Other Stuff Exists

Don't get too comfortable with the familiar–other stuff exists, so go explore!

Spockanalia

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 15, 2016

Though we’re up to August 1974 in my chronological investigation of Star Trek, we must once again step back in time to look at an interesting bit of history: Spockanalia, the first Star Trek fanzine, edited by Devra Michele Langsam and Sherna Comerford.

A few words on fanzines, for the uninitiated: before the internet and easy global communication, fans could be pretty isolated from one another, but the urge to form a community with other fans was no less strong, so what could be done? Telephone calls, letters, and meetups and conventions could go only so far to quench the fannish thirst, so the most enterprising of fans went a step further, collecting stories, essays, letters, poems, songs, art, and other forms of fan labor, arranging them into magazines, and duplicating and distributing them, either by mail (for a fee or an in-kind trade of another fanzine) or at meetups and cons.

Fanzines are discussed in David Gerrold’s The World of Star Trek (1973), of which I’ve written previously, and in much more detail in Joan Marie Verba’s Boldly Writing (1996).

Five issues of Spockanalia were published, between September 1967 and June 1970. Its influence was substantial: in a letter to the editors (printed in Spockanalia 3), Gene Roddenberry wrote:

SPOCKANALIA is “required reading” for everyone in our offices, and I am most distressed that you were not told of this before. We have used all the extra copies to make sure that every new writer, and anyone who makes decisions on show policy have read your fanzine, and Juanita Coulson’s ST-PHILE. The reason for this is that if we all understand what the fans see in the show, and try to understand why they are fans at all, we can then continue to hold those fans. Certain fanzines, and yours is one of them, have a mature and well-written format that is very instructive to our staff.

Besides letters from the cast and crew of Star Trek, Spockanalia published a number of items whose authors might be recognizable: Juanita Coulson, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Dorothy Jones, Poul Anderson, and Lois McMaster Bujold among them. Two stories published in Spockanalia 4 were later republished in Star Trek: The New Voyages and Star Trek: The New Voyages 2, anthologies edited by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath, published by Bantam. You can find tables of contents for each issue, a few scanned pages, and a wealth of other information at Fanlore.

I’d love to give a fully detailed review of these fanzines, but they had limited circulation and are collectibles, so copies (possibly illegitimate!) of the issues generally go for somewhere between ‘a bit expensive’ and ‘absurdly expensive’. I’ll write a few words about those items that are available to me, though, and I’ll revisit them, should I learn more.

There are many (so many!) other fanzines that are worthy of attention, but they suffer from the same lack of availability as Spockanalia. If I tried to track down every issue for this blog, I’d never get through the pro fic, and I’d run out of money besides. Still, I’ll try to mention fan works I’m aware of, when they’re relevant.

Without further ado…

Spockanalia 1

spockanalia-1

The first issue opens with a letter from Leonard Nimoy, wishing the editors luck: “I sincerely hope that your magazine will be a success, and want to thank you very much for your interest in STAR TREK and MR. SPOCK.”.

Following that is printed “The Territory of Rigel”, a song written by Dorothy Jones. She introduces it as “a piece supposed to have been written by Spock, many years ago.” She describes it as a “Vulcan form called ni var” which “means literally ‘two form’ . . . a piece comparing and contrasting two different things or two aspects of the same thing.” This term would get a nod 35 years later in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Shadows of P’Jem”, as the name of a Vulcan starship. “The Territory of Rigel” is reprinted in Verba’s Boldly Writing. It’s an interesting exercise, but not to my taste as poetry.

“Spock Shock” by Sherna Comerford is a brief skit, which was later performed at the 1969 Star Trek Con. An absurd bit of interaction between Captain Curt, Mr. Swock, and others on the bridge of the USS Undersize.

“Vulcans and Emotions” by Devra Michele Langsam is an essay in academic style (with citations in end notes!) considering whether Vulcans experience emotions. It concludes: “It is the firm conviction of the author that Vulcan emotions do exist, however unlike human emotions they may be, and that these cannot be ignored in dealing with that planet’s sentient species.” The essay’s conclusion turned out to be correct, in fact: later Trek indicates that Vulcans do not lack emotions, merely control them. This is the earliest example of serious investigation into the ‘facts’ of the Star Trek universe I’ve seen; many more would follow.

“Kirk and Spock” by Ruth Berman is a short poem (reprinted from Pantopon #17) about the titular characters, so different, who “even when they disagree / (And they generally do) / Seek out each other’s company.”

Spockanalia 2

spockanalia-2

“The Man in the Hero Suit” by E. A. Oddstad is a very interesting essay on Kirk’s character. An excerpt from the end:

Kirk’s morals are a set of words and actions imposed on him. They are not part of his character. The Kirk in the parallel universe had learned other words and actions. Though the mirror Spock has integrity and the mirror McCoy humanity, the mirror Kirk is (or was; he must be dead by now) a thorough going rat. The only redeeming quality in either Kirk is a deep-hidden humanity that occasionally, unexpectedly, surfaces. When it does, it’s like finding a diamond ring at a beach.

Fortunately, ‘our’ Kirk lives in a less repellent society and obeys its laws. And he has Spock for a logical conscience and McCoy as a humane conscience.

