Wed
Apr 3 2013 4:00pm

Rock, Bushes, Legos, Epidemiologist, Pirates: Diane Duane’s Doctor’s Orders

Star Trek Novel Doctor's Horders Diane DuaneThere’s no reason why all the people humanity encounters in the universe should have the same relationship with space and time. Some Star Trek novel writers ignore this possibility, as the television series largely did, to comment on the problems facing humanity. Diane Duane doesn’t hesitate to comment on the human condition, but she does it while embracing the scope for imaginative effects that novels offer. Her human characters are fully human, and her alien characters are almost unimaginably alien. Duane’s examination of the mind-boggling diversity of the universe is set both beside and within her examination of the logistical difficulties inherent in schlepping 400 people into the unknown and getting most of them back again. Duane doesn’t just set her stories aboard the Starship Enterprise, she inventories the ship’s stores, consults with the Recreation Officer about morale, and holds inter-departmental planning meetings. She is endlessly fascinated with details and possibilities. When Diane Duane writes a Star Trek novel, she plays with all the colors in the Star Trek crayon box.

Duane’s 1990 novel, Doctor’s Orders starts in Switzerland, with the National Day celebrations of Switzerland’s political unity, linguistic diversity, and neutrality. I have fond childhood memories of Switzerland in the summer. Duane’s description of it hits every significant thing about Switzerland that you would notice in the dark. McCoy is there with a friend whose accent is impenetrable and whose affection for milk-based drinks appears slightly befuddling to Bones, who is the protagonist here because this book is Not About Kirk. As the McGuffin in this book, Kirk is actually removed from time by a talking rock. Yes, Diane Duane is not satisfied with a Star Trek Universe that is home to only ONE species of talking rock, and has taken it upon herself to introduce some new and different talking rocks, now with amazing time-control powers!

The talking rock is just one of the three species on this newly surveyed planet where the Enterprise is carrying out a more detailed, secondary survey. All of these species have interesting relationships with space, time, and, as Duane explains to us, verb tenses, because it turns out that, although the talking rock itself manages Federation Standard syntax just fine, living around a time-manipulating talking rock creates grammatical complexity that causes extreme difficulties for the Universal Translator and its programmers. The talking rock shares the planet with some talking bushes and some talking ectomorphs who like to play Legos with their bodies. This book is not about any of them.


This book is about Leonard McCoy, his life, his concerns, and his ability to turn his hand to anything that’s needed using his wit and ingenuity. McCoy is a very experienced doctor, and he is deeply personally invested in the discovery of new infectious organisms and the preventative health care needs of the Enterprise crew. As with Switzerland, I have fond childhood memories of infectious disease specialists. Duane’s description of Bones hits every significant thing you would notice about them without actually having a conversation about prison-based botulism outbreaks over breakfast cereal. Early in the book, McCoy laments that five crewmembers have caught colds while on shore leave, and I can tell he really wants to run a course on hand-washing and hang some posters about sneezing into your elbow. He’s versatile and, technically, an officer of the line, and since Kirk is having a long chat with a talking rock in what amounts to a fairy ring, Bones gets to command the ship, too! Yes, typically that would be Spock’s job, but Kirk wanted to trap McCoy away from sickbay so he could finish his reports, and Kirk really thought he would only be away for a few hours, and that was before the Klingons showed up.

What do Klingons want with our newly surveyed planet? I would have thought they would be pretty excited about the talking rock or the Lego people (so useful for construction projects), but it turns out they’re after ingredients for their favorite arsenic-based condiment. Their plant-gathering mission is effectively neutralized when they also encounter the time-manipulating rock. Unfortunately, the rock’s tendency to pluck people out of time creates significant problems for McCoy, who has to deal with Kirk’s disappearance, planetary natives whose issues with verbs prevent them from effectively communicating where Kirk is and when he might be back, and some very testy Klingons who think the Enterprise has kidnapped their ketchup harvesters. And then the Orion pirates drop in.

