BOOK REVIEW: Star Trek 12, by James Blish & J. A. Lawrence

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Rating: 3 out of 5.
  • A novelisation of five Original Series episodes
  • Three stories by Blish, two by Lawrence
  • Published by Corgi in 1978
  • Social SF
  • 170 pages

These are the voyages of the USS Enterprise, as it explores the furthest reaches of space. Captain James Kirk leads his bold crew to worlds where dreams become reality, where Nazis rule, and where the greatest danger may come in the most innocent forms . . .

Truth be told, I’ve been that much of a fan of the original Star Trek. It’s the only incarnation of the show I haven’t watched from start to finish. Heresy, I know, but there we are. I can respect its place in the canon of science fiction, of course. Without Star Trek, vast swathes of the genre would be absent, not least the ongoing expansion of Gene Rodenberry’s creation. And had I been around in the nineteen sixties, I know I’d have loved it. On an idea and story based level, classic Star trek has some of the high points of the entire franchise. ‘Balance of Terror’ and ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’ are absolute classics of science fiction, and both very different. Some of the episodes play with ideas that later versions of the show wouldn’t touch. But the presentation is another matter. Wobbly sets and wooden acting aren’t enough to put me off a show on their own, but they do knock it down my priority list. Personally, I feel like I’ve gleaned enough of Star Trek through cultural osmosis that a full watch of the show can wait until I have a gap in my TV plans. One day, yes, but not today.

In the nineteen seventies, James Blish adapted every episode of the show into prose form. Novelisation is not quite the right word, as the episodic structure of the show lends itself better to a short story collection. Blish muddies the waters a little by picking seemingly random episodes for each volume rather than just working through the show in broadcast order. There’s no real theme holding these episodes together, and they’re as mixed in order as they are in quality. because while Star Trek had magnificent highs, it also had some truly dreadful lows. This final volume also marks a posthumous release for Blish, who died before it was completed. J. A. Lawrence takes over the writing for the final two entries, and matches her style to Blish’s so seamlessly you’d never guess there was a change in author if it weren’t written all over the book.

Star Trek 12 contains two stories I am vividly aware of seeing on television, and the conveniently exist on opposite ends of my enjoyment spectrum. ‘Shore Leave’ is the sort of whimsical episode that I have never had any time for, with giant rabbits and fairy tale knights galore. It’s very much a product of the nineteen sixties, and while its brand of fun is utterly harmless, it’s also of no real consequence. At the other end of the spectrum we have ‘Patterns of Force,’ which portrays an alien world adopting Nazism as a way of life. Taking into consideration the time it was written, and the fact that many of the original cast and crew had first hand experience of the Second World War, it serves as a poignant reminder that some dangers will rise time and again, and that you can never be too vigilant. It’s the sort of unsubtle political story that Star Trek has always been good at doing, and one that has remained relevant for almost six decades.

Blish’s writing isn’t entirely to my liking. It feels more like the notes of an episode than a story in its own right. But in a way, that’s what it is. It can’t compare to watching the actual show, but it does a great job of reminding you what the show was like.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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