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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 and when the concealing mesh around the transporter pad is withdrawn, two Spocks appear.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 Tor.com 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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Old March 18 2013, 04:45 AM   #2
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Re: TOS: Spock Must Die! by James Blish [SPOILERS]

(Can the mods please add the standard poll? I erred in posting.)
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Old March 18 2013, 01:14 PM   #3
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Re: TOS: Spock Must Die! by James Blish [SPOILERS]

I remember reading this book a few years ago, but I found that it was a mess and I kept trying to figure out what exactly was happening.
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Old March 18 2013, 02:12 PM   #4
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Re: TOS: Spock Must Die! by James Blish [SPOILERS]

rfmcdpei wrote: View Post
(Can the mods please add the standard poll? I erred in posting.)
I think you can actually still do that yourself via the "Thread Tools" button in the top-right.
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Old March 18 2013, 02:35 PM   #5
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Re: TOS: Spock Must Die! by James Blish [SPOILERS]

rfmcdpei wrote: View Post
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.
I suddenly feel very old.
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Old March 18 2013, 02:38 PM   #6
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Re: TOS: Spock Must Die! by James Blish [SPOILERS]

rfmcdpei wrote: View Post
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.
Hmm, I found the physics to be highly implausible, at least in one key area. The rationale for tachyons as the particles of thought was ridiculous. We don't imagine distant objects by sending FTL particles to get a radar picture of them, or remember things in the past by sending particles back through time. We store memories in our brains and we imagine things based on information and concepts already in our memories. Otherwise we'd always remember or imagine everything perfectly, which certainly isn't the case. I've always found that claim in the book to be one of the most preposterous things I've ever seen proposed in an SF novel.



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.
Well, that was just a reflection of the fact that female viewers of the show were fascinated sexually by Spock. He was a huge sex symbol at the time, and this got a lot of attention in the media, probably more than any other aspect of the show. So I don't think Blish was projecting any sexist assumptions onto things; he was just reflecting the reality he perceived, namely that Spock was fascinating to women.


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.
That wasn't a Spock Must Die! reference. Rather, Hilbert space and de Sitter space are both concepts from real theoretical physics. They're similar in that they're both generalizable to an unlimited number of dimensions.


* 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.
Couldn't they both have been independently referencing Joyce?
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Old March 18 2013, 03:11 PM   #7
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Re: TOS: Spock Must Die! by James Blish [SPOILERS]

It's been about a year since the last time I read Spock Must Die! - I read it for the first time back in the 1980s. Although I agree that James Blish deserves a pass on the continuity issues, I did find it rather hard to believe that the Klingons could have come up with the device they used to reflect tachyons and isolate the Organians from the rest of the galaxy. Of course, at the time, the only information available on the Organians' capabilities came from the last few minutes of one TOS episode, but if they really are "as far above us on the evolutionary chain as we are above the amoeba", I just have a hard time imagining that the Klingons could so completely isolate them (and eventually destroy the Organians altogether). I'd have found it more plausible if the Tachyon-reflecting sphere came from some third party with an unrelated quarrel with the Organians and the Klingons simply found out about it somehow and took advantage of it.

I also found it a bit implausible how quickly and easily "negative" Spock was able to act exactly like "positive" Spock to the point where he was able to confuse Kirk as long as he did. Sure, Spock's Vulcan training and logic would have been a help to him, but his human half with its attending emotional turbulence should have tripped him up more than it did.

The thing I enjoyed the most about the book were the discussions of what happens to the "soul" during the transport process, and if the person who comes out of the transporter is truly the same as the person who enters it. I believe that is the first time such discussions occurred in Trek, although it wasn't the last. I must admit that if transporter technology ever becomes a reality, such concerns would definitely make me hesistate before having my atoms scattered all across the universe.
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Old March 18 2013, 03:14 PM   #8
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Re: TOS: Spock Must Die! by James Blish [SPOILERS]

Spoilers? Isn't this the first Trek novel ever published or something?
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Old March 18 2013, 04:31 PM   #9
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Re: TOS: Spock Must Die! by James Blish [SPOILERS]

Dimesdan wrote: View Post
Spoilers? Isn't this the first Trek novel ever published or something?
Well, there may be people out there who have only read the books of the last 20 years, compared to a book that is 40 years old, or they are just starting to read Trek.
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Old March 18 2013, 08:18 PM   #10
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Re: TOS: Spock Must Die! by James Blish [SPOILERS]

Sho wrote: View Post
rfmcdpei wrote: View Post
(Can the mods please add the standard poll? I erred in posting.)
I think you can actually still do that yourself via the "Thread Tools" button in the top-right.
Did not know that. Thanks!
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Old March 18 2013, 09:27 PM   #11
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Re: TOS: Spock Must Die! by James Blish [SPOILERS]

Cool, I'll ask the mods to put "Review Thread" in the title so it gets picked up by my little website (it's the trigger phrase the scanner looks for).
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Old March 18 2013, 09:39 PM   #12
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Re: TOS: Spock Must Die! by James Blish [SPOILERS]

It's been a while, but I remember enjoying SMD. I liked the references to Blish's original work - like Dirac technology in the transporter (if I'm remembering correctly!)

