Saturday, December 30, 2017

Life Was Sacred To You Then: Star Trek episode 9, "What Are Little Girls Made Of?"

Dr. Korby has discovered that as their sun dimmed, the inhabitants of this planet moved underground ... from an open environment to this dark world.  
When you were a student of his, Christine, you must have often heard Dr. Korby remark how freedom of movement and choice produced the human spirit; the culture of Exo-III proved his theory.  When they moved from light to darkness, they replaced freedom with a mechanistic culture.  
Dr. Korby has been able to uncover elements of this culture that will revolutionize the universe when freed from this cavernous environment.
One of the predominant concerns of science fiction at large and Star Trek (in most of its incarnations) in general is delineating the place where humanity ends and artificiality begins.  Put another way, science fiction often seeks to answer the question: what is real?
This isn't even the first time Star Trek had wrestled with the issue; early in its run, we'd already been gifted meditations on the question in "The Cage," "Mudd's Women," "The Enemy Within," and "The Man Trap."  Spoiler alert: we'll revisit the question a great many times.
I don't see it as a bad thing.  It's an important question, one that bears asking over and over again.  Even if you never land on a firm answer, the process of asking the question is enriching.

It lies at the very heart of "What Are Little Girls Made Of?"

The episode's title hints at it, although it is probably most intended to put one in mind of the nursery rhyme, which goes like like this:

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.

I assume people in 2017 are still familiar with this; certainly people in 1966 would have been.  That being the case, it's instructive to spend a bit of time considering what the average 1966 viewer might have expected from the episode based on its title.  The title appears coming out of the credits, and the only thing that happens in the teaser is that we find out the ship has been able to make contact with Nurse Chapel's long-lost fiance.

Coming out of the credits, the title appears.  What do we assume it means?  Well, if we are familiar with the nursery rhyme -- practically a given -- then we probably find ourselves reflecting on gender differences.  The argument could be made that the nursery rhyme is saying that little boys are a bit gross and/or naughty, and that little girls are prim and proper; it is a divide of sourness versus sweetness.

So if you expect anything based on the title, I think you probably expect a story about the gender divide, likely focusing on Nurse Chapel.  Much of the episode will reinforce that notion.  Things will be flipped on their heads a bit when we discover that the episode is about robots, especially when it is divulged that Andrea herself is one.  Do you suppose the average 1966 viewer would have made that intuitive leap quickly?  Once we discover Brown is a robot, do/did most viewers go ahead and assume Andrea -- and maybe Korby, too -- are also artificial?

Impossible to say for anyone other than one's self, I guess.  I could see it going either way.  Modern viewers probably do make that intuitive leap without much prompting.  Contemporary ones, however?  Or even people watching reruns in the next couple of decades?

I'm less sure that that would be the case for them.  I think many viewers in those eras would see Sherry Jackson strut onto the screen and have subconscious thoughts of sugar, spice, and everything nice suddenly fill their minds.  I do indeed intend this as a statement on Andrea's physical attractiveness, which is damn near an elemental force here.

I think the episode is counting on viewers to have a reaction roughly equivalent to this:
Or, if not that, perhaps the jealous stink-eye Christine Chapel gives her:
Whatever the specifics, I think the episode is counting on us to have a fundamentally human reaction, and to subconsciously see Andrea as entirely human.  We are meant initially to be captivated by Andrea's sexual allure, and is there a more fundamentally human urge than sexual desire?  It's debatable, I suppose; but surely it must be one of the most universal of feelings.

If one could have that sort of emotional reaction to a robot, then what does the divide between "real" and "artificial" matter?  This, of course, is a big part of what Korby is arguing.  What's the difference?

Bear in mind that "Korby" is not, in fact, Korby.  "Korby" is a robot into which the real Korby has supposedly transferred his consciousness.  We've been told earlier -- by "Brown" -- that the former inhabitants of this planet "replaced freedom with a mechanistic culture," and that the development of our own species' spirit was created in part by "freedom of movement and choice."  In other words, the "Old Ones" of Exo-III are presumed to have been similar in that regard, and in replacing that freedom with artificiality, they stunted both movement and choice, causing the spirit of their species to wither.

In their case, that does seem to have been the result, but whether that was a product of the move to mechanism or not is a matter for some debate.  The implication is that the Old Ones retreated into the bowels of their planet so as to escape the ecological devastation wrought on its surface.  I can only assume this means that their culture had not developed space travel.  If so, then it might be reasonable to assume that -- for whatever reason -- their species never developed any real exploratory drive.  Why?  Impossible to say; not entirely productive to speculate, either.  The bottom line is that the Old Ones do not seem to have possessed an urge for freedom of movement, and possibly none for freedom of choice.

If so, then they were markedly different from Star Trek's version of humanity, and if THAT is the case then humans might well experience a different end to the story than the Old Ones did.

