Fanfiction – A Thin Veneer

Ironically, I still haven’t reviewed the fic that usually comes to mind when I think “memorable sci-fi crossover fanfiction”, so let’s remedy that now.

A Thin Veneer by AlbertG (Albert Green Jr.) et al

This crossover between the original Star Trek and Babylon 5  is part of a larger universe of stories by the authors in question but I consider it a good thing that you can ignore that. I’ve always found that Comic Book Multiverse™-style writing interferes with the process of immersing the reader even in original works, where the fanfic “all deviations from canon should ripple out from a single ‘freebie'” rule of thumb is in effect.

The part of the plot that’s relevant to this story is that the Minbari stumble upon a hyperspatial wormhole of sorts while chasing some human refugees and almost interfere with the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Upon reading their report, the Grey Council decide that it’s too dangerous to leave what must be a small lost colony to eventually seek vengeance when they discover the extermination of Earth humans and, in the process, also give the Klingon Empire a slap on the wrists (two destroyed patrol ships) to warn them to never attack a Minbari ship again.

Needless to say, both efforts backfire when the Federation declares war on the Minbari for the murder of over 20 million civilians and the newly allied Klingon Empire refuses to let the insult and associated destruction go unpunished. Basically, this is what you get when you want to write an “X curb-stomps the Minbari” fic, but you can’t because you have standards.

For example, the story gives the federation a handicap, by setting this during the 23rd century and, while they’re technologically behind and tactically complacent, the Minbari aren’t stupid. Sometimes, the Minbari do discover effective counters or take prisoners, so the Klingons, the Federation, and the readers aren’t allowed to get complacent.

However, the thing that gives the strongest sense of “this is making a good effort to be quality writing” is the recurring theme that the title alludes to: The nature of civility in society, as first confirmed when the ever-eloquent General Chang delivers the first title drop in chapter 5. While the story touches on this from various angles (eg. the Klingons get plenty of story time), one of the more notable avenues it explores is using Admiral James T. Kirk to explore wartime morality and the boundary between righteous and monstrous as he prosecutes a war against the Minbari, having had no prior experience as a wartime commander and just coming out of negotiations that reminded him of the death of his son.

Diplomacy, tactical combat, curb-stomps, philosophy, interesting secondary characters, and more. This fic has a bit of everything.

On a less uncommon note, I also like the ways in which the two settings were merged. For example, it’s already known that, in Star Trek, the Preservers transplanted humans and terraformed planets… what’s one more Earth that’s unusually far and an unusually perfect copy of ours?

Likewise, if the Vorlons and Shadows are shepherding their little group of species, what’s stopping them from mucking with ours? Why, a collection of more hands-off, balance-oriented species such as the Organians, Metrons, and Medusans that won’t allow immature stagnancy-chasers to throw tantrums in the territory of others and will send ambassadors to sway misguided chaos-seekers if necessary. (An uncommon but pleasing twist, to have the “evil gods” swayed by reason while the “good gods” are revealed to be petulant children.) Best of all, what they see in accelerated transit across the galaxy suggests that the Preservers are still actively shuffling around planets, but working behind the scenes.

The other two reasons this probably sticks with me are:

  1. Star Trek and Babylon 5 are two series I perceive as “proper sci-fi” moreso than many others I’ve reviewed good things in, such as Stargate: SG-1, Battlestar Galactica, or Star Wars. I think it’s that the latter examples just feel too focused on some blend of contemporary-ness, personal stories, and fantasy-esque simplified morality to live up to the sense of exploration, scale, and/or philosophical depth that I look for in sci-fi.
  2. Despite being unfinished, it’s 445,720 words long and very close to the end of its story arc most of the way to completion, so it still satisfies. (And it may still get completed.)

That said, it also has its fun moments that aren’t memorable, so I re-discover them anew each time. For example, managing to find a way to make a meme reference work through a similar approach to Tom Paris’s love for old sci-fi:

“We get signal!”

Acaltha turned in his chair and directed a sharp look at his communications officer. “Mr. Vickers, I believe I mentioned something previously about a certain officer trying break the tension on the bridge by reviving three hundred year old Terran jokes?”

…or some delightful exchanges between old friends that I’ll leave you to discover on your own.

I’d say it definitely earns a 5 out of 5 rating for how it blends cathartic curb-stomping, enough challenge for the Federation to keep things interesting, and a lot of detail in the philosophical and character elements of war. That’s a combination you just don’t see every day, and I enjoy it very much.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Fanfiction – A Thin Veneer by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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