Mar 12 2014 9:00am

Spock Walks Away from Omelas: The Pandora Principle by Carolyn Clowes

Star Trek The Pandora Principle Carolyn ClowesRemember Saavik? Saavik was a really cool character. I can’t remember when I saw Saavik’s official first appearance in the Star Trek canon, which was in The Wrath of Khan. But I do remember reading about her in Carolyn Clowes’ 1990 novel, The Pandora Principle, which is a ripping Girls’ Own Adventure yarn, in the style of Heinlein’s juvenilia. This came out when I was 14, and I probably bought it in the same year, which was definitely well before I saw The Search for Spock. I picked it up again because the plot involves Vulcan trafficking.

The other examples of Vulcan trafficking in my recent reading have focused on Romulan efforts to exploit Vulcans’ telepathic powers. The Romulans are alert to every possible advantage that could forward their political and diplomatic ambitions, and the Vulcans are surprisingly lackadaisical about looking for missing exploratory and trade vessels and keeping track of areas where such vessels tend to disappear.

Clowes’ Romulans are capturing Vulcan vessels near the Neutral Zone in order to use their crews as experimental subjects in chemical weapons tests on the planet Hellguard. Prison conditions on Hellguard appear to be improvisational, with little infrastructure on the planet’s surface and poor discipline among the Romulan guards. The result is widespread rape that creates a second generation of prisoners who wander the planet surface fighting for survival until rounded up by the guards to serve as test subjects. By the time the Vulcans arrive to rescue the prisoners and their children, the Romulans have apparently withdrawn, leaving a population of feral children. No Vulcan adults are found. Saavik—one of these children—impresses Spock by saving his life and looking at the stars.

The Vulcan rescue mission plans to send the children to a nice space station with lots of medical and educational staff, where they can heal from their rough start in life without upsetting anyone on Vulcan. Spock protests this plan on the children’s behalf. He argues that they deserve access to a planet and knowledge of their Vulcan relatives. He threatens to violate Vulcan social taboos surrounding matters of sex and reproduction by revealing the children’s existence and the details of their post-rescue placement to the Federation. Saavik is especially challenging to Vulcan social norms—she’s very attached to her knife—and Spock takes personal responsibility for her.

Saavik gradually recovers from her childhood trauma, and she gets to do a whole lot of cool stuff. When Spock is between missions, they live together and he answers all her questions. While he’s on missions, he sends her an endless stream of instructional tapes. He helps her get in to Starfleet Academy. Spock encourages Saavik to get to know humans and understand their culture—which she can hardly help doing in the dorms at Starfleet Academy, because her ears are really big. She learns to play baseball. She’s the kind of Mary Sue I love to read.

She’s visiting Spock on the Enterprise and doing adorably socially awkward things (like telling Uhura that she admires both Uhura’s personal appearance and her newly created ultra-secure code, which Saavik learned about from an instructional tape that Spock sent her—let’s take a minute to ask ourselves, does Spock understand the concept of an ultra-secure code?) when things go pear-shaped. Kirk is trapped in a vault under Federation Headquarters, the entire staff of which is dead. Saavik’s past holds the key to the mystery of the secret weapon that wipes out a whole city before the Enterprise can even take off for the Neutral Zone. It will take all of her fortitude, Spock’s guidance and teaching, Saavik’s baseball skills, and a significant quantity of dirt to solve these problems. Further assistance is provided by a mysterious alien who can fix anything. But the problems are solved, and everything is fine! A lot of people have died, but Clowes makes some strategic saves so that we, as readers, feel like all’s right with the world. Saavik is a hero. The Romulan conspiracy unravels.

Once The Pandora Principle ends, Saavik’s story takes a bizarre turn away from Heinlein’s juvenilia towards works like To Sail Beyond the Sunset. While I hadn’t seen The Search for Spock when I read The Pandora Principle for the first time, Carolyn Clowes certainly had—she refers to the film and to Vonda McIntyre’s novelization of it in her acknowledgments. That’s the film where, as several summaries delicately put it, Saavik “guides” the resurrected Spock through his first pon farr.

So this cool story about how awesome it is to be Spock’s protégé has, and since the moment of its creation had, a coda in which the pay-off for Spock’s tireless advocacy on behalf of the children of Hellguard and his work as Saavik’s mentor, is that Saavik is available to provide sexual services in a moment of crisis. I liked the story better when I didn’t know that.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

Bryan McMillan
1. bmcmolo
Well, in all fairness to Star Trek III, Saavik's helping protomatter-Spock through ponn farr was only the logical thing to do.

