I have been revisiting the Star Trek novels I loved as a young fan — and I did love them. All of them. One of my favourite fandom memories is flipping through the sci-fi novels at my local library and finding a Trek I had not read. It was as exciting as if I had discovered an unknown episode.
But if young me loved every novel that had Star Trek on the cover, I cannot say the same for the adult me. It turns out that a lot of Trek novels are really crummy. They were pumped out to satisfy hungry fans, and the quality was all over the place.
I have been buying ebook versions of all the classic novels I already own in paper, whenever they come up in the publisher’s monthly $0.99 sales.
I won’t comment too much on some of the titles I didn’t like, such as Memory Prime and Vulcan’s Glory (which I didn’t finish), The Entropy Effect (which was okay) and The Joy Machine (truly awful; I wrote about it here).
But I’ve read a few that were quite good.
Postscript: I have to call shenanigans on the cover of The Vulcan Academy Murders. Spock is pictured confronting a le-matya (first seen in the animated episode Yesteryear) but in the novel Spock never even travels out into the desert and never encounters the predator.A.C. Crispin, Agents of Influence, D.C. Fontana, Dayton Ward, Eugenics War, Gene Roddenberry, Greg Cox, James Blish, James Gunn, Jean Lorrah, Memory Prime, Mission to Horatius, Novels, Reeves-Stevens, Spock Must Die, Star Trek, The Entropy Effect, The Joy Machine, The Motion Picture, The Vulcan Academy Murders, Vonda N. McIntyre, Vulcan's Glory, Yesterday's Son
Running a Star Trek collectibles site means you get contacted by people looking to sell stuff. Sometimes that ends in disappointment but sometimes you land a big envelope of Matt Jefferies autographs from Australia.
This is a story of the latter.
I received an email in early October: “I have hand written letters, card, magazine…. All signed by Walter Matt Jeffries… Found in a box of books I bought in an auction… Maybe you’re interested… cheers Tracy”
I was, and I asked for photos. Unfortunately, Tracy did not have set sketches or production notes, but rather personal correspondence from later in Jefferies’ life. The best item is a signature on an article about Jefferies in the December 1996 issue of Aviation Illustrated magazine. But yes, I was interested. Jefferies, the art director for TOS’ entire run, is a Star Trek hero and I had only the official signed card and the book his brother wrote, Beyond the Clouds.
Tracy suggested $100 plus shipping, and I countered at $100 including shipping. She agreed, and that’s when I learned she’s in Australia, so even better. $100 Australian is about $88 Canadian.
While I waited for the package, I asked Tracy for more details on the acquisition.
I bought a box of books at my local auction (deceased estate) and found some personal stuff belonging to Effie Young amongst the books. On the front of the envelope says … Do not throw out… friend since I was 15… Effie was an American girl (who ultimately married an Aussie) and she knew Matt Jeffries when she was a teenager (possible romance?) Effie lived in California growing up… Effie married and moved to Australia but she must have had a strong friendship over the years with Matt and his family, as he posted the signed magazine to her from California.
The package arrived and I am certainly pleased with my purchases. I got the magazine, a business card, a large envelope, a note signed “Love Walter” and a Christmas card he signed “Love Mary Ann ’n Walter.” For the scans of the last two items, I cropped out the personal details he shared with Effie. Jefferies was unwell and undergoing treatment, and the details are a little too personal to share.
Thank you, Tracy. It’s nice to get a small glimpse into this long-term friendship, and you made a little money and I have a few items connected to Matt Jefferies. Good deal.
A good friend of mine is a longtime Star Trek fan and an active collector, but he has none of his collectibles on display — and he has a room available for this purpose. This bugs me to no end, because the best way to enjoy your collection is to put it out where you can see it.
A case in point: I recently created this Mego display area in my Star Trek room.
