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Old March 18 2013, 04:43 AM   #1
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TOS: Spock Must Die! by James Blish Review Thread (Spoilers!)

I first encountered British-American science fiction writer James Blish through his involvement in Trek, specifically through his TOS novelizations. One Christmas when I was very young, I got for a present Bantam Books' 1991 three-volume republication of his novelizations, one thick paperback per season. Those novelizations were my first systematic exposure to TOS, occasional Sunday afternoon reruns notwithstanding. It makes it all the more surprising that it's only in this past week that I've read Spock Must Die!, Blish's only original Trek novel and the first adult-oriented Trek novel ever published. My take? While certain things feel off by standards of us early 21st century types, elements like the treatment of gender or the dialogue of the characters, Spock Must Die! is a solid book--almost surprisingly so, given its exclamation-marked title.

The novel begins in the third season, with the Enterprise charting space on the far side of the Klingon Empire behind the galactic centre when news comes of a massive Klingon invasion of the Federation. Kept by the ship's location from communicating with Starfleet Command without revealing the location of the Enterprise to the Klingons, Kirk follows Spock's recommendation to travel to Organia, to determine what happened to prevent the Organians' enforcement of the peace and hopefully restore them. The trip will be six months long, and so to try to get to Organia before too much damage is done Spock volunteers to be transported to Organia in tachyonic format. Scotty does the work, the transporter is set to work ... and when the concealing mesh around the transporter pad is withdrawn, two Spocks appear. The question of which one is the original takes on much greater importance after the Enterprise's course is briefly sabotaged, revealing the ship's existence to the Klingons. Which is the real Spock? What happened to the Organians? Will the Federation survive?

Spock Must Die! has a good story, its narrative dominated by the compelling philosophical question about the nature of individuality in an era of matter duplication and an exciting astropolitics of battle against the Klingons, stitched together by plausible-sounding physics. The Klingons' McGuffin, a perfect tachyon-reflecting sphere that cuts the Organians off from the outside universe while incidentally bouncing back Spock's transporter beam, creating a duplicate that was an inverse copy down to the reversed amino acids in his body and his malevolently anti-Federation mind, works for me. The plot is well-structured throughout, the situation resolved when the Organians are liberated from their prison and proceed to imprison the treaty-violating Klingons on their worlds for a thousand years and the final questions tidied up in a discussion of the bridge crew. As one would expect given the experience of Blish with the episode novelizations, he knows how to tell a good Trek story.

I felt nostalgic reading this book, since I was reminded of Blish's style of writing in the novelizations: intelligent, informed, somewhat digressive. His versions of the characters don't sound altogether like the characters as they spoke on the TV series and in the movies, unsurprisingly since Blish's novelizations drew only on the scripts, years ahead of the TV show's arrival in the United Kingdom where he lived. (This 2012 Trekbbs discussion of Blish's novelizations and the latitude given to him is interesting.) In other respects, Blish's writing betrays the attitude of his times somewhat, specifically in terms of gender, most notably when the female crew are imagined by Blish's Kirk to be fascinated sexually by Spock. Blish does give Uhura a fairly high profile on the bridge, so it's not nearly as bad as it could have been. Overall, Blish's writing style appeals to me.

This novel long predates the Pocket Books continuity, and is almost entirely out of continuity. The idea of the 23rd century Enterprise engaging in long-range exploration on the other side of the galaxy and then making it back to Earth's region in only a few months doesn't fit with Trek canon, as does likewise the peaceful destruction of the Klingon Empire by Organian interdict. Blish can hardly be blamed for not fitting into a continuity that only developed years after his death--in fact, it was six years before Spock Must Die! was joined by any new authorized fiction, 1976's fan fiction compilation Star Trek: The New Voyages. Blish just told a good compelling story. Still, I have picked up on two references in later novels, the first possible and the second almost certain, both in Duane novels.

* The Hilbert space with energies that one Spock taps to an improvised warp drive sounds much like the De Sitter space accessed by K't'lk in The Wounded Sky and Duane's later novels.
* More compellingly, in Spock's World Kirk comes across a posting by Uhura in the ship's BBS asking for tourist dictionaries in a variety of languages, including one for the Dalton recension of the Eurish language of James Joyce that Uhura used to communicate with Starfleet Command.

The Talk page for the novel's Memory Beta page contains a very detailed set of annotations for the book. There are a variety of reviews online, of which some of the more prominent can be found at Siskoid's Blog of Geekery, 8 of 5, Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer's review, Reading Star Trek, Marty McKee's review site, and a 2008 discussion of Spock Must Die! here on the Trek Literature forums.
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