The Price of the Phoenix
Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath
reviewed by Carolyn Kaberline
The mood in the Enterprise transporter room in a somber one: James T. Kirk has been pronounced dead, and what remains of his charred body has just been returned to the Enterprise. Spock, who was witness to Kirks death as the captain rushed into a burning building to save a baby, believes the death was no accident but a well-planned murder. With this conviction, he returns to the planet seeking revenge for Kirks death. While there, he confronts the Romulan commander (from "The Enterprise Incident") with his beliefs and finds that hers run along a similar line. Before long the two face Omne, the owner of the lawless planet, and find that he has discovered a way to conquer death using a variation of the transporter effect and a recording of the emanations of one who is dying. The result of his experiment? A duplicate Kirk, identical in all respects to the original, who is "for sale" if Spock does Omnes bidding and denounces the Prime Directive.
However, before Spock can play his role, the original Kirk is discovered, and Spock must now figure out how to secure his release before Omne can carry out his grand designs for the galaxy. Unfortunately, one of Omnes first acts is to prove his superiority over the "son of moral certainty" as he dubs Kirk, and the starship captain faces bitter defeat at the aliens hands while Spock, the Commander, and his duplicate search for him and for a means of leaving the planet. As they search, there is also the question of what to do with a duplicate Kirk; these two Kirks can not be reunited as they were in "The Enemy Within" as these are not opposites, but identical individuals, who must now face several metaphysical issues of their own.
While the novel has plenty of action, it also has several spots that are bogged down in dialogue that at times seems both heavy and repetitious. Much of the dialogue also becomes too philosophical as life without the finality of death is discussed.. A central element in the story is, of course, the friendship between Kirk and Spock, but this at times comes across more like slash fiction than true friendship. And while the return of the Romulan Commander is a welcome one, at times she and the rest of the characters do not seem to react as we readers have come to expect.
The novel ends with several loose ends, thus paving the way for a sequel The Fate of the Phoenix. Despite its weaknesses and the fact that it is not an easy read, I think most readers will find the plot to be an interesting one and will even be caught up in some of the allegory present in the story.
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