This was prompted by two recent acquisitions: a pair of Star Trek Communicators walkie-talkies and the matched Command Communications Console. All three toys work perfectly and are in surprisingly good shape. The Console seems like it has barely been used; the stickers are peeling a little with age but otherwise it looks great. I also got the original box, although it is a little beat up. The toy came from England, and the seller said: “I had an elderly relative who owned a small independent gift/toy shop and whilst clearing out the warehouse we discovered a wide range of action figures, including quite a few rare and collectible items.” We haggled over the price a little and settled on 180 pounds, about $280 Canadian, plus shipping. I got it in September 2022. I picked up the pair of Communicators for US$85, about $115 Canadian, two months earlier.
The Console has moving red and green lights on the front, reminiscent of some of the computer displays on the show. Here is a video of those lights and another with the Console’s alert sounds.
I purchased the Mego U.S.S Enterprise Action Playset in 2018 for the amazing price of US$100 and it had been living on a bookcase shelf since then, but I always felt it deserved a better space. The figures were acquired over time. I bought Uhura, Scotty and Spock (all loose) for $200 from Steven Panet at Fastball Collectibles in Toronto (who has a number of Star Trek items for sale, including a nice playset with box), the Kirk was a steal for $25 at Hamilton Comic Con, and the Klingon and McCoy figures were both purchased loose years ago for about $20 each.
The three mint-on-card figures were about $100 each, acquired at different times, and the signature on the Kirk figure was free.
Buying the Console and the Communicators convinced me I needed one home for all my Mego stuff, so I bought a nice shelf unit at Ikea for $150.
Add that up and the items in my new Mego display area set me back about $1,200, plus some shipping costs. Say $1,400 total.
$1,400 is a lot of money, even spread over a few years, but the new display makes me happy every time I walk into my Star Trek room. Which is why people should display their collectibles. They don’t make you as happy sitting in boxes.
And now for some commercials
The commercial Mego made for the Command Communications Console also shows off the Communicators, although oddly the Console is different from mine: the colour seems much darker and the antenna is attached at the right side, rather than the left as on my toy. Perhaps that’s because mine is from England. The photo on this UK collector’s site looks just like my toy.
And here’s the commercial for the Communicators.
I was recently offered a first shot at a complete set of authentic Star Trek Leaf cards. These are a holy grail of TOS collectibles. The story often told is that the distribution was shut down because the manufacturer had not bothered to secure a licence, and I can’t say if that tale is correct but authentic cards are certainly rare and a complete set is worth a lot.
So I had to decide: how much was I willing to pay? I settled on a limit of US$500, but there is a story in how I got there. Read on for a tale of high hopes and poor manners, and for advice on how to spot the real cards in an ocean of worthless forgeries.
The 1967 cards were made by Leaf Brands. The 72 cards were a little smaller than standard and featured black-and-white images backed by text. To call them oddball is faint praise; the text is often unrelated to both the image on the front and any actual episode of Star Trek, but they are wildly entertaining.
I started collecting TOS more than 40 years ago, which means I have been chasing a Leaf set for all those decades. At the end of July, 2022, I was contacted through this site by a guy I will call Trey. (I’ll call him that because that’s his real name.)
Running a Star Trek collectibles site means I get email fairly regularly from people looking for information and advice on items bought in a curio shop, acquired from a deceased relative or found in an attic. Most of these people are not actually Star Trek fans.
I like to be helpful, so I spend time on research and reply with estimated values, selling advice and even contacts. And then — more often than not — they disappear, without even saying thank you. Which is what Trey did.
How to tell if a Leaf card is real
Those who really know their Trek collectibles can spot authentic 1967 cards, but it’s not knowledge most people have.
The real 1967s. If you’re looking at cards that meet these three criteria, you probably have the real things.
- The size, measured end-to-end of the cardboard, is 61 x 88 mm.
- The authentic items were made from layers of cardboard in slightly different colours, so there should be visible layers in the construction of each card.
- The images should be sharp. Check particularly card 3, but if any are fuzzy or soft that is a bad sign.
The excellent 1981 reprints. This reprint set is helpfully and clearly labelled “1981 reprint.” These words replace the “Leaf Brands” on the back and the reprints were not printed using shaded layers of cardboard, but otherwise they are identical to the originals, as they are the same size and the images are clear.
The worthless 1989 Dan Kremer Imports set. A bunch of cards were released to the market in the late 1980s, sold with a fake Certificate of Authenticity which told the following story. (The text here is drawn from the excellent Wixiban Star Trek site.)
