Yesterday, we discussed the Star Trek stories produced by Peter Pan Records, including the first three stories. Today, we continue that discussion.
“The Time Stealer”
“The Time Stealer,” the first track on the second 12″ record, was the second 7″ single, but it didn’t get a comic book until it was included on that final 1976 12″ record, along with “A Mirror for Futility.” The audio play runs 16:19, and the comic runs 9 pages — although these are bigger dimensions, the size of the 12″ record sleeve, compared to the previous two comics.
This is the only one of the original seven stories not written by Alan Dean Foster. Instead, it’s authored by comics legends Cary Bates and Neal Adams.
And it shows. The story’s a disastrous mish-mash of ideas and genres, in a way that illustrates a lack of understanding of how Star Trek stories work.
The story begins with the Enterprise encountering an area of space in which time is slowed. (This is particularly annoying in an audio play, by the way.) The ship turns around, and the effect reverses itself.
Then the Enterprise encounters another ship — even larger than the Enterprise itself but with only two inhabitants. It fires on the Enterprise. Rather than firing, Kirk orders its two crew members beamed onto the Enterprise (implying that the other ship has no shields).
We discover that the two beings are… a muscular barbarian and a wizard! The barbarian’s absurdly large, and the wizard even wears a pointy hat. Their names are Konrac and Klee, respectively. Even better, Klee speaks with an absurdly high-pitched voice in the audio recording.
Naturally, there’s a fight in the transporter room, during which the barbarian has the upper hand — until Spock incapacitates the wizard Klee, who looks like he’s concentrating and casting a spell to give Konrac super-strength.
This is usually the point that a Star Trek story would reveal that the apparent magic so far is only a form of super-science, or a being who’s evolved some godlike power. Such twists were used many, many times in the original show. Star Trek occurs in a scientific universe, where the only magic is advanced technology and the only gods are highly-evolved beings.
Except that, upon examining the two, Bones declares Klee a real sorcerer whose body has power in it that can only be understood as magic.
It turns out that the area of slower time, which these two call the Gola, moves in an orbit through space “through this part of the galaxy” and regularly affects these two characters’ entire planet “for centuries at a time!” Konrac explains that this is why his people “are still dressed as barbarians” despite their “civilization” being “the same age” as Kirk’s.
Dressing is barbarians is one thing. Magic is entirely another. Did the Gola somehow imbue some on this planet with magical powers? At least that would provide a pseudo-scientific explanation, preserving the fabric of the Star Trek universe. Yet the story doesn’t offer even a single line of dialogue to suggest such an obvious explanation. It simply doesn’t realize that sorcerers with pointy hats aren’t compatible with Star Trek.
Also, no thought has been given to how slower time might actually work, let alone affect a planet. It would seem that the Gola itself moves at normal speed, relative to the rest of the universe. But those caught in the Gola’s effect experience time more slowly — yet somehow know that time has slowed down. It’s not clear if people affected are still thinking at normal speed, as they must to even perceive time slowing. A planet affected by this would indeed lose time, relative to the rest of the galaxy. But centuries don’t make much of a difference in evolution, and this would have the interesting effect of extending people’s lives, relative to others in the galaxy. None of this is explored, nor even contemplated, by the story — which clearly only thinks of the time-slowing effect as something weird and sciencey that, beyond this, is simply something bad no one wants to have happen to them.
Of course, this is profoundly insulting to the reader’s (or listener’s) intelligence — a cardinal sin in Star Trek.
The Enterprise, trying to help Konrac and Klee’s people, fires on the Gola — to no effect. (Bones speculates that the Gola has shifted the shots into the past or the future, which is a cool idea, although it implies some pretty incredible time powers.) Naturally, the Gola’s a living entity — a stereotypical Star Trek twist the writers have borrowed, without understanding any of the dynamics of the universe, which gives such twists their meaning!
To stop the Gola, Klee somehow summons all of his entire species’ ancestors’ mental energy to project at the Gola, using a modification of the Enterprise’s computers (which in the comic has handlebars). How does Klee connect with his entire species’ ancestors — and in what form does he find them? It doesn’t matter. As Spock himself explains, it doesn’t need to make sense; it’s magic.
Forget that the universe of Star Trek is invalidated by such a statement. Any depiction of magic is invalidated by such a statement, which could be used to justify anything. The most rudimentary writer of magic — outside of stories intending to be absurd — knows that it requires rules, in order to avoid just such a situation.
But Klee’s ancestors aren’t enough, so Spock (on his own) grabs the controls, and Klee somehow channels all of Vulcan, from prehistory to the present, into the device.
No, I’m not kidding.
It paralyzes the Gola. How? Does it even matter, at this point?
Spock then says that he’s built a device that will let them hear the Gola’s thoughts. That’s a pretty amazing device, but Spock mentions it only in passing.
And guess what the Gola sounds like? A baby. A human baby.
