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February 5, 2008

My Star Trek Reading Project

Later on, I'll post a complete linked list of the published Star Trek novels.

Incredibly, most of these are available on the Internet! Well, it suffices to say I have acquired an almost complete collection of all the published novels, not counting the 'Young Adult' ones. Maybe later I will purchase them.

But for now, I have quite a reading list! So, basing myself on the Star Trek Novel companion guide (Voyages of the Imagination), I ordered them by publishing dates and based my reading on that.

There are various ways of attacking such a task. One would be to take it in internal chronological order; in fact, in the companion guide there's a very complete chronological order of each of the novels, and even on which chapters take place on which year.

I pondered hard on doing it that way, even read some parts of them (Naturally, Q jumping back and forth and to billions of years back is quite interesting), but I finally decided it would be better to see how the mythos expanded since the series, and how much of it was integrated, absorbed and fed back to the TV series. In fact, David Yound is doing just this, reading them in chronological order.

So a publishing chronological order seems best for this. This will avoid nasty spoilers, especially with all the time travelling (and there IS a lot in Star Trek). I have found it's quite effective, as the novels progress, stories start with very conservatively sci-fi elements, and become wilder as each author explores different parts of Trek.

I'll try to post a good look into each novel, and I hope my reviews are good... This seems it will be quite a Trek...

Review: 1967 Star Trek (aka Star Trek 1) by James Blish

james_blish-star_trek1.jpgOh man, it starts really with mediocre writing. Actually, it's quite not that bad, but only if you had not seen any of the TV episodes, or if you did not remember anything about the episodes written.

This novel, named only "Star Trek", is the rewriting of 7 episodes:
- Charlie X
- Dagger of the Mind
- The Man Trap
- Balance of Terror
- The Naked Time
- Miri
- The Conscience of the King

There's no point in explaining the plot of these, so I won't even bother.

This is the first ever Star Trek novel to be put into print.

James Blish was chosen to write the scripts into these short stories, and it shows, as being crammed 7 of these into 136 pages will take out much of what was seen in the episode. As he was given the scripts way before the final episode was aired, there are some few, minor differences. Also, a novel is quite a different media than TV, so James takes some small liberties in describing the action. He takes a lot out, and leaves just enough to forward each story.

The stories feel quite rushed, as jumping to one scene to another. If they were by themselves, with no aired episode, they would actually be quite great. But that's the problem of novelizations, it's a redundant effort.

These could be enjoyable by fans, but it's really a rehash of the same stuff. I did not enjoy them much, as there were no new elements offered. Unfortunately, there are much more of these to come...

The cover looks 'sci-fi'enlish, but it seems it was obvious to display the faces of the major characters to attract sales. All in all, it seems a very half-hearted effort to cash in something of a very unknown at the time TV series.

Curiously, this book was a huge success, especially in countries which did not receive the broadcasts. This fueled the publishing of further books of the same nature, and would later jump-start the Star Trek publishing market, but it will be a lot of years before any semi-decent story came out...

Review: 1968 Star Trek 2 by James Blish

startrek2.jpg

Blish seems to be getting the hang of translating the scripts action into a bit more descriptive texts... for example on the classic Arena episode:

There was a sharp hiss, and then the clear sound of the Gorn's claws, coming at a run up the gully. Kirk had mis-calculated. The creature was closer than he had thought--and faster. Frantically he struggled to align the clumsy bamboo tube.

The Gorn leapt into view, its obsidian knife raised. Kirk slapped the burning piece of clothes against the touchhole, and the makeshift cannon went off with a splintering roar. The concussion knocked Kirk down; the semicave was filled with acrid smoke.

He groped to his feet again. As the smoke cleared, he saw the Gorn, slumped against the other wall of the gully. The diamond egg had smashed its right shoulder; but it was bleeding from half a dozen other places too, where diamond chips had flown out of the cannon instead of igniting.

Even so, the stories continue to be rushed, reduced to the simplest terms of the story, something that won't be fixed in any of the Blish novels.

For a quick Star Trek fix, or to refresh what happened on the episodes, this novelizations might help. But a lot is lost in this novelizations.

