Warp Factor Trek

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Sometimes you find unexpected treasures when you least expect it. Recently, I visited the bookstore of my local library and found a plethora of Star Trek novels for sale for mere pennies on the dollar. Naturally, as I’ve been rebuilding my collection over the years through ebooks and paperback books, I couldn’t resist adding eight more gems to my set. One of those gems happened to be the 1970 book Spock Must Die!, regarded by many as the first original Star Trek novel, written by James Blish, who at the time was adapting the scripts of The Original Series into paperback format. (Granted, the first true original novel, Mission to Horatius by Mack Reynolds, was written two years earlier, in 1968, as a young adult novel for Whitman Books, who published licensed books based on popular television series of the day, so your mileage may vary on this assessment.)

Blish had been asked by fans to consider writing an original novel, which Bantam Books (who held the publishing rights to the Star Trek license throughout the 1970s and early 1980s) and Paramount Pictures readily agreed to. At a trim 118 pages, it may not seem as meaty and in-depth as later books over the decades would prove, but the adventure is nonetheless exciting.

Set a year after the events of “Errand of Mercy” and “The Trouble with Tribbles”, two of the most essential Klingon-centric televised episodes of The Original Series, the crew of the Enterprise learns that the planet Organia has either disappeared or been destroyed, and civil war between the Klingon Empire and the Federation is now a very real threat. To keep the Klingons from suspecting any illicit tactics, Kirk agrees to use an experimental transporter trick to send Spock to Organia to get a report without the Klingons suspecting anything. A quick trip… or so it seems. That’s when Kirk discovers there is now not one Spock, but two. And unlike the malfunction that split Kirk into good and evil versions of himself in “The Enemy Within”, there is no fundamental difference between the two Spocks. As the Enterprise races to Organia, Kirk soon becomes suspicious of the intentions of the duplicate he calls “Spock One”… or is it “Spock Two” (the latter predating, by three years, the appearance of a Spock clone of the same designation in The Animated Series‘ episode “The Infinite Vulcan”)?

In a race to Organia, eventually a group of six Klingon warships catch up with the Enterprise, and here is where the novel’s brevity seems all too convenient. In the course of a single chapter, the Enterprise manages to destroy all six Klingon vessels in the short span of only a few pages without barely suffering any damage. In today’s novels, we would see the Enterprise get pounded within an inch of its life before some miracle from Scotty or the crew would save the day. But here, it’s a quick mop-up.

From there, it’s a matter of discovering which Spock is the real Spock and which one is the duplicate impostor, another run-in with Kor and Koloth (which is not the last time we will see these two particular Klingons working together), and uncovering the mystery behind the Organians’ disappearance.

It’s interesting to read this tale and notice some of the inconsistencies that Blish brings to the story, including repeated references to Janice Rand (who had left the series in the middle of the first season), numerous British terms (which made sense given Blish’s British background), and Kirk’s repeated reference to Dr. McCoy as “Doc” and not “Bones”. At that point, the only other sources for new Star Trek tales were the Gold Key and British comics, each ripe with its own share of inconsistencies as well. Then again, we have to remember that these were simpler times, and the Star Trek franchise had not begun to grow and expand to include feature films, multiple spinoff TV series, video games, and hundreds of comics and novels to come, all of which have presented differences and inconsistencies along the way, some of which are incapable of being rectified. But back in 1970, fans were just happy to get new Star Trek in any form. Call it fan fiction, call it expanded canon, you name it. And Blish pulls it all together with a touch that is right out of the series.

Nowadays, we have to pay through the nose for a new Star Trek novel (thank goodness for Simon & Schuster’s ninety-nine-cent monthly ebook specials!). Back in 1970, this was a whopping ninety-five cents. I paid half of that for my copy at the library bookstore, and not a bad deal at that.

Rating: 4/5

With all its flaws, Spock Must Die! is a good start to what would become one of the most recognized expansions of the Star Trek franchise, which continues to this day, and sees no end in sight.

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