“The Allure of Uhura” by robert toomey (lowercase as published) is an essay–a paean–on Uhura. Uninteresting.

Spockanalia 3

spockanalia-3

“Visit to a Weird Planet” by Jean Lorrah and Willard F. Hunt is a story (a ‘real person fic’) in which Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are somehow accidentally beamed to the (then-) present-day set of Star Trek, filming in progress, and must pretend to be their counterparts (Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley) until they can be rescued. Great literature it’s not (and the more general premise of Trek characters traveling to present-day Earth had been done six months earlier in the TOS episode “Assignment: Earth” and a year before that in “Tomorrow is Yesterday”, and travel to 1930 in “The City on the Edge of Forever”), but it’s a serviceable bit of comedy. This story would have a number of sequels by different authors.

Spockanalia 4

spockanalia-4

“Time Enough” by Lelamarie S. Kreidler explores a brief relationship between Spock and a half-Vulcan member of the Enterprise‘s crew, Lt. Cmdr. Lian Jameson, otherwise known as T’Lian, during Spock’s pon farr. The device of pon farr would become quite popular in fanfic, continuing to the present day. This writing is clumsy in places, but perhaps not more so than some actual Star Trek scripts. Little story to speak of, but not a bad interlude.

Spockanalia 5

spockanalia-5

“Cave-In” by Jane Peyton, later published in Star Trek: The New Voyages 2.

“Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited” by Ruth Berman, a sequel to “Visit to a Weird Planet” from Spockanalia 3, later published in Star Trek: The New Voyages.

Since both of these are included in books I’ll be reading later for this project, I’ll leave description of them for that time.

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Star Trek Log Two by Alan Dean Foster

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 14, 2016

The next in Alan Dean Foster’s series of novelizations of Star Trek: The Animated Series, published in August 1974, two months following its predecessor, is Star Trek Log Two, which adapts “The Survivor”, “The Lorelei Signal”, and “The Infinite Vulcan”.

cover

None of the stories in this volume are particularly strong.

In “The Survivor”, a shape-shifting alien impersonates Carter Winston, a wealthy trader and sort of gentleman adventurer in space (who is conveniently engaged to a member of Kirk’s crew). The deception is discovered and war with the Romulans averted. The blurb for this story on my copy of the book reads “Our old friend Carter Winston is back aboard the Enterprise for a visit–or is he?” which is just comically wrong.

In “The Lorelei Signal”, the men of the Enterprise have their youth and strength stolen from them by a group of beautiful, immortal women, until they are eventually rescued by a group of female security officers led by Uhura. The space sirens just want to live normal lives, apparently, so they let bygones be bygones.

“The Infinite Vulcan” is the most absurd of the three: Kirk and company are menaced by sapient plants led by (the clone of) a scientist, Keniclius, who is intent on taking over the galaxy with an army of giant clones of Spock. They talk him out of it, though.

Foster’s writing is good, as usual, but that’s not enough to save these mediocre stories. Unless, like me, you just want to read every Trek book, I’d give this one a miss.

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The World of Star Trek by David Gerrold

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 24, 2016

Though I’m generally reading these books in publication order, for the next book in our Trek journey, we need to step back in time about a year. Today’s book is the second non-fiction Trek book we’re looking at, David Gerrold’s The World of Star Trek, published April 12, 1973.

The World of Star Trek - cover

The prologue describes the approximate outline of the book:

Actually, there are three worlds of STAR TREK. First, there’s the STAR TREK that Gene Roddenberry conceived–the original dream of a television series about an interstellar starship. Then there’s the STAR TREK behind the scenes, how the cast and crew made Gene Roddenberry’s ideas come true, how they were realized and sometimes altered in the realization. And finally, there’s the STAR TREK Phenomenon, the world that the fans of the show created, the reality that they built in response.

All three of these worlds are fascinating, and all three of them are dealt with in this book. Each of the worlds of STAR TREK created the next; and like interlocking rings, each had its effects on the others. The show created the stars, the stars engendered a fandom, and the fans kept the show on the air.

This book would seem to be in the vein of Whitfield’s 1968 book, The Making of Star Trek, though its focus is somewhat different. As Gerrold himself notes, Whitfield’s book more than adequately covers the details of the production of the series, so Gerrold does not spend too many words repeating these details. The book’s opening (“Part One: The First World of Star Trek–Gene Roddenberry’s Dream”) repeats the familiar details from The Star Trek Guide and the original series format, much like Whitfield’s. But where The Making of Star Trek examines how the series’s premise works to make a show that could be produced within the constraints of a television budget, The World of Star Trek considers how it enables interesting stories:

[Kirk] would be explorer, ambassador, soldier, and peacekeeper. He would be the sole arbiter of Federation law wherever he traveled–he would be a law unto himself.

The implication here is that there are no other channels of intersteller communication. At least, none as fast as the Enterprise.

If Kirk could check back with Starfleet Command every time he was in trouble, he would never have any conflicts at all. He would simply be a crewman following orders. He wouldn’t be an explorer or an ambassador–just the Captain of the local gunboat on the scene.

