Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Vulcan Academy Murders

Star Trek #20: The Vulcan Academy Murders by Jean Lorrah
Published November 1984
Read January 22nd 2013

Previous book (The Original Series): #19: The Tears of the Singers
Next book (The Original Series): #21: Uhura's Song

Click to purchase The Vulcan Academy Murders from!

Spoilers ahead for The Vulcan Academy Murders!

From the back cover:
Kirk and McCoy accompany Spock to the Vulcan Academy Hospital, seeking experiemental treatment for a badly wounded Enterprise crew member. Spock's mother is also a patient in the hospital, and Kirk soon becomes involved in the complex drama of Spock's family...
Suddenly, patients are dying, and Kirk suspects the unthinkable -- murder on Vulcan! But can he convince the Vulcans that something as illogical as murder is possible? Until the killer is caught, everyone is in danger!

Notable quote:

Sarek and Spock, discussing his failed bonding with T'Pring in the episode "Amok Time":
Spock continued bleakly, "I looked at her picture and tried to reach her." He turned again to Sarek. "I thought the bonding was inadequate because I am only half Vulcan." 
"You are not only anything, Spock. You are more, not less, because of your dual heritage. It is fruitless to wish now that I had made that clearer to you when you were a child."

My thoughts:

A friend of mine, whom I met on GoodReads, said that the description of The Vulcan Academy Murders makes it sound like "Star Trek does Nancy Drew." Interestingly enough, she hit it right on the money. This novel plays out exactly like a pulp detective novel. The investigator (Kirk) has his list of suspects and determines motive and opportunity for each one. One by one, the suspects are eliminated from his list, until a surprising development leads all involved to believe the murderer has been caught. But, lo and behold, they have the wrong man! Predictably, Kirk himself is placed in danger when the killer strikes again. Now, this formulaic detective story set in the Star Trek universe isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, Star Trek itself has been many things over the years. Stories from a multitude of genres can be adapted quite well to the Trek setting. While I don't know that The Vulcan Academy Murders was the best-written detective story, I did enjoy it for the sheer genre-busting nature of it. Kirk playing detective was certainly fun, and the reactions of the Vulcans to a murder investigation were also very interesting to see.

The imposing visage of T'Pau hides a few surprises.
The Vulcan Academy Murders is fascinating in a number of other ways. Although the Vulcan it presents in its pages is subtly different from the world we see in other volumes of Trek lit, the insights it provides in the day-to-day lives of the average Vulcan are eye-opening. Of particular interest is the transition of Vulcan into a more cosmopolitan society, with large numbers of humans and other aliens taking up residence on the planet. While most Vulcans see this transition as keeping with the ideals of the Vulcan philosophy of IDIC (infinite diversity in infinite combinations), there are a few who believe that Vulcan should be kept pure and resist the influence of alien cultures. Of particular interest to me was the characterization of T'Pau, introduced in the TOS episode "Amok Time." At first, Kirk believes her to be somewhat bigoted against non-Vulcans, but her actual outlook on humans within Vulcan society ends up surprising him.

The examination of the depth of the
bond between Sarek and Amanda
is one of the highlights of The Vulcan
Academy Murders
Another element of The Vulcan Academy Murders that I loved was the presentation of the relationship between Spock and his parents. In this novel, Sarak and Spock's relationship has improved significantly since their eighteen-year silence after Spock decided to join Starfleet. Indeed, we see things from Sarek's point of view on several occasions and learn of his true feelings of pride for his son and his accomplishments. We also learn why his parents weren't present at his "marriage" in "Amok Time" and how much Sarek has come to regret that decision. In addition, the portrayal of the relationship between Sarek and Amanda is heartwarming, and we see a bit of what led them to marry. I particularly loved Sarek's response when Spock asks him why he chose an Earthwoman to be his wife. His answer? "I did not. I chose Amanda, who happens to be an Earthwoman." This all kind of presages his answer to Spock in the 2009 film. "I married her because I loved her."

Finally, I really enjoyed the novel's take on the events of "Amok Time," specifically those concerning the actions of T'Pring, Spock's betrothed. What she did in that episode was so outrageous and unfathomable to Sarek that he realizes how terribly his son had been treated. A Vulcan bonding between mates as presented in this novel is shown to be a deep, abiding, almost spiritual thing. Spock feared that his bonding to T'Pring had not been so because he is only half-Vulcan, but Sarek assures him that the fault lay entirely with T'Pring and her twisted sense of logic. In fact, we see a true bonding in this novel between a human man and a Vulcan woman, and it truly is a thing of beauty to behold. Being in a Vulcan bonding is like taking part in a permanent mind meld. Two truly do become one, and Jean Lorrah writes this concept very well. While the couple, Dr. Daniel Corrigan and T'Mir, are bonding, the portrayal of it is exquisite:

I had shared my fantasy with you, Daniel, but you had never told me yours.
I never dared to recognize it, he discovered--and she found the thought along with him.

Final thoughts:

A fun, if somewhat formulaic detective story set on Vulcan, with some great character moments for a few of the secondaries such as Sarek and Amanda. The exploration of Vulcan relationships and what makes a Vulcan are of particular note in this novel. I'm looking forward to checking out some more of Jean Lorrah's work in the realm of Star Trek fiction. I would recommend The Vulcan Academy Murders as a fun, light read for the trekkie who wants something a little different from the usual spaceborne setting of Trek novels.

Cover quandaries:

The scene depicted on the cover never actually occurs in the novel. While the creature, ostensibly a Le-Matya, does appear and threatens Captain Kirk, never once does Spock come face to face with it during the story!

Also by Jean Lorrah:

My next read:

Next up: the first book in the S.C.E. series: The Belly of the Beast by Dean Wesley Smith.

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