Here we are: the conclusion to my countdown of my 15 all-time favorite Star Trek novels. The previous installments can be found here and here. These Final Five are, in my humble opinion, examples of Star Trek tie-in fiction at its best—stories that capture the experience of watching one of the episodes or movies, but delivering on a larger, more epic scale, unfettered by a tight special-effects budget, and yet also providing a greater sense of intimacy, as they delve deeper into the characters we know so well, helping us to see and understand them in new and intriguing ways.
So, without further ado...
I received this novel when I was around 14 years old, as a gift from my eighth-grade math teacher, Paul Rubin, who was a fellow Star Trek fan. He handed it to me right before a class trip to the Great Adventure amusement park in New Jersey. I started reading it the moment I sat down on the bus, and was pulled in right away. As I recall, by the time the bus returned us to Brooklyn that evening, I was at least halfway through the book. David Gerrold, of course, is the writer responsible for one of the most classic Star Trek episodes of all time, “The Trouble With Tribbles,” and he was one of the original architects of Star Trek: The Next Generation. His vast knowledge and understanding of the franchise is very much on display in this story about the Enterprise’s encounter with a vast, aging spaceship—essentially a city in space—that is on a direct heading for a galactic whirlpool that will ensure the destruction of the vessel and everyone aboard it. Kirk and his crew find themselves trying to save an entire civilization of people who have been isolated for so long that they don’t believe in the existence of any worlds other than their own. There’s plenty of drama, humor, vivid characterizations, intriguing science-fiction concepts, and several story elements that would later be used in the development of TNG. All in all, a very enjoyable Star Trek novel. Thanks again, Mr. Rubin.
The one and only Star Trek novel ever written by series creator Gene Roddenberry—no, it wasn’t ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster, despite the insistence of persistent rumors over the years. And while it’s not an all-original story, being an adaptation of the screenplay credited to Harold Livingston, this is in no way just a prose version of the movie. In this book, Roddenberry has the freedom to take the Enterprise’s encounter with V’Ger and imbue it with his pure, unadulterated vision of Star Trek and its characters. We are provided with intriguing details about the status quo of the universe at the time of the movie. The stuff that Roddenberry establishes about the main characters—their backstories and the personal dramas going on between them—is exactly what the film version needed, and it’s a shame that these elements never made it to the screen. We find out what led to McCoy’s departure from Starfleet, and why he swore he would never return. We gain greater understanding of Spock’s inner turmoil. We get a much better sense of what’s been going on with Kirk since the end of the five-year mission—for one thing, he had been romantically involved with a female colleague in the Admiralty. (Remember the two people who died in the transporter accident early in the film? According to the novel, she was one of them.) And we get to witness the interaction between Kirk and his superior officer, the named but never seen Admiral Nogura, and find out exactly what strings Kirk had to pull to get the Enterprise back. It’s clear that Roddenberry had a ball writing this book, as he opens it with an introduction written by Kirk himself, and sprinkles footnotes throughout the narrative, with Kirk commenting on or clarifying particular points of interest—one of which is aimed squarely at that infamous subset of Trek fandom who insist that Kirk and Spock have been lovers all along. Even if you don’t like The Motion Picture, you may well enjoy this book.
It’s a shame that this wasn’t the story in William Shatner’s head when he was developing Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, because I think it would have been one hell of a movie. My understanding is that after the disappointing box-office performance of The Final Frontier, an undaunted Shatner lobbied for another chance, and pitched a story to Paramount about a quest to find a mythical fountain of youth. Paramount declined, obviously, and Shatner apparently was still holding on to the idea years later, when he was given the opportunity to create a Star Trek novel. Despite a framing sequence that takes place in the 24th century, following the events of Star Trek Generations, the novel is set shortly after Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, with the Enterprise in mothballs, most of the crew retired, and Kirk finding himself increasingly restless and frustrated, with no clear direction for the rest of his life. Inevitably, he is called back into action—but this time, it’s an unauthorized mission that puts him at odds with his closest friends and the top brass at Starfleet Command. In The Final Frontier, Shatner wanted to depict a major conflict between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy that would have threatened to tear apart their friendship, but it got watered down to almost nothing in the finished film. In this book, he gets to revisit that concept, and is far more successful. The characterizations are spot-on and the story successfully captures the feel of the original-crew movies, particularly the later ones. Given that Shatner came up with the story, it should come as no surprise that the focus is squarely on Kirk, but he and his co-writers Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens actually come up with interesting things for the supporting characters to do, without diminishing them or poking fun at them the way Shatner did in The Final Frontier. Just as interesting: Kirk’s sole ally throughout the story is Scotty, who loyally embarks on the adventure with his former captain. The two men get to spend a lot of time together, and we get a stronger sense of the friendship and admiration between them. I can’t help thinking that had this become a movie, knowing how James (Scotty) Doohan felt about Shatner in real life, it would have been quite the experience watching them act opposite each other, just the two of them, for an extended period of time. It could have earned Doohan an Oscar nomination! (Incidentally, The Ashes of Eden was considered a momentous enough project that DC Comics published a graphic-novel adaptation in 1995, and it’s worth seeking out.)
