the Little Red Reviewer

Star Trek Vol 2, by James Blish (episode adaptations)

Posted on: January 24, 2017

star-trek-vol-2-bookStar Trek Vol 2, by James Blish

published in 1968

where I got it: purchased used

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Don’t let the title of this book fool you, this is not a novelization of the second Star Trek movie. . . although this little volume is tangentially related to that movie.

I better start from the beginning. Starting in 1967, James Blish started adapting the Star Trek teleplays into short stories, printed as volumes that covered seven or eight tv episodes.  He’d adapt the teleplay before it was edited for television, before it was ever filmed. So the short stories do differ from the tv episode scripts a bit. Also? The short story adaptations skip all the filler junk, you get just the straight up story with none of the stuff needed to fill out a 48 minute tv show. Sometimes that means a tighter story,  sometimes it means the story feels very rushed.

This second volume of teleplay adaptations contains adaptations of the following season one episodes:

Arena

A Taste of Armageddon

Tomorrow is Yesterday

Errand of Mercy

Court Martial

Operation – Annihilate!

The City of the Edge of Forever

Space Seed

Some of you are saying “hey, those two are the famous episodes!” and to that, I respond “yes, they are!”

My favorite thing about these short stories is that they are short. In 13 to 15 pages I get a complete Star Trek adventure.  Sure, the long novels are fun and in depth, but these were fun little Star Trek capsules.   I should talk about the famous ones first, shouldn’t I?

The teleplay for “The City on the Edge of the Tomorrow” was written by Harlan Ellison and is considered one of, if not the best episode of the entire original series.  There is buckets of drama about the writing and editing of the original script, which I’m not going to get into, but it’s out there on the internet if you want to read about it.  At the beginning of the episode, McCoy accidentally injects himself with an overdose of a drug that causes intense paranoia. He beams himself down to the surface of a planet, and Kirk and Spock (and assorted red shirts) go down to try to find him. Instead, they find The Guardian of Forever, which is a gate through time. Assuming McCoy went through that gate, Kirk and Spock make a best guess as to the date, and leap through.  After disguising Spock’s ears as best they can, they find shelter in a mission run by Edith Keeler.  (Keeler’s observations of the interaction between Kirk and Spock is eerily similar to Gillian’s observations of the two of them in Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home. An inside joke by the writers?)  Surprising nobody, Kirk falls for the attractive and intelligent Keeler, but she is a pivot for history.  When she dies, her mission will fail, one thing will lead to another, and humanity will reach the stars.  If she lives, our history will play out completely differently. To save the future, Kirk has to let Keeler die.  These kinds of decisions are commonplace in movies, books, and TV shows these days, but at the time this teleplay was written, putting a character through such a brutal decision, forcing them to choose personal misery for the good of the future was rare.

If the episode title “Space Seed” doesn’t ring a bell, I bet the movie made  as a sequel to the episode does: The Wrath of Khan.  I grew up watching that movie.  While the TV episode is fantastic, I’m sorry to say the short story adaptation is just okay, as it feels very rushed. The most important thing about this short story is all the “easter eggs” for the movie I watched countless times as a teenager, with no context.  The Enterprise finds a derelict ship filled with sleepers, so they wake one of the men up to find out what happened. The ship left Earth during the Eugenics wars of the 1990s, and these people are the super humans who escaped certain death on Earth. Their leader, Sibahl Khan Noonien, seduces historian Lieutenant Marla McGivers, and not only takes over the Enterprise but also wakes up the rest of his people and beams them over in an attempt to steal the ship.  With the details skipped over, Kirk regains control of his ship, and Khan and his people are marooned on a planet that can sustain life.  I came to this short story (and the episode) completely backwards – I saw the movie about a hundred times first.

Some others I enjoyed out of this volume:

I know it’s a cheesy episode, but I really enjoyed the short story adaptation of “Arena”, in which Kirk is beamed to a planet to fight another creature to the death, and the loser’s ship will be destroyed. Kirk physically bests his competitor, but chooses in the end not to kill the other creature, saving both of their ships.

“A Taste of Armageddon” is completely and disturbingly off the wall, and I mean that in a good way. The Enterprise encounters a culture that is at war with another planet in their solar system, but no weapons ever fire, and there are no physicals signs of any warfare.  This war is fought via computer simulation, and if the simulation says so many people were killed, that many people in the city report to the death building to be killed. Like I said, off the wall.

“Errand of Mercy” was the first TV episode where Star Fleet encounters the Klingons, who are Characterized by basically nothing but violence. In this story the Enterprise is trying to convince the  planet Organia not to allow the Klingons to land, because the Klingons will terrorize them.  The Organians seem incredibly chillax about the whole situation, they smile at everyone, and don’t really care who lands on their planet. Kirk is about to pull his hair out from their nonchalance, but the Organians have a nice trick up their sleeves.

If you’re a fan of Star Trek: The original series, I highly recommend seeking out these little volumes. Zillions of them were printed, so any good used bookstore should have a good selection. There are 13 volumes in all, and you don’t need to read them in any particular order.

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5 Responses to "Star Trek Vol 2, by James Blish (episode adaptations)"

As a kid, I lived for the days when these books would appear on the bookstore shelf. No Internet back then, so I learned to start checking every six months or so, saving my allowance so I could buy the new one. Worth noting that Blish worked off early drafts of the episode scripts, so some of the adaptations differed from the aired episodes, sometimes markedly so. He died before he got to them all, and the last couple books were done by others in his name.

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Just managed to get a copy from Amazon 🙂

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Reblogged this on Misanthropester.

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I have this, and the first collection, in hardcover, got them as a set long ago. I’ve read them both many times, and they hold up really well, in some cases better than the episodes on which they are based.

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Like Rick, I read these Blish volumes long ago and enjoyed them. They’re well worth reading.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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