Nice review! Haven't read this in so long I forgot almost all this stuff.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
2. EllenMCM
@1 - I agree that it was the only logical thing to do *in the moment.*

I think there are more logical options available for management of this (entirely predictable) problem that Vulcans have not pursued because of an illogical (and impractical) set of cultural taboos.

And, of course, since Vulcan and its people are fictional, the true purpose of these cultural taboos is to promote the exploitative representation of the Vulcan people as simultaneously incredibly intelligent and unbelievably vulnerable to their sexual impulses.
Michael Poteet
3. MikePoteet
I read this novel years ago, and didn't remember anything beyond the discovery of Saavik on Hellguard. Hm. You've inspired me to pick up a copy and revisit it. Saavik (especially as played by Kirstie Alley - no offense to the very capabale Robin Curtis) is by far my favorite "new" element of the Trek film series, and I think it's a shame she did not stick around to become a fully ensconced part of the greater Trek mythos (although the flip side is she was spared of being the traitor in ST VI, as originally planned!)

Your analysis of the Genesis planet pon farr moment intrigues me, since it was the launching point for my story in "Strange New Worlds II" (*Shameless Plug Alert!*) In the context of the film - if we've already bought the weird concept of Spock's rapid-aging rebirth (what did he start out as in that photon tube, a baby?) - it always struck me as ok-but-iffy-appropriate (largely depending on how much "guidance" Saavik provided). But, yeah, I can see where it could be read as reducing the character to "providing sexual services," and that's no good. Is that what you mean by "exploitative"?

I wish we had gotten a Captain Saavik series at some point, especially if they'd stuck to the half-Vulcan, half-Romulan characterization established in ST II (and, I guess, never really officially contradicted in ST III, even though Nimoy instructed Curtis to play her 100% Vulcan.)
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
4. EllenMCM
@3 - Actually, I think the situation is exploitative of both characters. I think it's exploitative that we see Vulcans, who are so stoic and controlled, suffer in this particular way with their most intense emotions on a predictable basis. AND I think it's exploitative that Saavik is reduced to "providing sexual services" and that feels to me like it is intended as a way of "compensating" Spock for his years of devotion to her.

And I'm struggling with myself a bit, because the entire purpose of characters in media is that they struggle for our entertainment. They exist to be exploited. I'm distressed with this particular struggle, and this particular resolution to it - I think Amok Time is a bizarre story, but Kirk's apparent sacrifice on Spock's behalf doesn't bother me at all.
Alicia Dodson
5. LynMars
It really doesn't help that in the original drafts of the films, Saavik ends up pregnant with Spock's baby after Genesis. There were apparently deleted scenes and cut lines.

I recall in the novelization of one of the films--I haven't read them since I was a teenager, mind--that Saavik and David Marcus had a brief relationship, which was also originally intended for the film (at the least, a 'flirtation') and then Genesis happens. Saavik was meant to have a crush on Kirk, and transfers it to his age-appropriate and more available son rather than her commanding officer; that info appears on her Memory Alpha page, with citations from Nimoy's memoirs and film commentary, among others.

Saavik gets left behind on Vulcan in Star Trek IV, because 1) the character would have been extraneous on the 20th century Earth plot, and 2) she was on maternity leave, spending time with Amanda on Vulcan--and not telling Spock, apparently, though Kirk knew.

Eventually in some novelizations and comics, Saavik ends up married to Spock, even after he goes to Romulus while she's still a Starfleet officer, or something.

It's all apocryphal though, as none of the romance elements or pregnancy plot for Saavik ended up in the final release versions of the films. Which I think was a good thing, as it otherwise reduces the pretty young woman on the cast to the role of sex object. Instead, it's all subtle hints and possible implications--that Saavik's story is entirely in relation to the main man in her life, rather than her own accomplishments.

Either way, I always liked the character, and felt like she wasn't given enough time to really integrate with the crew and do more but be the student asking questions (or a girl in love, if the apocrypha is added in). On the other hand, it meant that Saavik never was the traitor in Star Trek VI which didn't seem to fit the character--partly cuz they also cut the information on screen of her mixed heritage and troubled backstory.
Nathan Martin
6. lerris
let’s take a minute to ask ourselves, does Spock understand the concept of an ultra-secure code?
If knowledge of the algorithms and processes underlying a code allows one to break the code, then it is not ultra-secure. As a matter of fact, this is one of the tenets of encryption security - assume an attacker has full knowledge of the encryption method and prevent them from performing better than a brute-force attack.
Christopher Bennett
7. ChristopherLBennett
@3: Actually the bit about Saavik being half-Romulan was deleted from The Wrath of Khan, and for good reason. The filmmakers realized that Vulcans and Romulans are biologically the same race, with the differences between them being cultural; so it makes no damn sense whatsoever to claim that being "half-Romulan" would somehow cause Saavik to be more emotional than a "full Vulcan," when genetically they're the exact same thing!

