Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review: Star Trek Log One

by G. Jack Urso

Star Trek Log One (1974), by Alan Dean Foster, adapts the scripts from the first three episodes of the animated version of Star Trek, which ran from 1973 to 1974. The animated series continues the five-year voyage of the first televised series (Star Trek: The Original Series, 1966-1969). Expanding on the details provided in the episodes, Foster turns in three short stories with a unifying narrative, creating a sense that the stories are occurring within one extended voyage.

14th Printing: May 1977.
Author's collection.
Star Trek: The Animated Series, being a 30-minute cartoon show geared towards children, presented limitations on the literary scope of the scripts. Further, Foster’s then-audience for the Star Trek Log series was young teens whose minds are just beginning to grasp abstract scientific and philosophical concepts. Therefore, we must examine the book within those parameters, and not as adult-oriented science fiction.

The three stories of Star Trek Log One include:

Beyond the Farthest Star: The Enterprise investigates an ancient space ship locked in orbit around a dead star and finds a deadly alien presence millions of years old.

Yesteryear:  Spock travels back in time in order to save his future in this coming-of-age story.

One of Our Planets is Missing: A giant sentient cloud is moving through the galaxy consuming planets. Can the Enterprise find a way to communicate with a life form that doesn’t recognize the crew’s existence?

Beyond the Farthest Star

“Veil of stars.

Veil of crystal.” (Foster 3)

Foster expands upon the two-dimensional portrayals in the animated series to give further depth to the characters and plot. “Beyond the Farthest Star,” based on the script by Samuel A. Peeples (who also wrote the second pilot for Star Trek: The Original Series, "Where No Man Has Gone Before”) starts off with an internal monologue by Captain Kirk off-duty, contemplating the vastness of the universe while en route to the Time Planet, the mysterious world first introduced in the episode “The City on the Edge of Forever” from Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969). Before the Enterprise can reach the Time Planet, it travels through an unexplored area of space where it gets trapped by the gravity well of a dead star whose mass has imploded on itself  much like a fly caught in a spider’s web.

Establishing a tenuous orbit around the dead star, the Enterprise finds a derelict alien space ship hundreds of millions of years old, where it encounters a disembodied alien presence driven mad by eons of isolation.

Each story also introduces a scientific element as well as another Star Trek staple, an exercise in values clarification, where we analyze ethical decisions in hypothetical situations.

“Beyond the Farthest Star” introduces the reader to the idea of imploded stellar material and the intense gravity generated by so-called “dead stars.” The story doesn't go so far as to call it a black hole, since in 1973, the air date of the original animated episode, black holes were a relatively new concept. The term itself was first used in an obscure publication, Science News Letter (18 January 1964), in a report about a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); however, it was arguably more widely introduced into the modern lexicon in 1967 by physicist John Archibald Wheeler, according to Michael Quinion, a British etymologist.

Therefore, in 1973, using the idea of a “negative star-mass” generating a gravity well as a plot device was a very new idea. In this way, Star Trek demonstrates its ability to serve as a venue for new scientific concepts. Moreover, the writers show faith that their young audience will not be intimidated by such new ideas, but would instead embrace them, even as some elements of the scientific community still struggled to accept these theories.

In the end, Kirk tricks the alien into trapping itself in the dead star’s gravity well while the Enterprise uses it to slingshot itself out of orbit. The immortal alien, tormented into madness by hundreds of millions of years of isolation, faces an eternity alone. Though it almost cost them their lives, the crew of the Enterprise is left feeling only pity for the malevolent creature . . . and so is the reader.

The following clip from the episode highlights the crew's struggle to rid themselves of the ancient alien threat as well as the entity’s loneliness after eons trapped in orbit around a dead star:


[Young Spock] “Is there nothing you can do?”

[Vulcan Healer] “To save him, nothing. But I can prolong his life-though he will always be in pain. Or . . . I can release him from life. In this I will need your decision. He is your pet.” (Foster 131)

“Yesteryear” is the longest section of Star Trek: Log One. Building on an excellent original story by veteran Star Trek writer D.C. Fontana, here we see Spock’s youth as a half-Vulcan, half-human child explored in detail. Story elements first introduced in The Original Series’ episodes, “Journey to Babel” and “The City on the Edge of Forever,” are expanded on in this treatment. Ideas introduced in “Yesteryear,” such as Spock being bullied as a child, continue to be included in the character’s backstory as evident in the most recent movie Star Trek (2009).

Spock was a tremendously popular character among young science fiction fans of both sexes in the early 1970s. Intelligent, strong, and disciplined, Spock served a model for a new generation of scientist-explorers who also embraced a more liberal philosophy (as embodied in the Vulcan IDIC: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations). Even more so than Captain Kirk, Spock is the single most recognizable iconic image from the series, apart from the Enterprise itself.

In “Yesteryear,” Kirk and Spock take a journey to the past back in time via the so-called “Guardian of Forever” on the Time Planet. What was thought to be a mission of passive observation turns out to have had serious consequences for the present timeline.

Having gone back in time to  the point when Spock was still a young boy, a paradox is created. Two Spocks can’t exist at the same time, so one Spock must cease to exist. Since the adult Spock is under the protection of the Guardian of Forever, the child Spock dies during a Vulcan rite of passage and the paradox is resolved.

