James Blish

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Patrick O'Brien, Jul 10, 2012.

  1. Patrick O'Brien

    Patrick O'Brien Captain Captain

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    I was on vacation in Cape Cod this past week and happened to visit a used book store there. They had a decent sized stock of Trek books in the basement.

    As the result of my hurried search (impatient girlfriend), I picked up Star Trek 10 by James Blish. I did not notice until I was home that the book is a novelised version of Six TOS episodes. I intend to read it, but I wonder how much it expands on the episodes themselves?

    Blish is an interesting guy from what I have read on the internet. It was cool to find out that he wrote the first original adult Trek book, Spock Must Die! I am curious to know what you guys think of this book (as I may want to read it)? Any other Blish books I should look for? The plan is to go back to that book store next month and dig a bit deeper:D
     
  2. E-DUB

    E-DUB Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    "Spock Must Die" has to be viewed in proper historical context. It was the first real piece of "Trek Lit" seen. The resolution was a bit of a let down but it's not a bad tale in and of itself.
     
  3. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Probably not much. Blish's adaptations rarely had room to add much material, and often left out a lot of stuff. His adaptations in the earlier volumes took more liberties and included some interesting new ideas and alternate takes on things from the episodes, but by the later volumes he (and his mostly-uncredited collaborator/ghostwriter/wife J. A. Lawrence, who helped on the later volumes as the aging Blish grew ill) stuck pretty closely to the original episodes, at audience request (this was before home video, so the books were the only way to own the episodes, and fans wanted accuracy, not embellishment). If you want new content, you'd be better off seeking out the lower-numbered volumes.

    Blish's only Trek books were the 12 volumes of episode adaptations and Spock Must Die! (Lawrence also adapted the two Harry Mudd episodes followed by an original story in Mudd's Angels aka Mudd's Enterprise, something Blish had planned to do before his death, but I wouldn't recommend it.) But Blish was a prolific and influential science fiction writer, so it's worth tracking down some of his non-Trek writings. (He's actually the guy who coined the term "gas giant.")
     
  4. bbailey861

    bbailey861 Admiral Premium Member

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    I remember buying it when it first came out and thinking it was great. While it certainly cannot be compared to any 'modern' Treklit - it was a pretty special read back them. It was, after all, a new ST story.
     
  5. Patrick O'Brien

    Patrick O'Brien Captain Captain

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    Thanks for the replies everyone. I was reading the book today and I must say Chris is right, Blish was very accurate in transforming the episode from TV into book form. I found The Alternative Factor, to be spot on. Too bad he did not take more liberties.

    I am sure I'll discover some other books next month when I go back. So look for some more questions about whatever older Trek novels are discovered:D
     
  6. Timewalker

    Timewalker Cat-lovin', Star Trekkin' Time Lady Premium Member

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    If you haven't read the Star Trek Log books by Alan Dean Foster, you're in for a treat. Those are the adaptations of the TAS episodes, and Foster does add to them - in fact, he expanded four of them to novel-length.
     
  7. iarann

    iarann Lieutenant Red Shirt

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    I actually enjoyed these quite a bit. I think they are best in the three Star Trek: The Classic Episodes collections which actually bundle the stories in order by season. If I remember correctly, part of the reason the earlier ones strayed a bit was because James Blish had to work from scripts and wasn't always able to watch the episodes. Since some of the scripts were changed during filming, this created some discrepancy. Because the works were so short, he didn't intentionally expend any of them.

    One interesting thing to note, his wife believes Harlan Ellison may have been the person who talked him into taking on the tasks of adapting the episodes.
     
  8. DrCorby

    DrCorby Commander Red Shirt

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    I read and re-read Blish's episode adaptations during the '70s, along with watching reruns, to enjoy Star Trek as often as possible. Spock Must Die! was also enjoyable, but a very different ST story that would have precluded a lot of other stories, had it been the basis of continuing Star Trek continuity.

    Also, I remember being confused by the adaptation of "Tomorrow Is Yesterday", when the Enterprise is thrown back to the 1960s (don't remember which volume it's in). In one scene, Kirk and Scotty mention the Vegan Tyranny. Since I didn't remember seeing that, I assumed it was a snippet that had been cut out of the episode by TV stations to make more commercial time (a practice some stations engaged in during the early rerun era). I later learned it was actually a reference Blish dropped in from his Cities in Flight novels. (I also recommend reading these four novels, though I enjoyed the middle two most. Avon published a paperback collection of all four novels in a single cover many years ago; I still see copies in used bookstores. SF classics.)
     
  9. Patrick O'Brien

    Patrick O'Brien Captain Captain

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    Thanks for the info everyone:bolian: I'll look for the Foster books the next time I go.
     
  10. King Daniel Beyond

    King Daniel Beyond Admiral Admiral

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    I really enjoyed "Spock Must Die!" and I loved Blish's reference to the transporter using DIRAC technology (from his short story of the same name)

    The only one of Blish's adaptations I've read was "The Doomsday Machine" because he changed the ending somewhat. But I've read all his prefaces, where he answers letters from first-generation fans.

    As for Blish's non-Trek works, hunt down his "Cities in Flight" books. Well worth a read.
     
