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 novel details the creation of a tachyon copy of Spock to investigate the destruction of the Organians; without the intervention of the Organians, war erupts between the Klingons and the Federation. Confusion about the two Spocks allows the new Spock to defect to the Klingons. With the war going badly for Starfleet, the Enterprise travels to Organia to investigate.
The novel was written by James Blish, who had written the adaptations of the television episodes. 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. It was included in 1978's The Star Trek Reader IV. Critics reviewing the novel shortly after its release praised the book as a good example of character duplication in science fiction, but later reviews were mixed. Criticism was directed at the character viewpoints presented in the novel, and later reviewers were less enthusiastic about the work overall.
Doctor Leonard McCoy and Engineer Montgomery Scott discuss McCoy's fear of the transporter. McCoy posits that an original person is killed upon dematerialization and a duplicate is created at the destination. Scotty explains that the technology converts matter into energy, transmits it and reassembles it into the same original object, but McCoy is not convinced and he wonders what happens to the soul in a transporter beam. The conversation is interrupted by the news that the Organians appear to have been destroyed by the Klingon Empire. The Organians had been enforcing a peace treaty between the Klingons and the Federation. The Enterprise is currently a long way from Federation space.
As they journey towards the Klingon neutral zone, Scotty tinkers with the transporter. He develops a method to make a temporary tachyon copy of a crewman that could be transported a much greater distance than the standard range of a transporter beam, enabling the Enterprise to place an agent on Organia long before the ship could reach the planet. Spock is chosen, but a permanent duplicate is created unexpectedly upon transportation—something at Organia has functioned as a perfect, impenetrable mirror for the tachyons. When the duplicate returns, the crew is confused by the two Spocks. The two Spocks are psychically linked, and the original determines that the copy is acting as an agent for the Klingons. After faking a mental breakdown and barricading himself in sick bay, the copy escapes on a shuttlecraft. (The copy had needed time and facilities to manufacture chirality-reversed amino acids. He had undergone a total left-to-right inversion, down to the atomic scale; to survive, he had to include the inverse forms of amino acids in his diet.)
The Enterprise receives communiqués indicating that the war is going badly for the Federation. Arriving at Organia, the crew are affected by a powerful mental disturbance centered on the planet; the effects are worse for Kirk, Scotty, and Spock when they transport down to the planet surface. Kirk identifies this Spock as the duplicate. Realizing their danger via the psychic link, the real Spock arrives on the planet and saves Kirk and Scotty by killing the duplicate. They discover that the Organians are not dead, but imprisoned; however, the Organians report that a thought-screen device, deployed there by the Klingons to block the Organians' powerful mental abilities, would ultimately destroy their race. Scotty disables the Klingon device, freeing the Organians and disabling the thought screen around the planet. In retaliation, the Organians imprison the Klingon race on their homeworld 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 forever in an asymptotically slowing distortion of local time.
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 animated 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 a "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.
- "Mirror, Mirror" – an episode of The Original Series where Captain Kirk goes to a parallel universe where other characters have evil counterparts.
- 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)