Though I'm generally reading these books in publication order, for the next book in our Trek journey, we need to step back in time about a year. Today
Though I'm generally reading these books in publication order, for the next book in our Trek journey, we need to step back in time about a year. Today's book is the second non-fiction Trek book we're looking at, David Gerrold's The World of Star Trek, published April 12, 1973.
The prologue describes the approximate outline of the book:
Actually, there are three worlds of STAR TREK. First, there's the STAR TREK that Gene Roddenberry conceived--the original dream of a television series about an interstellar starship. Then there's the STAR TREK behind the scenes, how the cast and crew made Gene Roddenberry's ideas come true, how they were realized and sometimes altered in the realization. And finally, there's the STAR TREK Phenomenon, the world that the fans of the show created, the reality that they built in response.
All three of these worlds are fascinating, and all three of them are dealt with in this book. Each of the worlds of STAR TREK created the next; and like interlocking rings, each had its effects on the others. The show created the stars, the stars engendered a fandom, and the fans kept the show on the air.
This book would seem to be in the vein of Whitfield's 1968 book, The Making of Star Trek, though its focus is somewhat different. As Gerrold himself notes, Whitfield's book more than adequately covers the details of the production of the series, so Gerrold does not spend too many words repeating these details. The book's opening ("Part One: The First World of Star Trek--Gene Roddenberry's Dream") repeats the familiar details from The Star Trek Guide and the original series format, much like Whitfield's. But where The Making of Star Trek examines how the series's premise works to make a show that could be produced within the constraints of a television budget, The World of Star Trek considers how it enables interesting stories:
[Kirk] would be explorer, ambassador, soldier, and peacekeeper. He would be the sole arbiter of Federation law wherever he traveled--he would be a law unto himself.
The implication here is that there are no other channels of intersteller communication. At least, none as fast as the Enterprise.
If Kirk could check back with Starfleet Command every time he was in trouble, he would never have any conflicts at all. He would simply be a crewman following orders. He wouldn't be an explorer or an ambassador--just the Captain of the local gunboat on the scene.
Gerrold has some definite ideas about the way stories ought to be told. For example:
The single dramatic element which provokes excitement in a play is this: your identity is in danger. All others are merely variations: your life is in danger, your country is in danger, your girl friend might leave you, your wife might find out, your brother might die, the police might catch you. Something threatens to prevent you from being the person you already are or want to be.
But if you endanger the hero's identity week after week, not only do you run the risk of melodrama--you also run the risk of falling into a formula kind of storytelling. This week Kirk is menaced by the jello monster, he kills it by freezing it to death; next week Kirk is menaced by the slime monster and kills it by drying it out; the week after that he is threatened by the mud monster and defeats it by watering it down; the following week Kirk meets the mucous monster . . . Again, the ho hum reaction. Or even the ha ha reaction.
The second part of the book ("The Star Trek Family--The People Who Made The Enterprise Fly) generally avoids focusing on the production aspects of the show, considering them adequately covered by Whitfield's book. Instead, the bulk of the text is made up of extended excerpts from interviews with some of the principal figures in Trek: Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols; also included is an interview with William Campbell, who played Trelane in "The Squire of Gothos".
The interviews are very interesting, giving a look at how the actors felt about the show and the characters they played. Since these interviews were conducted at a distance of a few years from the show, they make a nice complement to the interviews in The Making of Star Trek, which was published while the show was still in production.
Following the interviews is a complete listing of each Star Trek episode, its writers, and its guest stars. A handy reference, in the days before the internet!
The third part of the book ("The Star Trek Phenomenon") discusses the well-known letter-writing campaign to save Star Trek, organized by Bjo Trimble, then discusses the fandom more generally, touching on fanzines, conventions, and other details. A very interesting look at how scifi fandom--and especially Trek fandom--was organized at the time, and how it was viewed.
In fourth part of the book ("Star Trek Analyzed--The Unfulfilled Potential"), Gerrold examines some of the specific elements that make up Trek episodes, both good and bad. For example, he criticizes Kirk and Spock always going out on dangerous away missions:
...this is the most deadly of all criticisms that have ever been leveled against STAR TREK:
A Captain, whether he be the Captain of a starship or an aircraft carrier, simply does not place himself in danger. Ever.
