The Price of the Phoenix

During a mission to an outlaw planet, Kirk is killed by the collapse of a burning building. Spock suspects that the situation was engineered--murder. His suspicions are confirmed by Omne, the leader of the planet, who offers him a clone of Kirk--a perfect clone, in body and mind--in exchange for his cooperation in a plot to set the Federation and the Romulan Empire against one another. Then the Romulan Empire will ally itself with Omne's planet in a war against the Federation, thus--Omne claims--safeguarding galactic freedom which is being stifled by the expansion of the Federation.

Omne's ally in this is none other than the (unnamed) Romulan Commander from The Enterprise Incident, though she rapidly turns to Spock's side, and is unaccountably taken with Kirk, as well.

It transpires that the original Kirk is still alive, and the balance of the book is occupied by Spock, the Commander, and the clone (who Spock calls 'James', in contrast to the original 'Jim') making their way though Omne's underground complex to reach Kirk, with both the group of rescuers and Kirk periodically having violent confrontations with Omne. The larger threat is that Omne's technology which enables effective immortality will allow him to control the galaxy.

Ultimately, Omne is killed during a fight with Spock, and the four are able to escape. He is resurrected, and again killed during a final confrontation on the Enterprise, and it is left unclear whether he will be able to return again. The clone, James, is made up to look like a Romulan, and will leave with the Commander. The two will work from within the Romulan Empire, as Kirk and Spock will work from within the Federation, to ensure an eventual alliance between the two powers.

This book (and its sequel, The Fate of the Phoenix) are polished-up versions of a privately published fan novel, Never Mourn Black Omne, and its origin shows. It is very slashy, and filled with (what must be) the authors' preoccupation with dominance, masculinity, and sadism.

The writing is poor, with highly repetitive descriptions--all muscles are 'corded', the connection between Spock and James is always 'gossamer', etc. The characters, all from different planets, show a remarkable unity of though, all conceiving of men as being 'alpha males' or 'wolves', considering negotiations in terms of poker, and on and on. One cannot help but feel they are all mouthpieces for the authors.

The characterization, too, is far off. One could just about see Kirk surrendering himself to save Spock, but the despairing, weak-willed creature we see cannot be our captain. Spock, too, can be self-sacrificing, but the impulsive, emotional wreck in these pages is no Vulcan. And at last we have the Romulan Commander. Her, we know little about, but even so, her behavior is inexplicable, as she praises Kirk and Spock (the former especially) as the greatest men in the galaxy, and seems to desire nothing more than to be with them. Inexplicable, unless she is serving as a stand-in for the authors, and, by implication, the readers. Omne, too, shows very thinly-veiled attraction to Kirk, and seems willing to abandon his current plans in exchange for having Kirk as his permanent companion and slave.

The authors had one or two interesting ideas about the impact of the federation, and what life would be for the clone, but they do not explore them, devoting the text instead to fetishization of physical strength and violence.

I've seen a few reviews that dispute my claims about the slashiness of the book and its focus on sadism, but I think a few selections from the text will suffice to prove my point.

When Omne brings Spock to the clone of Kirk, who is sleeping naked beneath a nearly-transparent sheet, he says:

"Sleeping beauty," Omne said. "You may perform the awakening--in the traditional manner, if you like"

And shortly after:

"Now, my replica. I do not know how well the Commander knew your predecessor, although Captain Kirk was legend for being well known on short acquaintance. However, Commander Spock has certainly shared ship and shore leave for many years. Hardships, injuries, dangers, gym workouts. He must know the Captain very well. Every contour. Every scar. Every injury. There is a half-healed one on your leg. You will therefore stand up and display that identity and perfection."

Later, Omne and the original Kirk fight one another, and the following exchanges occur:

Omne grinned. "Good! That also I wanted to learn. Yes, I'll have you, fighting—and I want that. You will learn to acknowledge me as your natural master. You'll learn to bend your stiff neck. You will be my final hostage against Spock, and he against you." He moved closer. "You are on your knees, but not to me. You will kneel and bow and beg for Spock."

Kirk smiled without amusement. "Only to be reminded that you are not a man of honor?"

"Perhaps," Omne said smoothly, "but with the certainty that you will see him die if you don't."

Kirk rose to his knees without a word, finding his face too close to the big man, but arching back a little and bowing his head. "I beg for Spock," he said easily, stressing the ease.