Gerrold has some definite ideas about the way stories ought to be told. For example:

The single dramatic element which provokes excitement in a play is this: your identity is in danger. All others are merely variations: your life is in danger, your country is in danger, your girl friend might leave you, your wife might find out, your brother might die, the police might catch you. Something threatens to prevent you from being the person you already are or want to be.

But if you endanger the hero’s identity week after week, not only do you run the risk of melodrama–you also run the risk of falling into a formula kind of storytelling. This week Kirk is menaced by the jello monster, he kills it by freezing it to death; next week Kirk is menaced by the slime monster and kills it by drying it out; the week after that he is threatened by the mud monster and defeats it by watering it down; the following week Kirk meets the mucous monster . . . Again, the ho hum reaction. Or even the ha ha reaction.

The second part of the book (“The Star Trek Family–The People Who Made The Enterprise Fly) generally avoids focusing on the production aspects of the show, considering them adequately covered by Whitfield’s book. Instead, the bulk of the text is made up of extended excerpts from interviews with some of the principal figures in Trek: Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols; also included is an interview with William Campbell, who played Trelane in “The Squire of Gothos”.

The interviews are very interesting, giving a look at how the actors felt about the show and the characters they played. Since these interviews were conducted at a distance of a few years from the show, they make a nice complement to the interviews in The Making of Star Trek, which was published while the show was still in production.

Following the interviews is a complete listing of each Star Trek episode, its writers, and its guest stars. A handy reference, in the days before the internet!

The third part of the book (“The Star Trek Phenomenon”) discusses the well-known letter-writing campaign to save Star Trek, organized by Bjo Trimble, then discusses the fandom more generally, touching on fanzines, conventions, and other details. A very interesting look at how scifi fandom–and especially Trek fandom–was organized at the time, and how it was viewed.

In fourth part of the book (“Star Trek Analyzed–The Unfulfilled Potential”), Gerrold examines some of the specific elements that make up Trek episodes, both good and bad. For example, he criticizes Kirk and Spock always going out on dangerous away missions:

…this is the most deadly of all criticisms that have ever been leveled against STAR TREK:

A Captain, whether he be the Captain of a starship or an aircraft carrier, simply does not place himself in danger. Ever.

This is one major problem in the STAR TREK format, the one difficulty that forces the show into a set of formula situations week after week–the focusing of attention on two characters who should not logically be placing themselves in physical danger, but must do so regularly.

Gerrold suggests a specially trained “Contact Team” should be sent on away missions instead. Actually, his idea is a good one, and was vindicated in The Next Generation, years later: Riker was not at all interested in allowing Picard to go out on dangerous away missions, and when Riker was himself in command of the ship he too was reminded by the crew that he was too important to be risked in that way. Better late than never, eh?

The final section of the book (“The return of Star Trek…?”) looks at the possibility of the show’s return, and gives details on some of Gene Roddenberry’s then-upcoming projects: “Spectre”, “Questor”, “The Tribunes”, and “Genesis II”. And finally:

Oh, yes. One more thing. What if STAR TREK doesn’t come back . . . ?

“Well,” says Gene. “I have a lot of notes on a new concept, a planet-travel show. Not for this season, but for the next one. I’m going to start putting it together . . . ”

You see, the fans are right. STAR TREK lives!

I think that the foregoing excerpts give evidence enough that, even if you don’t entirely agree with Gerrold’s ideas about drama, he has plenty of insightful things to say about Star Trek. And besides being informative, the book is entertaining. The excellent little parody of bad Star Trek plots, “Green Priestesses of the Cosmic Computer”, is not to be missed. I know that I gave a pretty strong recommendation of Whitfield’s book before, but if you are more interested in the stories of Trek than the production of TV episodes, you might prefer to give that one a miss and read The World of Star Trek instead.

David Gerrold is the author of the TOS episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” and its sequel, the TAS episode “More Tribbles, More Troubles”, among other Trek-related work, plus a number of original novels. Published simultaneously with this book was another by Gerrold, The Trouble With Tribbles: The Birth, Sale and Final Production of One Episode.

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Star Trek Log One by Alan Dean Foster

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 21, 2015

After (finally!) finishing the tenth in James Blish’s series of adaptations, we come to June 1974, and the publication of Alan Dean Foster’s Star Trek Log One. This volume adapts the first three episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series, “Beyond the Farthest Star”, “Yesteryear”, and “One of Our Planets Is Missing”.

star-trek-log-one-cover

Like Blish’s Star Trek series, Foster’s Star Trek Log series adapts television episodes. There, though, the similarities end. Blish adapted hour-long episodes into roughly twenty-five page short stories. Foster adapts half-hour episodes into (in this book) roughly sixty-page short stories. And oh, but the extra pages are well-used.

I hate to be too hard on Blish, but reading his adaptations is very like reading scripts re-arranged as prose. Plenty of dialogue, some stage directions, and a bit of description to set the scene. But unless Kirk says it out loud, we have no idea what he’s thinking, and twenty-five pages is too short for the narrator to spend any time musing on events, either.

By contrast, Foster adapts much shorter episodes into much longer stories, so he can take time to comment and expand on events, to give things some flavor, and to let us know how the characters are affected. It’s interesting and, after reading ten volumes of Blish’s spartan prose, refreshing.