This is one major problem in the STAR TREK format, the one difficulty that forces the show into a set of formula situations week after week--the focusing of attention on two characters who should not logically be placing themselves in physical danger, but must do so regularly.
Gerrold suggests a specially trainted "Contact Team" should be sent on away missions instead. Actually, his idea is a good one, and was vindicated in The Next Generation, years later: Riker was not at all interested in allowing Picard to go out on dangerous away missions, and when Riker was himself in command of the ship he too was reminded by the crew that he was too important to be risked in that way. Better late than never, eh?
The final section of the book ("The return of Star Trek...?") looks at the possibility of the show's return, and gives details on some of Gene Roddenberry's then-upcoming projects: "Spectre", "Questor", "The Tribunes", and "Genesis II". And finally:
Oh, yes. One more thing. What if STAR TREK doesn't come back . . . ?
"Well," says Gene. "I have a lot of notes on a new concept, a planet-travel show. Not for this season, but for the next one. I'm going to start putting it together . . . "
You see, the fans are right. STAR TREK lives!
I think that the foregoing excerpts give evidence enough that, even if you don't entirely agree with Gerrold's ideas about drama, he has plenty of insightful things to say about Star Trek. And besides being informative, the book is entertaining. The excellent little parody of bad Star Trek plots, "Green Priestesses of the Cosmic Computer", is not to be missed. I know that I gave a pretty strong recommendation of Whitfield's book before, but if you are more interested in the stories of Trek than the production of TV episodes, you might prefer to give that one a miss and read The World of Star Trek instead.
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.
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....more
February 1974 brings another entry in Blish's series of Star Trek novelizations, Star Trek 10. This volume adapts "The Alternative Factor", "The EmpFebruary 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".
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....more
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, S 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".
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....more
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 BA 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".
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. ...more
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 forKeeping 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".
"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....more
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 adaClose 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".
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?...more
With 1972 came another entry in Blish's series of Star Trek adaptations, Star Trek 5. This volume includes adaptations of seven episodes: "Whom GodsWith 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".
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....more
James Blish's novelizations of Star Trek episodes continue in Star Trek 2, published in February 1968. This volumeThis review also appears on my blog.
James Blish's novelizations of Star Trek episodes continue in Star Trek 2, published in February 1968. This volume includes novelizations of "Arena", "A Taste of Armageddon", "Tomorrow is Yesterday", "Errand of Mercy", "Court Martial", "Operation--Annihilate!", "The City on the Edge of Forever", and "Space Seed".
Each short story is typically quite similar to the episode being adapted, though there are some differences. Notably, the ending of "Operation--Annihilate!" is very different. In the episode, they expose Spock to a massive blast of electromagnetic radiation, including visible light, and believe that they have blinded him. Upon discovering that the visible light was unnecessary, they regret that they have needlessly blinded him. In the end, though, he recovers, and they save the planet using the same procedure, on a larger scale.
In the short story, the Enterprise instead seeks out the central concentration of the mind-controlling creatures and destroys it with missiles, which leaves the creatures directionless and easily dealt with.
I like the writing in this volume better than that in its predecessor, though I couldn't point at a definite reason why. It still suffers from the problem that the episodes on which the stories are based relied heavily on the visual element, and so are somewhat lacking as short stories. They don't generally have any big ideas behind them, and if they do they don't explore them very thoroughly.
I do think that some of the stories here have merit. Not much can be done for "Arena" or "Court Martial", but I can certainly see "A Taste of Armageddon" being worked into something more substantial and interesting, and of course that has already been done for "Space Seed" in Greg Cox's Eugenics Wars series, not to mention Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Not to be too negative, I did have a pleasant surprise when reading "Tomorrow is Yesterday". After their time-traveling adventure, Spock comments, "And so we have revised Omar." Upon Kirk's request for clarification, he specifies that he means "the verse about the moving finger." This refers to The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, as translated by Edward FitzGerald:
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all they Tears wash out a Word of it.
I've only just read the Rubáiyát about a year ago (highly recommended, incidentally), so seeing this reference by Spock is a treat. Sadly, I don't recall him being quite so literary in the episode.
