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Literature / How Much for Just the Planet?

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How Much for Just the Planet? is a novel in the Star Trek Expanded Universe, written by John M. Ford.

After large quantities of dilithium are detected on the planet Direidi, the Federation and the Klingon Empire each send a delegation to persuade the planet's inhabitants (independent human colonists) to grant them mining rights. The starship Enterprise draws the duty of transporting the Federation's diplomat.

The Direidians are eccentric, to say the least — if "eccentric" is a strong enough word to describe a population given to sudden outbursts of crowd songs — and very little about the visit goes according to plan. Captain Kirk is enlisted in a Zany Scheme to reunite two starcrossed lovers. Uhura finds herself on the run with her Klingon counterpart. McCoy and Sulu, on an expedition to examine the dilithium deposits, are captured by barbarian tribesmen. Scotty faces a Klingon on the field of honour (i.e., the golf course). Events build to an action-packed climax before the identity and purpose of the forces working behind the scenes are finally revealed.

It's a comedy, in case that hadn't become apparent. Blue orange juice, inflatable starships, and milkshake-obsessed ship computers are not exactly the stuff of serious drama, after all.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Against My Religion: McCoy explaining why he, Sulu, and two Klingons won't Kneel Before Zod [the evil queen Janeka]:
    McCoy: You see, ma'am, these two gentlemen already have a dictator, it's against Mr. Sulu's religion... and I'm a Democrat.
  • Angrish: A series of coincidences leads the Klingon captain, Kaden, to believe that he has walked in on Captain Kirk cheating with his would-be love interest. Kirk is unable to determine whether his subsequent utterance is actual Klingon speech or just Angrish, since they normally sound very similar anyway (and he's rather distracted with his efforts to flee for his life).
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Heavily implied to be due to someone spilling a milkshake on a console.
  • Ash Face: After Kaden gets pushed down the hotel's incinerator chute, he reappears covered in soot with his clothes smouldering and clearly very, very annoyed, but otherwise unscathed.
  • Astronomical Exchange Rate: Invoked in Uhura's favour. A harp she's interested in buying costs 1140 in the local currency, and she's about to give up on it when she's informed that in Federation currency it's 2 credits. The vendor is mildly put out when Uhura doesn't try to haggle the price down, per local custom.
  • Awesome Personnel Carrier: The Klingon totally-a-survey-vehicle. Subverted in that the one bit of weaponry that would have been useful was removed.
  • Bizarre and Improbable Golf Game: That involves land mines and artillery.
  • Blackmail: A mutually-assured version, set up by the Direidians to keep the Federation and the Klingons honest. Captain Kirk is presented with a video of everything that transpired, with a message in a Title Card at the end:
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: Joked about by Ambassador Sanchez. When she sees the person knocking on her door was Arizhel, she exclaims "Thank god." Then they hear a strange noise from outside (it's actually Kaden falling from a broken fire-escape).
    Arizhel: What was that?
    Sanchez: If it was a thunderbolt, he missed me.
  • Brandishment Bluff:
    • Proke and Uhura manage to escape their captors by claiming that his busted communicator is a disruptor.
  • Carnivore Confusion: Winged Humanoid officer Tellihu has had eggs for breakfast every day of Smith's mission so far. It's starting to creep Captain Trofimov out a bit.
  • Card-Carrying Villain:
    • Ilen the Magian.
      "This isn't a movie, Proke."
      "I think Ilen thinks it is."
    • Queen Janeka goes so far as to have a musical number called "In My Own Sweet Tyrannical Way."
  • Catchphrase: "There is a certain logic in your position." Apparently a frequent comment by the eponymous hero of the Macmain The Magnificent stories whenever he's outmatched in a fight, and Thed and Orvy often quote the line when the other makes a sensible point.
  • Chained Heat: Uhura and Aperokei; lampshaded as a homage to the 1935 film version of The 39 Steps.
  • The Chosen One: McCoy is declared to be the destined saviour of Queen Janeka's slaves based on his breakfast order.