This is the value of the Saavik backstory that Vonda N. McIntyre created for her novelizations of TWOK and The Search for Spock and that Clowes elaborated on here. (A lot of people give Clowes credit for creating the backstory, but it was actually McIntyre.) McIntyre also understood how nonsensical it would be to blame Saavik's emotionalism on her biology. So while she kept the premise that Saavik was half-Romulan by birth, she also gave Saavik a "feral" upbringing as the real explanation for why she wasn't as controlled as a Vulcan.

The interesting thing: There are a lot of things in Trek that have been told or explained in different ways by different novelists and comic-book authors; for instance, there are about seven different versions to date of the ending of Kirk's 5-year mission (one of which I wrote). But every novel and comic that's delved into Saavik's backstory has used the basics of what McIntyre established in the TWOK novelization, even if they differ in some specifics. For instance, DC Comics's version assumed Saavik was older and had Spock rescue her before TOS proper (he was in a pilot-era turtleneck uniform) and take her home to Vulcan for his parents to raise, while Clowes's version has her rescue occur not long after Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Margaret Wander Bonanno's more recent Unspoken Truth agrees with Clowes's chronology of events, with Spock taking a year's leave to train Saavik, but differs in some details of how Hellguard is portrayed, and also incorporates the idea that Saavik was raised more by Sarek and Amanda than by Spock himself. There's also a Marvel comic which has Spock rescue Saavik shortly after TMP but take her to be raised in the Vulcan embassy on Earth, only occasionally coming to visit her, though at the end of the story he takes her to Vulcan for Sarek and Amanda to raise. But every prose and comics version of Saavik uses the Hellguard origin in some form.
Michael Poteet
8. MikePoteet
@7 - "Vulcans and Romulans are biologically the same race." Is this so? (Not talking real world science, but the approximation thereof in Star Trek.) Doesn't Spock "establish" in "Balance of Terror," "...and if the Romulans are offshoots of my Vulcan blood, and I think this likely..."? Hasn't enough time passed (in Trek evolution - I don't think it would be enough in real world evolution) since the separation that Vulcans have evolved along one path (e.g., to include pon farr as a biological imperative) and the Romulans another?

Maybe Vulcans and Romulans are "biologically the same race" in Trek science, but I can't recall ever seeing them treated this way canonically. No one ever says, "Oh, the Romulans, they're just warlike Vulcans" or "the Vulcans are just pacifist, emotionless Vulcans."

I'm also suspicious that the folks who made TWOK (my favorite Trek film, so this is not said as a hater) had any thought that Vulcans and Romulans are the same, since, in 1982, no one but the most diehard of Trekkies would know this. The Romulans had figured in all of two TOS episodes (and maybe a TAS? I forget). The general moviegoing audience would not have heard of them, and would have accepted "Romulans must be another species." If anything, the "half-Romulan" angle was probably dropped to avoid cluttering up the script and story with what, as things stand on-screen, is extraneous detail. Kirstie Alley's "emotionalism" as Saavik is really very minimal (except in the eyes of, again, diehard Trekkies). I suspect no average moviegoer in 1982 would've thought, "Boy, she's pretty emotional for a Vulcan."

If you have documentation that Bennett, Myers, et al. dropped it because of a scientific reason -- and who knows, maybe you do -- I will gladly confess myself mistaken! At any rate, I don't disagree with your larger point: McIntyre gave Saavik a fantastic backstory!
Alright Then
9. Alright Then
I don't recall Romulans ever exhibiting telepathetic abilities, so there is at least one difference between them and Vulcans. Well, that, the occasional forehead ridge, and their thing for shoulder pads.
John C. Bunnell
10. JohnCBunnell
"Biologically the same race" is, in any event, an awkward turn of phrase. Scientifically speaking, I would think the question would be whether modern (that is, 23rd-24th century) Vulcans and Romulans could be considered the same species.

While that would have been true at the time of the Romulan exodus from Vulcan, it might not still be the case by the time the various starships Enterprise have begun racing around the galaxy. One factor might be the actual date of the Romulan exodus, which is at best very sparsely (and none too consistently) documented in either onscreen canon or the overall novel continuity.