I don't necessarily think that the episode -- and when I say that, I really mean the writer (Robert Bloch) or the producers or the director, or all of the above -- want us to think that.  In most ways, Star Trek in its original-series iteration (and probably beyond that) will lustily argue that we are nothing without our core human urges toward individuality, uniqueness, self-determination, and goal-oriented focus on forward motion.  Time and time again, the series will argue that such extra-human enhancements and alterations as robotics, cloning, augmentation, and stimulus-induced changes in mood or thinking are "cheating," and should be avoided.

But, on the other hand, there's Andrea.

If you want a good measuring stick for how "the episode" wants you to feel about a thing, look at how Kirk is reacting.  Rarely -- if ever -- is Kirk used otherwise; he is the voice of moral authority, and while he might sometimes need advice from Spock or McCoy, he is pretty much never presented as being in the wrong.

But that's not to say he can't make mistakes.  For example, check his reaction to Andrea when she first shows up in this episode.  I didn't screencap it because it works less well in still-image form than in motion, but I personally would not characterize Kirk's reaction to her as being that of a man who is encountering a robot; it's the reaction of a man who is encountering an attractive woman.  Kirk is in a cautious, guarded, suspicious mode thanks to the mystery of his surroundings and the loss of a crewman, and you can see that, too; but nevertheless, what you see is the reaction of a human being to an intriguing fellow human being.

For me, this has got to bring up a question: if Kirk can be fooled in this way, then isn't it possible that others could be similarly fooled?  In fact, isn't it plausible that Kirk might have been totally fooled under other circumstances?  Imagine, for example, a scenario in which Kirk encountered Andrea while on shore leave, while he was relaxed instead of while he was very much on duty (and in a heightened state of awareness thanks to being in crisis mode).

Imagine further that Andrea has been "alive" for thirty years, rather than the five or less she has existed after Korby created her.  After all, in some ways Andrea IS a little girl, just as the episode's title suggests.  Robot or not, she's only had so much time to learn human behavior; or, alternatively, she's only had a limited set of sources from which to learn.  Morally and ethically suspect sources, at that.  Take that young lady and put her through Starfleet training, and you might have something more human than human.

Kirk's attitude toward her will change as soon as he learns what she is; he'll immediately begin using her as a tool to get what he wants.  But I can't help reflecting on his initial reaction, and what that implies about the potential of artificial life.  Did the filmmakers intend a reaction like that?  I'm not sure they did; but neither am I convinced that they didn't.

And what that makes me think is that if it's true that the human spirit was spurred into development by the long-ago freedom of movement and choice, then wouldn't that maintain across technological developments?  So what happens when a move into mechanistic culture is, in and of itself, a free choice?

Roger Korby -- the real Korby -- apparently made that choice for himself at some point.  The episode seems to be arguing that it was the wrong choice; a destructive choice, not merely for himself but potentially for all of humanity.  I'm not convinced.  I have a deep suspicion that Korby himself was fundamentally stunted in some way well before becoming a robot, and if so, then that set of spiritual limitations transferred over into his new body with the rest of him.  If that's true, then the process strengthened the resolve of his spirit; it's not the fault of the process that the morality of that spirit was questionable to begin with.

My takeaway from this episode, then, is that while I ought to be highly dubious about turning human into mecha, I ought not write it off all the way.

My other takeaway from this episode is this:

I don't care if that's a woman, a robot, or something else altogether; it's gorgeous, whatever it is.

Additional thoughts on this episode:

