Normally, I insert a “read more” tag after the intro paragraph of a review to generate some suspense and keep from filling the main page with walls of text, but this is the first time it’s actually serving a third purpose of hiding some most likely NSFW material. Buckle up, banditos, because we’re about to go behind the velvet curtain in the back of the video store, and you’re going to find out what happens when an author commits the 80s literary equivalent of getting horny on main.
Kirk and Spock admit to each other that they’re having weird dreams and decide to talk about it over breakfast. Meanwhile, on the bridge, the crew is two months deep into a spine-crushingly boring patrol of the Romulan Neutral Zone border that’s giving everyone cabin fever something fierce. It manifests most explicitly with the navigator, Lt. Jeremy Richardson (standing in for Chekov who is on some kind of unspecified leave), who is openly talking about how horny he is. He wants to go to the bone zone with Yeoman Barrett, but he’ll try to make it with anyone, including a Yeoman S’Parva. When Sulu points out that S’Parva is a quadruped (a Katellan, to be precise—some kind of psychic canine being), Richardson quips, “Rules were made to be broken, my friend.”
“RULES WERE MADE TO BE BROKEN, MY FRIEND.”
This was where I had to put the book down and say, “Let’s try this again tomorrow.” Maybe it’s just me being an unenlightened bipedalonormative 21st-century philistine, but you gotta ease me in to the idea of making it with four-legged creatures. I’m all for free love, but keep it in your incognito tabs, Richardson. Yeesh!
Thus the tone is set for Killing Time, perhaps the most outrageously schizoid Trek novel published to date. Eventually, it settles into an agreeable groove with some pretty good high points and solid character work. But to get to that, you have to wade through approximately seventy pages of nonstop thirstiness that makes Black Fire look like a technical readout of the warp drive.
Kirk tries to de-stress by swimming in the pool (not unlike another book written by authors who had a somewhat slashy outlook on their lead characters), sucking at 3D chess, and taking Spock down to the ship’s garden to lock eyes with him and frolic through the flowers like some kind of Manic Pixie Dream Captain. Nothing Kirk tries staves off the dreams, however, and when he wakes up after a fitful slumber, he finds himself in the altered timeline the Romulans call Second History, where he is Ensign Kirk, the newest crew member aboard the VSS ShiKahr, helmed by Captain Spock.
At first I was under the impression this was going to be a Mirror Universe novel, but Second History is actually its own distinct thing, which was created when Romulan operatives went back in time and successfully assassinated three people found to be instrumental in the creation of the Federation. Unfortunately for the Romulans, the Federation is what you sometimes hear referred to on e.g. Doctor Who as one of them there “fixed points” in history, and the core idea is evidently so pivotal to galactic history that someone somewhere had to come up with it—and in Second History, it was the Vulcans, who created basically the same thing except it’s called the Alliance, which turns out to be worse than the original situation for the Romulans, on account of their common ancestry and whatnot.
To say Kirk isn’t quite the mega-successful dashing hero of the galaxy in Second History that he is in First History would be a pretty big understatement. He’s serving aboard the ShiKahr in lieu of prison time, he gets in tons of fights, and he’s addicted to a drug called lidacin. And yet amid Captain Spock’s attempts to discipline the wayward ensign, he has visions that tell him that he not only knows this young man, but respects and reveres him, and that it is in fact the ensign who, in a right and just universe, should hold the reins of command. Even in Second History, these two are fated to end up together, and Captain Spock is determined to restore things to the way these fragments of daydreams say they should be, even if it means going against orders and erasing everything he’s ever known to yield to the proper timeline.
Some very early Trek novels hint at something slightly more than platonic between Kirk and Spock, but Killing Time is the first one that wallows neck-deep in it. It’s not until you learn that Della Van Hise was a prolific writer and editor of Kirk/Spock slash fic in the 70s and 80s that that begins to make a lot of sense. So let’s talk about her some!
Della Van Hise is definitely among the more fascinating of one-time Trek novel authors. She was involved with a number of fanzines, most notably Naked Times (cover of the first issue, published 1978, pictured at right), which I know is a reference to “The Naked Time” but sounds like what a 10-year-old would call sex. She has used at least twelve pseudonyms according to her Fanlore page, and those are just the ones that are known. Her most well-known alias was Alexis Fegan Black, which was laid asunder after Van Hise was found by the admins of fanfic website Archive of Our Own to have violated its terms of service regarding self-promotion. Van Hise’s blog is chock full of bitter screeds directed at an industry she feels let her down and failed to recognize her talent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these diatribes are accompanied by a quite high opinion of herself; she seems to believe that Killing Time was ripped off for the 2009 J.J. Abrams Star Trek film—never mind that time-stream tampering isn’t exactly a groundbreaking concept (much less a copyrightable one) and is in fact so commonplace that literally the book published right before it covered that territory except with Klingons. (She also has some things to say about those darn SJWs, which should give you a general idea of how much of a deck she’s playing with.)
Van Hise claims it was believed her reputation preceded her and thus she and her book were unfairly demonized as products of her background in slash fic, and that anyone who saw elements of hypersexualization in Killing Time chose to put on the tinfoil hat and see those things. After reading it, and even setting aside what should be obvious to anyone who chooses to engage with culture—i.e., that no work exists in a vacuum and that it’s perfectly acceptable to judge a work by the context of the facts surrounding it—I think that even if she had made an earnest attempt to tamp down that overtly sexual style (and I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and say she did), those elements made it in there anyway, and it seems to me it’s because after almost a decade of writing porn, they were so hardcoded into the essence of her writing as to be completely inextricable. I’m not saying it’s straight-up smut, but let’s just say I started keeping a running tally of the number of times she used the word “fantasy” (and related forms—e.g. “fantasizing”) (seven) (though, go figure, she stopped almost the moment I started keeping count).