The stories in this volume are:

- Arena:
Quick Gorn description:

"It was a biped, a reptile, a lizard that walked like a man. It stood about six feet four, with tremendous musculature, dully gleaming skin, a ridge of hard plate running down its back, and a strong, thick tail. The tail did not look prehensile; rather, it seemed to be a balancing organ, suggesting that the creature could run very fast indeed if it wished. The head was equipped with two tiny earholes and a wide mouth full of sharp teeth."
... and that's it... Kinda kills the whole 'menacing alien' thing...

- A Taste of Armageddon

"Kirk fired. The key computer burst. A string of minor explosions seemed to run from it along the main computer bank-and then they were no longer minor. Hast-ily, Kirk herded everyone out into the corridor. They huddled against the wall, while the floor shook, and bil-lows of smoke surged out of the door of the Council room.
It took a long time. At last, Kirk said, "Well--that's it"
And with that, Kirk solves a 500 year war.

- Tomorrow is Yesterday
The whole beam down, hide from military action is suppressed... Finishes the story much faster and easier.

- Errand of Mercy
A full treaty in about 3 sentences, keep it moving people...

- Court Martial
Characterizations are also done fast, no time for lot of descriptions. It's quite a shame, considering the Cogley character:

It was on her advice that Kirk had retained Samuel T. Cogley, a spry old eccentric who put his trust not in computers, but in books. He did not inspire much confidence, though Kirk was convinced that Areel had meant well.

- Operation--Annihilate
Another dialogue heavy episode, most was transcripted, but I do not remember enough to tell how much.

- The City on the Edge of Forever
I think it sacrilege to take any other script other than Ellison's original... or let Harlan expand it to a full novel... This fails miserably to justify the scripts potential... let's just leave it at that.

- Space Seed
I'm sorry, I have Montalban's acting so deeply ingrained, I do not know what I'm reading here, but it's certainly a bare shadow of the episode.

Don't even bother with this one...

February 6, 2008

Review: 1968 Mission to Horatius by Mack Reynolds

MissionToHoratius.jpg
Mission to Horatius has been billed as been a "Young Adult" novel, and as for the descriptions and text narrative, it does seem very superficial, almost stereotypical of the characters. McCoy is grumpy, Scotty has engine problems and the ship desperately need R&R. So what else is new? Well, Sulu has a pet rat, it seems there needed to be a pet somewhere...

There has been a distress call received from Horatius and the ship was sent to investigate. The mission was divided into investigating three planets, the first two of which were absolutely boring: the first still in the stone age (called "Neolithia", unimaginatively taken from the geologic age "Neolithic"). The second one, called Mythra (guess from which word it's derived), is a place of rampant religious beliefs; and the third planet is "Bavarya" (full of barbarians?), tends to raid it's neighbors continously, is apparently the source of the problem.

Oh, and the ship's crew is affected by a space sickness called "cafard" (in the long tradition of having the ship affected by a disease), so everyone is pressed for time.

This might as well have been a western and a ship at sea, when writers focus more on the adventure than on the science fiction. It barely passes as an adventure tale, and it reads very shallow at points, like everybody is just doing their job dispassionately, as there is no big emotional involvement. It's nice to read a bit with familiar characters, looking into strange worlds, but it's executed badly.

Also, rare on Star Trek books, there are line-drawn illustrations, which are very basic, like the minimum for a "young adult" novel.

Reynolds does not seem to have put much of an effort, just toiling out another story for a then yet inexistent market. It really does not engage much the reader, although it does not lose you (a big problem on later novels).

I would recommend it only to know the first original novel, but the "youngification" makes it lose a lot of it's appeal. Space opera had gone out of style, but this type of novels fall easily into it.

1969 Star Trek 3 by James Blish

StarTrek3.jpg

Novelizations suffer from some big problems, one of which is that it's very difficult to convey what has already been showed perfectly on screen. Video is a medium where characters attitudes, poise and responses say much more than what the dialog displays. Another problem is that as the scenes have already been established, writers tendo to just fall into what has been potrayed instead of imagining new or more exciting scenes.

Take this scene, where the ship has been overrun by tribbles:

The attendant turned, and upended the pitcher. Three tribbles fell out of it. It was worse on shipboard. The corridors seemed to be crawling with the creatures. On the bridge, Kirk had to scoop three or four of them out of his chair before he could sit down. They were all over the consoles, on shelves, everywhere.

Here we easily see it's really missing the whole frustration and desesperation felt by the Captain. And so goes on for the whole story, just duplicating the dialogue of the TV episode. It really misses a lot.

