Anika and Liz discuss the classic TOS tie-in novel My Enemy, My Ally by Diane Duane, particularly:
- Duane’s take on Roman culture, and its ties to canon, especially in the wake of Star Trek: Picard
- Romulan language – and how the heck do you pronounce “Mnhei’sahe”?
- Ael: a character we adore beyond reason
- Liz’s elaborate headcanon about Romulan culture and politics in the 24th century
- Anika’s eternal grief at not getting to learn Romulan, when Klingon is on Duolingo
- Fancasting Ael
- Liz pitches a loose adaptation for season 2 of Picard
- The sequels
Is Ael a Mary Sue? Do we care? Is it racist to compare your officer to pizza? These are just some of the important issues we cover!
[Audio note: for some reason – I’m blaming the rain – the audio has a bit of static and sibilance on Liz’s end. Apologies for that, but at least the transcript is already in progress!]
- The rec.arts.startrek.fandom post outlining Roddenberry’s (alleged) problems with the Rihannsu books
- Rihannsu on TV Tropes
Liz: Welcome to Antimatter Pod, a Star Trek podcast where we discuss fashion, feminism, subtext and subspace, hosted by Anika and Liz. Today we’re going to TRY to talk about the TOS novel My Enemy, My Ally — but it’s raining at both of our houses, and we both have internet that drops out in the rain. So…
Liz: This is our second go at recording the opening. [laughs] And it’s really bucketing down out there!
Anika: We bring the drama.
Liz: We do! We do. Anyway, I am so glad that I finally read this classic tie-in novel, because I had such a good time.
Anika: It’s a lot of fun. I have long loved these books. I have a great deal of affection for the Rihannsu novels, and the characters within them. I don’t think I’ve ever actually sat down and read the whole book in a really long time. So I noticed a lot of things that I don’t remember when I’m thinking about the book. These aren’t the things that I remember, or think on fondly when I go back and read my favourite passages and things. Those, I know practically by heart, but there was a lot that I just sort of glossed over.
Liz: I have been hearing or reading about these books for almost as long as I’ve been in Star Trek fandom. And I never read them before, because I knew that Duane’s worldbuilding for the Romulans was so different from what we ultimately got.
And yes, there’s a lot of stuff that’s really outdated, and no longer current, and I laughed out loud at the bit where the Starfleet intelligence report is like, “There have been a lot of assassinations happening in the Romulan Senate!” And everyone’s like, “That’s not like the Romulans! That’s so weird!” Guys, it’s Tuesday, there’s an assassination.
But I was so impressed by how well it still fits with — and I think Picard actually has a lot to do with that, because it’s added so many layers of nuance and details to Romulan culture that Duane’s ideas can just slip neatly in.
Anika: Right. Yes. especially when — whenever Ael talked or thought about the Klingons, she is so anti-Klingon, and it was sort of hilarious, because everything that she said about the Klingons was sort of what the TNG Romulans do.
Anika: And everything that she believes in about the Romulans is pretty much TNG Klingons.
Anika: And so it was this weird, you know — and so this book came out in 1984, and the movie, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, which was really the first time we saw modern Klingons. — was in Star Trek III.
Liz: And they were not particularly honourable.
Anika: But they did have — like, Valkris? Something like that. She has a V-kris name. At the very beginning of Star Trek III, she does the whole little, “I have to die, now, for honour” Klingon thing. That was new.
Liz: Oh, you’re right! It’s been so long since I saw that.
Anika: So I feel like [Duane] was writing about these Romulans while they were writing about those Klingons, and they decided to move in that direction. Because, you know, like, five years later, I guess? Maybe three years later, Next Generation came out. I’m sure they were already writing Next Generation. So–
Liz: They actually weren’t! Planning for Next Gen was going on really, really late in 1986.
Liz: Yeah, listening to the podcast The Trek Files, they go through a lot of the early Next Gen planning documents, and it’s actually a little scary how close to the release for “Encounter at Farpoint” they’re still working out things like, “Should there be a doctor?” and “Maybe we should cast someone as the android?”
Liz: It gives me a lot of secondhand stress. [laughs]
Anika: That’s funny. Although, looking at the beginnings of Next Generation, I believe it.
Liz: Oh yeah, absolutely. It explains a lot. But yeah, it’s interesting that Duane kept going with these books — and was allowed to keep going with these books — even after Next Gen started up and basically — I think the term in fandom is still “jossed”? For Joss Whedon? Jossed all of her ideas about Romulans. And I just think it’s really wonderful that Star Trek: Picard has started restoring some of these ideas.
And some of them are quite different, you know, Romulans have three names (including a secret name), not four. But the seeds are there. And I believe I read somewhere that Chabon actually considered using the Rihannsu language that Duane created, but it was decided that it was too different from everything else we’ve seen of Romulan language on screen.
Liz: I just wanna point out, species can have more than one language. Just putting that out there.
Anika: What? Are you sure?
Liz: I know. I know. I’ve heard it’s possible.
Anika: I don’t think that’s true.
Liz: I hear there are people on Earth right now who don’t speak English.
Anika: [laughing] I’m sorry, just the idea that that would be shocking to anyone? Is a little scary.
Liz: I know.
Anika: But we can say that they were dialects, even. It doesn’t even have to be a different language. But one of the things I really love about these books is that at least five percent of the book is in Romulan, and she puts in no effort of translating it. She just expects you to be able to understand what’s going on based on the rest of it. I’ve always appreciated that.
Liz: See, that kind of annoyed me. Because, like, I have no problem with subtitles, and I’m not one of those people who was complaining about all the subtitled Klingon in early Discovery. But here, I’m like, IT’S A BOOK! I DON’T NEED TO READ THESE FAKE WORDS! But when they start talking about, um, mmmmnesssahiiii… [Transcriber’s note: the word is “mnhei’sahe”. Good luck.]
Anika: Yeah, I know. My second point is, I can’t pronounce any of it.
Anika: I read The Romulan Way first.
