Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spock Must Die!

Twelve years beforeSTAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN did the deed in tragic style, Bantam Books killed off Mr. Spock--sorta--in James Blish's "exciting new story of interplanetary adventure," 1970's SPOCK MUST DIE!

Notable as the first adult-themed STAR TREK tie-in novel (Whitman published the hardback kids' book MISSION TO HORATIUS two years earlier), SPOCK MUST DIE! was penned by American science fiction author James Blish, who was very successful writing a series of paperback collections of short-story adaptations of TREK episodes. Since Blish's stories were based on early script drafts and not the filmed episodes (the story goes that Blish never even watched STAR TREK during the period he was writing about it), the characters and situations often bore little resemblance to the STAR TREK that fans recognized.

And so it goes with the remarkably short SPOCK MUST DIE! (118 pages!), which chugs along with little action or drama, but plenty of drawn-out philosophical discussions about admittedly classic sci-fi themes. A sequel to the first-season episode "Errand of Mercy," which introduced the Klingons to the STAR TREK universe in the form of Canadian ham John Colicos' conniving Commander Kor, SPOCK MUST DIE! centers around the most standard of TREK complications, a transporter malfunction.

Scotty's attempt to beam Spock to Organia to investigate a mysterious shield about the planet somehow creates a duplicate Spock. Both Vulcans claim to be the original, and not even Dr. McCoy's medical genius can determine a physical or psychological difference between them. Both Spocks demand his rival be destroyed, which confuses Captain Kirk, who believes this tact is a very unSpocklike suggestion.

Meanwhile, the Klingon Empire is threatening to break the Organian Peace Treaty implemented in "Errand of Mercy" and wage war against the Federation. Kirk fears they may also be responsible for the odd disappearance or possible destruction of the Organians, highly evolved beings without physical form who took the guise of human beings to placate the Enterprise crew and Kor's men in "Errand of Mercy."

STAR TREK fans will find little to recognize about the TV show. The beloved ship's doctor is constantly referred to as "Doc," rather than his familiar "Bones" nickname, and is prone to verbose speeches about the meaning of life. Kirk comes across as wishy-washy, and has little to do in the climax except stand around and wring his hands while Spock (the good one) and Scotty wire some doohickey into a whatsit and save a planet from blowing up.

Blish seems more concerned with the book's science than its characters. Whether the science is accurate, I don't know, but it's dull enough that it sounds real. But STAR TREK has never been about technology, but rather people and their ideas. And that's where SPOCK MUST DIE!, despite its pioneering status, fails as a STAR TREK story.


Martin OHearn said...

Blish later said that some Bantam editor changed every instance of "Bones" in his manuscript to "Doc." The same thing happened to Robert Vaughan, whose Boulevard editors changed "Artemus" to "Artemis" in his Wild Wild West novels.

Blish was an American writer, by the way. He was born in New Jersey.

Marty McKee said...

Thanks for the heads-up on Blish's birthplace, Martin. He was living in Great Britain at the time he wrote the STAR TREK books, which is why he was unable to see the series then.

Dan_Luft said...

I owned this book a loooong time ago. I think I even had it on the shelf next to "Splinter of the Mind's Eye."

Max Allan Collins said...

I loved this book when it came out. Treasured it -- there was so little STAR TREK around at the time.

I may revisit it and change my mind, but my memories of this and the STAR TREK short story books (based on scripts) are fond indeed.

Brandon L. Summers said...

"It's dull enough that it sounds real" is my new favorite dictum, thank you. Also, you still made this sound like an interesting read.

Benzadmiral said...

My view is that Kirk does not appear wishy-washy in this novel, but rather more thoughtful than we usually saw on the series -- more like the early Kirk of "Balance of Terror," perhaps. And the climax, with the twin Spocks facing off almost like Western gunfighters but armed only with mental abilities, is grand.

You always learn something new when you read a Blish novel.