After James Blish’s adaptation of most of the original Star Trek episodes and the first published original novel, “Spock Must Die!”, Star Trek novels entered an interesting era. Many of the books that made it to the market were one step removed from glorified fan-fiction.
But as publishing rights were shifting to Pocket Books with the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, one glimmer of respectability hit shelves with David Gerrold adapting his initial story pitch for the original series for the printed page. The result was “The Galactic Whirlpool.”
I read “The Galactic Whirlpool” during my intensive Trek novel phase during my teenage years. The only thing I recalled about it was the opening featuring Kirk reflecting on the nature of his middle name and what that means about his character.
Picking up it close to three decades later, I was struck by how my memory had confabulated this sequence a bit and how little else I recalled about the novel as a whole.
Given that Gerrold was part of the writing team for the original series, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s got a good grasp on writing for the regular crew – and that he even brings in a few recurring characters as well, including Lt. Kevin Riley who was seen twice in season one and then vanished off-screen. (I guess if you take over the engineering section and demand ice cream for dinner, Kirk takes a dim view of things).
The Enterprise encounters a large vessel in the depths of space on a course for destruction between two interstellar phenomena. Once the crew has entered the ship, they find a group of colonists that left Earth a long time ago, divided into factions. Can Kirk and company convince them they need help before a course change is too late and their ship is destroyed?
Gerrold originally conceived this story as a two-part episode for the original series. In a lot of ways, this one feels a bit like an early episode of TNG, with an emphasis on Kirk getting all the information from his crew before he makes a decision. There’s even a memorable if lengthy, chapter in which the Enterprise librarian gets to offer his discourse on the colony and exposition dump a lot of useful information to the crew.
The first half of the novel is the more compelling with the second half not quite resonating as well. I appreciate Riley coming on the scene, but his interaction with a colony member brought over and then returned to the ship starts to get a bit tedious in the later pages. Kirk and company are kept off-stage (there’s a Klingon warbird hovering in the sector, requiring Kirk to stay on the bridge) in the second half, and the novel loses a bit of its momentum.
Re-reading “The Galactic Whirlpool,” I was impressed by the patience and attention to detail Gerrold shows. Many of the Trek novels can descend into being pure action and while there is plenty of action to spare, a lot of what appeals about classic Trek is on full display here. I also found it interesting to get the perspective of a guy who worked with some of the creative minds behind TOS in crafting a Trek novel.
Is this a perfect book? Nah.
But it’s a fun tie-in and one of those stories that probably would have been better on-screen than most of what we got in season three.