7.18.2013

Captain's Blog pt. 44: The Storybook Records

Today we are joined by Jeff B, Der Kommissar of Into the Dark Dimension and fellow collector of Fin de si├Ęcle Americana, for a discussion of the Star Trek Story and Record sets from the 1970s.


Rather than give you all the technical details, let me link to this most excellent site, which should answer any questions/ provide any further info for the curious. (That site is maintained by Curt Danhauser, a virtual one-man-army of the interwebs; many hours of enjoyment to be found there for the Trek consumer. Chapeau, Curt!)

Inside cover
Jeff and I listened to (and read, where there was an accompanying storybook) all of these things just to be prepared to meet with you today; don't ya feel special? Let's dive right in. (For convenience, a plot summary is provided directly after each title, followed by our remarks.)

In Vino Veritas  
While at a diplomatic conference with the Klingons and Romulans, Kirk and Spock must deal with the presence of an infamous galactic troublemaker whose unwitting actions threaten the talks.


BKM: This one is really bizarre. I'm confused why anyone would think this would be a great story for kids. Not that it's PG-13 or anything, but who said "Let's have a story where everyone gets drunk and insults one another and let's misidentify everything associated with Romulans along the way?" It really feels like a story written for something else that was transposed, crudely, on Trek. The surreal-ness is the most interesting part, though, and I don't know if i'd like it to be in any smoother shape. I kind of enjoy it mainly for its fractured-mirror approximation of Trek.

The names in this one are particularly weird: Coriolanus Quince? (The intergalactic troublemaker)  Jack Sprat? (His assumed name) The Pomplancians?
JB: I was thinking exactly the same thing - this is a kid's story? I mean, yeah, it is, but the whole motif of drunks speaking their minds seems an odd thing to hang a kid's tale on. And Kirk tops it off with a bit of pontificating about how the world's gears are greased with white lies. I suppose somewhere along the way everyone needs to learn that, but on a Star Trek Power record? That said, it does get fun when everyone starts insulting each other...and am I right that Spock is the first one to show the effects? It's kind of fun to hear our favorite half-Vulcan blurting out comments during a diplomatic mission with two of the most prickly alien species Star Trek has to offer.

BKM: Spock was first, yeah. That definitely cracked me up.

JB: The names caught my notice, too. Coriolanus Quince immediately made me think of Cyrano Jones by name alone, and Harry Mudd just by his back-assward plan for universal truth in the galaxy. I also dig that he just sort of shows up and hangs out during delicate negotiations between three mutually-hostile galactic powers. Where was security?

Passage to Mouav 
The crew of the Enterprise must contend with the escape aboard ship of a small but ferocious alien animal that telepathically projects its terror into the minds of anyone who ventures near.


These were all re-released and/or expanded upon release of The Motion Picture, hence the different covers.
BKM: Also has some weirdness (i.e. the color-swapping for Uhura and Sulu, the different visual design of M'Ress, the general plot insanity of "there's a craa-aaa-azy pet on the loose!") but this one's pretty fun.

This is actually from The Crier in Emptiness, but since I mentioned the Uhura/ Sulu color-swap thing.
The different design for M'Ress.
The cra-aa-azy pet.
BKM: I can see the Trek-for-kids concept in play. I swear I have seen this exact pose of Uhura's white doppelganger in an old Playboy... Not that this is a first for comics or even Trek comics, but I wish I could do a side by side with the photograph that served as the (alleged - after all, I could be misremembering) model.
JB: I'll bet you're thinking of Will Elder's Little Annie Fanny.
I do believe he's right! - BKM
JB: What stood out to me in this episode were two things: the Enterprise being used for pet transport, and the attitude of the planetary official who owned the cat-creature: "Oh, it's causing your crew to lose their minds? Huh. Sounds like a personal problem to me. And oh, yeah, we don't know how to handle them, either. Buh-bye." That attitude caused me to laugh out loud, the distracted and blase way he just blew off Kirk.

Back cover
The Crier in Emptiness  
The Enterprise encounters a being of pure sound whose attempts at communication threaten to deafen them and possibly rattle the ship apart.


BKM: I quite enjoyed this one. Kind of a no-brainer for a radio version of Trek - an alien of pure sound, a space pipe organ (the Edoan Elisiar,) and a Dracula accent.
JB: My notes has this one as the Enterprise being attacked by living tinnitus. I actually have tinnitus, so the alien's sounds set my teeth on edge from recognition.


