Weekly Trek – May 16-22, 2016

The original Star Trek television series went off the air in 1969.  From that time until the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the Fall of 1987, there was precious little filmed Trek.  Outside of the short-lived animated series and the four feature films that were released before TNG’s premiere, fans desire for new Trek was satiated with the regular novels published by Pocket Books. 

Unlike the Star Wars Expanded Universe, which was considered canon (At least until Disney bought Lucasfilm and wiped most of it out), there was no attempt to claim that the Star Trek novels officially happened.  They were new adventures, but the edicts were strict that all of the characters had to be put back unharmed once the story was over.  Unable to really change or develop the main characters, the authors of the Star Trek novels had to find other ways to keep readers engaged.

Despite these restrictions, authors found many ways to keep readers engaged.  Some books delved deep into the alien races seen on the show, such as in the Romulan-centric novels written by Diane Duane.  Others explored the aftermath of events from the television series, such as Yesterday’s Son and Time for Yesterday by A.C. Crispin, which followed from the “All Our Yesterdays” episode of the original Star Trek.

In other cases, though, the authors decided to have a bit of fun.  One of these is possibly the strangest novel to come out of the Star Trek line.  How Much For Just The Planet? by John M. Ford is set during Captain Kirk’s five year mission sometime after the events of Errand of Mercy.  In that episode, an advanced race of energy beings called the Organians imposed a peace treaty on the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire.  Under the terms of that treaty, the Federation and the Klingons could only add new worlds to their respective governments through peaceful competition.  In short, the residents of a planet could decide, based on what the Federation and the Klingons had to offer, which group they wanted to join.

In How Much For Just The Planet?, Kirk and the Enterprise crew find themselves up against the Klingons in a negotiation for mining rights to the large dilithium deposits of the planet Direidi.  The planet’s inhabitants, however, are…odd, to say the least.  The novel, which contains inflatable starships, musical numbers, and a climax unlike anything seen in Star Trek before or since, was a huge influence on me and, along with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, gave me a love of science-fiction comedy.

How Much For Just The Planet? is still available in print and even has a Kindle edition.  Give it a read.  I guarantee it won’t be like any other Star Trek you have ever encountered.  And once you are done, read the Wikipedia page about the book (I won’t link to it here as to avoid spoilers).  Some of the book’s characters have interesting inspirations.

- Alan Decker

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