Vulcan Nationalism Runs Amok: Diane Duane’s Spock’s World

Vulcan is the ne plus ultra of planets for fans who think that Earth is fatally flawed. The entire planet and its complicated society and spiritual practices exist for the sole purpose of pointing out what Earth is doing wrong and how it could do better. Diane Duane’s 1988 novel, Spock’s World attempts to both enhance this vision of Vulcan and its natives, and to refute it, to bring Vulcans down off the pedestal that Terran geekdom has created for them and to show their heroic flaws. While it often takes itself far too seriously, Spock’s World is a compendium of quirky pleasures. There is mystery, there is scandal, and there is an inexplicable species of subterranean desert whales.

The issue at the center of the story is the proposal that Vulcan should secede from the Federation. Duane takes pains to illustrate all the many reasons this cannot be permitted to happen that can be demonstrated by Mr. Spock. When the story opens, Spock is alone on the Enterprise, seeing to her resupply and refit while Kirk is on leave. Among other things, this entails ordering snacks for the Horta crewmember. Please note: Not only was Spock single-handedly responsible from saving the Horta species from destruction by an ecologically irresponsible mining operation, but now the Horta’s baby has grown up and joined Starfleet, and only Spock can be trusted to remember to order slabs of rock for him to munch on during the upcoming mission. Clearly, the “world” referenced in the title is meant to be the Federation as a whole, not just the planet Vulcan. But Spock is not the most important Vulcan here.

At its heart, Spock’s World is a book about what happened to T’Pring after the events recorded in the season two episode, “Amok Time.” She and Stonn had a rough go because Stonn felt a certain distance between them that he attributed to T’Pring’s lingering feelings for Spock. In an effort to deepen their bond, Stonn attempted to pharmaceutically induce plak tow, and died. T’Pring then realized that all her problems could be traced back to Spock, and in an effort to seek revenge, master-minded the plan to get Vulcan to secede from the Federation. This entire plot is revealed in a single chapter, when Spock asks T’Pring what she’s been up to, and she tells him. Duane wrote this scene without a trace of humor, but it’s difficult to read it that way. This is a story about a woman who seeks revenge on her ex when her lover dies of an overdose of Vulcan Viagra.

Because that is a very short story, Duane has plenty of time and space in this work to explore some fascinating bits and pieces of the Star Trek universe, and to show us what the future looked like from 1988. In addition to dealing with Vulcan’s potential secession, we find out that the crew of the Enterprise enjoys the kind of party where people stand around and watch Sulu play video games. Much time and attention is devoted to the Enterprise’s BBS, where Kirk discovers that people can be mean on the Internet. An incredibly earnest super-computer refuses to make dip with yogurt and unlocks the Vulcan government’s diplomatic privacy codes.  

While Vulcan deals with its North Carolina moment in a lengthy televised debate, a parallel plot describes key moments in Vulcan history. Chapter Two, in an apparent homage to James Michener’s Alaska, offers an eight-page essay on the formation of the planet Vulcan. Duane also reveals that Vulcan is inhabited by a species of whales that somehow swim beneath its deserts without leaving an enormous trail of sinkholes, appearing at crucial moments in the development of Vulcan civilization. We get to see the improbable-sounding solar flare that scorches most of the water and useful vegetation off the planet’s surface, explaining both Vulcan’s aridity and its long history of violence before Surak’s philosophical revelations (which, naturally, involved a sand whale sighting) led the people into a new era of peace (partly because everyone who didn’t agree with him left for Romulus). Most of the historical chapters focus on angry women, which helps make the crucial revelation about T’Pring seem vaguely more plausible. These two forces – angry women and quasi-mythical sand whales – have driven everything in Vulcan’s history.

The resolution to Duane’s story runs true to this theme. T’Pau dies and passes her katra to Spock’s mother, Amanda, which, along with the timely revelation of damaging information about corruption at high levels of the Vulcan government, ends the secession debate and restores the universe to its original condition for the next novelist. In the final analysis, Vulcan has a fascinating, previously unknown species, and the Vulcan people are still exotic, psychic, and mostly stoic. Vulcan civilization uses media to handle controversial issues in a logical and democratic manner that only superficially resembles American Idol. On the other hand, Duane points out that they’re only mostly stoic, that the Vulcan past is almost unimaginably bloody, and that Vulcans don’t like humans very much. They handle interpersonal conflict like the cast of Dynasty. If you were looking for a more civilized race to emulate, you probably need to keep looking.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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