By now, Blish had a notion of the popularity of the Star Trek scene, and was in fact impressed by the quantity of mail he had received for the previous books. He comments on this on the foreword.
He now selects the best scripts, especially those with Hugo nominations.

- Trouble with Tribbles
Fails to grasp most of the comedy of the video, but writes through the story acceptably.

-The Last Gunfight
This one is fairly decent, but only because of the original scriptwriting; it is also very heavy on dialogue.

-The Doomsday Machine
An action packed episode, translates fairly well, but fails to capture the suspense and drama, especially with the constraints of pages.

-Assignment: Earth
A transcript of a failed spin-off attempt by Roddenberry does not give merit to it's screen implementation, even as a very short story...

-Mirror, Mirror
Another example of a bad transcription:

"What's the procedure, Scotty?"
"We're about ready to bridge power from the warp en­gines to the beams. You've got to go to the main controls and free the board, so we can lock in. Give us ten clock minutes, then you and Lieutenant Uhura create your diversion, and run like Martian scopolamanders for the Transporter Room."
"Right. Count down on the time. Five . . . four . . . three . .. two ... one ... hack."
"Got you. Good luck, Captain."

-Friday's Child
Originally a good episode, but here it reads more like a space opera.

-Amok Time
Blish cops out during the high part of the action, turning dialog into direct script!:

SPOCK: I'll—I'll follow you in a few minutes. In­struct Mr. Chekov to plot a course for the nearest base where I must—surrender myself to the authorities. . .T'­Pring.
T'PRING: Yes.
SPOCK: Explain.
T'PRING: Specify.
SPOCK: Why the challenge; why you chose my Cap­tain as your champion.
T'PRING: Stonn wanted me. I wanted him.
SPOCK: I see no logic in preferring Stonn over me.
Etc...


In general, the stories do not read that bad, but after a while you do seem rushed through like a grand european tour: see 7 cities in 2 days!

February 11, 2008

Review: 1970 Spock Must Die! by James Blish

Spock%20Must%20Die.jpg
By word of Frederic Pohl, who edited the Bantam novels, "I didn't really pay much attention to Star Trek". But James Blish had noticed that the biggest checks he had ever gotten came from his previous Star Trek novels. They were starting to collect some fan stories, which would later appear as "The New Voyages" series of anthologies, but Blish started on writing original novels, even if Bantam and the editores did not think they were anything warranting much attention.

The first adult-oriented original novel written, it tries to get into the later common habit of killing off Spock. (So much in fact, it was later a big plot point on a movie, and his "resurrection" the whole plot on another!)

Here, the Enterprise is sent ot monitor the Klingons, who was apparently seen breaking the "Organian" treaty. On trying to do some "experimental" use of the transporter, Spock is divided in two selves. This whole double self is not the same type that what was done in the "Evil Kirk" episode ("The Enemy Within"), but what I consider to be a very creative, and real good science fiction. That's a breath of fresh air, as some other novels are just a bunch of tedious space opera. This part of the novel is actually quite enjoyable, where the crew tries to figure out the "mystery" of this double Spock.

It laters does pick up some adventure/action scenes, and to be honest, I was fairly bored and did not pay a lot of attention, but basically the whole thing is that "a Spock must die". The Klingons are just there to be used as part of the scenery, and the novel breaks a big part of canon at the end (or at least, makes it impossible for a lot of other stuff to happen). This was readily ignored by every other writer. In fact, I think a big problems of the novels is that only the original author carries 'canon' between their novels: all others revert back to what was established by the TV episodes. I hope that later on, on more modern books, events are cross-pollinated between novels and authors; it would really enrich the Trek universe.

The last action scenes and the resolution are a bit anti-climactic, but I think the whole explanation of what happens to Spock is really nice and very well done.

Blish understands very well that personalities of the characters, and plays them well, even though some parts of the prose are a bit tedious he carries it off very well. There is an overly fascination with the Spock character, but this is only because of the attention people were giving to him.

This novel is quite nice to read, and some of the best in the early writings. This style of writing is easy to digest, low on description, high on action and not very challenging, but it covers it's purpose: get a Star Trek novel out there with some good science fiction mixed in. I can easily recommend it, but I know there are a lot more that are much better.

About Novels

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Star Trek: Beyond TV in the Novels category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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