A Very Sixties Pulp Novel: A Review of Mission to Horatius
“Gentlemen, let us have comments on this fouled-up situation.” — Captain James Kirk
Whoosh! This is a fine kettle of fish! The Enterprise crew is off their respective rockers with space cafard! Chekov gets high on LSD. Sulu adopts a pet rat who threatens the entire ship with bubonic plague. McCoy teaches said rat to dance. Lieutenant De Paul cannot score a wild card in canasta to save his life. Uhura breaks every last string on her acoustic guitar and pulls a face every time. Nurse Chapel gets schooled in the medicinal use of aspirin. Nobody is interested in Spock’s encyclopedic history lessons. And Kirk does not get the girl, but he does get to defeat three strong men in a gladiator fight.
The First Star Trek Novel
No, I haven’t quite gone around the bend. I’m just reading Whitman Publishing’s very first officially licensed tie-in Star Trek novel, Mission to Horatius. Published in 1968, this novel was written for children and young people.
With my writer and editor’s hat on, I can see Mission to Horatius is a piece of work in dire need of a good developmental edit. It constantly contradicts itself (for example, “There was a seldom heard tone of irritation in the voice of Captain James Kirk,” (page 191), after an entire book of virtually every word out of the captain’s mouth being described as “irritated” or “impatient”!). The novel is just as weird and campy as some of the TAS episodes that would come later. I spent half the novel laughing, until I nearly passed out, and the other half cringing at the blatant racism (“backward savages”?!) and sexism (“woman-like” interest in clothing?!).
The novel opens with Dr. McCoy expressing concerns regarding the mental health of the crew; and this one element of the book was very well done. McCoy defines “space cafard” as “claustrophobia, ennui… instinctive dread of deep space.” He notices signs that the crew has been smitten with this affliction, and he’s rightly concerned. Even though Captain Kirk constantly dismisses his concerns and the measures he is taking to keep the crew sane (citing “duty and proud tradition”), McCoy never stops standing up for the mental health needs of those under his care, and I find that admirable and ahead of its time.
Savages, Pseudo-Priests, and Soldiers
The rest of the book, however, is not admirable and is a product of its time. The so-called “wild goose chase,” so called by Dr. McCoy, leads the courageous, noble crew to three planets in the Horatius system, in pursuit of an elusive distress signal. The inhabitants of the first planet, Neolithia, are, as Captain Kirk deems them, “Nature Boys”, or humans who preferred to leave behind technology and live in the wild. These individuals are First Nations people and are described with extremely racist language (“savages”? “Grotesque” face paint? “Primitives”? Seriously?!).
The second planet, Mythra, is a theocracy, and this fact raises some interesting discussions about the two ways religion is used: benevolently, as represented by gentle Jesus of Nazareth (page 108), and cruelly, as represented by the Phoenician god Baal (page 34) and the Vulcan god Maripol (page 107), whom Spock characterizes as “a bit devilish” (ironic, given that Spock himself was originally conceived as “a bit devilish”). In true Star Trek fashion, the book is critical of “false gods and false beliefs” (page 108), not because Trek is anti-faith, but because those beliefs are used to harm, destroy, and control people.
This is the case on Mythra. The religious leaders keep their subjects subjugated with daily doses of “anodyne” (a drug similar to LSD). In true Kirk fashion, the captain orders the water supply be treated with an antidote to the anodyne, and without regard for the consequences of starting a civil war on Mythra, blithely skips off to the next planet.
On the militaristic Teutonic planet Bavarya – ruled by what Kirk calls “bullyboys”, possessed of more highly advanced technology than the other two planets – Captain Kirk gets to meet the one female in the book who isn’t a crew member: Anna Shickle. She is prescriptively blonde, slightly plump, and attractive, because she’s the archetype Female Character. She does not succumb to Kirk’s virulent manhood even though he, presumably, tears his shirt in gladiator-style hand-to-hand combat.
“The Saga of Mickey the Space Rat”
Once Captain Kirk has valiantly thrown Bavarya into irreconcilable chaos by causing willful destruction of irreplaceable technology, he and the Enterprise go on their merry way to Starbase 12 for shore leave for the cafard-stricken crew. On the way back to Federation space, however, Sulu’s pet rat, Mickey, gets loose and leads the crew on a mad chase to hunt down and destroy the creature. The crewmembers are positive the rat is spreading bubonic plague (what’s next for this poor crew? Scurvy?!) and that McCoy has no remedy in the medical database. They end up donning space suits and flooding the ship with chlorine gas.
After the crew has turned the ship upside down (if there was such a thing as “up” and “down” in space) looking for the offending rat, Dr. McCoy reveals that the bubonic plague scare was a ruse to keep the crew from falling into space cafard and tearing one another to pieces. And Uhura performs a song in the rat’s honor, “The Saga of Mickey the Space Rat”, with her last remaining guitar string.
Final Thoughts and Ratings
This book was a bad LSD trip! However, in all fairness, it was written in a very difficult time period to be a Star Trek novelist. They didn’t have the stacks of reference books we have today. It was next to impossible to find tapes of the episodes. If you were very lucky, you might get your hands on an early draft of a script. Writers could only write from what they remembered of the show. Thus, inconsistencies are understandable (for instance, the book claiming that McCoy was the only person who called the captain “Jim” and alleging that even his closest intimates seldom jested with the captain).
But Heavens to Betsy, this book is far out! I rate it one wild card out of six in canasta!
Ruth Anne Amsden has been a Trekkie since she was a ten-year-old reader voraciously devouring Star Trek novels (her family did not allow television in the home). She is working toward her first BA and aspiring to professionally write Star Trek novels as love letters to the novels she loved growing up.