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Notes for a Star Trek Bibliography: The Original Episodes!

By (May 30, 2016) No Comment

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Our book today is a doozy, a true and unexpected delight: Barnes & Noble’s latest addition to their sterling, mouth-watering series of leatherbound classics is a Star Trek volume! Just in blish star trektime for the 50th anniversary of the original TV show’s appearance (an anniversary Paramount Pictures has decided to honor by, astonishingly, shamefully, mostly ignoring it), B&N has brought out an utterly gorgeous black hardcover volume collecting 42 of the episode adaptations mid-century sci-fi hack James Blish wrote up for the earliest Star Trek volumes that fans ate up eagerly and made into the most unlikely bestsellers of that or any other season.

The volume itself is a lovely thing, with color cast photos as end papers and with a pretty outline of the USS Enterprise inlaid on the back cover. The texts were taken from the three-volume paperback omnibus editions Paramount put out back in 1991, each containing an Introduction by Norman Spinrad that gives a quick and heartfelt overview of rackety birth of the original series, when Gene Roddenberry fought the network in order to make his new science fiction show something more than just a spaceship-oriented Wagon Train. Spinrad does a sensitive job of tracing Roddenberry’s determination to create something special:

[Gene] Roddenberry could have stopped there and, having cracked the basic problems, probably gotten his science fiction series on the air. But it wouldn’t have been Star Trek, and it wouldn’t have become the phenomenon that created the present mass audience for science fiction both literary and cinematic. It would have been merely Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea in Outer Space, a good format for a successful TV series maybe, but not something that would pass into the collective popular unconscious.

Blish created these short adventures not from the televised shows but, on some tight star trek 8deadlines, from the original scripts. He’s a wooden, unimaginative writer who can nevertheless do a quick and confident job with the interpersonal scenes that are the hallmark of Star Trek (for a science fiction writer, his actual science fiction – both in these stories and in his other books – is very noticeably bad), but the main fascination of re-reading his Star Trek treatments comes from relishing the differences between what he had in front of him to work with and what had eventually made it to broadcast. Star Trek every week had a sound stage crammed with quick-witted and intensely creative people, staff and cast, who quite often changed things about each star trek 9episode on the fly.

So, for example, Blish’s adaptation of Paul Schneider’s original script for the great 1966 episode “Balance of Terror” takes us to the tense moments on the Enterprise bridge when Communications Officer Lieutenant Uhura is working her magic to get Captain Kirk an inside view of the Romulan warship currently facing off with the Enterprise outside the Romulan Neutral Zone. The moment in the episode is fast and fairly straightforward; Blish’s elaboration of it gives us some choice back-and-forth that will leave any fan of the original show not only imagining the original cast saying the lines but wishing they’d seen it:

The Bantu woman paid no attention to anything but her instruments. Both her large hands were resting delicately on dial knobs, following the voices in and out, back and forth, trying to keep them in aural focus. Beside her left elbow a tap deck ran, recording the gabble for whatever use it might be later for the Analysis team.

“This appears to be coming off their intercom system,” she said into the tape-recorder’s mike. “A weak signal with high impedance, pulse-modulated. Worth checking what kind of field would leak such a signal, what kind of filtration spectrum it shows – oh, damn – no, there it is again. Scotty, is that you breathing down my neck?”

“Sure is, dear. Need help?”

“Get the computer to work out this waver-pattern for me. My wrists are getting tired. If we can nail it down, I might get a picture.”

Scott’s fingers flew over the computer console. Very shortly, the volume level of the gabble stabilized, and Lieutenant Uhura leaned back in her seat with a sigh, lucy goes where no bassetwriggling her fingers in mid-air. She looked far from relaxed, however.

“Lieutenant,” Kirk said. “Do you think you can really get a picture out of that transmission?”

“Don’t know why not,” the Communications Officer said, leaning forward again. “A leak that size would be big enough to peg rocks through, given a little luck. They’ve got visible lights blocked, but they’ve left a lot of other windows open. Anyhow, let’s try …”

Like any fan of the original show might, I have my little quibbles with the editor’s selection of episodes (mainly, my gripe is that the under-appreciated episode “Requiem for Methuselah” isn’t here), but even so, this volume is a pure, outright gift to Star Trek diehards who aren’t seeing nearly the level of commemoration this year that they’d like. Seeing it makes me day-dream about a much bigger volume containing The Price of the Phoenix, The Fate of the Phoenix, The Prometheus Design, and Triangle, but alas, I suspect no book like that will ever appear.