Monday, November 26, 2018

SCIFI MONTH BOOK REVIEW!! Spock Must Die!, by James Blish

This is an exciting event, hosted by 
Lisa @ Dear Geek Place 
and imyril @!!

For more information, and to 
join in, please refer 
to my Announcement Post
for this event!!

Spock Must Die!
(Star Trek Adventures, Book 1)
James Blish
Mass Market Paperback, 
118 pages
Bantam Books, 
February 1, 1972
Science Fiction, Star Trek TOS

Synopsis: When a transporter experiment goes horribly awry, suddenly there are two Mr. Spocks! One is the true First Officer of the Enterprise. The other is his complete opposite, a traitor whose very existence poses a grave threat to the crew, the ship, and the Federation itself. One of the Spocks must die. But which one ... ?

The original Star Trek TV show remains, for me, the very best of all the various incarnations of this great, pioneering SF series. As for the characters on this show, my very favorite is Mr. Spock, that enigmatic Vulcan whose personality is actually a combination of Terran and Vulcan traits.

Star Trek has always appealed to me not only because of the highly compelling characters and imaginative plots, but also because of the philosophical aspects included in most of its episodes (with the exception of the truly bad ones, such as "Mudd's Angels"). Blish certainly makes use of these aspects in this short novel.

The concept that forms the basis of the novel is one that has also been featured on the show itself, in more than one episode. The most similar to the one in this novel is "The Enemy Within", in which Captain Kirk is replicated due to a transporter malfunction. In Spock Must Die!, it is Spock who is replicated, although the effect of this replication is totally different from Kirk's. Whereas Kirk was split into his good and evil sides, which then had to be brought back together to form one whole person, each of the two Spocks IS one whole person. Interestingly, however, one of them does turn out to be evil, and is the complete opposite of the real Mr. Spock. (This also reminds me of yet another episode, "Mirror, Mirror".)

The story opens with something that also frequently appeared on the original program: McCoy's philosophical ruminations on the possible effects of beaming a humanoid from one place to another. He wonders whether the person who emerges from the transporter at any given destination is really the same person who stepped into it at the originating location. He also speculates as to whether this person's soul has actually been lost in the process. 

This is a fascinating line of reasoning, and Blish expands upon it through the characters and plot. McCoy's thoughts actually seem prophetic, as the Enterprise crew find themselves in need of initiating a transporter experiment in order to find out what has happened to the Organians and their planet, and just how the Klingons might be involved. (The Organians were first introduced in "Errand of Mercy".)

In this particular case, Mr. Scott, the Chief Engineer, comes up with the idea of using the transporter to beam a tachyon version of an Enterprise crew member to Organia, as the starship itself is not within beaming range of the planet. The reason for this is so as not to risk sending the actual person to Organia, thus protecting him or her from any harmful effects, due to the distance. Spock, as Science Officer, as well as First Officer, is chosen for this "mission".

According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, a tachyon is "a hypothetical particle that always moves faster than light." In this novel, tachyons are treated as real physical particles. In my honest opinion, this unfortunately presents the dilemma of how a "tachyon version" of a real person could be beamed anywhere. Wouldn't that be a contradiction in terms? How could such a version even exist in our universe? Wouldn't this "person" necessarily be in a different dimension, given that they are composed of particles that move faster than light, whereas we regular humans are not composed of such particles? This, I think, is a flaw in the author's reasoning.

Getting back to the story.....something goes terribly wrong with the transporter, and, when it is finally shut off, TWO Spocks have now emerged..... Again, I must wonder at even the fictional possibility of this occurring, given that one of these Spocks is made up of these tachyons....

Although the idea of a transporter malfunction is not a new one in the original ST series (I don't know about the other versions, since I haven't watched them), Blish gives it a new twist, something I really enjoyed. In the days following this surprising turn of events, the reader witnesses Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty try to make sense of and attempt to solve this situation. Kirk is particularly stressed out by it, as Spock is not only his First Officer, but his friend, as well. He is especially dismayed when one of the Spocks -- the one Kirk has decided to call "Spock Two" -- almost immediately demands that the other Spock be destroyed, as he claims that "Spock One" is the replicate. 

In my honest opinion, this could have turned out to be a truly magnificent novel, had it only been longer. The conflict between the two Spocks could have been developed much further than it actually was, thus creating more drama. Moreover, we could have gotten more information about Mr. Spock's psyche -- the human as well as the Vulcan side. I would have really appreciated it if Blish had delved deeper into the psychological aspects of the story.

As all Star Trek TOS fans are aware, Mr. Spock remains the show's most fascinating and intriguing character, because of the contradictions inherent in his unique personality. These contradictions can often be a source of frustration, as well as humor, to the humans surrounding him, but they are also a source of inner torment to the Vulcan himself. Having two versions of this character at hand could have created a LOT of interesting situations between the two versions. This could also have created a LOT more havoc with the crew than it actually did -- not to mention the Klingons. Unfortunately, Blish did not fully avail himself of the opportunity to do so....

