Sunday, 3 March 2013

Spock Must Die!

James Blish Spock Must Die! (1970)

I'm pretty sure I had this book when I was a kid, one of those acquired through swapping stuff because it was Star Trek and I liked the cover, then swapped for something else because I never got around to reading it on account of there being no pictures inside. Years later, I was startled to realise that not only was James Blish an author of something other than television tie-in material, but was actually a science-fiction author of some standing, easily amongst the best of his generation.

I've never been a massive fan of Star Trek, but on the other hand neither have I ever had any particular dislike for any of its incarnations, and Deep Space Nine was pretty damn good, I thought - Babylon 5 with a sense of humour. I recall some theory knocking around regarding the supposed superiority of Doctor Who - seeing as we're talking television for the moment - presumably on the grounds of it having a British passport and being therefore intrinsically superior, what with Mighty Britain being the Earth's one true source of culture. Actually, I think the argument ran that Doctor Who is weird and quirky with our boy as an inherently anti-establishment figure, whilst the accursed Star Trek is about a spaceship full of Republican squares going around telling aliens what to do. It's a pretty stupid argument really, one that has little bearing on any of the actual stories involved, and you might just as well point out that Star Trek was often the weirder of the two, took more narrative risks, bothered to treat its audience as adults, and wasn't racially comparable to a 1979 Skrewdriver gig in Burnley.

Anyway, having been impressed by James Blish on several occasions, I tracked this down once again through simple curiosity. I had high hopes and have actually been surprised by how good it is. I'm not necessarily saying the earth moved, but Spock Must Die! is simply top quality science-fiction utilising established characters rather than the hackwork which tends to be unfortunately synonymous with this sort of thing. Blish doesn't hold back, giving the hard-science spigot the full turn with a liberal deluge of quarks, gravity waves, and the quantum mechanics of a transporter accident to Asimov levels of detail. Even more impressive is that whilst all this blinding science is a world away from what we saw on the magic telly box, there's nothing here that wouldn't have sounded absolutely natural spoken by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy or James Doohan.

Good, inspired stuff.

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