The gloved hands clenched into his hair, jerking his head up, pulling his chest against the corded thighs, his face almost against the great body.

Omne's face was the face of the wolf, the beast—the face of jungle and night. "Now beg for yourself. I am alpha here, and you will—now—yield."

One big hand twisted his head down and forward and the other ran down the back of his neck, feeling it cord and crackle with the resistance.

"Yield," the low voice snarled. "Let it happen."

The gloved hands dropped to the gunbelt and slowly drew it off, drew the heavy leather strap through the loop of the holster, tossed the holstered gun carelessly aside to a couch—stressing no need to use it, no need to fear that it could be used against its owner.

Omne doubled the black strap and cracked the doubled end into a gloved palm with a sound like the snap of doom.

So that was how it would begin, Kirk thought, feeling the dryness in his throat and refusing to swallow.

But Omne smiled, the smile reaching the black eyes, underlining all of the possibilities. Then he tossed the belt after the gun. "No," he said. "That does not belong to the jungle." He began to strip off the black gloves. "Nothing which does not will touch you, and you will wish that it had been that simple. He tossed the gloves after the belt, flexing the massive, muscled, long-fingered hands. "Have you ever cried, Captain, since you were a child?"

"No," Kirk said, somehow wanting this man to know it. When Edith died, Miramanee—no, worse than cried, possibly, but no. Other times— No.

Omne nodded. "Men don't cry, Captain. Curious how widespread the necessity of that lesson is."

"Necessity? Or error?"

"Both," Omne said. "The alpha male must protect, defend, cannot afford to cry. The jungle knows, but we must learn. We must choose when we choose the hard path. It is harder for us because we can cry."

Even Vulcans can, Kirk thought. And why not? But was that it? Was it the alpha choice? Was that why he never had, never could? "Doesn't matter," he said aloud. "We choose what we choose."

"The choice can be broken," Omne said, "for—any man."

"For you," Kirk said with sudden certainty.

"Once," Omne answered, the black eyes clearing to the final depth again. "And now—for you."

"Not by this. I choose."

Omne shook his head. "Oh, no. You could bear to choose to cry, as you could choose to beg—for Spock, for your choice, for others. Not for yourself. There will be no choice here. You will cry—for yourself—like a child, like a woman, and not be able to stop, and know that you have broken."

"No," Kirk said flatly—and then felt the unbidden amendment coming. "Not if I can help it."

Omne laughed. "That is the point, Captain. There is the point beyond help or endurance. You will cry—and then you will beg. You will know the real right of the man who can best you and master you."

There is nothing strictly explicit in the book, but the subtext is clear.

The authors claim, in Shatner: Where No Man... that Shatner thought that this should have been the script for the Trek film:

We talk for a while longer--some of the questions which we also asked Gene. But one of them leads Bill to describe to Leonard the themes of our novel The Price of the Phoenix which Bill read in manuscript before it was published. Now he says, talking the STAR TREK movie, bogged in script problems, that the novel should be the movie: "Would make a hell of a movie". It would be, he says, a chance for the two of them to play something no two actors have played before--a deeper level of friendship which Leonard has just described as "I shall do neither".

And they reiterate that claim in Voyages of Imagination: The Star Trek Fiction Companion:

Once when we were having lunch with Bill [Shatner] and Leonard [Nimoy], Bill had read our then forthcoming novel The Price of the Phoenix in manuscript. Bill told Leonard, ‘I don’t know why Paramount is still looking for a script. Their novel, The Price of the Phoenix, should be the script for the Star Trek movie. It would give us a chance to play things no two actors have ever played before.’ It was not to be, and we did not put Price forward for that purpose. We considered that it was Gene’s movie to write, and that probably, despite ongoing conflicts, it would ultimately be Gene’s. But what Bill envisioned if Price were the script would have been fascinating.

Voyages of Imagination: The Star Trek Fiction Companion (2006-11-14)

It's hard to believe that this event could have occurred at all, and nearly impossible to imagine that it was anything but flattery by Shatner. But maybe in some alternate universe, the Trek movie series turned into ten or a dozen BDSM-themed angst-fests, and started the Fifty Shades revolution a few decades early. There but for the grace of god...

Character Type
James T. Kirk Main
Romulan Commander Main
Spock Main
Name Role
Myrna Culbreath Author
Sondra Marshak Author

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