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Posts Tagged ‘Alan Dean Foster’

Star Trek Log Three by Alan Dean Foster

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 18, 2017

Continuing, after quite some delay, my series of reviews of Treklit, we come to Alan Dean Foster’s Star Trek Log Three, another in his series of novelizations of Star Trek: The Animated Series. This volume contains adaptations of “Once Upon a Planet”, “Mudd’s Passion”, and “The Magicks of Megas-Tu”.

Once Upon a Planet

This story is a sequel to the TOS episode “Shore Leave”, in which the Enterprise happens upon a ‘shore leave planet’ that is designed just to satisfy, as Kirk noted, the need of complex minds for the simplicity of play.

The Enterprise has been overtaxed, lately (the stories in these novelizations are written as taking place in sequence), so Kirk asks for something special in the way of reward for the crew, and he gets it: approval for shore leave on the Shore Leave Planet, in the Omicron region.

Upon arriving, Uhura, Sulu, and McCoy beam down together and note that everything seems to be as it was when last they saw the planet, down to the appearance of Alice and the White Rabbit. They go their separate ways in order to enjoy their own–private–fantasies, but McCoy has scarcely come into view of the Southern mansion he dreamed up when he is set upon by armed playing cards, straight out of Alice, who attack him in deadly earnest. He manages to call for an emergency beam-up just in time to escape them.

Shore leave is canceled as the crew of the Enterprise strive to determine why the planet is attacking, why the Keeper didn’t intervene, and what has happened to Uhura, who has vanished without a trace.

This story is pretty good, and translated well by Foster.

Mudd’s Passion

Cutting shore leave somewhat short, the Enterprise is ordered to investigate the activity of an old ‘friend’, Harry Mudd, who we last saw in “I, Mudd”. He is up to his old tricks, swindling people far and wide. This time, he’s selling a love potion.

This story is very thin and no better for Foster’s efforts.

The Magicks of Megas-Tu

The Enterprise is sent to investigate the unusual phenomena at the center of the galaxy, including a ‘negative black hole’ busily ejecting matter, which they presume to be the source of all matter in the galaxy, drawing its energy from a multitude of other universes. Then they begin to be drawn into a cone-shaped vortex which is drawing in–and destroying–matter, from which the Enterprise cannot escape. They gamble that it may be safer in the center of the vortex, and, passing through it, they find themselves in another place, strange to them, operating by no known laws.

The delicate equipment of the Enterprise does not take kindly to this lawlessness, and begins to fail. The crew, dependent on this equipment, begin to fail as well. When the situation has grown most desperate, the Enterprise is suddenly saved by a strange alien–half man, half goat–who appears on the bridge. He restores their environment with what appears to be magic, then introduces himself:

“Who am I? Oh, you want a name! Call me Baal.” He paused thoughtfully. “Or Lucien. Yes, Lucien. But above all, call me friend.” One finger fluttered skyward as he declaimed, “Never could I abandon those who have come so far to frolic with me . . . for such purpose you must have been sent.”

Lucien introduces the to the planet Megas-Tu, where the physical laws correspond to what the humans would call magic. His people had ventured out of their own universe before and encountered Earth, but their welcome had not been so warm. When others of Lucien’s people discover the humans, they quickly put them on trial for the crimes of their species, as exemplified by the Salem witch trials, in which, weakened by the distance from their own world, the Megans were persecuted and even burned.

Kirk argues that if humans were once so savage, they have changed, and continue to strive to change, to be better and more noble. The Megans accept that this may be so, but declare that Lucien still must be punished for bringing the humans to Megas-Tu. Kirk defends him, as well, accusing the Megans of being as cruel as they accused the humans of being. In so doing, he passes a secret test, proving by his concern for Lucien, known also as Lucifer, that humans truly have changed. Should humans again visit Megas-Tu, they would find a warmer welcome.

Where to begin with this one? The adaptation is good–superior to the original. It spends too long on the setup and not enough on the resolution, but it’s still well done. As for the story, it was obvious to anyone just who a goat man named Lucien would turn out to be, but it was satisfying, all the same. Kirk and McCoy question whether Lucien was really the Lucifer of myth, and McCoy concedes that it doesn’t really matter, except:

“It’s just that–if he was, Jim–this would be the second time he was on the verge of being cast out. But thanks to you, this is the first time he was saved.”

The author of this episode, Larry Brody, indicated that originally, the Enterprise was to meet God out in space, but that idea was nixed by the censors. But meeting the Devil in space was fine, and so the episode was born. This episode must have been influential, indeed. In the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Encounter at Farpoint”, Q puts the crew of the Enterprise on trial for the crimes of humanity, and Picard, too, argues that Q should consider whether humanity is presently as savage as in times past. Then in “Where No One Has Gone Before”, the Enterprise is taken to the edge of the universe, and find it a strange place where reality is impacted by thought. Then, in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the Enterprise (under Kirk’s command, this time) visits the center of the galaxy, where they find a godlike being who turns out to be evil.

In summary

The first and last stories in this are quite good, though the middle one is forgettable. That’s a pretty good ratio for novelizations of television episodes. “Once Upon a Planet” is perfectly like any Trek episode you’ve ever seen, and “Mudd’s Passion” is like most of the bad ones. “The Magicks of Megas-Tu” isn’t a top-tier story, but it’s pleasant enough, and interesting in how it presages later Trek. If you’re a Trek fan looking for a little light reading, this book isn’t bad.

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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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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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