Nor does even this resolve all the arguments, especially considering that Star Trek biology is flexible enough to allow for human/Vulcan cross-fertility. Personally, I'd suspect that there's been enough genetic drift from the pre-exodus Vulcan standard that "present-day" Romulans are, at the least, a subspecies of the original root stock if not a distinct successor species in the biological or evolutionary sense. And then of course there are the "Remans", about which the less said is probably the better....
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
11. EllenMCM
I feel pretty strongly that, given the Romulans left Vulcan after the development of spaceflight (i.e., a long time ago, but not thousands and thousands of years) the differences between Romulans and Vulcans are social and cultural, and not biological. Given a few hundred years of seperation, there may be some genetic differences between the populations (for example, Vulcans, descended from those who stayed, have developed telepathy, while Romulans, descended from those who left, did not) but these are not significant enough to make the Vulcans and Romulans two distinct species.

What does it mean to be half Romulan and half Vulcan? My gut feeling is that it's somewhat akin to being half French and half Algerian. To a biologist, that's not very interesting, but from a cutural, historical, and personal perspective, it's very meaningful.
Christopher Bennett
12. ChristopherLBennett
@7: ""Vulcans and Romulans are biologically the same race." Is this so? (Not talking real world science, but the approximation thereof in Star Trek.) Doesn't Spock "establish" in "Balance of Terror," "...and if the Romulans are offshoots of my Vulcan blood, and I think this likely..."? Hasn't enough time passed (in Trek evolution - I don't think it would be enough in real world evolution) since the separation that Vulcans have evolved along one path (e.g., to include pon farr as a biological imperative) and the Romulans another?

We have canonical evidence that the Vulcan Reformation and the Romulan exodus occurred in approximately the 4th century CE. TNG: "Gambit" established that the migration of Vulcan offshoots to other worlds and the Time of Awakening on Vulcan itself both occurred approximately 2000 years earlier. The Vulcan Civil War arc on Enterprise further established that the last great war, occurring in Surak's lifetime, was against "those who marched beneath the raptor's wing," implicitly the Romulans.

So at the time of Saavik's birth, Vulcan and Romulan populations would only have been apart for about 1900 years. I don't buy that that's enough time for speciation even in Trek terms.

Besides, it's a moot point in this case. The idea that Saavik's emotionalism came from her "Romulan side" and the idea that Spock's emotionalism came from his "Human side" are absurd for the same reason: Because we know that Vulcan logic and emotional control are learned, not innate. Spock's whole point in "Balance of Terror" was that Vulcans are intrinsically a savagely emotional people, which is why they needed to teach themselves discipline and control. Genetics has nothing to do with it. A full-blooded Vulcan raised by humans or Romulans would be extremely, even violently emotional, while a full-blooded human raised among Vulcans would probably be as cool and disciplined and logical as any full Vulcan. Assuming that biology has anything to do with it is nonsense, never mind that Spock and other characters within Trek constantly make that very mistake. At least the producers of TWOK had the good sense to realize that it was a bad idea and to delete the reference from the film.

@10: I was, of course, using "race" as synonymous with "species," as Trek and other science fiction have been doing for generations.
Mordicai Knode
13. mordicai
Woah, as soon as I saw this cover my brain was like "remember that book you read as a kid? Well I've saved all these memories!" & flooded me with nostalgia.
Alright Then
14. Alright Then
Well, then maybe Romulans have been doing some genetic trans-Romulanism rejiggering of their species over the centuries. If you really need to 'splain away the differences.
Christopher Bennett
15. ChristopherLBennett
@14: Which still wouldn't change the fact that it would be nonsensical to blame Saavik's emotionalism on her "Romulan side." The key is that Vulcan logic is learned, and that biologically, innately, Vulcans are already passionately emotional. Which is the whole reason they need logic. TWOK's filmmakers made the right decision by cutting out that line from the movie, and Vonda McIntyre made the right decision by coming up with a more sensible explanation for Saavik's behavior.
Alright Then
16. Alright Then
But they aren't "biologically the same race." At least this is what TNG's "The Enemy" later suggested.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
17. EllenMCM
@13 - it is an incredibly evocative cover. I scrutinized it for a signature, but I can't find one. The star field makes me think it isn't Vallejo. I could be wrong , but it doesn't strike me as typical of his work. It's not credited, which is a thing that makes me crazy. I wish Pocket had credited their cover artists more consistently.
Christopher Bennett
18. ChristopherLBennett
@17: Well, whether it's Vallejo or not, its portrait of Spock is based on the same reference photo Vallejo used for the covers of The Wrath of Khan and Yesterday's Son.
Alright Then
19. Zeno
It's ironic that you picked this book to review. I just bought a used copy of this book. It is the last one left in my to read Star Trek books. A great review that makes this sound interesting. In fact it is hard to find a bad review of this book. Which makes the fact Miss Clowes has not written anything else all the more unusual.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
20. EllenMCM
@18 - now that I look at both of them together, that certainly is unmistakably the same reference photo. They've even got the same eyeshadow. Pandora Principle Spock has more small wrinkles around his eyes.

