Saturday, April 20, 2013

How Much for Just the Planet?

Star Trek #36: How Much for Just the Planet? by John M. Ford
Worlds Apart, Book Two
Published October 1987
Read December 13th 2012

Previous book (Worlds Apart): #16: The Final Reflection

Previous book (The Original Series): #35: The Romulan Way

Next book (The Original Series): #37: Bloodthirst

Click to purchase How Much for Just the Planet? from!

Spoilers ahead for How Much for Just the Planet?

From the back cover:
In crystalline form, the most valuable mineral in the galaxy. It powers the Federation's starships ... and the Klingon Empire's battlecruisers. Now on a small, out-of-the-way planet named Direidi, the greatest fortune in dilithium crystals ever seen has been found.
Under the terms of the Organian Peace Treaty, the planet will go to the side best able to develop the planet and its resources. Each side will contest the prize with the prime of its fleet. For the Federation--Captain James T. Kirk and the Starship Enterprise. For the Klingons--Captain Kaden Vestai-Opari and the Fire Blossom.
Only the Diredians are writing their own script for the contest--a script that propels the crew of the Enterprise into their strangest adventure yet!

Notable quote:

"Scott's eye was caught by an unusual constellation: a ring of stars haloing a distant peak. 'Look at that now. Doesn't it awe you a little? To think that there might be a higher power than us, arranging matters?'"
- Author John M. Ford and an interesting little "dig" at Paramount and its control over the Star Trek brand.

My thoughts:

Here we come to one of the true conundrums of Star Trek fiction. How Much for Just the Planet? was written by John M. Ford, author of a previous classic novel, arguably the best novel in the entire Star Trek library: The Final Reflection. In that novel, Ford examined the Klingon culture and presented an Empire that was rich in history and depth. While not the same Klingons we would later encounter in modern incarnations of Trek, the Klingons as envisaged by Ford were fascinating to say the least. Many fans were interested in a sequel to that earlier novel. To that end, How Much for Just the Planet? was written.

However, How Much for Just the Planet? is most decidedly NOT a sequel to The Final Reflection, at least not in the sense that many readers would have expected. I get the feeling that readers of this novel either love it or hate it. Simply put, How Much for Just the Planet? is Star Trek done in the style of musical comedy. The sheer number of absurd elements that Ford was able to work into the novel is mind-boggling. Everything from a pie fight to a giant inflatable starship, from Vulcan milkshake mishaps to Gilbert and Sullivan musical numbers, all is explored at some point in the pages of this novel. I will admit to actual, out-loud laughter while waiting in an airport terminal and reading one passage in particular, this one involving a Klingon captain finding that his foot is stuck in a toilet. Yes. That happens.

While Star Trek has done broad humour before, How Much
 for Just the Planet?
 is in a league all its own.
How Much for Just the Planet? plays with the reader's expectations about what Star Trek is and should be about. The text itself could be seen as somewhat subversive, and to that end, many fans I've talked to do not enjoy it. However, I cannot be counted among that number. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, and while my knowledge of musical theater is limited, I still appreciated many of the references and spoofs contained in its pages. The events in the novel are nothing less than laugh-out-loud hilarious. A weaker writer would not be able to pull this off, but Ford's talents are such that the reader is all too happy to go along on the ride. Some would criticize this novel for being "unrealistic" or "absurd." Well, yes, it is both of those things. But it works brilliantly. If one is willing to give this book the benefit of the doubt, it is a hell of a lot of fun to read. While Star Trek has never been a stranger to absurd humour (see: "The Trouble With Tribbles," "A Piece of the Action," "I, Mudd," et al), How Much for Just the Planet? takes it to dizzying new heights. And those fans who are willing to accompany the author on this romp are rewarded for it. In fact, this novel has gained such a following that conventions have actually organized performances of some of the musical numbers! While I have never had the pleasure of seeing one performed, I can only imagine the sheer amount of enjoyment to be gained from such an event.

Final thoughts:

Based on a cursory sample of online comments and reviews, How Much for Just the Planet? is a novel that tends to polarize the fan-base. However, love it or hate it, this novel is extremely well-written, and while it may not be the sequel to The Final Reflection we would have loved to see, it is a riotously amazing, laugh-out-loud novel that was a true pleasure to read. While Mr. Ford may not have written the novel that many fans initially wanted to see, satisfaction can be gained by witnessing the resulting alternative. Ford is able to exercise his singular talent as an author able to challenge the expectations of his readers. As a bonus, we got an incredibly entertaining work of art out of the deal. I call that a win.

The text of this review has been altered to reflect the fact that I was mistaken about some earlier assumptions about this novel. I had assumed, based on reading online reviews and material concerning How Much for Just the Planet?, that Paramount had nixed the idea of a sequel to The Final Reflection due to artistic differences. However, thanks to guidance from Star Trek author Christopher L. Bennett, I have learned that this was not the case. My review has been edited to reflect that fact.

More about How Much for Just the Planet?:

Also by John M. Ford:

My next read:

Chain of Attack by the late Gene DeWeese, an Original Series novel published in 1987. Coming soon!

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