Thursday, 16 May 2013

Star Trek: Starfinder: Council of Thoughts

Stop teasing me. Please.

I really enjoyed the first episode of Star Trek: Starfinder and the wait for the second is getting unbearable.

Now you could grumble and moan that it's been a while but there's good reason. A lot of effort and time is going into building on the success of the first story and rather than rush the production, we'll get to hear it when it's ready. Fortunately though those wonderful people in the background have come up with a neat way of keeping listeners gripped and wanting for more. They sure don't want to be forgotten with the release of two minisodes that build on their pilot episode and are sure to be relevant for the coming follow up story.

So where are we? We've already looked at two of the current four minisodesT'Kayla and Valor, alongside The Back of Beyond and the trailer for the anticipated second episode Balance. Now these are joined by a two-part  short story called Council of Thoughts.

Focusing on the captain of the USS Starfinder this is actually a brilliant idea which allows for us to understand the character in his own bubble so to speak and away from the narrative of a full episode. As a reminder, the captain is "...a genetically engineered synthetic brain connected to a very advanced computer network..." and called Artificial Neural Network Version D (ANN-D). His mind itself is an amalgamation of other captains' minds and experiences and to help develop further, ANN-D's creator suggests interacting with the residuals of those individuals who are part of his psyche - his "Council of Thoughts" if you will.

The minisodes have worked well for one crucial reason and something that I noted about the first episode back in my original review - there wasn't a lot of time given to developing each of the characters as there were quite a few to introduce in such a short space of time. In Council of Thoughts it's as though we're taking a breath to assess the situation before we're plunged back into the main story.  One of my wishes from The Back of Beyond was to get more time with the ship's captain as in the first episode he got switched off and the focus was more prominently on the rest of the crew and the situations they encountered. 

Using the flashpoint of an argument between two of the crew, the Jem'Hadar named Karak'ar and MACO Sergeant Byrnes, the captain finds his mind at conflict and as such is advised to "talk" to his inner selves. As one of the more "multi-facted" crew members, ANN-D could be quite confusing and there could even be accusations that his construct is similar to that of a Trill gaining the knowledge and experience of past hosts. That's not the case because the conflict seems to be much greater and the individuals who make up his personality were alive at overlapping times with more specific traits highlighted.

The second part allows us some time to view these facets and how they conflict and contrast within one person. There's a logical Vulcan, Captain Seleya; honourable Klingon warrior Commander Kurk; cunning, canny, resourceful and sneaky Captain Calhoun (from the New Frontiers novels if you recalland reclaimed Borg  "fixer" PI (pronounced "pie"). An interesting brood that I look forward to messing up ANN-D's head some more in the next episode. While we get to see who is inside the captain it's reassurance that Starfinder wasn't a one off. ANN-D is still quite an enigma following this because if those very conflicts and layers making him Starfinder's character for the exploration of humanity which is a common factor throughout the franchise's history. Unusually he's in command but even then we're starting to see an evolution and understanding of this individual through the exploration of his inner self. The ideas are there and the introduction of the minisodes certainly keeps the overall concept fresh.

Adding another piece to the background are the Short Stories featured on the Starfinder website. Initially you might just pass by these without a thought but alongside the minisodes for Council of Thoughts they act as a companion piece which is well worth a read through. I suspect this is one of the reasons that I enjoy this site and the productions that come from it - it's not about banging out an episode every three weeks but about the whole picture and fleshing out all aspects. To some degree this is its own bubble within the Star Trek universe where the story and (as importantly) the backgrounds are being developed. In the future I suspect this might be an Aladdin's Cave of information on the series, its characters, ships and settings as more and more elements are added into the concept. There are decisions and activities going on outside of the featured episodic missions which have perhaps not been realised in other Star Trek series and Starfinder should be proud to dare to be different.

Nor should we go forgetting the tech side. This is a good solid performance from the voice actors involved and, as we've mentioned, there's been a lot of activity behind the scenes to make improvements since The Back of Beyond. While these may not be totally evident in two six minute shorts, I hope that it assists Balance. I look forward to hearing some news on this front soon.

I think it would be harsh to say pass verdict on these minisodes because they are glimpse at the overall arc, but if you're a fan then these are a chance to fill out the picture and freshen the memory ahead of the second mission aboard the USS Starfinder. Looking at these minisodes another way they seem to operate in a similar fashion to the recent Harrison virals that accompanied Star Trek Into Darkness. Could we expect some more to spotlight more crewmembers?   I hope so as these additions make this a unique venture and expansion from Star Trek Online.

If you fancy listening to all four in one go, you can with the Starfinder Minisode Collection which is also now live on the website here. Alternatively Part 1 and Part 2 are available separately. The Back of Beyond pilot is available hereStarfinder also have an app on the iStore and Google Play so you can keep track of their efforts with the push of a button.

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