How Much for Just the Planet?
John M. Ford

reviewed by J. Richard Laredo

To quote the blurb: "Dilithium. 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-Oparai and the Fire Blossom. Only the Direidians are writing their own script for this contest--a script that propels the crew of the Enterprise into their strangest adventure yet!"

Most blurbs are inaccurate, making more of a novel than what actually happens within the pages. This blurb is a rarity in that it is a definite disservice, in no way preparing for the delight within. This is a madcap, screwball comedy. It, to use a word that I don't think I have ever used before, rollicks. The reader is warned of what will be going on even from the chapter titles (unfortunately, while the fun-poking of some of the titles are obvious, as "In Space, No One Can Fry an Egg" is, others, such as Ford's reference to one of his own stories with "The Dilithium Crystal as Big as the Ritz," are less so.)

To detail everything funny in this novel is impossible in the course of this review. To say that is begins with electric blue orange juice and ends with a Three Stooges routine might give a vague idea of what does happen. But it has been said that writing deadly serious comedy is as difficult as deadly serious drama, and the very small sub-genre of science fiction slapstick probably even more difficult with Ron Goulart and Douglas Adams being, arguably, the only two true masters. And there are several examples where, although appropriate for visual slapstick but inappropriate for reading since with works there is time to think about what is going on, Ford demonstrates that he isn't quite up to greatness.

For one thing, the Federation officers and the Klingon officers get along too well too quickly. Ford had tried to show a kind of similarity between the crews by introducing each in the midst of computer problems, but this camaraderie seems artificial since each does not know of the other's problem. And the Klingons don't behave as expected, out of character from the precepts Ford extrapolated upon in his Final Reflection (with one of the Klingons acting completely Human--maybe he borrowed Konom from the Star Trek comic?)

Then there are the songs. (Did I mention that this was a screw-ball musical comedy?) Some of the lyrics Ford has written fit with obvious tunes. But many of the others are in such a common iambic meter that they could have been sung with virtually any tune, which sabotages Ford's intent. Footnotes would have been helpful.

And there is the explanation of the physical properties of dilithium: contradictions abound. If dilithium's reactions to energy is dependent-upon when, then dilithium is a nearly perfect insulator, very inappropriate as a baking dish. And Sulu's scouting party would not have had to worry about firing upon the pirates who were using shields made from dilithium: besides, the simple expediency would have been to fire at the ground in front of their mounts--flying rock makes adequate shrapnel.

But the book is funny, very funny. Without being sarcastic, Ford has poked gentle and loving fun at some of the facets that many fans take seriously, maybe too seriously. And, even though Kirk tends to behave more like Shatner did in the Blooper reels, I can't help but hold my sides and give this novel a Warp 7.

main.gif (11611 bytes)

Free counters provided by Andale.

banner.gif (754 bytes)

Click here to return to the Star Trek novels page.
Click here to return to the Main Index Page.