In 1990, I was buying Star Trek novels as they came out. Pocket released one a month, alternating between Original Series and Next Generation titles. Sometimes, I would pick up an older release as well, if something struck my fancy or the new release ran late. Somehow, I picked up a copy of Killing Time by Della Van Hise. It was not one of the rare copies of the first edition. Even so, a well-connected fan would have known what it was. I was not a well-connected fan. I’m sure I read the book within hours of acquisition. I’m sure I loved it, because I loved them all. And then I put it on a shelf and went on to the next one and let it wait 20 years or so before picking it up again.
It’s got a great cover, this book. There are Romulan women in gold lame togas, and a Bird of Prey descending over an exotic skyline, and Spock is wearing a red cape. He looks kind of stoically embarrassed about it. The tag line frantically insists that the galaxy has gone mad. It is a cover ripe with promise, for a book that over-delivers.
Killing Time starts in the Star Trek universe we know and love—the one where Kirk is the captain and all’s right with the world. The crew of the Enterprise is patrolling the neutral zone. They’re a trifle bored, and having strange dreams, problems that are mildly alleviated by a minor romantic subplot involving a new crewmember, who Van Hise describes as having “a body like a goddess . . . and a face like an Irish setter.” This tedious normalcy is abruptly displaced by the transition to an alternate universe in which dastardly Romulans have gone back in time and killed the human founders of the Federation in an effort to create a power vacuum that will allow them to expand their empire. In this universe, the Federation is dominated by Vulcans, Spock is the captain, the Enterprise is called the ShiKahr, and Kirk is a drug addict who flunked out of command school and has accepted ship duty as an alternative to a longer prison sentence. Because of their dreams and the increasingly obvious wave of insanity spreading across the galaxy, characters have variable awareness of the wrongness of their lives.
Spock’s efforts to help Ensign Kirk and deal with the imminent destruction of the universe are complicated by the certainty of his own destruction. Without a bonded life-mate, he will not survive his next pon farr. The novel is also closely connected to the events of “The Enterprise Incident.” The Romulan commander from that story turns out to be the Romulan Praetor. This offers an interesting opportunity to explore Romulan gender politics. The Praetor travels in disguise so that no one will know she is a woman, commiserates with the limited career options facing Romulan women, and hands out attractive male slaves to her allies. Her master plan is to kidnap and maroon Kirk in order to exploit the link between Kirk and Spock to manipulate Spock into pretending to be the Praetor so that she can put wheels in motion to reverse the previous Praetor’s failed plan to destroy the Federation in its infancy. Pretty much all she has to do is get herself captured by the ShiKahr, engineer an escape and an abduction, blackmail Spock, take him back to Romulus, have sex with him so he doesn’t die, reunite Kirk and Spock, and send them back in time to Earth to stop some Romulan android assassins.
Spock has to figure out why his fleet commander has lost touch with reality, cure Kirk’s drug addiction, control his pon farr, rescue Kirk, and stop an assassination. Kirk has to recover his self-esteem, struggle with his addiction, deal with the psychic echoes of Spock’s increasingly serious condition, and then try not to get shot.
A very few moments of googling will answer all your questions about the controversy surrounding Killing Time, which was released, then recalled, maybe because of an editing issue or maybe because of homoerotic subtext, and then re-released with changes. There’s a detailed examination of the changes that were made in the second printing. One usually doesn’t google a work of light fiction before reading, and I found Killing Time more interesting on its own merits than as an artifact of the controversy over slash and depictions of sexuality in Star Trek.
At its heart, Killing Time is incredibly romantic. Van Hise’s storytelling places the Kirk/Spock relationship in the center of each man, and also in the center of the Enterprise, the Federation, and the Star Trek universe. This romanticism is not merely hearts-and-flowers sentimental stickiness (and also not merely other kinds of stickiness). Killing Time harkens back to the Romanticism of the 18th and 19th centuries, which suggested that morality lay in nature and civilization was a corrupting influence. To Van Hise, the natural order of the universe requires Kirk to command the Enterprise with Spock at his side, and any action that delays or denies this inevitable result of nature warps and sickens the very fabric of space and time. On one level, the story is a trivial piece of fluff tossed off by a fan writer and published when Pocket Books wasn’t paying much attention. On a much deeper level just a short distance of understanding away, it’s a call to action that requires readers to examine their relationships and their actions: What have you done to save the Federation today?
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer is working hard to save the Federation.