I just finished listening to this novelization of the new movie by Alan Dean Foster, read by Alice Eve (actress that plays Carol Marcus in the movie), and I really didn’t like it. I mean a lot. Here’s why.
The thing I’ve liked about Foster’s novelizations, going back to his Star Trek Log books, which remain some of my all time favorites, is that he sketches in lots of extra detail. Extra facts, extra dialogue, extra detail, all of which is very interesting when you’re reading it, and going fairly quickly.
The problem is that when it’s a fast-paced movie, which you’ve seen, the book drags by horribly slow. And it’s worse than that – although the same action is taking place on the page, characters are engaging in extended repartee and observations when it’s completely inappropriate and unrealistic. When lives are at stake and seconds count, Spock would not stop to express his opinion on a human characteristic. Yet that happens over and over, and even when the action is only in their head, it’s excruciating to listen to it read. I’d probably like it a lot better reading it. Also, Foster takes time to try to plug plot holes as he goes through, but all that does is highlight the plot hole – not fill it. It’s helpful, but usually unsatisfying.
And some of the discussion is just not worthy of a Trek novel – the book goes into an extended riff on the importance of the captain’s chair as a metaphor for leadership, but takes it to a silly extreme. For example, Sulu is afraid to sit in “the chair” when he needs to fill in, and verbally says as much. I don’t think that was in the movie, and I disagree with Foster’s decision to highlight it. It was inconsistent with Sulu’s character and, frankly, with the job of a naval officer. By that point in his career he would have stood watch in the chair repeatedly – it wouldn’t be magical, and he certainly would not be afraid it. Uhura is similarly ill-used by having her whine about her man in the open, failing in some cases to recognize that this is a dangerous job, and her boyfriend just might get killed, and she shouldn’t get quite so overtly upset about it. In the movie she plays it low key, and it works, In the book it’s a soap opera and about as believable. Again, she might think this, but she would never say it.
To me that underscored just how out of whack this Trek universe can get in terms of its leadership. Neither Kirk nor Uhura not McCoy graduated from Starfleet, and after a demotion Kirk is dropped not to commander but back to the Academy as a student – then zings back up to first officer, Sulu has one cruise on a starship bridge (it’s unclear whether he’s been on a ship before Enterprise last movie)Scotty’s background is unclear – but he’s instantly chief engineer and when he leaves they toss it to 17-18 year old Chekhov. What, no other senior engineering staff – you trhow the navigator down there? Whiz kid – I get that, but it’s odd this universe has one admiral, one captain, one commander and half a dozen college kids – and that’s it. Only Spock has apparently earned commander rank through actual service. Now all these people with no experience – and I mean none – are running things, and when they need replacing (as they often do) there are no senior officers under them to take their place.
The reason I point this out is that it becomes increasingly unclear how the chain of command works in this outfit, and what credibility this Jim Kirk has. It looks more and more like the cast of Friends on a starship, with no one bringing any experience to their position, Kirk the most notable. The decision to start Kirk out at the Academy and then accelerate him from student to first officer, to captain of StarFleet’s flagship in a day was always one that strained credulity in the first movie, but bouncing him around here, and making it look like there’s no alternative but Spock started getting old. Not that I disliked the movie or the plot – it’s just that when exposed in book form, it starts to come apart. Kirk just has no credibility as a senior officer the way Foster presents it. (It also makes me see that the movie similarly struck a false note when Kirk is “sent back to the Academy” after demotion. It implied he was resuming his career as a student and didn’t take the opportunity to put a floor of experience under him. Demoting him directly to captain of a smaller ship, or first officer, and then having Pike bring him back as first officer on his ship would have made more sense, and made him a little more credible as a leader. Instead he heads back to the frat house, then is back at the top of the heap in a day.
All that having ben said, Eve is not my favorite narrator – an English accent narrating Star Trek is a novelty, but she adopts the right accents for the characters. But I found her Admiral Marcus over the top, and her John Harrison was uniformly a parody of Benedict Cumberbatch. I don’t know why she went to over the top on them, especially Harrison. I also had problems with her voice getting too soft for an audiobook, where (in the truck) I have a lot of ambient noise, but that’s a minor detail.
Can’t wait for the movie to come out on digital. I enjoyed it far better than the audiobook.