JB: Besides that, this one amused me in so many ways. Connors - and I kid you not, I wrote in my notes that he has a Dracula accent (though after thinking about it, I'm wondering if it was supposed to be Irish) - a crewman we've only just met, randomly drags in a keyboard that looks like he must play in a prog rock band in his off hours. It looks like it was cobbled together with a Moog synthesizer and a Mobius-strip xylophone-looking thing. The communication attempt presages Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which really made me go "hmm." I know you liked the music, but the note I made was that it was so bad (not the word I used in my notes), it was rejected from infomercials. Connors then becomes exhausted after a couple of minutes of noodling around on the piano, which further amused me.



JB: Then it gets even more frantic sounding in a "Sid and Mart Krofft on Quaaludes" way. The music creature then just sorta goes away, Kirk delivers an oddly heartfelt monologue on the loneliness of a violin solo, then gives a figurative shrug and gets everyone back to work.

BKM: These parting remarks from Kirk really puts this into truly-top-tier-weird-Kirk-Bullshit levels, up there with the end of "Who Mourns for Adonais" and other such moments. 

JB: Yeah, even mainline Kirk was often bizarre in his analysis and wrapping-up comments and actions. There is that moment when he rattles off the preamble to the Constitution and essentially salutes the American flag in "The Omega Glory" which always raised more questions in my mind than answers. So weird. The writing was often strange and inconsistent, but Shatner's performance could somehow pull it all together and make it seem natural to Kirk to be all over the place ideologically.

BKM: It's good to know Kirk's still a lunatic in the Power Records trekverse. 



JB:  So this critter that can come and go at will, and cause massive damage, bears no further investigation. It's all so off-the-wall that it's hard not to like it. And Neal Adams?!?!

BKM: (Addresses the home audience) Neal "Comics Legend" Adams' studio, Continuity, provided the artwork for the Power Records story books.

Time Stealer  
After venturing near a phenomenon that slows down time, the Enterprise encounters the inhabitants of a ship that is powered by magic.


BKM: The Enterprise vs. Conan and Merlin! Spock beats Conan! This one is shrouded in a haze of 70s weed, methinks. It's kind of enjoyable in the same way In Vino Veritas is, of just... what the hell were they thinking with this? It's not a bad production or anything, just damn odd. Spock's projecting the "mind energy of millions of Vulcans" amuses me. That's got to come in handy.
JB: I was amused how they kept referring to Klee as Konrac's consort. I know the word has a few nuances in its definition, but given its common usage, this lends a whole different dimension to the story.

It strikes me that the writer (Cary Bates) wanted to write a swords and sorcery...in spaaaace story, and Neal Adams did a decent enough job of rendering a Buscema-like Conan character. It's too bad it's a bit tedious, especially with the slowed-down-time opening. Hope is raised that something truly crazy is going to happen when Konrac charges onboard, swinging a battleaxe, but the story soon devolves down into a fairly standard Trek tale.

JB: What is it with voice actors of the '70s and '80s making with the high-pitched, screechy voice for bad guys and wizards? Klee is afflicted with such a voice, and he's given a rather douchey, supercilious attitude, to boot.

BKM: That's something that's always jumped out at me, too, this cartoon-villain voice you describe.


JB: So Atlantis, the magic-infused one, not the probably-inspired-by-some-ancient-catastrophe-but-not-a-supercivilization one, has acquired a toehold in the Trek universe. We're left with the assurance that Konrac and Klee's home will now advance normally, which raises the question about what that will mean for a magic-wielding civilization acquiring Federation-level tech, if they choose to ask for membership. Trouble is, I ended up so underwhelmed by the story that I kinda don't care.

The Human Factor  
The Enterprise crew must mount a rescue when visiting ambassadors abduct Lieutenant Uhura after learning that she has the computer skills needed to tend to their electronic god.

BKM: This is another one that feels to me like it might have come from a drawer of unused Gold Key stories. Some interesting ideas in the mix here, though kind of leftovers from TOS explorations. The title is interesting considering the theme, i.e. the human factor in transmission of deity/ godhead to society, how the pure is distilled/ corrupted through it. Or something - I'm not suggesting it's an altogether compelling take on such a theme.

JB: This one was a big bait-and-switch story, what with the faux-human-sacrifice contrivance. The gratingly over-polite aliens kidnap a Starfleet officer rather than just ask for help? That seemed oddly counter-intuitive to me, especially when Kirk flat-out wonders why they didn't just ask for assistance. The theme, which you ably encapsulate, is surprisingly complex and thoughtful once you boil it down, which is a plus in its favor. 

