I’m something of a “spoken word junkie.” Radio dramas, podcasts, stand-up comedy, and audiobooks, for example. I think I have more of that sort of thing on my iPod than I do music. Audiobooks are great for long drives, but I’ve been known just to have one going whenever I drive around town. Being a big ol’ Trekkie, it stands to reason that I’ve heard my share of Star Trek audiobooks. Thankfully, several of my favorite novels were among those picked for translation to this format.
If you’re in the mood to listen to somebody reading you a Star Trek story, I think you could do worse than to stick one of these titles in your ears. Listed here in order of publication:
Strangers from the Sky (1987) – written by Margaret Wander Bonanno, read by George Takei with Leonard Nimoy as Spock – This was the first original Pocket Books Star Trek novel to receive the audiobook adaptation treatment, telling the “secret history” of the first contact between humans and Vulcans decades before the “official,” publicly-recognized event. Takei’s reading is solid, and he’s able to affect a range of accents and inflections in order to bring Bonanno’s words to life. Nimoy’s contributions come in the form of personal reflections on the story at key points as told from Spock’s point of view, supplementing Takei’s reading the rest of the book. It’s a device which eventually would fall out of use, with most future audiobooks performed by a single narrator.
Prime Directive (1990) – written by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, read by James Doohan – When it appears that Captain Kirk and his crew have violated the Prime Directive and in doing so destroyed a civilization, the dishonored officers set out to prove their innocence. James Doohan is able to provide the perfect balance between the book’s bold action sequences, the quieter and more contemplative character moments, and the rollercoaster of emotions as Kirk and his crew bear witness to the utter destruction their actions appear to have unleashed. Prime Directive is one of the best examples of a very cherished subset of Star Trek novels, in that it offers up the sort of storyline that almost demands to be seen on the biggest movie screen you can find. It’s a true classic, penned by two of the strongest writers ever to contribute to the franchise in any medium.
Q-In-Law (1992) – written by Peter David, read by Majel Barrett and John de Lancie – The Enterprise has been tasked to serve as the venue for a wedding designed to bring together to rival factions of a Federation ally. Hilarity ensues, particularly when Lwaxana Troi arrives as part of the Betazoid wedding delegation, ready to put The Moves to Picard. Then Q shows up, ready to put The Moves on her -- to include giving her “Q powers.” Peter David delivers a story that’s heavy on the humor, and there are sequences in the audio retelling when Barrett and DeLancie are in full-on “Lwaxana and Q” mode, that are laugh-out-loud funny.
Federation (1994) – written by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, read by Mark Lenard – Before Star Trek Generations, this was the ultimate crossover between Kirk’s and Picard’s respective starships Enterprise. We also get a nice fleshing out to the character of Zefram Cochrane, inventor of warp drive (at least, for humans), in a backstory which will end up being quite different from the history established for him two years later in Star Trek: First Contact. Mark Lenard’s gravitas and stage presence are just as effective behind a microphone as they are before a camera, though some of the accents and changes in pitch he employs for various characters don’t work as well as others. Almost twenty years after its publication, this remains one of my favorite Star Trek stories, and an oft-selected listen for long drives.
The Ashes of Eden (1995) – written by William Shatner with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, read by William Shatner – After the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country but before the “prologue” of Star Trek Generations, Captain Kirk was retired. Does he take up shuffleboard or Bingo? Oh, no. Kirk’s idea of retirement seems to involve uncovering secrets on a far-flung world which might shatter the tenuous peace between the Federation and the Klingons. What could possibly go wrong? This was the first of (to date) ten novels comprising what fans call “the Shatnerverse” subset of Star Trek novels, the first nine of which were adapted for a audio and narrated by Shatner. Let’s face it: nobody “reads” Kirk better than William Shatner.
Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1996) – written and read by Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman – This is a firsthand look into the development and production of the original series, told by two men who were there from The Beginning. Along with Roddenberry, Solow and Justman (and Gene Coon, who doesn’t always get the credit owed him, and deserves his own comprehensive biography, dagnabbit) more than any other people can be credited with so much of what many consider the series’ and even the entire franchise’s bedrock principles. While not without a few flaws here and there, it’s a treasure trove for fans of the show that started it all. The narration by Solow and Justman, delivered with a casual, conversational approach, almost makes up for a truly brutal abridgment of the actual book.
The Eugenics Wars, Volumes I and II (2001, 2002) – written by Greg Cox, read by Anthony Stewart Head (Volume I) and Rene Auberjonois (Volume II) – This is Pocket Books’ attempt to blend late 20th century real-world events with fictional occurrences as conveyed in the various Star Trek series. It’s an effort that largely succeeds, due in no small part to the fact that author Cox obviously had way, way too much fun bringing it all together. The story is brutally abridged for the sake of the audiobook format, but remains effective enough in its presentation. I’m a sucker for Gary Seven and the whole “Assignment: Earth” shtick, though I admit the concept is more intriguing than the execution of the original episode. Of all the Roddenberry properties that have been fleshed out from half-completed outlines and pilot scripts over the years, I’m surprised no one’s attempted this one yet, even if it had to be wholly separate from the Star Trek universe.
Star Trek (2009) – An unabridged presentation of Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of the new film’s screenplay, Star Trek clocks in at more than eight hours. It also offers new context to several scenes which either were trimmed or removed altogether in order to maintain the film’s breakneck pacing. Zachary Quinto shoulders the reading duties, more than compensating for the notable lack of music and sound effects which were hallmarks of many previous Star Trek audiobooks. Quinto effortlessly balances his delivery between the various action sequences, deft expression of the tragedy and utter loss inflicted upon various characters, and even the welcome relief evoked by the humor sprinkled liberally throughout the story. Affecting a variety of accents and variations in tone and delivery, Quinto provides listeners a unique aural identity for each of the characters, no matter the size of their role.
Okay, that’s my ten. As always is the case with these columns of mine, this isn’t intended to be a “best of” list, so who’s got their own list of favorites?
The Ten for Ward backlist:
“Ten Star Trek Gifts from Holidays Past” – December 2012
“Ten Star Trek Novels the ‘Canon’ Passed Over” – August 2012
“Ten Star Trek Historical Events Which Should’ve Happened by Now” – February 2012
“Ten Favorite Star Trek Games” – November 2011
“Ten Favorite ‘Classic’ Star Trek Comics” – September 2011
“Ten Favorite ‘Old’ Star Trek Books” – June 2011
Dayton Ward is the author or co-author of numerous novels and short stories, including a whole bunch of stuff set in the Star Trek universe, and often working with friend and co-writer Kevin Dilmore. He’s also written (or co-written) for Star Trek Communicator, Star Trek Magazine, Syfy.com, and Tor.com, and is a monthly contributor to the Novel Spaces writers blog. As he is still a big ol’ geek at heart, Dayton is known to wax nostalgic about all manner of Star Trek topics over on his own blog, The Fog of Ward: http://daytonward.wordpress.com.