Myriad Universes: Alan Dean Foster and Ballantine Star Trek

What’s the most immediately interesting about Alan Dean Foster’s Star Trek Logs novelizations of the Animated Series for Ballantine Books from my perspective is how neatly they fit into Star Trek’s own evolving and shifting position in culture during this period.

When we talked about James Blish, I mentioned that the choice of having him novelize the Original Series was indicative of Star Trek’s at-the-time tentative connection to Golden Age science fiction. While his novelizations seemed marketed to the Hard SF crowd (and certainly looked the part), there was always a lingering uncertainty that this was what Star Trek really was and that these were the sort of people it should be exclusively marketed towards. This was embodied in Blish himself though his paradoxical and counterintuitive connection with the sci-fi writers’ group the Futurians, who bizarrely seemed to think they could bring about a Trotskyist revolution by going through Pfizer and Boeing. Blish and the Futurians, like Star Trek itself, were compelled equally by both extremely right-wing and extremely left-wing forces.

Alan Dean Foster however, is a different breed of writer altogether. In fact, it could be argued he stands right at the precipice of the point where New Age science fiction, Forteana and fantasy meld into the blockbuster giant of a genre we’re familiar with today. Foster’s major sci-fi work, and probably what got him the gig in the first place, is the Humanx Collective, a constructed, self-contained universe of stories about a progressive representative democracy encompassing multiple planetary civilizations of which humanity is a member, so I wonder where we’ve heard that before. The primary difference between the Humanx Collective and the Federation, however, is that the former body is in many ways defined by its two founding members, humanity and the Thranx, an insectoid people, and this relationship is a symbiotic one. As a result, there’s a lot more cultural diffusion in Foster’s stories than in Star Trek, and this allows for a depiction of how cultures morph and grow over time as they interact with each other.

Foster’s also something of a message writer, and a lot of his stories have a very strong environmentalist bent to them. Unlike someone like Gene Roddenberry though (or André Franquin for that matter), Foster doesn’t tend to have his protagonists come sailing in to tell all the Bad Polluters what they’re doing wrong, but instead demonstrates how a lack of respect for nature will ultimately lead to the undoing of any people who foolishly make the mistake of selfishly exploiting their environment. Apart from just being a message I can’t find any fault with, this also puts Foster very firmly into the tradition and concerns of the environmental age, which is quite fitting for 1974 and 1975. What’s also great about Foster’s staunch environmentalism is how it demonstrates so effortlessly that science fiction, and in particular science fiction about space travel, can remain relevant without relying on being propaganda for massive state-sponsored displays of Cold War imperialism. It’s a closing argument for our “Space Oddity” concern that our stories of space travel are doomed to become relics of the 1950s.…

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