This whole thing is taking place at the same time that a war -- started by the Klingons -- is going on. This war was also not dealt with adequately. The Organians had previously put a stop to any hostilities between the Federation and the Klingons, in the TV episode mentioned above. The Organians are somewhat incapacitated in this novel, but still, I do think the author could have come up with some way for them to intervene, in spite of what was going on (which I won't go into, so as not give out any spoilers). 

The original series -- and I'm sure the subsequent versions were, as well -- has always been very cerebral. I, for one, was totally fascinated by all the scientific explanations that were included in this novel, even though the whole tachyon thing remains a scientific theory, at best.

Here are some samples:

(Scotty speaking) "Suppose we were to redesign the transporter so that, instead of scannin' a man an' replicatin' him at destination in his normal state, it replicated him in tachyons, at this end of the process?"(page 14)

(Scotty again) "After I got the report from Dr. McCoy about the amino acids, I took the assumption one radical step further. I assumed that the mirroring went all the way down to the elementary particles of which space-time and energy-matter are made. Why not? The universe is complicated, but it is consistent." (page 71)

(McCoy speaking) "All this reminded me that though we -- humanity, that is -- know the elementary particles of matter and energy, know the unit of gravity, have even (so Scotty tells me) identified something called the chronon which is the smallest possible bit into which time can be divided, we do not know the elementary unit of consciousness. We do not even know the speed of thought." (page 73)

However, this being a novel, and not a scientific treatise, I repeat that Blish should have developed the plot further, making the book  longer, so as to create more dramatic tension in the story. The ending, for example, was a bit too facile, as well as contrived.

This is still a solid piece of ST TOS fiction that is strictily canon. The characters all speak and act as they did in the original episodes. The one little quibble I have, which has been mentioned by other reviewers, is that McCoy is referred to as "Doc" throughout this novel, by all the other characters. All of us fans know very well that Kirk's nickname for McCoy is "Bones". Yet, in this book, Kirk never used this nickname. Instead, he called the doctor "Doc", like everyone else in the crew depicted in this book.

All in all, this is an excellent, if somewhat flawed, addition to the Star Trek TOS universe. The writing is superb, however, which is why I cannot in good conscience give this book less than 4 stars. And I do recommend it to every dedicated Trekker out there! Furthermore, it certainly made me nostalgic for the original episodes..... I need to set aside a weekend for a Star Trek TOS marathon!

Live long and prosper, fellow Terrans!!  


James Benjamin Blish (East Orange, New Jersey, May 23, 1921 – Henley-on-Thames, July 30, 1975) was an American author of fantasy and science fiction. Blish also wrote literary criticism of science fiction using the pen name William Atheling Jr.

In the late 1930's to the early 1940's, Blish was a member of The Futurians. This was a group
of science fiction fans, based in New York, City,
who "were a major force in the development
of science fiction writing and science fiction
fandom in the years 1937 - 1945."
(Source: Wikipedia)

Blish trained as a biologist at Rutgers and Columbia University, and spent 1942–1944 as a medical technician in the U.S. Army. After the war he became the science editor for the Pfizer pharmaceutical company. His first published story appeared in 1940, and his writing career progressed until he gave up his job to become a professional writer.

He is credited with coining the term 'gas giant', in the story "Solar Plexus", as it appeared in the anthology Beyond Human Ken, edited by Judith Merril. (The story was originally published in 1941, but that version did not contain the term; Blish apparently added it in a rewrite done for the anthology, which was first published in 1952.)

Blish was married to the literary agent Virginia Kidd from 1947 to 1963.

From 1962 to 1968, he worked for the Tobacco Institute.

Between 1967 and his death from lung cancer in 1975, Blish became the first author to write short story collections based upon the classic TV series Star Trek. In total, Blish wrote 11 volumes of short stories adapted from episodes of the 1960s TV series, as well as an original novel, Spock Must Die! in 1970 — the first original novel for adult readers based upon the series (since then hundreds more have been published). He died midway through writing Star Trek 12; his wife, J.A. Lawrence, completed the book, and later completed the adaptations in the volume Mudd's Angels.

Blish also wrote some important SF works, such as A Case of Conscience (1958), and  Cities in Flight (1970), a four-volume collection. He was awarded the Hugo for Best Novel in 1959 for the former. In 1965, he also received a Nebula nomination for Best Novelette, for  "The Shipwrecked Hotel", with 
Norman L. Knight. In 1968, he received the Nebula award nomination for Best Novel, for Black Easter.
(For more Blish works, click on the Fantastic
Fiction link below.)
Blish lived in Milford, Pennsylvania at Arrowhead until the mid-1960s. In 1968, Blish emigrated to England, and lived in Oxford until his death in 1975. He is buried in Holywell Cemetery, Oxford, near the grave of Kenneth Grahame.