If there is one problem that talking rocks struggle with, as a group of otherwise unrelated species, it is surely their failure to respond proactively to the threat of planetary invasion. The Orions come storming out of space like the French army at the Second Battle of Zurich, loaded for bear. McCoy and the Klingons put aside their differences to coordinate a master strategy that involves some high speed maneuvers around the sun. The talking rock returns Kirk to the bridge in time to see their plan implemented. The Orions are vanquished and Kirk has hammered out the beginnings of a treaty with the talking rock. Kirk didn’t go to Switzerland, so he doesn’t realize that this trio of linguistically diverse species are absolutely inhuman and somehow also completely Swiss. I’m not sure whether Kirk or the talking rock is standing in for William Tell. The rock contemplates interstellar travel and reflects on McCoy’s experiences of the last week. Because this book is still Not About Kirk, and that’s fabulous because the rest of the universe is also pretty amazing.


Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

33 comments
Chris Hawks
1. SaltManZ
One of my favorite Trek stories when I was a kid.
E M
2. herewiss13
Duane's Star Trek books are the best. Especially her Classic Trek novels. I'm seriously going to have to re-read this one right after I get home.
Christopher Bennett
3. ChristopherLBennett
While Doctor's Orders is a cool book, it's an odd choice to focus on if you want something representative of Duane's body of Trek fiction, since it's the most watered-down example of Duanean Trek you can find. Her first few novels -- The Wounded Sky; My Enemy, My Ally; The Romulan Way (with husband Peter Morwood); and Spock's World -- were written before TNG came along, at a time when there was little new Trek being created and only a fraction as much old Trek as there is now, so the universe was much less clearly defined and novelists were free to flesh it out in all sorts of weird and wonderful directions, with Duane's version of the universe being the weirdest and wonderfulest of them all, and with those four books forming a developing continuity with ongoing characters and a variety of exotic aliens among the crew, including the Horta Mr. Naraht and a Sulamid (a writhing mass of purple tentacles, with teeth somewhere among them) named Mr. Athende. Duane also wrote several issues of DC's ST comic book and included several of her novel characters in them. She also did so in the '80s computer game The Kobayashi Alternative, for which she created several of the alien species later featured in Doctor's Orders.

Yet by the time Doctor's Orders came along, Gene Roddenberry's assistant Richard Arnold had cracked down on the novels and comics and sharply limited what they were allowed to include, stripping a lot of the imagination and originality out of them and forbidding them from using recurring characters or concepts. So in DO, Duane was forced to abandon her alien Enterprise crewmembers and was only allowed to use the human ones like Lia Burke and Janice Kerasus, and she wasn't allowed to make any explicit references to the continuity of her earlier novels. So it's really toned down from her usual stuff.

(Much later, after the Arnold-era restrictions were gone, Duane was allowed to resurrect her version of the continuity with Swordhunt and The Empty Chair, but those books worked in some TNG-era ideas and thus, at least to me, they don't feel like they quite fit in that idiosyncratic alternate Trek universe where her classic '80s novels took place.)
Kit Case
4. wiredog
@3
I was wondering why I stopped liking Trek novels in the 90's...

By the time this one came out I was only buying ST novels by authors I trusted, so naturally I got this one as soon as it came out.
Dianthus
5. Dianthus
I read this and other Duane ST books many moons ago. I remember enjoying them very much.
Christopher Bennett
6. ChristopherLBennett
@4: Well, those restrictions on the novels in the '90s were gone by the turn of the millennium. I would never have been happy working under the kind of limits that were imposed on the books back then, but I've been writing Trek fiction for Pocket for about a decade now and I've been given great creative freedom and opportunities to innovate and build continuity, as have my fellow authors. From the '90s to the 2000s is as different as night and day. I find it sad that so many people tuned out of Trek novels in the '90s and didn't come back for the renaissance.
Dianthus
7. RobinM
This is one of my favorite Star Trek fiction books. McCoy is in Command of the Enterprise. Let me repeat MCCOY IS IN COMMAND OF THE ENTERPRISE. The crews reaction and that of the Klingons is hilarious. I really wanted to hear McCoy explain that he didn't take command from Kirk by killing him in best Klingon fashion. The talking rocks, lego people and the plants were fun too. When Diane Duane does aliens she goes all out. I really like her version of Romulans and always wonder why the glass spider engineer friend of Scotty wasn't around. I can't remeber if the Horta ensign was on board either I'll have dig out my copy and re-read it the next time I'm home visiting my mom.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
8. EllenMCM
No - no Horta (ChritopherLBennett offers some insight into why, but since he was a Lt. in Spock's World, I assumed he had been promoted off-ship), no K'S'T'lk. Herb Kanzer geta nod. But McCoy does claim to have killed Kirk in a duel, which is awesome.
Sarah Holland
9. SarahHolland
I love this book. It's not just a faint love, or a strong like - it's an all out passionate love for this book.

