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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”.

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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”.

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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”.

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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”.

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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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Star Trek 5 by James Blish

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 3, 2015

With 1972 came another entry in Blish’s series of Star Trek adaptations, Star Trek 5. This volume includes adaptations of seven episodes: “Whom Gods Destroy”, “The Tholian Web”, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”, “This Side of Paradise”, “Turnabout Intruder”, “Requiem for Methuselah”, an “The Way to Eden”.

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The stories adapted in this volume are, I think, fairly average Trek fare. The adaptation of “Whom Gods Destroy” is the most interesting, but even it was better for being on screen. Meanwhile, most of the others are dull, and “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” is positively tedious.

Several adaptations throughout this series suffer from a common flaw: certain episodes are really only interesting on account of being acted out. “Turnabout Intruder” has a rather weak plot (to say nothing of its unfortunately anti-feminist dimensions), but to the extent that it was entertaining, it was all down to Shatner’s overacting as Dr. Lester. Blish’s condensed prose captures none of that, while retaining the cringe-worthy story (“And most of all she wanted to murder the man who might have loved her–had her intense hatred of her own womanhood not made life with her impossible.”–lovely.)

The above goes equally for “The Way to Eden”, another very weak episode propped up (poorly) by songs, on which small support the book cannot rely.

Star Trek 5 was saddled with several very unfortunate episodes, and it didn’t make any more of them than the TV series did. If you’ve got this one, read “Whom Gods Destroy” and ignore the rest. If not, I wouldn’t go out of my way to get it. Your time will be better spent elsewhere.

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The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 3, 2015

In August, 1966, Stephen E. Whitfield, then in the employ of an advertising agency, was tasked with working to generate publicity for Star Trek toys. In consequence of his close contact with the Trek cast and crew, he became intimately familiar with the workings of the production, and pitched to Gene Roddenberry a book detailing the making of the show. With Roddenberry’s approval, Whitfield began work on what was to be a thorough history of Star Trek, from its conception through the production of its first season: The Making of Star Trek.

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Whitfield’s book was the first of its kind: a real behind-the-scenes look at the creation of a television show, including not only Whitfield’s observations, but also interviews with Roddenberry and the actors, and original artifacts from the show’s production, such as the ‘series format’ Roddenberry wrote to sell the show to the studio, and a variety of memos.

The aforementioned series format is perhaps the single feature of greatest historical interest, as it describes Roddenberry’s initial vision for the show. In part:

THE FORMAT is “Wagon Train to the Stars”–built around characters who travel to other worlds and meet the jeopardy and adventure which become our stories.

THE TIME could be 1995 or even 2995–close enough to our times for our continuing cast to be people like us, but far enough into the future for galaxy travel to be fully established.

THE FAMILIAR LOCALE is their vessel–the U.S.S. Enterprise, a naval cruiser-size spaceship. (In the initial draft of the format, the ship was the U.S.S. Yorktown.) The vessel (a permanent set) includes bridge, control rooms, crew quarters and facilities, science labs and technical departments, plus passenger and cargo accommodations. These compartments contain the wide range of personalities, some becoming Guest Star roles for stories aboard ship or on the worlds we visit.

THE LEAD ROLE is Captain Robert T. April, mid-thirties, an unusually strong and colorful personality, the commander of the cruiser.

OTHER CAST REGULARS are a variety of excitingly different types: “Number One”, a glacierlike, efficient female who serves as ship’s Executive Officer; José “Joe” Tyler, the brilliant but sometimes immature Navigator; Mr. Spock, with a red-hued satanic look and surprisingly gentle manners; Philip “Bones” Boyce, M. D., ship’s doctor and worldly cynic; and uncomfortably lovely J. M. Colt, the Captain’s Yeoman.

The book features a great many more original documents from the show’s production that will be similarly interesting to the devoted fan. It’s well worth reading for those.

Of rather less interest (to me, at the least) are the minutiae of the show’s production. In 1968, I suppose the work of making a television show was relatively unfamiliar to the average person. Today, I think this information has permeated the collective public consciousness, and at any rate the internet will offer (up-to-date!) details to anyone interested. Happily, these duller bits are in the minority.

The Making of Star Trek is an absolute treasure for the fan interested in Trek‘s history. I understand that many of these details have been republished, since, but Whitfield’s book is the only source written even as the show was produced, and published contemporarily. It’s well worth the time invested to read it.

For those keeping track (just me, I’m sure), this book’s proper place is between Blish’s Star Trek 2 and Star Trek 3.

Note on this review: I had believed that I’d reviewed this book months ago, when I finished reading it, but I cannot turn up that review, and I have since lost my notes on the book, so this is less thorough a review than I would wish. My apologies.