BKM: That "Why didn't you just accept our help to begin with?" thing reminded me of the Kelvins from "By Any Other Name." And at the end, Starfleet computer experts are on their way? They would have been helpful in a number of TOS scenarios; Kirk seemed less willing to deploy them in Archons, Apple, etc.
JB: Yeah, I can imagine those "computer experts" running around playing clean-up crew for Kirk. They must have finally sent a memo telling Kirk to lay off destroying every super-computer he runs across.

I got a kick out of Spock tut-tutting Chekhov and Sulu for displaying emotion. He does that a lot on these records. Maybe it's payback for all those times someone has implored him to embrace his own feelings, and he now stays on the backs of any nearby ensigns.

Robot Masters 
As hundreds of sophisticated robots disappear throughout Federation space, the Enterprise sets a trap for the culprits only to discover that the Romulans are hoarding the robots in a plot to use them as soldiers in a massive attack on a Federation starbase.


BKM: Definitely a fun story for kids and has that Gold Key/ not-quite-Trek but resembling Trek in some weird twisted-mirror fashion. The green wizard Romulan character is hilarious to me. I crack up just looking at this guy.


JB: The Romulan wizard was a hoot. I loved his freaky half-mitre. I may have to make a Halloween costume of the guy. And the Romulans in general being green was a bit of a double-take-maker. 

BKM: The robot-for-Spock at the end is cute. (Oh, this merry band...)


JB: Yeah, that denouement was delightfully weird. Spock expressing admiration for the emotionless robots, then being given a "hi sailor!" by Mastero the robot leader, was such an amazingly awkward moment. It keeps making me laugh just thinking about it.

BKM: And Scotty makes such a point of saying how "lifelike" Mastero is. Uhh... Scotty? (Also: I think the Romulans live in this galaxy, but no two facts about the Romulans are the same thing twice in these things...)
JB: The entire Romulan plan seems so Flash Gordon in style to me: they rustle robots to be in their army. What could go wrong?!? Plus, it's interesting that the Federation makes robots that resemble those from Earth vs the Flying Saucers. On top of that, but did you wonder, like me, whether the robots Scotty was waiting on were new to the Enterprise, or just replacements for ones he'd presumably worn out changing warp coil emitters? And if they were already standard equipment on Fed ships, I suppose they must hang out in Jefferies tubes when the cameras roll.

BKM: As a production, it's pretty shoddy. Chekov refers to the Romulans as Klingons once,
JB: Kirk lets loose with a "WHH-AAA-AAAT???" about a minute-thirty in that had me howling with laughter. I'd use it as a ringtone.

Captain Kirk is apparently played by Quagmire from Family Guy, here.
JB: If the Romulans had a Flash Gordon plan, Kirk's plan is even more pulp-magazine in style - "let's pretend we're pirates! What could go wrong?!?" Fun stuff. I do wonder how long he planned on playing pirate. I really loved that his pirate name was "Jimkirk" and that he made no pretense of a disguise.

BKM: Forgot to mention that, but that's probably my favorite such detail since the Gold Key story where he went down to the planet "in disguise" by wearing a fake afro

JB: I wonder why Kirk didn't just slow down and let Scotty reprogram the robots before gallivanting off into hostile space? I mean, didn't his whole plan hinge on that? Were the pirates on that tight a schedule? They're pirates, for God's sake! How punctual were they expected to be?


The Man Who Trained Meteors 
After the Enterprise crew witnesses a vast meteor swarm devastate a Federation city renowned for its beauty, they undertake to follow clues that indicate that the meteors were being controlled by artificial means.

BKM: What a waste of a truly great title. Actually, I shouldn't say it's a waste. These were after all aimed at children, and like Robot Masters, it succeeds as entertainment for children pretty well. Meaning only that it seems like the sort of thing that would activate a child's imagination in a compelling way. Something I can in no way prove without expensive scientific equipment and research funding.

JB: This one is definitely lackluster. It doesn't help that the antagonist has the classic "Superfriends supervillain" high-pitched voice that is about as endearing as the sound of rending metal. Spock spends a good bit of time, once again, admonishing people for their displays of emotion. Give it a rest, Spock!

