Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: 'Spock, Messiah !' by Theodore R. Cogswell and Charles A. Spano, Jr.


3 / 5 Stars

'Spock, Messiah !' (182 pp) was published by Bantam Books in September, 1976; the cover illustration is by Gene Szafran.

As the novel begins, the Enterprise is in orbit around the planet Kyros, conducting a survey of Kyrosian culture and civilization. There is a novel twist to this particular mission: via use of 'telescan cephalic implants', Away Team members are able to telepathically link with an unsuspecting Kyrosian citizen, not only adopting that individual's persona, but accessing their memories, and fluency in language, as well. This technology allows the Away Team to investigate a foreign culture with as little artifice as possible.

As is typical for Star Trek scripts and novels, Something Bad takes place to put the ship in dire danger. This time it's a massive radiation storm of unknown origin, emerging from deep space and heading for the Enterprise. It's time for the ship to leave orbit before the storm fries the crew.

However, when the warp drive fails to engage, Kirk and Scotty make a dismaying discovery: the trilithium crystals have been removed from the engines, and the Enterprise is unable to generate enough power to leave orbit.

To make matter worse, it seems that Spock has stolen the crystals (!) and retreated to Kyros. It emerges that the Kyrosian with which Spock has entered into telepathic communication is one Chag Gara, a barbarian from one of the more primitive tribes of the planet. 

Thanks to the cephalic implant, Spock has mind-melded with a fanatic. No longer a Vulcan science officer, Spock is now a revolutionary with a Messiah complex, a revolutionary with few scruples about forcibly converting the entire population of Kyros to a new religion.

With time running short before the radiation storm strikes the Enterprise, Kirk and McCoy beam down, posing as Kyrosian healers.

Their desperate mission: find Spock, subdue him, and retrieve the dilithium crystals.

But Spock has no intention of relinquishing his Holy War and the amazing array of emotions roiling within his new personality. Kirk and McCoy will discover that even when insane, Spock is not one to be trifled with.....

'Spock, Messiah' was just the second Star Trek novel released by Bantam, 'Spock Must Die !' being the first. 

Looking back nearly 40 years later, it's hard to believe, but it took well into 1976 before Paramount and Bantam came to the realization that Star Trek fans, having read and re-read the James Blish novelizations of the series scripts, just might be hungering for all-new content.

'Messiah' is one of the better ST novels, and its origins as a mid-70s novel have much to do with this. The book is filled with politically incorrect references and attitudes, things forbidden in contemporary novels, but placidly part of the pop culture landscape in 1976.

For example, the female crewmembers are depicted as beset with repressed sexual desires for Spock, something the mentally unstable Vulcan is quite happy to alleviate (!)  An attractive Ensign is not only the regular target of sexist remarks from chauvanists Kirk and McCoy, but contributes to the away mission by using nude dancing to seduce besotted Kyrosians (!)

The novel doesn't shy from overt violence; Kirk severs an opponent's hand, and Spock's legions of fanatics aren't shy about using force to Convert the Uncertain.

And, the novel doesn't shy from referencing Mohammed and the rise of Islam as apt parallels for Chag Gara's rise to power on Kyros.....try inserting that meme into a modern ST adventure !

Whether you're a Trekkie or not, 'Spock Messiah' is worth picking up if you can find a copy on the secondhand book shelves.

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