Tag Archives: Star Trek

393. The IDIC Epidemic

I am always amazed when I find yet another novel which should have won awards and a place on every bookshelf, but has instead been forgotten. I don’t know why I should be amazed though, as it happens all too often. The IDIC Epidemic is such a book.

An additional oddity, which is actually a pattern, is that though the book is massively infused with future science, and contains more Star Trek lore and alien species that a Star Trek convention, the story succeeds because it mimics the same underlying moral stance as any human story about very different people thrown together in a crisis, and rising to the occasion.

The IDIC Epidemic is a novel that stands alone, but can equally be seen as the third in a trilogy that began with the original series Star Trek episode Journey to Babel, continued in The Vulcan Academy Murders, and concludes with The IDIC Epidemic. The TV episode was by D. C. Fontana and the two books are by Jean Lorrah. To quote:

the reunion (between Spock and  Sarek) that had begun on the perilous journey to Babel and continued when they had melded on Vulcan to save Amanda’s life only a few weeks ago, was finally complete.

That is a leitmotif floating through the three stories, but needs no spoiler alert since it isn’t the main story. Here is a spoiler free summary of The IDIC Epidemic.

Nisus is a Vulcan science colony dedicated to the idea of IDIC, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination. Members of most of the races known to the Federation work there in something like harmony. A plague breaks out which crosses species and brings the Enterprise on scene to help. Infinite Complications ensue. 

I suppose the next statement is a spoiler. Kirk does not single-handedly save the day. To be fair, he only does that about half the time, but this is one of those books where every character –and there are a horde of them — has his time on stage.

There are no space battles, either. Although there is a bit of skullduggery among some relatively minor villains, this is primarily a story of varied intelligent species striving against nature.

A little aside here: I bought Legacies: Captain to Captain a few months ago, but gave up reading it about a third of the way in. I have no criticism of book or author; it was simply that I had been on this roller coaster too many times before, and it couldn’t hold my interest. If you’ve read enough Star Trek novels (I must be well above fifty), the word rehash starts to crop up in your appraisal, and it really isn’t fair. Take any thirty Star Trek novels and read them one after another — the first will be wonderful and the last will be a rehash, no matter in which order you read them.

The IDIC Epidemic isn’t like that. Yes, there is a threat to be overcome, through great courage and high competence, but we also meet a dozen new characters and a couple of dozen who are back from The Vulcan Academy Murders. Their interactions matter as much as the action. We also learn a great deal more about about sex and love among Vulcans and between species. (Tastefully handled. This is Star Trek, not soft porn.) And we see courage exhibited by everybody.

Everyone is a hero, because it is that kind of situation. I was reminded, by contrast, of books by Philip Wylie from my youth, set in times of nuclear war. There were no real heroes in those books. The difference wasn’t in the  competing visions of mankind. It was structural to the kind of novels involved. IDIC is a hopeful book even through massive disasters.  A nuclear strike leaves no hope.

The IDIC Epidemic is one of the best Star Trek novels I have read. I recommend it highly. Both these Jean Lorrah books are available on Kindle. If you get them both, read The Vulcan Academy Murders first, although The IDIC Epidemic is the better book.

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182. Vulcan Academy Murders

The Vulcan Academy Murders by Jean Lorrah got some bad reviews when it came out. I like it very much, but I can see their point. It all depends on what you you are looking for when you come to a Star Trek novel.

Personally, I buy Star Trek novels that have Spock on the cover. When I watched Star Trek in its first run, the only character I really liked was Spock. I’ve mellowed since, but I still feel he was the core of the series.

On this cover we have Spock, phaser in hand, facing a le-matya under the light of T’Kuht. The le-matya is in the story, and important, as is the light of T’kuht. Spock is in the novel too, but not in this scene, and, although he has his moments, he is probably the least important character in the novel.

That was a surprise, but not particularly a disappointment, as there is plenty of McCoy, Kirk, Sarek, T’pau, a bit of backstory on the minor character M’binga, and half a dozen interesting new characters, both human and Vulcan.