Liz: Oh, I think you’ve said that before, yes. That’s the one set on Romulus, with the spy?
Anika: Yes. I was not reading Star Trek novels in 1984. But I read The Romulan Way, and then I went backwards for My Enemy, My Ally, because Ael is in The Romulan Way, and she’s amazing. And she’s, like, a superhero that shows up at the end, so I was like, I need to know the story of that. So I went back to it. But at the back of The Romulan Way, there’s a glossary of Romulan words. It’s only three pages long. It’s nothing like the Klingon-English dictionary. And I am still, to this day, angry that I can’t learn Romulan the way I could learn Klingon. Like, you can learn Klingon in Duolingo.
Liz: You can! It’s outrageous.
Anika: But no one’s ever taken the time to do that for Romulan, and I’m just annoyed, because that’s the — since I was a small child, that’s the language I’ve wanted to speak.
Liz: It sounds like they have put in the work of creating a conlang for Romulan now, with Picard, so maybe you can learn that? But it won’t be Duane’s Rihannsu.
Anika: But it’ll be at least something. I would love for someone to take the time and translate a novel into Romulan, or something. Like Jane Austen. If the Klingons get Shakespeare–
Liz: The Romulans get Austen.
Liz: I feel like the Romulans would rather have John LeCarre. But no, they’re getting Austen and they’re going to like it.
Anika: Pride And Prejudice in the original Romulan is something I desperately want to read.
Liz: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a subcommander in possession of a great fortune must be in want of a…” yeah. Anyway. I’m gonna have to take some time to think about how this translates.
I wasn’t so keen on the passages of Romulan, but I liked the Romulan words and concepts that we were introduced to, and I like that now we have — like, Duane gives us names of Romulan animals? And the significance that they attach to names, names of ships and names of people, I really groove on that sort of thing. And Ael’s idea that the name of the Enterprise is very unlucky because it’s such a big, powerful concept.
Anika: Sounds accurate. And it also makes me think about the Enterprise. Like, obviously — when I was a kid, watching Next Generation, watching The Original Series, watching the one with the whales — you know, it’s exciting that they get the Enterprise back in the end, right? It’s a big deal, and the Enterprise is obviously the best ship in the fleet. Because it’s the Enterprise, and these are the stories of the people who are on it!
But, if I think about the name, I hate it! It’s so capitalist. It’s so military. It’s so American, and I just — I hate it!
Liz: It really is. I say this with all due love and respect. And I know it was a British Navy ship first, but come on.
Anika: So, yeah, that’s how I feel about it. So I appreciate that she makes me think about these things.
Liz: Yeah, I really love her take on it. And it makes me like the name of the Enterprise, too. I think, you know, Discovery and Voyager are much more positive and less iconic names, and even Defiant — you know, that’s a big concept, and it’s not so positive as “discovery” or “voyaging”, but it’s necessary to what the Defiant was built for.
Anika: And I like that, in Discovery and in Picard, they have actually named some ships with non-English words and concepts and people. They’re taking those tiny baby steps towards making it a little less–
Liz: I know! For all that I’ve dunked on Chabon throughout our podcast, he made a deliberate choice to name starships after non-western explorers, and I really, really love that. Still all men, but, you know, we’ll get there.
Anika: Baby steps!
Liz: My thing in fic is that I always name starships after women of science or science fiction. So when I am in charge of Star Trek, it will be a much better show. I promise.
I just wanna say how much I love Ael as a character.
Liz: She’s basically the perfect character for me — she’s not quite cranky enough, although she puts on a good facade of it early in the book, when she’s deceiving the crew she’s about to sacrifice. But she’s — I like characters who are old enough to have a past, and young enough to have a future. And she’s perfect [for me]! She has her ship, she has her crew, she has her adult son, who serves underneath her as her first office. It’s really wonderful. And I read that Duane created her as a woman who could sort of match Kirk at his own game, but in doing so, she created a wonderful character in her own right.
Anika: I had to write this one sentence down. It’s on page 93, when Ael beams onto the ship, onto the Enterprise, and so our Enterprise crew first see her. I underlined the sentence that I’m going to read, and then I wrote in the margins, “So that’s why I fell so hard and so immediately for Admiral Kat.”
Liz: [laughs] Yes?
Anika: And this is the sentence: “She carried herself like a banner or a weapon, like something proud and dangerous, but momentarily at rest.”
Liz: Yes! And I think she and Kat have a lot in common, because Ael is so pragmatic, and so ruthless in how she abandons the crew of the Cuirass to their own destruction — which she has set up for them! And these were not particularly good people, they intended to betray her, but she still feels that twinge of regret, because this is her honour that she is destroying. And then she does it anyway. And I love that in a character. I love characters who are — particularly women — who are capable of terrible things, but know what they have done.
Anika: Right. And, as you said, that she’s old enough to have a past, and young enough to have a future. I think that that has that same — and so I was like — again, I read these books young. And so I really looked up to Ael as a role model, you know? I really was drawn to that. The character in The Romulan Way, the main character, is the character that I would want to be, and then she looked up to Ael. So it was like this whole thing.
So, going back and, again, reading it — and really reading it, this time, not just skimming and skipping to my favourite parts, but really taking the time to read each passage — there was just so much of things that I love about Star Trek and other mediums, and other fandoms, that were in this book. And it’s like, oh, it formed — it informed the future me, when I was reading it as a small girl. Because I was inspired by those things, and then I went looking for more of that.
Liz: It’s just the most wonderful piece of space opera, with empires attempting to push and shift the balance of power, and individuals working for the betterment of the community, the galactic community as a whole. I love that! And at one point, I was like, the worldbuilding in this story is so rich, and the plot itself is so interesting, this didn’t need to be a tie-in. This could be an original piece of work. But, at the same time, would we still be talking about it if this “original novel” had been published in 1984? Like, there is a lot of great science fiction written by women in the ’80s, which is just straight forgotten.
Anika: Right. I agree.
