Aug 6 2012 10:00am

Take Heart, Good People of Starbase 13 — Captain Kirk is Bringing You a Mime! Vonda McIntyre’s Enterprise: The First Adventure

Imagine there was a story with no limits – no budget, no censors, no rules. Imagine it was about James T. Kirk’s first mission with the Enterprise. Imagine it featured a My Little Pony. Guess what? That’s been written!

In Vonda McIntyre’s Enterprise: The First Adventure, Captain Kirk gets to carry a vaudeville act around Starfleet’s more remote space stations where morale is crappy. And that is why there is a winged horse in the Enterprise’s shuttle bay.

This novel is an awe-inspiring creation. The winged horse contributes a lot to this. It’s a carnivore because it’s part raptor, and it’s a million colors like a peacock, but it cannot actually fly (except possibly in one-tenth G, but as of the beginning of the book, no one has been able to arrange that). It’s an elegant pony-flavored McGuffin. I am deeply distressed that Boris Vallejo did not paint it on the book cover. The pony is part of the touring vaudeville company, because vaudeville has managed to survive into the 23rd century, and will not just make everyone on the remoter space stations more depressed. The company is led by an attractive young woman, whose control of a space-going touring vaudeville company at the tender age of 21 is analogous to James T. Kirk’s control of the Enterprise at the tender age of 29. We discover this in the midst of the change-of-command ceremony at which Kirk takes control of the Enterprise, meets his new crew, talks to his family about his divorce, and picks a fight with the Starfleet brass all at once. And with that, McIntyre has taken her readers from zero to “Wait, what?” at least three times in the first 73 pages. And I haven’t even told you about Kirk’s drunken encounter with a rhododendron.

There’s no way you could have a Star Trek novel JUST about the Enterprise ferrying some performers to remote starbases. You also need at least one Klingon and a new species to make first contact with. McIntyre will not fail you on either front. She offers a variety of Klingons, ranging from pirates to high-ranking government officials. The pirate, Koronin, is the most interesting. She has a pet monkey named Starfleet and prefers swords to energy weapons. This is an odd choice for a space-criminal, but it keeps the plot moving in those moments when things need to be sliced up. The remainder of the Klingons stomp around trying to retrieve the ship Koronin has stolen. They are also the first Klingon audience to hear the soliloquy from Hamlet, albeit in a mangled form.

The new species are a little like telepathic flying monkeys. They appear in an absolutely enormous craft in a tiny finger of Federation space perilously close to the Klingon Empire. Although they initially seem primitive, it turns out that their ship maintains an interior gravity of about one-tenth G, and, somewhat more impressively, moves the universe. Spock goes insane in an attempt to learn their language via mind meld. He gets better.

What else do you need to make a Star Trek novel complete? Some interesting revelations about Spock? Meet his cousin, Stephen! Stephen is disreputable because of his fascination with emotions, and also because he signs on to the vaudeville company as a juggler. He has a cat, and is good with winged horses and 21-year-old vaudeville company managers. Spock disapproves. Not enough for you? How about multiple species of impossibly-expensive-to-film aliens? There’s a warrior-like cat species whose members greet each other with insults and then make out. There’s a beast with claws on its knees and a deep appreciation of Earth cocktails. Want more revelations about peripheral characters? Janice Rand’s basket-weave beehive is both a personal and a political statement, and she has an aptitude for graphic design.

While the novel has an undeniable screwball intensity, it also has a serious side. Kirk is recovering from serious combat injuries. His best friend, Gary Mitchell, is hospitalized and comatose, recovering from injuries Kirk feels personally responsible for. He’s floundering, both personally and professionally. Spock and Scotty request transfers. Uhura has grave reservations. The unexpected first contact with the flying monkeys enlivens their USO mission, but does not rescue Kirk from his uncertainty. This bitterness balances the novel’s essential sweetness, and offers fascinating insights into how the relationships between these characters grew.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

That Neil Guy
1. That Neil Guy
This was one of the first tie-in novels I read. And I think it's the reason I haven't read many other Trek novels.

