DeFlip Side #191: Chabon’s Trek

DeFlip Side #191: Chabon’s Trek.mp3

Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

It’s been about a month since Sir Patrick Stewart’s surprise appearance at Star Trek Las Vegas with the announcement that drove most of Trek fandom absolutely crazy.

“I have spent a lot of time recently watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. And gradually it became clearer and clearer to me that the power of that show, the success of that show, the benefits that it gave — I have never ever grown tired of hearing from people who say to me, ‘Your show changed my life.’ And that lies at the very center of what I have to tell you now. Jean Luc Picard is back.”

Since then speculation has run rampant about the new Picard show, and what it’s going to be about. Will he still be a captain? A teacher? A diplomat? A galaxy-roving archeologist?

At the time Stewart didn’t even know. All he said was that the show would take place roughly twenty years after the events of Nemesis, and that after so much time Picard might not be the Picard we all remember.

And since then, very little else has come to light. A writing team has come together, and a slightly more concrete picture has emerged. The series does indeed seem to be slated around 2399 — and will chronicle the events of the Prime Timeline as Trek voyages into the 25th Century.

While the fan community at large has been lapping up these tidbits, I’ve noticed that those especially stoked about the post Nemesis timeline are the Trekkers who have been the most disparaging of Discovery and its status as a prequel series.

Aside from problems with the series’ writing and tone, most of these fans just can’t get over Discovery’s visual discontinuity. They say it’s too advanced looking to take place 10 years before the events of TOS, and that the show-runners are breaking their promise to respect canon. So they’ve embraced the Picard series as a return to form — an opportunity to once again build upon the legacy of Star Trek instead of undermining it. Put simply, Star Trek will be boldly going into the future again, with no canon to muck up.

I’m somewhere in the middle on all this. I’m so far mostly enjoying Discovery, and I absolutely love its visual reboot. The season two trailer blew me away with its introduction of Captain Pike and other nods to the original series. But when it comes to the Picard project, I just don’t have the same enthusiasm. I’m interested in it and will be tuning in for sure. But I find Next Gen stodgy and smug, and if the further adventures of Picard have the same tone, the show is going to be a hard sell for me.

But a recent announcement about the series has struck another of my fannish cords — for a fandom that has nothing to do with Star Trek. It’s not quite the same bombshell as PStew’s surprise Vegas appearance, but Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon has joined the show as a writer and executive producer.

Chabon is one of my favorite authors, but he’s one that I consider genre adjacent. Meaning he’s mainstream, but he writes about things of interest to genre fans as well. The ultimate example of this is his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

This book won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for fiction with good reason. Chabon tells the story of Josef Kavalier, a Jew who escapes from Prague at the onset of the Nazi occupation, and immigrates to New York City to live with his cousin Sammy Clay. Together, they create a wildly popular comic book superhero named The Escapist.

In telling the tale of these cousins and their meta-human creations, Chabon weaves a subtle yet complex story that tackles broad themes of love, loss, hope and acceptance, all set against the backdrop of the Golden Age of comics.

It’s an amazing novel that I’d recommend it to anyone, Sci-Fi fan or not. But if you’re a comic book buff, you’ll be able to appreciate it on a deeper level. Other more mainstream Chabon books I’d recommend are Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Wonder Boys. They’ll give you a real sense of his style and humor.

Now at first I thought it was just the Chabon fanboy in me going into overdrive. But the more I think about it, I can’t think of a better fit for Star Trek. That mode of storytelling that fans hold up as the “Star Trek ideal” — that human-centered drama and thoughtful exploration of character and broader issues — you know, the things that make Trek Trek — That’s what Chabon excels at. But even more than that, Chabon is a fellow fan. He gets it.

And so far he seems to be totally geeking out over his new gig. He instagrammed a shot of him sitting in the Captain’s chair on the bridge of Discovery. Another cryptic post from the writers’ room shows a whiteboard with a diagram of the Star Trek galaxy post Nemesis and Voyager. No one knows what they have up there their sleeves, but if there’s anyone I trust to do right by Trek, it’s Chabon.

And we’ll soon be able to get a taste of what he brings to the franchise in one of four Star Trek mini-episodes that will air on CBS All Access in the run-up to season two of Discovery. Chabon’s short is called Calypso and it’s the only one of the minis that will introduce a new character to the franchise.

I find the so-called “Short Treks” an encouraging move by CBS. It shows their continued commitment to growing the franchise, beyond slam-dunks like a new Picard show. And their decision to hire a literary powerhouse like Chabon also speaks volumes.

If you want to get more familiar with Chabon’s work to prep for the new Picard series, you can find links to the books I’ve mentioned and others on this page.

Check them out. I think they’ll get you excited for the Trek to come in bold new ways.