Why would a totally bizarre force-field being sound like a crying baby in its mind? Does it matter?
It’s another faux-Star Trek twist, which someone who doesn’t really know Star Trek might think sounds like a typical Star Trek story — because that someone doesn’t understand the first thing about the universe of Star Trek, which has rules. (Even good super-hero stories have rules, which Bates and Adams should have known.)
The Gola is only looking for its parent, which Konrac identifies as “the sun that spawned it!” Wait… why would the Gola come from a sun? The dialogue suggests that maybe the Gola’s possessing a sun. It’s not clear at all. What is clear is that the Enterprise tows the Gola with a tractor beam back to its mother sun, which Spock has determined.
As I have to keep telling you, this isn’t a joke.
Except that, if the Gola is sentient, why is it in an orbit that periodically passes Konrac’s planet? If it’s looking for its mother, why is it moving in a circle, over and over again?
I suppose we’re not supposed to care, because it’s a cool, Star Trek-esque twist, context be damned.
But there’s one final insult.
When Klee was channeling his ancestors, Konrac explained that their “oldest ancestors came from a far-off planet many aeons ago… a planet called Earth!”
Just two pages before, Konrac was explaining that his civilization is as old as humans’. How these two statements are supposed to make sense together isn’t clear at all.
It’s another faux-Star Trek twist. Several classic episodes featured encounters with probes and ships sent from Earth’s past. But as improbably as those coincidental meetings were, at least they made sense.
Kirk and crew haven’t investigated this remarkable claim, while they were towing the Gola, who may or may not have the mass of a sun, across a big portion of the galaxy to the sun that somehow spawned a time-slowing cosmic baby / sentient energy field. It’s only in the conclusion that Kirk remarks upon Konrac’s claim.
Spock says that, while he was channeling every Vulcan who ever lived with Klee’s magical aid, he caught a glimpse “of his very first ancestors [...] evacuating a sinking continent in spaceships…”
That’s right: Conan and the Disney sorcerer are descendants of Atlantis — which Kirk calls “one of the greatest mysteries on Earth of all time!”
Except that there’s no mystery at all, which would require evidence of an Atlantean civilization — and continent! — that had vanished. It’s a little like saying where the aliens who landed in Roswell came from is “one of the greatest mysteries of all time!”
It’s not like the original series was above putting aliens on Earth, including in Earth’s past. But it certainly didn’t do so casually. And it didn’t casually substantiate the myth of Atlantis, on the stupidest of terms.
This is one of those stories that jumps the shark, then spins around and jumps it again, then spins around and jumps it again. It’s so remarkably determined to be bad that it’s almost charming in its ineptitude and sheer wrongness.
Was this comic written by people with a grade-school education? Or who knew anything about Star Trek at all? Who would pay someone to write this? Or allow it to see print?
It’s really an illustration of how lucky Peter Pan Records was, to get Alan Dean Foster as writer. The great genius of Peter Pan was simply to hire the right people, because there’s no sign of any editorial guidance in “The Time Stealer” at all.
The story’s not only a stain on the Peter Pan Records’ Star Trek series, nor even only a stain on Star Trek history. It’s a stain on the careers of comics legends Cary Bates and Neal Adams.
“To Starve a Fleaver”
“To Starve a Fleaver,” the second track on the second 12″ record, was the fifth and final 7″ single (in 1976), but it didn’t come with a comic. No comic was ever produced for it. The audio play runs 15:27.
The story (like “Passage to Moauv”) revolves around another ambassador, this one being of dwarfish stature and from the planet Marpaplu. Soon, the humans begin to break out into uncontrollable laughter, accompanied by itching. Bones diagnoses the cause as flea-like bugs imported on the ambassador, who knows them as meegees.
The ambassador assumed everyone had them, as everyone on Marpaplu does. They feed on happy thoughts, which is why they’re tickling humans to provoke happy thoughts. Marpapluans apparently think only happy thoughts — which has caused them to have no war or crime, though the ambassador acknowledges this has held his species back in certain respects. And because the meegees are resistant, there’s no cure that won’t cure the host.
Scotty, upset and depressed over the chaos in engineering, has only dead meegees on him. Kirk instructs the crew to think terrible, unhappy thoughts until the meegees starve to death. (“That’s okay, Scotty. Just keep on being miserable!” says Kirk.) In a nice turn, the ambassador’s own meegees have died due to his guilt over causing such consternation. The story ends with discussion of why Spock was unaffected by the meegees. He claims superiority, but Uhura says she caught him giggling, and the rest of the crew has a good laugh at Spock’s expense.
Unlike “The Time Stealer,” this is a perfectly adequate story. It’s a bit silly, but not out of line with many animated episodes.
“The Logistics of a Stampede”
“The Logistics of a Stampede,” the third track on the second 12″ record, is the only story that only appeared on a single record during the 1975-1976 period. The story never got a single, nor a comic-book adaptation. The audio play runs 14:39.
