Yet another new licence has come to the tie-in factories of Big Finish Towers, with Fire With Fire, the first Star Trek audiobook from the company. It’s a reading of a 2016 German novel in the Prometheus subseries by Bernd Perplies and Christian Humberg, published in English in 2017 by Titan Books.
I have a theory that taking something slowly reveals the quality of its pacing. For example, I am against binge-watching: Netflix TV shows might debut whole seasons on a single day, but I watch them one episode at a time, giving myself time to digest what’s going on. With a well-paced show, this enhances the experience (e.g. Stranger Things Season One), but with a poorly paced show, this reveals how little is happening in each individual episode (e.g. Stranger Things Season Two). Audiobooks do the same thing to prose works, since reading a book aloud takes much longer than reaching a book to one’s self. With a book where every word and scene counts, an audio reading enhances the experience (e.g. Human Nature), but with a slow book, an audiobook makes the experience even slower.
Alec Newman reads the book: he’s been in a couple of Doctor Who audio dramas as well as a sequence of Star Trek: Enterprise episodes, but is best known to me for starring in the two Sci-Fi Channel Dune miniseries. Newman is a good reader, if not a fast one. As there are no sound effects or music, this is one of those audiobooks where you can increase the speed on your iPod (or whatever) with no ill effect. I know some people like it when audiobook readers do different voices for each character, but Newman makes no attempt to do that here, and that’s probably the right choice. Memory Beta indicates the book has over 100 named characters, and it’s hard for me to imagine distinct voices for all of them not becoming unintentionally comic. Newman gives a little bit of flavour where helpful: he goes a little deeper for his Klingons, and his shifty Romulans actually sound a bit like Dan Starkey for some reason.
But man, is it slow going even on fast speed. Not because of Newman, but because of the original text. Supposedly the U.S.S. Prometheus is on an urgent mission to track down a group of space terrorists, but you wouldn’t know it from how slowly the book gets the ship off on this mission, or how few things happen even once, halfway through the book, the ship finally arrives at the supposed home of the terrorists. There are so many unnecessary scenes at the beginning, whose purpose I cannot even guess at, where characters have conversations about things that have nothing to do with anything. There’s a whole sequence about the Prometheus visiting Deep Space 9 and the crew going to Quark’s that could be excised without you noticing a thing.
There are numerous scenes where characters tell each other things the readers already know; there are actually three scenes in a row where someone tells someone else about the terrorist assault on Starbase 91, and the other character wonders if it’s the Typhon Pact, and they’re told, no, probably not. Like, I get it already! There are tons of meetings and no action, and even on accelerated speed, the book’s 11-hour runtime went on forever. By the end of the book, the Prometheus has basically discovered one fact about the terrorists. Fire with Fire is the first book of a trilogy, and if all the Prometheus books are paced like this, a good editor could have fit the whole set into a single book.
One thing that is the fault of the Big Finish production is that the book displays almost wilful ignorance of the pronunciation of Star Trek proper nouns, including some names of key characters and planets from the franchise. Ones I noted included Akaar, Caitian, Jem’Hadar, Kahless, Keiko, Nechayev, Qo’noS, Rigellian, Risans, Tal Shiar, and any Andorian name involving a zh. Actually it ended up becoming kind of a fun game — Newman would go “akar” and I would shout “aka-ar!” at the speakers. I don’t blame Newman for this, as there’s no reason he should be up on the pronunciation of one-off characters from Friday’s Child, but it seems like basic preparation for the audiobook of a tie-in novel should include determining the proper pronunciation of the included words. There’s no credited director on Fire With Fire, but Richard Fox was the recording engineer, so perhaps he’s to blame for this. It’s a surprising and careless oversight for Big Finish; I cannot imagine a Doctor Who audio drama going out that mispronounced this many words from the television programme.
Unless you’re super into Star Trek novels and/or Star Trek audiobooks, it’s hard for to recommend picking this up. Fans have long wanted Big Finish to pick up the Star Trek licence, but this has not been worth the wait. If there are someday future Big Finish Star Trek projects outside of the Prometheus audiobooks (a second is already out, and the third is scheduled for December), they have got to be better than this.
Fire With Fire (by Bernd Perplies, Christian Humberg; read by Alec Newman) was released by Big Finish Productions in July 2018.