Beyond the Farthest Star

The Enterprise is en route to the Time Planet, home of the Guardian of Forever from the TOS episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”, when they are irresistibly pulled off course. Arriving at the source of the incredible force which drew them in, and (only just barely) managing to enter into orbit about it, they find a ‘negative star-mass’, or, as Kirk puts it, ‘an immensely powerful aggregation of nothing’.

The Enterprise is not alone. They find there a ship of alien design and of extremely ancient origin–some three hundred million years past. Exploring it, they find that the ship discovered trapped in the gravity well of the star a powerful and malevolent alien being. Rather than loose it on the galaxy, they destroyed themselves, depriving it of the use of their ship.

This very being is accidentally transported back to the Enterprise when the away team returns, and quickly infects the ship’s computer. Only through guile and sheer nerve are the Enterprise crew able to regain control of their ship and escape both the energy being and the dead star.

Even if ‘the Enterprise encounters an unexpected spatial anomaly’ isn’t the most original plot, this story is still satisfying. It starts off strong, with interesting prose making good use of the opportunity to expand on Kirk’s thoughts in a moment of down time. The segment in which the away team investigates the alien vessel, too, is good, giving a nice sense of exploration.

The actual conflict with the alien being I found to be less interesting. The role of the being was mostly to shout commands menacingly while occasionally providing some direct physical danger, and Kirk (in, it must be said, an appropriately Kirk-like fashion) tricks it into leaving the ship just as they escape. There would have been more tension if we couldn’t be sure that things would work out in the end, but as the story approached its climax there were still a hundred pages in my right hand arguing against anything too unexpected happening.

Yesteryear

Having finally reached the Time Planet, Kirk and Spock accompany a historian into the past for research purposes. Upon returning, however, they find that no one recognizes Spock–and the Enterprise has a new first officer, an Andorian named Thelan.

It transpires that Kirk and Spock have arrived in a timeline in which Spock was killed by a wild animal at a young age. In the timeline from which they came, Spock was rescued from the attack by a visiting relative. Somehow, this event was prevented while Kirk and Spock were visiting the past.

They conclude that the visiting relative must have been Spock himself, traveling back in time. Other historians viewed Vulcan’s past while Kirk and Spock were away. Since Spock was already somewhere else and couldn’t exist in two places at once, the past was changed so that Spock’s fateful visit never occurred. In order to restore history to its familiar form, Spock must travel into his own past and save his younger self, duplicating the events he remembers as exactly as he can manage.

Despite some minor difficulty interacting with his parents, Spock is successful in preventing his younger counterpart from being killed. However, the le-matya‘s attack claims another victim: Spock’s beloved pet sehlat. When Spock returns and informs Kirk of his success, and the small deviation in the timeline, Kirk opines that “that wouldn’t mean much in the course of time”, though Spock, affected by the death, replies that “it might […] to some”.

This is an excellent story. The episode that it is based on was Dorothy Fontana’s sole contribution to The Animated Series, and a worthy contribution it was. It’s very satisfying to see a young Spock, to meet his parents once again, to get another glimpse of the planet Vulcan. The story hangs together very well and maintains interest throughout.

One of Our Planets is Missing

“Precisely two and a quarter ship-days after leaving the Time Planet the crew of the Enterprise received a general emergency call.”

A very massive cosmic cloud is moving toward inhabited space, and the Enterprise is sent to assess the situation. Before their eyes, the cloud consumes an entire–thankfully uninhabited–planet, Alondra. From there, it proceeds toward that planet’s neighbour, the decidedly inhabited Mantilles. It is up to the Enterprise to find a way to stop the cloud before Mantilles’s eighty-two million people are reduced to so much stardust, along with their planet. But how can something so massive be stopped?

The Enterprise, swallowed up by the cloud, is given a first-hand look at its interior. To their shock, the cloud seems to be a living being. McCoy recognizes in the cloud’s destruction of the remaining fragments of Alondra a similarity to the action of a stomach, and they later find something resembling brain activity.

If they were to target the center of this brain activity and cause the ship to self-destruct, the force would be sufficient to kill the cloud creature–trading its life, and their few hundred lives, for the millions on Mantilles.

As they draw near the critical time, they try a last alternative–at Kirk’s suggestion, Spock attempts to contact the creature mentally. As the Enterprise is located inside the creature’s ‘brain’, its thoughts are literally all around them. They route the sensor data through the universal translator, and with Spock as a sort of transmitter, they are able to contact the creature. Just in time, they convince the creature, which has no desire to kill, to leave inhabited space and return to its place of origin.

This story is the weakest of the three. The idea of such a massive and alien creature could be interesting, but it isn’t really explored, and the drama is primarily caused by the ticking clock. The best single part, in my opinion, is the brief segment in which Kirk and Scott refill the ship’s antimatter tanks. That’s not to say that this is really a bad story–it’s quite readable, just a bit of a letdown after “Yesteryear”.

Conclusion

A digression, here, on the subject of The Animated Series.

In my experience, TAS has not got a very good reputation–which is perhaps a recent development, as it was fairly well received when originally aired. I can understand some reasons why: like TOS, the stories can be far less serious than those told in later Trek, and it suffered from some very subpar animation, from time to time.