The story is an agricultural one, recalling stories with similar themes from the original series (e.g. “The Trouble with Tribbles”). The colony Rybol II exports grain, but every six years its crop is largely destroyed by a stampede of millions of local herd animals called dranzers. The dranzers, however, are necessary because they eat high grass that would otherwise dominate the planet’s surface. Thining out the dranzers also won’t work, because it causes a smaller stampede that also ruins crops. It’s now the sixth year, and with a stampede imminent, Rybol II demands help from the Federation, to which it belongs — but not without complaint over their situation.
The stampede, consisting of millions of animals begins. Spock concocts a plan to use fast vehicles spray a musk, luring the dranzers to stampede in a huge circle. Rather than stopping the stampede, it’s merely been diverted. Millions of dranzers will die from exhaustion, but the survivors will be enough to eat the grass. But in an ecological twist, Spock tells the colony that the dranzer bodies from their stampedes are necessary as fertilizer, and the colonists must move millions of bodies.
The episode is essentially an agricultural puzzle game, and it’s not very satisfying for that reason. It’s probably for this reason that the story never got a single, nor a comic-book adaptation. But the story’s not bad (unlike the more melodramatic “The Time Stealer”), and it’s kind of nice to get a glimpse (even in sound alone) of the Federation’s outer, grain-producing colonies, which have their own culture that entails such problems.
“A Mirror for Futility”
“A Mirror for Futility,” the final track on the second 12″ record, didn’t get a single. But it was included on that final 1976 12″ record, along with “The Time Stealer,” for which both stories got a comic. The audio play runs 11:36, and the comic runs 7 pages — although, like the comic for “The Time Stealer” (also produced for the same record), the comic’s pages are bigger than those of the first two comics.
The story is set near the edge of the galaxy, where the Enterprise encounters two enormous ships, with weaponry Spock can barely fathom, fighting each other. Although both ships appear damaged, their battle appears to be a stalemate.
Hails identify them as belonging to the Dray peoples and the Nax empire. Searching the ship’s computers, Spock finds in “mythological records” that “both races have been extinct [...] for over a hundred and fifty thousand years.” Through hails, the ships identify themselves as crewless, and Spock surmises they are
continuing to carry out the last orders of the living masters… repairing themselves, modifying their own structure, constantly developing new weapons and new defenses. Each hunting for a crucial advantage over its opponent. Yet it seems they are evenly matched.
More worrysome, the two ships are battling their way into Federation space. Spock slaps down the idea of mediation, saying he “doubt[s] that either ship recalls what the war was originally fought over. That’s usually the case with most wars which last more than a few months.”
Knowing the Enterprise poses no real threat to either ship, Kirk tries a bluff, claiming the Federation has thousands of ships like his. Both warring ships fire upon and pursue the Enterprise, but continue fighting each other as they do.
Reprieve comes as both ships threaten one another, each believing that the Enterprise was only a trick of the other ship. It’s paranoid but not unreasonable, given that both ships are capable of evolving new weapons. The two ships ignore the Enterprise but continue battling each other. More important, they continue on the course they took following the Enterprise — out of the galaxy and away from Federation space.
Spock explains, “Each computer has been battling the other for so long[,] they can no longer trust anything. It is so in all extended wars… truth is the first casualty and the last wound to heal.”
It’s a classic Star Trek plot. The old ships, still fighting a war that’s long over, recalls the plot of the classic episode “The Doomsday Machine.” The idea of ships evolving and repairing themselves recalls the original series episode “The Changeling” (with the Earth probe having achieved sentience) as well as the plot for The Motion Picture. (Alan Dean Foster, who wrote this story, also is credited with the story for that film.) And of course, this story’s anti-war sentiment is reflected by many episodes of the original series. The paranoia of the two ships might seem like a convenient way of solving the plot, but it also conveys a deeper truth — one that, like the best of classic Star Trek, remains a powerful message today.
The story ends with the crew observing what a waste the two ships, with their immense technology, represent. Uhura quite rightly worries that, should one ship win, the victor might come searching for the Federation — since Kirk has threatened them. Spock assures all concerned that, after 150,000 years, the stalemate’s not likely to end soon. “Let’s hope so,” Kirk replies.
It’s not a perfect Star Trek story by any means. But it’s not far off. Most importantly, its tone is remarkably close to the show. In fact, one could easily imagine this story, expanded to 45 minutes, as an original series episode.
That’s no small feat — especially for a Peter Pan record produced for children. But it’s a testament to Alan Dean Foster, who seems to have refused to treat these records as disposable and instead chose to take them seriously as an opportunity to continue the series, picking up where the animated series left off.
And that’s just what he accomplished.
Several people have created YouTube videos from the original audio records, some of which incorporate the comic-book adaptations.
Tomorrow, we’ll examine Peter Pan’s 1979 offerings, which included four new stories.