Stephen Goldin constructs an amiable but rather forgettable ‘Trek to Madworld’ in his 1979 original ‘Star Trek’ novel

December 3, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 3, 2016

I initially couldn’t remember how I acquired Bantam’s February 1998 reissue of Trek to Madworld, a 1979 Star Trek novel by Stephen Goldin. After thinking about it for a while, I decided that the book must have been mailed to me gratis by the publisher thanks to my stint as books columnist for the short-lived periodical Sci-Fi Invasion!

I certainly don’t remember reading the book, which is pleasantly mediocre, and which was one of a handful of original Star Trek novels that helped maintain the franchise’s popularity between the cancellation of Gene Roddenberry’s pioneering TV series in 1969 and the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979.

How did I obtain a copy of Trek to Madworld? Well, the story isn’t very interesting. Here it is:

I visited Ye Olde Family Homestead for Thanksgiving. A day or two before I was to return to North Carolina, I was sitting on the couch in the living room. There’s a free-standing bookcase on the south wall; the north wall is completely lined by built-in bookshelves. I happened to look south (that is, to my right) and for some reason noticed three Star Trek books on a lower shelf. I decided that I should read one of them; as to which got chosen, well, need I say any more?

The book opens as the U.S.S. Enterprise embarks on a routine mission: Ferrying legendary explorer Kostas Spyroukis and his daughter, Metika Spyroukis, back home to Epsilon Delta 4 from the conference world of Babel, where they had unsuccessfully petitioned the Council to admit their colony as a full member of the United Federation of Planets.

The voyage gains an unexpected urgency when the Spyroukises are found to be suffering from a rare, potentially fatal form of radiation poisoning that affects all of their fellow colonists. But shortly after Starfleet orders Enterprise to conduct a complete evacuation of the colony planet, the trip to Epsilon Delta 4 is interrupted by the powerful, idiosyncratic Enowil, who… well, makes a very dramatic entrance.

There was a gnome standing on the Bridge of the Enterprise just in front of the forward screen. He could not have been more than a meter tall, with curly brown hair and a trim black goatee and mustache. To judge by his apparel, he had dressed in the dark: a bright red satin shirt with silver embroidered designs; deep purple velvet knee britches with a pink kidskin belt; orange socks; gold slippers whose toes curved upward in outrageous curlicues; and, topping the ensemble, a pointed chartreuse cap with a little bell on the top. The weight of the bell made the point of the cap tilt over to one side at a cockeyed angle.

The crew on the Bridge could only stare at this apparition in silence for several stunned seconds. The gnome, in turn, stared back at them with an equal amount of curiosity, if less surprise. Finally Captain Kirk found his tongue. “Who are you?” he asked.

“My name is Enowil,” said the gnome, as if that explained everything.

“And you claim to be responsible for bringing us here?” Mr. Spock asked.

Enowil smiled. “Any sensible man would avoid claims during months that have an ‘R’ in them.”

Spock merely looked perplexed at this reply, so Kirk interrupted. “It’s a pun, Mr. Spock, and not a terribly good one. Besides, it really should be oysters.”

“Apparently our tastes in seafood differ, Captain,” the gnome responded. “But I will admit that so far, our conversation has been fruitless; perhaps we should continue it at a later date.”

At least three separate pun-oriented reminders leaped into Kirk’s mind, but he quashed them mercilessly. This was no time to play word games. “Enowil,” he said, speaking calmly and distinctly, “we have been transported to this…place against our will. We do not know why or how, or what will become of us. If you have any knowledge of these events, we would be most grateful if you’d enlighten us.”

Enowil, it emerges, has commandeered two other warships — one Klingon, one Romulan — in hopes that one of the crews will be able to help him solve a problem that’s been plaguing him for the past few centuries. Whichever vessel succeeds will be rewarded with any prize that is within Enowil’s power to bestow. And as he himself says, “I must admit, with all undue modesty, that my power is quite considerable indeed.”

None of the starships is required to stay and help Enowil, but Kirk’s conundrum is obvious. On the one hand, if he’s unable to solve the godlike being’s problem within a matter of days, the colonists may be subjected to irreversible radiation poisoning; on the other hand, if he abandons the contest and either the Klingons or the Romulans succeed, those belligerent empires could gain an unsurmountable advantage against the multicultural, democratic Federation in their struggle for galactic domination.

Goldin is a prolific author, having written or co-written some 38 books by my count; a handful of his earlier short fiction was nominated for awards during the first half of the 1970s. I was completely unfamiliar with him before taking the paperback in hand a few days ago, however.

Trek to Madworld isn’t bad, but it doesn’t really stand out. I hadn’t read a Star Trek story in several years, and it’s possible that I’ve simply outgrown my taste for them. That said, I frequently found myself growing a bit bored with Goldin’s story.

I have a hard time putting my finger on why this was. It’s possible that the problem is that Enowil and the Klingon and Romulan crews fail to generate sufficient menace. It’s also possible that the ennui from which Enowil suffers infected, if not the author, then certainly the reader.

A related problem may be that I simply never feared the outcome — I neither knew nor cared about the roughly 700 Epsilon Delta 4 colonists whose lives were in danger. And thanks to the fact that I was reading the book 17 years after its release, I definitely knew that Kirk and his primary crew were not going to lose their lives (at least, in any meaningful way) in the course of this tale. (Primary Star Trek characters, of course, wouldn’t start dying until 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and as it turned out, that was hardly the last gasp of the decedent in question.)

Back to the ennui that I mentioned. Enowil can create virtually anything he wants in the mysterious realm he rules. Indeed, he’s fashioned a wonder-filled planet full of astounding sights and amusing intellectual and physical diversions. But for some reason, I was never impressed by or engaged with his world.

At any rate, the book is a fast read at 177 pages. Some other positives: It generates some dramatic tension in the final act, it introduces an intriguing romantic subplot between two characters late in the story, it arrives at a satisfactory resolution, and it definitely captures some of the feel of the TV series. Also, if you’re a junky for the designs of 23rd-century starships, Kirk gives Metika Spyroukis a somewhat interesting tour of Enterprise’s recreation facilities in the opening pages.

One last note about Trek to Madworld: It features a mischievous introduction by science fiction author David Gerrold. I’m not exactly sure what the symbolism of his strange assertions about Goldin represents, but these six pages simply must be read by anyone with an interest in Goldin, Gerrold or the social upheaval of the 1970s. (To say more would be to spoil one of the strange delights of this composition.)

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