Star Trek: Devil World by Gordon Eklund (1979)

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Damian, Jul 29, 2019.

  1. Damian

    Damian Commodore Commodore

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    I just finished this novel as part of my 'summer camper' reading collection. I love horror films, haunted house films and films about evil spirits. This novel sort of falls in the 'devil' or 'evil spirits' realm. It features an alien race, the Danites, that is on its way to becoming extinct that actually appear like demons with horns and tails. However all is not as it seems. They are not really evil, just unfortunately dying out as a species.

    The book starts off with Kirk, Spock and McCoy viewing a magic show. The magician is pretty good, though when he brings out little demonic creatures the Kirk and McCoy become nauseated (it's never really clear if these creatures were Danites and the magician is not seen again, a bit of a plot hole IMO). During this experience a woman starts yelling at the magician and then collapses, and the magician disappears. They learn her name is Gilla she is a member of a religious group known as the Jain, that believe all life is precious and who believe in reincarnation. Kirk gets to know her and falls in love with her. They find out that she is searching for her father, a man who is believed to be a traitor to the Federation because he abandoned Starfleet and went to live in the Klingon Empire for a time. She learns he may be on the world inhabited by the Danites. The world was also home to a Federation colony that went insane some years before. He decides to help her and go the planet which is currently quarantined since the failed colony. When they arrive they encounter a man who didn't leave with the colony, who is frightened by the Danites and lives like a hermit. He leads the landing party to the Danites' village and then disappears. They eventually find the father and learn all is not as it seems. Spock senses a consciousness, something malevolent. They find out centuries earlier the Danites were driven back to their homeworld by a hostile alien species and they build an artificial intelligence to help them. The AI gains consciousness in itself and thinks of itself as almost a god and needs a host to control. Kell, the girl's father is that person. It usually drives it's hosts insane as they are generally unsuitable, but due to Kell's history and the fact he doesn't care if he lives or dies anymore he ends up being a 'suitable' host. But his daughter holds a secret and she wants to save his father.

    As far as my review, well, I believe this book doesn't have the greatest reputations, or at least is not well regarded if I recall. However, I actually didn't mind it. There is a bit of creepiness to the story which I liked, a sense of something bad in the air. The first impression of the Danites as demonic gives way to a bit of sympathy. They are not evil. They too are victims of the machine. And another thing I liked is at one point in the book Kirk is talking to Gilla and he talks a bit about good and evil. She is surprised and Kirk states that humanity has learned a lot. Science explains a great many things. But there are still things they can't comprehend. That there is such a thing as good and evil, and that it's not superstitious to believe that. And Gilla at one point explains to Kirk her impression of him which was actually a pretty good impression of who Kirk is. She notes he is a complex individual, a kaleidoscope. That on the one hand he is not rigid. He's willing to change based on what he learns, but at the same time he is always true to himself. I have to admit, that's a pretty astute look at who Kirk is, and what probably makes him such a great captain. He has a strong sense of self, a strong value system, but at the same time he is always learning, and always open to new possibilities.

    The only thing I was a bit put off by is at one point he is so overcome by having fallen in love with her that he seems almost willing to sacrifice everything for her, including his ship and his crew. We know from "Requiem for Methuselah" and "The City on the Edge of Forever" that he can fall in love, and like any human being feels a huge sense of loss when he tragically loses one he loves. But the portrayal in "Devil World" felt a bit off. He wouldn't sacrifice others for his love.

    Overall, I actually found this to be a pretty decent book, maybe even above average (if I'm grading on a curve with the other Bantam books I found it to be one of the better Bantam's I've read). It kept my interest. And I liked that all is not as it seemed.
     
  2. tomswift2002

    tomswift2002 Commodore Commodore

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    The Danites remind me of the character’s from “The Prometheus Design”.
     
  3. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    No, IIRC, they were just part of the magic trick and their only plot relevance was as a trigger for Gilla Dupree's traumatic memories.


