|(C) 2009 Pocket Books/Paramount Pictures|
If you have been a regular visitor to your favorite bookstore's (be it brick-and-mortar or online) science-fiction/fantasy section, chances are that you've bought - or at least browsed through - a few books written by Alan Dean Foster.
Since 1972, Foster has written over 100 books - way more than Tom Clancy, Stephen King and Danielle Steel - and many short stories, most (but not all) of them delving into worlds and characters that exist in the realms of the possible (sci-fi) and the impossible-yet-entertaining (fantasy).
One of the subgenres Foster is best known for is the movie tie-in novelization; after adapting Star Trek: The Animated Series' episodes into the popular Star Trek Logs series, Foster ghost wrote the best-selling novelization of the movie originally known as Star Wars for writer-director George Lucas. Since then, the author has written many other tie-in novels based on scripts for the first three Alien films, The Last Starfighter, Krull, the original version of Clash of the Titans, Starman and Terminator: Salvation, just to name a few.
Considering Foster's past history with Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek - the guy also wrote the story upon which 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture was based - it's not surprising that he was tapped to adapt Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman's screenplay for the 2009 "reboot" feature film, Star Trek.
"Are you willing to settle for an ordinary life? Or do you think you were meant for something better? Something special?"
It is the mid-23rd Century. On the planet Vulcan, Ambassador Sarek and his human wife Amanda Grayson have just become the parents of a baby boy named Spock, a boy whose hybrid nature will be both a blessing and a bane as he struggles to figure out his place in the Universe.
Several years later, the USS Kelvin, a Federation starship, encounters a strange phenomenon while exploring deep space near the Klingon border: a mysterious lightning storm suddenly manifests itself without warning or scientific explanation.
To the dismay of the Kelvin's crew and command staff - including Captain Rabau and his young first officer - the freak lightning storm is no new galactic force of nature; it's the advent of the arrival of a monstrously huge vessel - a vessel which by all rights should not even exist....at least not at this point in time in history.
Worse, this vessel attacks the Kelvin without warning and leaves it helpless in space as a result of multiple hits by highly advanced weapons. The Starfleet vessel's only hope for survival depends on whether or not Capt. Rabau can negotiate with the attackers - now identified as Romulans - and their mysterious commander, Captain Nero.
Nero apparently is looking for someone named "Ambassador Spock" or his spaceship; when Rabau is unable to answer his queries, Nero kills the captive captain, leaving the crippled Kelvin under the command of her new skipper, George Samuel Kirk.
But Kirk's captaincy is doomed to be short-lived. With the ship's auto-destruct system disabled, George must manually pilot the Kelvin on a kamikaze mission against the Romulan ship and at the same time make sure his crew, which includes his pregnant wife and about-to-be-born son, is safely evacuated aboard shuttles.
In the last minutes of George Kirk's life - and, fittingly, in the middle of a space battle, James Tiberius Kirk is born.
Star Trek chronicles the intertwined lives of Spock and Kirk in a now-altered timeline. As in the movie, the narrative first weaves back and forth between Spock's sometimes trying childhood as a "half-breed" on Vulcan and Kirk's tempestuous preadolescence and young adulthood in 23rd Century Iowa.
The two men's paths eventually merge when Kirk - albeit reluctantly - enrolls in Starfleet Academy, where he becomes fast friends with the 30ish Leonard "Bones" McCoy, a recently divorced medical doctor who joins the Fleet because, as he tells Kirk, his ex-wife has taken everything but his bones.
Star Trek - its timeline seriously skewed by Nero's vengeful actions - now gives readers an alternate "origins story" which forcefully unites the familiar crew of the legendary U.S.S. Enterprise while pitting them against a deadly and implacable adversary.
My Take: If you know how the process of adaptation works, you're doubtlessly aware that though Foster has most of the basic plot of J.J. Abrams' 2009 film in the book, there are quite a few differences between novel and the screen source because the author worked from an earlier version of the Orci-Kurtzman script.
For instance, Foster begins his novel with the birth of Spock; in the audio commentary track of the Blu-ray/DVD of Star Trek, the writers explain that they had written the first act along the same lines, with the story bouncing between Spock and Kirk to show their parallel lives before Kirk joins Starfleet. This proved to be cinematically unwieldy and slowed the movie down, so Orci and Kurtzman simplified the movie's beginning by cutting straight to the Kelvin's encounter with Nero's starship.
Likewise, there are minor differences in the dialogue, some due - no doubt - to changes in the script, while others are due to creative license by Alan Dean Foster.
For the most part, Foster's novel is very enjoyable; he knows the characters very well from his past work on the "original timeline" stories and it shows in the way he portrays the "rebooted versions" of the Enterprise's crew. There are no "off" notes in the way Foster describes each character and his or her motivations, and the descriptive passages which focus on the action sequences are excellently written.
If there are any flaws, Star Trek the book inherits them from Star Trek the film. There is, for instance, very little friction between the bridge crew - save Spock - and James Kirk in a situation where some of the officers - particularly Hikaru Sulu and Pavel Chekov - seem to be actually be senior in rank to Cadet Kirk. Foster has no explanation for how a Starfleet Academy senior (we assume Kirk graduates at some point before he is commissioned) can skip at least five grades in rank and be promoted to Captain.
(Actually, there is a plausible explanation: in the Navy, one can be an ensign, lieuteanant (junior grade) or a commander, but if one is placed in command of any vessel, one can be addressed as "captain" despite the number of stripes or actual permanent rank. However, this is never really addressed, though we can assume that Starfleet can break with its naval traditions whenever necessary.)
Another issue that comes up is that while in the Original Series and its spin-off feature films Kirk, Spock. Scotty and McCoy were at least a decade older than Lieutenants Sulu and Uhura. Here, the "junior" officers are contemporaries - even classmates - to Jim Kirk.
Despite the altered timeline, the novel - like the movie - gives readers nods to the original series' concepts even as it twists them to fit the new paradigm. We see a cool rendition of how Kirk defeated the Kobayashi Maru's no-win scenario, and elements from two spin-off series (Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Enterprise) are alluded to, albeit in a subtle fashion that only die-hard fans will note.
While this is not my favorite novelization or original work by Foster - I prefer the three Star Wars-related tomes he has done - Star Trek is a very well-written and entertaining read. It captures the essence of the movie's plot and characters nicely, and the author's love for the material is clearly evident in the way he writes.
© 2012 Alex Diaz-Granados. All Rights Reserved