1967 Leaf (European) Star Trek Set
This Star Trek Leaf card set was discovered in Europe in 1989 at a former card producer’s warehouse that has been in business since well before the 60’s. From the information provided to us, we understand that these were manufactured in cooperation with Leaf for European distribution only. Shortly thereafter, Desilu withdrew the contract with Leaf, due to contractual difficulty. Upon notification of the aforementioned problem, the European card manufacturer decided not to issue them and stored them in the warehouse where they have been until their re-discovery in 1989 by Dan Kremer, a European collectibles importer.
And on the reverse:
Upon examination, The European set exhibits the following differences to their American counterpart. The European sets were never gloss coated (very few European cards were ever gloss coated). The cutting was poorer than the American edition (the cutting machines in Europe were early outdated cutters from the U.S.) The camera work is slightly poorer (again, inferior cameras).
We hope you enjoy the very special previously unavailable set.
Dan Kremer Imports
That tale is untrue; these were simply pirated copies, produced later and poorly done. They are slightly smaller than the originals, the images are often fuzzy, and the card stock is single layer, so there is no variation when a stack of cards are viewed on end.
Trey and his cards
Back to Trey. In July 2022, I received a few polite but insistent emails from him. He wanted to talk as soon as possible, so we set a time. Over email and a long phone call down to Texas, I learned that he and his partners buy abandoned storage units, and one of those gambles paid off: they found a bunch of valuable construction material and a small pile of Star Trek cards. Internet research led him to Leaf and then to a mention on my About my Collection page.
Trey had also seen an article that referenced an auction price of $1,000 for a complete 1967 set, so he had visions of dollar signs dancing in his head. He wanted advice on selling and asked me if I wanted to buy them.
I asked if the cards said “Reprint” on them and was told no. I then said he most likely had the pirated 1989 set, as there are a lot of them around. His business partner actually had the cards in front of her and, once she was added to the call, I told them what to look for and suggested she grab a ruler to measure a card. Then she suddenly dropped off the call. Oh oh.
And I never heard back from Trey. Not even to say thank you. Follow-up emails were ignored.
So, what would it be worth to me?
Had the cards been authentic 1967s and in good shape, how much would I have offered? My 1960s and 1970s collection does not have many holes, and this is certainly a big one. But I have the 1981 reprints, and that feels very much like owning the real things.
As I said above, I decided on a limit of US$500. I was a little reluctant to spend that much but how could I not try? How often does an authentic 1967 set just drop out of the air?
So now I feel let down, by Trey and because I would like to own the 1967s. To make myself feel better, I spent some time with my reprint set and then decided to share, so here’s my piece on them, full of reprinted 1967 goodness.
Being repeatedly asked for advice and then not even thanked has a draining effect on one’s willingness to help the next person. But a guy named Maxwell on the US west coast recently renewed my faith. He was looking for information on a dinner plate produced by Pfaltzgraff for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The text on the back is not the standard and I hoped he had a prototype or an artist’s proof, but some research revealed his version is rare but not a one-off. I gave him some advice on selling it.
And Maxwell thanked me for my time, even adding “Too bad I’m on the other side of the continent (NW WA state in the U.S.) or I’d offer you a Saurian Brandy at some point.” He owns a Dickel bottle, similar to the ones used on the series, so he’s an actual Trek fan.
That probably explains why he was kind enough to thank me for my time.
I recently thought I had the inside track on an authentic set of the 1967 Leaf cards. It was a brief and shining moment and I wrote about it here. It all went nowhere, as the guy who contacted me actually had a set of the worthless Dan Kremer pirated cards.
But that experience made me want to share the excellent (if reportedly unauthorized) reprint set from 1981. Unlike the 1989 Kremer cards, these were stamped “1981 Reprint” — so no one was trying to fool buyers.
The cards feature many publicity and behind-the-scenes images, and some of the text is actually pretty close to actual Star Trek episodes. But mostly, these cards are wonderfully wacky. You would not feel cheated if you bought the entire set just for this plotline:
Mr. Spock checks his library computer. It reveals signals from an intergalactic noise dispensary, developed by Snards before these warlike creatures were destroyed in a war to conquer the galaxy in an insurance of peace.
