Spock Must Die!
|Spock Must Die!|
First edition cover
|Followed by||Spock, Messiah!|
Spock Must Die! is a novel based on the American science fiction television series Star Trek: The Original Series. It was published in 1970 by Bantam Books, and was the first original novel for adults based on the series. The only previous works had been comic books, short-story adaptations of the television episodes and the children's book Mission to Horatius. The plot of the novel saw the creation of a tachyon copy of Spock to investigate the destruction of the Organians, allowing the outbreak of war to occur between the Klingons and the Federation. The duplicate and original are subsequently mixed up, with the new Spock acting as an agent for the Klingons. With the war going badly for Starfleet, the Enterprise travels to Organia to find out the truth.
The novel was written by James Blish, who had written those earlier adaptations. Blish wanted to kill off the popular Spock character to surprise readers. It was the only original novel for adults based on the franchise until 1976's Spock, Messiah!, and was reprinted numerous times with different covers and included in 1978's The Star Trek Reader IV. Critics reviewing the Spock Must Die! shortly after release praised the book as a good example of character duplication in science fiction, but later reviews were mixed with criticism directed at the views held by some of the characters in the novel and had different opinions over whether or not it was "mediocre" or "worth reading".
Doctor Leonard McCoy is discussing with Engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott his fear that people are killed and copied by a transporter. Scotty explains that it is the conversion of matter into energy, but McCoy asks what happens to the soul of a person in a transporter beam? The conversation is interrupted by the news that the planet Organia appears to have been destroyed by the Klingon Empire. The Organians had previously enforced a peace treaty between the Klingons and the Federation, and the Enterprise is currently stranded a long way from Federation space.
The crew begin the journey towards the neutral zone, and Scotty tinkers with the transporter. He develops a system to make a tachyon copy of a crewman who would undergo a long distance transport to Organia in order to find out what happened to the planet. Spock is chosen, but instead of Scotty's plan, a complete duplicate is made instead upon transportation. The duplicate returns, resulting in two Spocks on board the Enterprise. The two are mixed up by the crew, and one begins to have a mental breakdown and barricades himself in a medical bay. The two copies are psychically linked, and the original shows that the new version is acting as an agent for the Klingons, who flees on a shuttlecraft.
Messages are received to illustrate that the new war is going badly for the Federation. Scotty creates some further duplicates of rabbits so that Dr. McCoy can study them. The Enterprise arrives at Organia, but the crew are affected by a tachyon field set up around the planet. The effects worsen for the away team of Kirk, Scotty and Spock, and it is discovered that it was actually the duplicate Spock who transported down with the team. The real Spock arrives on the planet, having been warned via the psychic link, saves Kirk and Scotty, and dispatches his duplicate. Scotty disables the Klingon device which had imprisoned the Organians and created the tachyon field. In response, the Organians imprison the Klingon race back on their planet for a thousand years. The Enterprise departs and continues on its five-year mission of exploration.
The first works of fiction based in the Star Trek universe were the Star Trek comic books, which began publication in 1967. These were followed by short story adaptations of the episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series by James Blish during the same year. In 1968, the children's book Mission to Horatius was published, which was the first novel based on Star Trek to feature an original story. For the first original novel for adults, Blish wanted to kill off a highly popular character to surprise readers. Unexpectedly, Spock had been the most popular character in the TV series, more popular than Captain Kirk. Blish discussed the plot with his wife, Judy, who also preferred Spock to Kirk. So Blish chose to kill off Spock.
The plot, featuring both the Klingons and the Organians, follows up to the episode "Errand of Mercy", which had previously been adapted into a short story by Blish. The story also features references to other works of fiction. Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast series of novels is referenced in the name of an alien species called "Gormanghastlies", and one of the plot points is based around a language featured in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. It also uses the word "mathom" which was later considered to be a deliberate reference to J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings universe. The novel doesn't reset the universe once more to that seen in the television series, something unusual for the book line. Instead, the Klingon Empire is left unable to make any space flight for a thousand years, and the character of Koloth is stuck in a time loop.
Spock Must Die! was published in February 1970, and due to the cancellation of Star Trek a year earlier it included a message from Blish for fans to rally in order to renew the series. Sales of the book were good, and it was intended that Blish would continue to write new original novels set in the Star Trek universe. This plan was cancelled after Blish's death, and a further novel for adults would not be released until 1976's Spock, Messiah! by Theodore R. Cogswell and Charles A. Spano, Jr.. In the meanwhile between those two books, Alan Dean Foster wrote further adaptations of the episodes from the series which began to be published in 1974. It was also included in The Star Trek Reader IV, a 473 page anthology published in 1978. Spock Must Die! has been reprinted multiple times; by 1984 it had been printed 17 times by Bantam Books. It has had a number of cover redesigns in later editions. By 2006, an original paperback edition was valued at between $5 to $15.
Brian M. Stableford's 1979 work about James Blish's career, A Clash of Symbols, described the book as a "combination of space opera and whimsy, quite typical of the Star Trek mythos". He thought that the sequences in the book would have been too expensive for the television series, although it was structured in a similar manner as an episode with "sub-climaxes that one can easily imagine would bracket commercial breaks". In Strother B. Purdy's The Hole in the Fabric (1979), Spock Must Die! was referred to as an "rather well-written" example of the duplication of characters in science fiction. It was considered to be a play on elements of Martin Gardner's The Ambidextrous Universe and Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass. It was described as an "intriguing idea" by astrobiologist Daniel Glavin in New Scientist magazine in 2010.
The review by Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review magazine in 1979 described the novel as "one of the better original novels written from the series". In Don D'Ammassa's Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2005), the book was described as "interesting historically, but it is a mediocre piece of fiction." British writer George Mann criticised Blish's Star Trek work, including Spock Must Die! in the relevant entry in The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2001). He said that they "were obviously written primarily for money and do not display the literary and intellectual skill evident in his earlier work". Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer read the book for Tor.com in 2012. She felt that the plotline involving the women on board the Enterprise sexually desiring the new Spock was "unsettling" as she thought it said "that sex with Spock... is the cure for racism that 23rd century women cannot find anywhere else" and stated that Janice Rand deliberately pursued men so as not to become involved with Captain Kirk. However, Cheeseman-Meyer said that it was "worth reading as a celebration of the world Star Trek envisioned, however strange that could sometimes be."
- "The Enemy Within" – an episode of The Original Series which features a duplicate Captain Kirk.
- "Second Chances" – an episode of The Next Generation where a duplicate of Commander William T. Riker is found.
- Star Trek portal
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- D'Ammassa (2005): p. 45
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- Spock Must Die! at Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki)
- Spock Must Die! at Memory Beta (a non-canon Star Trek wiki)