(And for all of Diane Duane's books).

The verb tenses, McCoy claiming to kill Kirk, the coffee problem, the rocks - just everything is wonderful.

Pity we didn't have hortas as well in the book, and appreciate the backstory there.
Christopher Bennett
10. ChristopherLBennett
@8: Actually that's another thing about Doctor's Orders that doesn't fit the rest of the Duaneverse. Spock's World took place after Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but DO takes place earlier, during the 5-year mission.

In fact, the Duaneverse chronology is rather complicated. Keep in mind that the Trek chronology didn't really begin to be locked down until TNG. While the general consensus was (and still is) that ST:TMP was about two and a half years after the televised 5-year mission ended (consistent with Kirk's line in the movie about "my five years out there"), there were some '80s novels that implicitly seemed to assume that there had been a second 5-year mission between TOS and TMP, so that the interval between the show and the film was closer to what it was in real life. There are some novels from this period that are explicitly set a number of years after TOS and yet are still pre-TMP. These include Duane's books; The Romulan Way is said to be 8 years after "The Enterprise Incident," but it's only one year after The Wounded Sky/My Enemy, My Ally, in which Sulu and Uhura are still lieutenants. But the ship described in Duane's books is closer to the TMP version than the TOS version. So her books seemed to be depicting a transitional period, a second 5-year mission falling between the series and the first movie. But Spock's World was explicitly set shortly after TMP; there's a reference to Kirk becoming officially a captain again after a stint as an admiral.

But when she did Doctor's Orders, as I said, there were more restrictions placed on the books and she wasn't allowed to tie directly into her past continuity. So somehow DO ended up being a straight-up 5-year-mission novel -- I'm not sure why, though, since it came out at a time when post-TMP novels were coming out rather frequently (in fact, it was the only pre-TMP paperback novel published in all of 1990).

The chronology got even more confused when Duane was able to return to her Rihannsu continuity in the 2000s. She was going to do a concluding duology, Swordhunt and The Empty Chair, but TEC got delayed and thus Swordhunt was hastily split into two half-size volumes titled Swordhunt and Honor Blade (since the publication slots had already been assigned so they had to put out two books one way or another). Now, when Swordhunt was written, the decision was made by the editor at the time (John Ordover) to retcon Duane's chronology so that the whole thing took place pre-TMP, contradicting Spock's World. But it took another six years for Duane to finish The Empty Chair, and in that time, Ordover left, and new editor Marco Palmieri had a different approach. The previous Rihannsu books (My Enemy, My Ally; The Romulan Way; Swordhunt) were collected in the omnibus The Bloodwing Voyages and had their text subtly revised so that the whole series now took place after TMP, which is where The Empty Chair was set as well. But that didn't do anything about the references in The Wounded Sky which still put the book in a conjectural middle ground between TOS and TMP. So it's all very confused chronologically.

(The Wounded Sky is a sorely underappreciated book. It's Duane's finest Trek novel in my opinion, and it's the beginning of her distinctive novel continuity, but it tends to be overlooked because all the attention is on her Rihannsu books.)
Dianthus
11. peachy
Oh man, I love this one. McCoy can be a great character when a novel focuses on him - Dreams of the Raven is also really good.