  • It's okay.  It's not a personal favorite, to be honest.  But it's fine, and is very pretty to look at, and has some food for thought.
  • Some of the story doesn't make much sense, though.  For example, why is Christine onboard the Enterprise again?  I think the idea is that she either didn't know where her fiance was and was hoping she'd just stumble across him, or that she couldn't afford to get to Exo-III so she was hoping her job in Starfleet would eventually take her there.  Neither one of those things makes a lick of sense to me.  Did I miss something?  Also, given either of those scenarios, I don't know that it makes any sense for Christine to still want to be with Roger.  He's clearly a thoughtless piece of crap.  Her still being interested in a guy this worthless weakens her considerably.
  • For the record, I'd rather this had been a Janice Rand episode, albeit with some sort of changes so as to prevent her from being weakened the way Chapel is.
  • In the opening scene, Kirk is talking to Chapel about Korby, and then walks a mere two or three steps over to talk to Spock about the situation.  "Do you think there's any chance of him still being alive?" asks Kirk in a normally-volumed tone of voice.  For fuck's sake, Jim, Christine is right there!  Nice tact, dick.  Spock seems mildly shocked by Kirk's query, and simply turns away without answering.  It's all a little strange, specially since I don't really get the feeling that we're supposed to think Kirk is being tactless; it just sort of turned out that way.
  • This is apparently the third time a Starfleet expedition has tried to locate Korby.  Why?  If he's that important to the Federation -- and according to Spock he is "the Pasteur of archaeological medicine," so he must be a priority -- then surely Starfleet would have just assigned some other vessel to scour the planet until something was found.  Either that of they'd have given up altogether and never come back.  But it's worth remembering that this was still early in the show's run, when little had been established about how the Federation or Starfleet worked.  (Had either of those names even been spoken yet?)  So I can live with this sort of thing; but I also can't help but think about it.
  • There are some quality (for 1966) jump scares involving Ruk, who has a tendency to just pop out of nowhere.  Our first glimpse of him comes in the middle of "Brown" telling Kirk that the caverns are bottomless; all of a sudden, BAM!, he's just there, with his weird alien face.  I bet a lot of first-time viewers have been startled by him in that moment.  Ted Cassidy, by the way, is terrific.
  • When Andrea first shows up, Christine gives her a stink-eye like you would imagine a bicycle giving a jet plane.  You can't blame the bicycle, or the jet plane, for that matter.
  • A word about that bicycle: Majel Barrett is good in this episode, and I've always wished Chapel had more to do during the course of the series.  I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Chapel (and, by association, Barrett) got this role in the episode because Gene Roddenberry made it happen.  If so, I don't blame him, except I kind of do blame him, because Uhura never got an episode like this; Sulu never got one, either, to be honest.  Anyways, one thing that weirds me out about the episode is that the costume and hair design people seem to have tried to make Chapel/Barrett look old and busted.  She was a beautiful woman for years and years to come after this, so I'm not sure her lack of beauty here makes much sense except as a failure on somebody's part in the crew.  Or is this one of those things where I'm being offensive without intending to be?  I hope not; if so, let me know in the comments.  Either way, I think it's just that I think that blonde wig they gave Chapel was hideous.
  • You've got to love that superfluous tuck-and-roll Kirk does to get himself behind a table when confronting Brown.  The table gives him virtually no cover, but I guess if you're Kirk in that situation -- especially if you're Kirk played by William Shatner -- you take any advantage you can get.
  • Speaking of Shatner: he's good in this episode.  I especially like him as Kirk 2.0; he's just Kirk-like enough that you feel the charade would work, but he's different enough (especially when speaking to either Korby or Andrea) that you also sense he has an interior life of his own that nobody else is privy to.  I've probably said this before, but I'll say it again here: Shatner's subtlety is extremely underrated.
  • Why is Brown destroyed by Kirk's phase blast?  It's presumably set to stun, so I'm not sure that makes any sense.  Maybe those robot bodies are just flimsy as fuck; if so, then Korby's scheme is doomed no matter what.
  • There are some effective moments in the editing, none more so than the one in which we are watching Spock (who is on the bridge) talk to Kirk (who is on the planet), and then cut to Kirk on the planet only to discover that he is just sitting there silently.  But we are still hearing his voice, and cut to see that Ruk is perfectly imitating him.  Not only is it an effective edit, but the looping of Shatner's voice over Cassidy's mouth movement is impeccably achieved.  Not sure if Cassidy or Shatner should get that credit; but Ruk's impersonations of Korby, Andrea, and Christine are just as good, so whoever it is, let's give 'em a hand.
  • That mushy blank body that Ruk loads onto the whirligig so as to be turned into Kirk 2.0 reminds me of clay.  There are tons of creation myths involving humanity -- in general, or in specific instances -- being formed from clay.  The idea of the golem also springs to mind.  I don't really have anything to say about either of these notions, except that it's kind of interesting that the episode takes place underground, which is where clay comes from.  Not necessarily this deep underground, but still.  Fascinating!
  • The whirligig table is ridiculous.  I can, will, and do cut it some slack because it works on a visual level.  As a piece of storytelling, though, it is silly.
  • "When I sat in your class, you wouldn't even dream of harming an insect or an animal," Christine says to Korby in accusatory manner after asking what's happened to him.  "Life was sacred to you then."  The implication being that it isn't now, and that Korby is okay with -- or perhaps responsible for -- what Ruk has done to the security guards.  What do we think about this?  Is she right?  Was the real Korby actually that gentle and peaceful a soul, and the process of becoming a mechanical man has perverted him?  Or was he always like that somewhere underneath and this new body has simply given him license and opportunity to dredge that side of himself up?  I lean toward the latter.  Then again, I'm a bit of a cynic, and believe that all of us have those urges locked away -- hopefully locked away -- somewhere.
  • If my actual consciousness could be transferred into a robot body, I would be standing in line to have it done right this very moment.  I don't think it's possible, though, even in a theoretical sense.  MAYBE if the entire nervous system could be physically transplanted into a host body, but that's not what is happening here.  This is a copy of the consciousness that's being transmitted via wi-fi or whatever.  And that, friends and neighbors, would not be ME.  It'd be a separate being that had all my memories and then lived out a life in something probably very akin to how I would have done so from that point; but it is not ME.  (Neither is whatever comes  out of a transporter beam, by the way.)  So while I can and do get very excited about this sort of thing on a story level, as a bit of mental play, I would have to say that on a theoretical level of practicality, I think it's not merely hogwash but a scam designed to lure individuals into nonexistence except by doppelganger.
  • Let's stick with the idea that Korby is right about being able to transfer a soul into a new body, though.  This seems like the kind of thing that would be desirable on a personal level, but would it be desirable on a species-wide level?  What sort of ramifications would that have for humanity as a species?  Would that even still be humanity?  It's much too large a debate to have here, but I think it's clear that the episode comes down on the side of thinking it would be a disastrous, ruinous, and maybe even an evil thing.  We are certainly supposed to see Korby's actions in that light.  Still, I can't help wondering: if the freedom of human choice leads it to a decision like that, how could the result be considered anything BUT human?  It's a good question, and we will not answer it.
  • When Kirk briefly takes Korby hostage, why does Korby react the way he does?  By which I mean, why does he react as though Kirk choking him is painful?  IS it painful?  That seems unlikely.  Is Korby pretending, in the hopes of not allowing Chapel know?  I think that is possible.  Does Andrea know Korby is a robot?  I have questions about all of this, and I'm not 100% sure the answer to many of them isn't "because of the plot hole."
  • I love the scene where Kirk "seduces" Andrea.  Sherry Jackson is great in this scene, and here's where I admit that I don't think she actually is all that great elsewhere in the episode.  She's looks like a trillion bucks, but her performance is rather shallow.  It works for the episode, because all of her vacancy and shallowness can be said to be due to Andrea's inhumanity; and hey, for all I know, Jackson did all of that on purpose, in which case it's a brilliant performance.  Let's not rule that out.  But I'm skeptical.  Anyways, she's definitively great in this particular scene, and here's another thing we ought not rule out: are we sure this is acting?  I'm not convinced this isn't Sherry Jackson reacting to William Shatner and being rattled right down to the ground.  Let's have a look:

