TMP@30: The Adaptations of Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Novelization

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.


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I went to see ST:TMP back in 1979. Thought it was boring and bland. Have seen it 30 times since then and have only marginally changed my original opinion. When The Wrath Of Khan came along it was a whole new ballgame!

Very sad and sorry to hear that Persis Khambatta (Ilia in the movie) passed away from a heart attack at 49 years old back in 1998. I just heard about that tonight.

Just rewatched the director’s edition of this beautiful film on DVD. I’ve always had a soft spot for TMP, even though it’s a little stiff at times. I read and enjoyed the novelization as a kid but had to wait a year for the film to find its way to our town. I did miss some of the details from the book like the swarms of glowing memory things flying around inside Vejur. Still really enjoyed the movie though, and saw it I don’t know how many times. Revisiting it now, I think it’s the only really ‘epic’ ST film other than perhaps the newest one, and it still looks and sounds gorgeous.

30 times for something “boring and bland.” Harry, I thought you were more exciting than that….
Just teasing.
Anyway, it shouldn’t say “The Comic Book Adaptation” above. It is a review of the film, not the comic.
I should re-read it, I read it thirty years ago (Oh My God). I remember Kirk looking at the Enterprise, and Uhura watching him, and thinking she had seen that lustful look on men before, when they are about to have a conquest with a woman. For a fifteen year old boy, that was intense stuff, and I never forgot it.

#4: “and I never forgot it”

Obviously! :>)

I had always heard that Alan Dean Foster was the ghost writer for the TMP novelization. Was this ever verified?

This novel cemented the notion that Roddenberry just wasn’t much of a writer. Though to be fair, the script he had to base this on was lousy.

The novel is nearly as dull / lifeless /depressing, as “Star Trek: the Motionless picture”.

From wikipedia (so take it as you will)
This book is sometimes erroneously credited to Alan Dean Foster, suggesting he was a ghost writer; however, he only contributed to the film’s screenplay.

I actually liked the novel.

I think Kirk’s introduction was a clever move. Old and new fans immediately could relate to the character despite the 10 years gap between TMP and TOS. Loved it – still do! :)

im with 10# i like the book and have read all the original books and for this is one of the best like the reveiw said the book fits in well with the film some of the books did not im more thinking of trek 3

Thanks for this series of TMP articles. I enjoy it.

I liked the movie and the book. The original story “In Thy Image” played out a little differently, and the woman in the transporter accident was Kirks fiancee. I can only wonder what other emotional level this would have given the movie if this part of the original script had been used.

To add to the confusion, Alan Dean Foster was listed as the author on some early covers of TMP in France; but no, Roddenberry wrote it.

I remember the scene of Kirk looking at the Enterprise and her womanly shape from the pod. “Now I know why it’s called ‘she’ ” indeed.

Thanks for the recap of the novel. As I was reading your article I realized that my copy of TMP is on the shelf next to my computer where its been sitting since about 1986 when I moved into this house. Seems like a good time to reread it.

Roddenberry wrote the book. I had absolutely nothing to do with it.

I’ve reread it several times since its release.
Gene Roddenberry was an excellent writer.

I loved this book! One of the best in the series. It gave alot more back story to Trek in my opinion. This is really worth the read.

I loved the novelization of Star Trek the Motion Picture. I was home on Christmas break from university and brought it a week after the film came out. I have read it several times over the last 30 years and it still holds up. I enjoyed the backstory of how the TOS crew reunited.

I liked how Gene explained the interuption of Spock’s Kolinar ritual in the noveliztion. As I recall, Kirk had activated a StarFleet transponder which signalled Spock by using an implant inside his brain.

I always figured ‘microchip’ brain implants would assist man in commucation with computers (and each other) in the future. I also always thought that was why Spock could calculate time travel so easily. The man had to have a calculator ‘very handy.’

I’m surprised you didn’t mention the “New Humans” on Earth, who don’t like the progressive, militaristic starfleet. And Kirk is one of the old guard whom they don’t like; it seems kind of a backlash against hippies to me.

