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Tuesday
Oct252011

How Much for Just the Planet? (Book Review)

by T’Laina Ariennye

Prized by all post-warp societies, dilithium is the mineral that runs the galaxy. If it were not for dilithium crystals, we would have no Federation and no Klingon Empire as we know them. And if it were not for dilithium, we would not have the Federation-Klingon power struggles in TOS, or in John M. Ford’s novel How Much for Just the Planet?

How Much for Just the Planet? starts out as just a typical day on the Enterprise. Kirk has been instructed by Starfleet to try out a new inflatable starship, meant for target practice. A Klingon ship, the Fire Blossom, is also having a typical—albeit boring—day. At the same time, a small Federation resource exploratory vessel, the Jefferson Randolf Smith, and its three crew members discover an enormous amount of dilithium on the planet Direidi. After the dilithium is discovered, Kirk and Kaden (the Klingon captain of the Fire Blossom) both are sent by their respective governments to claim rights to the dilithium. In the past, Federation and Klingon crews would have battled for rights to the planet, but because of the Organian Peace Treaty, the two are forced to find other means of laying claim to the planet’s precious resources.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Organian Peace Treaty, or as it is more formally known, the Treaty of Organia, this is a reference back to the TOS episode “Errand of Mercy,” in which Kirk and the Klingon Kor both attempt to lay claim to the planet of Organia and the seemingly ignorant Organian people. Instead, Kirk and Kor sign the Organian Peace Treaty, officially ending the Federation-Klingon War, though it wasn’t until the Khitomer Accords that the Federation and Klingons became allies. Essentially, as How Much for Just the Planet? puts it, the Organian Peace Treaty says, “don’t get grabby or you’ll get your fingers burned.”

So instead of opening fire on each other, Kirk beams down with a landing party to Direidi to try to work out an agreement with the Direidians before the Klingons are able to. Immediately, they are greeted by a crowd of locals who—wait for it—sing to the newcomers. After the enthusiastic greeting by the townspeople, a man by the name of Flyter shows up to give Kirk and his landing party a more official welcome, as well as the Klingons who, by this time, have beamed down to the planet as well.

The song sung by the crowd was just the first of many songs sung by the Direidians. Yes, How Much for Just the Planet? is a musical of grand proportions. In addition to the strange singing townspeople, everyone from Kirk and Kaden’s crews (including Kirk and Kaden themselves) get drawn into zany adventures that only seem fit for a storybook. Even the crew of the Smith—the ones who discovered the dilithium to begin with—become involved in the excitement.

These adventures continue on until both Kirk, Kaden, and their crews are about to pull their hair out and scream. And that was when pie started flying. Instead of a fistfight, or a swordfight, Kirk, Kaden, and their crews had a pie-tossing fight. It is then that Flyter appears along with his assistant Estervy, looking quite pleased with himself.

During their stay, both the Federation and the Klingons were both subjected to what Flyter calls “Plan C,” as in “Plan Comedy.” The Direidi, knowing that the Federation and the Klingons both wanted the dilithium badly, hoped to lighten the hostility between the two by writing out bizarre stories for the crews to be a part of, and thereby making the Federation and Klingons agreeable to sharing the dilithium of the planet.

What I found just as interesting as the story were the things I learned about the book as a whole. The first thing I noticed was in the acknowledgements. Ford dedicates the book to “its Special Guest Stars… Pamela [Dean]… Diane [Duane] and Peter [Morwood], Janet [Kagan], and Neil [Gaiman].” First off, let me point out that these are all authors in the world of SF, and several are notable authors in the Star Trek non-canon fiction works (Diane Duane, Peter Morwood, and Janet Kagan). All of the people listed, in fact, have small cameo roles in the story:

  • Diane Duane as Princess DeeDee the First
  • Peter Morwood as Pete Blackwood
  • Neil Gaiman as Lien the Magian
  • Pamela Dean as Pam
  • Janet Kagan as Janeka

There is also a nod to Ann Crispin, also a notable Star Trek author, who has a brief walk-on role as a Lieutenant Ann. Ford himself has a role as the Stage Manager as well.

In addition to the very clever nods to the authors, I noticed the frequent use of the Klingon language in the book. Now that there is 45-years’ worth of Star Trek to be had (whether film, books, fanfic, etc.) frequent use of Klingon in a story is natural—and expected to some degree—because the language is so highly developed and a part of Trek and Klingon culture. However, in 1987, when How Much for Just the Planet? was published, the Klingon language was still being developed. The Klingon Language Dictionary’s first edition had only been published two years before, in 1985.

Another interesting observation about the bits of Klingon used in How Much for Just the Planet? is that not all of the Klingon used is accepted as standard Klingon today. Ford mixed standard Klingon in with his own made-up Klingon words, creating an early form of the Klingon language called Klingonaase. Ford had used Klingonaase in his earlier Star Trek novel The Final Reflection, and thus used it in this book as well.

An example of Klingonaase is the word tux’zedo, translating to English as tuxedo. In standard Klingon, there is no literal translation of the word tuxedo. A rough translation of tuxedo into standard Klingon would be either Sut’a’ (important suit), Sut wagh (expensive suit), or lopmeH Sut (celebration suit), depending on what the occasion would be.

I fell in love with this book from page one. The absurd situations, the singing, and just the fun of it all made How Much for Just the Planet? a wonderful read. Ford didn’t write anything groundbreaking or revolutionary in this book, but the rollicking good times were reminiscent of the TOS episodes “Shore Leave” and “The Trouble With Tribbles,” episodes that are fan favorites for their insane sense of humor. This book also reminded me a bit of the TOS episode “Errand of Mercy,” most likely because of the similar plot of Federation and Klingons working together.

I’d say How Much for Just the Planet? is worth a read, especially if you need a laugh—and everyone needs a laugh. Unless you are a Vulcan, in which case I don’t know any jokes about the Pythagorean Theorem.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Reader Comments (1)

The paperback still has a place on my bookshelf after a couple of decades, one of the funniest TOS novels I've ever read.

November 14, 2011 | Registered CommenterMike Crate
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