  • Whatever the case, Andrea seems to be somewhat changed for much of the rest of the episode.  The implication is that Kirk has woken something in this "woman," and that's a provocative thought.  Kirk's kisses go farther toward arguing in favor of the possibility of truly bridging the robot/human divide than any of Korby's words have done.  And boy, she wants those kisses now.  Witness the moment in which she encounters Kirk 2.0 in the hallway:

"I will kiss you."

"No.  It is illogical."

Virtually no hesitation.

She struts away like the baddest bitch you ever saw in your life.

  • And, by the way, let's be clear about something: she thinks that's Kirk she's ending, not Kirk 2.0.  She figures that if he isn't into the whole sucking-face thing anymore, he may as well not even exist.  THAT'S the power of James T. Cock, er, Kirk.
  • "I AM ROGER KORBY!" hollers a robot that thinks it is Roger Korby.  Or perhaps it is Roger Korby hollering it from inside a robot body.  I'm torn on that.  I'm not torn on Korby's final scene, which I think is dreadfully acted.  This is partially on purpose, I think; we're supposed to feel that "Korby" has lost his mind right here at the end, when confronted by the cold metaphorical steel of genuine humanity.  I can live with the performance becoming exaggerated and weird so as to emphasize it.  I'm less able to live with the fact of Korby being rattled in this way, because the rest of the episode hasn't made me believe in it.  Korby has fooled not only Kirk, but Chapel, who knows him intimately; this, to me, is an implicit argument for believing that much of what he is saying has merit.  If you can fool your fiancee in this manner, you may as well be human; that's just how that is, in my opinion.  So I just don't buy what happens with Korby in this scene, and I don't buy the performance as a result.
There's probably more that I ought to touch on, but let's move on to the behind-the-scenes component of this post.

Lots of good stuff in this chapter, much of it centered on screenwriter Robert Bloch, whose presence was a feather in the cap for the production, but was also a source of some concern for the network.  He'd written an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents -- "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" -- that had been deemed unsuitable for broadcast, having been objected to as being too gruesome by Revlon, one of the show's sponsors.  NBC had had to basically eat the cost, and had not forgotten the name "Robert Bloch" as a result.

Few such worries came up during Bloch's time writing this episode, though a few Standards And Practices requests came in proactively.  Bloch did, however, cause some tension by borrowing elements from three of his own short stories: "Queen of Metal Men" (1940), "Almost Human" (1943), and "Comfort Me, My Robot" (1954).  This was not optimal, but was okay; less okay were similarities in the screenplay that weren't in Bloch's stories but were in a recent episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  Changes were made to veer away from those actionable similarities, and it was in this manner that Roger Korby turned into a robot; previously, he'd been a human.