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Star Trek 4 by James Blish

Posted by Tracy Poff on December 9, 2014

Seventeen months after Blish’s previous Trek book, Spock Must Die!, was published, he finally put out a new volume of adaptations: Star Trek 4. It was the only one published in 1971, but he then picked up the pace substantially, publishing four more in 1972 alone.

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This volume includes adaptations of six episodes: “All Our Yesterdays”, “The Devil in the Dark”, “Journey to Babel”, “The Menagerie”, “The Enterprise Incident”, and “A Piece of the Action”.

All of the short stories are substantially similar to the episodes as aired, with the exception of “The Menagerie”. That episode, if you recall, was a retooling of the pilot: Spock is court martialed for bringing Captain Pike back to Talos IV and presents the video from the pilot episode “The Cage” as evidence. Blish elected to omit the frame story and simply adapt the pilot episode itself.

There are several good stories, here, though not all of equal merit. I enjoyed the episode “A Piece of the Action”, but I think that the short story falls flat–it was never much of a story, and most of its appeal was in the seeing. Ditto “All Our Yesterdays”. The other four stories are quite entertaining.

Really, the quality of the adaptations is good, but I find myself disappointed that they are so similar to the episodes. I suspect this is due to the book being written after Star Trek had finished airing, meaning that it was no longer necessary for Blish to rely on early draft scripts. This is good, if what you want are faithful adaptations of TV episodes, but it was the differences that made me interested in the books in the first place, so I think it’s a shame.

Even so, Star Trek 4 is a worthwhile book, containing several entertaining stories. If any of those are your favorite episodes, I’d encourage you to give it a try, if only for the sake of nostalgia.

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Spock Must Die! by James Blish

Posted by Tracy Poff on December 3, 2014

In 1968, James Blish wrote in the introduction to Star Trek 3 that he would be writing an original Star Trek novel, the popularity of the television series warranting such an effort. By the time that book was published, in April 1969, Star Trek had already been cancelled, with only its final episode, “Turnabout Intruder”, yet to air. Finally, in February 1970, Bantam published Blish’s (sole) original Trek novel: Spock Must Die!

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The Enterprise is mapping out a region of space near the border of the Klingon Empire, a highly routine operation. Kirk comes upon McCoy and Scotty in the rec room, having a philosophical debate: is what comes out of the other end of the transporter the same person that went into it–does the soul make the jump? If not, McCoy says, then “every time we put a man through the transporter for the first time, we commit murder.”

There’s no time to pursue this discussion further, for Spock interrupts to announce that the captain is needed on the bridge: the Klingons are at war with the Federation, and the Enterprise is now behind enemy lines.

It should be impossible for the Klingons to break the peace treaty, but Organia (the home of the beings that instituted the treaty in “Errand of Mercy”) seems to have been destroyed, so they are unhindered–and having great success. Unable to get into contact with Starfleet Command without giving themselves away, Kirk decides to head for Organia, a journey of several months, in hopes that the Organians have not been destroyed, and might be able to stop the war.

Inspired by his conversation with McCoy, Scotty invents a new kind of transporter which will make a temporary duplicate of a person and sent them away at great speeds and over enormous distances, with which he proposes to transport someone directly to Organia to investigate. Spock volunteers, and so the experiment begins.

Unfortunately, things do not go as planned. After the attempted transport, they find two Spocks on the transporter pad, each claiming to be the original, and each apparently identical. The balance of the book concerns the efforts to distinguish which Spock is the duplicate (and must therefore be destroyed) and to reach Organia undetected.

Spock Must Die! is similar in style to Blish’s adaptations, writ large. Blish liked to slip literary references into those short stories, and the novel takes it further, with references to works as varied as Othello, Narnia, and Finnegans Wake (the last of which forms a substantial plot point).

Blish does take advantage of the freedom afforded by the increased length. The philosophical debate outlined above is not the only one in the novel, and if they are perhaps a bit overwrought, they are welcome reminders that science fiction can be about ideas, and not merely action set in space. The general increase in detail is beneficial, as well; the adaptations often seem too brief.

Sadly, I found the book’s ending unsatisfying; the resolution of the plot is too straightforward. The Enterprise set out to find a deus ex machina to end the war, and they succeed in their search. There’s no twist, no meaningful new complication. A technobabble explanation aside, there’s little that couldn’t have been predicted a dozen pages in.

Spock Must Die! isn’t a bad book, and it’s particularly interesting as a contrast to later Trek books. Blish’s treatment of the characters is somewhat unique, and he certainly has no concern for maintaining the status quo. You could do worse than to spend a couple of hours reading this one.

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