Mon
Feb 11 2013 5:00pm

Spock Loves Kirk. Love, Della Van Hise: A Careful Consideration of Killing Time

Spock Loves Kirk. Love, Della Van Hise: A Careful Consideration of Killing TimeSometimes, I don’t know what I have.

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.

35 comments
Earl Rogers
1. Earl Rogers
Hmmm. Reminds me a little of that Justice League novel written by Devin Grayson where a bunch of the male older Leaguers get together and suddenly all obsessively talk about how hot their former teen sidekicks grew up to be. And every scene with Batman and Nightwing grows increasingly uncomfortable, because the author keeps bringing up and emphasizing how Dick's been submitting to Bruce since he was seven.

Fans turned pros: I don't mind you incorporating your fan ideas into the 'verse. Really! Just...realize that your personal fantasies will inevitably and invariably strike some as...well, difficult to read.

And I'm not saying it's wrong to have fantasies! It's just, if you don't share them, yeah, it's difficult to invest in reading them.
Alan Courchene
2. Majicou
Man, Vallejo's Trek covers... oy. Just... oy. Awful '80s hair, insane over-craggification of male faces, insane under-coverification of female bodies... it's all enough to make you wonder if you can permanently glue brown paper over your paperbacks. His cover for Dwellers in the Crucible is probably the worst. I don't even know what the hell is going on there.
Thomas Thatcher
3. StrongDreams
I was following this reminiscence pretty well until the very last sentence. I have no idea what you mean there.
Thomas Thatcher
4. StrongDreams
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.

To be fair, this is also the plot of JJ Abrams' Star Trek, except that Spock is involved with someone else, and the fact that she is a former pupil-turned subordinate is not at all a problem because she is female and gets lead billing.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
5. EllenMCM
@2 - This is perhaps the most Vallejo-esque fog I have yet seen on a book cover.

@4 - It's actually the plot of all Star Trek. I liked Spock and Uhura - I took it as a testament to her depth as a character. I do wish Abrams had found more ways to show that depth.
Earl Rogers
6. John C. Bunnell
It's actually the plot of all Star Trek.

Ellen@5: Well, yes and no. The underlying premise of the original TV series -- at least if one goes by Kirk's frequent impassioned speeches to this effect -- is that humanity's virtue is not unique to individuals, but rather innate in the species and in its ability to act together. Which is more or less in direct opposition to the "great man" theory of history in which certain key individuals are regarded as indispensible to humankind's advancement.

That premise -- that greatness is in all of us -- is one of the elements that attracted me to the 1960s Star Trek series in the first place. And that's why I tend to regard novels such as this one and Strangers in the Sky with a great deal of skepticism, because I have real trouble with the idea that Kirk and Spock (or any other particular individuals) are so utterly important to history that an entire universe will collapse in on itself if they're taken out of it.
Thomas Thatcher
7. StrongDreams
@Ellen,
It's actually the plot of all Star Trek

Well, Star Trek the TV show was about Kirk and Spock, but their relationship didn't become essential to the existence of Earth until ST:IV and essential to the existence of the Federation until ST:VI.

I didn't mind the Spock/Uhura relationship because I assume that by the 23rd century we will have grown past the infantilization of adult relationships under the guise of preventing "harassment". If Kirk can go from midshipman to captain of the flagship in 24 hours, what do I care if the XO and a lieutenant knock boots. (And something I think Uhura should have kept in perspective when she sneered at Kirk, "I hope you know what you're doing"--bonking the teacher got her a position on the Enterprise, but it was in the dungeon. Kirk got her on the bridge on her first day...but I digress.)
Christopher Bennett
8. ChristopherLBennett
Everybody talks about the slash subtext, but what's always been bizarre to me about this book from a gender standpoint was its portrayal of Romulan gender roles. Its assertion that Romulan society was sexist and limited the opportunities for women was the exception to the rule; just about everywhere else, Romulans have always been portrayed as an egalitarian society. Heck, "The Enterprise Incident" itself portrayed a female Romulan commander, the only female command officer (fleet commander, in fact!) to appear in the entire original series. The Making of Star Trek, the classic behind-the-scenes book published in 1968 while the series was still in production, explicitly said of Romulan society, "There is complete equality between the sexes; women are as often found in command of a ship as are men" (p. 256). (This was explicitly contrasted by the description of Klingons; they were supposed to be the male chauvinists: "They have no patience with women, even their own, and treat them as sometime useful animals" (p. 257).) And most other Trek canon and tie-in fiction both before Killing Time and since has reflected that idea. I grew up in the '70s and '80s taking it for granted that Romulans were egalitarian, so when KT came out and claimed that they were so sexist that a female praetor had to pretend to be male, it was kind of a "What the hell?" moment.