This change was made by John D.F. Black, who made at least one other significant change.  In Bloch's versions, there was no Christine Chapel; the equivalent character was a woman name Margo, who was incredibly wealthy and who hired the Enterprise to take her on a search for her husband.  Nobody much liked the idea of the ship being rentable in that way, so Black changed the character to be a member of the crew.  He was working at more or less the same time on the script for "The Naked Time," and had just created the character "Nurse Christine Baker" (later Christine Ducheaux and eventually Christine Chapel), so he slotted her into this story as well.

Majel Barrett was cast as Chapel, and that was that.

Bloch's story shared vague similarities with H.P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness," or so says Marc Cushman.  They're fairly slender, in my estimation; an icy locale and a long-dead race of advanced and not entirely benevolent beings are about it.  You could argue just as vociferously that the concept of transferring one's consciousness was similar to Lovecraft's "The Shadow Out of Time," and if one really wanted to, one could argue that this episode places all of Star Trek within Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos by way of that connection.

If your mind has immediately gone to thoughts of a cage match between Cthulhu and Giant Spock from "The Infinite Vulcan," you are very welcome.

Other titbits here include much ado about making sure Sherry Jackson was showing zero sideboob in her magnificent costume; this involved her having a great deal of tape applied to her body in certain key areas.  This apparently made the outfit quite uncomfortable to wear; to be fair, you'd never know it from watching the episode, in which it appears to fit perfectly.

Ted Cassidy recorded his lines as the "evil" version of Balok the same week he filmed his part as Ruk; that's another thing I learned.

Finally, the moment in which Korby pulls the trigger on Andrea's weapon (vaporizing them both) was not written that way.  As written, the idea was that their embrace accidentally triggered the weapon; their ardor killed them, not Korby's intent.  The episode had been filmed that way, but after production wrapped, somebody -- Cushman is not clear on who (and probably does not know) -- decided to make the story change.  So an insert was filmed in which Korby pulls the trigger.  The original actors were not available, so long-terms Trek background players Frank da Vinci and Jeannie Malone got the jobs.

Asherman makes a few salient observations in his brief write-up of this episode.  I'll pass 'em along to you in bulletpoint format:

  • He characterizes Kirk's distress signal to Spock -- via anti-Vulcan sentiments -- as "clever."
  • [Chapel's] "love for Korby helps explain her attraction to Spock -- the epitome of a scientific researcher."
  • "[T]he pyramid-shaped doors in the caverns fit Lovecraft's descriptions of the dwellings of" [the Old Ones].

Normally, we'd now look at several of the other books I've been using as touchstones, such as Star Trek Memories and I Am Not Spock.  However, none of the chapters in those books seemed to be at all germane to this episode except for Nimoy's, and since Spock does not feature into this episode much, I think we will simply cut the behind-the-scenes segment short this time.

Which brings us to:

Blish's take on "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" came from this 1975 book (the final one Blish completed solo):
Blish died on July 30, 1975, which was only a few months after this book's April 1975 release.  I would have to say that his version of "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" reads a bit like the work of somebody whose heart is perhaps not fully in his current work.  By no means is this a bad adaptation, but there are places where the quality of the prose slips a bit.  Let's look at the opening paragraphs:
That day the efficiency of the Enterprise bridge personnel was a real tribute to their professionalism.  For a human drama was nearing its climax among them, the closer they came to the planet Exo III.
     Its heroine was the Starship's chief nurse, Christine Chapel.  She stood beside Kirk at his command chair, her eyes on the main viewing screen where the ice-bound planet was slowly rotating.  Touched by the calm she was clearly struggling to maintain, he said, "We're now entering standard orbit, Nurse."
Be it known to one and all that I am merely a dick on a blog, terminally unpublished and effortlessly mediocre.  But I'd point out that the opening sentence of this story is never resolved in any way, and I'd also point out that the structure of the second sentence implies that it IS resolving it, or at least answering the implied question at its heart.  About that, I will say what I often say when criticizing a writer's prose: where the fuck the editor was at?  Dear editors: do NOT let your authors fail like this.
On the next page, Spock delivers a line of dialogue that seems to be responding to Blish's POV voice: "Now for Doctor Korby, the hero of our drama, Captain," he says.
Again, a failure in editing (and in writing).  There has been zero dialogue establishing that this is being looked upon as a "drama."  Spock is not exactly known for his non sequiturs, so why he's been given one here is beyond me.  It is entirely possible that this was a line in the draft of the screenplay from which Blish adapted his story; if so, he may have been attempting to establish a tone in the opening that would make Spock's statement sensible.  but if that's the case, I think Blish would have been well-advised to simply cut the line (which is what happened before the episode aired, if indeed the line was in a screenplay).
A mere two paragraphs after this, however, Blish gets in my good graces again by fixing one of the worst blunders in the filmed episode:
"Those records were required reading at the Academy, Mr. Spock.  I've always wanted to meet him."  Kirk paused.  Then, he, too, lowered his voice.  "Any chance at all that he could still be alive?"
     Grave-faced, Spock shook his head.
Let's compare that to the filmed version, which plays very differently (as I complained about earlier):