  11. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Dirac isn't an acronym. Blish was referring to physicist Paul Dirac, one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics -- he's literally the man who wrote the book on the subject. What Blish called a Dirac jump in SMD! was basically what's known as a "quantum leap," and the instantaneous "Dirac communicator" used in much of Blish's work was basically a quantum-entanglement device (much the same sort of thing that Ursula LeGuin's term "ansible" is often applied to). Blish was basically using Dirac's name as a metonym for quantum theory.
     
  12. Garrovick

    Garrovick Commander Red Shirt

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    I remember first reading "Spock Must Die!" years ago, and I've never looked at the transporter the same way since.

    I believe tha Blish worked from rough scripts when he wrote some of the episode adaptations, mostly those that appeared in the first 3 or 4 volumes. I think that's why some of those varied significantly from the aired versions that we are all familiar with - "The Doomsday Machine" being a prime example. The later volumes are quite a bit closer to the TV versions.

    "Mudd's Angels" by Blish and J.A. Lawrence (she was his wife who helped complete the adaptations after Blish passed away during the writing of Star Trek 12) was the very first ST novel I ever read. It includes the two Mudd episodes from TOS, significantly expanded, plus a rather entertaining (but silly) sequel to "I, Mudd" called "The Business, as Usual, During Altercations" - quite fun to read as long as you don't take it seriously.

    The Star Trek Log series by Alan Dean Foster was also pretty cool, especially Star Trek Log 10 which turned "The Slaver Weapon" into a full-length novel - it's still one of my favorite early ST books.
     
  13. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    That's part of it, but it's not the full reason. The philosophy behind adaptations was different then too. They didn't have home video, and reruns weren't as common as they became in the '70s, so a lot of the time, the novelized version of a story was the only version anyone would ever see. Without any basis for comparison, there wasn't much pressure to make the adaptations faithful to the originals. Rather, the process of adaptation was seen more as creating a new prose work that was inspired by the film or TV work, but adjusted by the author to work better as a piece of prose, or to reflect the author's style and sensibilities. A classic illustration is Isaac Asimov's novelization of the film Fantastic Journey, wherein he heavily rewrote the story and even changed the ending in order to fix the glaring scientific and logic flaws of the film. Philip MacDonald's novelization of Forbidden Planet under the pseudonym W. J. Stuart is also substantially different from the film; it's told in large chunks of first-person narrative with only a single consistent viewpoint throughout each section, so many scenes that were in the film are told from a different perspective or absent altogether, and much material that wasn't in the film is included.

    So in the early volumes, Blish was working under that standard -- not trying to be slavishly accurate, but using the scripts as the starting point for creating his own, Blish-style stories. So he felt free to modify their content as he saw fit and to tie them into his own work by throwing in references to things like the Vegan Tyranny, Bonner the Stochastic, and the Xixobrax jewelworm affair.

    But Star Trek reruns had unprecedented success in syndication, so they ended up being broadcast constantly and repeatedly, so fans were able to get to know them intimately. And that changed television by making reruns more commonplace (leading to a reduction in the amount of new material produced per season), and it also started to change novelizations, because fans wrote to Blish complaining about the liberties he took and wanting more faithful adaptations. Of course, the change was gradual; novelizations in the '70s and '80s were still quite free to take liberties, though they tended to hew closer to the original works. Vonda McIntyre's Trek movie novelizations added a wealth of new material and reinterpreted or corrected a lot of what was onscreen (such as correcting "Ceti Alpha" to the more accurate Alpha Ceti), and even Roddenberry's TMP novelization approached the material in its own distinctive way, and he's the guy who produced the actual film. Alan Dean Foster's novelization of The Black Hole changed its ending. And so on. It's not like today where studios insist on absolutely slavish movie novelizations for some reason.
     
  14. Knight Templar

    Knight Templar Commodore

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    Even better, Foster takes it upon himself to explain away from of the inconsistencies and obvious errors in Star Trek: The Animated Series.

    Like in "The Terratin Incident" he provides a plausible explanation as to why the uniforms of the crew shrinks along with them.
     
  15. Silvercrest

    Silvercrest Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I bet he can't explain why Nurse Chapel falls into the fish tank and floats, when she should break through the bottom of the tank.
     
  16. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    No, that was in the original episode. In fact, it was an important plot point, because it helped them figure out what was happening:

    http://www.chakoteya.net/StarTrek/TAS015.htm
     
  17. RonG

    RonG Captain Captain

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    I only read a couple of the TOS adaptations (the one with The Menagerie and Blish's preface, and the one with The City on the Edge of Forever), but I got Spock Must Die! a couple of years ago, and found it a nice setting-changing book, and a unique window into the past and a "Might-have-Been" direction for TrekLit.
     
  18. hbquikcomjamesl

    hbquikcomjamesl Captain Captain

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    The first Star Trek book I ever read was Blish's ST9.

    In general, his adaptations were condensed, rather than expanded, and the early ones far more than the later ones, just as he took far more liberties (and had less-developed scripts, and hadn't actually seen the series!) in the early ones than the later ones.

    Foster (whose original fiction tends towards beautifully rich descriptive language; I highly recommend his Humanx Commonwealth and Spellsinger series) took the opposite approach, greatly expanding on scripts, and addressing logical holes that most viewers never noticed in the actual episodes.
     
  19. Silvercrest

    Silvercrest Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    That's amusing, considering the number of holes in the Spellsinger books.
     
  20. Patrick O'Brien

    Patrick O'Brien Captain Captain

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    Blish never watched Star trek? Interesting, who chose him to write the books?