Spock Must Die!

James Blish

reviewed by Carolyn Kaberline


"Unlike the preceding three STAR TREK books, this one is not a set of adaptations of scripts which have already been shown on television, but an original novel built around the characters and background of the TV series conceived by Gene Rodenberry."

With these words, noted science fiction writer James Blish introduced his novel Spock Must Die!—a novel that led the way to more than a hundred others written by numerous authors and based on a television series that lasted only three seasons. And with a novel written by such a well-known science fiction writer and Hugo award winner, the series was off to a good start.

As the novel opens, the Enterprise and her crew are recording a navigation grid for an arm of the galaxy not previously visited by humans. The mission appears very routine until an alarming message reaches them: The long expected Klingon War has broken out, and Organia seems to have been destroyed. In addition, because of her current position, the Enterprise is totally cut off from the Federation by the Klingon forces. After much thought, Kirk decides to head for Organia in an attempt to determine what has happened there and to hopefully find a way to help the Federation. While in route to the last known position of the planet, Scotty comes up with a plan to use the transporter to send a tachyon image of Mr. Spock to Organia to gather information; however, something goes wrong and two Mr. Spocks are left in the transporter chamber.

It appears that both Spocks are identical in every conceivable way—even to insisting that his duplicate be destroyed. And even worse, one of them seems to be getting information to the Klingons about the location of the Enterprise. It soon becomes essential for Kirk to determine which Spock is the real one, but the question is how to do so.

While this is one of the shorter Star Trek novels (my copy has only 118 pages), it definitely does a good job of introducing the novels to come. The characters are very true to their television counterparts—even to McCoy’s arguments with Scotty over the safety of the transporter. The doctor is definitely sure he is not the same person who first had a transporter tear apart his atoms twenty years ago, but instead "a construct made by a machine after the image of a dead man."

Although the situation presented in the novel is a serious one, readers are bound to get a chuckle over the usual bickering between Spock and McCoy and especially over the doctor’s first suggestion on how to tell the duplicates apart: "Just order Yeoman Rand to kiss one of them. If he responds, shoot him." However, when all is said and done, it’s the good doctor who devises a very simple way to tell them apart. (Hint: Think back to your basic organic chemistry class.)

The story has several twists and turns and should intrigue both fans and non-fans alike. Readers will also take heart when they read Blish’s assessment of the cancellation of the television series: "I for one refuse to believe that an enterprise so well conceived, so scrupulously produced, and so widely loved can stay boneyarded for long." The almost forty years that have passed since then have proved him more than correct.

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