Media O.K., Youdia O.K.

I’m not a huge fan of media tie-in fiction as a rule, but I’m not biased against it. In particular, I think gaming fiction gives someone a chance to explore an imaginary world independent from any interest in the gameplay itself. (I’ve enjoyed all the Felix and Gotrek stories I’ve read, for instance, but I’ve never played Warhammer.)

In my far-off youth, when home video invariably meant switching on the old CRT unit, waiting for it to warm up and hoping the weather didn’t interfere too much with reception, it wasn’t always easy or even possible to see the program of one’s choice. Novelizations were a kind of substitute, and my first exposure to media tie-ins was Blish’s series of Star Trek adaptations. I never reread these anymore, but I did recently look again at his “original novel” Spock Must Die!, the first drop in the unending deluge of Star Trek novels.

It’s been out of print for almost ten years and, though I’m something of a Blish fan, I’m not here to say that’s a tragedy. In Spock Must Die!, the author of A Case of Conscience, “A Style in Treason” and Black Easter allows himself the tedious luxury of villains who are Very Very Bad Nogoodniks. When a transporter adapted for tachyon-transmission accidentally duplicates Spock it is a given that one is Good (the original) and the other is Bad (which naturally involves being pro-Klingon, anti-Federation). Guest supporting villains from the Klingon Empire (Kor, from the original Klingon episode “Mongols in Space! “Errand of Mercy”, and Koloth from “Drop the Basket of Furries on Shatner Again” “The Trouble with Tribbles”) are smacked down in a rather small-minded way at the story’s too-neat end. I’m not a fan of the later Star Trek tendency to show that peace between warring nations can be achieved by holding hands and smiling a lot, because I don’t think it can, but Blish’s total smashing victory for the Federation violates one of the original series’ basic premises, and not in a good way.

On the other hand, there are things in the book that make it worth reading. Blish gets the characters involved in interesting conversations, such as McCoy’s and Scotty’s discussion at the novel’s opening about what happens to you when you go into a transporter beam. Blish throws in more science than you would normally expect in a Trek episode, too (e.g. tachyons, and stereoisomerism in amino acids: clearly Blish, a regular F&SF contributor, had been profiting from Asimov’s monthly science column). And he plausibly introduces one of his personal obsessions: the quasilanguage which Joyce invented for Finnegans Wake. Uhura uses it as a message-code, for reasons that seem reasonable in the context of the story but probably aren’t.

This all makes for a strange construction, where some parts are paper-thin and cartoony and the others seem to belong to something more substantial and serious. It’s not worth bending heaven and earth to get a copy, but if one comes into your hands it might be worth giving a look.

Another media tie-in from around the same time that I read only recently is The Prisoner (yes, that one) by Thomas Disch (yes, that one). I read about it first in a piece by David Soyka (see his Blog Gate post with some links here).

I can recommend The Prisoner a little more strongly than Spock Must Die!. Only I’m not sure I can tell you much more about it than that. I’m not even sure that the hero of this novel is the same person as the hero of the TV series: he seems to be, and he seems to think he is, but there are some indications that this may be part of an elaborate scheme by the people who run the Village. One of whom is him. Or is he? It’s the sort of book where I found myself scribbling in the margin “6 x 7 = 42. Sig?”

If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you’ll like. Much of the dialogue practically speaks itself aloud in Patrick McGoohan’s mannered ironic tones, especially in the brilliantly austere first scene. The book is not a novelization of any episode (though it contains references to several), but an intelligently written independent story set in the Village (or a Village). Not a good introduction to the Prisoner series, but an absorbing read for anyone who’s watched the show through a couple times.

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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2 Responses to Media O.K., Youdia O.K.

  1. davidcapeguy says:

    novelizations…

    I read “Spock Must Die!” way back, and I was surprised to find my memories of it stronger than I would’ve expected, once you’d jogged them. I’ll bet it plays better than one-time Analog major writer Mack Reynolds’s “Star Trek: Mission to Horatius.” Can’t recommend that one — though in his defense it was a kids’ Golden Book.

    It’s possible that the first full-length science fiction novel I ever read was Theodore Sturgeon’s novelization of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” Unsurprisingly, it’s superior to the movie, as though you’re being told the same story twice, once by a child and once by an adult. One interesting note: I don’t know if it was Sturgeon at work or a different epoch of screenplay he was working from, but in the novel, one of the antagonists, a religious fanatic played by Michael Ansara, is a far more interesting character than in the movie, and actually turns out to be one of the more intelligent good guys. Radical change from the film. I think I’d actually recommend the book, especially for Sturgeon fans.

    Another 60s novelization superior to the movie — I think the writers had freer rein in that genre back then — was Fritz Leiber’s take on “Tarzan and the Valley of Gold.” It’s Edgar Rice Burroughs by way of Fritz Leiber, with a massive dollop of Ian Fleming. It has a strong subplot of Tarzan being introduced to a philosophy of not taking life and trying to come to terms with it. I’ve read it a couple of times over the years and like it better than 90% of the Burroughs Tarzan novels I’ve read. I’m biased, of course, since I think — correctly — that Leiber was at least 127 times the writer that Edgar Rice B. was.

    • JE says:

      Re: novelizations…

      The Leiber Tarzan I remember–I did like it better than the 3 ERB Tarzans I’ve read, but then I agree with you about Leiber. He was supreme–he was several of the greatest fantasists of the 20th C.

      I’m a huge Sturgeon fan, too, so maybe I’ve have to check out the “Voyage…” novelization. I remember watching the movie (and the TV show) a lot as a kid, so it’s sure to be an interesting experience.

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