Out... out of this world

by J.S. Hall
Tuesday Jan 12, 1999

Star Trek:
The Next Generation-

Starfleet Academy:
The Best and the Brightest,’

by Susan Wright. Pocket Books, mass market paperback, 277 pages, $6.50
The Next Generation-

Starfleet Academy:
The Best and the Brightest,’

by Susan Wright. Pocket Books, mass market paperback, 277 pages, $6.50

For some time now, I’ve been reporting how author Peter David has made some inroads when it comes to representing "queer" characters in the "Star Trek" universe through Chief Engineer Burgoyne 172 in the "New Frontier" series. I’m now happy to report that in "Starfleet Academy: The Best and the Brightest," Susan Wright has gone one step further by depicting a same-sex relationship-and an inter-species one at that!

This ground-breaking development takes place as part of the chronicles of a Quad of Starfleet Academy cadets that learns how to function as a team and what it means to be Starfleet officers. Since conflict is essential to any interesting drama, it takes the cadets a while to function as a cohesive unit, and even then they wind up in front of Admiral Brand (Commandant of the Academy) more than once because of their actions.

A human whose family has a long record of Starfleet service, Jayme Miranda is studying Engineering, but over the course of the novel, realizes that her interests lie elsewhere. In fact, the switching of her field of study causes more concern among her family and teammates than her eventual pairing with Moll Enor. Because of Moll’s stand-offish attitude, though, it takes quite a while for the two of them to become an item. Moll is a Trill, a composite entity consisting of a very long-lived, sluglike symbiont (Enor) and its humanoid host (Moll) who has a photographic memory-an extremely rare occurence amongst Trills. Moll is serving as the first host for Enor (after her death, the symbiont will retain her memories and feelings and be able to share them with its next host), and has mixed feelings about this honor.


Not using the word

It has always been claimed that by the 24th century (when "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and its spin-offs are set), humanity will have abandoned prejudices like racism and homophobia. But while the original "Star Trek" showed a racially integrated crew back in 1966, openly gay characters have never really been portrayed on any incarnation of "Star Trek," despite some fans’ protests. Susan Wright calls no particular attention to the relationship between Jayme and Moll, and neither do any of the other characters. On one level, by showing how same-sex relationships are just as "normal," ordinary and accepted as heterosexual ones (which happen just as chastely in the novel), Wright does us a great service. As gratifying as this is, though, I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t just a bit anti-climactic. However, hopefully this will make other readers say, "So, what’s the big deal about having gay characters in the ’Star Trek’ universe?" and perhaps even pave the way for similar characters (whether regular or recurring) on "Deep Space Nine" or "Voyager." Still, the most surprising thing about the book is how Wright depicts the burgeoning relationship without once using the word "lesbian."

The other Quad members whom "The Best and the Brightest" focuses on are a diverse bunch. Nev Reoh, the oldest of the group, always carries a heavy air of solemnity about him, which stems from his being a failed Vedek (i.e., priest; his species, the Bajorans, are a fiercely spiritual people). Cadet Starsa comes from the very crowded world of Oppalassa; because of her homeworld’s different gravity and ecosystem, she’s under constant medical scrutiny and loves to take risks as a result. Hammon Titus hails from a frontier human colony world, and consequently feels that he always has something to prove-which of course leads the cadets into trouble. Last but not least is Bobbie Ray Jefferson, a Rex (a feline species) who has spent all his life among his human family in Texas. While his reflexes are superior to most humans’, he discovers how inadequate they are when he encounters renegade members of his race. By the time one of the team members perishes, Wright has sketched quick but memorable portraits of each of them in her novel.

"The Best and the Brightest" doesn’t chronicle the entire four-year span of the cadets’ time at the Academy, merely their most interesting moments. As a result, the fragmented nature of their stories works against them, making the book seem more like a series of vignettes than a proper novel. Also, the book takes place against the backdrop of larger events chronicled in episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine," many of which are mentioned in passing. Trekkers up on their continuity lore will appreciate these many nods-as well as cameo appearances by Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Jadzia Dax, Guinan, Reg Barclay, Louis Zimmerman and others-but I wouldn’t be surprised if newcomers quickly become confused and/or lost by these many references. All the same, despite the novel’s flaws, it deserves accolades for boldly going where the TV versions haven’t really gone before.


