FFB: The Star Trek Reader

The Star Trek Reader

James Blish, hardcover edition © 1976, E.P. Dutton & Co. individual paperback editions: Star Trek 2 © 1968, Star Trek 3 © 1969, Star Trek 8 © 1972 — short story collection, adaptations of original television episodes – dust jacket painting by Lou Feck

– this is the 56th in my series of forgotten books –

Due to the popularity of the Star Trek television series, the episodes were adapted into short stories – regardless of what the cover says, these are short stories, not novels – by James Blish, first published in a series of mass market paperbacks. Later, the contents of those paperbacks were collected in a set of hardcover books, this being the first.

This volume in “The Star Trek Reader” series brings together volumes 2, 3 and 8 of the original paperback series and may well be the best of the entire set. Here we find Blish’s version of “The City on the Edge of Forever.”, one of the most popular and well known episodes of the original Star Trek series. I call it Blish’s version because he combines (what he thinks is) the best of Harlan Ellison’s original script and the teleplay of what actually aired way back when. Blish admits this was a tricky thing to manage, but what he gives us is mainly Ellison’s original conclusion. *

The other episodes from Star Trek 2 are “Arena,” “A Taste of Armageddon,” “Tomorrow Is Yesterday,” “Errand of Mercy,” “Court-Martial,” “Operation–Annihilate!” and “Space Seed.” Suposedly, the rationale behind which episodes were included in this volume was based on their popularity, which explains why you have several first-rate episodes in this particular volume. Blish was an excellent writer, who died well before his time, and his adaptations here prove that it was the stories rather than the specific effects that made ST a special series. From Star Trek 3 we have “The Trouble With Tribbles,” “The Last Gunfight,” “The Doomsday Machine,” “Assignment: Earth,” “Mirror, Mirror,” “Friday’s Child” and “Amok Time.” Star Trek 8 provides “Spock’s Brain,” “The Enemy Within,” “Catspaw,” “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” “Wolf in the Fold,” and “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky.”

With not only “The City on the Edge of Forever” but also “The Trouble with Tribbles,” and “Spock’s Brain”, it is easy to make the case that “The Star Trek Reader I” is the best of the four volumes. “Space Seed,” “Mirror, Mirror,” and “Amok Time” are also episodes that tend to pop up on a lot of the Top Ten lists by Star Trek fans. Back when, before video tape, DVR or DVD releases, this series of books, and especially this first one, was all fans had. The only way to enjoy the episodes was to collect the paperbacks with these adaptations. These collections need to be reprinted, for the next generation of Trekkers (Trekkies?) to enjoy because to my mind they hold up better in many ways than the original series.

Truthfully I prefer reading the episodes rather than watching them.  The special effects in my mind’s eye are superior. * Thanks to Lawrance M. Bernabo for portions of this write-up.

~ ~ ~ ~

Series organizer Patti Abbott has all the FFB goods on her blog, Pattinase, with a list of this week’s participating blogs and, in a day or two, a summary.


About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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8 Responses to FFB: The Star Trek Reader

  1. Todd Mason says:

    Saddest part for me was that these were Vastly Far and Away Blish’ s bestselling books. He did good work on them, but they don’t touch the best of his own material.

    Not the first sf novelizations (or proselizations! Proselytazations?), but the first and for some time the only, aside from Asimov’s novelization of FANTASTIC VOYAGE, and joined by Alan Dean Foster’s lesser adaptations of the cartoon version, to have sustained legs…well, I guess Thomas Disch’s THE PRISONER did pretty well, too, and hung around in print for a bit.

    Blish was surprisingly unimpressed with Sturgeon’s episodes, which were two of the better ones by me. Perhaps he expected more.

  2. Todd Mason says:

    Or, proselytizations, anyway. Hard to misspell a neologism, but possible.

  3. Richard says:

    As Sturgeon’s own Law says, Todd, his episodes were good but not great.

  4. Todd Mason says:

    Yes, but most of the ST episodes ranged from fair to dire. (Speaking of neologisms…Pattinaise is a new sandwich spread! Much better than Miracle Spackle.)

  5. Todd is right: Blish’s best work can be found in A CASE IN CONSCIENCE, CITIES IN FLIGHT, and stories like “Surface Tension.” I’m sure those STAR TREK novels generated considerable income, but within the format it would be hard to produce startling writing.

  6. J F Norris says:

    “The special effects in my mind’s eye are superior.”

    Richard – I cannot agree with you more. Probably this is why I am so often disappointed in adaptations of my favorite novels and stories when I see the movie or TV versions. Plus there’s the whole bad casting issue, about which I could write a ridiculously long post.

    (Big sci-fi turn out this week, eh? Even I wrote about an Asimov book. Synchronicity at work once again.)

  7. Jerry House says:

    If I remember correctly, Blish had a bit of a pissing contest with Ted White over these. Blish defended his work, while White eviscerated it. White demeaned tie-in writings, while at the same time defending his Captain America novel. A tempest in a teapot and a spat not worthy of either participant. Sometime I’ll go back and check out the old White Fantastics and Amazings for the particulars.

  8. Charles Gramlich says:

    I don’t think I’d agree that I’d prefer reading to watching them, but I did like the blish adaptations quite a lot. I have this book specifically but have all the different volumes that blish did.

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