It was just too much. The winged horse deal is what I mostly remember, all these years later. Much like the giant rat in Doctor Who's Talons of Weng Chiang, it turned me off what otherwise might have been a pretty good story. But all I recall is the dumb flying rainbow horse.
Fade Manley
2. fadeaccompli
I don't think I read this one; I would've remembered the horse. (Then again, apparently I forgot all the space whales from Spock's World...) I have to say, this makes all the TNG novels I read seem a lot more down-to-earth in comparison. Even the one on the world where everyone wore novelty masks as their central cultural Planet of Hats hat.
Nick Rogers
3. BookGoblin
This was the second Star Trek Tie-In novel I ever read. The first one was John M Ford's "How Much for Just the Planet". I was 11-years-old and this book solidified my perception that Star Trek novels were, on the whole, completely batshit-insane.

I remember trying to describe this book to a friend in the school-yard and ultimately ending with an explanation that it was about a Klingon Lady Space Pirate, a ship bigger than the Death Star (frame of reference), a space circus with winged space-pony that almost flies, and Spock's brain is taken over by alien monkeys and then cured by his juggling brother.

Also, Kirk is sort of an ass.

I've not re-read this one since, even though the paperback has traveled with me across the country in moving box after moving box for the last 25 years. I have an 11-year-old son of my own now...I'm not sure I'd change my description of the major plot points, even from a more mature point of view, but I'm pretty sure it would be basically the same experience for him today. Which I think really says something about the timelessness of some of the tie-in fiction.
That Neil Guy
4. John R. Ellis
I recall at the time loving the bonding scenes between Janice Rand and Uhura.

It's still a part of my personal canon. *g*
That Neil Guy
5. wiredog
Kirk’s drunken encounter with a rhododendron.

I thought we had all agreed not to talk about that until the records were unsealed int the 24th and a half century?
6. JoeNotCharles
I definitely read this, because I remember the Hamlet scene. I don't remember the flying pony at all, though!
Alan Courchene
7. Majicou
The thing I most remember about this novel is actually the intense build-up of the troupe's "Shakesperean actor" and how he's said to be one of the most brilliant interpreters of the material of his time. Then he finally performs his "modern adaptation" of Hamlet's soliloquy, and to call it a hot mess would be an insult to hot messes.
That Neil Guy
8. Nentuaby
Oh hey, I read this when I was, like, 11! It was actually my very first consumption of anything Star Trek. (I'd osmosed the basic scenario from pop culture before that, but never seen any of the shows or read a novel.)

It was... Satisfyingly weird. I really loved the oddball aliens in their Solipsist's Ark. And the freaky Show People. In retrospect, this probably primed a lot of my tastes in spec-fic; I always have liked 'em highly imaginative and a bit skewed!
rob mcCathy
9. roblewmac
I had a love hate relationship with the idea that Jim Kirk was baffled by stage magic.
a="it's kinda cool that both Jim and the reader assume somthing fantasic is going on when it's just a woman palming an apple."
B=Come on even in the 23rd century kids read about slight of hand tricks and Jim Kirk read them ALL!
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
10. EllenMCM
I think I was thirteen when I first read this, and if there was anything in the world that would make me more envious of Captain Kirk at that point, it was close association with a flying pony.

I didn't remember the "Shakespearean" actor, but I appreciate that his name comes close to a synonym for dick head. And I will forever admire Vonda MacIntyre for coming up with the best imaginable answer to the eternal question, "Why does Kirk's secretary have a basket on her head?"
j p
11. sps49
I remember thinking this was written for 12 year old girls crushing on Jim Kirk. I haven't changed my mind.
That Neil Guy
12. RiceVermicelli
@John R. Ellis - Uhura and Rand as really good friends could be considered established as canon in Charlie X, when Rand eggs Uhura on to sing. By the time of that episode, those women are clearly good friends.

