When authors or creators of long running franchises either run out of things to say or do with their properties there are a couple of courses of action they can take. Try and reboot the series, changing main characters or introducing new ones or new plot elements. Doctor Who, the world famous BBC long running television series – going on 50 years depending on how you count as they started in 1963 but went off the air for a while but then came back on and recently celebrated that 50th anniversary, which is interesting coming from a show about time travel – dealt with losing its titular character by making them an alien able to regenerate. That way, they could recast the actor whenever they need to revitalize the franchise.
Do what Star Trek has done. No not the reboot J.J.verse, that’s covered in the last paragraph. What you can do is jump forward 76 years or back 200 (or maybe only 20) and risk the franchise by telling new stories with a brand new cast. That did work for Star Trek with The Next Generation and even let the series spin off two additional series almost as – some may say even more – popular as The Next Generation with Deep Space Nine and Voyager. This is similar to what Star Wars has done as well. Jumping back to tell the first three episodes then jumping forward to tell the (possibly although I doubt it) last three. They also added in some standalones to fill in the gaps, as well as Disney’s pocketbook, along the way.
Or you could do what Ronald D. Moore did with Battlestar Galactica. Just throw out what you don’t want and completely remake the series. Change main characters and completely disregard the original story-lines and characters to make your own stories. Just keep the basics of the outline and some of the trappings of the series like character names, ship and bad guy designations and of course how they swear. The advantage of this method is you don’t have to bring any of the baggage or worry about continuity errors as there can’t really be any. Although this approach does run the highest risk of significant ire from the die hard fans. That can be tricky to navigate and weather. However, if the stories and the characters are good enough, it can really pay out if you persevere.
With all of these tactics you need to be exceedingly careful. One false move and you’ll jump the proverbial shark. It is nigh impossible to return from that. At least I have never seen a show or series recover.
The Reverse of the Medal is the eleventh book in the Aubrey Maturin saga. Just over half-way through the complete canon of twenty one books. With this episode in the overarching series we really see there is very little apparently that has actually changed in our two main protagonists. Yes, Aubrey is a Post Captain now and Maturin is independently wealthy to the point he need not worry about the financial aspects of his secondary career or needing to rely on his primary career for a livelihood. But in many aspects, that this particular novel points out, much is very much the same.
Aubrey is terrible with dealing with any aspect of his life on land. He has absolutely no idea whatsoever how to handle his personal finances – despite being able to calculate the percentage that he and more especially his men are due for a prize at sea – he jumps into any half backed scheme that comes his way. Luckily he is more fortunate in his pick of a partner as his wife, Sophie, loves him to death and stands by his side despite his addle-brained approach to finances. She even overlooks his dalliances that – most likely based on his age – resulted in Aubrey being the father of a half African, extremely catholic, son. All of which collide in a civil court case that forces Aubrey from the service.
Maturin – somehow – is completely unaffected by the loss of what is supposed to be the love of his life when Diana Villiers leaves him to live in Denmark. She does this because she believes the stories that he has had an affair and the letter Maturin wrote explaining the deception never reaches her. A feeling of rebuke coming from a woman who has been married multiple times, once becoming an American in the process (something terrible at the time given the situation with the War of 1812) and who just barely escaped the indignity of making her new husband have to raise the child of her last husband. (In case you can’t tell I can’t quite believe this part of of the tale.) This, combined with his new found wealth, allows Maturin to purchase Aubrey’s old ship the HMS Surprise and outfit it for a secret mission to South America for the Admiralty.
All of this, of course, appears to be part of Patrick O’Brian’s master plan. These major setbacks have been slowly building for the last three novels; The Ionian Mission, Treason’s Harbor, both of which I have reviewed, and I assume The Far Side of the World which I unfortunately don’t own and haven’t read. Although I did see the 2003 movie so hopefully I’ll get some credit. Patrick O’Brian has been laying the groundwork for the change in story-line for well over three books weaving bits and pieces in so the betrayals and the slow decline of Aubrey’s fortunes don’t sneak up on you from out of the myst. Possibly this lack of surprise – overall – in the actions of our protagonists and the overall short length of this particular novel (the book was just over 300 pages long) is what contributes to the general feeling this was just another Aubrey Maturin novel. A repetition of what we have seen before and the sinking feeling the stories will start to lapse into the same repetition of plot that ends up befalling any story going on long enough. Has the HMS Surprise finally jumped the shark with The Reverse of the Medal?
I don’t think it has. Or, at least I hope it hasn’t. The most hopeful sign I’m wrong and there is still life in the franchise yet is two fold.
Firstly, the fact the groundwork for this change was laid out so far in advance. As mentioned the primary foundations for the story were introduced at least as far back as The Ionian Mission. Some of the more fundamental elements, such as the feeling toward privateers by members of the professional service, may have been sprinkled in even earlier works. This alludes to the idea O’Brian has a much longer story arc in mind – and has had a much longer story arc hidden in the books – then would be readily apparent when reading the first few books. Something someone coming in having just viewed the movie would definitely miss.
The other piece leading me to think maritime carnivores have been avoided is the prose of the piece. Although O’Brian takes us on several asides describing the glens and forests around the Aubrey estate; and even a passage on the cricket game the Post Captain and crew play while waiting on repair work done on Aubrey’s home to settle, maintains the lyrical quality and sharpness of vision you come to expect with the series. No skimping on style or substance. A good sign there is a way to go before we can discount the series.
Hopefully this “reboot” of the story arc is adequately thought out. The signs are hopeful. Even as the idea entered my mind a third of the way through the book I found myself wanting to turn to the next page. A sure sign the tide is rising and the HMS Surprise will sail for a few more stories yet.