Kirk Your Enthusiasm (4)
By: Stephen Burt | Categories: Read-outs

Fourth in a series of posts, each one analyzing a single Captain Kirk scene from the Star Trek canon.


“No kill I” | “Devil in the Dark” | Star Trek: The Original Series | Season 1, Episode 25 | March 1967

The first Star Trek depicted an empire whose representatives sounded and acted American and tried hard to act benign, with Captain James Tiberius Kirk as its symbolic, charismatic agent in charge. Episodes about aliens and other “natives” were almost always reformist; they portrayed the conversion of old-fashioned outlooks, where “natives” are disregarded or enslaved, into better ones where aliens got respect.

That transformation is one subject of “Devil in the Dark,” in which the unseen monster killing off Janus VI’s miners turns out to be the silicon-based horta, defending her mineral eggs; she not only deserves protection, but invites it, carving “No Kill I” in acid on stone. By the end, miners and horta have moved from a mutually destructive plot — we kill it, or it kills us — to a modus vivendi.

KIRK: Well, Spock, I’m going to have to ask you to get in touch with the Horta again. Tell her our proposition. She and her children can do all the tunneling they want. Our people will remove the minerals, and each side will leave the other alone.

That’s an extraction industry that hurts nobody, at least until minerals run out (we are told they are superabundant); it rests not only on explicit contract, but on the leverage each side keeps — if the human miners damage the eggs, the Horta can just start to kill them again.

It’s a shift from absent-mindedly genocidal extractive institutions to mutual respect and hands-off cooperation: and it’s a shift that historically, in real life, has proven very, very hard to make, both because “natives” rarely have such leverage, and because hatred, let loose, becomes hard to tamp down (cf. Frantz Fanon).

KIRK: The Horta is intelligent, peaceful, mild. She had no objection to sharing this planet with you, till you broke into her nursery and started destroying her eggs. Then she fought back in the only way she knew how, as any mother would fight when her children are in danger.

But what about the miners: agents of empire, armed victims, outpost people? Aren’t they angry too? They are, and it’s Kirk — who admits to that anger — who knows how to deal with them. It’s Kirk, who first realizes that he need not shoot the Horta, who stops the miners:

KIRK: Don’t fire! First man that fires is dead.

VANDERBERG: That thing has killed fifty of my men.

KIRK: You’ve killed thousands of her children.

Captain Kirk has to be as big and loud and dramatic as possible, sharing the miners’ tense energy but not their impulsiveness, in order to get the miners to hear what Spock says, to bring them to the point of accepting a mutually beneficial deal. How many real public figures, in the colonies or in the metropole, have been able to speak to the army, to the commanders of extractive institutions, to the leaders of outpost peoples, and get them to change, even at the point of a gun?


POSTS IN THIS SERIES: Justice or vengeance? by DAFNA PLEBAN | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss by MARK KINGWELL | “KHAAAAAN!” by NICK ABADZIS | “No kill I” by STEPHEN BURT | Kirk browbeats NOMAD by GREG ROWLAND | Kirk’s eulogy for Spock by ZACK HANDLEN | The joke is on Kirk by PEGGY NELSON | Kirk vs. Decker by KEVIN CHURCH | Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk by ENRIQUE RAMIREZ | Captain Camelot by ADAM MCGOVERN | Koon-ut-kal-if-fee by FLOURISH KLINK | Federation exceptionalism by DAVID SMAY | Wizard fight by AMANDA LAPERGOLA | A million things you can’t have by STEVE SCHNEIDER | Debating in a vacuum by JOSHUA GLENN | Klingon diplomacy by KELLY JEAN FITZSIMMONS | “We… the PEOPLE” by TRAV S.D. | Brinksmanship on the brink by MATTHEW BATTLES | Captain Smirk by ANNIE NOCENTI | Sisko meets Kirk by IAN W. HILL | Noninterference policy by GABBY NICASIO | Kirk’s countdown by PETER BEBERGAL | Kirk’s ghost by MATT GLASER | Watching Kirk vs. Gorn by JOE ALTERIO | How Spock wins by ANNALEE NEWITZ

SCIENCE FICTION ON HILOBROW Peggy Nelson on William Shatner as HiLo Hero | Greg Rowland on Leonard Nimoy as HiLo Hero | Peggy Nelson on William Shatner in Incubus | Matthew Battles on enlarging the Trek fanfic canon | Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, serialized | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail, serialized | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt, serialized | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook, serialized | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins, serialized | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, serialized | Radium Age Supermen | Radium Age Robots | Radium Age Apocalypses | Radium Age Telepaths | Radium Age Eco-Catastrophes | Radium Age Cover Art (1) | SF’s Best Year Ever: 1912 | Radium Age Science Fiction Poetry | Enter Highbrowism | Bathybius! Primordial ooze in Radium Age sf | War and Peace Games (H.G. Wells’s training manuals for supermen) | J.D. Beresford | Algernon Blackwood | Edgar Rice Burroughs | Karel Čapek | Buster Crabbe | August Derleth | Arthur Conan Doyle | Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Cicely Hamilton | Hermann Hesse | William Hope Hodgson | Aldous Huxley | Inez Haynes Irwin | Alfred Jarry | Jack Kirby (Radium Age sf’s influence on) | Murray Leinster | Gustave Le Rouge | Gaston Leroux | David Lindsay | Jack London | H.P. Lovecraft | A. Merritt | Maureen O’Sullivan | Sax Rohmer | Paul Scheerbart | Upton Sinclair | Clark Ashton Smith | E.E. “Doc” Smith | Olaf Stapledon | John Taine | H.G. Wells | Jack Williamson | Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz | S. Fowler Wright | Philip Gordon Wylie | Yevgeny Zamyatin | AND LOTS MORE

CHECK OUT HILOBOOKS: In 2012-13, HiLobrow is serializing ten overlooked works of science fiction from the genre’s (1904-33) Radium Age; and HiLoBooks is publishing them in paperback! Here are the first six titles: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague (in May, Introduction by Matthew Battles; PURCHASE NOW), Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail and “As Easy as A.B.C.” (in June, Introduction by Matthew De Abaitua and Afterword by Bruce Sterling; PURCHASE NOW), Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt (in August, Introduction by Joshua Glenn and Afterword by Gordon Dahlquist; PURCHASE NOW), H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook (in October, Introduction by James Parker; PURCHASE NOW), Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins (in November, Introduction by Tom Hodgkinson; PURCHASE NOW), and William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land (in April 2013, Afterword by Erik Davis; PURCHASE NOW).