I must have been in my very early teens when it happened. My mum was working with a lady who happened to be a big Star Trek fan and, for whatever reason she wanted to get rid of a few Star Trek novels. And by ‘a few’ I mean a few hundred. I had recently started watching the various TV series and I had always loved reading, so naturally the books came to me.
It was a different time back then, with franchise books published to make sales rather than to entertain. There was no continuity, each book a new villain of the week, and the editorial threshold much lower than in their mainstream original-content sci-fi cousins.
Fast forward fifteen years, however, and things have changed.
The Star Trek editorial staff have exerted control over the stories being told, linked them one to the other, and created long awaited for continuing stories. TNG, DS9, and Voyager all interlink, and there are now even two new ships captained by characters from the TV series’. The world of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek is alive and well in the creative-prose world, sidelined from the alternative universe created by J.J. Abrams and his Star Trek reboot movie franchise.
There is one tremendous upside to reading Star Trek in prose that may not be readily apparent to the uninitiated. I definitely love having access to new and exciting Star Trek stories, and being able to return to the world of DS9 is a real joy, but the unique quality of a Star Trek novel exists in the fact that I don’t have to put up with William Shatner or Marina Sirtis.
The reality is that there are always actors we don’t like. No matter whether you’re watching a TV series or a movie, the likelihood that you will enjoy each and every actor’s performance is quite low.
Take away those actors, though, and give me just well written characters without the showboat-y nuances of egomaniacs like Shatner, and I’m a very happy reader indeed.
There is no greater example of this than in the Star Trek novel I’m currently reading; ‘Allegiance in Exile’ by David R. George III. A Star Trek TOS novel set in the fourth and fifth year of Kirk’s first ‘Five Year Mission’, this story could have easily been an episode of the original series, with all the foibles of an old TV show and not-so-great actors. Instead, we’re presented with a well told, actor-free Star Trek story that engrosses you and doesn’t leave you looking for the strings that held the Enterprise in shot or the humorous bobbing around on-set in an effort to make it look like the ship is undergoing severe turbulence.
Editorial guidance has also begun to play a more important role, if we are to judge solely on the quality of what is being published. No longer the half-hearted books of the 80s and 90s, now we’re getting prose written to the same level of quality the rest of science-fiction is held.
The same can be said across a lot of franchise-fiction, actually, with Star Wars, Warcraft, Warhammer, and many more all writing to a higher level of quality than we were forced to deal with during the 90s and early 2000s.
But there is nothing quite so enjoyable as being able to sit down and enjoy a great Star Trek story without having to also deal with William Shatner.