If you love a good plot, with interesting twists and turns and a fast pace, TVAM may not be for you. If you want a good murder mystery, TVAM is definitely not for you. The attempts at detection are lame and the culprit stumbles to (his/her) doom. Nobody sees the obvious until it falls into their laps at the end. The arc of the plot actually reads like one of the old series episodes.

None of that matters to me. This is one of those novels that lets us see old friends again and spend time with them. It delves deeper into Vulcan culture, especially mate bonding, and shines a light into the shadows thrown by Vulcan stoicism. We get to tie up a lot of loose ends regarding Spock’s childhood and his relationship with Sarek and Amanda. We also get a chance to see Kirk and T’pau get a chance at a mutual reevaluation.

Besides that, the new characters are fascinating. This is a novel that brings backstory into the foreground, with just enough plot to keep things moving. What more could you want for two dollars, on sale at your favorite used book store?

Now I’m looking for a copy of its sequel, The IDIC Epidemic.

181. Star Trek on Sale

In my favorite used books store, overstocked Star Trek novels went on sale recently, so I bought a sackful – mostly those that appeared to feature Spock.

I hated Star Trek when it aired in the sixties. I was about eighteen, and just coming off of five or six years or reading the best of “real” science fiction. I’ve mellowed since. Reruns today have a nostalgic glow, and besides, the Star Trek movies did a lot to wash the bad taste of the Littlies and the Will of Landru out of my mouth.

I’ve even come to appreciate Shatner. When Star Trek was in its original run, I thought Shatner epitomized everything that was wrong with the series. Now I’m a writer, so now I know better. It wasn’t Shatner, the actor, or Kirk, the character that made me wince. It was the words the writers sometimes put in his mouth.

Some of the stories were excellent, some were acceptable, and almost all had some leavening of humor. But there were clunkers – oh, my, were there clunkers. Looking back, I have to credit Shatner with extreme professionalism for keeping a straight face while saying some of the lines the writers fed him.

Best Star Trek episode — Balance of Terror

Worst Star Trek episode — The Omega Glory

There, how’s that for starting a controversy.

The novels I bought yesterday were as mixed as the original series. I sat down with _______ by _______ and found it so overwritten that I couldn’t get past page ten. Then I picked up The Vulcan Academy Murders by Jean Lorrah, and found it to be a pleasant read despite the title. (There will be a review tomorrow.)

About a year ago, I spent a few hours in another used bookstore, picking out a selection of thirty and forty year old books that I had read as a young man. I was struck by how many authors were there who had written one or two good – sometimes excellent – books and then disappeared. 

It’s hard to get published, and even harder to make a living at writing. Most writers also do something else. Many teach college English; many science fiction writers are actually scientists. I had some early success, followed by a career teaching middle school, so I know the drill.

Actually, this all has a long history. Mark Twain and Charles Dickens did not make their fortunes as writers, despite their success. Mark Twain was a raconteur, a humorist, a sparkling speaker who filled halls across America. He made a bundle as a speaker, which helped sell his books, which in turn helped fill the halls whenever he spoke. Charles Dickens was looking at poverty, half way through his career, when he wrote A Christmas Carol. He spent the rest of his life doing readings of that wonderful tale, and making the money his printed works were not providing.

I think that writing Star Trek novels must be keeping a lot of writers fed. The original TV series certainly did. As I was reading the wiki list of episodes to remind myself of the title of that excrecable tale of the Yangs and Comms, I saw Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Theodore Sturgeon, Fredric Brown, Harlan Ellison, Norman Spinrad, David Gerrold, Nathan Butler, and Jerry Sohl, all names I had known from science fiction novels outside Star Trek.

FYI, Nathan Butler is a pen name of Jerry Sohl. I read several of his novels in the local library in my early teens, but he never became a household name in the science fiction universe, despite an admirable list of publications. It appears that he wrote widely, but made his living in television.

Doesn’t that sound familiar?