This was the first novel to go beyond the events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which made it special right from the get-go. Author Howard Weinstein, who had previously written the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode “The Pirates of Orion,” does a masterful job with the characters and playing with the premise that time has passed since “the old days.” There are fun little moments, such as McCoy grousing about his graying hair, and Dr. Chapel reminding Chekov that he’s not 22 years old anymore and must now be careful about what he eats. But Weinstein is particularly masterful in his handling of Spock. Picking up on the fact that Spock had made peace with his human side by the end of The Motion Picture, Weinstein presents a wiser, content, serene Spock, who is now quite comfortable with himself, his place in the universe, and the people around him. The author managed to anticipate, and capture perfectly, the way Leonard Nimoy would portray Spock in The Wrath of Khan, which would not hit theaters until nearly a full year after the publication of this book. Talk about foresight! There’s a wonderful scene in which a young princess, whom Spock is escorting on a dangerous journey, wonders when she’ll finally grow up. Spock replies that it’s illogical to presume that the “growing up” process is finite—why does a person have to stop growing and learning just because he or she has reached physical adulthood? That outlook really hit me when I first read this book at the age of 12, and it has stayed with me all these years. Later in the book, the grateful princess asks Spock if she can give him a hug, and his response, and Weinstein’s description of the moment, is just lovely. I’m pleased to say that I still have my original first-edition copy, autographed by the author with this quintessentially Star Trek-ian message: “Believe in the future!”
1. Yesterday’s Son by A.C. Crispin (1983)
This was the first original Star Trek novel (as opposed to a movie novelization) to hit the New York Times Bestseller List, and deservedly so. It’s a direct sequel to one of the better third-season episodes of the original TV series, “All Our Yesterdays.” In that episode, Spock and McCoy are stranded 5,000 years in the past on an alien world during its ice age. While there, Spock loses control of his emotions and becomes romantically involved with a woman named Zarabeth, whom he ultimately must leave behind. In Yesterday’s Son, Spock discovers that Zarabeth later bore his child. With Kirk and McCoy tagging along, Spock uses the Guardian of Forever (from the episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”) to go back in time to that frozen world and retrieve the boy. I saw this novel sitting on a shelf in the New Releases section of a bookstore in Middletown, New York, during the summer of 1983. The gorgeous cover, painted by Boris Vallejo, caught my eye immediately. But when I read the brief synopsis on the back, and figured out that this was a sequel to an episode that I really liked, I raced it right over to the cashier’s desk. My parents and I were upstate for a weekend, staying at a relative’s bungalow in the nearby town of Wurtsboro, and since I had no friends up there, this was the perfect thing to occupy my time and attention. I started reading the book the moment we got back to the bungalow, and did not put it down until I finished it the next morning—probably the first time I ever stayed up all night reading a book because I was enjoying it too much to stop. It remains the most satisfying and most touching Star Trek novel I’ve ever read. Author Ann (“A.C.”) Crispin captures the characters and the feel of the original series like few other novelists ever have, and despite the unlikelihood of the main premise, she manages to make it all seem plausible and an organic part of the Star Trek tapestry. I can say without reservation that Yesterday’s Son is one of the many things that made me want to become a writer. When I finished the book, I felt like my life had changed. “This is what I want to do someday!” I said to myself. Crispin wrote an excellent sequel, Time For Yesterday, which was published in 1988, but it didn’t have quite the impact on me that its predecessor did. I actually got to speak with her back during my days as a Marvel editor—I’d hoped that we might be able to work on something together. It didn’t happen, but we did correspond every now and then during the last few years of her life, and while I got the impression that she wanted to be known for a lot more than just her Star Trek work, I always felt obligated to convey to her how much it had meant to me.
So those are my favorites. What are yours? I’d like to to know! Feel free to list them below in the comments section.
Links to previous Star Trek entries:
© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2016.