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.