Today I Read…Star Trek Into Darkness

Into DarknessToday I read Star Trek Into Darkness, the novelization of the movie, written by Alan Dean Foster.

Captain James T. Kirk and his crew are just getting used to their new starship, the U.S.S. Enterprise, when a survey mission to a planet protected by the Prime Directive goes awry. After First Officer Spock writes his report to the admiralty, Kirk is demoted and Spock is transferred.

However, a terrorist attack by a renegade Starfleet officer cuts their punishment short, as Admiral Marcus sends the Enterprise to the dangerous Klingon homeworld of Qo’noS to retrieve John Harrison, with 72 new torpedos in their weapons bay–torpedos unlike any that Chief Engineer Scott has seen before, and that no one is willing to explain to him. The secrets keep piling up–who is John Harrison, and what is he after? Why is Admiral Marcus so intent on his death? What exactly do the new torpedoes do? And can Kirk and Spock learn to work together, without any fistfights?

This thrilling adventure continues the story of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and her five-year mission–to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no man has gone before.

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I’ve mentioned before how much I love Star Trek. I saw the movie hoping I’d love it, and I did (although I’m still a little disappointed that the rumour that Benedict Cumberbatch would be playing Gary Mitchell wasn’t true, since I think that would have been a fascinating and compelling story). I’ve also talked before about some of the problems involved in novelizations. However, while Reawakened novelized 22 hours of a first season, Star Trek Into Darkness tells the story of a two-hour movie, which is much easier to do. In addition, as far as I know Reawakened is Odette Beane’s first book, while Alan Dean Foster’s name is familiar to any science fiction fan as the author of more than one hundred books, including ten novelizations of Star Trek: The Animated Series, Star Trek: The Motion Picture Photostory, and the 2009 Star Trek movie novelization. He has also written in other properties including Star Wars, Transformers, the Alien movies, and many different movie novelizations.

While Into Darkness is (spoilers!) itself a revised version of The Wrath of Khan, it was criticized for staying too close to the source material. A good novelization is a delicate balancing act, since it has to be the same story as the movie, with the same events and the same lines, while still being a book, and going deeper into the characters’ thoughts and motivations than the movie has time to do. Foster does his usual excellent job of fleshing out the characters, showing the reader what they think as well as what they say and why they do what they do. He successfully retells someone else’s story, enhancing it without changing it. He puts his stamp on the story without making it his story. This is an excellent addition to the Star Trek fan’s collection, and a good book for people who’d rather read their story than watch it.

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“Uneventful.”

Though Kirk had to strain to hear it, the single word was perfectly intelligible. As to what it signified, he had not a clue. “Admiral? Sir?”

Reluctantly abandoning the view, Pike pivoted and seated himself at his desk. The silver-headed walking cane he set aside was smooth and functional, engraved. A new one, Kirk noted with interest. The admiral had amassed an impressive collection. Waving a hand, Pike activated the readout before him and spent a moment studying it. Eventually his gaze rose to meet Kirk’s.

“That’s how you described, in your captain’s log, your survey of the world its inhabitants call Nibiru. Uneventful.”

His attention on the admiral, Kirk missed the look cast in his direction by his science officer. It was as close to an expression of pure astonishment as a Vulcan could muster. With barely a shrug, Kirk indicated the readout.

“You know me, sir. I like my reports to be concise. Senior officers are confronted with so much information these days that I’d be the last to overload a captain’s log with excessive detail. I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time going over—”

Pike interrupted the younger officer’s amiable disquisition. “That’s all right, Captain. I’m not put off by detail. I tend to find much of it more enlightening than excessive. Some of it proves to be quite interesting, in fact.” He waved a forefinger at the readout. “Take the report’s subsection on planetary geology, for example. Tell me more about this supervolcano. Supervolcanoes are very interesting structures. According to the data, this one was situated directly above a conjoining of three continental plates, a unique geologic nexus that was further destabilized by a number of proximate major earthquake faults. A very unstable tectonic situation; one might even say volatile. Sufficiently volatile, one could conclude, that if the volcano were to advance to a highly eruptive state, it might set off a series of quakes that in turn could severely jostle the relevant trio of continental plates. The resulting catastrophe could wipe out all life on that part of the planet. Certainly all higher life.” His gaze narrowed. “If it were to erupt.”

