Thu
May 10 2012 12:00pm

Spock to the Future: Barbara Hambly’s Ishmael

Barbara Hambly’s 1985 novel, Ishmael, is a study in contrasts. It’s deeply weird, and deeply serious. It’s densely packed with things that should be ridiculous, and are somehow alarming. The first thing that struck me about Ishmael was Captain Kirk’s emotion. In the opening pages, Kirk is grieving Spock’s death. He’s struggling with a horrible loss made more devastating by an inescapable sense of personal responsibility. Having sent Spock into danger and destruction, Kirk is now facing the powerlessness inherent in not being able to do anything about it. McCoy is the most powerful person in this scene, and all he can do is slip Jim the mickey. It’s touching and sad and heavy. The book is full of these moments, somehow, even though it’s a crossover between Star Trek and another short-lived late-60s television series and features two Doctor Who cameos.

The second television series here is Here Come the Brides, which told the story of 100 women brought to Seattle in the 1860s so the loggers would have someone to marry. There is some historical reality behind this; Seattle did import women, from New York, in 1864. This was three years after the founding of Seattle’s first brothel in 1861. The brothel didn’t make it in to the TV series or the book. This is a cute and sanitized Seattle, where the available vices are limited. Aaron Stemple (played by Mark Lenard, who also appeared on Star Trek as Sarek) finds Spock outside of it, lying face down in the mud. Although taken aback by the green blood and pointy ears, Stemple hauls Spock to his cabin where Spock convalesces – he has extensive injuries with odd patterns of scarring, plus amnesia – and Stemple ponders both Spock’s alien-ness and his own alienation.

The villains of this piece are the Klingons. They captured Spock when he went undercover to investigate an oddly-equipped Klingon vessel, tortured him, and then somehow accidentally delivered him to 1867 while conducting experiments with time travel. They’re out to get Stemple, who they blame for single-handedly preventing the Karsid Empire from annexing Earth in the late 19th-century. After a series of adventures including a lot of combing his hair to cover his ears, a fair amount of cheating at blackjack, and the occasional rescue of a friend in dire circumstances, Spock regains his memory just in time to see Stemple shot by Klingons with anachronistic disruptor weapons.

By this point in the story, we’ve spent a lot of time inside Spock’s head as he, like Kirk struggles for hope. Mostly, this has involved his amnesia. Since he remembers nothing, he has no way of understanding his place in the universe. Once Stemple is shot, Spock remembers everything, but he can’t do anything with the information. He has no way to contact the Enterprise, no way to know if they got his last desperate messages from his spy mission, no way to know that they’re coming for him. But of course, this is a Star Trek story, and the cavalry always comes. While Spock has been rusticating in Seattle and gambling in San Francisco, Kirk et al have been reconstructing the Klingon time travel device and working out where to take it.

Hambly hints at what seems like one of the most heroic stories of historical research ever conducted in the Star Trek universe. Usually, Trek time travel is a point-and-shoot affair with characters working out goals and survival strategies on arrival. In this case, the Klingons’ master strategy is based on archival work of a Klingon historian named Khlaru, conducted on the extensive Karsid records in the Klingon archives. Alas for the historian, what could have been an interesting and highly-publishable monograph on strategic mercantilism and interplanetary expansion in the ancient Karsite Empire leads not to grants and tenure, but to a plan to travel back in time and prevent the formation of the Federation.

Four days after the resulting attack on Stemple, Kirk and McCoy show up to rescue Spock. They heal Stemple and return him to Seattle, where he marries the most socially awkward of the women imported from the east coast (Hambly makes it clear that Stemple’s bride, Biddy, is charming but underappreciated). Spock returns to the Enterprise and all is as it was, in no small part because Aaron and Biddy Stemple turn out to be Spock’s great-great-great-grandparents. Khlaru defects to the Federation. The Klingon Empire gets to deal with the realization that time is a swarm of butterflies flapping its wings in the Amazon so that Kirk can command the Enterprise with Spock at his side.