For the first point, however, TAS is, after all, intended as a direct followup to TOS–essentially a fourth season. That it has a similar style is no flaw. As to the second: putting aside quality, the use of animation allowed the Enterprise to have regular alien crew members (other than Spock, of course) and to accomplish any desired effects without blowing a whole season’s budget. If you ask me, it’s better to suffer some low-quality animation than the sameness in a Federation crew.

Back to the book, then.

One thing to note about these adaptations is that Foster ties the stories together chronologically. The first story begins as they are on their way to the Time Planet, the second takes place there, and the third begins two days after they leave. It doesn’t really impact the plot–a few minor references to the previous events aside–but it does provide a good sense of continuity. Here, it feels like the Enterprise really is out and about, encountering danger after danger, where in the television series the events felt much more isolated. It’s a nice touch.

Star Trek Log One is a worthwhile read, particularly if you find the animation in The Animated Series offputting. No need to miss out on good stories on account of poor presentation! “Yesteryear” is a great character-focused story, bookended by two rather average adventures. All three are quite readable, though, and the book is worth it for “Yesteryear” alone.

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Star Trek 10 by James Blish

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 10, 2015

February 1974 brings another entry in Blish’s series of Star Trek novelizations, Star Trek 10. This volume adapts “The Alternative Factor”, “The Empath”, “The Galileo Seven”, “Is There in Truth No Beauty?”, “A Private Little War”, and “The Omega Glory”.

cover

In his introduction to this volume, Blish confirms what I suspected (and mentioned in my review of Star Trek 7): he has done as little to change the scripts he was working from as possible. In his words:

Up to that point, I’d regarded my role as nothing but that of a pipeline between the scripts and all the rest of you who can’t forget the series.

…in this series it was obviously my duty to the originals to keep myself out of them as much as possible.

This is a shame, since Blish isn’t a bad author and the scripts could really use some tweaking for the page. Well, it’s too late now.

In “The Alternative Factor”, the Enterprise encounters a strange disturbance in space, and finds a madman on an otherwise dead world who demands that they help him to defeat the monstrous man who destroyed his civilization. This story is just a mess. It was worse on screen, but this adaptation can’t cure what ails it. A number of events transpire with some urgency, but fail to make any impression on the reader, until the story comes to its pat, supposedly-dramatic end.

In “The Empath”, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy have their loyalty to one another tested by some aliens who hope to teach an empathic girl certain positive emotions, as a prerequisite to saving her planet from destruction. This is far from my favorite story, but it’s well worth seeing the episode for the very different style–minimalist sets, shots heavily focused on the actors. The adaptation isn’t bad, but the episode was better.

In “The Galileo Seven”, Spock’s logical style of command is put to the test when the expedition he leads is forced to crash land on an inhospitable planet. Meanwhile the Enterprise has only a limited time to search for them before they must abandon them for a greater duty. This isn’t a bad story, but it feels like they were trying to force a conflict between logical and emotional choices that just didn’t have to be there. Even in the end, when Spock makes the supposedly emotional decision to burn up their shuttlecraft’s fuel as a flare, it doesn’t seem a particularly illogical choice–either the Enterprise was nearby, and might see it, or it had already left, and conserving fuel would do no good. Whatever my disagreement with the story’s interpretation, though, it’s still good to see Spock in a command situation, and to see him interacting with McCoy.

In “Is There in Truth No Beauty?”, the Enterprise plays host to an alien ambassador so ugly that the sight of him will drive a man mad. I liked this story because it’s focused on the characters. There are unique dynamics between Miranda and each of Spock, Kirk, and Marvick, and we get a good look at Kirk and Spock’s friendship, too.

“A Private Little War” is a metaphor (explicitly stated, even) for the Vietnam War. The Klingons have given one faction on a previously idyllic planet weapons with which to subjugate another faction (coincidentally favored by Kirk). Kirk ultimately determines to arm ‘his’ side equally to the other, maintaining a careful balance of power, to prevent either side from being totally destroyed. Is his decision correct? I wonder. It’s a great story.

“The Omega Glory”, frankly, is just embarrassing. It’s all very rah-rah about the superiority of the United States, as depicted by a society with a truly unbelievable degree of parallel evolution with Earth, in which the communists took over the world. Don’t worry, though, because the Good Guys win in the end, and Kirk recites the Pledge of Allegiance and the Preamble to the Constitution. Because America!

Star Trek 10 features several quite good stories. It’s surely one of the best volumes in this series. Maybe I was just in a good mood, but even the writing seemed better in this book. Do check it out, fans of classic Trek.

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Star Trek 9 by James Blish

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 8, 2015

If 1972 had a torrent of James Blish’s adaptations (four!), 1973 had a drought. In August 1973 was published that year’s sole entry in the series, Star Trek 9. This volume adapts “Return to Tomorrow”, “The Ultimate Computer”, “That Which Survives”, “Obsession”, “The Return of the Archons”, and “The Immunity Syndrome”.

cover

In “Return to Tomorrow”, the Enterprise encounters three aliens, survivors of an ancient war, who wish to borrow a few of their bodies to build android bodies for themselves. This adaptation isn’t bad, but it’s really another story that got most of its value from seeing the characters acting unlike themselves, which works much better on television. Reading of the doings of ‘Sargon-Kirk’ just isn’t the same as watching William Shatner, after all.