BKM: I love the idea of the "Vulcan mind lock." One of those let's give Spock a power to move this story along ideas, sure, but I kind of wish they'd revisit it. (Along with Giant Spock from TAS and the telepathic dinosaurs from Dinosaur Planet. As mentioned elsewhere, if they made a new-Sulu-and-new-Chekov one-off movie or tv special where they just channel-flipped through all these alternate-Trekverses / non-canon-Treks, that'd be a lot of fun.)
JB: Overall, this one seemed thin to me. The villain has psychic powers that drive him insane, and he decides to go about committing mass murder. This will sound odd given how huge the level of destruction is, but it seems like there needs to be more to the story. This particular episode seems unusually grim: a wiped-out city;  Scotty mind-controlled to destroy the Enterprise; and Spock grappling with the villain in a painful psychic combat. It's all rather dark for a kid's story.

A Mirror For Futility 
The Enterprise crew encounters two vastly powerful and ancient starships that are locked in eternal combat, and struggles to convince them both that they are not enemies of either side.

BKM: I love how the voice of one of the aliens is as traditional/ TOS as you can get, and then the other one sounds like a rock concert frontman.

The panel design is so damn crowded in this one, but it's well-written enough. Kind of an unexciting story/ plot, but it gets across the morality-play of Trek well enough. I think if I was a kid hearing this, I might suspect someone was trying to get me to learn something and roll my eyes. Which, as an adult, makes me chuckle at the title.


JB: Alan Dean Foster writing this one caught my attention. It's simple yet clearly plotted, though a bit too on-the-nose as a morality tale. Still, it sets things up in an interesting way: two battle-scarred, gargantuan ships pounding away at each other. As a fan of the "exploding starship" sub-genre of military scifi, I was hooked. It ended up as rather predictable, from which blandness derived. Probably a decent enough story for kids, but thinking back, I don't know how excited I'd be by it. I think the details are intriguing, and I can imagine my kid self enjoying the notion of these aliens fighting for 150,000 years. That kind of thing automatically triggered a sense of wonder in me as a kid, and still does. It's too bad it's such a self-contained, static story that didn't really have a resolution. On the other hand, had it been a tad more intriguing, with the "aliens" written to be more sympathetic, I can see liking the idea of them wandering empty space, heedless of anything but their mutual vendetta.
To Starve a Fleaver 
The laugh-inducing microscopic parasites that benignly live on the body of a visiting ambassador begin to infest the ship's crew.

Feed a cold, starve a...
BKM: Another one with silly names, designed, I suppose, to appeal to children's nonsense names. (The meegees, the Marpapluans. They're kind of fun to say.) I love how the decision is essentially to exterminate this part of the Marpapluan ecosystem that is mildly-distasteful to humans. Way to go, Federation.
JB: The names do seem rather like someone trying to evoke a bit of a Dr. Seuss feel. This is one story I was trying to suss out exactly what the subtext was. The Marpapluans are forced to be pleasant, then Kirk and Co. arrive and set them free from their veneer of civility. It almost seems like the opposite of the "lesson" Kirk paid lip-service to in In Vino Veritas. So feigning pleasantness is OK, unless you're forced to be so? But isn't it society that forces that upon us, not much differently than the meegees, except less physically direct? Oh Kirk, how mercurial your ways!

The Logistics of Stampede  
The problem-solving abilities of Mr. Spock are put to the test when a periodically occurring mass stampede threatens all crops on a Federation planet.

BKM: More than most of the others, this reminded me of the sort of radio production I'd hear on AudioNoir or Old-Time-Radio.com or something. Not the most exciting story, but it has all those kinds of elements: broad accents, simple but effective sound fx (replete with hoofs pounding the ground, ticker-tape sort of accompaniment for tension, brakes-locking-sounds, etc.), dialogue that moves the action (little of it that there is) along, and an easily-imagined scenario.

And then Spock gives a big ecological lesson at the end. Take that, kids! Don't kill the buffalo. (Guess he took Kirk's somber reflection on that species at the end of "The Man Trap" to heart.)
JB: OK, this is the episode I found most compelling. Even I find that hard to believe. The story is straightforward, yet a bit complex, and tosses in some ecological lessons, to boot. Plus, it's essentially a Western, which is something I found to be an interesting change of pace for Trek. I think I especially liked the glimpse into frontier planet life in the Trek universe. It was also a big plus for me that it was a smaller story, in the sense that it presented a problem that seemed real, but not threatening on a cosmic scale.

Spock's solution to the problem immediately conjured to mind Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage. In that classic Western book, there is what is presented as an old, very dangerous cowboy trick for stopping a stampede. The front of the stampede is herded or goaded into a spiraling turn towards the other end of the herd, so that it eventually spends its energy in a hurricane-cloud of cattle. It's pretty cool to see the Enterprise crew pulling cattle drive maneuvers, though I wonder why they didn't just use shuttles to keep above the herd. Ah well, it was more exciting this way.