And I agree that Duane makes the Enterprise feel lived in - the first 'present day' portion of Spock's World is particularly good in that respect.
Risha Jorgensen
12. RishaBree
@8 - In response to which, IIRC, the Klingon commander considers killing his medic, in case they're all so capable of command.
Dianthus
13. Lesley A
I seem to remember seeing Diane Duane at a Trek Con, where she said that she wanted to write a book where McCoy was at least as smart as a nurse! (She thought McCoy often got overlooked in other stories).
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
14. EllenMCM
McCoy's nurses also got overlooked in a lot of stories. Duane gave McCoy some really smart nurses.
Christopher Bennett
15. ChristopherLBennett
@13-14: Duane herself worked as a registered psychiatric nurse before becoming a writer, which explains why her fiction portrays nurses so well.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
16. EllenMCM
@15 - It also explains the dedication, now that I think of it.
Dianthus
17. John C. Bunnell
The "second 5-year mission" concept that pops up in that particular cluster of novels is almost certainly spilled over from the abortive attempt to launch the "Phase II" television series featuring (most of) the TOS cast, as that series would have been nominally set during said second tour of duty.
Christopher Bennett
18. ChristopherLBennett
@17: Well, maybe. I think it also arose from uncertainty about the time interval between TOS and TMP. In real life, they were 10 years apart (though TMP came out only 5 years after the animated series ended), and apparently some viewers were inclined to believe the in-story interval was comparable. The filmmakers' intent, judging from the novelization at least, was that Kirk was promoted to admiral right after the end of the 5-year mission depicted in TOS and that TMP took place two and a half years later -- which is the generally accepted chronology today. But apparently the movie by itself was ambiguous enough that some people didn't interpret it that way and assumed there were more unchronicled years between TOS/TAS and Kirk's promotion. Although, as I said, that required ignoring Kirk's line in the film about "my five years out there."
Dianthus
19. John C. Bunnell
Reread this book over the weekend, and enjoyed it as much as I always have. It's not Duane's deepest or most complex book, but it stands out among Trek novels for the fascinating aliens (and the focus on scientific investigation thereof), for excellent character work, and for its cheerful good humor.

OTOH, you can definitely tell it was written some decades back -- notably by the line in which Kirk tells us that Starfleet has added 80 terabytes of dataspace to the Enterprise's library archive especially for this mission. Given that I have a 1-terabyte hard drive in my current computer, this is no longer as big a number as it looked back then....
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
20. EllenMCM
John, I am consistently amused by the ways that computer technology in science fiction has not kept up with computer technology in the real world.

This absolutely is not the deepest, most complex thing Duane ever wrote for Trek. It is a decent demonstration of her skill, and a nice entry point into the Duane ouevre.
Dianthus
21. Zeno
Ellen,another very nice review. The metaphor about the Swiss goverment and the situation in this novel was something I had not noticed.

Doctor's Order's is a interesting book. It is obvious that McCoy is certainlly Diane Duane's favorite character. He was the only orginal series character in the Romulan Way and a few years earlier she did the McCoy centered issue "The Last Word" for DC comics in Star Trek vol1. issue 28. If there is one reservation I have,it is that sometimes she makes him too much smarter than everyone else.

There are a few things about the plot that seemed as if they were going in one direction but that the editors changed them. In the begining it seems as if what the Klingons are looking was really a narcotic but it was changed to be cooking spice for some unknown reason. Secondly there a few lines in the middle of the story that seemed to hint that there was a Klingon agent that was working in the Federation. I wonder if this was changed by the restrictions. The idea of a Federation officer selling out was not allowed and she had to change it. The third thing is the fact that we never actually get to see or hear the Orions themselves is somewhat odd though though there does not seem to be any obvious reason why this would be restricted.

Mr Bennet are you aware of any changes that she had to make for this book?
Christopher Bennett
22. ChristopherLBennett
@21: I don't know the specifics of the editorial process, but it seems to me you may be reading too much into some of it. I think the idea behind the spice was a deliberate fakeout -- we were supposed to think "Ooh, Klingons are eeevil, so they must be after something nasty like drugs," and then she sprung the real explanation on us and it was something more innocuous. As for the Orions, this wouldn't be the first book where an incidental antagonist race was only referenced and not seen. Probably the Orions just weren't important enough to the story to take time away from the stuff that was relevant.
Dianthus
23. Zeno
There are a few other things I wanted to mention. The aliens she created for this book are very interesting. She is one of the few Trek writers who can create interesting non humaniod races. Not a easy thing to accomplish.

Yes the book did not reference any of her earlier work but I don't think that weakened it in any way. The only problem was there a few loose ends.For example the importance of the substance was not fully explained. Also we never find out the reason why the Orions were so interested in the planet since we never saw or heard them in the book. It was also implied that someone was trying to do in the Klingon commander but that was not developed. Another sign that changes might have been ask for by the editors. It is also interesting to note she would not write for the original series again until the restrictions were lifted in the late 1990s.