Liz: That’s not to say that’s okay, you know, I think there’s a lot of joy to be had in rediscovering that stuff, like Vonda McIntyre’s original work, but–
Anika: And I also don’t think it cheapens her worldbuilding and the effort that she clearly put in to make fifty original characters for this book–
Liz: Fifty! Did you count?
Anika: I didn’t count them.
Anika: I’m just saying, I started naming them, and there are people that are just — and they reoccur in all of her other novels. Which is great. I looked up — because Lia Burke, the nurse, I was like, is Lia Burke a “real character”, quote-unquote, or is she only in these books? Because I couldn’t tell. I really, firmly believed that she was a member of the Enterprise [crew] in The Original Series, or my guess was that she was introduced in the animated series. And since I’m never going to watch the animated series, I wouldn’t know. So I looked it up, and no, she was introduced in The Wounded Sky, Duane’s first book.
Anika: But she appears in all of them, and is such a rich character, even with her two scenes and her four lines. But I know exactly who she is.
Liz: She is such a rich character that I almost looked at her — and you know I really hate the concept of the Mary Sue, but I looked at her and went, “Are you maybe TOO RICH to be a supporting character? You need to have your own series, love, you need to step out of the Star Trek universe and into your own thing. Because you are taking over.”
And I think that’s a really difficult line to walk with tie-in fiction, because you need to deepen the universe with original characters, and they need to be GOOD original characters, they need to be complicated and interesting. But at the same time, they’re not what the audience is there for.
Anika: Right. But I think she’s amazing, and the way that [Duane] makes this rich supporting cast, and I firmly believe that they’re a part of the Enterprise.
Liz: Yes. Even the Horta officer, Ensign Naraht–
Anika: I love him!
Liz: He’s so great! Kirk keeps comparing him to a pan pizza, and I’m like, (a) he is clearly a deep dish; (b) that’s pretty racist, mate.
Anika: [laughs] PRETTY racist? He’s saying that he looks edible!
Anika: That’s a problem!
Liz: And then TrekCore, yesterday, posted the stills from Discovery showing the Horta in the background of Lorca’s chamber of horrors, and I’m like, was Lorca going to eat the Horta???
Anika: But speaking of racism–
Liz: I just want to say, like Duane’s original characters always encompass non-humanoid Starfleet officers. And it’s so great. I find it really distracting because, like, I’ve seen what the ship looks like, and I know that it doesn’t accommodate these people? But at the same time, what she is doing is really good, and that I personally find it distracting is not actually a point of failure on Duane’s part.
Anika: I get confused trying to imagine — like, she describes them, and I just cannot. I need someone to draw me fan art, or something, so I get it.
Liz: I agree. Because, like, the three Denebian races, and one of them has tentacles — I lost track of all of them, but I love them. What were you going to say about racism?
Anika: I was just going to say, I find it interesting that there are a few times where our human characters, Kirk, Uhura, etc — even Spock, I think — will start saying something anti-Romulan, and then stop themselves and apologise to whichever Romulan they were interacting with. And the Romulan’s like, “No, no, no, it’s okay.” And in — I don’t think Ael ever does it, but in her inner monologue, she sometimes will think about — she has a whole couple of paragraphs about how she thought the Vulcans were one thing, but it turns out they’re not. So it’s like there’s this whole, interesting “confronting racism” part.
Liz: Yeah, there’s a bit where she enters the rec room, and looks around at the relatively diverse Enterprise crew and goes, “This should be horrifying me maybe more than it is? Am I … a bad Romulan?”
Anika: But then — and I only wrote this one down, and, again, it’s an old book, and we are all still grappling with racism and cultural appropriation and PC language, or whatever. But on page 135, it says, “What would you call Shanghaiing the Intrepid?” And again, I wrote in my margins, “I would call it racism!” Because, what the hell are you doing in saying that in the 22nd century — whatever century it’s supposed to be.
Liz: Years and years ago, I used the term “shanghai” to mean, you know, kidnap someone and press them into service. And my friend Stephanie, who is Chinese-Malaysian, was like, “Um, Elizabeth?” She has this particular tone. And I apologised, but internally, I was really defensive about it, you know, [Well Actually voice] “That was a BRITISH term, and it was referring to stealing English people and taking them to serve in Shanghai, and blah, blah, blah, blah.”
But then it just dropped out of my vocabulary, and I haven’t really felt the loss, to be honest. Like, you can say “pressed into service” if you need it. And so, yeah, that jumped out at me, too, it’s such an archaic term, and something which has taken on a meaning that it did not originally have.
Anika: Right. And that’s the thing, language is constantly changing.
Liz: And I noticed Duane uses the archaic M-Z spelling for “Mz” for Uhura and the other female officers.
Liz: Which is great! Like, I love that artefact of 1984.
Anika: There’s a lot in this book. There’s a lot more than we could possibly talk about. There’s the part where she’s thinking, you know, “The Federation doesn’t understand that they have so much more than we do, and so we’re hostile because we want what they have — but they’re so rich, and that’s just the way they’ve always been, so they don’t know.” And I was like, oh, look at that.
There are so many of these things that we’re talking about now, you know, in Picard and in Discovery. And I love that it was in this novel, that it was — “I’m going to bring this up, and the Romulans aren’t going to be just cookie cutter ‘other’ who we have to fight, but there are reasons for the ways that they are.”
Liz: It made me think, this is not incompatible with what we see of Romulans in the Next Gen era. Not wholly. Because Ael is very much a character who looks to a glorious and honourable past, and is sort of only dimly aware of how corrupt the present is. And that makes me think of the Klingons, who are also always talking about their great, honourable, glorious past, and, the Klingon Empire, make it great again! And, really, they also have this terrible cultural rot that’s destroying them from the inside out.
Whereas the Federation — particularly humanity — we look at our past and go, “Wow, that is messed up. Oh God, we have failed so badly, we need to do so much better!” And I feel like these different attitudes are why the Federation — part of why the Federation is more flexible and more dynamic than the Romulans and the Klingons. It’s not looking towards this imaginary nostalgic past.
