As the cover for Terry Bisson’s Galaxy Quest makes clear, the novel really isn’t completely Bisson’s.
It’s the novelization of a screenplay for the comic movie Galaxy Quest by Robert Gordon that was based on a story by David Howard and Gordon.
Not only that, but this movie is the story of actors from a long-ago-cancelled science fiction Star Trek-like TV show who, in real life, have to save the galaxy or the universe — and themselves — from utter destruction. Or something like that.
And, as the cover notes, it stars:
- Tim Allen as Jason Nesmith as the actor who played Commander Peter Quincy Taggart in the series (a version of William Shatner playing Commander James T. Kirk in Star Trek).
- Alan Rickman as Alexander Dane as the actor who played Dr. Lazarus, the ship’s science officer and a member of an alien species with super intelligence (a version of Leonard Nimoy playing Spock in Star Trek).
- Sigourney Weaver as Gwen DeMarco as the actor who played Lieutenant Tawny Madison, the ship’s communications officer and wearer of tight uniforms (a version of the many women who appeared in tight uniforms and held responsible jobs in Star Trek).
It takes, as they say, a village.
The film Galaxy Quest, released on Christmas Day, 1999, was a playful parody of Star Trek and its cult of rabid fans. And it has developed its own cult following, not just among Trekkies but also with many people who are a bit familiar with the TV show and its later iterations and the rabidness of its devotees.
I’m no Trekkie, but I’ve seen Galaxy Quest many times, and I still laugh at all the goofy jokes. It’s hijinks and high humor.
Recently, when I came across the paperback novelization, I wondered if there was any way that it could measure up.
The answer is no. And yes.
Comedy and laughs
Because of some marketing logic, Bisson’s book was published in November, 1999, a month before the movie came out. I suspect that few people rushed to read the novel since it was a book based on a movie nobody’d yet seen.
Then, the movie came out, and it did much better than anyone had a right to expect. It was a big hit.
The movie’s story is clever, and, if someone were to read Bisson’s book without having seen the movie, that reader would have a lot of enjoyment, I think. The plot twists are smart and witty, and the dopey actors, so different from their TV characters, fit the farcical tale well.
And, unlike most science fiction books, this is one that is all about comedy and laughs.
My suspicion, though, is that few people have read or will read this book who haven’t seen the movie.
And the movie is better — not just because it told the story first, but also because this is a story that fits the film format. It doesn’t need to be in a novel.
For the record, Bisson sticks close to the film’s script. So, a reader who’s seen the movie will be familiar with the surprises and jokes from the movie that are repeated in the novel. And such readers won’t be able to imagine the characters in the book on their own. Whatever mental pictures might rise up in their imagination will be pushed aside by the memory of the real Hollywood actors who were in the movie.
This, I found, to be more positive than negative, however. There was no way, for me, having seen the movie, to envision Jason Nesmith, Alexander Dane and Gwen DeMarco as anyone other than Tim Allen, Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver.
As the characters would do a comic bit, I wasn’t just reading about what was happening. I was also re-experiencing what I’d seen on the movie screen. This brought an added value to the reading.
Galaxy Quest, the novel, is overshadowed by the movie. The film’s actors insinuate themselves into the mind of any reader of the novel who’s seen the film. The book’s story is the story that the film told.
It could be a real bore.
But I found reading Bisson’s novel a fun and pleasant experience. He is a good writer — having won the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for other publications — and he keeps the story moving.
I’m all for goofiness, and Bisson does goofiness well.
Patrick T. Reardon