This week, a Vulcan science colony gets rocked by a plague that threatens to flush its reputation for diversity down the sonic toilet. But that’s not all: the local hydroelectric plant is short-staffed and falling apart, and if they don’t get it up to code before the spring thaw, the snowflakes could trigger a flood that will have everyone frantically searching for a safe space. Can Drs. McCoy and M’Benga and some old friends find a cure-all that will cure all? It’s The IDIC Epidemic, the book that makes a Benetton ad look like a Klan rally.
The IDIC Epidemic
Author: Jean Lorrah
Published: February 1988
Timeline: Immediately after The Vulcan Academy Murders (TOS #20)
Prerequisites: Despite Lorrah’s assurance in the foreword that you don’t really need to have read The Vulcan Academy Murders to keep up, being caught up on it and having full context on some of its characters, especially Sendet, goes a long way
If you’re a fan of Star Trek, odds are you’re familiar with the initialism IDIC—that is, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, the Vulcan credo that encapsulates their commitment to bettering themselves through exposure to other cultures and the fresh perspective gleaned from those cultures’ wildly different lived experiences. The science colony Nisus puts that principle to the ultimate test by having people from both Federation and non-Federation worlds work alongside each other in close quarters on a daily basis, and although racial tensions aren’t nonexistent, the experiment is chugging along quite smoothly.
Or rather was, until it gets hit by a plague that is no respecter of physiologies—except, apparently, that of Klingons. The disease starts out manifesting average virus-type symptoms, but before long, victims start hulking out and trying to kill everyone in sight. Nisus’ council considers developing immunity by creating a vaccine from a lesser strain, but it’s too little, too late. Worst of all, the disease mutates into deadlier strains when it strikes children of mixed heritage. If one didn’t know better, it would seem that the disease is purposely targeted to strike at the very heart of the diversity that Nisus holds so dear. Amid the chaos, an Orion named Borth tries to persuade a Klingon called Korsal to weaponize the plague for glory and profit, but Korsal is a good citizen of Nisus, and he is not having it.
On top of that, because everyone’s calling in sick, the nearby hydroelectric dam is understaffed, forcing Korsal to drag his khesting butt up to the top of the mountain and fix a broken sluice tray, which if not repaired will result in massive flooding should the spring thaw hit before it’s repaired. Including both a plague and a flood is a risky move on Lorrah’s part, but even though it might seem like too much conflict for one book, she manages to juggle both fairly well without doing a disservice to one or the other.
Meanwhile, the Enterprise is transporting Sendet and the Followers of T’Vet as political prisoners for the shenanigans they pulled in The Vulcan Academy Murders. T’Pina also finds herself attracted to Sendet, which is somewhat understandable since they’re both unbonded, but it’s like, come on, try to do better than the dude in the “Make Vulcan Great Again” hat. (Thankfully, she shoots him down soon enough.) T’Pina is the book’s other major original character, and she’s at the center of a plot twist that was as surprising to me as the culprit of The Vulcan Academy Murders was unsurprising, but overall she left little impression on me.
Funnily enough, The IDIC Epidemic suffers from a sort of disease of its own: original-characteritis. There are a lot of OCs competing within a comparatively small amount of real estate for a decent amount of time in the limelight, and Lorrah doesn’t manage to give everybody the time to shine they deserve. Korsal gets the lion’s share of the character development, with T’Pina and her twist coming in second. Sorel and Daniel Corrigan, returning from The Vulcan Academy Murders, have so little impact on the story that the necessity of their return is debatable—even more so for Sorel’s wife T’Mir. One in particular who gets the short shrift is a half-human half-Orion named Beau Deever, who develops a real rapport with T’Pina during the flood evacuation, proves to be great with kids, and exudes an easy charm that never grates.
It’s also got kind of a flabby ending, just sort of petering out after the flood finally begins to abate rather than definitively coming to a stop. The question of rebuilding the colony remains entirely up in the air, and all parties involved agree to keep all aspects of the plague secret—the occurrence of it, the cause of it, its ability to take down nearly any type of humanoid and become deadlier when crossing species lines, the vaccines that combated it—on a seemingly honor-system basis. There just doesn’t seem to be much standing in the way of someone deciding to leak the information to unsavory characters. More closure would definitely have been appreciated.
One of Star Trek‘s stronger qualities, if not its strongest, is its celebration of diversity, and creating a situation where that ideology is threatened is an inspired idea, not to mention one that’s liable to continue to prove fairly relevant (at least for the foreseeable future). The IDIC Epidemic manages to uphold that tradition while remaining realistic about the sociopolitical realities of the series’ present. Though it could sorely use a good tightening in a lot of places, I think it’s a significant improvement over Lorrah’s initial effort, and worth checking out for some good exploration of the ideals that make Star Trek great.
MVP & LVP
- MVP, perhaps unsurprisingly, goes to Korsal. He’s a stand-up dude all around—has two great sons, loves his Orion wife (another great original character poorly served by a lack of attention), survives a blizzard, puts up with more residual prejudice than probably any other character, and provides an excellent window into where Klingons go and what they do when they don’t really fit in anywhere in the Empire. As imbalanced as the distribution of original characters was, I nevertheless often found myself wanting more of Korsal.
- I’m giving LVP to Kirk. One of the more easily identified potential flaws of The IDIC Epidemic‘s premise is that it might seem that a colony that places such a heavy emphasis on prizing diversity would be redundant in the Federation, an institution already committed to practicing the very best of those ideals. But Kirk bares some ugly Klingon prejudices that make you think maybe such a thing might be necessary after all. He constantly beats around the bush when talking to Korsal, is reticent to do even the smallest kindness for him and his sons, and openly laughs off the idea of even a half-Klingon getting into Starfleet Academy (until—spoiler—it happens). Combine that with having to spend most of his time in this story sitting around with his thumb up his butt, and you’ve got a prime LVP candidate on your hands. (McCoy also almost qualified, but he actually has important things to do, so Kirk narrowly edges him out.)
Nuggets & Other Stray Bits
- Apparently there’s a Starsky & Hutch cameo in the book, but wherever it is, it went completely over my head.
- p. 49:
On his home world [Korsal] had been a misfit. Myopia and astigmatism had kept him from military advancement. Wearing thick lenses before his eyes, he could see well enough—but an enemy would instantly recognize that to deprive him of that external aid would be to blind him.
I can’t help but picture a Klingon Bubbles when reading this passage.
- p. 54: As soon as Korsal gets home, his son immediately pauses his game and logs out of Skype to free up the computer terminal for his dad. WHAT A GOOD SON. I SURE WISH I HAD A SON LIKE THAT.
- Even though it gets sillier every time I see it, I’ll probably never not giggle at the word khest.
- p. 160: CPR is tougher to perform on Vulcans than on humans, natch.
I give The IDIC Epidemic 3 out of 5 whatevers. Just the fact that it isn’t a horribly executed whodunit is enough to give it a significant edge over its predecessor, but while it still doesn’t get everything right, it’s got enough bright spots that I’d consider it decent enough. Though it was one of the handful of TOS novels I read as a child, I remembered literally nothing about it before going in as an adult. I liked it fine then, maybe a little less now, but if you were to pick a TOS novel to read at random, you could do far worse than to land on this one.
NEXT TIME: What time is it? It’s Time for Yesterday