If we have a long enough discussion about it, do you think one of Pocket's editors or artists will drop by with a set of cover credits?

Yesterday's Son was #11. Pandora Principle was #49. I'm almost positive the covers to 46 and 50 are not Vallejo's work. But the most reliable way I have of telling is his signature - otherwise, I'm just covering my speculation in art snobbery. Vallejo's star fields are speckle-y. Sme of these covers have star fields with more variety in star size and shape, plus random planets.

I dug through my collection to research this comment. My stereotype of ST novel covers is three heads and a starship, but I am now questioning if Vallejo ever did that, or if it was a trope that appeared after his time. It is definitely in evidence for a bit after 45 in the series, but I don't have a complete set.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
21. EllenMCM
@19 - Ms. Clowes has written other things. At least one play, I think, and something that was nominated for an Edgar.
Alright Then
22. Zeno
@15,just how emotional Vulcans truely are is something that has always been inconsistently told. Especially within the original series. Journey to Babel and Amok Time showed they were just as emotional underneath as humans. However it is constantly said that Vulcans thought being half human means you would have less self control. Of course the human aspect is a example of xenophobia of the Vulcan culture. Despite claiming to be logical they are shown to be ethnocentric if not bigoted. Have you written a Star Trek novel on or story about this?
Christopher Bennett
23. ChristopherLBennett
@22: I did have Spock reflect on the fallacy of blaming his emotionalism on his human half in my first novel, Ex Machina, which is a direct followup to ST:TMP and thus focuses on Spock adjusting to his new acceptance of his emotional side and his attempt to balance it with his logical side (en route to the serene, self-assured Spock he was in TWOK and ever since).

And in Forgotten History, I tried to rationalize the "human half" thing a bit by suggesting something about how Vulcan brain structure is better suited to handling the particular disciplines that Vulcans use to manage their emotions. So there is some legitimacy to the idea after all, but not in the way that's generally implied. It's not that Vulcan psychology is innately less emotional -- we've been told often enough that the reverse is true -- but that it's innately more capable of discipline, at least the specific types of discipline in which Surakian emotional control is based.
Alright Then
24. dilsnik
I seem to recall the differences between Vulcans and Romulans being attributed to cosmic radiation suffered by the proto Romulans on the generation ships they used to flee Vulcan. I have also heard speculation that the Mintakans of TNG are the survivors of one of the missing/lost generation ships. Remans we probably should not talk about.
Alright Then
25. Zeno
@23,your books sound interesting. After my current list of books is finished I will try that. You seem to be one of the few writers has even tried to tackle this issue. That is admirable. It is really suprising that more writers have not tried to explain the difference between Vulcan and Human emotion. One of the few works that did was Ni Var which was in the first New Voyages short story collection. That was a excellent story that really explained the differences between the human and vulcan halves of Spock.
Alright Then
26. Zeno
Having just finished this book I have to say there are alot of plot holes and incorrect science in this book. This review has spoilers so do not read if you if you do not want information on the plot of the book.

1.Isotopes do not affect the type of molecular arrangments atom form.

2. Even without any oxygen human beings can still survive in a couple of minutes. They would not die instantly.

3. The Iron Sulfide soultion to the problem seems incredibly simple. How was it overlooked?

Plot Holes are also in this book.
4. Why would Romulans test this on people on a planet that had the antidote in the planets atmosphere?

5. The bounty hunter's ship just happens to break down and just happens to discovered by the Enterprise.

6. The Prateor could not have turned in evidence against the group from the start.

7. Nobody know if the scout ship blew up it could damage the Enterprises computers.

8. The self destruct sequence just happens to malfunction and just so Obo can save the ship and almost get killed.

9. The writer admits that Saavik could have had Spock beamed up. Also if they had mind melded you would think he would be able to anticipate her actions. However this is detable.

10. How did the Bounty Hunter know that Saavik was a Romulan?

There are the points. It would be interesting to know what other thought out this.

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