In one of his episode adaptation forwards, Blish blames a couple of goofs on the editor - like changing "Bones" to "Doc"
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Old March 18 2013, 09:54 PM   #13
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Re: TOS: Spock Must Die! by James Blish [SPOILERS]

Christopher wrote: View Post
Well, that was just a reflection of the fact that female viewers of the show were fascinated sexually by Spock. He was a huge sex symbol at the time, and this got a lot of attention in the media, probably more than any other aspect of the show. So I don't think Blish was projecting any sexist assumptions onto things; he was just reflecting the reality he perceived, namely that Spock was fascinating to women.
Plus it seems entirely plausible that Kirk is the sort who would pay attention to what the ladies around him respond to to an obsessive degree -- even if this were a sexist attitude, well, some people have sexist attitudes, and Kirk doesn't have to be past reproach. Having sexist characters doesn't necessarily make a story sexist, it's more complicated than that. (But what's sexist about portraying women as taking a sexual interest anyway? Men certainly swoon over alien babes in Star Trek all the time.)

It's why Undiscovered Country may be my favorite Kirk story, and I think one of the more daring stories Star Trek has ever told - it showed the star of the show being openly racist. That's obviously not worthy of celebration in itself, but it forces dealing with the issue in a major way (vs. just encountering a racist villain), and it's nice when a franchise is bold enough to challenge it's audience by requiring them to reevaluate their hero. It also makes it more relevant to have a story about how we might get from today's A to the B of Star Trek's purportedly net-average more enlightened humanity.

And in the context of Trek lit, that's why I found the intense audience reaction to Sisko's behavior in DRGIII's Typhon Pact novels very interesting. Because people didn't just complain that Sisko was acting out of character, they also complained that it wasn't OK to portray a leading man acting that way, and specifically a black father at that.
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Old March 19 2013, 01:10 AM   #14
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Re: TOS: Spock Must Die! by James Blish [SPOILERS]

tomswift2002 wrote: View Post
Dimesdan wrote: View Post
Spoilers? Isn't this the first Trek novel ever published or something?
Well, there may be people out there who have only read the books of the last 20 years, compared to a book that is 40 years old, or they are just starting to read Trek.
Even though I have been reading Trek literature on-and-off (mostly on) since, well, Christmas of 1991, I only read Spock Must Die! last week. Especially since it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the currently continuity, and is a bit obscure, there's room for surprises.
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Old March 19 2013, 02:13 AM   #15
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Re: TOS: Spock Must Die! by James Blish [SPOILERS]

Christopher wrote: View Post
rfmcdpei wrote: View Post
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.
Hmm, I found the physics to be highly implausible, at least in one key area. The rationale for tachyons as the particles of thought was ridiculous. We don't imagine distant objects by sending FTL particles to get a radar picture of them, or remember things in the past by sending particles back through time. We store memories in our brains and we imagine things based on information and concepts already in our memories. Otherwise we'd always remember or imagine everything perfectly, which certainly isn't the case. I've always found that claim in the book to be one of the most preposterous things I've ever seen proposed in an SF novel.
Is it necessarily? Modern Trek literature seems to have settled upon quantum entanglement as the mechanism by which telepathy works, but absent spooky action at a distance some sort of psionic radiation is necessary. Tachyons make as much sense as any other form, especially given the tendency in science fiction before Star Trek (Heinlein's Time for the Stars, say) to describe telepaths as able to communicate simultaneously across light-years and to distinguish between the mere material workings of the brain and the infinite powers of the mind.

Flawed, sure, but at worst it shares in the flaws of its genre.

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.
Well, that was just a reflection of the fact that female viewers of the show were fascinated sexually by Spock. He was a huge sex symbol at the time, and this got a lot of attention in the media, probably more than any other aspect of the show. So I don't think Blish was projecting any sexist assumptions onto things; he was just reflecting the reality he perceived, namely that Spock was fascinating to women.
An apparently mysterious reality?


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.
That wasn't a Spock Must Die! reference. Rather, Hilbert space and de Sitter space are both concepts from real theoretical physics. They're similar in that they're both generalizable to an unlimited number of dimensions.
That's what I thought. It's not a strong connection, I think.

* 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.
Couldn't they both have been independently referencing Joyce?
Sure, but for me, the Dalton recension of the Eurish language bit jumped out at me because in all of my readings, within Trek and without, Blish and Duane are the only two authors who have specifically mentioned the Dalton recension of Eurish. That, and the fact that it was Uhura who mentioned it, makes me seriously wonder.

Garrovick wrote: View Post
It's been about a year since the last time I read Spock Must Die! - I read it for the first time back in the 1980s. Although I agree that James Blish deserves a pass on the continuity issues, I did find it rather hard to believe that the Klingons could have come up with the device they used to reflect tachyons and isolate the Organians from the rest of the galaxy. Of course, at the time, the only information available on the Organians' capabilities came from the last few minutes of one TOS episode, but if they really are "as far above us on the evolutionary chain as we are above the amoeba", I just have a hard time imagining that the Klingons could so completely isolate them (and eventually destroy the Organians altogether). I'd have found it more plausible if the Tachyon-reflecting sphere came from some third party with an unrelated quarrel with the Organians and the Klingons simply found out about it somehow and took advantage of it.
No substantive disagreements here, though I suppose that the Klingons might simply have gotten very lucky (and then, once they were found out, very unlucky).

The thing I enjoyed the most about the book were the discussions of what happens to the "soul" during the transport process, and if the person who comes out of the transporter is truly the same as the person who enters it. I believe that is the first time such discussions occurred in Trek, although it wasn't the last. I must admit that if transporter technology ever becomes a reality, such concerns would definitely make me hesistate before having my atoms scattered all across the universe.
I don't think I'd share in those fears, but, well, we're far from developing transporter technology so I've no way to test them.
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