Thursday 4 December 2014

Star Trek: The Joy Machine - James Gunn & Theodore Sturgeon

Title: The Joy Machine
Author: James Gunn & Theodore Sturgeon
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1996
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon UK

“The Joy Machine” is a Star Trek Original Series novel written by James Gunn based on a story outline written by Theodore Sturgeon. Whilst two of Sturgeon’s outlines got converted into actual episodes, namely “Amok Time” & “Shore Leave” this one didn’t make it and therefore this novel is the only way to actually discover the story.

The story follows the crew of the Enterprise who have been sent to the vacation planet Timshel to find out why the planet has quarantined itself & why two previous Federation investigative teams stopped communicating. Upon arrival, Kirk discovers that the people are under the control of a machine known as the Joy Machine which allows the residents to experience pure pleasure as payment for conducting various mundane tasks. This results in a form of severe social stagnation and the crew of the Enterprise soon realise that if this spreads beyond the planet it could spell the end for the Federation.

This plot is actually rather interesting and does feel like a classic TOS episode with it taking a look at how a perfect world for humans actually results in the loss of drive and exploration which could lead to stagnation and potentially worse. However it is probably stretched out a little bit too much in novel form and I do feel it would have worked much better as an hour long TV episode. I found myself getting a little bit bored at times as it felt a little bit padded which resulted in a rather slow pace. I actually think this may have worked better as a short story as the limited length may have helped to make it feel more like the TV episode it was originally planned to be.

The novel is also very Kirk centric which I actually didn’t mind as most of the other Star Trek novels I have read recently weren’t in this mould. If you are a lover of Kirk then I am sure you will thoroughly enjoy this but you shouldn’t expect to see much from the other characters who tend to fade into the background, especially the original ones who I found to be very underwhelming.

Overall this is a rather average Trek novel which does a good job in capturing the mood of the original series although it does feel a little bit bloated by the conversion from Episode outline to full blown novel. It was quite fun to visualise what could have been if the story had become an episode but beyond that I don’t think it was anything special. In addition the Kirk centric nature of the story could put some people off. However, if you can’t get enough everyone’s favourite Starship captain then I think you will enjoy this novel despite the minor issues I have mentioned.

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