Click on any image to see a bigger version.
This week on The Inglorious Treksperts podcast, the guys discussed the fan story Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited. That piece, published in the short story compilation Star Trek: The New Voyages in 1976, is a take on an earlier work of fan fiction called Visit to a Weird Planet.
The hosts said they had not read the original work, and I could not let that stand. So here are both of those stories.
Visit to a Weird Planet
Spockanalia was one of the best of the early fanzines. (I own the complete run and I need to write about them one day.) Issue number three was dated September 1, 1968, and included Visit to a Weird Planet, penned by Jean Lorrah (who would go on to write the TOS novels The Vulcan Academy Murders and The IDIC Epidemic and TNG novels Survivors and Metamorphosis) and Willard F. Hunt (a fanfic writer).
The story is subtitled “the inside story behind the antagonism of a certain network toward a certain segment of the population” — so you immediately get an idea of where this is going.
Kirk, Spock and McCoy are transporting up to the Enterprise but they materialize in the transporter set at Desilu, not their starship in space. The trio have a quick discussion and Spock suggests a “multi-parallel space-time inversion” has landed them in “a television studio filming a futuristic space adventure series.” The scene is reminiscent of the sickbay meeting early in Mirror, Mirror.
Kirk invokes the Prime Directive, he and McCoy proceed to learn their lines for the scene being filmed, and the three do their best to blend into the 1960s. I won’t give away more of the plot. You can read it yourself.
The story is very well written and does a good job of portraying a sound stage of the era. The script Kirk is handed is even described as a “sheaf of varicolored pages,” which is a deep-cut reference to the practice of printing revised pages on different coloured paper. The scripts the actors used were, indeed, “varicolored.”
Here is the story. Click through the page images or read or download a PDF of just the text.
Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited
Fan writer and editor Ruth Berman was the editor for the first run of the Inside Star Trek newsletters and, after reading Visit in Spockanalia, she started to wonder about the other end of the premise: what the actors did on the Enterprise. So she wrote that story and it was published in Spockanalia issue 5. However, like the Inglorious Treksperts, I first read the piece in Star Trek: The New Voyages. It too is well written and entertaining.
Click here to listen to the guys talk about it on the podcast, flip through the page images, or read the text or download the PDF.
Both these stories are, of course, Galaxy Quest before there was Galaxy Quest, and they kicked off a whole series of related tales. We also got Visiting a Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited (TNG), Visit to the Weirdest Planet—Earth (Voyager), Visit to a Weird Island (Gilligan’s Island), Visit to a Weird ‘Verse, Re-revisited (Firefly), and others. I’ve read most of those. The original two are the best, although the Gilligan one is also clever.
Writer Mike Poteet interviewed me recently for a profile of Collecting Trek on the site Redshirts Always Die and wrote a really good article. Give that piece a read.
We did a quick video tour of my Star Trek room and I ended up relating the story of William Shatner’s photo shoot for the album Captain of the Starship. William Shatner Live! The autographed and framed album on my wall is the Canadian version of the US LP. The Encyclopedia Shatnerica has this to say about that album:
This 1977 live album captures Shatner’s performance of his one-man show in the mid-1970s. Recorded at Hofstra University (in Hempstead, New York), the two-disc set was produced by Shatner and released through his company, Lemli music (named after his daughters Leslie, Melanie and Lisabeth). A remarkable performance before a mostly stoned college audience.
The US product has a fairly cool photo of Shatner on stage surrounded by 10 microphones, but Canadian compilation powerhouse K-Tel International could not use that image for some reason, so it needed a new cover photo. Therein lies a tale I have heard Shatner tell on at least one occasion.
Shatner arrived for the photo shoot and glanced around the fairly empty room. He asked what the plan was and received only blank looks from the photo crew. They had the same question.
An action pose was needed for the picture, so Shatner grabbed a tripod, flipped it around, and held it like a ray gun. Luckily he had chosen a sort-of yellow sweater when he headed out that morning. The photo works well enough on the album cover but it’s even better if you know that back story.
