When I was a preteen, I went through phases of channeling my latency into obsessively collecting a variety of things. Lego, comic books, basketball cards, each had a phase of three or so months in which I spent all my energy on it, before moving on to the next thing. And one of those collections was of Star Trek novels. The owners of the Star Trek franchise turned these out in great quantity (and continue to do to this day). Most of the books were numbered. Often, when you are reading a book with the name of a TV show and a number attached, it might not be great literature.

Much like Star Trek in all its incarnations, the books were meant to be the sort of entertainment that was just thought provoking enough to be one grade above pulp. Or at least that was the median: some fell below that standard, and some were above it. Despite the fact that these novels were printed in such great quantity that they are easy to find in even the most decrepit of thrift stores. I have resisted the urge to return to my adolescent ways and read these books, because I know that once I do, I will quickly knuckle under the urge to read books where I know who the characters are, and what they will do, and that I can finish in a few hours. At least, I resisted until earlier this week, when I bought one of these novels at a Goodwill, in preparation for a long trip by Greyhound bus.

All of this is an introduction to how I reread the 36th Star Trek novel in the series, entitled "How Much for just the Planet?", written by John Ford. I remembered this book from when I was a preteen, and remembered it being very funny and witty. I later found out that the book apparently had a cameo by Neil Gaiman, which moves it into the type of low-geek culture associated with Star Trek, into the high-geek culture associated with Neil Gaiman. So one of my goals in reading it was to see whether it was actually full of real humor, or whether it just seemed to be so to a preteen Star Trek fan (who aren't the epitomes of judgment when it comes to what constitutes sophisticated humor).

ANYWAY! The book's plot involves the Federation (represented, of course, by the crew of the Enterprise) and the Klingons both discovering a planet with a great store of Dilithium Crystals. Both try to set their case as the best stewards and developers of these resources to the inhabitants of the world, who are non-federation humans. Both sides set about their diplomatic mission with the utmost seriousness, but the inhabitants of the world have their own plan. They set out to subvert and divert the Enterprise crew, along with the Klingons, into a series of slapstick adventures, so as to help them learn the limits of their power...and to learn the lesson of teamwork. And yes, it is as ridiculous and corny as it sounds, but it is actually as witty and funny as I remember it. Like any series novel, most of the appeal comes from the familiarity with the characters (which for some fans, becomes an affection bordering or transgressing on disturbing). Ford takes the familiar characters, and manages to play them for laughs, while still maintaining the distinct Star Trek feeling. And of course, there is indeed a cameo appearance by Neil Gaiman.

All in all, this is half of what would be expected from a Star Trek novel, and half something innovative and interesting. Despite the fact that it fails to achieve strategic transcendence in the field of Star Trek novelizations, it will probably still tempt me into breaking my iron resolve not to become an obsessive collector of these books, once again.

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