James Blish

Spock Must Die

Author’s Note

Unlike the preceding three STAR TREK books, this one is not a set of adaptations of scripts which have already been shown on television, but an original novel built around the characters and background of the TV series conceived by Gene Roddenberry. I am grateful to the many fans of the show who asked me to tackle such a project, and to Bantam Books and Paramount Television for agreeing to it.

And who knows — it might make a television episode, or several, some day. Although the American network (bemused, as usual, by a rating service of highly dubious statistical validity) has canceled the series, it began to run in Great Britain in mid-June 1969, and the first set of adaptations was published concurrently in London by Corgi Books. If the show is given a new lease on life through the popularity of British reruns, it would not be the first such instance in television history.

I for one refuse to believe that an enterprise so well conceived, so scrupulously produced, and so widely loved can stay boneyarded for long.

And I have 1,898 letters from people who don’t believe it either.


Marlow, Bucks, England.



From the Captain’s Log, Star Date 4011.9:

We are continuing to record a navigation grid for this area of space-time, as directed. Mr. Spock reports that, according to the library, the procedure is still called “benchmarking” after ancient ordinance mapping practices laid down before the days of space flight, though these cubic parsecs of emptiness look like most unattractive sites to park a bench.

Though we are not far by warp drive from the Klingon Empire, and in fact I am sure the Klingons would claim that we were actually in it, the mission has been quite uneventful and I believe I detect some signs of boredom among my officers. Their efficiency, however, seems quite unimpaired.

“What worries me,” McCoy said, “is whether I’m myself any more. I have a horrible suspicion that I’m a ghost. And that I’ve been one for maybe as long as twenty years.”

The question caught Captain Kirk’s ear as he was crossing the rec room of the Enterprise with a handful of coffee. It was not addressed to him, however; turning, he saw that the starship’s surgeon was sitting at a table with Scott, who was listening with apparently deep attention. Scotty listening to personal confidences? Or Doc offering them? Ordinarily Scotty had about as much interest in people as his engines might have taken; and McCoy was reticent to the point of cynicism.

“May I join this symposium?” Kirk said. “Or is it private?”

“It’s nae private, it’s just nonsense, I think,” the engineering officer said. “Doc here is developing a notion that the transporter is a sort of electric chair. Thus far, I canna follow him, but I’m trying, I’ll do mysel’ that credit.”

“Oh,” Kirk said, for want of anything else to say. He sat down. His first impression, that McCoy had been obliquely referring to his divorce, was now out the porthole, which both restored his faith in his understanding of McCoy’s character, and left him totally at sea. Understanding McCoy was a matter of personal as well as ship’s importance to Kirk, for as Senior Ship’s Surgeon, McCoy was the one man who could himself approach Kirk at any time on the most intimate personal level; indeed, it was McCoy’s positive duty to keep abreast of the Captain’s physical, mental and emotional condition and to speak out openly about it — and not necessarily only to the patient.

When McCoy joined the Enterprise, Kirk suspected that it had been the divorce that had turned him to the Space Service in the first place. The details, however, were a mystery. Kirk did know that McCoy had a daughter, Joanna, who had been twenty back then and for whom the surgeon had provided; she was in training as a nurse somewhere, and McCoy heard from her as often as the interstellar mail permitted. That was not very often.

“Somebody,” Kirk said, “had better fill me in. Doc, you’ve said nine times to the dozen that you don’t like the transporter system. In fact, I think ‘loath,’ is the word you use. ‘I do not care to have my molecules scrambled and beamed around as if I were a radio message.’ Is this just more of the same?”

“It is and it isn’t,” McCoy said. “It goes like this. If I understand Scotty aright, the transporter turns our bodies into energy and then reconstitutes them as matter at the destination.”

“That’s a turrible oversimplification,” Scott objected. The presence of his accent, which came out only under stress, was now explained; they were talking about machinery, with which he was actively in love. “What the transporter does is analyze the energy state of each particle in the body and then produce a Dirac jump to an equivalent state somewhere else. No conversion is involved — if it were, we’d blow up the ship.”

“I don’t care about that,” McCoy said. “What I care about is my state of consciousness — my ego, if you like. And it isn’t matter, energy or anything else I can name, despite the fact that it’s the central phenomenon of all human thought. After all, we all know we live in a solipsistic universe.”

“A what?” Kirk said.

“We inhabit two universes, then,” McCoy said patiently. “One is the universe inside our skulls — our viewpoint universe, as it were. The other is the phenomenal universe — but that in the long run is only a consensus of viewpoint universes, augmented by pointer readings, and other kinds of machine read-outs. The consensus universe is also a product of consciousness. Do you agree, Jim?”

“Tentatively,” Kirk said. “Except that I find what you call the consensus universe is pretty convincing.”

“Statistically, yes. But it breaks down very rapidly when you examine the individual data behind the statistics. All we really know is what we register inside our skulls — a theory which used to be called logical positivism. I go further: I say that there may not even be any consensus universe, and that nothing is provably real except my consciousness, which I can’t measure. This position is called solipsism, and I say that the fact of self-consciousness forces us all to be solipsists at heart and from birth. We just seldom become aware of it, that’s all.”

“Space travel does that to you,” Kirk agreed. “Especially when you’re as far from home as we are now. Luckily, you recover, at least enough to function.”

“Nobody ever recovers, completely,” McCoy said somberly. “I believe that the first discovery of this situation is one of the great formative shocks in human development — maybe as important as the birth trauma. Tell me, Jim: wasn’t there a moment, or an hour, in your childhood or early adolescence when you realized with astonishment that you, the unique and only Jim Kirk, were at the very center of the whole universe? And when you tried to imagine what it would be like to see the universe from some other point of view — that of your father, perhaps — and realized that you were forever a prisoner in your own head?”

Kirk searched his memory. “Yes, there was,” he said. “And the fact that I can still remember it, and so easily, does seem to indicate that it was fairly important to me. But after a while I dismissed the whole problem. I couldn’t see that it had any practical consequences, and in any event there wasn’t anything I could do about it. But you still haven’t answered my question. What’s all this got to do with the transporter?”

“Nary a thing,” Scott said.

“On the contrary. Whatever the mechanism, the effect of the transporter is to dissolve my body and reassemble it somewhere else. Now you’ll agree from experience that this process takes finite, physical time — short, but measurable. Also from experience, that during that time period neither body nor consciousness exists.

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