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Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: Spock's World by Diane Duane

This review may contain spoilers

Spock’s World is Diane Duane’s fourth Star Trek novel.  It was originally published as a hardcover edition by Pocket Books in 1988 and featured cover art by Joseph Csatari.  It has since been re-printed in various mass market editions and also in the 2004 “Signature Edition” omnibus, Sand and Stars.
The story takes place in 2274 or 2275, which places it after the events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture but before Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  The chapters alternate between current events and the evolution of the planet Vulcan beginning several billion years ago. 

In the “A-Story,” Sarek is recalled to Vulcan to participate in a debate.  The High Council has called a referendum to decide if Vulcan should secede from the United Federation of Planets.  Later, T’Pau requests that Spock, Kirk and McCoy also go to Vulcan to offer testimony at the debate.  On Vulcan, McCoy (with the help of an intelligent Enterprise computer called Moira) uncovers a series of secret financial transactions that link T’Pring to the groups in favour of seceding.  Once revealed to the public, these secrets cause quite a stir and, coupled with the testimonies of Sarek and the Starfleet crewmembers, sway the vote so that Vulcan remains in the Federation.

In the “B-Story,” Duane explains the birth of the planet Vulcan.  Jumping ahead, she describes early Vulcan hominids learning to survive on a planet with little water.  She describes a tribal society that unites under the leadership of “Oldest Mothers” thus establishing that Vulcan’s preference for matriarchal leadership has its roots in their pre-history.  In later chapters, Duane describes the beginnings of language.  The Vulcans begin to notice that certain of their number have special traits such as the inner eyelids that help prevent blindness in the desert and advanced mental and telepathic abilities.  They begin to breed selectively, making matches to favour mixing of these traits to strengthen their tribes.  This history then jumps forward to the birth of Surak and describes the group that would come to be known as Romulans (Duane’s Rihannsu) leaving Vulcan.

Of the two stories, the Vulcan history was more interesting to me.  Duane does a good job of creating a believable history and evolution for the Vulcans.  She presents Surak as sort of a Dr. Phil-like self help guru which is not at all how I have pictured him but perhaps it makes sense for how his ideas became part of Vulcan’s popular culture.  Duane establishes that T’Pau is the matriarchal leader of Sarek and Spock’s family.  It seems a little convenient to me that so many important Vulcans are part of the same family but it would explain T’Pau’s officiating at Spock’s koon-ut-kal-if-fee in “Amok Time.” 
There are several things about the main story that I don’t care much for.  I don’t think Duane quite nailed Kirk’s voice.  I could not picture him saying some of what he says in his testimony on Vulcan.  I also didn’t like the idea that McCoy was the one to uncover T’Pring’s involvement in the plot to have Vulcan secede from the Federation.  It’s not that I doubt McCoy’s ability to do that kind of research but it just seems the obvious role for Spock to play in the story.  In fact, for a novel where Spock is the titular character, he appears very seldom.  I also didn’t like the characterization of Sarek.  I found him too emotional.  Duane had him as an expert at human idioms and puns and though I can imagine he would understand them after living so long on Earth, I cannot imagine him ever using them in day-to-day speech.  Duane presents a Sarek that is much more expressive than the one Mark Lenard portrayed.

The novel seems overly preoccupied with finance and capitalism.  There are constant mentions of Enterprise crewmembers spending money and the relative costs of things to Starfleet or the Federation.  I know that it’s difficult for us to understand a world without money but that idea was central to Gene Roddenberry’s concept of the future. 

Finally, I was a little unsure about the technology on the Enterprise.  The novel is clearly a product of its time.  Duane establishes a shipboard BBS (Bulletin Board System) of the type that were becoming very popular by the late 1980s.  I can imagine a system like this on the Enterprise but the way it’s described is a bit dated by today’s standards. 

Duane also creates a recreational computer called Moira who is intelligent and who has a personality.  It seems to me that if Starfleet had the ability to create this kind of artificial intelligence then they would have used them to create Soong-type androids like Data rather than simple recreational computers.  These kinds of details are exactly why most of the Star Trek novels are not considered “canon.” 

Though I really enjoyed most of the Vulcan history that Duane weaves, I was bothered by some of the characterizations of well-known characters.  I was also bothered by the lack of Spock!  I probably would have enjoyed this novel more when it came out in 1988 before Star Trek: The Next Generation hit its stride and we learned so much more about the Trek universe.  Reading it today, it seems a bit dated and there are many details that conflict with things established in on-screen Star Trek.  Nevertheless, it’s entertaining.  I give it three dying Vulcan matriarchs out of five.

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