And that got me thinking about, you know, make America great again, and contemporary politics, and conservative nostalgia for the 1950s.
Anika: That never actually existed! I did a paper on this!
Liz: Right! And I’m sure that Ael’s great, honourable empire never really existed either. But she herself is an honourable person. Mnhei’sahe…
Anika: Meh-nehs-eye. That’s how I say it.
Liz: Mnhei’sahe! Mnhei’sahe. That makes it sound like a real word.
Anika: I don’t know if that’s right.
Liz: This complicated concept that is not quite honour, and not quite loyalty, and it’s not quite brotherhood — there’s a whole vaguely sexist conversation about ‘brotherhood’. But it’s that sense of owing something to your family and to your people and to your culture, and they, in turn, owe you the same.
I think, because Ael believes in mnhei’sahe so firmly, she has a bit of a rosy-eyed view of the past. But we’ve met other Romulans in TNG who had mnhei’sahe.
Anika: Yeah. “The Defector”.
Liz: Not just that, but the guy that Geordi meets down on the planet…
Anika: “The Enemy”.
Liz: Yeah! They have very different values, but they come to respect each other, and that particular Romulan comes to recognise that Geordie has mnhei’sahe. Aside from treating assassination as an aberration rather than a hobby, I really do think that this is consistent with Romulan culture as we know it.
Anika: Yes, I think it is, too. Especially because Ael is a very — she has a very strong point of view. So she’s saying, “This is wrong, and this is the way it should be, and our new Romulans are doing this.” So if you imagine that the ‘new Romulans’ win, then they’re the ones who are doing all the shenanigans and nonsense in The Next Generation, as opposed to the ones who are still clinging to that idea of honour.
Liz: I have this fairly elaborate headcanon about the Romulans, and how they sort of almost withdraw into their own space — aside from bombing the Khitomer outpost — after the Federation makes peace with the Klingons. And then they emerge at the end of season 1 of Next Gen.
And when they emerge, they’re a lot more physically uniform, they’re a lot more — you know, they all have the bowl cut, they all have the shoulder pads. Their society has changed. And they’re less diverse in their personal presentation than they were in the previous century. And I think we can argue — especially after Picard, and the great diversity that’s exploded in the wake of the destruction of Romulus — that this was a deliberate thing, that their culture became more oppressive than it had been in the past.
Anika: I can absolutely believe that. And it became an authoritarian version of their empire.
Liz: Yeah, I’m sure that it was never a democracy, but it seems like most Romulans maybe had more personal freedom in the 23rd century.
Anika: Okay, at one point the chief linguists officer starts randomly reciting a Roman poem in the middle of the briefing?
Anika: [laughs] Which is hilarious, and I was like, okay, this is a little too on the nose for me.
Liz: So on the nose.
Anika: You know, like, wink, wink, not really into it. But–
Liz: Especially when Duane has been separating the Rihannsu from the Roman-inspired Romulans.
Anika: Right. But, obviously, the fact that they have their praetor and their senate — they are very based on Rome. And the Roman Empire.
Liz: There was a concept in Rome called ‘romanitas’, and it’s basically mnhei’sahe. It’s loyalty to the state, and it’s personal honour, and it’s being a responsible member of your family, and what you owe to your patron, or what you owe to your clients if you are the patron. Or the paterfamilias. It’s all of that. It’s mnhei’sahe.
Anika: Okay, so we are in the year 2020, right?
Liz: Allegedly. Time has no meaning where I am, but yes.
Anika: Well, I’m just saying that that means that within — 2000 years ago, the Roman Empire still existed. Right?
Anika: Here on good old Earth. But we have moved — we still have politics, and we still learn algebra, and we still look at philosophy in a very Graeco-Roman way. Okay?
Liz: We still post, “Today I baked bread”, we just post it on Instagram instead of carving it into a wall.
Anika: But we also have changed. We’ve evolved from Roman times. Right? Would you say that we’ve evolved from Roman times?
Liz: Yeah, absolutely.
Anika: All right. According to this book–
Anika: –the Romulan Empire has stayed the same as ancient Rome for more than 5000 years. And, like, the Vulcans were also ancient Romans 5000 years ago.
Anika: And I’m just, like, no.
Liz: It’s like this thing in a lot of fantasy and science fiction where the timescales are just massively inflated. George R R Martin does it all the time, and it drives me crazy!
Anika: [laughing] That is not how that works!
Anika: No way.
Liz: It is absolutely not, but it’s one of those things where I look at it and go, you’re a trope. You annoy me. But fine, we’ll live with it.
Anika: See, it really bothers me. Because I can’t just handwave that. I can’t just be, like, sure. Because it’s like, no. The whole plot is based on this whole, we’re gonna steal Vulcan brain matter, and we’re gonna graft it into Romulan brains, and then the Romulans are gonna have Vulcan powers. Right? That’s the whole plot.
Liz: But also, there’s going to be this massive super brain that can control and paralyse Vulcans.
Anika: That’s one of the things that I skim over. I just even go to the massive brain part.
Liz: [laughs] It was just so gross that I really liked it! It made me think of the brain room in Harry Potter?
Anika: Ew. But yes, okay, I see that.
Liz: Also not a highlight of that series.
Anika: Vulcans and Romulans had space travel 5000 years ago. And then they split up. And the Romulans decided to not evolve from that point on. Meanwhile, the Vulcans grew brain powers. Like — no! Just no.
Liz: I always assumed that there was some sort of genetic drift, and maybe the genetic predisposition in the people who left and became Romulans meant that those genes just fell dormant and were eventually bred out. Because 5000 years is a really long time.
Anika: Is a really long time! I can believe the dormancy of the Romulans. I cannot believe that the Vulcans — that part doesn’t happen.
Liz: Yeah, I don’t believe that they developed that — no. No.