Fans of Doctor Who will be disappointed. The Doctor shows up in two bars with a companion, but plays no direct role in events. Fans of Here Come the Brides have a lot to chew on here, with characters from that show faithfully reconstructed to play pivotal roles in Hambly’s plot, and, as it turns out, the foundations of the Star Trek universe. Fans of academic historians may find themselves drawn to Hambly’s depiction of the enigmatic and heroic Khlaru. Fans of Captain Kirk will appreciate the insights into his inner life. Ishmael is not the book its premise leads one to expect, but it is a remarkable contribution to the mythology of the Star Trek universe.


Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer seriously considered titling this Spocklahoma! but ultimately decided that the distance between Seattle and Kansas City was too great.

18 comments
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
1. Jonathan Andrew Sheen
For fans of trivia, t's worth noting that, in one of the Doctor's cameos, he's meeting up with Han Solo. In the other, he's meeting Apollo and Starbuck from the better of the two versions of "Battlestar Galactica."

I'm also interested in the legend that the folks at Pocket Books didn't remember "Here Come the Brides," and the whole crossover ended up being a big hairball with unhappy rights-holders. I can't vouch for its accuracy, but I'd love to learn more.

I think, though, that beyond the magnificent achievement of the crackfic crossover, Hambly's greatest contribution in this book, and one I deeply regret wasn't pursued further in other "Trek" properties, be it novels, movies, or later series, was the Karsid empire. This grand idea, that the Klingons we knew from TOS and TNG were previously subjects of a galactic empire that died out between the mid-1800s and "Trek"'s 23rd Century -- which would allow the TOS Klingons and the turtleheaded TMP-and-beyond Klingons two be two different races -- offers all sorts of fascinating opportunities. Hambly uses it wonderfully well, but what a waste we didn't see more exploration of it elsewhere in "Star Trek!"
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
2. Hollasa
This is one of my favourite books for re-reading. I don't know if being familar with "Here Comes the Brides" would add to my appreciation of the book or not - one of these days, I must catch an episode or two and find out!

One mention is that the review mentions that the Klingon historian, Khlaru, defects to the Federation. That doesn't seem to happen in my copy - is the reviewer confusing the Vulcan historian, Trae, with the Klingon historian Khlaru?

“The next time you speak of the subservience of the Klingons to their imperial masters, Captain, and their lack of personal honor and integrity, please remember that it is inconceivable that Khlaru was not asked to identify this document.” Evidently, thought Kirk, Trae wasn’t the only stubborn historian upon the base. It must have been at that point that Khlaru had been sent back to his home-world, to what fate Kirk could only guess. He looked back at the Vulcan, and understood suddenly why Vulcans place the strictest possible bounds upon the expression of anger. The rage in Trae’s eyes was like a silent and contained explosion; the implacable quality of it reduced the hatreds of lesser races like humans, Klingons, or Kzinti, to mere short-term pyrotechnics. From his own seldom-spoken-of friendship with Spock, Kirk understood how rarely a Vulcan will admit to friendship and how deep that friendship must be before it is articulated. Yet Trae had spoken of Khlaru as his friend. There was nothing any of them could do for the Klingon historian, now that he had been called back to his home to face the consequences of his stubbornness. Spock’s death at the hands of the Klingons was uppermost in his mind as he said, “I am sorry.” “Indeed,” whispered Trae. “And one hopes that the Klingons will become a great deal sorrier.”
Peter Ahlstrom
3. PeterAhlstrom
Now I want to reread it. This is certainly a singular book.
Thomas Simeroth
4. a smart guy
@1

I'm pretty sure that is proof positive of the JL of SF. ;)
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
5. Tehanu
This is the book that made a Trekkie out of me, as I told Ms. Hambly when she was kind enough to sign my copy. I didn't even realize for a long time that Here Come the Brides was part of it. As a rabid Mark Lenard fan I particularly appreciate how she made his character in Brides work as Spock's substitute father. I still re-read it every couple of years.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
6. EllenMCM
Hollassa @2 - It was mentioned briefly towards the very end.

When I heard that this book was a crossover with "Here Come the Brides" I assumed that the names and identifying details would be changed because of copyrights and licensing. I was pretty surprised when I looked up the show and found that they weren't changed even a little.

@1 - I completely missed that! Do you know who the doctor's companion was? That's driving me crazy.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
7. Hollasa
EllenMCM, so it is! Oh no - am I going to be forced to re-read the whole book now?