In “The Ultimate Computer”, Dr. Richard Daystrom, the brilliant scientist who built the Enterprise‘s computer, has invented a new kind of computer, the M-5 multitronic unit, which promises to be so capable as to replace a starship’s entire crew, and the Enterprise has been given the honor of testing it. When the computer malfunctions, it’s up to the skeleton crew that remains on the Enterprise to regain control of their vessel before their comrades in Starfleet are forced to destroy them. An entertaining story.

In “That Which Survives”, the Enterprise and a landing party are attacked by the image of a woman, who is actually a computer-controlled replica defending a dead planet. A threadbare story, indeed. We’re meant to feel some sympathy for the woman, and it works a little in the TV episode, but I just don’t feel it in the short story. Forgettable.

In “Obsession”, the Enterprise encounters a murderous cloud creature that, eleven years ago, killed many members of the crew of the Farragut, on which Kirk served as a lieutenant. As they investigate, the clock is ticking, since the Enterprise must rendezvous with the Yorktown to transport some highly perishable and desperately needed medical supplies. This story works out far too well for Kirk–he clearly is simply obsessed (as the title indicates) with the creature, and his decision to put off meeting up with the Yorktown is clearly a dangerous one, but since he’s friends with the writers it turns out he was right all along. I’m not a fan of this one.

“The Return of the Archons” tells the story of yet another society made stagnant by a ruling godlike computer, Landru. And once again Kirk convinces it to kill itself. A fairly entertaining story. I’d like to get some more information on the creation of the computer, its original purpose, whether it was immediately tyrannical or became thus over time, but there’s never enough time in an episode for much detail, and these adaptations aren’t any different. It’s still worth a read, though.

In “The Immunity Syndrome”, the Enterprise encounters a giant space amoeba. Which they blow up. The end.

Star Trek 9 is another middling entry in Blish’s series of adaptations. A few of the stores are reasonably entertaining, but “That Which Survives” and “The Immunity Syndrome” are rather dull. I admit that at this point I’m really looking forward to the end of this series. Fortunately, there’s just one more to go before Alan Dean Foster’s Star Trek Log series begins, and then a couple more later on. I can stick with it that far. My advice for this one is just as usual: only get it if you particularly liked one of the episodes adapted in this volume.

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Trek Lit in Review: 1967-1972

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 7, 2015

Let’s take a quick look at the first six years of Trek lit, shall we? Eleven books were published between 1967 and 1972, comprising two original novels, one nonfiction ‘making of’ book, and eight volumes of adaptations of episodes from the television show. Namely:

  1. Star Trek by James Blish (Amazon)
  2. Mission to Horatius by Mack Reynolds (Amazon)
  3. Star Trek 2 by James Blish (Amazon)
  4. The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield (Amazon)
  5. Star Trek 3 by James Blish (Amazon)
  6. Spock Must Die! by James Blish (Amazon)
  7. Star Trek 4 by James Blish (Amazon)
  8. Star Trek 5 by James Blish (Amazon)
  9. Star Trek 6 by James Blish (Amazon)
  10. Star Trek 7 by James Blish (Amazon)
  11. Star Trek 8 by James Blish (Amazon)

The two original novels, Mission to Horatius and Spock Must Die!, are both pretty good stories. You can see my reviews, linked above, for details, but in short I’d say they’re worth a read for anyone interested in early Trek lit. They’re on about the level of the average episode of The Original Series, which is, I suppose, what they were aiming for.

The Making of Star Trek is of great historical interest. It features plenty of interesting details about the creation of Trek, including many primary sources. The details about how, generically speaking, TV shows are made is of less interest, but the bulk of the book is specifically about Star Trek. If you want to know something about how the show and its characters developed, take a look at this one.

The bulk of the books during this period were James Blish’s adaptations, beginning with Star Trek in January 1967 and continuing through November 1972 with Star Trek 8, with more to come.

Blish’s adaptations are all of about equal quality, as far as writing is concerned (decent, but uninspired), though the quality of the stories varies quite a bit. Some suggestions:

  • “Balance of Terror” from Star Trek
  • “Mirror, Mirror” and “Amok Time” from Star Trek 3
  • “The Enterprise Incident” from Star Trek 4
  • “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” from Star Trek 8

In general, if you liked the episode, the adaptation should be acceptably entertaining, as well. This doesn’t hold if you liked the episode because of the acting, of course.

If you’re looking to read only a little from this period, then prioritize Spock Must Die!, then Mission to Horatius. Follow up with as many (or as few) of Blish’s books as seem interesting to you, if you’re still hungry for old Trek lit, after those two.

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Star Trek 8 by James Blish

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 5, 2015

A few more months brings us to the final Trek book of the year: James Blish’s Star Trek 8, published in November 1972. This volume adapts “Spock’s Brain”, “The Enemy Within”, “Catspaw”, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, “Wolf in the Fold”, and “For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”.

cover

The first story in this book is the execrable “Spock’s Brain”. Good news, though! If you’ve seen the episode, then you’ll recall that they wire Spock’s body up and drive him around like an RC car. None of that in the adaptation–the body remains safely in sickbay for the duration. Blish deserves a medal for that.