Whether you consider the jello monster in the shower to be canon or not is much more dependent on this novel. Me, I like to believe there was a jello monster back there someplace. OTOH, my other recollections of this novel contain some notable omissions - I think I repressed the Hamlet part.
That Neil Guy
13. StrongDreams
After reading these re-appraisals with an increasing sense of wait...what? it's time to ask,

Who was editing these books, and has the modern psychopharmaceutical industry found a treatment?
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
14. EllenMCM
Fun story - apparently, there were several changes to the plans for the book on the publishing end during the writing process. McIntyre talked about it in an interview on that I don't happen to be able to find right this second. IIRC, she got a proposal approaved, started writing, was told to dramatically increase the length, did it, and then was asked for a new outline for approval, which she did not provide because the book was basically done. So she sent in the manuscript and they published it. As I recall. I don't always recall correctly, but that's what I recall.

And it sold well enough to justify other books like it, and has been read and enjoyed by many. You can't really go wrong selling books to star-struck, horse-loving adolescents.

As an unrelated point of interest, I note that the Twilight books are shockingly horse-free, but Deborah Harkness's book about 30-year-old vampires who do research in the Bodleian Library, appreciate wine, and go to yoga class together has significant scenes about the protagonists' horses. I find this oddly backwards.
That Neil Guy
15. StrongDreams
I find myself imagining 30 years from now and reading a reappraisal of oughties vampire fiction....
That Neil Guy
16. Kit
I recently reread this - last year, I think - because I'd heard it was about as trippy as the Trek novels get, but I was a bit disappointed, honestly, because aside from the shenanigans (everyone always talks about the flying horse, but it's not that WTF, all things told), I was actually somewhat impressed with the actual story and the interactions between the characters.
That Neil Guy
17. Peltier Cooler (really)
The cassette version of the audiobook(!) is US$6.35. The Audible (free-to-deliver, nearly) version is US$9.95.

Some people really, really hate selling.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
18. EllenMCM
Be aware that the audio book version is read by Leonard Nimoy and George Takei - which is really cool - but is abridged to 89 minutes.
That Neil Guy
19. SueQ
I missed this one-I would have remembered the rainbow horse- though I've read many of the others. My favourite one was 'ISHMAEL' because it sent Spock back to 19th century San Fransisco.
But now I'm going to have to read this one because of "Kirk's drunken encounter with a rhododendron".
That lad would do it with anyone or anything.
If I had been on the Enterprise, I would have been hanging out with Scotty and/or Bones McCoy.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
20. EllenMCM
I liked Ishmael too! Here's a review:
That Neil Guy
21. JGBrown
Vonda McIntyre is quite possibly one of the worst ever authors of the Star Trek genre, possibly of any genre. I have read this and The Entropy Effect and I thank God that I didn't have to spend money on them. They were forced upon me by a young girl who knew I liked Trek. Too bad I had to give them back as they would have been helpful in the fireplace.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
22. EllenMCM
That's a very sad story.

I admire McIntyre's sense of humor and adventure.
That Neil Guy
23. RiceVermicelli
I know I am always disappointed when people lend me books and then I don't get to burn them.

I am, however, pretty sure that Vonda McIntyre doesn't qualify for the finals of the Worst Published Author event in any category. I've seen some of the contenders, and I suspect I have only seen the tip of an astoundingly rotten iceberg.
That Neil Guy
24. William D. Starr
Early on, this book contains one great, nicely understated, moment in
Trek history. In the galley/rec-deck Spock is musing over a 3D chess
board, playing against himself. Kirk wanders by, confirms from the
set-up which side's turn it is to make a move, thinks a moment, and
suggests a "Mate in moves" move, and wanders off. Somewhat
later, Spock comes over to him and asks what method of analysis he
used to uncover that move, and Kirk says apoproximately "None, I
just... saw it." And you can practically feel the whole universe
shift as Spock, who has so far been thoroughly unimpressed with his
new captain (especially in comparison to Christopher Pike), suddenly
realizes that There Is Something Here.

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