It does seem a little weird, though, that the deaths of literally millions of alien cattle is treated almost whimsically.

Dinosaur Planet 
While investigating a rocky, earthquake and volcano-wracked world, the Enterprise's sensors detect intelligent life-forms on the impossibly inhospitable planet's surface. After a landing party beams down to rescue these beings from the earthquakes and lava, they are menaced by huge dinosaurs.


BKM: Why we have never seen a credible telepathic/ intelligent-dinosaurs-in-space movie or ongoing series is beyond me. We have Sharknado, but no Ray Gun Space T-Rex? Glad they got admitted to the Federation.

JB: This is it. Welcome to Rock Bottom. Below here is only slash fiction and Tijuana Bibles when it comes to nutty interpretations of a well-known franchise.


BKM: Here's another one that strikes me as a discarded-Gold Key story, from the odd insistence on material wealth (gems) that you find there, to the actual dinosaur planet, etc. And man, Frank Tanka (a helmsman... or something) is all over these things.
JB: The good: Much more energy than many of the Power Records stories. The narration has a lot of nifty purple prose. Kirk sounds like he was recorded in a toilet. Sulu is Asian at last. Bones is made to look even more like a buffoon or stooge than in other entries. Spock ‘s barbs are generally dickish, vindictive, and mean-spirited. Voice actors all sound like announcers. The crew didn't know which creatures were intelligent because they didn't think to check. The crew rides dinosaurs to escape a collapsing cavern. This one has it all.


JB: The bad: It's all bad, so densely bad that it collapses in on itself to create a singularity of coolness.

I have to note that Starfleet has some shoddy vetting in the Power Records universe. Wodsworth, a crew member apparently here to move the plot (such as it is) along, apparently comes from the Mirror Universe or a timeline where exploitation of native peoples is still encouraged in the 23rd century, because he’s totally open about stealing wealth from alien planets while killing the natives to get it. He even is willing to blast them with a phaser while being bear-hugged by his captain, all the while screaming about how the natives of the planet aren’t entitled to the wealth of their own planet. Amazingly, there is no outside reason for Wodsworth’s actions; he’s just a dick. I suppose this could be a theme in this episode, about how even the near-idyllic Federation, manifesting in Starfleet as the cream of the crop, can still produce exploitation-minded guys like Wodsworth, but man, does it seem random to me.

One awesome bit that stands alone - technobabble: “No! You will disequalize the organic interior of the cavern.” Jaysus.

Back cover
~

BKM: And there we have it. Given the relative obscurity of the subject matter, I doubt we'll see "Jeff and Bryan Discuss the Power Records" trending, but this was fun. Screw the hash-tags.

JB: I've talked about it a bit in the past, but there is something about doing something so obscure that makes me happy. It reminds me of sitting around late at night circa 1980-82, bullshitting with one or two buddies in an ice-cold basement, bouncing ideas and dreams off each other, rifling through old comics and skin mags and pondering the bizarre ads, and realizing just how fantastically isolated we were, yet somehow still connecting about little-known or long-forgotten things.

In a way, I feel like this - and, really, both our blogs in general - is the kind of project that I find most satisfying due to how few people are likely to connect with it. It gives me an odd sort of anticipatory pride that some person who remembers with fondness these records from their childhood will run across this discussion and at the least know someone else out there is talking about them, that these records aren't just some discarded bit of '70s merchandising.

BKM: Hear, hear. And if you are one of these readers, stumbling across these words...


Thanks to Jeff B for the palaver!

4 comments:

  1. The only three of these I ever had were "Passage to Moauv," "The Crier in Emptiness," and "Dinosaur Planet," all of which I must have played a gajillion times.

    I have to confess that when I mentally picture M'Ress -- and this is not something that happens often, understand... -- I see the version of her from "Passage to Moauv."

    I would love to find out where black Sulu and white Uhura came from. That's so sloppy it begs for an explanation, one which we will probably never receive.

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  2. "Black Sulu, White Uhura" is the best blaxspolitation kung-fu movie never made. I hope that by typing these words I am creating an alternate timeline... and that one day I can gaze through a Walter Bishop projector and watch it.

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  3. I had Passage to Mouav when I was a kid and I really tired to convince myself I liked it, but I didn't. It was horrible.

    I had a couple Star Treks for the View Master as welll

    Why no ratings for the TOS?

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    1. They're coming - as mentioned last time, I'm going to do those under a different title. Top 50, broken up by season. Got any ideas for a title for those? I'm still trying to come up with one...

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