Five Stages of Reading the Novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Over a few months of reading, I hit two books about Deltans. Once is chance, twice is coincidence, and I like to be the mastermind of my own conspiracies, so I went looking for a third.

Gene Rodenberry’s novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the most easily identifiable option. I found it very informative. It’s like a cross between an encyclopedia and a roller coaster.


1. Awe.

It’s by GENE RODDENBERRY! It’s the finest vision of humanity’s future that 1979 had to offer! There’s a huge space rainbow on the cover! The novel is based on the screenplay by Harold Livingstone, and the story by Alan Dean Foster; it seems an impressive collection of genius. It adds a whole new highly-evolved species to the Star Trek universe! Roddenberry wrote it, so everything in it is canonical! Plus, did I mention the rainbow?

2. Interesting sexual revelations about the Kirk family.

The book starts with a special preface by Admiral Kirk. He introduces himself by talking about his name. Kirk, because he’s a traditionalist, Tiberius because of his grandfather’s fascination with the classics, and James after his uncle and his mother’s first love instructor.

Yeah. That’s what it said. That’s page one.

I feel it is the obligation of a reviewer to carefully digest this information and use it to place Star Trek on a continuum of proposed future sexualities in relation to the work of other science fiction writers like Margaret Atwood, Robert Heinlein, and Lois McMaster Bujold. It took me some time to do this, because I first had to locate my response to this revelation on a continuum in relation to “Wait, what?”, “How many love instructors is it usual for a person to have in the 23rd century?” and “Is this a prudish over-reaction?” After an earnest struggle, I put myself on a continuum right next to Piers Anthony, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture: A Novel significantly closer to Heinlein than to Bujold.

I’m really glad I got that done before I found the footnote on Kirk’s lovers. Official word from ST:TMP:AN is that Kirk isn’t in to Vulcans—the once-every-seven-years thing is an issue. So Kirk and Spock were never lovers. Kirk notes, “I have always found my best gratification in that creature woman.” Which raises the question, has he done a comparative study? Reasonable people can disagree, but I feel strongly that the answer is yes. Of course he has. Rodenberry is happy to tell us about the pressure Kirk feels in his genitals (ick) when he sees his ex-lover on the holographic comm system, but he isn’t naming names. The possibilities are infinite minus Spock! Loose the hounds!

3. Starfleet does what?

They have emergency communication devices embedded in their flag officers’ brains! These provide an intense sensory experience of the information being conveyed, with a tingling sensation as the only alert to an incoming message and no controls for the individual user. Receiving an emergency alert induces symptoms similar to an absence seizure. Fortunately, Kirk is in a museum when Starfleet calls him on his brain phone, and not free-climbing in Yosemite. This may be a slightly better emergency plan than assembling all of Starfleet’s highest-ranking officers in a pre-designated room on the 36th floor of a building in San Francisco, but not by much.

Starfleet also has medical scan devices embedded in everyone’s belt buckle. These send data to the medical computers in sickbay so that crew health can be continuously monitored during missions. An explanatory footnote addresses concerns about privacy, but not about associated risks from continuous scan exposure and over-screening, or the information-processing challenges this presents for medical staff. I desperately need to read the Federation’s medical journals.

4. The Deltan.

Lieutenant Junior Grade Ilia is bald. She’s sexy. She is both an excellent navigator and easy to replace. She’s taken an oath of celibacy. Kirk has to work to keep his lust in check. She makes Sulu feel very awkward. She has never slept with recently-demoted-from-captain-to-XO Will Decker.

And then she’s abducted by the massive entity that is menacing the galaxy in general and Earth in particular, and apparently she dies and is re-created in mechanical form, complete with brainwaves and memories and pheromones, plus bonus super-strength. And from that point on the question on everyone’s mind is…

Is she a sex-bot? The mechanical re-creation hasn’t taken an oath of celibacy. They need her to communicate with the scary alien cloud thing. She might be able to give them information about what it wants. She seems willing to talk to Will Decker. Recently-demoted Will Decker has to simultaneously remember that she’s not the woman he remembers, and consider schtupping her if it might help the general, extremely urgent, time-sensitive effort. It’s awkward.

5. The universe has one single purpose.

The universe is a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon so that Kirk can command the Enterprise with Spock at his side (though allegedly not in his bed). Kirk as an admiral is not an acceptable alternative. The galactic menace is vanquished. Will Decker is removed from the chain of command. Spock decides that his pursuit of advanced stoicism was misguided. Kirk is back in the center seat, which now has safety restraints. He’s ordered back to earth for de-briefing, but in a spectacular act of insubordination he commands Sulu to take the ship “Thataway!” Starfleet has options here. They could activate his emergency communication device to induce a tingling sensation followed by an intense sensory experience of the blue screen of death, but even they have to recognize what’s right. Kirk is back! I feel kind of euphoric.

Ellen Cheeseman Meyer is huge fan of both encyclopedias and roller coasters.


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