Since this might be the only chance (for a while, at least, though I suspect ever) to bring it up in discussion organically, I want to take a brief opportunity to digress on the more explicit interpretations of the Kirk/Spock dynamic, which I find to be of little use to me. The key phrasing there is to me. I was prepared to say I don’t find explicitly erotic takes on Kirk and Spock to be terribly constructive, but for one thing, K/S slash fic has served for many authors as a stepping stone to writing their own original fiction—Van Hise herself has also written, among other works, a gay vampire novel called Ragged Angels—and secondly, just look at what I spend my time doing to see how much room I have to talk. I personally see it as a different side of the same coin—viz., in my mind, the triumph of their relationship is as an antidote to toxic masculinity rather than a celebration of physical love. Agape over eros, if it’s all Greek to you. Of course, this level of nuanced thought process wasn’t really on the table in 1985, so it’s definitely easy to see how Ms. Van Hise could feel personally attacked about much of this.
Anyway, it’s all a pretty tough pill to swallow until you get to the parts focusing on the Romulans. Tazol is really gung-ho about the history-erasing plot—for the glory of the Empire and all that—but his science officer/wife Sarela, in an honestly pretty rad tour de force, cucks him in front of his entire crew, calls him a giant idiot, rattles off a ton of precedents to support her claim that it won’t work, and wonders (in private) why Romulans don’t try maybe pursuing peace for once instead of making these lame grabs to expand their dumb empire. As it turns out, some Romulans in very high places actually agree with her, and have an acute interest in helping key Alliance figures sort out the Second History mess.
From here the book actually becomes rather compelling, if not good per se. The Praetor turns out to be the nameless commander from “The Enterprise Incident”—you know, the one that got the cloaking device stolen out from under her nose and made a fool of herself throwing herself at Spock. The time travel scheme was something cooked up by her father, the previous Praetor, and she seems to basically just be carrying it out for filial honor’s sake. Here, she’s given a name (Thea) and most of the good scenes and dialogue in the book—though ultimately her arc must necessarily be tragic, because no matter how much Thea wants Spock, the union of Kirk and Spock is so important that it is ineffably etched into the molecular structure of the universe, and never the twain must be separated lest the galaxy succumb to insanity at the subatomic wrongness of their separation.
Thea of course eventually realizes this on page 267: “‘James Kirk,’ Thea reasoned, tone bordering on contempt,” and it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for her. The status quo must be restored, and Kirk and Spock’s love must reign supreme. Though most of the more overt elements get successfully reined in as the story goes on, those randy first impressions are a hurdle I never entirely cleared. It’s also not so successful in its development of original characters. I really enjoyed the book’s Romulan women, but Sarela quietly shuffles into the background after a while; and Jeremy Richardson—the pervert from the beginning—actually turns out to be a pretty nice guy, though his abrupt death after nearly an entire book of chumminess and kindness to Kirk is almost as cruel as the treatment (authorial, not medical) that Carl Remington received in The Vulcan Academy Murders. It’s overall not a good book, though due to increased editorial oversight (some of it a direct result of a snafu involving this very book, described just below) we’ll absolutely never see its like again, so it is at least interesting as a capsule of both a different time and the s(t)eamy underbelly of a scene many fans rarely if ever think or even know about.
Nuggets & Stray Bits
- Killing Time‘s first printing was recalled by Pocket Books and subsequently destroyed. An unedited earlier manuscript was inadvertently published, which contained even slashier elements than what made it into the revised work; according to Wikipedia, more than fifty changes were made, and Gene Roddenberry cracked down on overly radical developments and interpretations of his show and his characters. Some copies of course survived, and though an immature and prurient part of me hoped that was the edition I acquired, it alas wasn’t, though mine would appear to be the one published immediately afterward.
- Repetitive phrasing is a big issue in this book. If you make a drinking game out of how many times two characters’ eyes met (or locked), or someone “smiled wistfully”, or how many times McCoy “bounced on his toes”, your liver will never forgive you.
- McCoy gets in some good licks in this book. He busts out a couple solid “I’m a doctor, not a ___” quips, and the fearlessness with which he stands up to the Praetor is a depiction worthy of Diane Duane’s treatments of the character.
- Sixth grade must have been a formative year for Van Hise: she brings it up on three separate occasions.
- p. 86: “‘I have also been informed that your mind was resistant to Vegan thought probes and truth drugs which would, under normal circumstances, prove your guilt or verify your innocence.'” Man, I knew vegans could be preachy, but I didn’t know they were resorting to torture in the future! (Womp womp.)
- p. 238: “Heat-monkeys”, you say?
Final Assessment: 😐
Killing Time finishes about as strongly as it can given how it starts off. Van Hise can claim otherwise until she’s blue in the face, but despite her protestations I do believe a certain tone managed to work its way into the writing that is not totally true to the characters or that shows them at their best. As her Lt. Jeremy Richardson says, rules were made to be broken, and I don’t disagree in theory, but you have to have actually mastered the rules prior to breaking them to get away with it.
Killing Time is not recommended for those with a history of heart disease. Ask your doctor about Killing Time. If you have an erection lasting more than four chapters, contact an editor.
NEXT TIME: Dwellers in the Crucible