  • Commonality Connection: Many of the humans and Klingons find common ground. Sanchez and Arizhel bond over unwanted male attention and fathers who didn't agree with their life choices, and Chekov and Korth bond over a shared exasperation with the odd ways of elder officers while Scotty and Maglus bond over a shared exasperation with the odd ways of junior officers. Foreshadowed in the opening scenes on each starship, which all involve the respective crews having issues with the food replicators.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Sanchez, reflecting on the tendency of Starfleet captains to go strange, mentions the events of "Whom Gods Destroy" and "The Omega Glory".
    • While out shopping, Uhura recalls an earlier shopping trip that kick-started "The Trouble with Tribbles".
    • When someone address her as "fair maiden", Uhura responds "Sorry, neither," just as she did in "The Naked Time"
    • Kirk, having misplaced his communicator, recalls a similarly misplaced communicator in "A Piece of the Action".
  • Conveniently Placed Sharp Thing: Invoked intentionally. After Uhura and Aperokei are captured by Ilen the Magian, he leaves them tied back-to-back in the projection room of his movie theater, with a liquid explosive that will go off at about the time the movie ends. Aperokei, knowing that Ilen — who is obsessed with movie tropes — will have left them a way to escape, realizes they can cut through their ropes with the spinning projector wheel. In reality, Ilen did this because he's an actor playing a caricatured villain, as part of the Direidian "Plan C". Oh, and the explosive was actually just ginger-beer.
  • Cooking Duel: Scotty gets challenged to a duel by a Klingon security officer. As the one challenged, Scotty is allowed to select the weapon, so he chooses "the ancestral weapon of the Scots" — that is, golf.
  • Crowd Song: The Direidians break out into crowd songs around the visiting Federation and Klingon diplomatic delegations on several occasions. It turns out that it was all carefully rehearsed and planned out ahead of time, as part of the Direidian "plan C" to prevent either of the two sides from taking over their planet and disrupting their way of life.
  • Death Trap: Uhura and Aperokei are put in one by the villain of their subplot.
  • Do You Want to Haggle?: When Uhura buys the harp, the shopkeeper tries to get her to haggle, but she can't get over the fact that it's already much cheaper than she'd expect.
    "No, no, madam, you're not getting into the spirit of the thing. I say, 'Two credits.' You say, 'For this bauble, this frippery, this bagatelle? Fifty centicreds, and no more.' I say, 'For an item of such rare beauty? You mock it, madam. One credit ninety-five.' You raise to sixty, and so on until we strike a bargain at approximately ninety-three cents."
  • Engineered Heroics: Deedee and Pete are in love, but her parents don't approve of him. Deedee recruits Sanchez and Arizhel in a scheme to set up a situation in which Pete can be a hero and thereby impress her parents. Then Pete recruits Kirk and Kaden in a scheme to set up a situation in which he can be a hero and thereby impress Deedee's parents...
  • Everybody Lives: Near the end, the servant girl who was supposedly drained of her Life Energy by Janeka makes an appearance and takes a bow.
  • Farce: Kirk's subplot, complete with mistaken identities, mistaken intentions, multiple people in identical outfits, heterodyning zany plans, people entering just as other people are leaving, etc.
  • Food Fight:
    • The prisoners of Queen Janeka, with the assistance of the kitchen staff, start a food fight to cover an attempt to escape.
    • The entire plot culminates in another, much larger, food fight.
  • Friendly Enemy: The crew of the Fire Blossom are unusually chill for TOS-era Klingons.
  • Genre Savvy: The Klingon communications officer, Aperokei, is extremely fond of old Earth movies (by his own reckoning, he's seen everything Alfred Hitchcock made at least three times), and he's quick to spot that the situation he and Uhura have wound up in looks a lot like the plot of a noir thriller. Because it is. With his knowledge of the conventions of the genre, he's able to predict what is likely to happen to them next.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: The barbarian queen Janeka, who keeps slaves, takes pleasure in executing anyone who upsets her only not really — it's all staged, like everything else and likes to sing about the pitfalls of her job.
