Other Stuff Exists

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

Posts Tagged ‘novelization’

Star Trek Log Four by Alan Dean Foster

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 13, 2017

Another day, another book of adapted cartoons. In February 1975 was published Alan Dean Foster’s fourth book of Star Trek: The Animated Series novelizations, imaginatively titled Star Trek Log Four. This volume contains adaptations of “The Terratin Incident”, “Time Trap”, and “More Tribbles, More Troubles”.

If there’s one unifying theme to these stories, it’s that they have very little plot to speak of. Just oops, here’s a bit of trouble for five dozen pages, and then they turn the crank or whatever and the trouble is resolved. For a bit more detail…

The Terratin Incident

The Enterprise receives a strange transmission in a long-obsolete code, the only intelligible word of which being ‘Terratin’. When they go to investigate, they are hit by a strange light, which destroys their dilithium crystals and–it turns out–causes the crew and all organic material on board to begin to shrink. They must find some way to fix things before they become too small to operate the ship.

This story is filled with interesting asides, satisfying bits of trivia about the characters, and an utter lack of developing plot. Just page after page of “and they got a bit smaller, so they had to rig up an extra-long pole to reach the coffee pot”, until finally they get to the end of the story and things are explained, and they solve the problem by sending everyone through the transporter to return them to their natural size.

Time Trap

Exploring a weird section of space, the “Delta Triangle”, a futuristic analog of the Bermuda Triangle, the Enterprise is attacked by a Klingon ship which promptly vanishes. Then they escape from that ship’s compatriots by following it through a pothole in space to a pocket dimension called Elysia where, for some reason, people don’t age and dilithium quickly degrades to uselessness (unreliable stuff, apparently).

This is another story in which there is precious little plot. The Enterprise gets stuck, so they glue it to the Klingon ship for an extra boost, and the problem is solved. The people living in Elysia exist pretty much solely for the sake of communicating to Kirk a last minute warning about a Klingon plot.

More Tribbles, More Troubles

The Enterprise, escorting ships carrying grain, encounters a Klingon ship chasing a small Federation vessel. They beam the pilot aboard just as his ship is destroyed, and what do you know, it’s Cyrano Jones, out selling tribbles again. This time, instead of reproducing rapidly, they just grow to immense proportions. Oh, but actually they still breed explosively, too. So… yeah. Tribbles, again. They beam them over to the Klingon ship, again.

In Summary

This is just not a good selection of stories. If it’d been just one or even two of them that were very light on plot, it’d be bearable, but for all three to be so mindless? It’s pretty bad. The writing is as good as usual, though, and Arex gets a fair bit of ‘screen time’ throughout, which is nice. The show could really have done with some more focus on the non-human (and non-vulcan) crew, so it’s good to see the novelizations correcting that. Even so, I wouldn’t recommend reading this one unless you’re a completionist.

Posted in Book, Review | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Book, Review | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Book, Review | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Book, Review | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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.

Posted in Book, Review | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

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.

Posted in Book, Review | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Book, Review | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

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.

Posted in Book, Review | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

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?

Posted in Book, Review | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

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”.

cover

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.

Posted in Book, Review | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »