Friday, November 30, 2007

Spock Must Die! by James Blish

Modifications to the transporter using tachyons, the creation of a mirror-image replicate of Spock, a mysterious screen surrounding the planet Organia, a Klingon invasion force, and confusing instances of perception distortion and manipulation—these are some of the ingredients in James Blish’s 1970 Star Trek novel, Spock Must Die! (Another Star Trek novel title with an exclamation point at the end of it! And probably one of the worst titles on any Star Trek novel, too.)

This is in fact the first ever original Star Trek novel written for adults. As such, it’s quite remarkable for its high quality level and for it’s accuracy in portraying the main Trek players: Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Much of the action in the storyline is initially generated by McCoy’s philosophical musings on the Transporter system. The good doctor, famous for his agitation at having his atoms scattered, wonders aloud whether he still has a soul after the Transporter process is through with him. Scotty is inspired by McCoy’s question to experiment with tachyons, proposing to create a tachyon based replication of a human being that can be transported much greater distances than normal Transporter function. When Klingon attack-posturing and loss of contact with the Organia peace-keepers calls for the need of a spy, Spock volunteers to be the guinea pig for Scotty’s tachyon-replication process. A temporary Spock duplicate will be transported to Organia to view circumstances there and report back. However, instead a mirror reflection replicate of Spock instantaneously appears, leaving the Enterprise crew with the mystery of trying to figure out which one is the original Mr. Spock.

Yes, there sure are similarities between this story and the Start Trek episode “The Enemy Within” where two versions of Kirk are created, one good and one evil. Oddly, Blish never makes reference to this earlier situation. And the Spock duplication is different in that one Spock is entirely the real, original Spock. The replicate is his mirror image, including the area of personality. There is no goal of merging the two back together, as was the case with Kirk—only determination of who is the replicate so he may be destroyed. As it turns out the replicate is treacherous and a real threat, as he has allied with the Klingons.

Before the difference between the two Spocks is uncovered, there are brief hints at the philosophical problem of what to do with two beings who are exactly the same. If a difference were not uncovered, who would get to remain serving as Science Officer aboard the Enterprise? What would happen to the other equally qualified Spock? What course of action could possibly be fair? Would Spock suffer from psychiatric trauma from instantaneously being a twin? These are all great questions, but they are never dealt with because the duplicate is not an exact copy after all. The ideas introduced here are expanded upon and explored more fully in the Phoenix Trek novels by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath. Similairly, as in the later Marshak and Culbreath novels, there is a psychic link of sorts between original and duplicate.

I loved most of this novel, especially all the interactions between Kirk, Spock One, and Spock Two. It was fascinating to observe the process of trying to determine who was the real Spock.. Which behaviors are un-Spock-like?

Blish provides excellent scientific rationales and explanations—much better than most television inspired sci fi. Ultimately it is McCoy who figures out the litmus test for authenticity. The replicate is unable to eat normal food. Even on the molecular level, he is the reverse image of Spock.. In addition even his thought waves are reversed, as observed by the Organians and Mr. Spock.

I found Blish’s dialogue for Scotty to be a fairly elaborate depiction of a Scottish brogue. Apparently Blish took greater pains to be accurate with brogue than even James Doohan. Thankfully though, most Trek novelists emulate Doohan and keep it simple.

The climax and conclusion of the novel seemed slightly rushed, but perhaps that is unavoidable since there is not much left to do once the Organians are let loose from under the imprisoning screen. The final result is that the Klingons are grounded for 1000 years, which, of course, is not accepted continuity by any means.

All in all this is an ingenious concept which is told with loving care and authenticity. James Blish knows the Trek characters extremely well and it shows. I highly recommend this sweet, swift read to any fan of original Trek.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Agape for the Camera

This picture was taken on Wednesday, November 14th, 2007 (I think!)
Notice how Christi does such a good job of ignoring my antics! Me-thinks she has had practice!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Enterprise Marathon and Vulcan! by Kathleen Sky

In the continuing saga of my Star Trek kick . . . I spent “Black Friday” planted in front of the television, watching the Enterprise marathon on Sci Fi. Having never watched Enterprise before, I was intrigued enough to watch about 7 or 8 episodes that day. (Christi could hardly stand the boredom of such a day--and in retrospect, I understand.) However, I came away with no need or desire to watch more. The bottom line is that the characters never appealed me to such a degree that I wanted to follow them longer. In other words, all the characters, even Captain Archer, seemed flat and cardboard-esque. Except for rare instances, the show also seemed devoid of a character-driven sense of humor—which has always been fundamental to Star Trek, as far as I’m concerned. Really the only thing that held me in place for those hours on Friday was the delight of seeing Original Series aliens, such as Andorians and Orions, given contemporary make-overs and more fleshed out storylines. But it’s not enough pleasure, in my opinion, to invest any more time in. I now understand why Enterprise never caught on with most Star Trek fans.