  • He Knows Too Much: At the climax of Uhura and Aperokei's noir-flavored subplot, they finally figure out what's really going on (although it's not revealed to the audience until later) and are cornered. Estervy and Flyter declare that they can't be permitted to reveal the truth to the others and have them gunned down. With phasers on stun, naturally.
  • Horse of a Different Color: The barbarian tribesmen ride giant lizards.
  • I Always Wanted to Say That: Queen Janeka. "Seize them! Oh, I do love saying that. Seize them again!"
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: Not uttered by McCoy for once, but by Direidian chef Pam, when asked what is going on in the kitchen with the "very recalcitrant salmon". "I'm a cook, not an ichthyologist."
  • Immune to Bullets: The... something... in the kitchen.
    "Pam! Bullets won't stop it!!"
  • "I Want" Song: Deedee's "The Girl Inside the Story-Book Clothes" / Pete's "The Boy Inside the Commonplace Clothes"
  • Just Between You and Me: Gleefully used (along with much else) in Uhura and Aperokei's confrontation with the villainous Ilen.
  • Klingons Love Shakespeare: As noted under The Movie Buff, Proke is a huge film noir fanboy.
  • Life Drinker: Queen Janeka apparently maintains her youth by draining Life Energy from captives and servants who displease her.
  • Lightbulb Joke: How many Vulcans does it take to change a transtator? One to change the transtator and one to ask what's so funny.
  • MacGuffin: Uhura and Aperokei's noir-flavored subplot features one, naturally. And it's foreshadowing for the identity of the man behind everything: the MacGuffin is supposedly a disguised star map to a valuable treasure — which is the same backstory as the MacGuffin in the adventure novel Thed is reading near the beginning, because the same writer created both.
  • Malaproper: The Starfleet admiral who briefs Kirk leaves a trail of twisted and broken figures of speech in his wake. (He's an alien, and his native language uses a lot of figures of speech that don't translate well into English.)
  • Medals for Everyone: Apart from Kirk and Kaden (who are both given blackmail material), everyone is given a present at the end, ranging from food and drink to trick swords to art objects to Chekov and Korth being awarded the Direidi Cluster for Courage Under Par.
  • Most Definitely Not a Villain: "We're cadets, and we're supposed to get this ... really ordinary cargo off the ship." The transparent deception works because the people they're trying to convince are engaged in exactly the same deception.
  • The Movie Buff: The extremely Genre Savvy Klingon communication officer Aperokei has made a study of human movies, with a particular emphasis on Film Noir; he specializes in Hitchcock movies, and is pretty much a walking encyclopedia of same.
  • Mundane Utility: On Direidi, our heroes encounter a slab of solid dilithium engraved with writing from the local Precursors — which is being used as a baking dish. The locals argue that if dilithium can regulate a matter-antimatter reaction, a few hours in the oven isn't going to hurt it.
  • Musical Episode
  • Must Have Caffeine: It's quickly established over breakfast that "Bones McCoy was not a morning person":
    McCoy (ordering from the food slot): Plergb hfarizz ungemby, and coffee.
  • New Old Flame:
    • The Federation diplomat, Charlotte Sanchez, turns out to be an old girlfriend of Kirk's. McCoy takes great pleasure in hanging a lampshade on how often that seems to happen, and even Spock seems to find it amusing.
    • Played with in the case of T'Vau, the science officer of the ship that discovers Direidi's dilithium. Spock clearly recognizes her, and Kirk speculates about her being an old flame; Spock eventually admits that they once shared a milkshake when they were much younger, and that's all. (It's implied she spilled the milkshake on him.)
  • Noodle Incident:
    • The last time Thed turned down the sensible course of action because she had a much better idea.
      "Oh, now wait a minute. The last time you had a much better idea—"
      "That would have worked if the rubber band hadn't broken."