Shatner signed the LP for me in 2014 at Fan Expo in Toronto but, sadly, he used a black marker, so the autograph does not stand out well against the dark photo.
I cannot play these two discs, as I do not own a record player. Until recently, all four sides of the recording were on YouTube but the uploader has removed those videos.
The first disc is Shatner doing a number of readings from classic plays and novels. The best of those is “Ways to the Moon” from the Edmond Rostand play Cyrano de Bergerac. I say that because the performance is quite good and because Cyrano is my favourite play.
The second disc is mostly our captain answering questions from the audience. Notably, he relates the story of why Leonard Nimoy was reluctant to sign on for the first Star Trek movie. I tell the story of the Heineken poster incident here.
Speaking of Leonard Nimoy
Joining the Shatner album on my wall is Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space, signed for me at Fan Expo in 2009. I don’t have an interesting story about that one, but at least its tracks are on YouTube.
The text on the back of Shatner’s album was written by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath. They were fans and semi-professional writers and I was often baffled by their Star Trek novels as a kid. I have not read those books in years but the prose they penned for the album reminds me why their writing style bothered me.
“What is becoming increasingly clear is that the legendary Kirk is finding a place in the history of heroes which is unique, one-of-a-kind, unprecedented.” Those three terms are synonyms. Someone apparently paid good money for a thesaurus and wasn’t about to not use it.
“The dramatic performance speaks of the flying, and is the flying.” What?
Star Trek premiered on the BBC in 1969 and was quite popular but there was scant homegrown merchandise and most of the Trek products on British shelves were US imports.
That changed a little when Palitoy landed a Star Trek licence in 1975. The company, originally called Cascelloid, produced its first toy in 1920. It was renamed Palitoy in 1935 and its business was mostly built on UK versions of American toys. Its popular Action Man figures, for example, were copies of Hasbro’s GI Joe line.
One of the company’s few original products was its Star Trek Game. (Quick aside: coming up with game names was not anyone’s strong suit, as four different companies each produced a board game between 1967 and 1979 and all were called Star Trek Game.)
The instructions for Palitoy’s game tell players that “the Enterprise is menaced by a deadly Klingon War Ship. Only Zithium and Beton crystals from the Planet of Fire and the Ice Planet can destroy it.”
The mission is to “Bring back both crystals and plant them in the War Ship.” The player then uses the Baroom card, which blows up the Klingon ship.
But getting those crystals is not easy, because four Klingons chase you around the board, and each planet has its own protector: the Spider on the Planet of Fire and the Blurg on the Ice Planet. An encounter with these adversaries delays, but does not kill, players. Luckily, Kirk and Spock are hanging around and are available to stun opponents.
And that’s a strange element of the game design: you can’t play as Kirk, Spock, or any crewmember. Instead, you get to be one of six generic game pieces. This seems like a big miss. Kids (and adults) would rather play as a character.
Big collectible value
I am not a gamer so, although I have owned this for years, I only played it recently to write this article. But if I don’t love it as a game, I do love it as a collectible. The artwork – which was based on both the Mego and Gold Key takes on Star Trek – is fantastic. It’s colourful and silly and fun. And it is from the 1970s, a decade of fandom that continues to fascinate me.
My game includes all the original pieces, except for a few of the small plastic tubes that represent the crystals. I have five of the orange and three of the blue pieces, instead of six of each. And some of them are fused to the plastic tray in the carton. This is apparently common with this game, as the chemicals in the pieces can react with the plastic carton, making it appear partially melted. This can also happen with the Blurg and Spider figures, although my bad guys are in good shape. The box on my game is also in good condition, considering it’s almost five decades old.
Palitoy also included an ad for its Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and Space: 1999 figures, all UK versions of the Mego products. The company also manufactured a stand-alone Transporter Room toy but did not sell versions of the full Enterprise Action Playset.
I also own the 1976 Hasbro Star Trek Game, which I will cover.
Neither Charlie McKee nor Elizabeth Pearse were early risers. But on the frigid morning of February 5, 1976, the two friends climbed into McKee’s Jeep Commando for the 30-minute drive west from Toronto to Hamilton, Ontario. They were heading out to pick up Pearse’s friend Leonard Nimoy.