Kirk smiled understandingly. “Let’s hope it doesn’t, sir.”

The admiral did not smile back. “Something tells me it won’t.”

“Well, sir,” Kirk demurred, “‘volatile’ is a relative term. Far from scientifically specific. Anything is possible in such a situation. Maybe our data was off. We weren’t at Nibiru long. Under such circumstances, a lot of data has to be gathered as quickly as possible and refined later. Information needs to be adjusted in light of additional study. Even data relating to a supervolcano that might at first glance appear to be on the verge of a violent eruption.”

Pike nodded slowly, pausing a long moment before responding. “Or—maybe it won’t erupt because Mr. Spock detonated a meticulously crafted and custom-designed counter thermal Rankine wave device inside it right before a civilization that’s barely discovered the concept of the wheel happened to see a starship rising out of their ocean.” His gaze shifted to the science officer. “My apologies for the somewhat condensed summary of your report, but that is the way you describe it, is it not?”

Sudden understanding hit Kirk like a chunk of falling meteorite as he whirled on his first officer. “You . . . filed a report?”

“Following exploration of a new or lightly contacted world, all individual starship sections are required to file a full report.” He favored the familiar figure seated beside him with an unblinking stare. “Why would you assume Science would not do the same?”

“I thought you would, of course, but I assumed you’d run it by me first. Why didn’t you tell me?”

His voice flatter and more machine-like than usual, the science officer responded in a tone that only slightly mimicked the voice pattern of his friend.

“I incorrectly assumed you would tell the truth in your report.”

Kirk’s expression tightened. “I would have if not for the inconvenient exception I had to make in order to save your life. Or did you decide to omit that from your report because you considered it an ‘excessive detail’?”

“On the contrary,” the science officer responded, “I took care to include it along with all related information. It is something for which, on subsequent reflection, I am immeasurably grateful, and the very reason why I felt it necessary to take responsibility—”

Kirk would have none of it. “And that would be so noble,” he broke in, “if I wasn’t the one getting thrown under the bus, Pointy!”

Both eyebrows rose. “‘Pointy’? Is that an attempt at a derogatory reference to my—?”

“Gentlemen.” The admiral’s legs might not work as well as they once had, but there was nothing wrong with his voice. Both younger officers went silent as the senior officer rose from the seat behind his desk, utilizing his cane for support. “As you’ve clearly forgotten, please allow me to remind you: Starfleet’s mandate is to explore and observe, and if necessary, to defend. Not to interfere. The Prime Directive is the first thing new cadets memorize—not the last. No matter how stressful the circumstances, I find it difficult to believe it could be forgotten. Or worse, overlooked.” He eyed them meaningfully. “The Prime Directive supersedes everything, gentlemen. Even initiative.”

Spock responded. “Had the mission that we set ourselves gone as planned, Admiral, the indigenous sentient species of Nibiru would never have become aware of our interference. Or our presence. The operation was designed from the outset to preserve every aspect of the Prime Directive.”

“That’s a technicality.” Pike was plainly displeased by the science officer’s response.

“I am Vulcan, sir. We embrace technicality.”

“Sir, if I can be allowed to explain—” Kirk hurriedly injected.

Not hurriedly enough, as Pike glared hard at the Vulcan. “Kirk, shut up. Are you giving me attitude, Spock?”

Unfazed, the science officer continued. “I am expressing multiple attitudes simultaneously, sir, each one of which can be differently parsed. To which are you referring?”

Sitting back in his chair, the admiral began tapping the fingers of one hand on the desktop. “Logic should serve to illuminate, not complicate. Your attempt to substitute ambiguity for clarity is misguided. Out. You’re dismissed, Commander.”

Spock hesitated, cast an indecipherable look at his friend and superior officer who had not been summarily dismissed, and wordlessly departed. Behind him, he left a quietly furious Kirk and a thoroughly exasperated admiral of the fleet.

