Star Trek 8 by James Blish
Posted by Tracy Poff on July 5, 2015
A few more months brings us to the final Trek book of the year: James Blish’s Star Trek 8, published in November 1972. This volume adapts “Spock’s Brain”, “The Enemy Within”, “Catspaw”, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, “Wolf in the Fold”, and “For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”.
The first story in this book is the execrable “Spock’s Brain”. Good news, though! If you’ve seen the episode, then you’ll recall that they wire Spock’s body up and drive him around like an RC car. None of that in the adaptation–the body remains safely in sickbay for the duration. Blish deserves a medal for that.
It’s still not a very good story, unfortunately. Although Blish reduced the story’s stupidity substantially, he didn’t do anything to improve its women-in-power-are-evil-and-incompetent message. If anything, he exacerbated that problem. Some choice quotes:
The five male bodies, helplessly stretched at her feet, pleased the lady. When the girl Luma joined her, the spectacle pleased her, too.
Beside each woman knelt a man, sleek, well fed, docile as a eunuch. Occasionally a woman stroked a man as one pats a well-housebroken pet.
They are retardates, Kirk thought. Getting through to whatever gray matter existed in that beautiful head was going to be tough.
The women around her, infected by her panic, twittered like birds at the approach of a snake.
To be fair, the thrust of the last two is that the women were helpless because the machinery cared for them too well. It’s unfortunate, all the same.
Of course, if you know Trek, you can guess what happens. Kirk’s solution to his present dilemma is to disable the miraculous, life-giving machinery and encourage the women to survive by trading sex for food. Really. McCoy and Scott explain:
“[…] However, the aid parties have provided the ladies with a tool for procuring food, furs and fuel from the men.”
“Oh?” Kirk turned from one to the other. “Money?”
“No, sir,” Scott said. “Perfume.”
“I’m not given to predictions, gentlemen, but I’ll venture one now,” Kirk told them. “The sexual conflict on Planet 7 will be a short one.”
“The Enemy Within” has a point, but I was never sure that it was a very good one. Kirk is split by a transporter accident into an exaggerated evil version and a uselessly indecisive ‘nice’ version. It is, apparently, the opinion of Trek that the strength to act decisively springs from the same source as violent, base urges and that we therefore need these darker impulses. And also transporters are magic. Anyway, the main interest of this one, as with “Turnabout Intruder”, was in seeing Shatner playing a different kind of Kirk, so it’s not as interesting on the page. Tolerable, but nothing to write home about. Yeoman Rand’s “I don’t want to get you into trouble. I wouldn’t even have mentioned it if technician Fisher hadn’t seen you, too, and…” is as disturbing and unfortunate here as it was on the screen. The fact that this passes without comment shows the age of the story, indeed. And need I even mention how stupid it is to have her providing this testimony while Kirk is standing there protesting?
“Catspaw” and “Wolf in the Fold” are both rather bad. The former has little else going for it than being set in a castle, of all things, which worked better on the screen. As for the latter: it features our heroes deciding that a small series of murders must have been committed by Jack the Ripper, who must have been some kind of alien that feeds on emotions. This theory is considered to be logical by almost everyone, and Jack the Ripper is taken as a serious suspect, even when placed up against the woman-hating man who was found with the bloody murder weapon in his hands. Of course, that man was Scotty, so Jack the Ripper seems a more likely suspect to the readers, too. Naturally, the theory is correct, and said evil alien is conveniently on hand to be despatched by a combination of absurd computer handwaving and drugs followed by a one-way trip through the transporter. A deeply stupid story.
“Where No Man Has Gone Before” has a concept with potential. But it, like its television counterpart, fails to convince me. Gary Mitchell, granted enormous mental powers, succumbs to extreme megalomania and Kirk is forced to kill him. The most unbelievable part of this is that everyone simply acts as though this insanity is an absolutely normal and expected reaction to gaining a new ability. Mitchell, a day or two after learning that he can get a drink of water without standing up, decides that he wants to play god and possibly squash his former friends like bugs. Why? Because he’s insane, obviously. But no one is particularly surprised by this. It mystifies me.
“For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” is the best story in this volume. Like most Trek, it doesn’t fully explore its premises, but it’s entertaining. It is startling how quickly the characters can fall in love, though. Five minutes around any reasonably attractive alien woman is all it takes.
Star Trek 8 is a thoroughly average entry in the series. Some bad stories and some good, and generally readable if not gripping.