Anika: I think it’s more likely that all of them had the brain powers 5000 years ago, in Roman times, when they had space travel. And they split off, and what happened is that all the Romulans who were, like, the best brain powered Romulans were all murdered by the other Romulans, because that’s what Spock says would happen.
Anika: So, sure.
Liz: Also, I wonder, if they left and found their own home planet before they had faster than light technology, if the — the limitations of a very long journey under those circumstances are part of what made Romulan culture so pragmatic and ruthless in its treatment of the disabled, for example. Because I know, in “The Enemy”, the Romulan with all the mnhei’sahe is like, “Oh, if a baby was born blind on Romulus, we’d just kill it!” And Geordie’s like–
Liz: –“What the hell, man, that’s not cool.”
Anika: “Super yikes!”
Liz: Yeah. Mate. But, from a worldbuilding perspective, it would make sense if they developed that attitude in space.
Anika: I agree. While we’re on this subject, in that part where Spock says, you know, “Oh my gosh, if Romulans had Vulcan mind powers, it would be armageddon.” Which is also, like, okay. But–
Liz: I feel like his biases are showing.
Anika: But that paragraph is very interesting to me from, you know — my note here is, “Not to make everything about the Jedi, but…”
Anika: Spock basically describes Jedi mind tricks in that paragraph, and says that they’re evil. And I would just like to put that out there into the ether.
Liz: See, this makes me want to hit Diane up on Tumblr and go, “So, do you have any particular opinions about Star Wars? Did you have any particular opinions about Star Wars in 1984 that you would like to share with the class?
Anika: It was just really funny to me.
Liz: I really do like the idea of Romulans attempting to graft and weaponise Vulcan telepathy. I think that’s brilliant.
Anika: It is brilliant! It’s great. And I have to appreciate that Kirk has the thought that, if the Federation got its hands on that, it would absolutely be the same problem. Like, he is self-aware enough to realise that it would be just as bad in the Federation as it would be for the Romulans or the Klingons to have it. Yes, the Vulcans are the only ones we can trust with this, which — I don’t trust all the Vulcans, but–
Liz: We know from Next Gen and “Gambit” that even Vulcans can’t always be trusted with psychic weapons. But, okay, go off. Yep.
Anika: So what did you think of the characterisation of our main crew?
Liz: I really enjoyed Duane’s take on McCoy. He felt so McCoy-like, but also, he’s, like, secretly — not a chess champion, but a highly ranked player? He just likes watching the game, it’s a spectator sport. I really liked that, and I really liked the bit where he starts ranting at Ael, and everyone’s like, oh yeah, this means he likes you, this means you’re one of his people now.
Anika: Yes. McCoy, I think, is the strongest.
Liz: I quite liked her Kirk? We were saying in Discord, you know, no drawing of Kirk ever looks the same, and no drawing of Kirk ever looks like William Shatner? He’s basically a cryptid. And that’s sort of how I feel about his characterisation — well, everywhere. Because he fits so many archetypes, and some of them are mutually exclusive. But I liked the direction that Duane took him in here. I felt like he was a very likable character, and he was a great foil for Ael … or maybe the other way around, apparently he’s the main character, I don’t know.
Liz: But a fundamentally decent man, who respects and enjoys getting to know one of his most honourable enemies. That’s great!
Anika: I like that they have a pre-rivalry. They know who each other is before this book, before they meet in person. And respect each other.
Liz: Yes. Yes. They know that they’re equals, and they like that, but in certain situations they would not hesitate to kill each other. And I love the bit where Ael is listing the ships that have been sent into the Neutral Zone. And there’s the Intrepid, and the other one, and the other one — and then, “worst of all, the Enterprise.” Just great.
And Spock … I don’t think it was a bad characterisation of Spock, but, as much as I liked the mindmeld scene where he enters Ael’s mind and sees that she is telling the truth, or at least, what she believes to be the truth — I felt like, giving his connection with her niece, the Romulan Commander of “The Enterprise Incident”, there should have been some more discussion of that?
Anika: Especially because it’s eventually an important plot point.
Liz: Right! And that sort of came out of nowhere, and it wasn’t clear to me whether he even knew that she had this connection to the unnamed Commander. But I loved that she was the Commander’s aunt, and the Commander had been her heir, and that her son, Tafv, ultimately betrays her because he is so angry that the Romulan Commander was stripped of her identity and made an unperson and exiled.
Anika: Yes. You can imagine that I love everything about that relationship.
Anika: I am so — like, I can’t be angry with Tafv, because I’m like–
Liz: Oh, I can!
Anika: –that is a really good motivation, and I am 100% on board with it, and I just want all of — like, I want to see them as young Narek and Narissa types. In their version of Romulus.
Liz: We’ll get to that.
Anika: I love it.
Liz: I have something to say about that. I loved that he wanted to take the Enterprise, and that he wanted to get revenge on Kirk and Spock for what they did to his cousin. But I was furious that he was also betraying his mother, and that he also wanted to see her executed. Like, you little shit! She did her best!
Anika: [laughs] Yes, but it was all the same feeling, where he chose his cousin over his mother. He chose one family over the other. And it was — but before we move off of — because I want to go into all of that, but before we move off of characterisation, I just want to say that I’ve never really liked Duane’s version of Spock. I don’t dislike it, like, I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just that her Spock is not my Spock.
Liz: No, and I think that’s fair.
Anika: And that’s okay.
Liz: I don’t think it’s bad, but he’s clearly not her favourite. And that’s fine.
Anika: And it’s true in — again, across all of her novels. They’re barely in The Romulan Way. It’s mostly — McCoy is the only one. And he’s her best.
Liz: And McCoy is clearly her favourite.
Anika: Yes. but then, Spock’s World is obviously — it’s like the version — they go into all of the Vulcan mythology, and they have a whole court-senate-crazy thing on Vulcan, and all of our crew get to make speeches to all of Vulcan. Because not only are there thousands in the stadium, but also, it’s, you know, live streaming to all of Vulcan. And they’re all making their speech, and it’s just — it’s interesting to me that 96% percent of Vulcans are into politics and pay attention and vote, and stuff. Like. That’s crazy, because here on Earth, it’s, like, in the 30s or 40s. So that’s always interesting to me.
