Friday, April 24, 2009

Forgotten Books: Star Trek Fotonovels

(This is my latest entry for Patti Abbott’s Friday Forgotten Book extravaganza. For the complete list, head on over to her site.)

(To celebrate the arrival of the new Star Trek movie, I'm going to review some of my favorite Star Trek books, most of which are forgotten. This week is Part 1.)

Hard to believe but, in 1978, you could carry a Star Trek episode in your pocket. No, really, you could. And I did.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here but do ya’ll remember a time before VCRs? I’m of the generation whose formative years didn’t have said luxury but, by the time I graduated from middle school, we had one. And, oh boy, was it a thing of beauty. I remember recording shows off of the TV to watch later. One of the shows I loved was “Star Trek.” Just about every time one of the local UHF channels ran a Star Trek marathon, I convinced my parents to buy a few tapes and we’d record them. I think those tapes are still around somewhere.

But before VCRs, there was no way to carry around a Star Trek episode in your pocket. No, I take that back. You could carry around the James Blish adaptations. That was cool because you’d get five or six episodes to a single paperback but there were no pictures.

Enter Fotonovels. Here, the Mandala company would take still images of TV shows or movies, add comic book-style dialogue bubbles, and publish the result in a book the size of a paperback. Thus, you could take a Star Trek episode--complete with pictures!--with you anywhere you went.

The company converted twelve Star Trek episodes into this format and the only one I had--still do; it’s sitting here on my desk--was “The Devil in the Dark.” It’s a classic Trek story of human interaction with a species of creature wholly unlike us. And it contains one of Spock’s most memorable lines: “Pain!”

I did a quick internet research to help me remember when these books were popular: around 1978-82 or so. I’ll admit that the Fotonovel of 1979’s “Alien” was the first way I “saw” the movie and its infamous birthing scene.

What’s fun about this book (and, I assume, the rest) are the pages in front of and after the story. Before the story, the publishers reprinted some fan letters. They’re just like the stuff we have now only written better and with correct grammar. You have the cast list next and then the story starts. The Captain’s Log part is printed in that cool futuristic font so cool back in the day.

After the story, there is a glossary. No kidding. There are listings for “phaser,” “United Federation of Planets,” and “Vulcan.” The best thing is the quiz based on the episode presented. It’s multiple choice and, of course, it’s open book. The answers are printed on the last page which, not coincidentally, is an advertisement for the next Fotonovel, “The Day of the Dove.”

I think the older I get, the more fondly I remember my youth. I certainly don’t want to go back in time since I consider 2009 to be the best year of my life, so far. (I thought the same for 2008 last year. You can see a pattern.) But there were some nice, charming things about the late 1970s. Star Trek Fotonovels was one of them.

Go here for nice pictures of all the Star Trek Fotonovels.

Go go the Complete Starfleet Library for some more great information on Fotonovels and every other book published about Star Trek.


Randy Johnson said...

I think I had all those fotonovels back then. They're long gone now. After the novelty wore off, I think I gave them to some younger member of the family.

Richard Prosch said...

I grew up when you did, Scott --the best we had were audio cassette recordings --and I made about half the series (with parents always talking in the background). Fotonovels were like gifts from heaven! There is also a fotonovel style entry out there for ST:THE MOTION PICTURE which I had and recall listing several "mistakes" they made after I saw the film.

Scott Parker said...

Randy - A few years ago, my parents emptied out an old house and I discovered this fotonovel and a bunch of other books and things from my childhood. It was a time capsule and I loved it. Still do. My copy is still in decent shape.

Richard - I remember the ST:TMP fotonovel. Speaking of audio cassettes, did you ever hear the NPR version of Star Wars? Fantastic stuff. I'm going to re-listen to them and review them this summer.

Thanks for stopping by.

Vince said...

Hi Scott,

I was brainstorming about the idea / pipe dream of some Buffy TVS photonovels when I stumbled upon your blog entry. I have the ST:TMP and STII photonovels, they're great. And yes, ST:TMP is chock full of mistakes ...

Love those photonovels. But I wonder how useful they'd be today or if there would actually be any use for them. I found myself pining for some Buffy ones simply because I spend so much time with my head immersed in video that I'd love to pick up a book and flip through pages of a Buffy episode in the similar photonovel vein, but you're right (or whoever said this), the novelty would probably wear off pretty fast. It's too bad ... unless they had some really cool screenshots, and kept your attention with a real dramatic telling, comic-book style ...