@ #1 Harry

As a kid watching it, there was moments of excitement such as the launch of the refitted Enterprise, then long periods of reaction shots and not -a-lot going on.
& yes Khan changed the movies, but during and after STiV it all became a bit too camp and cheesy where the humour felt forced, and it was like watching dad trying to be “hip”.

may I recommend
“The Lost Years” by J M Dillard

it is the first in a series of 4 books which fill the years between the end of TOS and TMP

and features more information on Lori Ciana.

I still read the TMP novelization every couple of years; always a good read. Just got the Kindle version not long ago.


Oiley, I agree with you. Starting with the whale crap in ST:IV, the franchise went downhill fast!

That’s great that ADF dropped by

Hi Alan

Mr. Lyons,

Very interesting retrospective on what, as you put it, is one of the more unique curiosities in the Trek franchise’s history. I am puzzled, however, at your concluding assertion that the “utopian” aspects of 23rd century society featured in the novelization are somehow at odds with what was depicted in the film version. From almost the opening frame Robert Wise treated 1979 audiences to what was an unabashedly optimistic take on the future: vistas of a pristine, unspoiled Earth (including an unimposing San Francisco skyline that the Transamerica Pyramid could still dominate, as opposed to the crowded, if spectacular, megalopolis of the Abrams film), not to mention the beautiful, gleaming, almost-pristine technology (never mind the Enterprise, you could eat off of the air tram Kirk rides in on). Yes, it all appears pretty sterile and Next Generation-esque by today’s standards–especially given the freewheeling, swashbuckling appeal of TOS and the later film sequels–but that would apply every bit as much to Wise’s film as Roddenberry’s novel. Conservatives and liberals put off by Roddenberry’s notions about the “perfectibility” of man could take some comfort in both novel and film at Kirk’s initial insecurity and pettiness, McCoy’s cantankerousness, and Roddenberry’s admission in the introduction to his only written word on Star Trek that his affection for these characters was as due to their very human failings as to how much they represented what we could aspire to become.

Wow, cool that Mr. Foster weighed in. Wonder how he ended up coming by? I must have read his adaptations of the animated episodes dozens of times as a pre-teen ( when the series actually aired ).

Would be interested in his view on the film, and how it differed from his version of the screenplay ( it was well known that the script was being constantly re-written throughout filming ). I saw some summations of early script drafts of the movie and the ‘In Thy Image’ story and thought it was a shame that some of the earlier material didn’t make it into the film.

Any chance of an Alan Dean Foster interview, Anthony?

28 – Earth’s state was largely ignored in the film itself. We are given a brief glimpse of Starfleet HQ and the city in the background, and that’s about it. We are given no real insight into the mindset of contemporary humanity from the film.

The book, on the other hand, delves deeply into the matter – at least deeply enough to recognize that humanity has went through a significant societal evolution, and that it has at times been a positive, and at times a negative (as Kirk’s statement about Starfleet’s past discloses).



the utopian society in the novelization – the new human movement – saw no need for starfleet – everyone including kirk regarded starfleet’s personnel as a sort of human throwback atavism, that is people who still needed adventure instead of philosophizing and listening to harp music.

So much was their influence on earth politics that one of the main reasons for kirk’s promotion was to simply be a poster child for starfleet. in the novelization only one starship managed to finish a 5 year tour of duty and people were questioning just why exactly it was worth bothering to explore and expand and lose a lot of redshirts in the process when earth was a very sustainable utopia.

as i recall.

tng era civilian society seems to think a bit higher of starfleet. but even in early tng war was considered a distant memory so much so that children were on starships with no sense of that being a bad idea.

I remember getting my first copy of this novel and just loving it. Going to have to find it again and see how well it fares today.

Thanks for the memories…

“Earth’s state was largely ignored in the film itself. We are given a brief glimpse of Starfleet HQ and the city in the background, and that’s about it. We are given no real insight into the mindset of contemporary humanity from the film.”