Nimoy was starring in the touring production of Sherlock Holmes, a popular play by actor-playwright William Hooker Gillette. Nimoy was in rehearsal at the Hamilton Place theatre prior to the play’s debut and he had booked an interview at Toronto radio station CHUM-FM.
This was five months before the doors opened on Toronto Star Trek ’76, Canada’s first Star Trek convention, created by Pearse. McKee was a co-owner of storied Toronto sci-fi bookstore Bakka and a major source for my recent definitive history of that convention. During one of our talks, McKee offered to send me his recording of that radio interview.
To the best of my knowledge, this interview had been lost to fandom – until now. Click below to listen to the entire 20-minute conversation.
A transcript of the interview was published in the 1976 Spring/Summer issue of Bakka Magazine, along with Pearse’s account of the car drive. Here are those pages.
He was not Spock
Nimoy’s somewhat controversial first book about his relationship with Spock was published in 1975 and, as the actor said in the radio interview, he thought the point he was making was straightforward:
The title is really a simple statement of fact, I am not Spock. In the sense that I am the actor who played the role, of course I am Spock, but in the sense of true identity, I am not. I am someone else.
But many fans felt Nimoy was disrespecting the character they loved, and this interview was one of the many times he was pressed to explain his thinking. He added:
…people are concerned about what my intention was with the book. “Was it my intention to disassociate myself from Spock?” whatever, which is really not the intention. The intention is to study the differences and to examine, if possible, the feelings that an actor goes through playing a character, and then being identified with the character.
But he also said playing Spock never limited his career, as Basil Rathbone experienced with Holmes.
Rathbone went through one year of [a] very difficult time when he had finished making the Sherlock Holmes films. He spent a year out of work… I have never had that problem. I went immediately from Star Trek, without a break, into Mission: Impossible… I did two years of that…and asked them to let me out because I wanted to do other things. And they did, and I’ve been extremely busy ever since. So I’ve never had the career problems that that kind of identity has created for other people.
Nimoy on stage
The radio interview was recorded on a Thursday and, on the following Saturday, Charlie McKee, Elizabeth Pearse, her daughters Lauren and Debra, and a few others attended a matinee performance of the play, then still in rehearsals. Pearse wrote in Bakka Magazine that the group “all enjoyed the performance immensely and afterwards went backstage to see Leonard. He was pleased to see them and chatted with each one, while autographing copies of his book.”
Nimoy autographed McKee’s copy of I Am Not Spock and later sent him a signed playbill from the Fisher Theatre in Detroit.
Debra Pearse Hartery related a slightly different review to me in 2020.
I thought he was average. He was not my favourite Sherlock Holmes but certainly not the worst. I found it to be fine and I enjoyed the show, but I was not taken by his performance. He was a really nice guy, but not the best actor and not the worst actor.
Nimoy’s first turn as Holmes
That day in Hamilton was Nimoy’s second appearance as Holmes. As he mentioned in the interview, he first played Doyle’s detective in the short film The Interior Motive, produced for the Kentucky State Educational System, filmed in 1975. In it, Holmes and Watson use inference to understand the internal construction of the Earth. The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia has more information on the production.
And fortunately for us, the film is on YouTube.
Warning: there are plot spoilers below for the novel The Joy Machine.
I have been trying to rediscover the Star Trek novels I loved as a teen. Why only trying? Because, so far, they have not been very good. I have started more than I have finished.
I recently read the novelization of The Joy Machine. It was written by James Gunn, based on a story outline Ted Sturgeon submitted during the second season of Star Trek. I have a copy of that outline and I was curious what Gunn had done with it. (I also own Sturgeon’s outline for Amok Time, from his own typewriter.)
Sadly, the novelization is just not good. To be fair, Sturgeon’s outline was a little weak, too. We’ll start with that.
The Root of Evil
The story was called The Root of Evil in Sturgeon’s first outline. I have not seen it. He delivered a second take on May 16, 1967, retitled The Joy Machine. I have a scan of that document.
