about an ideal socialist space paradise where people are treated fairly and the real goal is exploration and common dignity and stuff like that. It’s what’s made it a cultural icon for so long: a vision of the future where humanity has conquered its demons. The X-Men, on the other hand, are basically characters in a story about those exact demons. They’re the victims of all the worst things of humanity. So what happens when you mix those themes together? You get really preachy Star Trek talking about how awesome Star Trek is. And you know what? I get enough of that from plain old Star Trek.

I can’t imagine I’ll review any more Star Trek novels for the blog. I’ve read enough of them to know that making fun of them is grabbing some really low-hanging fruit. I will mention, however, that I read another one recently, The Final Reflection by John M. Ford, that was really good. So yeah, there are some fine Trek novels out there if you know where to look.

On the other hand, I could see myself reading (and reviewing?) some novels based on comics franchises. I’m not entirely certain why, but it seems like something that I could be doing. If there are any recommendations, I want to know about them.

What do you call a prose novel based on comics, anyway? You can’t call it a comic book. You can’t call it a comic novel. What about a non-graphic novel? Wouldn’t that be most other novels, regardless of genre? This is a difficult question.

Live long and prosper, true believers.

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1 Comment

  1. I bought and read this novel when it was published. It wasn’t really great compared to the other Trek novels. IMO, the Xhaldia plot could’ve made a great novel on it’s own, without all the crossover shenanigans.

    Liked by 1 person

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