You don’t need to read Mission to Horatius

Mission to Horatius was the first original TOS novel published, which makes it an important piece of Star Trek memorabilia. But important isn’t the same as good. In fact, it’s really bad. Only completists need to own one.

The Enterprise is traveling to a distant star system to determine which of three inhabited planets sent out a distress call. That’s a fine story idea, but the plot, characterizations and dialogue are terrible. For example, the Enterprise has been in space a long time and the crew is suffering from a disorder called “space cafard” which can be deadly and can (somehow) cause the crew to mutiny. Also, the book paints a very bleak picture of serving on our beloved 1701.

Oh, and Kirk commits genocide and no one notices or comments.

Spoilers

Plot spoilers follow, but that’s not a problem because, again, you should not read Mission to Horatius.

Space cafard is ridiculous. Cafard is striking some crew members. Spock helpfully defines the malady: “The instinctive fear of deep space. A mania that is evidently highly contagious. It is said in the early days of space travel, cafard could sweep through a ship in a matter of hours, until all on board were raging maniacs.”

Raging maniacs. Right. McCoy then informs the captain that only last year, the Space Scout Westmoreland was found drifting with the whole crew dead. “They had killed each other, Captain. Evidently in their madness.”

“They tore each other apart with their bare hands…” Spock adds. People get stressed at work, even burned out, but suggesting the majority of Enterprise’s crew would kill each other because they’re tired is simply silly.

Sulu keeps a rat in his shirt. While on bridge duty. “Sulu cleared his throat again and reached a hand up under his uniform tunic. He brought forth a small brown animal. He set it down on the console before him and said apologetically, ‘Mickey, sir.’”

Captain Kirk stared. “Where did that come from, and what is it doing on my bridge?”

Excellent questions. But there is one good bit here. Kirk berates Sulu with “I thought you were clear on the orders against pets aboard the Enterprise since our troubles with the tribbles.” The show rarely referenced previous events, and it’s welcome here.

Serving on the Enterprise sucks. I would jump at the chance to beam aboard the Enterprise. So would you. But don’t do it, because apparently it’s terrible there.

Chekov snorted. “You don’t kill time on the Enterprise these days. It dies a slow death from boredom.”

Ensign Freeman looked distastefully about the wardroom. “You know…I sometimes get the feeling I’ve spent my whole life on this confounded ship. And to think I used to believe I liked the Starfleet service.”

They shoot people. Spock says General Order One “restrains us from using our sophisticated weapons against advanced life forms…” Two minutes later, Kirk orders Chekov to fire on an inhabitant of the planet Neolithia who is fleeing from the crew on a “horselike quadruped.” There is no reason for this, and sending a person falling unconscious from a running animal is a dangerous assault.

Mythra should not be stoned. Mythra was settled by “religious dissidents” who want to worship in peace, but the priest class uses daily doses of LSD to control the citizens. The landing party is handed drugged drinks but no one is dumb enough to partake — except Chekov, who then spends some hours happily stoned. The scene is reminiscent of Darnell taking a bite of the borgia plant in The Man Trap, except Darnell didn’t do that because Enterprise officers aren’t dumb.

Kirk orders the settlement’s water supply laced with an antidote, removing the control of the priest class. The Enterprise then warps away, without waiting to see what ignoring the Prime Directive will create. Granted, that is exactly what Kirk does in The Apple, so I may have to give the book a pass here.

Then Kirk commits genocide. The third planet, called Bavarya, was settled by “political malcontents” who claim to be descendants of “the elite of Teutonic peoples.” (Bavarya. Bavaria. Get it?) And then some Nazi references kick in. For example: “We are the Herr-Elite of the Horatian system, and it is our destiny to help these backward worlds.”

We learn that the Herr-Elite are real people, while the vast majority of the population — five million people — are clones who operate as servants, workers and soldiers.

McCoy says clones have no soul, because the “spark” within a person cannot be duplicated, and that clones are built on a “matrix — a mold or impression. Wipe clean the matrix and the duplicate simply [reverts] to the molecules of which it was composed.”

It is never explained how one can remotely erase the mold or why this causes people to disintegrate, but they soon find a machine that will “wipe clean the matrix.” Kirk orders Scotty to throw the switch — and all the duplicates are killed. Five million of them. Sure, they are copies, but they are clearly sentient, so Kirk just committed genocide. But no one seems concerned.

“Your orders are to get that rat!” Planetary crises all solved, 40 crewmembers are now in stasis because of cafard, and McCoy says half the crew are showing signs. “One cafard-crazed crewman running berserk through the ship and the mental contagion will spread like a forest fire, Jim. The whole ship could fall apart within the hour.” Again, it is not explained how bored and tired people infect others with madness.

Remember the rat? It escaped and has been spotted “dancing” in the hallway, which Sulu says means it is infected with plague. Fear of the Black Death grips the Enterprise but a search fails to locate the rat, so the entire crew dons spacesuits and the ship is flooded with chlorine gas.

But don’t worry: McCoy taught the rat to dance to make everyone think they would die of the plague. It was a diversion. The book ends with the Enterprise approaching a starbase for some cafard-curing shore leave.

Mission to Horatius was published by the company that also produced the Gold Key Star Trek comics, and it shows the same lack of believability and almost total unfamiliarity with the source characters, setting or spirit. Early Star Trek novels, such as James Blish’s uneven Spock Must Die!, can be forgiven for not getting characters and dialogue quite right. After all, Spock grins in Where No Man Has Gone Before. But Mission to Horatius is not even close. And yes, it was marketed as a youth novel, but that fact makes its genocide and casual violence more egregious, not less.

Collectors of early TOS memorabilia should probably own this novel, because of its place in history, but no one should actually read it.

Mission to Horatius was written by Mack Reynolds, illustrations by Sparky Moore, and published by Whitman Publishing. First edition: 1968.

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