The story takes place on Timshel. The planet was considered almost a paradise but cut off all communication with the Federation two years earlier. Kirk is sent to investigate, as he has personal connections to the place: his former fiancée resigned from Starfleet after moving to Timshel and his friend Marouk is an administrator on the planet.
Kirk beams down alone and quickly discovers that the inhabitants are in thrall to the Joy Machine, a computer that rewards menial labour with an electronically induced state of absolute euphoria called a “payday,” delivered through a wristband all adults wear. Planetwide, the citizens have given up ambition, learning and development, and instead sweep streets and build pottery bowls to accumulate enough credits to earn their next fix.
The premise is equal parts The Return of the Archons, with the Joy Machine and payday subbing in for Landru and red hour, and This Side of Paradise, in which the spores create a simple world of subsistence farming in the same way the inhabitants of Timshel pursue mundane tasks. “We’ve done nothing here. No accomplishments, no progress,” Elias Sandoval says when released from the spores, and that describes the residents of Timshel since the advent of payday.
Both of those episodes aired in the first season, long before Sturgeon typed out his story outline. And it is a well Star Trek drew from often; see also The Apple. Sturgeon is clearly commenting on drug addiction more than those other stories did but the basics — a docile and obedient population rewarded with joy or wellbeing — are the same.
Sturgeon’s resolution is interesting, if really implausible. Spock, McCoy and Uhura figure out how to remotely reprogram the un-addicted so that the Joy Machine will not deliver actual joy to them.
…the wave-length, or channel, of the Timshel brain can be shifted, by means of the ‘payday’ machine, to a new frequency that will continue to operate with them, but which will not affect anyone else. This way, the quarter-million ‘incurables’ on the planet can live out their lives just as they are — but to anyone else the device will accomplish nothing but instant sleep. The children would never know: they’d grow up wondering vaguely why their folks enjoyed it so much.
So…250,000 people are to be left to their addiction, and the teens will now have no reason to resign themselves to mindless labour and will therefore rebel at the idea, creating huge — and irreconcilable — conflict with all the adults.
It’s not a great denouement but at least Kirk does not talk the computer to death. In Sturgeon’s outline. Now, on to the novelization.
Gunn writes in his novel’s afterword that he considered Sturgeon a mentor and a friend. After Sturgeon’s death in May of 1985, an editor at Pocket Books handed Gunn a copy of the outline and asked him to turn it into a novel.
(Marc Cushman wrote in These Are The Voyages, Season Three, that Sturgeon was paid to turn his outline into a screenplay, and that he delivered the first draft on October 21, 1967, followed by two revisions on November 8 and 13. Gunn, however, specified that he worked from an outline, not a script, and I have never seen Sturgeon’s full script.)
Gunn took on the challenge.
Page one of the novel sets the scene: “Timshel turned slowly in its orbit, a blue-and-white oasis in a dark desert of desolation, an exquisite anomaly in the lifeless void.” We are also told that “The citizens of Timshel were in love with each other, in love with the universe, in love with life. Being there, if only for a few weeks or a few days, or even a few hours, was like being reborn.”
And that is the first problem here: that overblown tone continues throughout. The second problem is basic sentence structure. We have bits like “The right side of the room was walled off into small rooms” and “The next morning he felt a small shiver run through the ship as he sat at the ship’s second sitting for breakfast.” This is careless writing or lack of editing, or both. One more: “He found a screwdriver, a pair of wire cutters, and an infinitely adjustable wrench…” Even putting aside the impossibility that its adjustments are infinite, just say “an adjustable wrench.”
These examples illustrate why the adult me has trouble enjoying Star Trek novels: they often come across as products produced quickly, with little regard for quality.
About half of Gunn’s pages are devoted to a band of rebels who live in the arctic. They do not appear in Sturgeon’s outline. I understand the need to stretch the story to novel length, but ideally new content would contribute to character development, tension, or the outcome. Instead, the insurgents are entirely inconsequential; their chapters could be yanked out with no change to the outcome.
Landru. Nomad. Norman. The M-5
While Sturgeon’s brain reprogramming was a stretch, it was at least inventive. Gunn’s story ends with Kirk talking a computer to death, as he had done already in three episodes at the time the outline was written and was about to do again in The Ultimate Computer.