It’s still not a very good story, unfortunately. Although Blish reduced the story’s stupidity substantially, he didn’t do anything to improve its women-in-power-are-evil-and-incompetent message. If anything, he exacerbated that problem. Some choice quotes:

The five male bodies, helplessly stretched at her feet, pleased the lady. When the girl Luma joined her, the spectacle pleased her, too.

Beside each woman knelt a man, sleek, well fed, docile as a eunuch. Occasionally a woman stroked a man as one pats a well-housebroken pet.

They are retardates, Kirk thought. Getting through to whatever gray matter existed in that beautiful head was going to be tough.

The women around her, infected by her panic, twittered like birds at the approach of a snake.

To be fair, the thrust of the last two is that the women were helpless because the machinery cared for them too well. It’s unfortunate, all the same.

Of course, if you know Trek, you can guess what happens. Kirk’s solution to his present dilemma is to disable the miraculous, life-giving machinery and encourage the women to survive by trading sex for food. Really. McCoy and Scott explain:

“[…] However, the aid parties have provided the ladies with a tool for procuring food, furs and fuel from the men.”

“Oh?” Kirk turned from one to the other. “Money?”

“No, sir,” Scott said. “Perfume.”

“I’m not given to predictions, gentlemen, but I’ll venture one now,” Kirk told them. “The sexual conflict on Planet 7 will be a short one.”

“The Enemy Within” has a point, but I was never sure that it was a very good one. Kirk is split by a transporter accident into an exaggerated evil version and a uselessly indecisive ‘nice’ version. It is, apparently, the opinion of Trek that the strength to act decisively springs from the same source as violent, base urges and that we therefore need these darker impulses. And also transporters are magic. Anyway, the main interest of this one, as with “Turnabout Intruder”, was in seeing Shatner playing a different kind of Kirk, so it’s not as interesting on the page. Tolerable, but nothing to write home about. Yeoman Rand’s “I don’t want to get you into trouble. I wouldn’t even have mentioned it if technician Fisher hadn’t seen you, too, and…” is as disturbing and unfortunate here as it was on the screen. The fact that this passes without comment shows the age of the story, indeed. And need I even mention how stupid it is to have her providing this testimony while Kirk is standing there protesting?

“Catspaw” and “Wolf in the Fold” are both rather bad. The former has little else going for it than being set in a castle, of all things, which worked better on the screen. As for the latter: it features our heroes deciding that a small series of murders must have been committed by Jack the Ripper, who must have been some kind of alien that feeds on emotions. This theory is considered to be logical by almost everyone, and Jack the Ripper is taken as a serious suspect, even when placed up against the woman-hating man who was found with the bloody murder weapon in his hands. Of course, that man was Scotty, so Jack the Ripper seems a more likely suspect to the readers, too. Naturally, the theory is correct, and said evil alien is conveniently on hand to be despatched by a combination of absurd computer handwaving and drugs followed by a one-way trip through the transporter. A deeply stupid story.

“Where No Man Has Gone Before” has a concept with potential. But it, like its television counterpart, fails to convince me. Gary Mitchell, granted enormous mental powers, succumbs to extreme megalomania and Kirk is forced to kill him. The most unbelievable part of this is that everyone simply acts as though this insanity is an absolutely normal and expected reaction to gaining a new ability. Mitchell, a day or two after learning that he can get a drink of water without standing up, decides that he wants to play god and possibly squash his former friends like bugs. Why? Because he’s insane, obviously. But no one is particularly surprised by this. It mystifies me.

“For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” is the best story in this volume. Like most Trek, it doesn’t fully explore its premises, but it’s entertaining. It is startling how quickly the characters can fall in love, though. Five minutes around any reasonably attractive alien woman is all it takes.

Star Trek 8 is a thoroughly average entry in the series. Some bad stories and some good, and generally readable if not gripping.

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Star Trek 7 by James Blish

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 5, 2015

Keeping up the pace, in July 1972 James Blish released his seventh volume of novelizations, Star Trek 7. In this volume are adapted “Who Mourns for Adonais?”, “The Changeling”, “The Paradise Syndrome”, “Metamorphosis”, “The Deadly Years”, and “Elaan of Troyius”.

star-trek-7-cover

“Who Mourns for Adonais?” reminds me once again how shockingly often Kirk’s first response to a problem is to kill it. Apollo, jealous god that he is, was certainly being obstinate, but except for his severe reactions to Scotty’s aggression, he wasn’t really doing anything too objectionable. They were all more or less held hostage, sure, but Apollo seemed pretty reasonable, and if Kirk had been willing to try something other than shooting the ship’s phasers to get out of the situation, they might have all made it through.

Not much to say about “The Changeling”. It wasn’t my favorite episode–frankly, I’d rather read Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Well, that’s coming up–the novelization was published in 1979.

“The Paradise Syndrome” was an interesting episode, since we get a lot of passage of time, plus we see Kirk develop a relationship with Miramanee. He’s in a habit of falling suddenly in love, of course, but I believe this is the very longest relationship we ever see Kirk engaged in. A nice change of pace. It is a shame that Miramanee’s people are shown as not having advanced in many hundreds of years, though. Necessary, to let Kirk fit in where he did, but not exactly the most positive portrayal of Native Americans. I understand that in the original script Miramanee and the (unborn) child survive, but Blish’s adaptation follows the episode as aired to its tragic (if very convenient) end.