  1. Superb review Maria. As I think that I mentioned when you noted that you were reviewing this book, this book has been on my radar for a very long time. It really does sound like an original series episode. The whole philosophical thing with the transporter - does it actually destroy a person? - is something that fans have been discussing for years. In fact, as I recall, Douglas Hofstadter actually mentioned it in GEB. I did not realize that Blish tackled it here. It is actually a fascinating concept.

    1. Hi, Brian!

      Thank you so much for the compliment!! <3 <3

      I had this book for quite a while myself, before I finally got to it. And yes, it does sound like an original series episode! That's because it's actually based, I think, mostly on two episodes that were actually aired -- "The Enemy Within", and "Mirror, Mirror".

      I can imagine that fans have forever been discussing the effect of the transporter on humans (and any other intelligent species that might be out there. When I first watched the show, it sure seemed like a very cool thing -- going somewhere without having to use any type of physical transportation! Lol. Now it actually strikes me as a very scary concept....

      How fascinating (Spock's favorite word!) that Hofstadter even includes this concept in GEB! I should have expected that, since his whole theme is consciousness itself. It is indeed a fascinating concept, although now I'm with McCoy! Not sure I'd enjoy having my atoms and molecules scattered out into the universe, and then actually reconstituted at a given

      Thanks for the WONDERFUL comment!! I really do need to have an ST TOS marathon!!! Hope you have a TERRIFIC week!! Live long and prosper!! <3 :)

  2. He was an amazing writer, indeed. And his short story versions of the episodes are fascinating stuff. He used early versions of the scripts, I believe, so they are often different from the filmed episodes and give us some idea of the changes.

    And he was only one of many famous SF writers to write Trek novels!

    1. Hi, Sue!

      Yes, indeed! I only wish this novel had been longer..... and the thing about the tachyons, I don't know. But I did find the book fascinating! <3 <3

      I also remember enjoying the episode versions, although I was wondering about the differences between the plots as he wrote them, and the actual TV episodes. I had NO idea that he had been working from early versions of the scripts, so thank you for that information! Now I see why his written versions were so different.

      Yes, indeed, there have been several famous SF writers who wrote Trek novels. I'm only interested int the Star Trek TOS (The Original Series) show, though. I did try watching a couple of Next Generation episodes, but for me, they just couldn't compare with the original show (although the production was FAR superior). In my honest opinion, Picard can't hold a candle to Kirk, and Data, compared to Spock, doesn't interest me, either. Maybe I should try watching more episodes on Netflix. Ditto for "Deep Space Nine", and the other versions of Star Trek. I did watch one "Deep Space Nice" episode, I remember, some time back. I LOVED that Whoopi Goldberg was in that show, as I'm a HUGE fan of hers!

      Thanks for the interesting comment!! <3 :)

  3. A fabulous review, Maria - and also many thanks for your biography of James Blish which helped to set the novel in context with its historical backdrop and make sense of some of the themes. I recall the original Star Trek very clearly. And you're right, of course, Spock is by far the most compelling of all the characters in the original series, although Uhura and the blonde yeoman who loved Jim Kirk also could have been more nuanced and interesting if they had been given more elbow room...

    I loved reading your review - your approach and enthusiasm always pulls me in. Thank you:))

    1. Hi, Sarah!

      THANK YOU SO MUCH!! <3 <3

      You're very welcome for the bio! I pulled it partly from Goodreads, and partly from Wikipedia. Although he is perhaps best-known for his ST adaptations, Blish also wrote some important works in his own right, winning some very prestigious SF awards in the process. I made sure to include all this information in the bio.

      Oh, yes, Spock is SO fascinating!! (And that was his favorite word, too -- "fascinating". Lol.) I used to have such a crush on him!!! But then, I alternated that with another big crush on Kirk. LOL. In the final analysis, though, I do think Spock is FAR more interesting (or fascinating) than Kirk. Hee, hee!!! :) :)

      I think that, were TOS in production today, Uhura and the blonde yeoman (her name was Janice Rand in the show) would DEFINITELY be getting more attention as important characters in their own right. I think Nurse Chapel would also be getting more attention. But then, "Star Trek: Voyager", came along. In this version, a WOMAN was the captain of the featured starship, which was actually named "Voyager". I really should make EVERY effort to watch THIS version! The captain's name was Kathryn Janeway (played by Kate Mulgrew).

      The Original Series was truly a pioneering show. However, things could only go so far in the 1960s. "Voyager" ran from 1995 to 2001, so I'm sure that women crew members were also given more prominence.

      Of course I'm ALWAYS VERY enthusiastic about the books I review positively! And I thought this one did have mostly positive elements.

      Thanks again for the praise and the lovely comment!! HUGS!!! <3 <3 <3 :) :) :)


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