Given its general improvement over its predecessor, I can recommend Star Trek 2 to fans looking for a quick read, or another perspective on the episodes, and the new ending to "Operation--Annihilate!" and the incorporation of content from Heinlein's original script in "The City on the Edge of Forever" provide a little added value....more
I've read a good number of Star Trek books, over the years. Since I came rather late to the Star Trek universe, I'This review also appears on my blog.
I've read a good number of Star Trek books, over the years. Since I came rather late to the Star Trek universe, I'm quite used to thinking of the expanded universe as a sprawling thing, composed of many books by a similarly vast number of authors. Of course, it wasn't always this way. Once, there were no Star Trek books at all.
And then, there was one: Star Trek by James Blish.
[rel://files/Star Trek by James Blish.jpg]
Star Trek is a collection of seven short story adaptations of television episodes, namely "Charlie's Law" (aired as "Charlie X"), "Dagger of the Mind", "The Unreal McCoy" (aired as "The Man Trap"), "Balance of Terror", "The Naked Time", "Miri", and "The Conscience of the King".
Blish's adaptations were based on early draft scripts of the episodes, so the stories in this collection are not exactly the same as those that aired, though the differences tend to be minor.
The quality of the stories varies. For the most part, they are clearly uninspired adaptions of television scripts: lots of dialogue, limited description, and very little of anything else. They serve well enough as summaries of the episodes, but they're not particularly engaging, and I don't think they give enough detail for readers who haven't already seen the episodes.
The stories are inferior to the television episodes, too, in those cases where the acting is particularly noteworthy: Morgan Woodward's performance as Simon van Gelder in "Dagger of the Mind" and Arnold Moss's performance as Karidian in "The Conscience of the King" brought the characters to life in a way the lifeless dialogue in the short stories cannot match.
The book does have one good point, however: the adaptation of "Balance of Terror" is substantially better than the other stories. Indeed, it's so different that I'd have guessed it was written by another author entirely. Where the other adaptations are soulless collections of dialogue and stage direction, "Balance of Terror" takes some time to consider the import of events and the relationships between the characters, and gives more detail than is strictly required to understand the events. This added flavor places it head and shoulders above the rest: it's a satisfying and entertaining short story.
Blish's book was apparently very popular. Published in January 1967, it was in its fifth printing by June of that year, and in its eighth printing by June 1968. My copy is from a 25th printing in February 1977 and claims "Over 8 million copies in print.", though that might possibly be including the later books in the series. At any rate, it was popular enough that the series was gathered into two different omnibus sets.
However interesting this book may be as a window into the past, I cannot recommend it. I don't regret the time spent reading it, but those simply interested in reading a work of science fiction should probably choose a different book....more
Another day, another collection of Trek novelizations. Today I'm looking at James Blish's Star Trek 3, published iThis review also appears on my blog.
Another day, another collection of Trek novelizations. Today I'm looking at James Blish's Star Trek 3, published in April 1969. It collects seven adaptations: "The Trouble with Tribbles", "The Last Gunfight" (an adaptation of "Spectre of the Gun"), "The Doomsday Machine", "Assignment: Earth", "Mirror, Mirror", "Friday's Child", and "Amok Time".
I didn't notice any substantial departures from the episodes in any of the stories except "Friday's Child", which treats the character of Eleen rather differently. "The Doomsday Machine" and "The Last Gunfight" have some small changes, as well.
This book is, like its predecessor, fairly enjoyable. Although I've not found the series to be exceptional, it seems that contemporary readers were more impressed: in the introduction, James Blish describes some of his previous work (twenty-seven novels and short story collections, including a Hugo winner). Then:
I note these figures not to brag--well, not entirely, anyhow--but as background for one astonishing fact: I have received more mail about my two previous Star Trek books than I have about all my other work put together.
He had been receiving letters "at an average rate of two a day ever since January 1967." Of note is that "most of [the letter writers] say that they have never read, or seen, any science fiction before Star Trek, or if they have, that they hadn't liked it." To fans looking for more information, he recommends The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield. I'm reading that book, now, and it's fairly interesting (with some caveats--review forthcoming).
Finally, at the end of the introduction, he very casually reveals his next project:
Thanks, too, to those who asked that I write an original Star Trek novel. Both the studio and Bantam agreed, somewhat to my surprise, that this was a good idea, so it's in the works.