True enough, but then Star Trek’s vaunted optimism–something so associated with the franchise to this day that even J.J. Abrams felt he had to pay lip service to it–has always been more implied than anything else; I would argue that the Meyer/Bennett militarization of Starfleet is just as much at odds with what we saw in TOS as Rodenberry’s revisionist take on TMP/TNG. Certainly, at the very least there was nothing in the film to contradict the notion of Earth-as-paradise (sort of), so I’m not sure what you find so “jarring” or out-of-keeping with the universe’s established history about it (aside from Christopher Pike’s illusory visit to his home town of Mojave, which could also be classed as “vague-but-optimistic,” TOS never depicted life on 23rd century earth at all, for reasons that are very well known at this point).

I always thought Roddenberry’s concept of a “New Human” movement, whose members tended to merge their identities into groups and regarded Kirk and Starfleet as primitive atavisms, was unexpected and daring (if a little unsettling to the long-time fan as I was even then)–not to mention being a welcome addition to a plot that, whatever its other virtues, was rightly criticized at the time as being a little to familiar and safe. (It also had the virtue of providing the character of Will Decker, whose mother was supposed to be a New Human herself, some much-needed motivation for making the decision to merge his consciousness with V’Ger’s.) And while the “New Humans” have never been depicted on film, authors Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath did write an ST novel dealing with the the advantages and disadvantages of their type of group consciousness in the early ’80s. Ah, a time when Trek was actually supposed to be about something. Those were the days. :-)

The whole thing sounds like a hippie dippie ‘Mein Kampf.’ ‘Group Consciousness?’ Humans becoming the Borg then!

Sorry, but I never bought Gene Roddenberry’s revisionist approach to Trek. I found it depressing and about the ‘sterilisation’ of the human race. If the bunch of dehumanised cultural fascists shown in TNG and implied in TMP’s novelisation are ‘perfected’ humans, better we all go out in a bloody war!

Always enjoyed this novel. I remember as a kid trying to duplicate Kirk’s signature that is found in his introduction, and wondering if Roddenberry or Shatner had actually signed the original.

It certainly brought forward a more philosophical take on 23rd century Earth culture than was capable of being presented in film or on TV.

“If the bunch of dehumanised cultural fascists shown in TNG and implied in TMP’s novelisation are ‘perfected’ humans, better we all go out in a bloody war!”

Well, Cap. That’s some mighty hard bark you have on you, preferring the genocide of your own species to it charting a course (political? social? economic?) of which you don’t approve. Judging from your rhetoric I’d guess that you in fact have little notion of what constitutes the dictionary definition of real fascism (here’s a hint: it has more to do with things like the corporate co-option of government, militarism, torture, wiretapping without warrants and indefinite detention than with providing universal healthcare and singing kumbaya), let alone the personal costs of war. And I’m sure that Wil Wheaton would be mightily amused to hear of your notion of Wesley Crusher as Hitler Youth. But for what it’s worth, I would respectfully suggest that with regards to the “hippy-dippys” (many of the same folks who turned out in droves, btw, to protest when NBC was about to pull the plug on TOS, since the NASCAR contingent was a no-show), a hit or two off of that bong would probably do you a world of good.

Read the book before seeing the movie back then.
A mistake.
The book ended up being WAY better- at the time, that is.

What fond memories I have of reading this book. Too bad the movie was nowhere near as good as the book was.

#31 “only one starship managed to finish a 5 year tour of duty and people were questioning just why exactly it was worth bothering to explore and expand and lose a lot of redshirts in the process when earth was a very sustainable utopia.”

I suppose a case could be made that Roddenberry was also referring to the state of the space program at the time. Since TOS had aired we had been to the moon and the nation had lost interest so much in the space program that a couple of Apollo missions were canceled. Politicians and public opinion had largely turned against it. Their was debate as to whether the cost was worth it. It didn’t help that there were no visionaries running NASA or in the government that advocated more expansion.

The Space Shuttle program, while technically cool, still kept us in low earth orbit for the next 30 years. Neil Armstrong’s one small step for man became a big step backwards for manned space exploration. The success of unmanned probes such as Cassini, the Mars rovers, etc have provided amazing science but also have added to the critics contention that space exploration can be done without the cost of manned flight.

Wow, i’ve really taken this off on a tangent! Anyway, back to the novelization, perhaps Roddenberry was making commentary on the state of the American space program at the time. Just a thought.

Both stank.