Being a story for young people, there are some holes in the theoretical rational for the time paradox. For example, if the paradox is created because two Spock’s can’t exist at the same time, how is it that he can go back in time to save himself? Fortunately, Foster layers the story with such rich detail regarding Spock’s childhood and Vulcan culture that this inconsistency is easily overlooked.

The time paradox also results in other unforeseen events, such as Spock’s parent’s divorce (a novel topic for young people’s literature in the early 1970s) and his mother’s accidental death. To stop these events from occurring, Spock must go back in time and set things right. I’m sure many children have wished that restoring their families was as easy as breaking the laws of physics.

The crux of the story revolves around young Spock’s decision to prove his Vulcan heritage by surviving a harsh Vulcan desert endurance test of manhood, the Kahs-wan. He is joined in his journey by his childhood pet sehlat, a large bear-like creature first mentioned in “Journey to Babel.”

The presence of the elder Spock, disguised as a distant family relative, alters the timeline further by causing his younger self to leave on the Kahs-wan sooner than expected. This further disruption of the timeline actually ends up restoring the younger Spock’s life, although at the cost of the life of his beloved pet sehlat, who saves his young master from a predatory Vulcan mountain lion-like creature called a le-matya.

The sehlat, who survived in the initial timeline, must die in order for the time paradox to be resolved and the elder Spock restored to his own timeline.

A bit confusing, but the young reader is presented with a classic Star Trek quandary: The elder Spock must allow his childhood pet die in order for his own existence, and the events that changed as a result, to be restored.

The younger Spock faces a heart-wrenching decision. With his pet sehlat suffering in pain from the poisonous claws of the le-matya, he must decide whether to have a Vulcan healer extend the animal's life, which will only prolong the pain, or have his beloved animal companion mercifully put down.

Young Spock decides to put his pet sehlat out of his misery. Making the logical decision also gives him the confidence needed to take the step into adulthood. The larger implication of this decision for the young reader is that if putting a beloved pet to sleep is an act of mercy, does that same principle also apply to a beloved family member?

The animated episode spends precious little time on these scenes; however, Foster develops these underlining concepts in more detail through a focal point common to his young teen readers, the pains of growing up and proving yourself to your family and peers.
The following clip from the episode captures the young Spock's adolescent angst:
One of Our Planets is Missing

[Spock]  “Someday Captain, when we are able to protect ourselves a little better, we may be fortunate enough to meet it again, or others like it.”
“And when that day comes,” Kirk agreed softly, caught up in Spock’s own sense of wonder and his own emotional release “when that day comes, Mr. Spock, the ant will stand on its hind legs and converse with the man.” (Foster 184)

After the more sublime human drama of “Yesteryear” we are plunged into sci-fi high adventure with “One of Our Planets is Missing,” which Foster adapted from a script by Marc Daniels, who directed over a dozen episodes of The Original Series. In this episode, a giant sentient cloud that consumes planets is heading towards the Federation colony of Mantilles with a population of 82 million. Kirk must decide whether to inform the planet they only have about three and a half hours to live, even though they couldn't possibly be evacuated in time.

The “sentient cloud” doesn’t recognize creatures as small as humans as life and is unaware of our existence.  The only way to stop the cloud is for Captain Kirk to destroy the Enterprise inside the creature’s brain, saving Mantilles, but at the cost of his ship and crew.

While there is little doubt about what they must do, Spock raises the morality of killing a living creature, particularly one about to be executed for a crime that it is unaware of having committed. On this scale, could the cloud be any guiltier of murder than humans are when they step on ants?

“One of Our Planets is Missing” draws on elements of The Original Series episodes “The Doomsday Machine” and “The Immunity Syndrome.” From “The Doomsday Machine” is drawn the idea of a giant planet-consuming entity; “The Immunity Syndrome” contributes the concept of an interstellar life form, and in both episodes the machine and interstellar life form can only be killed from the inside.

Unlike “The Doomsday Machine” and the interstellar amoeba in “The Immunity Syndrome,” the sentient cloud in “One of Our Planets is Missing” is intelligent and can be reasoned with, so one trusty Vulcan mind-meld later and Mantilles is saved.
What Foster captures from the original script is the cloud-creature’s sense of loneliness, its uniqueness, and its isolation; all concepts very familiar to his teenage audience.
The following clip from the episode shows Spock exchange consciousness with the cloud creature via the Vulcan mind meld:


Foster establishes a sense of unity throughout the three stories by highlighting related emotional elements. A sense of isolation and loneliness is felt not only by the alien creatures in “Beyond the Farthest Star” and “One of Our Planets is Missing,” but also by the young Spock in “Yesteryear.” This recurrent theme creates an emotional strand young readers can latch onto as they navigate the sci-fi technobabble.

In determining a book’s success, one should attempt to view it through the eyes of its intended audience, in this case that means young teens in the 1970s. Being a member of that demographic, I feel uniquely qualified to bring that point of view into this discussion. Star Trek Log One was a Christmas gift from my father in 1977, a small gesture by my dear old dad trying to connect with me through my interests. As I was entering adolescence at the ripe old age of 13, I could relate to many of the themes in the book, particularly the coming-of-age story in “Yesteryear.”

I still have that cheap paperback of Star Trek Log One I received as a stocking stuffer some 36 years ago and rereading it brought back many memories. If a book, any book, can take us as far away as our youth, then the text even one as ephemeral as adaptations of Saturday morning cartoon scripts becomes something a bit more than just words on a page. 

Work Cited
Foster, Alan Dean. Star Trek Log One. New York: Del Rey, 1974. Print.


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