Book Trek #3: Star Trek: The Original Series – ‘Spock’s World’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 5 billion years ago.

It feels an unexpectedly timely moment to read ‘Spock’s World’, one of the signature novels from Star Trek writer Diane Duane. Though written in 1989, it deals with an issue that resonates for anyone living in the United Kingdom today, as this writer does: a Referendum. A decision on the part of Vulcan as to whether or not to secede from the United Federation of Planets. Duane could not have possibly known her novel would strike a chord in this way, but it turns out to be a happy accident.

Vulcan, in many respects, has remained more of an enigma in Star Trek than it by any rights should have. While The Next Generation explored the Klingon race and culture in depth, as did Deep Space Nine, only prequel series Enterprise truly delved into the first alien civilisation Gene Roddenberry presented in The Original Series as important to the human experience, through the character of Spock. The Vulcans evolved into a species known for their control of emotions, living through principles of logic and reason, as a direct counterpoint to the rash, hotheadedness innate in the human race. Enterprise, certainly in its first few seasons, made this central difference in both cultures a crucial aspect of the entire series, with the first Starfleet warp ship preparing to explore beyond Earth’s solar system, despite warnings from the Vulcans that humanity was ‘not ready’.

‘Spock’s World’ was written over a decade before Enterprise was even conceived, indeed it debuted only a couple of years into The Next Generation-era. For millions of viewers, Star Trek was *still* at its core Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the crew of the original Enterprise, with TOS the yardstick to follow. Duane’s story takes place just after The Motion Picture; Kirk is an Admiral who takes a temporary devolution in rank to become Captain of the Enterprise once again. TOS *did* explore Vulcan society, principally in legendary Season 2 premiere ‘Amok Time’ which introduced the Vulcan physical and psychological ritual of pon farr, but that classic series never truly was concerned with backstory and mythology of worlds and societies as the TNG-era began to explore. Vulcan always, still, remained a mystery.

Duane, therefore, attempts to redress that balance with ‘Spock’s World’, a novel she admits she always wanted to write and remains her favourite, even if it suffered something of a troubled development history:

That book scratched a creative itch I’d wanted to deal with for a long time, for I was always a big Spock fan. But also, sometimes it’s the work that gives you the most trouble that you love the best. I lost what should have been the final draft of that book to a disk crash – my backups turned out to be corrupt – and I had to reconstruct the entire book in about two weeks to hit my deadline. This may have been one of those blessing-in-disguise things, in that I think the rewrite/reconstruction was better than the original. In any case, Spock’s World is sort of the gift that keeps on giving, to its author anyway. I could hardly believe it when I heard that Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci were passing out pages from Spock’s World to the cast on Star Trek (2009) in lieu of script pages, to show them how they wanted certain characters to interact. That blew me away.

The legacy of her novel, in how Orci used it as a base template for the alternate-universe reboot of Star Trek, is very interesting. Orci would have found it easier to point to the development given to the Vulcans in ENT through T’Pol or episodes like ‘Home’, ‘Kir’Shara’ & ‘Awakening’ for example, which canonically predate TOS and were of course made by the time Orci was producing Star Trek in 2009. Yet he went back to a novel which, in fact, has been contradicted *by* canon in some of those ENT episodes, and indeed Star Trek: First Contact which provides an entirely different origin story for how humanity and the Vulcans first met each other in the mid-21st century, which Duane herself borrowed from Margaret Wander Bonanno’s TOS novel ‘Strangers from the Sky’, given no fixed, agreed story of ‘first contact’ had played out on Trek in the series or movies by the late-80’s.

What this speaks to is the power and importance of ‘Spock’s World’ as a novel, even if some of it must now be considered to be outside of accepted continuity. The core issues at play in Duane’s story remain fascinating and vital in how they reflect, particularly, the aforementioned issue of ‘Brexit’ which is currently consuming the British population right now as of early 2018. In ‘Spock’s World’, the Vulcans choose in their Referendum to remain in the Federation, upon discovering they have been misled by T’Pring’s anti-Federation propaganda (fuelled by personal animus following the events, appropriately, of ‘Amok Time’), which invalidates the very question of whether humans (or Terrans) are just incompatible with Vulcan society. The same cannot be said for the British people, who voted by a small majority to leave the European Union in a similar decision in summer 2016.