The book in question, Spock Must Die!, would be published in February 1970, nearly a year later, and Blish's next volume of adaptations would not be published until July 1971.
I admit that I'm really looking forward to Spock Must Die! giving me a break from these adaptations. All the same, with adaptations of popular episodes like "Mirror, Mirror" and "Amok Time" (and even "The Trouble with Tribbles", if you're in a less serious mood), Star Trek 3 is a nice afternoon's diversion....more
In 1968, James Blish wrote in the introduction to Star Trek 3 that he would be writing an original Star Trek novThis review also appears on my blog.
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!
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....more
There have been a number of very violent murders in Gotham--whole families killed. At first, Batman suspects that it is related to a new drug, but as
There have been a number of very violent murders in Gotham--whole families killed. At first, Batman suspects that it is related to a new drug, but as he continues to investigate, the facts don't line up. It appears that, in each case, the adults had committed some crime against children. Batman revises his theory: there is a new serial killer in Gotham, a serial killer motivated by the need for revenge against child abusers. As Commissioner Gordon and Batman seek out the killer, each must deal with his own demons. Batman remembers the night his parents were killed, and must reconcile his own actions, in many ways so like those of the serial killer. Jim is troubled by memories of his own abusive father, and is horrified to see that he may be starting down that road, himself.
For all the violence, this graphic novel has a very subdued feeling, which is reinforced by the dark palette common in Batman stories. At about a hundred pages, Night Cries tells a tightly connected, effective story. The thematic connection between Batman's drug investigation, during which he repeatedly explains that these investigations involve following a chain of people to find the source, and the child abuse investigation, during which it is explained that the abused often become abusers themselves, perpetuating a cycle of violence, is very well done. Too, Jim's struggle, developed over the course of the book, with his own anger, and with his relationship with his wife and son, is a very strong point. This book is set fairly early in Batman's career, and the effects of Jim's infidelity during Year One are still being felt.
Batman's experience follows a similar arc. During one part of the investigation, a traumatized young girl, who may have witnessed one of the murders, spots Batman through a window, and is terrified. As Batman says: "The trouble with an appearance that can strike fear in the minds of criminals--is that it sometimes strikes fear in the innocent as well." The girl may have important information, and Batman regrets frightening her, so he visits her in the hospital, to make amends: "I'm sorry. I don't want to frighten you. I did that once when you saw me through the window at your home. I know I look scary and there have been too many scary things in your life. So I want you to see--" here, he removes his mask, "--I'm just a man, a man who's trying to help." The scene is really touching. Sometimes, Batman seems far from being concerned with the people around him--those he's fighting, or those he's saving--but Goodwin's Batman shows a kind of empathy that Batman must have, if he's more than just a reflection of the violent psychopaths he fights.
This is definitely one of the best Batman stories I've ever read. Its focus on the human impact of the crime in Gotham, and on its particular impact on Jim and Batman, is very welcome, especially coming, as I am, from reading a bunch of Golden Age stories. Comics have come a long way, and this is a great example of a comic that tackles a meaningful issue in a sensitive way. I strongly recommend it....more
Two kinds of books I am particularly glad to find in a library: especially good books, which I might not otherwise know of or be able to afford; and eTwo kinds of books I am particularly glad to find in a library: especially good books, which I might not otherwise know of or be able to afford; and especially bad books, which I might otherwise innocently purchase.
This book, sadly, falls in the latter category.
Robert Frost Country by Betsy and Tom Melvin is a pictorial featuring the authors' photographs of New England paired with--dare I say it--snippets of Robert Frost's poems. A sad fate for any poem, to be cut into bite-sized pieces and regurgitated, devoid of meaning, to sell what amounts to a collection of postcards. In an introductory note, Betsy Melvin writes:
When I first came upon the lines that have become so familiar to me, I realized that Robert Frost had said in his beautiful poetry what I had felt in my heart when I made many of the photographs, through my medium of creative expression. It is significant that only three of all these pictures were made especially for this volume.