Pike started to say something, paused, chose to reload with different ammunition. “Do you have any idea what a pain in the ass you are?”

Kirk kept his reply as even as possible. “I think so, sir.”

The admiral nodded slowly. “Good. That’s progress, I suppose. Now, tell me what you did wrong. What’s the lesson to be learned here?”

Without glancing back at the doorway or cracking a smile, Kirk replied stone-faced. “Never trust a Vulcan?”

Pike’s frustration as well as his irritation came through plainly in his reply. “You can’t even answer the question without injecting impertinence. Despite what it says on your record, I have to keep reminding myself that you’re actually a starship captain. If not for your last-minute heroics in saving Earth from . . .” His voice trailed away, momentarily lost in memory of a recent near-catastrophe. Then he straightened in the chair. “What it boils down to is that you lied. You lied, Kirk, on an official report.”

The younger man’s reply was impassioned. “The intent was to observe the relevant rules to the letter, sir. Which we did. Had we not proceeded with the designed mission, it is highly likely a developing intelligent species would have been wiped out. Or at least had their maturation set back hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Even worse, there was a distinct possibility that if we had held back, there would have been no interference with the Prime Directive, because you can’t interfere with a species that’s been rendered extinct. The decision to chance revealing our presence was wholly mine. Mr. Spock disagreed, and was ready to disagree to the death.” His expression twisted. “My saving his life caused him no end of anguish, or the Vulcan equivalent thereof. Though I believe he has since come to terms with still being alive. With a Vulcan, one can never be sure of such things.”

Pike was not appeased. “You think the rules don’t apply to you because you disagree with them.”

“With all due respect, sir.” Kirk spoke deferentially, all trace of snarkiness gone. “I thought that’s why you talked me into signing up in the first place. Why you took a personal interest in my progress. Why you gave me your ship.”

The admiral sighed. Only when he spoke again did his fingers cease drumming on the desk. “No, I gave you my ship because I saw greatness in you.” He hesitated. “And now I see you haven’t got an ounce of humility.”

Unwavering, Kirk met his mentor’s gaze. “What was I supposed to do? Let Spock die?”

“You’re missing the point.”

The younger man’s voice rose. “I don’t think I am, sir. What would you have done?”

“I wouldn’t have risked my first officer’s life in the first place. You were supposed to survey a planet—not alter its destiny. You violated a dozen Starfleet regulations and almost got everyone under your command killed!”

Kirk refused to back down. “Except I didn’t. You know how many crewmembers I’ve lost since—”

“That’s your problem,” Pike harshly interrupted. “You think you’re infallible. You think you can’t make a mistake. There’s a pattern with you, that rules are for other people.”

“Some should be,” Kirk muttered.

Pike ignored the comment as he continued. “And what’s worse is using blind luck to justify your playing God.”

Both men went silent for a moment before the admiral continued, more quietly. “Given the circumstances, this has been brought to Admiral Marcus’s attention. He convened a special tribunal, to which I was not invited. You understand what Starfleet regulations mandate be done at this point.”

Kirk did not, but as he pondered the alternatives open to such a tribunal, a terrible realization slowly began to dawn.

Pike confirmed it. “They’ve taken the Enterprise away from you. And they’re sending you back to the Academy.”

When he could finally speak again, Kirk tried to defend himself, even though deep inside he was beginning to realize that the decision, along now with everything else, was beyond his control. “Admiral, listen . . .”

“No.” Pike was having none of it—frustrated, hurt, and angry, he seemed no longer inclined to listen to anything his disgraced protégé might have to say. “No, I’m not going to listen. Why should I listen? You don’t listen to anyone but yourself. No, I can’t listen!” Realizing his efforts were futile, Kirk went silent.

“You don’t comply with the rules,” Pike continued more calmly. “You don’t take responsibility for anything. And you. Don’t. Respect. The chair. You know why?”

His next words fell on the already stunned Kirk like a hammer.

“Because you’re not ready for it.”

 

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