In the annals of Star Trek fan history, few novels have been as infamous as Della van Hise’s Killing Time. Published in 1985, Killing Time was the 24th book in the Star Trek book series being released by Pocket Books at the time. And, due to a publisher mix-up, the infamous first edition is incredibly, painfully gay.
To understand how Pocket Books just accidentally published a book where Spock spends a lot of time looking at Kirk’s “hazel orbs,” we need to understand the state of Star Trek’s fandom at the time. In the years after the original show was cancelled, the Star Trek fandom, desperate to connect and celebrate and collaborate over this truly unique show, had developed much of what we know as fandom today. They didn’t invent fan conventions, but the spectacles we know now came out of Star Trek Lives!. In 1972, it had 3,000 attendees; in 1973, 6,000; and in 1974, they let in 15,000 and turned away another 6,000 Star Trek fans. The fandom was increasing over time, in spite of the lack of new material, and this created a new way in which fans interacted. There were enough fans of just this one TV show that it became relatively easy to have friends you only knew because they liked Star Trek, whole communities that revolved around just this one show. (At best, you’d take a break to talk about the Planet of the Apes franchise or Man from U.N.C.L.E., two other properties that had smaller, but similar, fandom renaissances in this period.) Some fans chose, in the light of the lack of new materials, to pore over the tiniest of details in the show, making scale models, costumes, and fan theories. Others…wrote.
Fanzines were also not totally new, but the fanzines that came before were more like Amazon self-published books are today–original fiction created by people who didn’t have the resources or talent to become professionally published. Science fiction fans would collect these stories and run them as “fanzines,” modelled after the pulp magazines of the era which would publish a few stories, some illustrations, and some back matter. Star Trek fans borrowed from this model to create their own fanzines, which would trade exclusively in Star Trek stories. We wouldn’t have fanfiction as we know it today without these fanzines.
When Pocket Books started releasing their series of Star Trek novels, starting with the Star Trek: The Motion Picture novelization by Gene Roddenberry himself, fans started champing at the bit to take the skills they’d honed writing fanfiction and become published pros. Della Van Hise wasn’t the first to jump the gap; names such as Shondra Marshak, Myrna Culbreath, and Diane Duane were well known in the fan community. (Since fanzines were often mailed to your house, it was hard to be anonymous.) The Vulcan Academy Murders by Jean Lorrah, the book immediately preceding, was based on an idea Lorrah originally conceived of as a sequel to her popular fanfiction, Night of the Twin Moons.
Della van Hise’s novel, however, is unique in that it, due to a rotating door of editors at Pocket Books and a long publishing time, certain passages Paramount wanted out were kept in. And Della van Hise may not have intended for her manuscript to be a slash story, but she was a slash writer, who liked to dissect the relationship between Kirk and Spock. And with those certain passages included in the printed first edition, the gayest Star Trek novel was born
The novel is about an alternate universe, created by time-travelling Romulan robot assassins. In this universe, Spock is the captain of an alternate Enterprise called the Shi’kahr, and Kirk is an ensign who’s been convicted of murder and developed a drug problem. However, the new universe the Romulans have created isn’t stable; anyone who’s living a new life in the new universe still has their old self in their mind, causing anything from bad dreams to outright madness. Captain Spock and Dr. McCoy eventually figure out that they have about two weeks until just about everyone goes cuckoo bananas, and they set about making things right.
In both Kirk and Spock’s cases, they are haunted by the ghosts of their original universe. Kirk dreams of a “silver woman-goddess, she,” AKA his first love, the Enterprise. (The book mentions that Spock is “the only other person She would accept in his life.”) Spock, meanwhile, lives an intensely lonely life; he went into Starfleet looking for someone to complete him in a way he’s never been able to know, and he’s haunted by visions of “firm features, tanned flesh, expressive hazel eyes, and a compelling human grin…” He explicitly refers to this vision as t’hy’la, a word loaded with meaning in the Star Trek slash community.
Once the two meet, however, the gay moments come fast and furious. A few favorites:
“The images whisper-walked through his mind. Blue and gold. Warmth and companionship. Stolen moments…Somewhere, he told himself, he would find that reality again…or create it.”
“Spock rolled over, covering [Kirk’s] writhing body with his own. Powerful Vulcan hands seized Kirk’s wrists, forcing muscular arms easily to the ground…”
“With his legs, he scissored the human’s ankles; ebony-black eyes stabbed through hazel-golden pools, compelling cooperation.”
“‘Can any one man be worth an entire universe?’
The Vulcan’s response was direct and without hesitation. ‘Yes.’”
The novel nominally toes the line—Spock ends up going mad with Pon Farr and a Romulan woman helps him out of it, causing some brief conflict when he ultimately chooses Kirk’s future over any chance of romance with her—but it’s also…not exactly non-sexual between Kirk and Spock, either, especially when Spock performs mind melds on Kirk. Spock describes Kirk as “leading him on” to a meld, and the above-mentioned “scissored” ankles occur when Spock finally forces him into a meld to discover the truth of their relationship. The mind melds read more like a metaphor for intimacy and connection, for sex, than they do as simple plot devices, and you can easily see where, in perhaps some previous draft, Della Van Hise actually went from subtext to text.
There’s conflicting accounts of the official reaction of Pocket Books; some say they tried to recall all the copies of the first edition, some say they simply destroyed what had yet to ship. What is true is that later additions include over fifty significant changes to the novel. The more gay parts are removed, all physical affection between Kirk and Spock, even platonic, is removed. But the first edition can still be found, and a book that first retailed for $3.50 is being sold for $50 to $80 on eBay.
It’s a fascinating little slice of a history that underpins fandom as we know it today. Many fans around today could tell you the history of slash stories in the early 2000s, how some archives wouldn’t allow LGBT stories at all, how some would rate them NC-17–and how every fanfiction writer was terrified of lawyers coming after them for dabbling in copyrighted worlds. But before the internet, before fandom became a dominant market force, the interaction between fandom and the establishment was much more fluid. And while LGBT content was ultimately taboo, it was also popular with those who wanted to carry the torch, and the Star Trek fandom was in many ways a more tolerant place than the rest of the world; after all, homosexuality was medically classified as a mental disorder right up until 1987, a full two years after this book came out.
While no one intended for this incredibly gay Star Trek book to make it to stores, the fact remained that it did, and it exists as evidence of this complex time in fandom history, with benefits we’ve lost over time and restrictions we couldn’t imagine in this relatively taboo-free era of fanfiction. If you can manage to find a copy of the first edition, it’s worth a read.
- The Killing Time entry on Fanlore, which includes a lot of fascinating ancillary material, including the author’s take on the whole thing
- A livejournal post cataloguing the differences between editions
- Fic by Anne Jamison, a great starting point in learning more about fandom history
- I also made a Twitter thread as I was reading the novel, if you want to read my first impressions
You can talk to the author in the comments or on Twitter.
Have you read any of Marshak & Culbreath’s novels?
I haven’t had a chance! I’ve got a small collection going of the early pro novels, but this was the year I was going to read them, and…well. Best laid plains. Maybe next year!