And don't get me started on the time-travel logic and physics...
Alan Brown
9. AlanBrown
@7 "I assume that by the 23rd century we will have grown past the infantilization of adult relationships under the guise of preventing "harassment"."
All I can do in response to that statement is to quote George Takei, "Oh my!"
Heather Dunham
10. tankgirl73
Well now. I recognized the cover right away, and out of curiosity, headed down to my beloved shelf of 80s Trek novels that were lovingly read in my teenage years, then for the most part, lovingly kept but never re-read. As a naive teenager at the time, I never knew anything about the "controversy" and honestly cannot remember what my reaction was (or wasn't) about the plot.

So then I checked that linked article, and then some others, about the first edition differences, and then I checked my copy. And I have the original, unedited, first edition, all homoeroticism well intact. Page 41 "I understand that you were probably playing with dolls and wearing lipstick until you were twenty!" -- check. Every other change... check. Nifty.

So. I learned something today. Is this at all valuable? Or just a collector's oddity?
Earl Rogers
11. Nicholas Winter
Tan girl asks if a first of this novel is cvaluable. Not really as you can get copies for less than forty dollars online. Costly yes for a paperback, but I've seen much more costly paperbacks.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
12. EllenMCM
@10 - I suspect the value isn't that great, but it's a cool fun thing to have!

@8 - The Romulan gender politics here are really interesting. Clearly, Von Hise departed from the canon (whilst making use of a character from it and referring to it in several places), and I suspect she did not consult the behind-the-scenes guide. The emptiness of the relationships between the Romulan characters was an interesting counterpoint to the emotional depth and significance of the relationships between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.

@6 - In my reading, Star Trek is the natural result of extending the "Great Man" approach to history into a speculative future. Kirk gives a lot of speeches about the value and potential of humanity as a whole, but it's Kirk who propels the story, not the whole of humanity. It's clear from the first time travel stories in the first season of Star Trek that the universe desperately needs Kirk and Spock.
Earl Rogers
13. lburns05
I looked at my Star Trek book shelf. I think I have the first edition of this book. I haven't read it in 20+ years so I'll have to go back to it.
Earl Rogers
14. ravenlunatick
Now I have to go dig through my basement for mine :/
Oddly, the only thing I remember about it is the cover...
Laura Wooton
15. LWooton
Wow, I actually have a copy of the first edition. I should get around to actually reading it, I bought it at a library's bookstore for 25 cents a year or two ago.
Earl Rogers
16. Zeno
Ellen another interesting review. The plot seems too convoluted for it's own good. 

@Chris. Interesting you mentioned that about the Romulans. When reading  about the Praetor that was the first thing came to mind. Do you or anyone else know if Ms Van Hiise is related to comic book historian and writer James Van Hise? He wrote a few books about Star Trek himself.
Heather Dunham
17. tankgirl73
I certainly have no desire to sell my copy anyway, I was just curious. ;) It's a fun little factoid to know that there's something 'interesting' in my shelf of old, cheap books that I just couldn't bear to part with. Gives me some validation. :)
Christopher Bennett
18. ChristopherLBennett
@16: I've always assumed the Van Hises were husband and wife, but I can't seem to find any online confirmation of that. Here's the most detailed article I could find on Della Van Hise.
Earl Rogers
19. Cybersnark
Wait, wait, wait.

The Romulans go back in time to kill the human founders of the Federation.

We now know that one of the key founders of the early Federation was Jonathan Archer, thus pre-emptively/retroactively tying this book into the Temporal Cold War. . .
Earl Rogers
20. Michael E. Rubin
I remember really enjoying this novel when j first read it as a kid in the 80s. But that's not surprising because I have always loved alternative universes and time travel stories.

The one part of this book I didn't like was the new character: Jeremy Richardson. He just didn't seem to fit, and came off as a bit of a Mary Sue. Besides, I wasn't a huge fan of new characters taking center stage. While I enjoyed them if they were background characters and fleshed out the idea there were 430 people on board (Christopher L. Bennett's and Diane Duane's Trek novels do this really well), I had a harder time accepting them when they were integral to the plot.

Make sense?
Earl Rogers
21. HelenS
@7 "I assume that by the 23rd century we will have grown past the
infantilization of adult relationships under the guise of preventing
"harassment"."

