It’s a common sentiment, at least among those fans who read and keep up with the various Star Trek novels: “<insert book title here> would make a great movie!”
(Personally, I think we could probably convince at least some of those fans who don’t read the novels that this is a neat idea. Maybe we can work on that a bit here.)
For those who aren’t yet dialed in to this particular corner of the Trek franchise, there are at present, conservatively speaking, something like eleventy bazillion* Trek novels in existence, along with adaptations of films and television episodes. There are also a commensurate number of Trek comic books out there.
(* = Perhaps a slight exaggeration.)
All of this stuff has been published in near-continuous fashion since TOS was still in production back in the late 1960s. Many a dedicated fan count novels and comics among their all-time favorite Trek stories, listing them in equal measure alongside films and TV episodes. I’m certainly one of those people. I still hold up books and comics dating back decades as great examples of Trek’s finest storytelling.
It stands to reason that with all the Trek films and series we’ve had these past 50-odd years, at least some of those adventures might be considered strong enough to make the leap from printed or comics page to the big (or small) screen. Can’t just be me, right?
Turns out, it wasn’t.
Just for fun, I conducted an informal survey on my Facebook page, asking readers which Trek novels they thought made tasty film fodder. Naturally, I had to add a twist: The novel in question would (theoretically) be adapted as a story featuring the Enterprise crew as featured in the most recent films.
While many of the answers were in line with what I’d suggest if asked such a question, there were a few surprises. This, of course, made things a lot more fun for me as I compiled my final list for presentation here.
So, without further ado, here are 10 Star Trek novels that might make good movies:
Doctor’s Orders, by Diane Duane (June 1990) – There are surprisingly few Trek tales in which Dr. McCoy is the main character. Of course, he’s present; almost always getting into trouble alongside Kirk and Spock, but only on rare occasions does he command the spotlight. Doctor’s Orders is one such example, with Kirk leaving McCoy in command of the Enterprise while he’s away tending to diplomatic functions. Naturally, the situation gets complicated when Kirk disappears, and that’s before Klingons show up. Then, things get even crazier. For my money, a story like this would be perfect for Karl Urban to go hog wild with his McCoy portrayal, which many fans consider a highlight of the re-imagined Trek films.
The Entropy Effect, by Vonda N. McIntyre (June 1981) – A physicist is accused of killing 10 people he claims to have transported back in time. When he kills Kirk on the Enterprise bridge, it’s Spock who realizes a future version of the physicist is responsible and executes a daring plan to travel back and prevent Kirk’s murder. Nearly 40 years after its initial publication, Pocket Books’ first original Trek novel remains one of its best. McIntyre would go on to write another original Trek novel, Enterprise: The First Adventure, as well as novelizations for the second third and fourth Trek films.
Federation, by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (November 1994) – Despite having its version of Zefram Cochrane and his invention of warp drive superceded by Star Trek: First Contact, this first “literary crossover” between two Trek crews remains a fan favorite. The Reeves-Stevens writing duo has long been cheered for their ability to connect with loving care various dots within the Trek franchise, and that’s on full display here with a century-spanning tale that stretches from war-torn 21st century Earth to the time of Kirk’s five-year mission and on to Picard’s command of the Enterprise on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Of course, a film adaptation requires the TNG crew to make it work. Hmm.......
The Galactic Whirlpool, by David Gerrold (October 1980) -- Because you can’t make a list like this without tipping your hat to the original line-up of Trek novels from the 1970s. Way, way out at the galaxy’s edge, the Enterprise finds the Wanderer, a colony vessel from the days long before warp drive. Written by the creator of the Tribbles and their various troubles himself, Mr. Gerrold’s book is generally considered the best of Bantam’s Trek novels, and the storyline of Kirk and the Enterprise trying to save the wayward colony ship from the forces of the dual singularity is big and brassy enough to make for a perfect film featuring the Kelvin timeline crew.
