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Following on from our 30th Anniversary review of the comic adaptation of Star Trek The Motion Picture, TrekMovie’s book editor has a special "Library Computer" retro-review of the novel adaptation of of TMP, which was written by Gene Roddenberry
The Novel Adaptation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture
by Robert Lyons
Being born in1978 and not having a family well disposed to Star Trek. I had never heard of the show until a point in 1984 when the animated version was airing on the Nickelodeon television network. Soon, local reruns of The Original Series filled my evenings, but I had still never seen a Star Trek feature film. My first experience with any of the movies would not come until 1987 when, on a shopping trip to a local mall, I begged my grandmother out of my first Star Trek book, Gene Roddenberry’s novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Imagine the thrill of being nine years old and having a letter written to you by James T. Kirk! You can probably imagine how it felt for me to crack the first page of Roddenberry’s novelization of TMP, but beyond the giddy, childish feelings I had then, the first eleven pages are perhaps the most interesting gem of the entire book, not because of the letter from Kirk or the preface by Roddenberry, but because of the view of humanity shared by Roddenberry in these pages. I still have fond memories of opening up that novel for the very first time, and I still own the copy my grandmother bought me. today.
TMP Novel cover
REVIEW of TMP Novelization
In Kirk’s introduction to the story, which Roddenberry says he "asked him to write," Kirk shares a lot about his background and the background of the universe in which Star Trek is set. It is an era in which last names are a dying breed, and where Starfleet is not on the cutting edge of societal evolution. While the blissful residents of Terra are enjoying their own little paradise rooted in a ‘group consciousness’, it is the primitives of Starfleet who are out on the front lines, attempting to forge the frontier and defend the homefront. Kirk’s introduction immediately struck me, and perhaps others, as odd, given the pioneering spirit of so many introduced to us in The Original Series. Much of what is present feels much more representative of the Next Generation’s first few seasons than the mindset of the Original Series, a mere two years prior. His introduction also sheds light on the old myth that only the Enterprise returned home after her mission, and gives
credence to those who choose to view the ‘dramatized’ adventures of the Enterprise crew as entertainment based on real events – a project he attributes to Roddenberry. We also learn that the "T" in Kirk’s name is for "Tiberius".
Roddenberry’s introduction, far briefer, retains the fictional tone, but gives some real world insight into Roddenberry’s return to Trek. Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, in the special features disk of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, related how her husband would shelve Trek and express his desire to move on, only to see Paramount show up on his doorstep to entice him back to the table. Roddenberry here shares his personal convictions – which gel well with his real-life views on many topics – for returning to the characters and starship that defined his career.
TMP novelization back cover trumpets author Gene Roddenberry as "Great Bird of the Galaxy"
As the reader enters into the book, the tone set by Kirk and Roddenberry deeply influence how one reads and envisions the unfolding of the story. Having read the book before ever seeing the movie, I was startled by the film itself. It was not at all what I expected when I finally rented the video at the age of eleven. The story was essentially the same, but the feeling was very different.
As Mark Altman pointed out Monday in his tribute to TMP’s thirtieth, the adventure of the Enterprise chronicled in the novel (and on-screen) owe more of their sense of grandeur and scale to 2001 than to Star Wars. In the novel, this remains readily apparent. Things aren’t significantly jazzed up, and – unlike the novelization to 2001 – major changes don’t distinguish the movie from the book. Other than filling in backstory and adding a redshirt (well, make that sky-blueshirt) death, the significant events of the novelization match well with the film. In the TMP novelization, we discover that Kirk has spent a year in a standard contract relationship with Commander Sonak’s unfortunate beam-in partner, Lori Ciana; that senior Starfleet officers have sub-dermal communications implants, and that Deltan women are quite dexterous with various bodily appendages.
We learn more of the ill-fated Ciana and Sonak in the TMP novel
The novel does not suffer from the pacing problems that the original release of the film did. With no special effects to play with, Vejur (Roddenberry’s spelling throughout the novel) is described accurately, but in a significantly reduced amount of time.
Throughout, the novel effectively connects (or re-connects, depending on your point of view) Kirk and Spock (and, to a lesser extent, McCoy and Scotty) not only to one another, but to the rest of humanity through their encounter with Vejur. Roddenberry fills out some details about the lives of Kirk and Spock in the days since their previous mission on the Enterprise, and provides enough of an impetus in material unique to the book to more adequately undergird the decisions that both make in returning to the Enterprise, but after the pair reunite, little additional material is added to the novel that isn’t at least implied in the film.
The supporting cast really fare no better in the novelization than in the film, with the ‘Big Three’ taking center stage and Decker/Ilia coming in a close second. In the book, we even get some extra backstory on Will Decker, revealed to be the son of Commodore Matt Decker ("The Doomsday Machine"). Sadly, as in the film, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Chapel could be replaced by Tom, Amy, Roy, and Sue with no significant loss in storytelling. They remain totally disposable players, present simply for the nostalgia factor.
TMP novel reveals the Deckers are father and son
The novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, rises and falls – like most adaptations – on the added value of having read the book. Whereas the enjoyment of Star Trek II and VI were both significantly heightened by reading the novelizations in concert with seeing the film, TMP’s novelization succeeds in presenting a slightly different take the late 23rd century adventures of Kirk and Company, while providing backstory that frames the placement of the reader and viewer in the current mindset of the characters. Where the TMP novelization fails (but the II and VI novelizations didn’t) is in its lack of significant framing additions to the story which provide impetus for the crew’s handling the crisis at hand. While McIntyre’s novelization of The Wrath of Khan included deeper details of Khan’s bloody rampage at Regula I and Dillard’s novelization of The Undiscovered Country chronicled a Klingon attack on Carol Marcus’ colony, The
Motion Picture is devoid of any further detail that can serve to finesse Kirk and company through the climax of the story. This, sadly, is a lost opportunity on Roddenberry’s part.
Read straight, Roddenberry’s novelization carries with it the feel of early Next Generation – an enlightened, progressive humanity, primed to do anything, and residing in a kind of paradisiacal existence that today’s man might hardly recognize. Virtually none of this undercurrent, obviously derived from Roddenberry’s preparations for Star Trek: Phase II, survives to the final cut of the film, and as such, it is the background setting that creates the most jarring feature of the entire novel. It isn’t in keeping with the film, with immediate past in-universe history, or any of the subsequent entries into the Original Series film line. This doesn’t make the TMP novelization bad as much as it makes it a unique curiosity, one that most serious fans of Trek would likely enjoy reading – even if only for the introductory material.
New and used copies of the TMP novelization are available at Amazon.