Kirk encountered the Joy Machine early on as a smallish box sitting alone in a room. Towards the end of the story, he and a few others walk into a multi-denominational chapel in the capital city and find “alcoves containing figures or symbolic representations.” These religious statues come to life to debate with the crew. How does this happen, and why? That’s never addressed. It comes across as essentially magic.
The first is a Buddha which “opened its eyes and spoke to them.” They discuss the nature of pleasure, and McCoy makes the first speech. “People are meant to pursue happiness, not to perpetually achieve it.”
The next niche holds an elaborate three-part statue representing Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, and “an exotic incense drifted around the figures and into the air.” One of the figures comes to life, changing into “a naked black woman with four arms wearing a garland composed of the heads of giants. Around her neck was a string of skulls.” (How does a human-sized statue wear a number of giants’ heads? Good question.)
Uhura decides to play the woman card, for some reason. “I am a woman, and I speak to you as a woman… As a woman, I know that the proper way to raise children is with kindness. But it is not kind to give children everything they want. Then they never grow up.”
They next approach the figure of Apollo, who “stretched his hand toward Spock as if trying to pass along the spark of truth.”
Lastly, they encounter the Joy Machine back in its basic form of a small box. It also speaks to them, and it is now Kirk’s turn to hold forth. “Happiness is not the only good,” the captain says. “Humans value other things even more: love, friendship, accomplishments, discovery, and, most of all, knowledge. Given a free choice between happiness and knowledge, humanity will choose knowledge every time.”
Sound familiar? It’s the story of Adam and Eve through a lens of This Side of Paradise. In case you missed that, Kirk mentions a Bible story about paradise and the Joy Machine replies “The Garden of Eden.” And that seemingly does the trick.
“Happiness is seductive, but it is ephemeral. Knowledge is eternal. Give your people free will. Provide only the guidelines that an omnipotent being can offer without making its people mere puppets.”
The Joy Machine sat silent for what seemed like minutes to Kirk and the others, but may have been only moments.
The bracelets on the wrists of four of them sprang open and fell to the floor.
And that’s it. Wristbands litter the ground and all the citizens of Timshel may now continue as they were meant to, embracing unhappiness in the quest for knowledge.
These two tropes — Kirk kills a computer and suffering and striving are essential to the human condition — were used in the series more often than was ideal but that is understandable when a small group of people are pumping out 24 to 29 episodes per season on a tight budget. In a novel, however, the use of these fallbacks is just disappointing.
There is also the disturbing reality that the crew encounters and moves past representations of many religions but the challenge of the Joy Machine is only solved when Christian mythology is referenced. I cannot say if that Christian-centric view was intentional but surely someone at Pocket Books should have called out this seeming endorsement of one belief system over others.
Both the novel and the outline sidestep the criticism leveled at episodes such as The Apple, in which Kirk arguably breaks his oath through a quick decision to entirely change a planet’s culture. Timshel is a member of the Federation and at least some of its citizens want help. But they do share the same somewhat unsatisfactory feeling that Kirk lands, dislikes what he sees, changes everything, and then just warps away.
Sturgeon first pitched The Joy Machine for season two and, after revisions, it was added to the list for season three. Marc Cushman writes that it was planned as the 25th episode of that season, and that William Shatner was slated to direct. The third season of TOS contained only 24 episodes.
I don’t love Sturgeon’s outline but it was better than Gunn’s take, and it would have been interesting to see Shatner direct a Star Trek story. Instead, we had to wait 20 years for Star Trek V.
James Gunn wrote 16 novels and that is 16 more than I have penned, but I really have no respect for the mechanics of his writing. Here is another bit: “The bridge was once more solidly under Kirk’s feet. He felt the characteristic resilience of its floor beneath him.”
Resilience means “the capacity to recover” or “an ability to spring back into shape.” And even if we accept that the intention was to be evocative rather than literal, surely describing a deck first as solid and then as resilient is redundant.
I am currently reading Child of Two Worlds by Greg Cox. It is set aboard Captain Pike’s Enterprise and, so far, it is quite good.