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Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country by J.M. Dillard (Review)

This June, we’re taking a look at some classic Star Trek movie tie-ins. Check back daily for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

Reading her novelisation of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, it’s hard to shake the feeling that author J.M. Dillard really does not like this film.

It’s a very peculiar sensation, to read an adaptation clearly written by somebody who could not care less for the source material. It is not unique, of course. Diane Carey’s adaptation of Broken Bow is downright scathing in its attitude towards Star Trek: Enterprise. It just seems rather strange that J.M. Dillard’s early adaptation of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier seems a lot fonder of its source material.

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Star Trek V: The Final Frontier by J.M. Dillard (Review)

This June, we’re taking a look at some classic Star Trek movie tie-ins. Check back daily for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

In many respects, J.M. Dillard is a safe pair of hands.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was released at a point where Star Trek was shifting. Star Trek: The Next Generation had returned the franchise to prime time television after an absence of almost two decades and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home had been an unqualified box office success. Gene Roddenberry was welcome back at Paramount after parting ways following the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, even if the production of Star Trek: The Next Generation was already slipping through his fingers.

There was a much tighter editorial approach to tie-ins and to spin-offs. Whereas the writers of the early Pocket Books novels and DC comics had been given considerable freedom, that freedom was being reigned in around the release of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The monthly comics series was launched with any elements not matching the “on message” approach to the franchise scrubbed out. All the original characters were gone. All the references to Star Trek: The Animated Series were gone.

The shift at Pocket Books was also palpable. Authors were suddenly getting asked to do ridiculous re-writes, or simply having their own material re-written at will. Margaret Wander Bonanno’s much-mangled Music of the Spheres is perhaps the most infamous example, going through several different ghost writers before finally being released as Probe, a book that Bonanno has relentlessly disavowed. Publishing Star Trek tie-ins was more like making sausages than it ever had been before.

So, in this context, it makes sense that author Vonda N. McIntyre would not return to do the novelisation of The Final Frontier. Her adaptations of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home were clever and thoughtful stories that built freely off the source material, finding room for asides and tangents that were not possible on film. Her novelisation of The Search for Spock hits the movie’s opening scene almost a third of the way into the book.

As such, McIntyre’s unique style was unlikely to be a comfortable fit for this new tie-in environment. J.M. Dillard, on the other hand, would be.

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