The Star Trek Reader II - James Blish, Gene Roddenberry As is my habit, I lull myself to sleep reading various short-story collections and other miscellanea that I keep by the bed for such occasions. And so it was last night (the 8th) that I found myself reading James Blish's adaptations of the original ST's episodes (I had just come off of watching "The Ultimate Computer," "Assignment: Earth" and "Spectre of the Gun" so I was in a Trekking mood).

In this case, I was reading his adaptation of "The Balance of Terror," which holds a place in my personal top 5 Trek episodes. One of the interesting things about Blish's adaptations is that he was often working from the rawest of story treatments and, at times, doesn't appear to have seen the finished episode. On occasion it results in a more logical, coherent story (though I would challenge anybody to salvage "Spock's Brain"); on other occasions, the finished product was definitely superior.

In this case, "Balance" falls into the latter category. Most to its detriment, it lacks the interaction between Kirk and the Romulan commander that makes the TV episode so good. And the interactions between Spock and the rest of the crew is jarring - many in the crew actively dislike him: "The meeting in the briefing room was still going on when Spock was called out to the lab section. Once he was gone, the atmosphere promptly became more informal; neither Scott nor McCoy liked the Vulcanite, and Kirk, much though he valued his First Officer, was not entirely comfortable in his presence" (p. 50). I'm reminded of a similarly jarring note in reading "Friday's Child" (in volume 1): In Blish's adaptation, Elean is viciously cut down at the end and Kirk's reaction is (essentially) "she was a bitch and deserved it."

On the other hand, there were some variations that should have survived the editing process. First of all, the entire concept of the Neutral Zone. In the TV episode it is a zone in space monitored by a double handful of stations along a decidedly two-dimensional border; in the book, it's a zone surrounding the system of Romulus/Remus and far more believable as a sphere of monitoring satellites. Also, while both retain the idea that the Romulans and Federation never had direct communications during the war, recovered bodies did reveal enough to show that the Romulans were vulcanoid, and were probably the result of prehistoric colonization efforts. And, finally, there's no nonsense about "running silent, running deep." The idea of adapting the problems of submarine warfare to the episode is a good one but the literalness of the adoption in the TV episode is it's weakest point.