Whether Blish had seen the episode and was consciously correcting for the fact of Kirk's insensitivity toward Chapel and/or Spock's seeming disdain for his Captain's insensitivity is a mystery to me.  All I know is that the way Blish wrote the scene is sensible, whereas the way it was filmed and edited is not.  Good on ya, Jim!
Blish loses me again a bit later, though, when he violates his point of view to "show" us the menace of Ruk.  In stories past, we've seen examples of Blish opting to follow what he sees as the rules of perspective; for example, in his version of "Balance of Terror," we were privy to none -- absolutely none -- of what was transpiring on board the Romulan vessel.  All we had was the perspective of the Enterprise's crew on the events of that story.  It worked like a charm to make the short story be a different animal from the filmed episode, one which came at the same material from a slightly different angle and achieved its own measure of strength as a result.
Granted, that was in Star Trek 1, which means that indeed Blish's enthusiasm may have waned, resulting in the following paragraphs:
Sickened, Kirk pulled himself out of his shock.  He went to his knees, edging himself dangerously near to the pit's rim.  Pebbles were still falling from it into the blackness below.  Brown joined him.  "Careful . . . please be careful," he said.
     Kirk rose.  "Is there any path down?"
     "There's no hope, Captain.  It's bottomless."
     Though Doctor Brown had warned of peril from the pit, he did not mention the momentary appearance of a huge, hairless nonhuman creature on the other, shadowy side of the pit.  Perhaps he didn't see it.  It remained only for a second before it was gone, a monstrous shadow lost in shadows.
If Blish had written this story in a manner consistent with most of the others we've examined so far, we would only see or know Ruk through Kirk's eyes.  There would be some interesting material to mind there.  Instead, Blish does his best to simply transcribe the episode -- or the screenplay -- into a prose form.  He does so relatively well, but from where I'm sitting, it feels like his heart just isn't in it.
That said, let's now move on to leftover-screencap territory:
"Kirk said, 'Five years have passed since his last message.'  It seemed only decent to remind this brave, loving, though perhaps vainly hoping woman of that sinister fact.

'I know, sir.  But Roger is a very determined man.  He'd find some way to live.' "

"Onto the computer screen flashed a small photograph of a distinguished-looking man in his vital mid-forties."

"Kirk, remembering how it is to be tortured by a hopeless hope, said gently, 'Christine, since that last signal, two expeditions have failed to find him.'

Uhura, making her second report, called, 'I've run all frequencies twice now, Captain.  There's no--'  A blast of static crackled from all the bridge speakers."

"The anxious tension on the bridge had given way to a sympathetic delight."

"they materialized in a rock cave.  It was primitive, unfurnished.  Beyond its rough entrance there stretched an unending snow-world; a world as white as death under its dark and brooding sky.  Its horizon was jagged, peaked by mountains.  In the half-twilight of the planet's dying sun, Kirk could see that they were shrouded in ice, cold, forbidding.

It was a depressing arrival."

"He was aware of a sudden uneasiness."

"As he shielded his eyes with his left hand, a figure stepped in front of the light, a featureless shadow."

"Behind a phallic-shaped stalagmite, a creature in an impressively-collared suit scurried back into the recesses."  (Editor's note: I might have invented that line.  And I might invent others.  They'll be ... pretty obvious.)

"He heard the snap-off of Rayburn's communicator.  He couldn't hear what followed it -- Rayburn's choking gurgle as the hairless creature's great arm lunged from the darkness to encircle his throat."

"The prediction struck Kirk as slightly grandiose."

"There was a serene innocence in her face that merited the word 'lovely.' "

"He made an adjustment on the communicator and tried again.  Then he gave himself a moment."

" 'Drop that rifle!' he said to Brown.  Instead Brown's finger reached for the trigger.

Kirk fired his phaser --

-- and Brown fell."

"Her warning came too late.  The hairless ape-thing had him by the arm.

Under the firece force of the grip, he was lifted high into the air, his whole body convulsed by the arm's agony.  The phaser rang on the stone floor.

Like a puppet, he kicked, helpless in the immense hand -- and the other one struck him in the jaw.  Christine sscreamed again.  And he was dropped to fall, limp, half-conscious in a crumpled heap.

Christine, paralyzed with horror, stared vaguely around her as though seeking some answer to the incomprehensible.  Then she saw what she had to see.

Brown lay on the floor near Kirk, face upturned.  There was no blood on the chest where the phaser beam had struck him.  Instead, a metallic tangle of twisted dials and wires protruded from it . . . the infinitely complex circuitry required to animate an android robot."