Liz: Right, even in Australia, we have compulsory voting, and I think it comes out at about 86%.
Anika: But her characterisation of Spock, and particularly Sarek, in Spock’s World, is really — it’s like, I appreciate it, but it’s not where I would go. It’s not how I see them. And also T’Pring.
Liz: It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that her headcanons are not your headcanons.
Anika: Yeah, it’s just different. Exactly. And so I really appreciate the writing, but it’s an AU version of those characters for me. And this one, also — like, he kept joking, and he kept — I don’t know. It was just a little bit off. At one point he says — he asks the doctor how you would hold hands with a mother hen?
Anika: And I was like, no. Spock would never. I just couldn’t see it. I had troubles.
Liz: No, and I really liked that scene. It’s a scene where Kirk tells McCoy and Spock, you know, “You don’t need to hold my hand and protect me,” and McCoy is like, “Yeah, the way rumours spread on this ship, you’re not holding hands with Spock, ever.” And I was like, I see what you did there, Duane, and I love it!
Anika: Wink, wink.
Liz: But we didn’t need to overegg the pudding with the mother hen/how do you hold hands bit.
I was going to say, with regards to Narek and Narissa, I’m so delighted and fascinated that Duane posits that inheritances are passed down to nieces and nephews, and the concept of the sister-daughter. And then we have Ramdha raising her niece and nephew, and it’s like — again, is that an intentional reference?
Anika: Because I knew — I remembered that Ael was her aunt, was the Romulan Commander’s (who still doesn’t have a name) aunt. But I didn’t — like, I thought it was just an offhand — but it goes into, like you say, this whole inheritance thing, and there’s this whole — and the whole Tafv — “the cousins were as close as anyone could be” kind of thing. And I was like, oh, that is so — it IS transferred over into Ramdha and Narek and Narissa, and I love it, and I’m — yes.
Liz: And, as a concept, it’s just such a nice bit where the worldbuilding is not default western … white people culture. And it raises questions, like, do they practice first cousin marriage, or is that as taboo as a sibling marriage? And what happens if your sibling doesn’t have children? And what happens if — you know, there are so many questions!
Anika: Right, exactly.
Liz: Romulan inheritance law is suddenly really interesting to me!
Anika: [laughs] I love them. I love my Romulans, I love my Romulan families, it’s all I want from the world.
Liz: You know, I only decided to read this because Picard had sort of revived some of its ideas. And I’m so glad that I did, and I would really like to pitch a loose adaptation of this novel as season 2 of Star Trek: Picard.
Anika: So have Ael, or a version of Ael, who comes to Picard?
Liz: Yeah! Who has survived the destruction of Romulus, and is attempting to serve the Romulan Free State with honour, with mnhei’sahe. And who has learned that either the Free State or the Romulan Rebirthers are doing this terrible thing with Vulcan mind powers, and — you know, it’s awful, it’s horrifying. So she seeks out the man who went to toe to toe with Commander Tomalak, and who commanded the evacuation. And then, along the way, she discovers with horror that her lost sister is alive and well and living on a vineyard–
Anika: [laughs] Because she’s Laris’s sister????
Liz: Look — you know, from the beginning, I have decided that Laris is linked to the original Romulan Commander, Joanne Linville.
Liz: And Ael is canonically linked to that character. And the loss of a family member is really important to Ael’s arc, so to find that her sister is alive, and has almost abandoned mnhei’sahe — abandoned her people, not only in choosing to go into this exile, but in joining the Tal Shiar, which is the sort of organisation Ael would loathe and detest — I think it’s a really interesting way to adapt the internal conflict within Ael’s family from the novel to the present canon.
Anika: I really like it. I really like it. I have one question, that is a very me question, and that listeners are probably gonna get angry at me for.
Anika: Does it involve getting Narek out of Federation prison, Tom Paris style?
Liz: [deep breath] This wasn’t in my head, but yes, I think it does.
Anika: Okay. That’s all I want.
Liz: No, it would be sort of great, because if Ael has to kill her son after he betrays them and all that, and maybe chooses to save Laris over Tafv, then she can adopt Narek and introduce him to the radical concept of mnhei’sahe.
Anika: Yes! See?
Anika: Call us!
Liz: I actually think one great thing about the whole Covid disaster — and this is really insensitive to say, given the scale of death — but at least the Star Trek writers have a lot more time to work on their seasons before filming starts? [Transcriber’s note: this was said in a deliberately facetious and self-mocking tone; obviously a shitty season and no pandemic would be better.]
Anika: [laughs] Oh dear.
Liz: But yes, that’s my pitch for an adaptation. And I gave a lot of thought to who would play Ael, and because their first thought on meeting her is that she’s so small, I was like, who is a very small, powerful older woman? And my first thought was Nana Visitor.
Anika: Ooops. That’s not gonna work out.
Liz: Yeah, there’s a problem there.
Anika: That’s not gonna work. I have–
Liz: No, so then I went — go.
Anika: No, go ahead, if you want to say yours first.
Liz: Oh, well, I have two. I sort of went in a different direction and went, okay, who could plausibly be Orla Brady’s sister? Who is dark, and has great cheekbones and nice eyebrows, and has that sort of power? And so my first thought was Oscar-winner Olivia Colman.
Liz: And then, as a back-up, because she might be busy doing other stuff, was Helen McCrory.
Anika: Helen McCrory! Oh my gosh! Sorry. My brain had to catch up with what you were actually saying.
Anika: That is brilliant, I love it, I would cast her in anything, and I love the idea of her as Orla Brady — Laris’s sister. Make it happen. I went in a completely different direction, but I really, really love it.
Liz: Oh! Go!