Yes. There it is. Both stank. Because Rod-N-Berry couldn’t write. People can swear up and down that he was some sort of visionary, but in simple truth, he wasn’t a very good writer. His pacing was awful, and he absolutely no ear for dialogue. When Star Trek was really and truly good, either in general story or particular bit of dialogue, was by and large by other writers.

I’m talking TOS. TNG is a whole other can of worms.

Example from the end of the novel, referring to V’Ger’s evolution beyond our plane of existence: “…then it became too beautiful for them to comprehend, and so it was gone without ever really leaving…”. That is just bad writing.

I ain’t gonna wax nostalgic about either one. The Director’s Cut of TMP was marginally better than the original, but there’s no help for the novel. Frankly, both stank.

Flame on…

@40 ‘Beach

No flames here. You’re right. From everythiing I’ve read over the years, Roddenberry was not considered a strong writer. He had great, or at least highly unusual *concepts*, but when it came to translating those concepts to something practical and marketable in terms of hard writing, well, not so much. Some folks get mad when you make that distinction, and its not intended to slam Roddenberry, its just a fact.

its been decades since I read the TMP novelization, but I recall it being at times a vivid realization of the movie, filling in some details and allowing me to imagine certain scenes that I thought would have benfitted the movie immensely – the scenes with Admiral Nogura, or the connection between Kirk and Lori Ciana, or even the prolog of Kirk seeing the Klingons getting blown up by V’ger. On the other hand, some of the narration was dripping and overwrought, and the issue of embedded mind implants was, well, kinda disturbing.

As far as Roddenberry and utopias go, I personally, think TNG suffered mightily from this unachievable utopian blather he imposed. It made TNG sterile and less credible. Those on the utopia side don’t get that it is the differences in humanity that make us *stronger*, and the notion of everyone being this Borg-like zombie is, frankly, nauseating. Contrarian types, those that create conflict, are often the very types that push people forward to compel achievement beyond the expectations of the masses.

I like the novel, largely for the vision of the future it depicts. I agree with some here who suggest that, strictly speaking, its not in keeping with TOS or the later movies, but I get the sense from the novel of a fuly conceived future. I love details like the fact that the Mediterrannean sea has been drained to create a huge hydroelectric dam – resulting in huge amounts of energy, and revealing unknown archaeological sites telling humanity much about its past…. I also like the idea that theres some conflict between factions on earth – the ‘new humans’ vs ‘old fashioned’ types like Kirk… ST never really went in this direction, but its interesting that it could have done…

@17 I survived the late 70’s as a geek teenaged kid, by reading the LOG series in the afternoons after school. Thank you! You had a big impact on a number of my friends, because you were the lone author doing regular Star Trek Lit for a good while…. looking forward to the story you’ve got coming in the new parallel universe!!

Will we see some of the LOG characters turn up in the parallel universe, I hope?? :)

BTW, it is especially nice to see Alan Dean Foster visit here, because I still have my ADF-autographed paperback copy of “Alien” I won waay the heck back in high school. A truly neat keepsake!

#41 AoTVNPfF

Quite the long moniker!

Thanks for your lucid, thoughtful, thought-provoking reply. I was sure most of the Rod-N-Berry Purists would flame me into oblivion for that one.

I too, for those that mentioned it, read and enjoyed ADF’s adaptaions of TAS in his LOG form. They were always a lot more to the story thatn shown on the cartoon, and they always linked one into the other, which was cool.


Gots ta remember that Roddenberry was notorious for re-writing scripts during the shooting of TOS. I can’t remember the stylistic choices he made for the TMP novel, but as the true Kree-yay-tor, I always throw the man some slack.

As for his conflict-free TNG set-up, that was an unfortunate misfire, though the series itself made the best of it.


I don’t disagree, but it’s that very habit he had that wipes away virtually any respect I had for him as simply “The Creator”. TV is by definition a collaberative medium . One man cannot do it all. Yet, G-Rod seemed to think that because of his self-important status as “The Creator” any and all ideas pertaining to his creation were fair game to get co-opped.

Creator? Let’s see, Roddenberry ripped off the whole premise of Star Trek from Forbidden Planet and then Coon and the others fleshed out the more tasteful aspects of it. Visionary? I think not. Hack is more like it!