    This book may have been my first exposure to Jainism. One of the first, anyway. I can't really say how accurate its portrayal was, but what I learned about the faith later on in Indian History class and such seemed consistent with the book, at least in broad strokes. Though it's typical of the era that the author portrayed the Jain character as a woman with a European name rather than Indian. Not that there aren't Jains outside India, of course, but it was a missed opportunity for inclusion.


    I found it unremarkable, aside from the inclusion of a Jain, a religion that rarely gets attention in US fiction. It was the weaker of Eklund's two Bantam Treks, although The Starless World wasn't much better.
     
  4. Damian

    Damian Commodore Commodore

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    Yeah, to be honest I never heard of it before reading this book. At first I thought it was something the author made up, something like a new 23rd century religion. But as he provided more details about it I later surmised it was an actual religion. Perhaps by the 23rd century Jainism expanded to include people of different backgrounds ;). And her particular faith ended up playing into the plot of the story.

    It was one of those novels I found that I liked more than I should. I think my love of horror films probably played into it. There was this creepy foreboding within the novel that I liked. For instance how the Danites would just appear, almost out of nowhere to surround either the landing party, or earlier the colonists. And how the crew felt uneasy. And I liked that Eklund went a bit deeper, even having a member of the landing party explain it wasn't the Danites devilish appearance, because where he comes from he had never seen what Earth humans saw as demons. That there was something much deeper at work. Don't judge a book by its cover, that sort of thing.

    Sort of like Buck Rodgers: "The Satyr". I know I shouldn't like it, but I do. Or Exorcist II: The Heretic. While I joke I'm one of ten people that liked Nemesis, I think the number of people that liked Exorcist II is probably half that :lol:.

    My next Bantam novel I have lined up is "Perry's Planet", then "Death's Angels". Then I want to do a re-read of the Galactic Whirlpool, which I haven't read in probably close to 30 years. I think I heard "Death's Angels" was pretty bad, which actually has me a bit curious. That will close out my Bantam collection then. Next summer I plan on re-reading the early Pocketbook novels, though I have to decide how to go about that. I think Desert Kris has a pretty good system on his thread (https://www.trekbbs.com/threads/tos-80s-novel-continuity-read-through.294008/) about the early Pocketbook novels so maybe I'll follow that.
     
  5. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    As I said, I'm sure there are already Jains of many ethnic backgrounds in real life. That's not the issue. The issue is that Eklund had an opportunity to include an Indian character but instead defaulted to white, as was common in the era (and still is far too often today).

    Oh, good grief, that's probably my most hated episode of the series.
     
  6. Damian

    Damian Commodore Commodore

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    Yeah, I remember you saying that once before which is why I brought it up. :nyah: I read you're review of it a while back and actually agree with many of your criticisms. I just watched it again a week or so ago in fact which is part of the reason why it stuck out. One positive that stuck out for me was its story of redemption. For all the bad things Pangor did (though it probably wasn't really his fault) after his run in with Buck and coming to his senses he finally redeemed himself. He gave his life to protect his family. I always liked stories of redemption. Someone that turned 'bad' or 'evil' (again though, not his fault) who has that moment where he/she realizes the bad things they have done and repents. In his case he was a husband and father one last time and did what any good husband and father does when it counted most. Sacrificed himself for his family.

    I also understand why she felt the need to stay. It was a sad story in many ways. She couldn't leave her husband. She loved the man he was and as long as he was 'alive' she felt she had to stay. It's not logical. But I understand it.

    Now "Shcgoratz" (or however the next episode is spelled)...that was just plain dopey. As careless and 'dumb' as the 'little' men were and carrying deadly 'solar' bombs I can't believe they didn't blow themselves up centuries before. And even in 1981 I can't believe no one brought up the fact that having the lone black guy as the only 'private' among a bunch of generals wasn't an issue :shrug: If I had to pick a 'worse' episode it probably can't get much worse than that one. I also checked to see if Twiki's code mentioned there was the same code used in the first season episode "Twiki is Missing". I was curious to see if there was any consistency at all between S1 and S1 (they were different so no).
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2019