*makes popcorn*
Alan Courchene
22. Majicou
@CLB: The dedication and acknolwedgments pages of the novel do refer to "Jim." Not a confirmation, but still...
Earl Rogers
24. Zeno
@12. Ellen,not only are Kirk and Spock "Great Men" but it seems almost every important historical event in the Federation is connected to someone who is directly related to them. Final Frontier is one example.
Are you planing on reviewing any post 1980s novels. Sarek by A. C. Crispin of the Zar books is very good. So is the Captain Pike novel Burning Dreams.  By the way do you read posts to your earlier reviews?
Earl Rogers
25. MrSPOCK
I thought it had decent buildup, but it was too long and got bogged down in romance. The payoff after that long wait was only several pages long. Not to give anything away for those who have not read the book, but the way they successfully complete their mission is not at all believable and I expect more from Star Trek.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
26. EllenMCM
I like a believable story as much as the next reviewer of licensed Star Trek tie-in novels from the 1980s and early 90s, but I'm a little surprised to hear than anyone expects one from this particular franchise.

In the Original Series:
- Kirk and Spock go back in time to save the Federation as we know it by ensuring that a social worker gets hit by a truck.
- Kirk is saved from a bite wound inflicted by a venomous Yeti by a native healer weilding a novelty dog poo.
- The crew encounters a planet that generates automotons from plant cellulose, for their entertainment.
- They also encounter what appears to be the Greek god, Apollo, who grabs the ship with a giant glowing energy hand. They escape by having their ship's anthropology officer mean-girl him until he commits suicide.
- The crew defeats a planet full of robots using theatrical improv.
- Charlie X. I don't even know where to start.
- There just happen to be bamboo tubes, sulfur, and raw diamonds lying around on a planet's surface so that Kirk can make a cannon which he will light with (a torn off strip of) his pants.

I enjoyed all of these stories (except for the one about the social worker - I found that one to be informative but infuriating) but I have not found them believable.
Earl Rogers
27. MrSPOCK
Granted, but there's a huge buildup, including Thea saying "Do you wish to admit that not even you and your brave human friend can defeat the Empire's most technologically advanced creations?" These 23rd-century technologically advanced killing machines are then quickly dispatched by a sharp wooden chair leg and whatever Spock had handy (perhaps a pocketknife or a pen?) Even by Star Trek standards, that's a stretch, non? Also, the fact they just happen to land just outside of the hotel? It's as if the publisher gave her a 311-page limit and after 290 pages, she went "oh, shit, I better wrap this up quickly."
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
28. EllenMCM
I will admit that I was a little surprised that the Empire's most teachnologically advanced creatiosn were human-like androids. And yes, they did go down pretty fast. I looked the other way because it clearly wasn't the main thrust of the story. They were incidental to the journey of mutual discovery that Kirk and Spock were on. I'm forgiving of that kind of thing. Sometimes.
Earl Rogers
29. MrSPOCK
I guess we'll have to agree to disagree because while I agree the journey of mutual discovery was important, I thought that saving the galaxy by restoring First History was key to the plot. With that in mind, I can't believe the Romulans would go to all that trouble only to create ultimate killing machines which could be defeated by any cane-wielding senior. :) I guess they had to appear human-like to sneak into the conference undetected, but I would have thought that underneath the facade they would at least have been as indestructible as Iron Man or the 23rd-century equivalent. Anyway, thanks for the discussion.
Earl Rogers
30. Zeno
@MrSpock,and @Ellen,

Your posts make my glad I choose not to read this novel.
Earl Rogers
31. Denise Dion
I bought this book when it first came out. I do have the first edition, and I really enjoyed it.The dialogue between Kirk and Spock felt like the original series to me.

Plus, it's slashy as hell...
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
32. EllenMCM
@31 - Oh yes. Honestly, I think the original series is too, in places.
Earl Rogers
33. Zeno
@32,
The slashy intepretation of the Kirk/Spock relationnship from the original series comes alot from Amok Time. Two other episodes that come to mind are season 1's Conscience of the King where Spock is distrubed by Kirk's ongoing romantic relationshipand season 3's Requieum for Melthasium. Despite being a good episode it's somewhat creepy that Spock,without Kirk's premission,mind melds and erases the memory of the girl Kirk feel in love with. It might be the most slashy scene in the original series.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
34. EllenMCM
@33 - I got it from The Naked Time. Also The Enemy Within, Shore Leave, and a bunch of other eps. It's there if you want to see it.
Earl Rogers
35. Zeno
@34. It has been a few years since I have watched these episodes so tell which scenes in Enemy Within and Shore Leave. Naked Time is easy to see. Actually I don't think saw Shore Leave the whole way through. Most but not all of it. The same for Requiem. . There's a fellow doing his own animated Star Trek episodes and the episode he is in the middle of now is a sequel to that episode.Flint has revealed that he was also Big Band leader Glen Miller. How this stops Kirl from finding that Spock erasied Kirk's memory has not been covered.

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