Spock Must Die!
by James Blish
© 1970 by Bantam Books
In the ten-year interregnum between the cancellation of Star Trek: The Original Series (in 1969) and the premiere of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), there was little around to sate the growing appetites of Trekkies and Trekkers around the world. There was the short-lived and trippy Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-74) and there were reruns.
And the novels. The first Trek novels appeared at the end of the show's run, and were merely fleshed out stories covering episodes that had been filmed and aired. The first original novel, Mission to Horatius, was published at the apparent height of the series' popularity in 1968. After TOS went off the air, Bantam Books bought the rights to the Trek universe and began pumping out novels to feed the growing fan-monster. Of these novels, the melodramatically-titled Spock Must Die! was the first.
Spock Must Die! was originally published by Bantam in February 1970. It remained popular enough to stay in constant print run for at least five years, and at least 15 separate printings. The cover art features an image of what appears to be Mr. Spock leaning against a funhouse mirror, but closer inspection reveals it to be a picture of Spock playing with his chemistry set, which has been duplicated, mirrored and overlain with itself. British editions (published by Corgi) with different cover art also exist.
During a mission to set warp-drive benchmarks and to investigate scientific phenomena, the Enterprise has worked its way to the far side of the Klingon Empire's borders. This becomes a precarious position when word arrives that the Klingons have broken the peace treaty imposed by the Organians (in the episode Errand of Mercy (TOS)). Being closer to Organia than to Federation space, Captain Kirk elects to take Enterprise to the planet of the peacemakers to find out what happened to them.
Still months away from Organia, Scotty proposes a modification to the transporters that would enable long-range transport at warp. Who better to risk in an untested version of an (at the time) somewhat unreliable device that has the possibility of scattering one's component atoms across hundreds of star systems? Why, the First Officer, of course! Make it so!
So Spock steps into the opaque chamber -- "I could just as well have used wire mesh," Scotty says, "...so we could see in, but I had the armor plate to hand from another job and I was in a hurry." -- and prepares to have a tachyon duplicate of himself beamed to record what has happened to the powerful Organians. Scotty plays with his levers and... nothing happens. Until two Spocks emerge from the chamber.
As all duplicates/long lost twins/clones are in the sci-fi world, the new Spock is the moral opposite of the original, and both desire nothing but the extermination of the other. So the fun game of "Which Spock is Spock?" starts, punctuated by occasional acts of sabotage and exploding Klingon ships.
SPOILERS! As with all good Star Trek novels, this one ends with all the necessary elements: Kirk ignoring direct orders from Starfleet, the evil Spock dying in a suspect manner, the ever plumping Scotty wheezing along until Kirk and Spock find something for him to fix, Admiral Kor being admonished by omnipotent thought-beings and commendations for everyone!
I came into this novel by accident. It was in a box of paperbacks that I bought at an auction for the princely sum of a dollar. Needing something to distract me from my crappy manager at work last night, Spock Must Die! was called upon to do the job.
After the first chapter, I was skeptical. Blish took some liberties with the characters, pitting Bones, Scotty and Kirk in a heavy-handed philosophical debate that has the word "FORESHADOWING" scrawled across its forehead in orange smelly marker. Blish also has Enterprise stuck out beyond explored space, with the entire freakin' Klingon Empire between the ship and the closest Star Base. That's a bit of a leap, if you ask me.
But once the plot gets moving, everything seems to right itself. Blish nails Spock's characters, as well as McCoy. He attempts only caricatures of Scotty (too many bad attempts at Scots spellings) and Sulu (who comes across as an impishly-happy warmonger). Blish wins some points back by having Uhura use Eurish as a code to foil the Klingons, then promptly pisses these points away at the end (see the quotations, below). I think Chekov showed up to give Kirk a foot massage. Ah, Kirk. While most of the book is written from his perspective, he's not the Kirk of TOS. He doesn't throw a single punch or woo a single skirt. He does, however, blow up a Klingon battlecruiser with an ingeniously placed mine.
Perhaps an interesting effect of having a British writer take on characters devised and developed by Americans is the treatment of women. While Yeoman Rand and Nurse Chapel are little more than window dressing -- excepting the times they are wooed by the likes of Khan -- in TOS episodes, Blish liberates them in his book. Besides a passing reference to Kirk and Rand's dalliances, it is the women who are sexually-charged and motivated in this treatment. Even Uhura (getting more lines and responsibilities in this book than any movie or TOS chapter) gets in on the act.
The whole evil twin created by a transporter accident idea has its roots in an episode of the first season of TOS, The Enemy Within (TOS). But, as all Trek fans know, storylines in this franchise are horribly incestuous, so we can hardly fault Blish ripping it off for Spock Must Die!. The concept was revived again by the writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation for their sixth season episode Second Chances (TNG), where Will Riker meets up with his transporter-malfunction twin, Thomas Riker.
"It was a wirin' diagram, and sair ancient too, for there were symbols for thermionic valves -- vacuum tubes -- in it. An' I was plugged into it, for I couldna move, an' I had the feelin' that if anybody turned up the gain I'd blow out." -- Scotty, describing a hypnotic nightmare (or perhaps... a fantasy?) he had while exploring the surface of Organia.
"We're to report to Star Base Sixteen for two weeks down time and a new assignment. Incidentally, the communications officer there, a Lieutenant Purdy, wants me to teach him Eurish. I hope he's cute!" -- Uhura, lookin' to get her freak on.
Guide to the Early STAR TREK Novels -- http://www.ridgecrest.ca.us/~curtdan/Novels/Novels.html