Star Trek by James Blish
Posted by Tracy Poff on November 19, 2014
I’ve read a good number of Star Trek books, over the years. Since I came rather late to the Star Trek universe, I’m quite used to thinking of the expanded universe as a sprawling thing, composed of many books by a similarly vast number of authors. Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Once, there were no Star Trek books at all.
And then, there was one: Star Trek by James Blish.
Star Trek is a collection of seven short story adaptations of television episodes, namely “Charlie’s Law” (aired as “Charlie X”), “Dagger of the Mind”, “The Unreal McCoy” (aired as “The Man Trap”), “Balance of Terror”, “The Naked Time”, “Miri”, and “The Conscience of the King”.
Blish’s adaptations were based on early draft scripts of the episodes, so the stories in this collection are not exactly the same as those that aired, though the differences tend to be minor.
The quality of the stories varies. For the most part, they are clearly uninspired adaptations of television scripts: lots of dialogue, limited description, and very little of anything else. They serve well enough as summaries of the episodes, but they’re not particularly engaging, and I don’t think they give enough detail for readers who haven’t already seen the episodes.
The stories are inferior to the television episodes, too, in those cases where the acting is particularly noteworthy: Morgan Woodward’s performance as Simon van Gelder in “Dagger of the Mind” and Arnold Moss’s performance as Karidian in “The Conscience of the King” brought the characters to life in a way the lifeless dialogue in the short stories cannot match.
The book does have one good point, however: the adaptation of “Balance of Terror” is substantially better than the other stories. Indeed, it’s so different that I’d have guessed it was written by another author entirely. Where the other adaptations are soulless collections of dialogue and stage direction, “Balance of Terror” takes some time to consider the import of events and the relationships between the characters, and gives more detail than is strictly required to understand the events. This added flavor places it head and shoulders above the rest: it’s a satisfying and entertaining short story.
Blish’s book was apparently very popular. Published in January 1967, it was in its fifth printing by June of that year, and in its eighth printing by June 1968. My copy is from a 25th printing in February 1977 and claims “Over 8 million copies in print.”, though that might possibly be including the later books in the series. At any rate, it was popular enough that the series was gathered into two different omnibus sets.
However interesting this book may be as a window into the past, I cannot recommend it. I don’t regret the time spent reading it, but those simply interested in reading a work of science fiction should probably choose a different book.