Friday, February 17, 2012

Star Trek's One-Note Joke Gets Its Own Book With The Tribble Handbook.

The Good: Amusing for a glance-through
The Bad: Not terribly substantive, Not enduringly funny, Short
The Basics: Not truly funny or clever, this minorly amusing pamphlet is disproportionately expensive for the content and is not worth Trek-fan's dollars.

I have, historically, not reviewed or purchased many books of humor. It's not because I do not like to laugh (I do) but rather because I tend to find humor does not hold up as well as most other forms of literature. In fact, there are very few books of humor in my library, the only ones that pop right out being The Sinner's Guide To The Evangelical Right (reviewed here!) which has the benefit of educating as it amuses and I Am America (And So Can You) (reviewed here!) which has the benefit of being Stephen Colbert. For the most part, though, I haven't picked up many humor books, then, since I was in grade and middle schools.

So when The Tribble Handbook crossed my desk, I was naturally wary. For those who might not follow my reviews, I am a huge fan of the Star Trek franchise, so it takes much for me to be wary of anything Star Trek. The Tribble Handbook, though, a thirty-two page glossy pamphlet (I refuse to call this a book) by author Terry Erdmann immediately made me clench up when looking at it. I loosened up when reading it, but for the most part, The Tribble Handbook was exactly what I feared it would be: a continuation of the joke that were the Tribbles in book form presented as an easy-to-read guide that basically sought to separate Star Trek fans from their money . . . yet again.

With only thirty-two pages, The Tribble Handbook is a light, comical exploration of the simplistic animal from Star Trek known as Tribbles. Tribbles are small fur balls that are born pregnant, reproduce at an incredible rate and purr when they are happy. Absent any natural predators, their amazing reproductive skills persist and they have a tendency to overrun any area they are in as a result (which is essentially the role they played in the episodes they were in and that recounting occupies a decent section of The Tribble Handbook). They like humans and Vulcans especially, cooing softly in their presence to encourage petting and the shriek and flinch around Klingons, which they loathe.

The rest of The Tribble Handbook, after recounting the episodes that contain Tribbles, is a lame attempt to tell those in the 24th Century just what they can do with Tribbles. After attempting to differentiate between Tribbles (there are no subspecies, despite having many, many colors) Erdmann writes jokes involving Tribbles either as the setup or punchline, explores why Tribbles might be considered "legendary" and what to do with Tribbles. There aren't many uses and they range from the obvious (stuff it and put it on your mantle) to the absurd (sticking wings on it to make it into more fiercesome creatures).

Okay, it is worth noting that Tribbles are ridiculously popular, but their presence in the Star Trek franchise is minimal. They appeared in an episode each of Star Trek, Star Trek: The Animated Series, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (see links below). They were also seen briefly in a few frames of the bar scene in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock and the new Star Trek. For those who are not "in the know," Tribbles are a cheap prop and were used as part of a political espionage Star Trek episode that fans almost universally love. Tribbles are fur balls. Literally. The prop department of Star Trek created Tribbles by taking craft fur, sewing it into a little pillow-like shape and stuffing them. They are mostly inanimate and fans can replicate them on the cheap because they are a great example of the 1960s television prop creation where creativity was trumping execution.

The thing is, Tribbles are cute, as far as that goes. People like fur balls. People like seeing William Shatner buried up to his shoulders in an avalanche of fur balls. But we get it: fur balls fall down and hit the captain. This is not sophisticated, highbrow comedy and it's a pretty simplistic joke. Similarly, the important things about Tribbles in David Gerrold's script for "The Trouble With Tribbles" was the environmental impact message (Tribbles are a metaphor for how removing a predator from an ecosystem can radically alter a biosphere) and the chance nature of foiling political espionage (a Tribble reveals a Klingon spy). But at the end of the day, Tribbles are little balls of craft fur and everything one truly needs to know about them was in the episodes they were in. In fact, the smartest thing about the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine reworking of the original series episode was that the writers made the jokes about time travel and about the camp nature of Star Trek more than simply repeating the same jokes about Tribbles.

The Tribble Handbook goes the other way. In addition to trying to be clever about balls of craft fur with jokes that are more worthy of an amused smile than an actual laugh, the jokes either repeat ones that were made or implied in the episode or go in entirely different directions. The section on what to do with Tribbles (it's not like balls of fur can do much in the way of tricks!) is vaguely amusing, but has a simplistic level of humor that essentially continues to revolve around the limited nature of what Tribbles are. They are balls of fur. Ergo, anything you do with them is limited to that or some absurd extrapolation of that (like gluing wings on it for a model of a dinosaur or bird).

It's the same note over and over again and my initial thought was to rate this a "4" but the more I write about it, the more I feel like I did when I initially saw it; that this was just another lousy attempt to get money out of Star Trek fans. It's not funny enough to keep on a bookshelf and it's not clever or insightful, either. Instead, it rehashes the three episodes of plot then does its best to flesh out the rest of the pages with Star Trek jokes that tend to justify the way mainstream people look at geeks.

There are a few photographs in The Tribble Handbook, but they tend to be the popular images from the various "Tribbles" episodes, so it's not like one would be getting something earthshattering here.

I love Star Trek and I have a sense of humor about Star Trek (Peter David's early works in the Star Trek novels are brilliant for their level of humor) but at the end of the day, the Star Trek franchise is often treated like a cash cow that Paramount could milk whenever it needed a few bucks. This cheap book, which has virtually no rereadability, is a great example of that. And if I can help one Star Trek fan (or a Tribble-load of them) from being so fleeced, I'll feel like I've done my job.

For other Star Trek books, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Star Trek Compendium – Allan Asherman
Where No One Has Gone Before: A History In Pictures – J.M. Dillard
I, Q – Peter David with John de Lancie


For other book reviews, please be sure to check out my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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