Having barely made a dent in the TOS tie-in materials (I only started watching the show a little over a year ago), I was drawn to read this book out-o...moreHaving barely made a dent in the TOS tie-in materials (I only started watching the show a little over a year ago), I was drawn to read this book out-of-sequence by its reputation. I was amused and intrigued by its almost urban legendary status as the Kirk/Spock slash fiction story that actually got a brief publication run as an official tie-in novel, so I made sure to get a hold of the PDF of the "uncensored" first edition.
My verdict as to its aforementioned reputation: yes, there is some significant homoerotic subtext there; but, on the other hand, nothing much more outrageous than you're going to find in some of the canonical material (especially the movies), not to mention the near-infamous passage from Star Trek: The Motion Picture: A Novel (which, in attempting to put the issue of the exact nature of Kirk and Spock's relationship to rest, actually added considerable fuel to that particular fire). Van Hise's (tongue-in-cheek?) claims that there's no truth to the rumours about this book's original content seem pretty unlikely after actually reading the first edition - any time Spock attempts to mind-meld with Kirk is played up as a pretty blatant metaphor, and there's even some vaguely unsettling stuff with Spock performing said action on a sleeping Kirk and then justifying his actions because his friend was "practically asking for it"... I still can't decide if that's being subtly satirical of the K/S slash following, or straightforwardly just plain creepy. Or both. But, ultimately, the novel ends on a rather sweet note between Kirk and Spock's alternate universe counterparts. I won't give anything away, except to say that I think 'shippers who don't mind things staying (just barely) subtextual will like it a lot, but there's nothing so blatant as to detract from the enjoyment of fans who are happy to view the characters as just very good friends. Either way, it's a surprisingly heartwarming conclusion to a novel with such a risque reputation attached to it.
However, it's important to remember that, regardless of Van Hise's actual intentions with regards to Kirk/Spock, Killing Time is first and foremost intended to be a Star Trek novel. In that regard, I found it to be very much like other media tie-ins I have read. With very few exceptions, they are not particularly outstanding works of written fiction, and more than a few are really dreadful, whether it be the poor quality of the prose or the failure to capture another creator's well-known characters. This novel is far from being one of the dreadful examples, but neither is it one of those rare outstanding ones. Van Hise demonstrates a good understanding of the characters and their particular styles of dialogue, and whenever Kirk, Spock and McCoy are speaking you can more or less hear the actors' voices. Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov and Chapel all play minor roles and are similarly well written. (I was happy to see Van Hise resist the temptation to render all of Chekov's dialogue in distracting phonetics, which some Star Trek authors do instead of trusting their readers to know what the character sounds like; though she did lose points with me again for doing so with Scotty for some reason.) There's a nice use of (if I'm identifying the character correctly) the guy who sits at the helm whenever Sulu or Chekov isn't there in Season 2 (here called "Richardson" and identified as the swing-shift relief for both): Van Hise gives his personality some development and utilises him very cleverly as a significant character in the alternate universe sections of the book. Having not seen all of the TOS episodes yet, I'm not sure to what extent some other major characters were borrowed from one-off guest appearances or created specifically for this novel, but they were all compelling enough that I'm actually hoping a few of them do pop up somewhere along the way in the TV show. Characterisation was definitely one of this novel's strengths; and, while the prose was nothing special, it served its purpose well and moved the plot along without becoming bogged down in description, even if this resulted in a few phrases being repeated so often as to get oddly jarring.
The plot: Van Hise claims that the 2009 Star Trek reboot borrowed heavily from this novel, and there would seem to be considerable justice in that assertion: a Romulan time travel plot creates an alternate continuity wherein Spock is the captain of the Enterprise, Kirk is an ensign assigned to him primarily as punishment for an infraction committed at the Academy, and Vulcan may or may not have been destroyed by the Romulans. Sounds pretty similar. Of course, there are differences as well: the Romulans' hijinks in the fourth dimension have wiped out most Terran contributions to the formation of the Federation, which is now Vulcan-led, leaving most humans with considerably lower status than in the main continuity. Furthermore, Kirk's history is considerably darker: suspected of the murder of one of his tutors, he's spent time in prison before a torturous stint in a mind-reading machine concludes that he has no memories of the night in question, but most people still believe in his guilt, resulting in his assignment to Spock's crew as something like supervised probation, and the torture he underwent has resulted in an addiction to a mind-numbing drug. These last three plot points promise to be very interesting; unfortunately, they are badly under-used, and if you're hoping to find out more about who framed Kirk (since that's clearly where that was heading), you're out of luck. However, though there are a few such dangling plot threads and inconsistencies (has Vulcan been destroyed by the Romulans or not? Spock doesn't seem sure), the story moves at a good pace, and is very entertaining. It would have made a very good episode of TOS, which in my opinion is all you should really ask of a spin-off novel - and, of course, they more or less made it into a movie, which says a lot about the potential of the story itself.
Van Hise also gets in a couple of hilarious nods to the danger of wearing a red shirt: while in the main continuity everyone seems blissfully unaware of the mortality rate of security personnel, the AU characters have apparently developed a certain superstition requiring you to borrow a friend's blue or gold shirt during your first away mission, which is regarded not only as good luck but a sensible precaution. Fans of John Scalzi's Redshirts will doubtless appreciate the feeling of in-jokey humour the novel has at times.