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Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Farewell, Vonda N. McIntyre (From the Books)

Science fiction and fantasy author Vonda N. McIntyre has died.

I feel that I've done McIntyre a disservice all these years. I've read a lot of her work, but none beyond her well-known tie-in books in the Star Trek and Star Wars universes. But on the other hand, she wrote all those books voluntarily and she wrote some of them so well that they stand up even outside their tie-in status. And what's so bad about tie-in work, anyway? There's a reason the Trek and Wars franchises are so well-established. I do own a couple of McIntyre's non-Trek books, and I should probably make reading them a higher priority.

One novel of hers that I especially liked was her original Trek novel Enterprise: The First Adventure, in which she told the story of how the very first voyage of the starship Enterprise under the command of Captain James T. Kirk went. This novel posed a number of challenges for McIntyre: she couldn't rely on the tried-and-true relationship tropes of Trek. Kirk and McCoy were already good friends at this point, but neither knew the Enterprise's Vulcan science officer; there couldn't be any hint here of "I have been, and always shall be, your friend." McIntyre also wrote a Lt. Sulu who didn't even want to be on the Enterprise, and Commander Montgomery Scott who was so skeptical of his new Captain and so possessive of "his" ship that he nearly let his attitude force Captain Kirk to order his transfer off the finest ship in Starfleet.

Another thing McIntyre did in this book is to show that Kirk's ascent to commanding the Enterprise wasn't just a straight-line thing that involved no sacrifice at all. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which McIntyre novelized, established that there was one woman in Kirk's past life who was much more than a momentary conquest. Dr. Carol Marcus might have been the love of his life, and she was the only one (that we ever knew of) to bear James T. Kirk's child. So in Enterprise, Vonda McIntyre wrote a wonderful scene in which Kirk is torn between his dream of command and a woman he loves. It's the kind of amazing character writing at which McIntyre excelled. She made you care about these characters. Her writing is full of scenes like this, and now I have to wonder even more what magic she was able to conjure with characters of her very own.

Here's the scene.

Carol turned, uncharacteristically flustered. "Jim--!"

"Hello, Carol." He stopped. He wanted to say everything to her, or he wanted to say nothing. He wanted to make love with her, or he wanted never to see her again.

"Talk to you later," Dr. Eng said, and made a diplomatic exit.

"How are you feeling, Jim?"

He ignored the question. His heart beat hard. "It's wonderful to see you. I have to leave soon. Can we...I'd like to talk to you. Would you have a drink with me?"

"I don't feel like having a drink," she said. "But I will go for a walk with you."

Jim paused beside Gary, still hoping he might awaken. [That's Gary Mitchell, Kirk's best friend who was his First Office in the episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before," before his character died.] "Get well, my friend," Jim said, and left Ms. Chapel the note to give him when he regained consciousness.

They did not have to discuss where to go. Jim and Carol walked toward their park.

Without meaning to, exactly, Jim kept brushing against Carol. His shoulder touched her shoulder; his fingers touched the back of her hand. At first she moved aside.

"Oh--" Carol said impatiently the third time Jim touched her. She took his hand and held it. "We are still friends, I hope."

"I hope so too," Jim said. He tried to pretend the electric tingle of physical attraction no longer existed between them, but he found it impossible to deceive himself that much. Being near Carol made Jim feel as if a powerful current case a web over both of them, exchanging and intensifying every passion.

"Are you sleeping any better?" Carol said.

Jim hesitated between the truth and a lie. "I'm sleeping fine," he said.

Carol gave him a quizzical glance, and he knew he had hesitated too long. She had held him too many times, when the nightmare slapped him awake in the darkest hours of the morning.

"If you want to talk about it...." she said.

"No. I don't want to talk about it," he said in a clipped tone. [This all happens in the aftermath of a bad incident that left Kirk emotionally scarred.]..."No," he said again, more gently. "I don't want to talk about it."

Still holding hands, they reached the small park and set out along the path that circled the lake. Ducks swam alongside them, quacking for a handout.

"We always forget to bring them anything," Carol said. "How many times have we walked here--we always meant to bring them some bread, but we never did."

"We had...other things on our minds."

"Yes."

"Carol, there's got to be some way--!"

He cut off his words when he felt her tense.

"Such as what?" she said.

"We could--we could get married."

She looked at him; for a moment he thought she was going to burst out laughing.

"What?" she said.

"Let's get married. We could transport to Spacedock. Admiral Noguchi could perform the ceremony."

"But why marriage, for heaven's sake?"

"That's the way we do it in my family," Jim said stiffly.

"Not in mine," Carol said. "And anyway, it still wouldn't work."

"It's worked for quite a number of generations," Jim said, though in the case of his own parents the statement stretched the truth. "Carol, I love you. You love me. You're the person I'd most want to be with if I were stranded on a desert planet. We have fun together--remember when we went to the dock and snuck on board the Enterprise for our own private tour--" At her expression, he stopped. "It's true."

"Yes," she said. "It's true. And I've missed you. The house is awfully quiet without you."

"Then you'll do it?"

"No. We talked about this too many times. No matter what we do, it wouldn't make any difference. I can't be with you and you can't stay with me."

"But I could. I could transfer to headquarters--"

"Jim..." She turned to face him. She held both his hands and looked into his eyes. "I remember how you felt when you found out you're getting command of the Enterprise. Do you think anyone who loved you would want to take that away from you? Do you think you could love anyone who tried?"

"I love you," he said. "I don't want to lose you."

"I don't want to lose you, either. But I lost you before I ever met you. I can get used to the quiet. I can't get used to having you back for a few weeks at a time and losing you over and over and over again."

He kept seeking a different solution, but the pattern led him in circles and he could find no way out.

"I know you're right," he said, miserable. "I just..."

Tears silvered Carol's dark blue eyes.

They kissed each other, one last time. She held him. He laid his head on her shoulder with his face turned away, because he, too, was near tears.

"I love you too, Jim," she said. "But we don't live on a desert planet."

That's how you write a heartbreaking farewell scene...and it comes very early in the book, before we even see Captain Kirk on the bridge of his new ship. McIntyre knew how to set the emotional stage for her stories.

I really do owe her a reading with newer eyes....

1 comment:

Jason said...

I haven't read that book in many years -- decades, actually -- and don't remember much about it, except that I thought it was incredible. I like to think that would make Vonda -- or any writer, really -- happy.