PHILLIP ROTH'S Portnoy's Complaint is a novel that reads like a big long joke, with a punch line at the end. William Shatner's third entry in his Star Trek trilogy, Star Trek: Preserver (ghostwritten with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens), is in the same vein, except it fails to provide the punch line.

Imagine a story where Kirk and the crew from Star Trek (the original series, or TOS), meet up with Picard and the crew from Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), and battle their mirror selves from the evil universe of the TOS episode "Mirror, Mirror." If this is your version of a wet dream, or your brain has already stopped responding, then please, stop reading.

Now, I've seen most of the old and new Star Trek shows and movies, so I'd have to say I'm relatively up to date on the history. However, it's hard to explain how the three core characters from the old series come together in the time period of the new series, 200 years later. In any case, as the trilogy opens, a secret cabal within Starfleet has manipulated both crews into fighting their mirror universe counterparts. Preserver opens with Kirk fighting his counterpart, the evil Emperor Tiberius. As the story unfolds we learn that the universe will end in three months, and it will be ended by one man--The Destroyer.

But, as the psychohistorians remind us, for every destroyer there is a preserver. One would think this was the reason for the title, but further along in the plot it turns out that an alien race called the Preservers have been influencing the history of Starfleet. They have been creating unusual situations, such as duplicate worlds, and forcing together emerging races such as the Vulcans and Humans, but apparently now these aliens feel their experiments are at an end, and will destroy the universe. Of course, only Kirk, or possibly Tiberius, can stop this threat.

The book is only 374 pages long, but it seems like a lot more. Only die-hard Trekkers will want to wade through the pseudo-technical explanations, or read reminiscences of past episodes. The absurdity of the plot brings about some chances for truly awful passages. At one point, Shatner describes the plight of the two Kirks. "Just as they had been born together in their separate universes, they would die together in this one." And finally, the fact that the actor who played both the protagonist and the antagonist in the TV series is the author of the story, gives Shatner entirely too much ground for egomania.

Shatner writes much like he acts: badly. In the TV show, it was endearing to hear Shatner overact as he called out Spock's name for help. But, in the book, when he describes exactly how Kirk calls for Spock, you have to pause and wonder if Shatner didn't first just submit the text as "Spoooock." or perhaps "Spo.....ock." The story takes itself far too seriously.

Another new Star Trek book is Star Trek: Aliens & Artifacts (Westmore, Sims, Look, Birnes). Written by two make-up artists, a propmaster, and a Star Trek fan, the book chronicles the birth of the props and aliens developed for both the old and new series. Although the book seems to be intended primarily as a handbook for re-creating your own Star Trek makeup, the most interesting portion covered the prop and makeup issues facing Gene Roddenberry during the first season of the series. Some of the problems included being able to portray green or red skin on a show where most TV sets were black and white, how to develop aliens on a budget, and how to create props for a world "where no man has gone before" on a weekly basis.

The second part of the book covers aliens and props from the Next Generation series and its contemporaries. While this series was less pioneering, the techniques for developing aliens and props were similar, and the descriptions are both interesting and insightful.

And finally, a slim section at the end of the book describes how to be assimilated by the Borg, and how to turn your hair brush into a Dermal Regenerator, as seen on Star Trek: Voyager (oh, joy!).

In all, this book shows that the real "preserver" of Star Trek was Gene Roddenberry, who had the imagination, charisma, and drive to gather all these artists, writers, and actors together to create the Star Trek universe. Unfortunately, it's people like William Shatner who could be its ultimate destroyer.