My Enemy, My Ally, by Diane Duane (July 1984) – Duane appears four times on this list, and with good reason: Her name on the cover means you’re getting a grand tale in the finest Trek tradition, and this is no exception. The first of her “Rihannsu novels” offers a version of the Romulans and their culture beloved by many a Trek novel reader. Aside from Nero and his crew in the 2009 Trek film, the Romulans have gotten short shrift in the newer films, and a rich, character-based story like this might be the perfect vehicle for taking a deeper look at this popular Trek alien race.
Prime Directive, by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (September 1990) – After the Enterprise is caught up in a planetary war on Talin IV and accidentally initiates a global calamity, Kirk and his senior officers are drummed out of Starfleet. When it becomes obvious not all is what it seems on the planet, Kirk and crew work to clear their names and render aid to the Talin people. The Reeves-Stevens have a knack for weaving grand Trek tales, and Prime Directive is a perfect example of a standalone epic that’s perfect for adaptation to the silver screen.
Sight Unseen, by James Swallow (October 2015) – The list’s lone title that doesn’t come from the vast array of TOS-based novels. Instead, this is an entry from Titan, a “spin-off” series featuring Will Riker commanding the U.S.S. Titan, as indicated by revelations made in Star Trek Nemesis. That said, it’s very much a classic Trek in the best tradition of TOS, dressed up with newer uniforms and technology as Riker and the Titan crew encounter an alien race making its initial attempts at faster-than-light travel. Things go horribly wrong, of course. Though it’d require retooling to account for elements specific to Riker’s backstory, Sight Unseen is a strong example of a Trek tale which could successfully be adapted from one series to another.
Troublesome Minds, by Dave Galanter (June 2009) – An encounter with an ostracized member of a newly discovered telepathic alien race naturally presents problems for Kirk and the Enterprise crew, Spock in particular. Troublesome Minds is a great character piece filled to overflowing with moral and ethical dilemmas with no easy answers. It provides plenty of meat for the current film cast, especially Zachary Quinto as Spock, to really take a deep dive into their roles.
The Wounded Sky, by Diane Duane (December 1983) – A new, experimental propulsion system sends the Enterprise on a journey outside our universe and beyond the limits of understanding. That’s just for starters, as Kirk and crew find themselves struggling to repair the damage they’ve caused even while making first contact with a wondrous new alien race. Like The Entropy Effect, The Wounded Sky is an early Pocket Books offering that remains popular with fans decades after its original publication. It’d later inform a story Duane wrote with Michael Reaves for TNG’s first season, “Where No One Has Gone Before.”
Yesterday’s Son, by Ann C. Crispin (August 1983) – Spock discovers that he had a son in the form of Zar, the product of his relationship with Zarabeth while he and McCoy were trapped 5,000 years in the past of the now-destroyed planet Sarpeidon (TOS episode “All Our Yesterdays”). Using the Guardian of Forever, Spock journeys with Kirk and McCoy into the past and finds Zar as a young adult. Zarabeth is dead, but the Enterprise officers bring Zar with them back to the present, and both father and son must now forge a relationship. Written in an era before spin-off TV series and efforts to maintain a cohesive Trek continuity, Yesterday’s Son is a novel that began life as a story Crispin wrote for her own enjoyment and born out of her sheer love for Trek before making it to “the big time.” I still hold up this one as an excellent entry point to the ever-growing Trek fiction universe. It has all the ingredients you need to make a Trek movie that’s a nice character study while still possessing those action-adventure elements you want in a big-budget science fiction film.
And while it’s not part of my “official” list, I’m still adding it here for my own shameless satisfaction: 2013’s From History’s Shadow. I threw everything but the kitchen sink into this one: time travel, UFO conspiracy theories, early NASA space program stuff, sinister alien agents, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!
All right, that’s 10, though this certainly isn’t meant to be a definitive list. There were many great suggestions during the original discussion, which you can find by clicking on this link right here.
What do you think? Something I should’ve listed, but didn’t? What Trek novel do you want to see adapted for the big screen?
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Dayton Ward is the New York Times bestselling 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. As he’s still a big ol' geek at heart, Dayton is known to wax nostalgic about all manner of Trek topics over on his blog, The Fog of Ward.