Along similar lines, I have just finished reading Vulcan! by Kathleen Sky. Originally published in 1978, this was one of the earliest Trek novels. Sky did a great job portraying the characters of McCoy and Spock in this novel. However, Captain Kirk does not come across as accurate to his character. Most of the novel, Kirk is grouchy and irritated, and due to Star Fleet instructions and the threat of a Romulan ship, his hands are tied from any action. Perhaps one could argue that the circumstances are what causes Kirk’s unfamiliar demeanor, but I just felt as though Sky missed the fullness of his character. At one point, Kirk is portrayed as wishing that an antagonistic character, Katalya Tremain, a scientist who hates Vulcans, would be killed on the away team. That is certainly not the Kirk we all know. It’s important to note that Kirk is really a background character in this novel anyway, so the inaccuracies of his portrayal are not make or break for this novel.

By the way, the Romulan commander is portrayed as a bit of a coward—at least when it comes to Kirk. Apparently, Captain Kirk has a huge reputation at this point among Romulans as a trickster and dishonorable opponent. Even so, I was surprised to see the Romulan commander to be characterized as so weak and unsure of himself. It did not seem to fit with previous glimpses into Romulan command.

The central figure in the novel Vulcan! really is Katalya Tremain. McCoy spends the first half of the novel attempting to uncover why she hates Vulcans and goes into hysterics at the sight of Spock. (Trust me, Sky gives sufficient reasons for Tremain’s assignment to the Enterprise for this particular mission, despite her apparent bigotry.) The investigation into her psyche is interesting, but not worthy of the 70 pages or so devoted to it. I suspect this short novel (only 175 pages in total) needed some padding to be completed, and it was the front end that got the padding treatment.

The second half of the novel is much more exciting as Spock and Katalya are trapped on the surface of the planet Arachne—alone and surrounded by threatening creatures . . . sort of a cross between giant ants and tarantulas. McCoy’s earlier work with Katalya makes it possible for her to work with Spock, but she still isn’t happy about it. As they struggle to survive on Arachne, there is an opportunity for Spock to uncover what is really behind her displays of hatred toward Vulcans.

Overall, the novel Vulcan! is a swift, pleasure read. The tone and pacing is closely derived from the original Star Trek television series--so I’d recommend this one to anyone looking for a bit of Star Trek nostalgia.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Rowan Atkinson Doctor Who Comic Relief Sketch Part 1

If you are a fan of Doctor Who and/or Rowan Atkinson, ie "Mr. Bean", you ought to check this out. Quite an elaborate spoof!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tim Kring Admits Mistakes Were Made

Christi and I are still watching Heroes, despite our complaints and disappointments. Yet I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said to her, “Didn’t we see this same build-up last season?” or “Why do we have to watch Peter discover his powers all over again?” or “When is Hiro ever going to leave Japan’s feudal past?” It has been painful at times. But obviously I’m an optimist and keep hoping it will get better. A recent article appeared on the net that gives me tons and tons of hope. Tim Kring, creator of Heroes, has publicly apologized for the show’s missteps thus far this season. He promises to turn it around beginning right now. I just hope it’s not too late, given that Heroes ratings have dramatically dropped off this season. And with the writer’s strike there is no telling what might happen. Here’s the link for the Tim Kring article on Entertainment Weekly,,20158840,00.html I can admire anyone who is willing to admit error and make the necessary corrections!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

New Radiohead Album!

In Rainbows, the latest Radiohead album, caught me unawares. I'd been checking the website every month or so recently, looking for news of a release date. But now it seems I'm a month or so behind the curve. It was release on Oct. 10th when I wasn't looking. And shockingly, the Radiohead band has decided to sell it as a download where you name your own price. You can even download it for Free, if you don't think it worth paying for. I agreed to pay $10.50 for the album with no regrets. I'm on the third listen through and I'm pleased with it. Talk about instant gratification! It only took about 10 minutes to download as opposed to waiting days for shipping. I expect as with their other releases it will grow on me over time.