I picked up a book on Kindle yesterday. Spock’s World, by Diane Duane. A Star Trek novel from 1986, it’s said — so I’d heard — to deal with Vulcan society in great detail, examining their culture and philosophy to a greater extent than the TV show ever really did.
A lot of Trek fans spend a lot of time discussing the matter of canon — in other words, what story elements can be considered part of the ‘real’ Star Trek universe, and what parts have been made up unofficially and therefore don’t count as actual events in that storyline. Generally speaking, it’s a rule that anything produced by Paramount or officially commissioned by them — such as the TV shows and movies — is canon. Material and stories that appear in novels, fan movies, fan fiction and the like — is generally not considered canon and is therefore not authoritative. This can go for many licensed works, since Paramount often only licenses the right to use the characters and settings, and doesn’t arbitrate what the stories should be beyond imposing a few basic rules (don’t kill off main TV characters, for example, or have a big reveal that Picard had been a Cardassian sleeper agent all along).
But the question of canon can be fraught: sometimes, the sad fact is (and I say “fact” in the sense of “totally subjective opinion” here) that some of the licensed works treat Trek’s characters and concepts with far greater respect and attention than the TV shows and movies ever have.
One example would be Duane’s own novel series Rihannsu, which told its stories from the point of view of the Romulan people — or the Rihannsu, in their own tongue. The Rihannsu books created a comprehensive, complex, nuanced and believable society for a people who, at that time, had been shown in the TV shows only as one-dimensional, conniving villains with no real substance.
Duane’s achievement in Rihannsu was such that fans petitioned Paramount to officially declare the books canon. Paramount refused, and the Romulans of the TV show continued as one-dimensional, conniving villains with no real substance.
In Spock’s World, then, I imagine it’s quite likely that Duane will have enlivened the Vulcan people as she did the Rihannsu. And I will have a resource, albeit a non-canonical one, to learn more about a philosophy that fascinates and attracts me.
The Vulcan discipline of kolinahr — the practice of emotional mastery and logical thought — holds a great appeal. The reverence, reason and mindfulness at the heart of it reflects (and is probably based on) a number of earthly philosophies, with echoes in Buddhism and Taoism particularly: traditions some of whose fundamental values have come to resonate very strongly with me over the last few years.
Additionally, the separate but enmeshed Vulcan value system of kol-ut-shan, or “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” — IDIC — seems more and more necessary in these divisive times. While our country and the world turns on itself, isolating identities and building barriers between groups and communities, diversity is falling out of popular favour. IDIC reminds us of not only the strength and knowledge, but also the beauty, that comes from the union of diverse elements. With so many people so loudly expressing their fear and rejection of the different, IDIC offers a rallying call for those who want to see humanity do better. As fictitious as the name may be, as fictitious as the Vulcans themselves may be, the concept — the ideal — is as real and necessary as it could possibly be.
A Star Trek book is not a holy text. It’s not a textbook or a reference manual. But as with any book, fiction works can serve to stir thought and spark inspiration. For a Druid, inspiration is something to be treasured — especially if, like me, you’re someone who doesn’t get struck by it all that often.
My first challenge in reading Spock’s World is unexpected, as the story revolves around the deceptive efforts of an isolationist political movement to bring about Vulcan’s withdrawal from the United Federation of Planets. This ‘Vexit’ scenario hits home quite hard for this British reader, as our own propaganda- and misinformation-led withdrawal from the EU continues to tear at the values and integrity of our country.
But a challenge it is, and challenges are there to be overcome. This book is a story, written thirty years ago. Parallels are unfortunate, but that’s all they are: unfortunate. And if nothing else, my gut reaction serves as an indication that in kolinahr terms I have a very long way to go.
And being reminded of that is never a bad thing.