Anika: So I decided — I was sort of, like, I need somebody at least in their forties, and as you said, tiny but powerful. So I decided on Archie Panjabi.
Anika: You know, olive-skinned-ish.
Liz: Yeah, yeah! Obviously this breaks my Orla Brady’s sister bit–
Anika: Yeah, sorry, I didn’t know that she was supposed to be Orla Brady’s sister when you said we were fancasting.
Liz: I wanted to surprise you with that twist! I wanted to give you a nice surprise! But no, I think she’d be quite good in the role!
Anika: Yes, I think that, at least as written on the page in this book, I can imagine her even saying some of the things. And definitely I can imagine her going toe to toe with Kirk.
Anika: And also sort of having that flirtation happening.
Liz: Absolutely. No, I think she would be really good. I didn’t really look at, like, size once I moved on from Nana Visitor, because, you know, on TV everyone is sort of the same size? But yeah, I really like your take. Apparently Gene Roddenberry did not care for this series. Which only makes me like it more.
Anika: [laughs] I mean, good on [Duane] for getting it done anyway, is all I can say to that. Like, I’ll believe it. I haven’t actually read your thing, and I’m gonna let you get to it in a minute, that you have linked here.
But I absolutely believe that — given that, like I said, she creates so many different characters, she creates new departments on the Enterprise and then people to be in them. And entire other ships, and they’re friends with Kirk, and they go back so-and-so time, and there’s just so much that she creates for Star Trek. But it’s her version of Star Trek. That I can absolutely imagine him being annoyed at the idea that she’s going to create — she’s gonna give the Romulans culture? No? That’s his job, and just because he never cared to doesn’t mean that someone else should.
So it’s sort of, like, great men do great things, but they also have great egos. And get annoyed. It’s like they — to pull something contemporary, the fact that Rose Tico is not in The Rise of Skywalker at all seems to me–
Liz: Oh, I’m still mad.
Anika: –solely because JJ Abrams didn’t create that character, and so he was going to create two or three new characters to take over her part, because he was annoyed. And I don’t think he — and I don’t know JJ Abrams.
Liz: He is not a close personal friend of yours?
Anika: I don’t think he would necessarily even consciously — you know, I don’t think he would even consciously do it. But I can imagine that he would subconsciously do it.
Liz: The preponderance of original characters was at the heart of Roddenberry’s objections, particularly to The Romulan Way. Apparently he tried to block publication because he felt it was an original novel that used the Romulan names and had McCoy in it just to get it published as a Star Trek novel.
Anika: I mean, that’s true, but it’s also really good.
Liz: I know, I’m like, you’re saying this like it’s a bad thing? My source for this is vintage 1994 wank on Usenet. There’s a link to the archive which I will share, but basically, Roddenberry’s former assistant, Richard Arnold, spent — seems like a good portion of the early ’90s fighting with tie-in authors on the internet?
And it’s not even that he’s wrong, he’s saying, you know, if you wrote a Star Trek novel, that doesn’t mean you wrote for Star Trek, that means you wrote for hire tie-in fiction. It’s not that this is untrue, it’s just that … I don’t like him? And I don’t like the way he says it? Anyway there are all sorts of spurious allegations of defamation, and libel, and “I don’t know what Duane Duane’s husband has to do with this,” he only co-wrote The Romulan Way, “so I’m not going to answer that.”
But I had a lot of fun going through rec.arts.startrek.fandom fights from the early ’90s. Especially the bit where I stumbled into a thread where they were looking at the premise of Deep Space 9 and going, “Oh my gosh, these people don’t care about Star Trek, this is a blatant money grab, this is going to destroy Star Trek forever, look at all this political correctness with a black man in charge and a female first officer. I mean, God, Star Trek, it’s just not going to survive.”
Anika: Oooh, that was one thing I wanted to bring up, too. Very early in this novel, here, on page 27, in fact, Uhura basically says that Starfleet is the worst. And then, two pages later, Kirk straight-up says that his and the Enterprise’s priorities are usually different from Starfleet’s. And I was just, like, you know what? She didn’t pull that out of nowhere, that was in TOS. So everybody who’s complaining that, in Picard, suddenly Starfleet is on the other side, and we’re against them, has not been watching Star Trek.
Liz: There’s people who think that Star Trek is wholly utopian and perfect, and then there’s people who agree with us.
Anika: I just loved it. I was like, you go. And also, while I’m on the subject of Uhura, nearly every time she was in this book, she was described as beautiful, gorgeous, handsome. And I’m not complaining about this, but I love it. I love that she could not not describe Uhura as amazing and stunning.
Liz: And it didn’t feel objectifying. It wasn’t, like, the male gaze. Yeah. I also enjoyed the Sulu POV when Tafv’s people have attacked the ship, and he’s climbing through the Jeffries tubes, and he’s like, “I think I’m becoming claustrophobic. Maybe I should talk to the doctor about that. Eh, that’s a future Sulu problem.”
Anika: And I love Khiy, the young Romulan who’s hanging out with them, and fighting back because HIS honour has also been besmirched. It’s so heartwarming! I just love them all.
Liz: That was one of the things — the conflict between mnhei’sahe, where one owes honour to different and competing parties, and this is not a flaw on your part, it’s a problem to be solved — I really liked that as a piece of cultural worldbuilding.
Anika: Oh, and — okay, so at one point she’s saying, “Okay, here are the three ships that have been sent to meet up with us.” And Nniol says, “My sister’s on that ship, my sister’s on Javelin, I don’t know if I can fight my sister.” Which is perfectly fair. And he says, “I have to go back to the other ship, I can’t be trusted to be in battle against her.” I loved that. I loved that it set up the whole “We’re gonna punch each other and then start flirting” scene — that was great — between Kirk and Ael. That was awesome.
