The final alopecia

As part of my mandatory Star Trek refresher course, I’ve decided to thumb through a few of the more interesting Trek novels I read as a kid. And by “interesting” I mean “the ones that seemed kind of boring back then because I was too young to properly appreciate them.” Mostly these are the ones that involve the series’ main cast in only the most peripheral sense and instead focus on developing alien races or secondary characters as a means by which to flesh out the franchise’s universe. Not coincidentally, these are the ones that are less like dumb fanfic and more like actual sci-fi novels that just happen to take place in someone else’s toy box.

High on the list are the late John M. Ford’s works. He wrote two Trek novels back in the day, one of which — How Much for Just the Planet — I recall as being a hilarious farce nearly to the point of satire, a recollection the Internet seems happy to corroborate. His other contribution, though, was the sort of work that made my young eyes glaze right over. Entitled The Final Reflection, it was an intricate exploration of Klingon culture, which to that point had never really been tackled in the actual TV series beyond, “Boy, those Klingon guys sure are angry!” Of course, at this point the entire novel has been made completely moot by later television shows, but in a way that makes the book even more interesting. Because, really, the “official” Klingons ended up becoming pretty obnoxiously boring, to be honest.

I’m not terribly far into the book, but I really am enjoying it. The TV series’ core cast exists strictly as a framing device, and the central work is presented in-universe as something controversial, almost forbidden, which is a pleasant contrast to the Happy Hippie Space Utopia of the Roddenberry years… and handled a lot more gracefully than the fumbling undercurrents of cynicism more recent takes on Trek have tried to incorporate. Ford’s two contributions to the Trek non-canon are highly regarded, and I can see why: each was a very different work, but both were united by taking a rather skewed view of the franchise and creating something interesting out of it.

Yeah, good stuff. Unfortunately, I’ve had to put the book down, at least for a little while, because I’ve just reached the point where the narrative has introduced an intensely gorgeous Orion slave girl named… Rogaine.

Poor Mr. Ford. I’d really like to take your story seriously, but at the moment I just can’t. What a hairy predicament.

11 thoughts on “The final alopecia

  1. One thing I appreciate about the Star Wars books is the effort to have them co-exist on the same canon as the movies. There are hundreds of Trek books, but I gather that little or no effort has been made to create any sort of over-arching continuity. However, reading this I get the appeal of books that can be “what-if?” stories instead of heavily planned pieces of a much larger puzzle.

  2. My understanding is that after Ford turned in each manuscript, Paramount changed the rules to make sure no one ever wrote anything like that again. (No more stories without the main cast after Final Reflection, and no more crackpot farces after Planet?.) And they went out of their way to rewrite the Klingons for Next Gen to avoid paying him royalties.

    I’m always surprised when I find new Ford fans, and I shouldn’t be. He really was everywhere.

  3. What year was this book published? The name Rogaine might have actually preceeded the product.

  4. Oh, it absolutely preceded the product. It’s just a tragic coincidence.

    As for Paramount changing the rules, I think that’s somewhat true — I remember hearing that Margaret Wander Bonano’s Strangers from the Sky was going to have practically nothing to do with the core cast and Paramount made her rewrite significant portions of it, resulting in a completely different book than she had intended.

  5. I was always tempted to check out some of the Star Trek books when I was a kid, but I got scared off when a well-meaning but incredibly lonely and depressing fat guy dressed like Scotty gave me a few books (along with some Red Dwarf novels) at a street fair, which scared me off from printed Star Trek materials for the rest of my life.

    I’ve heard great things about How Much For Just the Planet, though – I’ll have to keep an eye out for that the next time I hit up a flea market.

  6. Obnoxious nerd question ahoy: which “official” Klingons are we going off of for the boring bit? Because DS9 dicked with that a bit but it’s also the show a lot of people ragged on for not being “Star Trek” enough.

    (Now I’m mildly pissed because I’m pretty sure the Trek book I found in the garage covered in mold and unreadable years back was Final Reflection, and this sounds interesting.)

  7. I never read many of the Star Trek novels, but one that sticks out clearly in my mind was Probe, a novelization of Star Trek IV but from the perspective of the whale-seeking probe.

    @Syrg: DS9 didn’t really do any meaningful alterations from the Klingons outlined in TNG that I can remember. Now Enterprise, that’s an interesting show that ‘dicked’ around with the Klingons. That they even tried to reconcile the TOS Klingons with TNG was kind of heresy to lots of folks, but I enjoyed their meaningful attempt. Enterprise’s background story for Klingons as not always being as obsessive with war was also weird, but was a good to see their writers flesh out and add depth to the otherwise ‘uninteresting’ species.

  8. Klingon society as presented in TNG has always bothered me because it’s not possible for a sentient, technologically advanced species to be so one-sided.

    Look at the amount of technology and infrastructure they depend on – who built it? It would have to be other Klingons, but we’re never given any indication that Klingon society would find science and engineering an acceptable pursuit – only being a warrior. But clearly a pure warrior society would have nothing to wage war with.

    I’ve always imagined Klingon programmers saying “Today is a good day to segfault!”

  9. What you have to love about the whole “intensely gorgeous Orion slave girl” bit is that pretty much every Star Trek novel, and indeed, every casual conversation about the series brings that up, specifically, and yet the only time there was ever an Orion slave girl on the show itself was in the pilot, after which some really heavy retooling went on. Still canonical what with yon pilot being shoehorned in sure, but there’s plenty of other things to fixate on that fall by the wayside. Like the Gorn! Where’s my detailed elaboration on big shiny eyed rock throwing lizard people capable of interstellar travel?

    And on a sidenote, while we’re getting into not officially recognized Trek stuff that’s worthy of attention, the animated incarnation of the original series is surprisingly watchable. At least the earlier episodes. It takes a severe downturn some time around when Larry Niven wrote an episode surprisingly enough. Mainly in that he “wrote an episode” by taking one of his better known short stories (the slaver weapon), replacing the names of the protagonists with those of Star Trek characters, and turned it in. You’d think he’d at least go through and replace Kzinti with Klingons where appropriate, but no.

  10. @Kupek: Well, when you’re basically a war ship (Enterprise) flying around outer space, chances are you’re not going to run into too many Klingon ships that aren’t war ships either. If the only thing a foreigner knew of Americans was based off their interactions with US military personnel, their views might be a little skewed too. At least, this is what I’ve always told myself. The show Enterprise did a good job of showing other facets of Klingon culture, like the proud (but fading) Klingon traditions of being scientists and artists.

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