"The captain of the Enterprise was sitting on a bunk in a detention chamber, watching as his voice issued from the mouth of the hairless ape-thing across the room.  His communicator looked like a cigarette-lighter in the creature's enormous paw.  Korby was supervising its performance.  He wasn't enjoying it.  There was real concern for Kirk in his face.  But real or unreal, Korby's feelings, his work, the man himself had ceased to matter to Kirk.  The hot rage he felt had burned up all save the overriding fact that a neolithic savage was masquerading as commander of the Enterprise.  He tensed on the bunk.

The bald thing noticed it; and clicking the communicator off, prepared for muscle work."

"Moving with a surprising speed, the thing grabbed his arm and flung him back across the room.

He struck the hard masonry of the wall, thrust against it to regain his feet --

-- but the move was useless."

"With manifest sincerity, her voice wholly guileless, Andrea said, 'How can you love Roger without trusting him?'

Christine didn't answer.  The query had gone straight to the heart of her agony."

" 'Love can't exist where all is predictable!  Christine, you must listen!  Love must have imperfection -- moments of worship, moments of hate.' "

"Ruk was busy at the table.  Into a scooped-out hollow in its top, he was fitting a mold of some greenish-brown stuff, roughly conformed to the height and breadth of a human body.  As a cook pats dough into a bread pan, his gargantuan hands worked deftly to shape the mold into the indentation.

It was when they reached for a shining, complicated mechanism suspended from the ceiling that Christine first noticed it.

Then she saw there was a similar one hanging over the other side of the table.  Ruk lowered the nearer device over the mold's midsection.  Slowly the table began to turn."

"He twisted a knob.  Blue lights flashed deep, blinding, within the instrumentation that masked the alternately passing mold-form and the body of Kirk.  the heavy dynamos glowed red, throbbing under impulses of power flowing to them from the control panel."

"As the hairless Caliban approached him, Kirk sat still, his hand busy with a slipknot he was putting into the cord under his chair."

"He'd vanished into the darkness.  And the character of the passage had changed.  Its stone floor had become uneven andshe stumbled over a pebble.  It flung her against a rough, unpolished rock wall.  The blackness swallowed the sound of the footsteps."

"Looking about him desperately for something -- anything -- he could use as a weapon, Kirk's eye landed on a vaguely flesh-colored stalactite.  Its shape seemed familiar somehow; comforting, but also dangerous.  He felt it was a thing he could thrust at an enemy, or perhaps use to bat an enemy's face in some way.  His mind frantically working to find a way out of the peril he knew himself to be in, he reached for the familiar shape and began trying to work it free from the roof of the cave.

It came off quickly, and the shape of the remaining base caused Kirk to realize why the shape of the stalactite seemed so familiar.  Holy fucking shit, Kirk thought, this thing looks just like a cock-and-balls!"

"Darker than the dark, the monstrous android loomed toward him, surefooted, moving easily, swiftly."

"The solid footing he'd struggled for bordered a chasm.  It fell away beneath him as  sheer and deep as the one that had lost him Matthews.  His fingertip clutch on its rim was his clutch on life  He fought to maintain it against the rain of stones disturbed by the crumbled edge.  One struck his head.  He looked up to see Ruk leaning over it.

He became aware that his fingers were weakening."

"The Vulcan looked as bewildered as he'd ever permitted himself to appear."

"Taking her in his arms, he gave her the most impassioned kiss in his repertoire.

She liked it.

But her circuitry protested.

From somewhere in her came the tiny whine of a hard-pressed coil."

"She went weaving, half-reeling toward the door.  Kirk, alarmed, followed her, only to find Ruk standing guard in the corridor."

"He turned his vast bulk slowly at the sound of footsteps.  White-coated, self-assured, Korby was striding down the corridor."

"Kirk, about to exploit his advantage, paused."

"Then a slow horror chilled him.  Christine, too, was staring at the injured hand.  Instead of revealing torn and mangled flesh, the wound had exposed a fine mesh of tiny complex gears and pulsing wires.  Some connection in the wires short-circuited.  A wisp of smoke rose from it, leaving a smell of scorched metal."

"Smiling, innocent, Andrea said, 'I just turned off Captain Kirk.' "

"Dry-eyed, stumbling, Christine moved to Kirk.  She was shuddering uncontrollably.  He held her, the heiress to a permanent legacy of disillusioned loneliness."