Anika: But then Javelin is destroyed! And I am so upset that Nniol’s sister got blown up! I’m really, really heartbroken for Nniol, because he loved his sister. And she wasn’t the captain, she wasn’t one of the bad guys, she just happened to be on that ship. She was probably — he was a really low-level person, she was probably a really low-level person, too, who just happened to be assigned to a tyrant. Like, the worst one. Javelin was the one where the captain took his own little shuttlecraft away to get back-up, and he’s the captain who refuses to go down with his ship, and in fact, allows his ship to be sacrificed in order to allow him to escape. He’s the worst.
Liz: The mirror!Lorca of Romulans.
Anika: So, of course, she’s not — I think that Nniol’s sister probably had mnhei’sahe for her brother, and she would have been happy to join up with Ael and Bloodwing, and I’m really sad that she’s dead.
Liz: I found the TV Tropes page for this subseries of novels. And apparently Nniol’s family come back in the later ones, and most of them have cast him — except for one cousin, who’s like, “Yeah, I think you did the right thing. I’m sorry. I love you, bro.”
Liz: The later Rihannsu books were published in the early 21st century, and I have to admit that I’m less enthusiastic about reading them.
Anika: They’re not great. I will say, they’re not great. I like that Arrhae — she has to go be a junior politician, like, a junior senator for the Romulan Empire. And they’re negotiating with the Federation, or whatever, and she has to go do this, she has to do politics, which I’m totally always into. And she is asked to be a spy. And she’s already a spy, as we recall–
Liz: I was gonna say!
Anika: –she’s a human who’s spying on the Romulans, but she–
Liz: I haven’t read The Romulan Way yet, but I remember you telling me about it.
Anika: [laughing] But she’s asked by the Romulans to spy on the humans. So it’s great, right? So she’s, like, double-spying. And she’s spying for the humans, she’s spying for the rebels — they’re like the good Romulans. She’s spying for the good Romulans and the humans, and she’s trying to be a politician. All sorts of people already hate her because she was, like, a housekeeper who became a senator, and they’re totally against that because they’re super into, you know, pure blood and descent, and you should have 800 houses before you get to be a senator.
Liz: Right. Nothing like the real world.
Anika: And so I really like her plot, or the idea of her plot, because she doesn’t really get to do much of it — and she has this little sort-of romance that I’m into, as well, with the rebel. But it goes nowhere, and it becomes this whole treatise on Ael’s honour, and — it stops being about anything, and it starts being, “I’m going to preach about what I think things should be”?
I don’t know, there stops being a plot, and it becomes entirely inner monologues. And I’m just, like, I’m over this, we’re done, the people I care about are no longer here, so I’m going to move on. And there’s no — if I recall correctly, there are zero Star Trek characters in these books! I do not remember a single — like, I’m pretty sure the Enterprise is involved in some way, but they’re not a part of the plot at all.
Liz: According to TV Tropes, the series ends with Ael becoming empress of the Romulan Empire, and she and Kirk exchange a kiss before he leaves and they never see each other again. And IN THEORY, I’m really into it, but — like, I was googling around to see what people said about this series, and the thing that kept coming is, “Is Ael a Mary Sue?” And I’m like, mate, I don’t care!
Liz: But I feel like making her empress is maybe a step too far. I love space politics, but I like the stories to be about the people functioning within that system rather than leading it.
Anika: I think I’ve read the — I read the third one, and that’s the one where we get Arrhae’s plot, and there’s stuff happening. And it’s, like, a cliffhanger where she — something happens, and it’s bad. And then there’s two more books, and nothing happens in them! And they’re really long, too, they’re like, fourth Harry Potter novel long.
Liz: Oh my God!
Anika: And it’s, like, I can’t with this, I can’t. And I don’t remember Ael being empress, that’s how — you know how I said that I skim eventually? When they start talking about tentacles, I’m like, I don’t need to know this. So my brain just shuts off, I have to try to read at some point, when the plot gets away from me, or I’m not following it. I read very quickly, and sometimes I’ll read too quickly, where it’s like, I decide that’s unimportant–
Liz: And miss things.
Anika: –and I just say, that goes away. So, okay, at the end of the third Hunger Games novel, her sister is killed? I had to read that four times before I realised that her sister was killed.
Anika: I could not follow what was going on!
Liz: No, I have the same problem. I read the Murderbot novel last night, and I really enjoyed it, it was so good, but I kept having to stop and go back because I was inhaling it so fast that I was missing things.
Anika: So I don’t remember them kissing! Are you serious? This has been an OTP of mine since I was nine! What? How is that possible?
Liz: I’m just going with what TV Tropes says! Maybe it’s a lie!
Anika: No, I’m sure it’s right, but all I remember of the last two books is being angry at them. So I completely believe that halfway through the fifth one, I was like, “Nah,” and didn’t even finish it. Very possible.
Liz: It’s a bit like season 7 of Next Gen, where things happen that you really, really wanted, like Picard and Crusher talk about their relationship? And then the outcome is so disappointing that you’re, like, ummmmmm, I dunno. It’s the seventh season of [these novels].
Anika: Yes. But The Romulan Way is always going to be one of my favourite books, ever, in the world, and I really like My Enemy, My Ally.
Liz: And, at a future time, probably when the international postal system is working again, and I can order a copy — because I don’t really like the ebook versions of the old Star Trek tie-ins, they tend to be really poorly formatted — I will buy it, and read it, and we can talk about it on this very podcast.
Liz: But what are we talking about next week?
Anika: Sorry, I had to move over into my —
Anika: Thank you for listening to Antimatter Pod. You can find our show notes at antimatterpod.tumblr.com, including links to our social media and credits for our theme music.
You can also follow us on Twitter at @antimatterpod. Sometimes we post cat pictures, and questions for our audience.
If you like us, leave a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you consume your podcasts — the more reviews, the easier it is for new listeners to find us.
And join us in two weeks when we’ll be discussing medicine and medical practitioners in the Star Trek universe.
Liz: You said you were going to talk about ER, right?
Liz: Does this mean that I need to watch some Chicago Hope, so I can talk about that?
Anika: We can have duelling Chicago hospitals in spaaaaaace!