    • Thed's record of breaking into Flyter's house during her and Orvy's adventures.
    • The Direidians make one up just to screw with Kirk, claiming that they once had lions on their planet, but "someone left them outside all night and — well, you know...", then acting annoyed and refusing to talk about it when Kirk asks what happened to them.
    • The precise circumstances of Spock's encounter with T'vau are inferrable but never specified.
    • We never do learn why Chekov was once called "a disgrace to the Pioneer Railroad Porters' Corps."
  • Not a Morning Person: "Bones McCoy was not a morning person". Even after getting the coffee, he fails to notice his grits are bright orange — though everybody else at the table does. He also didn't notice Kirk's electric blue "orange juice" until he'd finished the mug. (The food replicators were malfunctioning that morning.)
  • Not-So-Innocent Whistle: Done by a computer (the one that had a milkshake spilled into it).
  • No Water Proofing In The Future: An entire subplot is kicked off by someone accidentally spilling a peppermint milkshake into a computer.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The crew of the Smith, when they realize they've got a Klingon battle cruiser practically riding their tailpipe.
    • Thed and Orvy get one when they accidentally set off a Deployable Practice Target and send an inflated Klingon ship-shaped balloon into the Direidi sky. Kaden has an even bigger one when he first sees it and thinks it's his own ship.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Deedee and Pete are in love, but her parents don't approve of him because they're idle rich and he works for a living.
  • Pie in the Face:
    • The prisoners of Queen Janeka, with the assistance of the kitchen staff, start a food fight to cover an attempt to escape. It begins with a guard getting a pie in the face.
    • Pretty much everybody during the climactic Food Fight.
  • Phlebotinum Overload/Beam Spam: Why you can't fire disruptors at a ring of enemies carrying dilithium-covered shields. The phrase "lit match in a fireworks factory" is mentioned.
  • Planet of Hats: Played with. It appears to the visitors at first that the Direidians' hat is crowd songs and comedy routines, but they're putting it on as part of a scheme to keep the visitors off-balance and manipulate events toward an outcome that won't ruin life on Direidi.
  • Sanity Slippage: The crew of the Jefferson Randolph Smith do seem to be losing it just a little bit by the end of the story.
  • Seize Them!: Queen Janeka gets to shout "Seize her!" several times during the scene in which she disciplines a servant girl who tried to help the prisoners escape. The last time, it's "Seize her again. Oh, I do like saying that."
  • Series Continuity Error: Well, Expanded Universe continuity error with series, but still. When expressing surprise that the beautiful little harp she's found costs a mere two credits, Uhura mentions once spending ten credits on "a little ball of fur". Actually, she didn't spend anything on it — the barman tried to sell her one for ten credits, but then Cyrano Jones gave her one for free.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Chapter titles include references to Alien, F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Diamond As Big As the Ritz", and Mae West.
    • Many and many a Shout-Out to Shakespeare, from the Direidians, from the Federation delegation, and even, thanks to Aperokei, from the Klingons.
    • Various Direidians also quote from The Cherry Orchard, The Mikado, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
    • In an attempt to match the Direidians' Welcoming Song, Sulu sings a snatch from Ruddigore, Uhura adds a bit from Patience, and Scotty caps them with a few lines from The Sorcerer.
      • Ruddigore certainly fits the case, since the Direidians "sing choruses in public! That's mad enough, I should think!"
    • Aperokei quotes and namechecks a long string of black-and-white films, including most of the classics of Film Noir and the best of Alfred Hitchcock. He also shows some knowledge of color film, at one point misquoting Dirty Harry.
    • Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint is mentioned as a literary classic in the same breath as Ben-Hur.
    • "Monochrome", the song sung by the proprietor of the Silver Magic movie theatre, has a shout-out-per-word ratio approaching 1:1.
    • One of the posters at the Silver Magic movie theatre is a fake poster for a version of Casablanca starring Ronald Reagan and Anne Sheridan. (Reagan and Sheridan were announced as the stars of Casablanca early in pre-production, but they were never in serious contention for the roles; the announcement was just a publicity stunt for their film Kings Row.)
