Today The Library Computer brings you two special (and somewhat opposing) reviews of Alan Dean Foster’s adaptation of the new Star Trek feature film. Firstly Robert Lyons reviews the novel itself, and then John Tenuto reviews the audiobook version (read by Zachary Quinto). We also have news and a first look at the limited edition signed hardcover edition.
REVIEW – ‘STAR TREK’ novel by Alan Dean Foster
(based on a screenplay by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman)
review by Robert Lyons
[Please Note: This Review Contains Spoilers]
Foster opens “Star Trek” with an amazingly reflective piece of sci-fi writing, one which you feel is a tone-setter for the entire work. It was the perfect opening for a new era of Star Trek. For a while, Foster’s adaptation goes strong – but when a post-pubescent James Kirk takes off for San Francisco on a recruit shuttle, the book begins a drop-off that it never recovers from.
Given the lateness of the announcement of the adaptation, much of the blandness of the latter two-thirds of the book can be written off to the haste with which the adaptation was prepared. Typos slipped through (‘manuel control’, anyone? I didn’t know that Andrew Sachs had a cameo aboard the Kelvin in the film!), some inexplicable goofs also passed (the emitter of the drill cannot be ‘thousands of kilometers’ above the surface of a planet if Kirk and Sulu are going to remove their helmets), and, unfortunately, it feels that there is little or no passion, urgency, or impetus to any of the situations in the book. This stands in stark contrast to the film, which is so packed with action that strong regard for what is going on is being thrown at you every minute.
Foster does include some interesting material in the novel that is not in the film. For example, an extended scene with young Jim Kirk and his brother is included that explains a lot of Jim’s motivations for becoming a carousing drunk by the time he would have been serving aboard the Farragut in the ‘Prime’ timeline (as well as explaining why he was in that Corvette). In general the novel does a better job than the film in explaining the back-stories of Kirk and Spock, where that part of the film was likely cut down due to time. Some of this will likely be available in the deleted scenes section of the film’s DVD, but will be welcomed in the novel format by those eager for more back-story or who are too impatient to wait for the home video release. In particular, the adaptation’s take on Kirk’s relationship with his stepfather and his brother provide a far better baseline for understanding Kirk than anything else, leading to mystification about why it would have been omitted in the film.
While Foster is to be commended for including these scenes in the adaptation, his choice to eliminate other scenes from the film – in particular a scene between Kirk and McCoy that sets up the Kobayashi Maru – leaves Kirk looking, on the eve of his graduation, like a impudent twit instead of a cadet deserving of a commission in Starfleet. At least in the film you have a deeper understanding of what is going on at this point in time and can relate a bit better – even if you find it to stretch credibility.
Nero, in the adaptation, is a wholly ineffective villain – not that he was much better in the film. Even having read the prequel comic, “Countdown”, the adaptation leaves me with no genuine reason to give a damn about him, and he comes across as a cardboard cut-out, hell-bent on rage and retribution. Khan had dimension. Chang had moxy. Nero has nothing, nor does Foster contribute anything to him that the film does not (except for his Romulan name). Other than coming to the obvious conclusion that the Narada is from the future, nothing is said of the ship’s origins; and, curiously, nothing substantial is added to our knowledge of the time between the destruction of the Kelvin and Nero’s re-emergence onto the galactic scene. The rest of the book seems to have plot-hole after plot-hole, and while the mind-meld sequence explaining the whole Nero and Spock Prime backstory works marginally better in the book than in the movie, it still leaves a lot to be desired.
Readers who are hungry for some Kirk and Spock back-story will find Foster’s “Trek” adaptation appealing, but those who want deeper insight into the nuTrek universe will be disappointed. Only McCoy and Spock Prime come across with any degree of depth to them, though Uhura has her moments (acting, as she does, as a barometer of Kirk). Pike, Nero, and Robau all come across entirely wooden, and Scotty fares little better – feeling like a parody of James Doohan’s worst moments. Quinto’s Spock is unique, and the book left me with no real strong feeling towards him either way. As far as Kirk goes, Foster leaves me asking – if I am an Enterprise crew member – for an immediate transfer to the next quadrant… I see in Kirk a man who is going to get me killed, and, to be honest, this isn’t the Kirk I would follow into battle… or anywhere else, for that matter. I certainly can’t see him as an explorer, unless you count exploring women’s bodies as exploration. This is a marked difference from the film, as you can begin to see something of the Kirk we remember develop over the course of the story.
“Star Trek” the adaptation was a severe disappointment to me. Having read all of the classic movie adaptations, this falls way short of those works. There is nothing extra (beyond deleted scenes) in this book that would fan the flames of anyone, or that would make this book worthwhile. Foster stayed pretty close to the script, and in doing so diminished the value and the potential of his own adaptation. Further, the on-screen execution of the script provided a more entertaining experience than most of the book, and given the choice between the two, I’ll take the on-screen version over the book any day. (This isn’t always the case with me; I preferred the novelizations of Star Trek II, III, and VI over the on-screen versions.)
While I held out a level of optimism that the theatrical version would be more engaging, my enthusiasm for the film dropped several notches in the wake of reading the book. I was all for a good reboot of the Star Trek universe, and while a reboot is defiantly what we get (at least from the time of the Kelvin on), I have to admit that I may just now be discovering how much of an Original Series purist I am.
