© 1992 J.M. Dillard
Adapted from the movie, © 1991. Screenplay and story by Leonard Nimoy, Denny Martin, and Nicholas Meyer.
Some nights I ignore the bed for the floor, and a few mornings ago I awoke resting in front of one of my bookcases, having scattered some of its contents across the floor during the night. The Undiscovered Country was laying beneath my pillow, and I decided to see how J.M. Dillard treated my uncontested favorite trek movie. Dillard has done Trek movie novelizations before, to good effect, and my fondness for this movie saw me tuck in rather greedily . The Undiscovered Country is the last movie to feature the whole of the original-series cast, and it gave them a proper send-off with a topical plot, focusing strongly on the characters and providing viewers with adventure, action, mystery, humor, and meaningful reflection in bounds.
The plot, topical for the early 1990s when the Soviet Union had finally collapsed and put an end to the decades-old Cold War, is primarily one of politics. A devastating environmental disaster threatens to destroy the Klingon empire unless they divert their resources from the military, and thus end the long-running 'cold war' between themselves and the Federation. This is the perfect opportunity for two idealists (Spock and the new Klingon chancellor, Gorkon) to propose a radical initiative: peace. Spock volunteers his friend and captain James T. Kirk for the duty of escorting Gorkon to Earth to work toward peace and disarmament, but things go awry. There are those on both sides who balk at the idea of sudden change, and then Gorkon is assassinated at the hands of individuals in Starfleet uniforms, Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy are imprisoned. Spock must endeavor to unravel a conspiracy before the fragile opportunity for peace is destroyed.
Dillard is an old hand at Trek novelizations, and here she presents the story of The Undiscovered Country near-flawlessly, ironing out a few wrinkles from the movie and enriching the overall experience by fleshing out characters who the movie ignored for the sake of time and giving various scenes additional depth. While movies have to be expedient in choosing which characters to develop and which scenes to incorporate into the plot, a story in novel form is allowed to be more deliberate. The novel is supportive of the movie, allowing readers to see more into the story -- to see into Kirk's emotional conflict, as he struggles against bitter hatred against the Klingons who killed his son. Dillard also tells the story of the Klingon's point of view and puts the spotlight on Valeris, Spock's protégé and potential successor. Her background and point-of-view chapters make her an especially intriguing character to experience. I imagine it's a tricky thing to depict a conspiracy from the conspirator's point of view without giving too much of the plot away for the reader, but Dillard walks the line impressively: there's only one odd little inconsistency when a character appears to be oblivious to something he had to have known. This is scarcely noticeable overall, though, and I'd declare this novelization a triumph, fulfilling my high expectations.
Tor.com recently did a Star Trek movie marathon, featuring reviews and comments of the Trek movies by Trek authors. A.C. Crispin, author of Sarek, covers The Undiscovered Country here.