Adaptations are an odd duck in literature. Adapting a movie from a book is common enough, and we accept the changes and sacrifices sometimes made to get it on screen, but when you have an original movie turned into a book? That’s sometimes problematic.
Back when you had to wait a year or more for a summer blockbuster to hit your local video store, adaptations were the only way to relive your favorite movies. Some even had an eight-page photo spread in the center, in case your memory needed a refresher. Or, if you wanted a less time intensive fix, there were always comic book versions.
But those were adaptations of something you already saw, and while some were good and could even add or flesh out the world you had visited on the silver screen, they were still the same story, just told by someone else. Sometimes the differences were incredibly jarring—especially if the book or comic had to be written before the film was even finished.
Then there are the books that expand upon a property, that continue the story. Perhaps the best known of these are the seemingly endless Star Trek novels that came out long before the Star Wars Expanded Universe was ever a thing. Even if you just look at the original series with Kirk and Spock, I suspect if you took all of the books and had them happen one after the other chronologically, their combined length would far exceed the Enterprise’s planned five-year mission.
The Great Starship Race is one of these novels. To be honest, I chose to review it because it’s one of the few I’ve actually read. In university. In the 20th century. The problem is, books that expand upon a show’s canon are a tough sell for me, especially if you’re invested in the mythos and lore. Look at what happened with Star Wars. I love the heck out of the Thrawn Trilogy, and now it’s been relegated to the “Legends” scrap heap faster than you can say, “No, Really, Greedo Shot First.”
Revisiting this book in the present day, however, reminded me that there is nothing wrong with these stories at all. And until the Next Generation came along, it was really the only way for fans of the series to have any new adventures aboard the Enterprise.
I chose The Great Starship Race because of the title. How could you not love that concept? Basically it deals with a new race of aliens, the Rey, making contact with the galaxy at large. In order to bring all these various cultures to their world, they invite many of them to send representative ships to compete against one another in a great interstellar race.
Naturally, the Federation chooses to send their flagship, the U.S.S. Enterprise. But things take a dark turn when the Romulans crash the party and demand entry into the race. Basically the Romulans think there’s something devious going on because, well, that’s what they would do if they were in the Rey’s position. It doesn’t take long for things to get ugly, and the race turns into a deadly game of cat and mouse for Kirk and company.
Author Diane Carey does a fine job writing in the Star Trek universe. In fact, because of that book I had gone out and bought a few more Star Trek novels to read soon after. Most felt like they could have easily been another episode in the series. I could practically hear the opening theme music as I took a break from the introductions.
The problem with such books is that deep down inside you know nothing really matters. You know the Enterprise isn’t going to be destroyed and the only people in any real danger are those who haven’t appeared on the show. The aliens introduced were interesting, having an empathic ability derived as a form of self-defense (they’re described as having evolved from a prey species, rather than predators like us). But you know you’re never going to see the Rey again anywhere, ever. Granted, this was often true of the TV show as well, but that’s beside the point.
It’s sometimes hard to feel like these books share the same space with the regular series. They’re more like “what ifs”. To give the Star Wars Expanded Universe credit, things felt more interconnected and less stand alone. Characters grew up and things around them changed significantly. Hell, they even had the guts to kill off Chewbacca. Granted, they did in the stupidest way humanly possible, but it still took guts to pull that trigger.
Of course, that whole timeline is now one big “what if”, so…
I don’t know if the Star Trek books interconnected much at all, because there are just so many of them over such a long period of time. But from what I saw and read, it felt like they hit the reset button at the end like every episode of The Simpsons. And much like the Simpsons, I quickly got to the point where I just stopped caring.