Star Trek - Alan Dean Foster, Zachary Quinto When I was getting my teaching certificate, they told us to lead off with the good points about students’ projects, and only after boosting their egos, point out what needed improvement.

It is in that spirit that I begin this review of Star Trek, the adaptation of JJ Abrams’ reboot of the franchise:

Good Points
Zachary Quinto (“Spock” in Abrams’ movie) does a rather good job of reading the novel. He – of course – nails Spock but he’s got a wide enough vocal range to handle all of the other characters, and makes it easy to follow what’s going on. He’s particularly good with Nero, sounding uncannily like Eric Bana, and with Chekov (I’m no expert on dialect but I liked his “Russian” accent more than Yelchin’s in the movie).

Alan Dean Foster is a past master of movie novelizations. When I was younger, I kept copies of Outland, Alien, Aliens, Dark Star, and others close at hand for when I was bored and wanted quick, easy-to-read and well written brain candy. The best movie novelizations retain the good points of the movie but add depth and detail to the characters and plot that give future viewings of the film greater meaning (see, outside Foster’s oeuvre, Vonda McIntyre’s adaptations of The Wrath of Khan & Star Trek III: The Search for Spock or Terry Brook’s of The Phantom Menace). Foster does that in this book in several cases. One of the best is the scene where Kirk is forced to defend himself for altering the Kobayashi Maru simulation. I understand why – if it was filmed at all – it was cut from the movie but it’s instructive to watch Kirk and Spock spar (though – as Sulu warns Bailey in “The Corbomite Maneuver,” – “try to cross brains with Spock, he'll cut you to pieces every time”). Another one nearly as good is a scene between Kirk and his older brother before he steals his step-father’s vintage car. We get a glimpse of the straight-laced, near martinet that Kirk was in the Academy of the original timeline (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”), and a reason behind why in this timeline he’s the only genius-level multiple offender in the Iowa juvie system. There are also points where authorial decision makes more sense than the movies’, e.g., rather than have Chekov race through the ship to the transporter room to beam Kirk and Sulu up from the plasma drill, Foster has him transfer the controls from there to his helm station via the computer (the 23rd century version of GoToMyPC). And there are small touches – just a sentence or clause – like having both McCoy and Sulu pick up on “something” going on between Uhura and Spock.

It’s not all to the good. As another review points out, there is some truly awful dialog, but overall Foster does a good job with the story.

What Needs Improvement
Unfortunately, the story is a large part of the problem in Star Trek, and Foster’s task proves thankless in the end. I don’t want to spend too much time dissecting the novel but below are nine things that really bothered me:

One: What the hell is a pregnant woman doing on board a Starfleet vessel in the middle of a mission? The decision to put families aboard Enterprise always soured me on TNG. Really? The galaxy is full of unknowns that could kill us at any moment so let’s expose our spouses and children to them. I’m sure everything will work out for the best (just ask Benjamin Sisko).

Two: The Narada is a mining/ore processing vessel. Why does it appear to have the most advanced shielding and weapons on offer in the Romulan Empire? I know that the Romulans are a highly militarized society but it’s a mining ship not a frakking dreadnaught.

Three: Related to (2), Nero is chief of a mining crew not a soldier. A failure in both the movie and the book is that you never get a sense of why Nero is doing what he’s doing, or why his crew is so fanatically loyal over the course of the 25 years they have to wait for Spock Prime to show up. Yes, we know that Nero’s pregnant wife was on Romulus when it blew up, but that’s such a clichéd motivation that readers/viewers are left shaking their heads in dismay at such lazy story-telling. And, outside of a penchant for homicidal rages, what hold does Nero exercise over the other Romulans? There’s little effort to develop Nero as a plausible villain. Compare this to Khan Noonian Singh – “Save your strength, Captain, these people have sworn to live and die at my command two hundred years before you were born.”

Four: What did the Narada and her crew do for the 25 years they were waiting for Spock? I understand that there’s a comic series that fills in the gap but I shouldn’t have to go outside of the book (or the movie) to learn that.

Five: Red matter. Yet again we have an ultimate weapon that will probably never be mentioned again. If ST: The Wrath of Khan had a serious weakness it was the Genesis Torpedo, a weapon that not only destroyed the enemy but then could reconfigure him into “a living breathing planet, capable of sustaining whatever life forms we see fit to deposit on it.” The Borg – launch the Genesis Torpedo and let them assimilate that. The Dominion – launch the Genesis Torpedo. Qo’noS rendered uninhabitable by Praxis’ destruction? Launch the Genesis Torpedo & viola a whole new homeworld.

Here again I blame lazy story-telling on the part of the original writers (Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman).

Six: I’m old school Trek. Kirk, Spock & McCoy never met before being assigned to Enterprise. None of them, nor any of the secondary crew, are contemporaries. Both Spock and McCoy are considerably older than Kirk, as is Scotty, and McCoy never attended the Academy (see “The Ultimate Computer” and the reference to Captain Dunsel). At best Uhura, Sulu and Chekov may have been first-years at the Academy when Kirk was graduating.

It’s what I call “The Star Wars Syndrome” – the need to cram every character into every story, regardless of how illogical it might be (e.g., shoehorning both C3PO and R2-D2 into the prequels – only one of their many sins).

With a bit of thought, you could have gotten them together (and even slipped in the Spock/Uhura romance) without the ridiculous contrivances settled on.

Seven: Delta Vega. Where exactly is Delta Vega? If we go by “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” it’s somewhere near the edge of the galaxy. Very, very far from Vulcan’s sun, 40 Eridani. But it’s an homage to the original series so I’ll accept the name. What I can’t accept (my willingness to suspend belief only goes so far) is that it’s near enough to Vulcan so that Spock can watch a black hole swallow the planet. Our closest interplanetary neighbor – the Moon – is about a quarter of a million miles away, and – at best – it’s about the size of a large coin in our sky on some nights. Beyond Luna, our nearest neighbors are Mars and Venus. And under perfect conditions for viewing and excellent eyesight, they’re still little more than largish dots.

If Nero had wanted Spock to watch Vulcan’s end, he would have kept him on the ship or put him in a lifeboat in orbit around the planet.

Eight: Another WTF moment: All of Starfleet is off on the other side of the galaxy doing something, so the only defense the Federation can muster against Nero is an ad hoc fleet crewed by a bunch of recently graduated cadets?

Nine: Kirk’s alteration of the Kobayashi Maru was pretty lame. He made it so that the Klingons dropped their shields? That’s original thinking? Or is the “original thinking” for succeeding in cracking the program’s encryption?

Either way, David Marcus was right – “he cheated” – and I’m not sure what Starfleet was thinking when they commended him in either timeline.

Referring to the movie, if I may in this book-oriented review, I like the recast crew and only hope that upcoming films have better stories. In regards to this book, I can only recommend it to fellow Trekkies, and then only tepidly.