They're almost never as good as the movies, themselves, but novelizations of current films have been published since the 1920s; and the latest novelization on the stands is quite interesting . . . but not in a good way.
Alan Dean Foster has spent a large part of his writing career writing film and tv adaptations, and he has been a player in the Star Trek sandbox since the early '70s. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was based on a story Foster wrote for Gene Roddenberry, and the rumors persist that Foster ghost wrote the 1979 novelization under the Roddenberry name. He's also written Trek audio stories and ten novelizations adapted from the animated Trek series.
His latest trek into Trek is the novelization of the current blockbuster that's revitalizing the franchise, J. J. Abrams' Star Trek. Unfortunately, the novelization is nowhere near as exciting, nor as interesting, as the film itself. With this one, it seems like Foster wrote the book in his sleep, took the money, and moved on.
The writing is especially limp. The frenetic energy on the screen is barely captured by Foster's prose, whereas in his own, original fiction, his sentences usually snap with precision and propel the reader into Foster's universe. Foster can write well -- I would put any of his ten Star Trek Logs up against this novelization, and the weakest of the animated novelizations would win. The culprit here may, of course, have been Paramount. I'm betting they gave Foster a very small window to churn this book out and return the top-secret screenplay to them. He probably wrote it inside a month to meet the deadline -- and it shows. There are few character nuances, and no expansion of background or scenes. This is the movie, almost line by line, transferred to the printed page with no depth at all.
That's a shame. One of the best novelizations was the very first film adaptation, which -- if Foster did write it -- was slow, but extremely intelligent and thoughtful, and it expanded on the universe of Star Trek and making it more real than the cheesy sets of 1960's tv ever did.
Arguably, the best novelization was the one that accompanied what most critics think (and I agree) was the best of the Trek films, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Vonda McIntyre was allowed the opportunity to expand on characterizations and add transitions and expositionary scenes so that the movie became even more fleshed out. Watching the film for the first time, I remember shaking my head in disbelief when Kirstie Alley as the Vulcan Saavik cried when Spock died. Only in the book was it explained that Saavik was half Vulcan, half Romulan. (That aspect was subsequently left out of the next film with Saavik, but has been explored in the series of novels and comic books since.)
I just got back from Barnes & Noble, where I exchanged Star Trek for a book by Tom Davis on the first and best years of Saturday Night Live. I couldn't finish the Trek book. Three chapters into it, I gave up. It's a shame this new universe of Star Trek could not have been further explored here. I'm sure it will be eventually, but I suggest that if you want more depth and understanding of this new Star Trek timeline, go pick up Star Trek: Countdown, the prequel story published last month as a graphic novel. It starts in our timeline and shows all the events that lead up to the very first scene in the film, and makes the whole new Trek a much richer experience. It also brings back a very dead character from the time of the Next Generation, and makes him very much alive and well in the center seat of the Enterprise-E.
Star Trek lives!