I agree with her words, though I doubt that she would agree with my meaning. She intends, of course, to say that both she and Frost were trying to capture the beauty of New England, and so by happy coincidence his poems and her photographs are well-suited to one another. It seems rather to me that, having a collection of photographs, she sought fragments of the famous poet's work to make them more suitable for publication. It is significant that she did not worry enough about the words and text complimenting one another to bother taking more than three new pictures, when compiling this volume.
My words are harsh, I know. But what else am I to think? Consider the following image:
This is paired with a fragment of "The Death of the Hired Man":
Surely you wouldn't grudge the poor old man Some humble way to save his self-respect.
The 'poor old man' in question, Silas, is, first, probably already dead when these lines are uttered, and, second, explicitly not smoking--to emphasize his poor condition, Mary says: "...I dragged him to the house, / And gave him tea and tried to make him smoke. / I tried to make him talk about his travels. / Nothing would do: he just kept nodding off."
These mere factual issues are of secondary importance, however. More importantly, this is perhaps the most superficial possible treatment to give Frost's poem about a man's concerns about how rightly to live and to die, and the relationships and obligations between people. For all the content of the poem mattered, the accompanying text might as well have been:
“I will answer the second question first,” he said, “—but bless me! this is a splendid place for smoke rings!”
At least the bulk of the fragments chosen merely ignore subtext in favor of imagery, and so are less offensive to my sensibilities. Enough, though: the text and images are poorly matched.
The only other thing to consider, I suppose, is the quality of the illustrations. I am no expert on judging photography, so I will not say much. There are certainly some nice scenes presented: nature can be beautiful.
On the other hand, many of the photographs are less to my taste. Consider this image: a mundane subject with uninteresting composition; I can look out my window and see a more inspiring scene.
It all began with that shoe on the wall. A shoe on a wall . . . ? Shouldn't be there at all!
Then I looked up. And I said, "Oh, MAN!"
And that's how Wa
It all began with that shoe on the wall. A shoe on a wall . . . ? Shouldn't be there at all!
Then I looked up. And I said, "Oh, MAN!"
And that's how Wacky Wednesday began.
Dr. Seuss both wrote and illustrated his most famous works, but he did create a few books illustrated by others, usually using a pseudonym. He wrote Wacky Wednesday under the name Theo. LeSieg--his own name, Theodore Geisel, turned around. It was illustrated by George Booth.
Wacky Wednesday tells of one Wednesday when everything was wacky: shoes on the wall, bananas growing on an apple tree, worms chasing birds, and much more. Seuss's text is very much secondary to Booth's illustrations. The text of each two-page spread announces the number of things that are 'wacky' in the accompanying illustration, inviting the reader to find them all.
The number of wacky things in each scene increases as the book goes along, culminating in a final two-page spread with twenty wacky things:
"Only twenty things more will be wacky," he said.
"Just find them and then you can go back to bed."
The type of wackiness varies, exercising different skills: counting (how many wacky things have we found?), spelling ('schoul' is not the right way to spell 'school'), domain knowledge (a portrait of Abraham Lincoln should not be labelled 'George Washington'), and simple attention to detail (turtles do not belong atop trees!).
Wacky Wednesday is a great book that encourages participation from the reader. It's appropriate for April Fool's Day or any day....more
A Caldecott Honor Book. Sal and her mother go out to pick blueberries to store for the winter. A bear cub and its mother have the same idea, and the mA Caldecott Honor Book. Sal and her mother go out to pick blueberries to store for the winter. A bear cub and its mother have the same idea, and the mothers and children get mixed up. Excellent line art and a cute story. The parallel between the bears storing up fat for the winter and the humans preserving blueberries is a good one, and their actions, too, parallel one another satisfyingly....more
Cast your mind back, all the way to the year 1997. There were some 50 million people with access to the internet, and nearly 10 million of them used
Cast your mind back, all the way to the year 1997. There were some 50 million people with access to the internet, and nearly 10 million of them used America Online. We were so naive as to unironically call the web the 'information superhighway.' Google was brand new, and we mostly used Yahoo, Lycos, or Altavista to search the web. Facebook wasn't even a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg's 13-year-old eye. We didn't have Twitter or Tumblr, or even Myspace or Livejournal.
What we did have was email. Back then, we hyphenated it, as a sign of respect for and discomfort with the impressive technology. "E-mail is delivered much faster than regular mail (which some people call 'snail-mail')," writes Brimner. "A keypal in another state or even another country usually will receive your e-mail in minutes. That's great news!"
