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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Robert E. Vardeman: Keeping Us on Course

A treasured novel
on my Star Trek shelf.

In “The Naked Time,” an episode of “Star Trek” written by John D. F. Black, Mr. Spock and Joe Tormolen beam down to Psi 2000.  The planet is breaking up, and this process rocks the Enterprise with gravity fluctuations.  Scientists stationed on the planet went insane before they died.  When Spock and Joe unknowingly bring an alien virus back to the Enterprise, erratic behavior spreads among the crew.

In The Klingon Gambit by Robert E. Vardeman, Spock and Candra Avitts are studying a curious life form on Delta Canaris, a gas giant that rocks the Enterprise with frequent gravity fluctuations.  Then Captain Kirk is ordered to Alnath II, where they find the Vulcan science ship T’pau.  Although the vessel is undamaged, all aboard are dead.  Studies cannot determine how the Vulcans died.  The planet was deemed free of harmful viruses.  An archeology team, surveying a strange pyramid, seems healthy.  Suspicion falls on the Terror, a Klingon ship also orbiting the planet.  Might the Klingons possess a weapon that could kill without leaving a trace?

As in “The Naked Time,” discipline aboard the Enterprise breaks down.  Mr. Chekov grows trigger-happy, nearly starting an interstellar war.  Mr. Kyle suddenly abandons the Transporter room to take up sculpting.  Fights break out all over the ship, and unrestrained alcohol use hastens the collapse of disciple.  Mr. Spock wrestles with his emotions, as well as his growing affection for Candra Avitts.  Doctor McCoy, who has always distrusted technology, starts operating with twentieth century surgical tools. 

Others strive for greater excellence in their duties.  Mr. Scott, for example, scavenges necessary parts from systems all over the ship to increase the efficiency of his engines.  Without its original parts, the autochef dispenses a nutritious but unappetizing purple gruel.  And the Andorian Dr. Threllvon-da, the head of the archeology team, is unbothered by the Vulcan's deaths.  Instead, he's more driven than ever to uncover all traces of the culture that once called Alnath II home.

The particulars of “The Naked Time” and The Klingon Gambit are different, yet both ask an important question.  Which aspects of our natures should we restrain, and which should we unleash?  I’m most taken with two examples in The Klingon Gambit, that of Mr. Kyle and Scotty.  Vardeman suggests that Mr. Kyle opted for a safe, dependable career, and suppressed his artistic inclinations.  Meanwhile, Scotty seems to have abandoned all sense of scope.  He cannot recognize that his engines are already operating at peak efficiency, and that other systems are just as necessary to keep the Enterprise and her crew functioning at optimum levels.

I won’t ruin the novel for you by revealing either what caused the Vulcans’ deaths, or the breakdown of discipline aboard the Enterprise.  But if there’s one thing I take away from The Klingon Gambit, it’s how easy it is to lose sight of what’s really important.  Thank you, Robert E. Vardeman, for reminding us of the need for frequent reassessments.  They can seem a pain to perform, not to mention a waste of time.  But unless we regularly reevaluate our lives, how will we recognize that, somewhere along the way, we’ve taken a detour, and must steer ourselves back on course?

Live long and prosper,
Dragon Dave

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