Though the issue of Brexit has drawn a clear line in British society between ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’—in many respects, Right and Left on the political spectrum—there is strong evidence and suggestion that the British people were lied to by the parties and campaigners who wanted the country to leave the EU. Their slogan of ‘Take Back Control’ resonated with people who felt as though the monolithic, federal (and certainly imperfect) EU had eroded too many rights and civil liberties of the British people, and being free of their regulations would free Britain up to improve trade and revive their flagging economy. Again, evidence points to the fact that the reverse may be true, but the Conservative government in power are relentlessly pushing ahead with the withdrawal from Europe. “Brexit means Brexit”, Prime Minister Theresa May has declared. The die is cast.

The choice presented to the Vulcans seemed to be driven by propaganda in a different way, but attempting to achieve the same result: secession. For Vulcan to chart its own course in the galaxy, free of Federation rules and regulations. Though the Federation in many ways acts as a proxy for a protectorate United States (particularly in Deep Space Nine and how it arrives to prop up Bajor following the Cardassian withdrawal from occupation of their planet), it also resembles the European Union in a fundamental way. The EU came into being in 1992 with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, following several decades of diplomatic reconstruction following the Second World War, and remains seen by many, in an idealistic sense, as quite a progressive concept: one state, essentially, with one currency, open and free travel and trade, embracing each other’s cultures and societies.

Take away the currency and the economic aspect, that sounds a lot like the Federation, which itself was created in the shadow of the Earth-Romulan War (which sadly we didn’t get to see in ENT, but which has subsequently started to play out in continuing tie-in novels). Starfleet may have originally existed as an evolution of NASA, an exploration force much like a seafaring fleet in space, but the Federation—a unity of races including the Vulcans, Andorians, Tellarites etc…—was created to provide a unified defence, in part, to protect multiple races from aggression. The EU, with its union of European states such as England, France, Spain etc…, brought together countries which before WW2 had spent centuries in a perpetual state of land and naval warfare. The 20th century started with the two most devastating wars in history but it ended with nation states finally beginning to put aside their long histories of conflict and distrust in order to create a better and safer future.

As Brexit threatens to undo that legacy, threatens to potentially make Britain an isolationist nation once again, so the Referendum that Duane uses as a central hook to explore Vulcan society throws up questions about the Federation, and what it represents. Though the Vulcans vote to stay following T’Pring’s nefarious actions being brought to light, and the katra transfer from the dying T’Pau to Spock’s mother Amanda Grayson which further affirms that sense of shared understanding and unity between humans and Vulcans (plus it also explains why Jane Wyatt’s performance in The Voyage Home seems remarkably Vulcan in its delivery), a great deal of Vulcan society were torn about whether being part of the Federation was a good thing, even after over a century. Would they have naturally, if propaganda and manipulation hadn’t occurred, chosen to secede? It remains an open question.

Duane is, admittedly, less interested in the geo-politics than creating a mythic, origin story for Vulcan itself. The novel may be called ‘Spock’s World’ precisely because though we come to know Spock, with his half-human heritage, immensely well over the many series, movies and books in which he appears, not until Duane’s exploration do we truly have any understanding of how Vulcan evolved. In chapters around the central Referendum story, Duane takes Vulcan from the very formation of its star, through to a mythical pre-history of a verdant world with formative Vulcans who are almost wiped out by a solar flare which turns the planet arid, all the way through to Surak, the Vulcan analogy for Christ, in how important a role he played in shaping their entire way of life, and how he helps them turn away from violence and anger to a society based on logic and control.

In many ways, ‘Spock’s World’ feels as much about Spock’s father Sarek as his son. Sarek is the first Vulcan who Duane writes about, and his first meeting with Amanda forms the culmination of the Vulcan origin story, while his central dilemma proves crucial to the core story; that Sarek, long an Ambassador to the Federation, married to a human woman, prepares to vote for Vulcan to secede – at the behest of his government. Now, of course, we can retrospectively factor in Sarek’s adopted daughter Michael Burnham into his psychology as a man torn between two worlds. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Orci essentially gave Spock in the Kelvin timeline, and in Star Trek (2009), that very same existential dilemma, of being torn between Vulcan and Earth – because of Sarek’s arc in ‘Spock’s World’. Spock in the Prime timeline never quite feels *as* torn as Kelvin Spock does.

Though it cannot fit perfectly into Star Trek continuity, having been contradicted subsequently by on-screen sources, ‘Spock’s World’ is a fascinating exploration and deep dive into Vulcan culture, and presents a sociological and cultural question which proves frighteningly resonant three decades on. The level of Vulcan nationalism displayed here only seems to be fervently increasing in Western society and even beyond its use as background information for the movie revival, ‘Spock’s World’ could end up becoming more and more of a potent allegory the deeper into the 21st century, and closer to the point of ‘first contact’, we head.

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