For some time now, I’ve been reporting how author Peter David has made some inroads when it comes to representing "queer" characters in the "Star Trek" universe through Chief Engineer Burgoyne 172 in the "New Frontier" series. I’m now happy to report that in "Starfleet Academy: The Best and the Brightest," Susan Wright has gone one step further by depicting a same-sex relationship-and an inter-species one at that!

This ground-breaking development takes place as part of the chronicles of a Quad of Starfleet Academy cadets that learns how to function as a team and what it means to be Starfleet officers. Since conflict is essential to any interesting drama, it takes the cadets a while to function as a cohesive unit, and even then they wind up in front of Admiral Brand (Commandant of the Academy) more than once because of their actions.

A human whose family has a long record of Starfleet service, Jayme Miranda is studying Engineering, but over the course of the novel, realizes that her interests lie elsewhere. In fact, the switching of her field of study causes more concern among her family and teammates than her eventual pairing with Moll Enor. Because of Moll’s stand-offish attitude, though, it takes quite a while for the two of them to become an item. Moll is a Trill, a composite entity consisting of a very long-lived, sluglike symbiont (Enor) and its humanoid host (Moll) who has a photographic memory-an extremely rare occurence amongst Trills. Moll is serving as the first host for Enor (after her death, the symbiont will retain her memories and feelings and be able to share them with its next host), and has mixed feelings about this honor.


Not using the word

It has always been claimed that by the 24th century (when "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and its spin-offs are set), humanity will have abandoned prejudices like racism and homophobia. But while the original "Star Trek" showed a racially integrated crew back in 1966, openly gay characters have never really been portrayed on any incarnation of "Star Trek," despite some fans’ protests. Susan Wright calls no particular attention to the relationship between Jayme and Moll, and neither do any of the other characters. On one level, by showing how same-sex relationships are just as "normal," ordinary and accepted as heterosexual ones (which happen just as chastely in the novel), Wright does us a great service. As gratifying as this is, though, I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t just a bit anti-climactic. However, hopefully this will make other readers say, "So, what’s the big deal about having gay characters in the ’Star Trek’ universe?" and perhaps even pave the way for similar characters (whether regular or recurring) on "Deep Space Nine" or "Voyager." Still, the most surprising thing about the book is how Wright depicts the burgeoning relationship without once using the word "lesbian."

The other Quad members whom "The Best and the Brightest" focuses on are a diverse bunch. Nev Reoh, the oldest of the group, always carries a heavy air of solemnity about him, which stems from his being a failed Vedek (i.e., priest; his species, the Bajorans, are a fiercely spiritual people). Cadet Starsa comes from the very crowded world of Oppalassa; because of her homeworld’s different gravity and ecosystem, she’s under constant medical scrutiny and loves to take risks as a result. Hammon Titus hails from a frontier human colony world, and consequently feels that he always has something to prove-which of course leads the cadets into trouble. Last but not least is Bobbie Ray Jefferson, a Rex (a feline species) who has spent all his life among his human family in Texas. While his reflexes are superior to most humans’, he discovers how inadequate they are when he encounters renegade members of his race. By the time one of the team members perishes, Wright has sketched quick but memorable portraits of each of them in her novel.

"The Best and the Brightest" doesn’t chronicle the entire four-year span of the cadets’ time at the Academy, merely their most interesting moments. As a result, the fragmented nature of their stories works against them, making the book seem more like a series of vignettes than a proper novel. Also, the book takes place against the backdrop of larger events chronicled in episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine," many of which are mentioned in passing. Trekkers up on their continuity lore will appreciate these many nods-as well as cameo appearances by Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Jadzia Dax, Guinan, Reg Barclay, Louis Zimmerman and others-but I wouldn’t be surprised if newcomers quickly become confused and/or lost by these many references. All the same, despite the novel’s flaws, it deserves accolades for boldly going where the TV versions haven’t really gone before.

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