E-Mail is full of the kind of advice that most of us take for granted, these days. For example, you'll need a network card or modem, which will "take the signals from your computer and get messages ready to travel over the Information Superhighway." Brimner helpfully provides a picture of an IBM 7852 model 10 modem, which around that time had dropped in price to only $486.
It's also got the kind of information we probably should know, but might need to keep in mind: "If you are not careful, you might write and send angry words to somebody else and later wish you hadn't." Truth.
E-Mail explains what a flame war is, how to find and subscribe to mailing lists, what emoticons are, and much more. Sprinkled throughout are e-mail addresses that kids might want to try, like Sea World (firstname.lastname@example.org), the USGS (Ask-A-Geologist@usgs.gov), or the President of the United States (email@example.com). The author even includes his own email address (Lbrimner@aol.com).
This book is certainly a product of its time. Besides the screenshots of Eudora circa 1996, it's got a dated approach to dealing with people you meet on the internet. "Most of the people you'll meet on the Internet are nice. But be smart. Bad people sometimes hide out on the Internet, and you may not be able to tell who they are . . . If your keypal wants to meet you in person, meet in a public place like a mall. And take an adult with you."
If that advice had been written today, I imagine it'd go more like "If your keypal wants to meet you in person, run. Don't stop until you're surrounded by police. Make sure the police have never used the internet. It's the only way to be sure."
Books like E-Mail are fascinating as a view back into how we thought about technology in the past. It's been about 17 years since this book was published. In some ways, it's still perfectly correct and even useful. In others, it's hopelessly dated. How will things look in 2031? I don't dare to guess....more
Cohen's book contains facts about Star Trek, but there's nothing strange or amazing therein. The facts are mostly in the form of very brief summaries
Cohen's book contains facts about Star Trek, but there's nothing strange or amazing therein. The facts are mostly in the form of very brief summaries of a few episodes or (similarly very brief) biographies of a few principal actors. Almost everything in the book will be known to anyone who bothered to watch the show ("When the series begins Kirk is in his mid-thirties, and holds the rank of captain with a starship command."), and the little that might not be is generally of little interest ("Another of Bill Shatner's current enthusiasms is the horses that he rides and breeds on his southern California ranch.").
The most interesting part of this book is the chapter on the fans, which talks about the letter-writing campaign to save Star Trek from cancellation, fanzines, conventions, and the broader impact of Star Trek in the years since its cancellation.
The book concludes with a 22-question trivia quiz.
The eighth Arthur book. Arthur is put in charge of the Thanksgiving play. Arthur's friends are extra nice to him, to be sure they get the parts they wThe eighth Arthur book. Arthur is put in charge of the Thanksgiving play. Arthur's friends are extra nice to him, to be sure they get the parts they want. This is nice, until Arthur realizes that nobody wants to play the turkey--and he can't have a play called The Big Turkey Hunt without a turkey! I was expecting a lesson about leadership, or standing up to your friends, or something, but in the end Arthur just plays the turkey himself, and his friends are kind enough to join him in his embarrassment. Disappointing. Another average book....more
The seventh Arthur book. Another holiday themed book, and we're not done with those yet. Arthur must deal with a bully while preparing for the April FThe seventh Arthur book. Another holiday themed book, and we're not done with those yet. Arthur must deal with a bully while preparing for the April Fool's assembly. He's very nervous, but in the end, he manages to play a trick or two on the bully. It's unfortunate that none of the adults around Arthur, including those aware of the bullying, do anything to help, but I expect that's more truth in fiction than anything. Rather average book....more
The sixth Arthur book. Halloween themed, obviously, with a rather tired 'old lady who isn't actually a witch, gasp!' plot. Plenty of Arthur being afraThe sixth Arthur book. Halloween themed, obviously, with a rather tired 'old lady who isn't actually a witch, gasp!' plot. Plenty of Arthur being afraid of his shadow, though he does overcome his fear to go after his sister, which is a point in his favor. Most of these books, so far, are about Arthur being afraid or otherwise insecure. Is that what the series is all about? It'd be nice if Arthur could occasionally be a bit more straightforwardly admirable....more