    • The players of the Bizarre and Improbable Golf Game encountered by Scotty and Chekov appear to be the Brigadier and Sergeant Benton.
    • The prospecting ship Jefferson Randolph Smith is named after "Soapy" Smith, an infamous Old West confidence man.
    • The shopkeeper wanting to haggle with Uhura gives a speech that cribs heavily from Monty Python's Life of Brian, wherein the eponymous Brian got a similar lecture from a seller of gourds and fake beards.
    • Most of the musical numbers are designed to fit the meter of ones the reader might already know, since it's hard to convey music in plain text, leading to, for example, nomadic raiders singing about their lives in the style of the theme from Rawhide.
  • Show Within a Show: Thed and Orvy are big fans of the Macmain the Magnificent series.
  • Stereotype Flip: T'Vau - she's absent-minded, clumsy, and a bit of a slob. It's even mentioned in-story by her commanding officer how "un-Vulcan" her mannerisms are while watching her fiddle with a 3-D chessboard, her hair messily arranged and her uniform splattered with the remains of the salad she had as her meal.
  • Swiss-Cheese Security: Thed and Orvy, two random kids from Direidi, manage to bumble their way on to the Enterprise, nick some top secret goodies, and get back to the planet's surface.
  • Take That!: By the time the novel reached print, Ford was thoroughly disgruntled with Paramount's oversight, and at one point it leaks into the text:
    Scott's eye was caught by an unusual constellation: a ring of stars haloing a distant peak. "Look at that, now. Doesn't it awe you a little? To think there might be a higher power than us, arranging matters?"
    "Or that we are the property of some vast indifferent thing. No, Scott, I shall finish out my service to the Empire with the best honor I can, and then there shall be nothing, nothing at all."
  • Third Line, Some Waiting: The subplot involving the crew of the survey ship that detected Direidi's dilithium; it passes within hailing distance of each of the other plot threads in turn without having any significant effect until right at the end.
  • Time for Plan B: The Direidi plan to stop the Federation and/or Klingons from exploiting their dilithium is called "Plan C". There was no Plan A or B; C stands for the keystone of the plan: "Comedy".
  • Tuckerization: Much of the supporting cast of How Much For Just The Planet? is based on Ford's friends and fellow authors, including Diane Duane, Peter Morwood, Neil Gaiman, Pamela Dean, and Janet Kagan.
  • Villain Song: "My Own Sweet Tyrannical Way", sung by Queen Janeka. Having captured Sulu, McCoy, and a pair of Klingons, she launches into a high-kicking musical number about what a pain in the ass is it to be a barbarian queen in these crazy modern times... her litany of complaints include an uncomfortable Chainmail Bikini, dodging Klingon Promotion attempts, keeping a rowdy barbarian horde under control, and paying the heating bill for the Underground Lair. Though in the end, she concludes it's totally Worth It, since the Evulz are too much fun to give up.
  • Welcoming Song: The Direidians sing a Crowd Song to welcome the Federation and Klingon delegations, with lyrics that betray a certain ambivalence.
    We've been on pins and needles
    Since you first appeared
    We hope you don't have plans to
    Do anything weird
  • Win-Win Ending: The Direidi would prefer not to have to deal with either the Federation or the Empire, but are pragmatic enough to realise that the dilithium is such a vital resource that they have no realistic chance of stopping one or the other side from taking it eventually. They decide to join the Federation, but with the condition that the Federation contract out the dilithium mining operation to the Klingons with the idea that the two powers would keep each other in check and prevent either of them annexing the entire planet. Both the Federation and the Klingons get dilithium (most likely 50% each) and the Direidi get to keep their planet and way of life.
  • You Monster!: Sulu calls Janeka a fiend after he thinks she's killed The Woobie kitchen slave.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: The mastermind behind Plan C is engaged in this, frequently revising the Plan to account for unfolding events and still bringing everything together at the end.