I am curious about just how Khlaru got from being shipped home back to the Starbase, though.

In fact, this whole book just DEMANDS a sequel.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
8. StrongDreams
Wikipedia has a list of famous characters that pop up in this story, including the second and fouth Doctor, Little Joe and Hoss Cartwright, Matt Dillon, Paladin, Maverick and the Man with No Name. No page refs of course. Usual Wikipedia grain of salt...
Andrew Love
9. AndyLove
"
Wikipedia has a list of famous characters that pop up in this story, including the second and fouth Doctor, Little Joe and Hoss Cartwright,Matt Dillon, Paladin, Maverick and the Man with No Name. No page refs of course. Usual Wikipedia grain of salt..."
I remember spotting Hoss and Paladin (Spock plays chess with him).
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
10. RobinM
Well it's been about 1985 since I read this book I missed the Dr. Who and several of the western references. I guess I'll have to re-read it and see. I just remeber all we need is for Urko from Planet of the Apes to show up and all the stuff I'd ever seen Mark Lenard in would have been covered. Also I kept waiting for Spock to comment on the startling resemblence of Stemple and his father once he got his memory back. I didn't realize until it was mentioned in the post that he turns out to be an ancestor . I always enjoyed this story just for the cross-overs.
Karen Simley
11. Simka
I read this book in my twenties, and was so delighted with the Here Come the Brides crossover that I still have it. However, I never noticed all the other crossovers that have been mentioned -- will have to pull it out and reread it now! I didn't know about Doctor Who back then, but I certainly should have recognized the Cartwrights, Paladin, and Maverick.
Paul Howard
12. DrakBibliophile
On the "fun" with copy-right holders, IIRC Barbara Hambly wrote this book as a lark and was asked to send it in by a Pocket editor. She says that she pointed out the copy-right issue and was told "no problem". Fortunately, she had saved copies of all the letters involving this so when the copy-right holders of "Here Comes The Brides" contacted her so was she was able to say that she had warned Pocket Books and was told that it was not a problem. She says that she never heard anymore about it so what happened at Pocket is still unknown.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
13. lburns05
I read this book when I was 13. It rocked! I have never heard of Here Come The Brides unitl now. Guess I'll check it out.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
14. Lesley A
One of my favourites! And now I'll have to re-read it to look for the Doctor.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
15. Sophie Gale
I love this book! I made my SF/F book club read it. However, I am deeply embarassed that I can't identify the guy on the left side of the book cover. I absolutely know his face and I will smack my head when somebody tells me who he is--but the name seems to be sitting on a bad sector in my brain. Help!
Kristen Templet
16. SF_Fangirl
Sophie Gale - I think that's supposed to be Aaron Stemple i.e. the Sarek look-alike and Spock's maternal ancestor. He doesn't look a ton like Sarek, though, on the cover.

I read this as a teenager when it first came out in the days before the Internet. It wasn't until years later thanks to the Internet that I discovered that is was a cross-over. Without knowing that, I do recall that there was an unusal bit of emphasis on the fates on the non-Trek characters. Hamby was apparently wrapping up a series that left its characters hanging without resolution.

This is simply great fanfic that got published. There's lots of bad fanfic out there, but there's also great works that is worthy of being published. OTOH I guess I'm glad I can get it for free on the internet.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
17. Jonathan Andrew Sheen
Sophie Gale writes:
I am deeply embarassed that I can't identify the guy on the left side of the book cover.
SF_Fangirl responds:
I think that's supposed to be Aaron Stemple i.e. the Sarek look-alike and Spock's maternal ancestor. He doesn't look a ton like Sarek, though, on the cover.
I believe that this was actually Jason Bolt, played by Robert Brown in the series "Here Come the Brides."
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
18. Zeno
I just finished this last night  and thought it was pretty good. One thing no one has mentioned is the feminist politics in the book.  Especially with the character Sarah Gay. 

Here is a list of the cameos I found

1. The fourth doctor and Han Solo in chapter one

2. The Cartwright brothers and "maybe"  ones of the Maverick's in a bar with the second doctor.  

3. Paladin as the man who played chess with Spock. 

Are there any others ? 

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