Jun 27 2012 4:00pm

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

Vulcan Nationalism Runs Amok: Diane Duane’s Spock’s WorldVulcan 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.

1. tbob21
South Carolina, not North Carolina, was the first state to secede.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
2. EllenMCM
So as you can see, I found the sand whales very distracting.
Fade Manley
3. fadeaccompli
I remember reading this book, vaguely. But all I really remember about it are the Horta crewmember and one of the history short stories, in which a starship full of Vulcans explodes or something Because Emotions That's Why.

I had somehow completely forgotten the space whales.
Sean Fagan
4. sef
I vaguely remember this book, too -- and also nothing about the sand whales.

I do remember her Vulcan's making a lot more sense, that they were not emotionless, just refusing to be ruled by emotion due to their history.
Liz J
5. Ellisande
As I remember, this one always felt like a weird book, because I expected it to be a novel, and it's not, but it was interesting. One of the best parts of it are how it lays a lot of the groundwork for her later Romulan novels and Ann Crispin's "Sarek" novel, which is one of my absolute favorites, and a lot of it remains my personal-canon for Vulcan and Romulan history (no matter what actual canon may tell me otherwise).
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
6. EllenMCM
It has FABULOUS canon stuff, especially for Sarek but also for why humans see Vulcans as lacking emotion, rather than controlling emotion. And for a bunch of other things.
7. John R. Ellis
I remember being confused by the description of prehistoruic Vulcan mating.

TOS indicated as much as it could in that era that the reason Vulcans go into a mating frenzy is because their incredible emotional and intellectual control comes at an occasional biological price.

In the book, Vulcan mating just always went into mating frenzies, no matter what, long, long before their fampus control was ever developed.

Was the apparent dicrepancy ever explained?
8. John R. Ellis
I, meanwhile, apparently went into a typing frenzy!

Please excuse my errors.
Lee VanDyke
9. Cloric
This is one of my absolute favorite hardcover TOS novels. I know I've read it at least 3 times, although it has been years since I've done more than move it to deep dust the shelves or change homes.

I can't believe I forgot about the sand whales.

I do enjoy the debate sections, especially the crystal spider (I currently have kittens sleeping on my lap, so getting up to check the spelling of her name isn't happening right now.)
Liz J
10. Ellisande
@9 K't's'l'sk? Something like that anyway. I remember being all excited when she got to add another syllable to her name in one of the books she appears in. She was one cool crystalline spidery scientist personage.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
11. EllenMCM
K's't'lk. I hear she reincarnates. I appreciated her willingness to bite people.
12. wiredog
K's't'lk has already reincarnated (sort of...) in this book. It's set after "The Wounded Sky", and before the Romulan novels. In which the Horta turns out to be pretty badass in combat.
Duane is my favorite Trek author.
13. RiceVermicelli
@Wiredog@12 - Duane's Trek novels were the first instance I can recall of a Trek novel being a gateway (for me) to an author's other work - they landed me on "So You Want to be a Wizard", which really wasn't at all a bad place.

I loved Spock's World when I read it the first time. The weird "Clan of the Cave Bear" inspired chapter even slid right past me without causing shrieking laughter.

My husband was in Brandeis's science fiction society in the early 90s, and tells a story about a fund raiser in which Margaret Wander Bonano donated a manuscript of a Trek novel for auction. She had highlighted the passages actually published. Entire, plot-relevant chapters contained no highlighting at all. I'd love to see a similar version of this book, in which the sand whales amount to something. As it is, for me, this is a book about what happens when you subject yourself to the whims of a computer that seriously, fundamentally misunderstands onion dip.
Eugenie Delaney
14. EmpressMaude
although I haven't read this book in eons, I recall simply adoring it - not the Vulcan secession plot but the historical episodes like the clan of asteroid miners that comes to a bloody fued over a meteor sized diamond, the sad story of Kesh and her doomed marriage (Her name was Kesh, and she had the Eye) and also vaguely remember being awed by the sand-whales.
15. goljerp
@RiceVermicelli@13: I can confirm Ms. Bonano gave a highlighted book for auction. I remember she was rather upset about the situation around that book. I think that I'm not revealing a big secret that it was Probe -- she has an explanation on her website.
16. Disne Dusne
Thanks for the nice review. :)
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
17. EllenMCM
It was a fun book. Thank you for writing it.
18. Pendard
I read this book when I was a teenager and I remember loving it. Although you are probably quite right in pointing out that some of it probably seems very dated today.

But I still have a soft spot in my heart for '80s Star Trek novels and comics. With only 80 episodes and 3 or 4 movies, there were a lot of unexplored corners in the Star Trek universe that creative novelists could fill up with all sorts of strange and wonderful stuff, which later novelists then had the perogative to ignore or not, depending on their mood. Today, with hundreds of episodes, nearly a dozen movies, hundreds of novels, etc., there's an orthodoxy to the Star Trek universe that almost makes it impossible to do anything new or surprising.
19. Edgar Governo
I'm really enjoying these reviews, and I'm really glad this review included a mention of the ship's 1988-vintage BBS. Rarely has a tie-in novel become so instantly dated.
20. Jonathan Andrew Sheen
My only complaint about this novel -- although it's more than a decade since I've read it, and a re-read may give me more to dislike -- is that it's yet another anti-canonical hagioraphy of T'Pau.

Look, there's no ambiguity. I don't care how damned impressive she was, T'Pau was the villain of Amok Time! She deliberately sets Kirk and Spock up to fight to the death because she's an anti-human bigot who's offended that Kirk and Spock are friends. She should end that episode out of power and on her way to a penal colony.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
21. EllenMCM
Interesting perspective on the episode. I blamed the fight on T'Pring.
22. Zeno
This was the only Diane Duane book that disappointed me. That is somewhat ironic since I like the Vulcans more than any other race in the series. There are a handful of things that are off base about the story. Starting with the idea that T'pring was out to get Spock for something that he really was not involved, i.e.the death of Stonn. Yes Vulcan's have emotions but the motivation is quite silly. Secondly the idea that a large percentage of Vuclans were conned by propaganda seems wrong.Are they Arrogant? Yes. Are they ethnocentric? Yes. But Vulcans would do their research who accept false knowledge unless they could prove it. Third the chapter about the courtship of Sarek and Amanda did not seem like Sarek very much. Sarek laughing hysterically? That was way out of character.

It is odd that the worldbudling of the Romulans was brilliant in Duane books but her Vulcan's seem somewhat off. This is not a bad novel but it doesn't apporach the level of quality of the rest of Diane Duane's 1980s Star Trek work.
24. Zarm
Don't forget A'tha- the oft-overlooked fact that Vulcans can innately sense the presence of God (or some being simillar to the human conception of God) in the universe. That is a concept that is introduced almost as a throwaway, despite kinda earth-shattering implications.

Also... if anyone here chooses to create a K't's'l'sk fanclub, count me as a member. :-)

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