Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Unseen Trek: 'Sister in Space' by Robert Sheckley

Still from 'The Doomsday Machine' (1967)
Story Outline by Robert Sheckley, dated June 14, 1966
Review and Analysis by Dave Eversole
Originally Posted at Orion Press


In deep space, the Enterprise faces an eerie sight -- a ship exactly like it. As the ship appears on the main view screen for a second, we think they're seeing a reflection. Soon it is discovered that this is the hulk of the S. S. Saratoga, the Enterprise's sister ship, sent out five years earlier to catalog and collect alien flora and fauna. The "Sarah" disappeared without a trace, and there is great joy onboard the Enterprise at her discovery. No one is more overjoyed than young Lieutenant Poole a "log-computer" specialist, whose father was the captain of the Saratoga.


Kirk assembles a boarding party of himself and Sulu (both of whom trained on the Saratoga), Scotty and Mechanic's Mate Johnson, Lieutenant Poole and Janice Rand (to "take down" what they discover).

Kirk and Sulu go across first in spacesuits, since all Earth ships are radiation shielded. Using a power beam from the Enterprise, they open a hatch and enter. Once they determine it is safe, the rest of the boarding party comes aboard via transicator.

They soon discover that the Sarah's crew abandoned the ship in lifecrafts. Scotty finds that the ship's engines were not shut down properly -- the space warps are fused, and the vessel is in danger of exploding. Kirk decides to send everyone back to the Enterprise except himself and Scotty. They will attempt to fix the engines. Young Poole argues his right to stay and help since his dad is one of the missing. Poole has the makings of a good officer, but is too "by the book, too headstrong."

Kirk's order stands. But the hatch through which they entered suddenly closes, trapping them.


The Sarah has no power to open the hatch, and Kirk orders Spock to take the Enterprise away from the Sarah and not attempt a rescue lest the engines blow up and destroy the Enterprise.

The search of the ship continues and the reason for the hasty abandonment becomes clear. In the lower holds, where specimens of alien animal life were kept, they find empty cages -- their doors ripped open like one would tear putty. It is apparent one single berserk creature tore the other cages open. But where are the animals? Surely the crew would not have taken them onboard the lifecrafts!

Mechanic's Mate Johnson is working alone, tracing damaged hydraulic lines. A sound! He turns. His face shows the terror he feels. It is the last thing he ever sees.


Kirk is alerted by Johnson's dying screams, and they confront the creature. Phasers have no effect on it, and the Enterprise party fight a retreating action.

Kirk realizes they must trap the berserk creature, which killed the other creatures. They lure it to the single remaining large cage in the hold. But it begins to tear its way out and we see that it is a sort of chameleon, able to blend into any background, effectively making it invisible. Metal chips fly across the room and it breaks out of the cage.


Kirk has read Poole's log and realizes Poole wanted to trap the creature in a "Chryrolon" net in the Sarah's cargo hold -- a net so strong the monster could not escape from it. At this point they realize that Captain Poole did not escape with the rest of the crew on lifeboats -- he stayed and sacrificed his life in an attempt to stop the creature.

Scotty must nurse the engines, so Kirk decides to go into the cargo hold to act as bait. But he is injured. Sulu decides to go in, but Poole pulls rank on him, and offers himself as bait. As the creature enters, Poole stands his ground, ensnares the creature. All are saved.

The Enterprise heads toward the cluster of asteroids which Captain Poole's log indicated was the destination of the lifeboats.

Doctor McCoy orders Kirk to Sickbay. Kirk turns command over to Poole, the first time he has ever been in the command seat. It is an honor he has earned, Kirk says.


Not a bad "trapped in a spaceship by a monster" story. A reliable gimmick, to be sure. Used frequently by SF writers and filmmakers (most of us have seen It! The Terror From Beyond Space and Alien, I daresay). Sure, its as pulpy as an old issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, but with a bit of tweaking (Sheckley seems unfamiliar with the transporter) it would have worked. Needed more character work -- a stronger connection between Kirk and Poole ('Obsession' played out this basic scenario quite effectively), and Spock plays almost no role whatsoever, but...

Call up Janos Prohaska, get him over in a monster suit, and off we go.


Robert Sheckley (1928-2005) was known best for his humorous short stories, many of which (Seventh Victim, The Prize of Peril, The Watchbird, Skulking Permit, Something For Nothing) have been adapted many times for radio, television and film. His 1965 novel The Game of X was loosely adapted as the 1981 film Condorman. Immortality, Inc. was the basis of the 1992 film Freejack. Neil Gaiman said of Sheckley, "Probably the best short-story writer during the 50s to the mid-1960s working in any field." Harlan Ellison wrote, "If the Marx Brothers had been literary rather than thespic fantasists... they would have been Robert Sheckley." He sold several stories to Star Trek, but none made it past the outline stage. He did write one tie-in novel -- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Laertian Gamble.

Image courtesy of Trek Core.

Review originally posted at Orion Press.

No comments:

Post a Comment