The trade paperback of "Star Trek" is officially released on May 12th, but is already available in some book stores.
"Star Trek" available at Amazon May 12 (also on Kindle)
REVIEW – ‘Star Trek’ Audio book version
review by John Tenuto
Prologue — When thinking about whether an audio book of a feature film is successful it must be remembered that many people are responsible for the adaptation. There is the author of the novel itself. The author is not responsible for the overall story (unless it is an usual instance such as Gene Roddenberry who by all accounts actually did write the novel for Star Trek: The Motion Picture himself). That belongs to the teleplay or feature film writers. A good author should craft a narrative that takes advantage of the format of a novel providing insights into the motivations and experiences of the characters. This is accomplished by authors adding new scenes or lines which help the narrative in a way possible in the format of a novel. Films usually do not offer insights into the internal monologues of characters, yet novels definitely could. The fun of novelizations is that they also include scenes that were filmed yet not included in the final edit, also helping the enjoyment of the narrative. Then there is the narrator. The narrator must maintaining the interest of the listeners and provide distinct voices for each of the characters. Does the narrator of the audio book engage the theater of the imagination? Then there is the company that produces the audio book which is responsible for packaging and other quality control issues.
The Star Trek audio book is excellent, succeeding on almost all of these concerns.
The Adaptation by Alan Dean Foster
Alan Dean Foster has credentials as both a talented and prolific adaptor to Star Trek and a writer of original science fiction, plus he has his own contributions to the Trek universe (including story credit for The Motion Picture). Foster wrote the amazing adaptation to the first Star Wars film and started the entire Star Wars extended universe with his Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. These experiences and talents are clearly helpful to his adaptation of Star Trek. Foster’s adaptation provides expanded scenes and important character motivations that improve the experience of the film itself. For example, his adaptation of the bar scene between Pike and Kirk and the internal monologue of Kirk as he appreciates the manufacturing of the USS Enterprise provide much needed information. In the film, Pike merely mentions that Starfleet needs people with Kirk’s personality again. In the book, we get a discussion of the conflict between new Starfleet (educated and competent) and old Starfleet (mavericks and history makers) which is a real issue faced by many militaries today (and symbolized in the Star Trek-referencing film Crimson Tide). It is this that is really motivating Pike which is very reasonable. A good adaptation is both a good book in its own accord, yet also helps makes experiencing the film a better engagement and that occurs because of Foster’s text.
The Narration by Zachary Quinto
I cannot offer enough accolades to Zachary Quinto’s narration. He is simply the best audio book narrator in the history of Star Trek, and that is saying quite a great deal considering the formidable and venerable talents of George Takei and James Doohan. Yet, Quinto shows all his acting abilities in the audio adaptation and he has a thoughtful style as narrator. He performs Scotty and Chekov flawlessly (watch out Anton Yelchin!). He also has a subtly in his voice while performing Kirk that is very good and displays the assuredness of the character without being a parody. One of the fun things about listening to audio books is to hear how various narrators act out characters of the opposite sex (think William Shatner in "Turnabout Intruder"). Quinto does very good at hinting at the femininity of characters without lisping to exaggerations or stereotypical imitations. In the film, Eric Bana uses several voices as he performs Nero (compare his voices when welcoming back Spock with talking to Pike). Quinto does a very good job of staying consistent and sounding like Bana. Quinto is a true master of various accents.
As the generic narrator, Quinto also displays excellent qualities. His tonation and energy help maintain interest during the 8.5 hours of the audio book. His abilities as narrator and character actor are especially seen in the scenes on the USS Kelvin. With only his voice (no sound effects or music accompany his reading of the text), Quinto is able to convey all the sadness and tragedy of those moments. In fact, he is so good that as a father and fan, I am not embarrassed to say there were tears in my eyes while listening to Quinto’s heartbreaking reading of the scenes between Winona and George Kirk. That he is able to engender this kind of emotion in an audio book speaks volumes about Quinto’s talent.
The Production Value by Pocket Books
There are some problems with the production value by Pocket Books. The box art is great for the CD versions, yet the packaging is very flimsy (the internal packaging isn’t a jewel case but paper holders sure to be a problem no matter how careful the consumer is with the audio book). Also, it would have been nice to include some sound effects and music. However, Quinto is so talented that these are not as much of a concern. It is great though that the audio book is unabridged which was a good decision by Pocket Books and the audio adventure is an amazing 8.5 hours long. Because it is so good, it is hoped that Pocket Books continues to utilize Zachary Quinto and does indeed bring back the audio book to the world of Star Trek more often.
The audio version of Star Trek is very recommended and a welcomed addition to the library of Trek adventures. It is also available in some stores now, but will be in wide release (and at Amazon) on May 12th.
"Star Trek" audiobook available at Amazon May 12
LIMITED EDITION SIGNED HARD COVER COMING IN JUNE
Simon & Schuster has just worked out a deal with Premiere Collectibles to release a special limited edition hardcover version of the Star Trek adaptation. Coming June 11th, each one of the 5000 books will be signed by Alan Dean Foster and cost $25. They will be available for pre-order at premierecollectibles.com soon. TrekMovie has the first look at the cover.