Speaking of a permanent legacy of disillusioned loneliness, I was struck by something in Blish's preface to Star Trek 11 and thought I'd bring it up here.
It's a three-page preface, and Blish's primary concern in writing it seems to have been to attempt to convey -- again (he says he's mentioned this in previous books) -- his regret at not being able to answer the letters fans send him.  He reads them, and wishes he could respond to them; but he simply can't.  "I have received, quite literally," he says, "thousands of them and had I replied to them all -- as I tried to do during the first year -- I'd have had no time to write any more books!"
He concludes the preface by writing, "I've often been asked what other books I've written besides these.  I'm flattered to be asked this, but there are more than 30 others and I've lost track of some of them myself.  Those that are still available in English are listen in an annual volume called Books in Print, which you can find easily in your local library, and your librarian will help you to run down any that sound interesting.  And, of course, I hope you'll like the ones you find."
I love these glimpses into a bygone era.  Here I am, sitting at my PC, on the internet, typing words that I will send out for more or less the entire world to read.  The vast majority of it will not do so, but that's not the point; I've given them the option, and they are free to exercise it. 
On top of that, I just now decided to use Google to pull up a list of books by James Blish.  His Wikipedia page does indeed list some thirty titles, in addition to his Star Trek work.  I timed myself, and it took me 29.98 second to locate this.
Think about that.  On some day in 1975, sitting in the United Kingdom, James Blish, unable even to remember all of his own books, advised readers to hie themselves to a library to obtain a list of the ones which were gettable.  Some forty-three years later, I used signals flying through the air to get a more complete list than that in slightly less than thirty seconds.
That's fucking awesome.
So why do I feel a pang of nostalgia for Blish's prescribed method?  And believe me when I say that I do.  This does not invalidate the sense of awe I feel at being able to so quickly access that list of Blish's books, by the way.  I'm not particularly interested in not being able to do that.
So why do I feel like if you gave me a robot body, I'd begin trying to invent a time machine so that I could put that robot body to use by going back in time and being a librarian during the sixties or seventies or eighties?  Why do I feel like that was somehow my calling in life, as opposed to something in this modern age of marvels in which I am actually living?
I don't have an answer.  I don't think I much want one, either.  I'm okay with allowing that "permanent legacy of disillusioned loneliness" that is nostalgia hang around.
And I'm okay with using the science-fictional magic of the internet to express it a bit.
See you Trekkies next time, when we'll be looking at "Dagger of the Mind."


  1. Still chuckling over that "Holy fucking shit!" caption. Nicely done.

    Love this bit about Blish/ internet/ eternity at the end, very much.

    I've got to carve out a week to respond to the rest of it! And do a proper re-watch. I shall return.

    1. I'd taken the screencap, of course -- what maniac would screencap this episode and NOT take that one?!? -- and knew that it was likely to get relegated to the Blishful Thinking section. I hoped Blish himself might have somehow accidentally said something amusing that I could put there; no dice.

      When I had the idea to do what I did, I cracked myself up laughing about it. I kept thinking, in perfect Shatnerian delivery, "My God ... it's a cock!" and chortling about it. Still am, heaven help me.

      "Love this bit about Blish/ internet/ eternity at the end, very much. " -- Thankee-sai!

      "I've got to carve out a week to respond to the rest of it! And do a proper re-watch. I shall return." -- In case some of you lurkers are not aware of it, McMolo has his own blog ( which is hugely worth checking out. My reading list informs me he's been busy the past couple of days, too, so I've gotta get over there and check out the new goodies!

  2. 1. "other titbits" LOL!
    2. I agree that Star Trek, as open-minded as it was in many ways, could still fear-monger. As you point out there are many instances where viewers are meant to feel that any technical enhancements to a person are "wrong". Also, any episode where people are happily blissful in a paradise must mean that something is terribly wrong with those people. Trying to put myself in the mid 1960s was there a cultural consensus that implied the only good life was a hard-working life? I think it could be possible, especially since it was only a couple of decades after the end of WWII where having everybody working hard helped ensure the war would be won

    1. 1. Low-hanging fruit won't pick itself, you know!

      2. It's a huge topic, and I'm probably the wrong person to try tackling it. But yeah, I think you're on the right track here. The myth/legend of American ingenuity -- which is almost certainly based at least in part on fact -- includes a certain amount of inclination toward expressing one's self primarily via hard work. We tell ourselves that we have to work to get to where we wish to go, and as a consequence I think what much of Trek (certainly TOS) is implying is that if a thing can be accomplished without hard work, it must not be worth accomplishing, and probably ought to be distrusted.

      There's probably some leftover Puritanism in that, but I'm HELLA the wrong person to drive down that street.

      A fascinating topic, though, no doubt about it.

    2. Reading your reply i thought about how Gene Roddenberry is often described as being an extremely hard working person, particularly during the Star Trek years. I also understand that he was very in control of each episode (whether it be through re-writes, consistent themes, etc.). It makes we wonder if Gene himself deeply believed and espoused such a driven work ethic and this is why this type of message seems to occur over and over in TOS.

      I'm trying to recall if similar episodes of TNG exist but none come immediately to mind.

      As you say, certainly interesting to ponder :)

    3. I don't think Roddenberry would have thought much about his work ethic; I think that was most people's default mode back then, partially because it kind of had to be. Among other things, most men were likely to spend some time in the military. So that mindset would have followed them, even if they never served in actuality.

      TNG does mostly seem to be a different animal in many ways. And the Roddenberry influence began wearing off fairly quickly, and was mostly gone by the sixth season. Maybe that's why the first couple of seasons remain favorites of mine, whereas most people hold them in disdain.