About the game.

The nurse Lia and the Orne aliens were both originally in the text adventure Korbayshi Alternative. Orne were different in the game were they were machine fixers. Does anyone know why they could take a character or race from a game but not allow writers to use ones from earlier novels? Both stories had a message buoy,which I have not seen anywhere. Did any other writers ever use this idea? Just wondering.
Dianthus
24. Zeno
Mr Bennet,
I want to tell you I agree with you about the Wounded Sky being Diane Duane's best Star Trek novel. In fairness I have yet to read her two Next Generation books or the later Romulan things. I also agree that it underrated. It is nice to know someone else think it's her best work.
Dianthus
25. Zeno
@22
After looking through my copy of this book I found a number of passages that stated the possiblites of a spy giving information to the Klingons. The first season episode of the Next Generation called Conspiricy was originally about rogue group of people Starfleet but Roddenberry wanted it changed,so it became those bugs. Something similiar could have happened with this book. A disloyal Starflett officer may not have considered accetable and part of the story may have been rewritten.
Dianthus
26. Zeno
Here is something I forgot. In the same year that this novel came out DC Comics was doing to the Trail of James T. Kirk story in their comic book. This was written by Peter David. At the end of the story the vice admiral is shown to be a spy working for the Klingons. This loose thread was quickly forgetten and the character was not seen again. David left the comic a few months later because he was having trouble with restrictions that were put on him. The pattern is there,first with the tv episode and then with the comic and novel. If anyone has more information on this please let me know.
Christopher Bennett
27. ChristopherLBennett
@26: Actually there was a later issue of the comic, written by Howard Weinstein, that revisited the spy character and had him exposed. The restrictions on the comics at the time weren't specifically on that, but on any continuing original characters in the tie-ins, so DC was required to wrap up all the continuing threads that Peter David tried to introduce. (Also, to hear PAD tell it, Roddenberry's assistant Richard Arnold had a personal dislike for anything PAD wrote; when he submitted a script under a pseudonym, he found that all the approval problems he usually had with Arnold evaporated, even though that script did some of the same things that Arnold had objected to in scripts under PAD's name. That's why PAD left -- he felt that if the approval guy had something personal against him, then it would unfairly hurt the book if he stayed on as its writer.)
Dianthus
28. Zeno
@27,
It's ironic that you mentioned those stories. They were among my recent comics. It was a 3 part story which featured Harry Mudd. Near the end one Klingon offical reveals that Tomalison was a spy but he was involved with rebel Klingons so he told Kirk. The Vice Admiral never appears. Odd the Klingons didn't kill him. The conservation was there just to finsh the loose thread. This is no fault of Weinstein. He had no choice. Last time I trust Memory Beta. It said he was never mentioned after David's issues.
Dianthus
29. Zeno
Hi,Ellen. When is your next review coming? I have a guess at what the next book is going to be. When is it coming out?
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
30. EllenMCM
I wish I could say it would be something exciting like tomorrow, but this time of year is crazy in the ed biz. The AP European History test is on Wednesday, and I might be caught up enough on grading to finish something next weekend. I have a few things in progress. I know you're waiting for Duane's Romulan series. They're on my to-do list for the summer.
Dianthus
31. Zeno
Actually her books are not the ones I had thought were up next. It is a book by another author. As for the Romulan series I never read the later books. Only the first two. It did not seem there was any intention for more books in the series after The Romulan Way. Even it is only a indirect sequel. It develops her ideas about the Romualns but Ael from the first book plays only a minor role.

I heard the last book tries to tie her Romulans to the Next Generation. It is hard to see how that could work. In the episode "The Defector" Picard pretty much states that a Romulan defecting from their government has been unheard of up to that time. He said the words and praticallly are contradictions in terms. That is very inconsistent with Duane's books.
Dianthus
32. Randy McDonald
Not necessarily. Ael fought against her government, but she didn't defect to serve the Federation.
Dianthus
33. Zeno
@32,
The defector was not necessarily serving the Federation. What is important is that the idea of any Romulan going against there own goverment is treated with shock in that episode. They pretty much say the it is unheard of and everyone is sceptical. It is hard to see to that the concept of a Romulan defecting would have been met with as much disbelief if they know about Ael and the events of those books.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment