This is a repost from my main blog, @flourish, originally written in 2013. It’s part of a project to read every official Star Trek book in existence. You can follow my progress on my Tumblr or take a look at my spreadsheet of books read and to-read.
The preface to this book is one of the best things I’ve read in ages. First, a preface from Admiral James T. Kirk; then a preface from Gene Roddenberry; then—throughout the novel—footnotes, where occasionally Roddenberry has “asked Kirk” to clarify questions! It doesn’t pull any punches either. What does Kirk think about slash, you might ask?
I was never aware of this [Spock and I being] lovers rumor, although I have been told that Spock encountered it several times. Apparently he had always dismissed it with his characteristic lifting of his right eyebrow which usually connoted some combination of surprise, disbelief, and/or annoyance. As for myself, although I have no moral or other objections to physical love in any of its many Earthly, alien, and mixed forms, I have always found my best gratification in that creature woman. Also, I would dislike being thought of as so foolish that I would select a love partner who came into sexual heat only once every seven years.
Seriously though, that is one classy way to say “yo, fans! Love ya, not gonna go there, keep doing your crazy thing.” It helps that, being Gene Roddenberry, it sounds completely and totally like Kirk. Nobody can say that is even the least little bit out of character.
Oh, the entire novel isn’t that good. Roddenberry has been writing for the screen too long, but it comes out in different ways than some of the other novels I’ve read before—as if he’s writing something that is going to be interpreted by a sfx team. For example:
Lori touched a control console in San Francisco. The images picked up by the outpost’s drones and relayed to Earth were clean and nearly perfect. They were also frightening. Kirk’s holocom console now seemed to be hurtling through space in the midst of the Klingon cruiser formation. Unlike the senceiver alert, command level holocom images have no “daydream” quality—they appear in full dimension with a reality which seems actually to surround whoever sits at the receiving holocom console.
First of all, woo-hoo, the holodeck! Second of all, dude, check your tenses, because that is actually what’s making me think that you’re giving direction to a sfx team. I don’t have the mental strength to pick this apart further, but suffice to say, this isn’t me being a grammar nazi; it really does change the meaning of what’s being said to use the incorrect tense here, it’s not just snobbery.
Despite the occasional awkwardness of the prose, lots of things come out here that don’t in the movie. As I understand it, Alan Dean Foster wrote a story which was turned into a screenplay by Harold Livingston, and now Gene Roddenberry is adding his own gloss to it. So, in a certain sense, it is fan fiction, just fan fiction written by the creator. But there’s another aspect too: scenes that were cut from the final release of the film may appear in the novelization, and I have no way of finding out which is which (unless I do a lot more research which I am frankly too lazy to do). So one might also think of it as a Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The Extended Edition. It adds in more scenes, and it clarifies characters’ thoughts and emotions, getting into their heads in ways that the movie couldn’t.
The first example is from when we meet V’jur’s Ilia-probe for the first time:
It took the young security officer a moment to force his eyes away from the Deltan nakedness. Kirk knew how difficult it was. He had just realized that the pointing of those two breasts toward himself had simply meant that she was turning to look toward them. The eyes! They seemed devoid of living warmth! Was this, somehow, Ilia’s dead body? A corpse, reanimated and controlled by the aliens?
Star Trek: the Motion Picture’s theatrical release was rated G. No Ilia-boobs in it; you can’t show that on television, and you can’t show it in a G-rated film either. No Kirk-thoughts in it, either, generally speaking: it’s kind of charming to get a window into his thought process, and it’s done very literally here, telling us each thing he thinks step by step, not giving us a greater overview of what Ilia is doing because Kirk is just so distracted by naked chixx0rz. Nevertheless, you can see the screenwriting habits coming through—the italicized nouns, the short sentences capped with exclamation points.
The second example is from the famously extended sequence where we see the rebuilt Enterprise for the first time:
She hung there inside the lacy filigree of the orbital dry dock. Enterprise!
Montgomery Scott, with some unexpected flair for drama, had maneuvered to keep the starship from Kirk’s sight until the last possible moment. Then, he had used the lateral thruster to nudge their travel pod into a sweeping turn, bringing Enterprise into glorious full view.
…The dramatic impact was heightened by the light which flooded her from every angle within the huge orbital dock … Kirk had, of course, seen some of her new lines before, but only in a mid-point in the renovation. She was complete now, gracefully whole—Kirk searched for some phrase, some description that expressed what he was feeling. Was she like a lovely woman? No; at this moment she was more than that to him. A fable? A myth come alive? Yes, that was it! She was as Aphrodite must have been when Zeus first raised her up from the sea, naked and shockingly beautiful.
…Scott steered their pod along the length of her and breadth of her, allowing Kirk to savor every view—and the chief engineer was tactful enough to point out enough design changes and details to maintain the fiction of this being merely an inspection look.
This sequence is one of the most-derided of the film, with its 2001: A Space Odyssey-inspired visual effects and its total willingness to stop the action in order to let us stare at them for several minutes. (In reality, the effects deserve that long of a look: rewatch it on a large, hi-def screen instead of that crappy VCR you probably used for years, and you’ll see what I mean.) This passage gives it a new context, reminding us of Kirk’s own character, illustrating his relationship with Scott, and showcasing his relationship with the Enterprise as well. The ship is as much a character as any other, and while it’s hard to remember that when you’re seeing a massive visual effects sequence, this passage brings that sequence down to a human level.
Gene Roddenberry’s novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is close to the ideal. Its prose may sometimes need a little work, but it captures the characters, provides insights, and takes advantage of the written word to tell parts of the story that are impossible to communicate on screen. I’m glad that this is the first real novelization I read for my project [note from 2016: I originally read this book as a project to read a lot of novelizations; obviously that’s not the current all-Star Trek project], and I’m looking forward to seeing if others are as good.
Flourish is doing V’ger’s work here