“Metamorphosis” is in some ways a good story and in others a dreadful one. We meet Zefram Cochrane (am I the only one who is reminded of Trip from Enterprise?), alive, young, and immortal (for the moment), plus a (temporarily) inscrutable alien energy being, and we get to see love conquer all. Very entertaining. On the other hand, we get to hear Kirk (bizarrely) proclaim “The ideas of male and female are universal constants, Cochrane. The Companion is definitely female.” No, Kirk, it’s some kind of alien energy being. That doesn’t stop it from loving Cochrane, though. Even for the sixties, this seems an astonishingly absolute statement. The character of Hedford exists pretty much exclusively to be shrewish and then to give Cochrane a more acceptable body for his slavishly devoted alien lover. Not the best of Trek. What I said regarding “Who Mourns for Adonais?” about Kirk first trying to kill any problem he encounters goes for this story, too.

“The Deadly Years” was in some ways better in this adaptation than on television. It felt to me that in the episode, the actors were making something of a mockery of age. Without the overdone ‘senile old man’ performances from the main cast, it’s easier to sympathize with Kirk’s loss of control over his ship and, by extension, his life. It’s still not great, but it has its high points.

“Elaan of Troyius”… as progressive as Trek wanted to be, it took most every opportunity to get it wrong. As anti-slavery as Kirk has shown himself to be in, for example, “Who Mourns for Adonais?”, he is here perfectly happy to serve as the enforcer to a woman’s being property (never mind the political justification). He even says it himself: “My orders–and yours–say you belong to that other man.” And Kirk’s only problem with the situation is that he would prefer if she belonged to him, instead. And I need do no more than mention the awful ‘taming the savage woman’ plot to show just what is wrong with that part of the story. Elaan goes from fiercely independent (and just generally fierce) to utterly submissive in the space of a page or two, for no justifiable reason.

As usual, this volume has its good and its bad parts. I can’t fault Blish–much–for the quality of the stories. I presume he wasn’t entirely free to simply rewrite them as he saw fit, and at any rate that wasn’t in his job description. Star Trek 7 contains enough good to be worth reading, even if it doesn’t deliver on the full potential of the stories.

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Star Trek 6 by James Blish

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 4, 2015

Close on the heels of his previous book, James Blish published another entry in his series of Trek novelizations, Star Trek 6. This one includes adaptations of “The Savage Curtain”, “The Lights of Zetar”, “The Apple”, “By Any Other Name”, “The Cloud Minders”, and “The Mark of Gideon”.

cover

Blish’s introduction to this volume is amusing; he reprints a substantial selection from a letter he received from a real Captain Kirk:

By an interesting coincidence I happen to be Captain [Pierre D.] Kirk. This being the case, the men of my last command built a rather elaborate “organization with an organization” based on the series. My jeep was slightly altered so that its registration numbers appeared as NCC-1701. Our weapons were referred to as phasers…

He goes on, recounting an interesting anecdote from his time in Vietnam.

As for the stories: they’re the usual fare, I’m afraid. “The Savage Curtain”, if you’ll recall, involves simulacra of Abraham Lincoln and Surak fighting alongside Kirk and Spock for the entertainment and edification of some inscrutable alien species. Here was a great chance for Blish to elaborate on Kirk’s identification with and admiration of Lincoln, or to give us more insight into Vulcan culture. Alas, he only wrote a straight adaptation of the script, and reading about Abraham Lincoln engaging in a wrestling match isn’t as entertaining as seeing it happen.

“The Lights of Zetar” is simply not an interesting story. The most interesting thing about it is that it was co-written by Shari Lewis, famous puppeteer–and thus we learn that television writing is not her strong suit. It’s all right; I still like Lamb Chop.

“The Apple”, too, is as uninspiring as its counterpart on television. Here Blish might have considered in more detail whether Kirk really did right by essentially destroying a utopian society, but no. Best to rush back to the ship in time for the ‘Spock looks like Satan’ joke. A terrible pity.

“By Any Other Name” was fairly amusing on television. The short story suffers without James Doohan’s very entertaining performance as Scotty trying to get an alien drunk–and succeeding, but being too drunk himself to do anything about it. This story has another example of Kirk’s predisposition to solving every problem with alien women by kissing them. “Oh. You are trying to seduce me,” says the woman in question. “Go on then,” she does not say, but that’s how it happens anyway. Kirk really only has one diplomatic skill. It’s fortunate he rarely has to negotiate with men.

Both “The Cloud Minders” and “The Mark of Gideon” were stories with, I feel, a great deal of potential, but neither was explored in any real depth, so each ends up being fairly forgettable. The former addresses class issues, and the latter some tangle of overpopulation, birth control, and suicide. Plenty of room to tell interesting stories, but instead they just rush from scene to scene without wasting any time contemplating the issues at hand. It’s a shame.

Star Trek 6 is another set of average adaptations of an average mix of episodes. If you particularly enjoyed “The Savage Curtain”, it’d be worth a read, but that’s really the only bright spot here. And to think, there are five more of these books! What horrors will the next volume unleash?

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