I’m a huge fan of Larry Niven. Star Trek? Not so much. I don’t hate it, I just don’t care about it, in much the same way that I neither hate nor care about The Wonder Pets. It just sort of *is* and it’s clearly not meant for me, so I just kind of ignore it.
As such I somehow managed to miss the fact that there was a Star Trek newspaper comics strip that ran from 1979 to 1983. I also managed to miss the fact that Larry Niven wrote a story called “The Wristwatch Plantation” during the run of this strip. Now, this isn’t the first association between Niven and Trek: He wrote The Animated Series episode, “The Slaver Weapon,” which was basically a re-treaded version of his Known Space story, “The Soft Weapon.” It has the distinction of being the only TAS episode not to have Captain Kirk in it at all. And if you ever wondered why the “Star Trek Maps” thing from 1980 had Ringworld in it, well, now you know. It was reputed by my very unreliable sources that this story was a sequel to “The Slaver Weapon.”
“Wristwatch Plantation” was a story I’d never heard of, obscure, unchronicled, uncollected, unremarked upon, but seeing as I’m an obsessive compulsive, I *had* to read it. But where would I find a copy? These things were not freely tradeable for all manner of legal and copyright reasons. It seemed a completely lost cause. I’d simply never find it, short of hitting a library and going through thousands of pages of old newspapers on equally old microfiche. (Most of that stuff still hasn’t been converted to digital)
As luck would have it, however, I bought a used couch from the Salvation Army, and when I got it home, I found a complete copy of “The Wristwatch Plantation” stuck beneath the cushions.
I was a little surprised by it. When I started looking, I had assumed it was from the early/mid seventies. I was surprised when it turned out to be in the TMP era, though I don’t know why. Also, despite my unreliable sources swearing all up and down that it was a Niven solo story, it was in fact co-authored by him and Sharman DiVono, who’s primarily a TV writer these days. I don't know much about her beyond that.
Given its obscurity and interest to both Niven fans and Trekies, I thought, “What the heck, I’ll review it.”
PLAY BY PLAY
The Enterprise is pulled from their standard patrol duty, and assigned to assist a delegation of Bebebebeque, small bug-like aliens about the size of your fist. Being somewhat afraid of getting stepped on by humans, they generally zip around on little anti-gravity sleds at about eye-level. They’re continually zipping by crewment, or accidentally banging into them when a person moves in an unpredictable way. They have other annoying traits as well.
Given their diminutive status, the Bebebebeque are a very important species in the Federation, who more-or-less control any aspects of machinery and electronics that need miniaturization. Anyone who crosses them gets embargoed, and the Federation doesn’t want that. The Enterprise is to take them to a planet they colonized some years before, and then lost contact with. Alas, en rout the Bebebebeque manage to make everyone nervous wrecks, and more and more people end up on sick leave. Bones labels it “Bebebebequephobia.” Even Spock has some ill effects from it: The Bebebebeque are swarm creatures, and are uncomfortable in groups of less than twenty. Spock finds that much chaotic mental energy disturbing to his telepathic senses.
The only section of the ship that *isn’t* affected is Engineering, mostly because the Bebebebeque are naturally disposed to machinery, and so they immediately get along with Scotty.
Starfleet has thoughtfully assigned an “Alienologist” to help avoid problems arising between the Bebebebeque and the Human crew of the Enterprise. Not so thoughtfully, however, it turns out that “Alienologist” is just a cover for an alien cop named Mernat to track down some drug smugglers suspected of being in the Enterprise crew. Kirk pooh-poohs this notion. Mernat’s people are very competitive with each other, and fight for reproductive rights. “Theep” is a drug that improves strength and reflexes, and hence one’s chances for nookie.
So basically Mernat is useless with regards to the Bebebebeque situation, but it turns out he’s right about the drugs. A guy named Mike and a girl have indeed