Retro Review: The Slaver Weapon

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Spock, Uhura and Sulu are captured by the Kzinti, a dangerous enemy trying to collect the ancient technology of the Slavers.

Plot Summary: Spock, Sulu, and Uhura have taken a shuttlecraft to bring an extremely rare Slaver stasis box to a starbase when the box begins to glow. Spock and Uhura discuss how the Slavers conquered the known universe nearly a billion years earlier, but died in the same war that killed their conquests. Spock adds that because time stands still inside a stasis box, any artifacts left remain precisely as they were millions of years earlier. He decides that they must risk diverting from their course to see if another box in the area has made theirs react. On a frozen world, they detect a stasis box beneath the ice, but it is a trap laid by the Kzinti, who originally discovered the box now held by the Enterprise crew. Though the Kzinti box is an empty museum relic, they use it to open the other and find what appears to be a weapon. Sulu reminds the Kzinti that they lost all their previous battles with humans but the Kzinti are determined to learn how to use this new weapon to destroy humanity. Because Uhura is a woman and Spock an herbivore, the Kzinti do not consider them threats, which allows the crewmembers to escape. The weapon has several innocuous settings and one deadly one, and when the Kzinti try to force it to destroy their enemies, it instead self-destructs, destroying the Kzinti raiders and their ship. As the officers return to the shuttlecraft, Sulu says he’s sorry the device can’t be studied, but Spock calls the weapon too dangerous, observing that a relic from an ancient war nearly sparked a modern war.

Analysis: “The Slaver Weapon” is quite a famous episode among science fiction fans because it incorporates writer Larry Niven’s Kzinti, who were created in Niven’s Known Space series and shared among a group of science fiction writers all interested in the fictional conflict between humans and the Kzin. I didn’t read much of the Known Space material – you can imagine my disgust toward a race whose females are considered “dumb animals” and who are slaughtered as little girls if they reveal intelligence – so I can’t evaluate the episode’s contribution to Kzinti lore, only to the Star Trek universe, where I’d have to describe it as okay but not great. It’s certainly better thought out than “The Lorelei Signal” or “The Magicks of Megas-tu,” and it’s enjoyable to see Spock in command of a relatively successful shuttle crisis while Sulu and Uhura get to have some fun off the bridge, but there’s no interesting development of the regular characters and we get only a teasing glimpse of the great ancient civilization of the Slavers, from whom one would rather expect more interesting artifacts than turn up in the particular stasis box opened by the Kzinti.

Though the Slavers are new to the Star Trek universe, they are made immediately relevant as we’re told that their technology from stasis boxes enabled the development of the artificial gravity used on starships. Since the inertial dampers are one of many near-magical devices impossible to current science that the crew uses constantly, like the transporters and replicators, this is actually a reasonable explanation for how humanity achieved so much and became a dominant species in the galaxy in just a few hundred years: we didn’t invent everything, we found it and adapted it from someone else! Unfortunately, of the two Slaver boxes mentioned in this episode, the contents of one is missing while the other contains only poisoned meat, the first-known-to-Starfleet photo of a Slaver (one-eyed and green), and the odd device that everyone seems sure must be a weapon though it has several other uses as well: it can be converted into a telescope, it can fire a harmless laser, it can be used as a jet pack, and it can suppress energy fields, which allows Spock and his team to escape while the Kzinti are busy trying to figure out where the higher settings might be. Sulu makes the rather clever assumption that the weapon must have been designed for espionage, since it has settings that would be useless to a soldier, which makes Sulu and Spock guess that the device likely has a self-destruct setting. Although Spock gives lip service to the fact that he thinks Uhura is intelligent even though the Kzinti treat women like animals, she gets shot twice and taken hostage when Spock and Sulu could otherwise have made it into space with the weapon, and other than recounting some Kzinti history, she doesn’t get much to do besides lament the cold and her failings as a sprinter.

We get some tantalizing glimpses of Kzinti society, such as the fact that some Kzin are mind-readers but those don’t appear to be the ones with the most power since they tend to be neurotic, and that they’ll have more respect for Sulu if he flaunts the fact that he’s a meat-eater. They admire his bravery when he doesn’t flinch from the Slaver laser, not realizing intially that it’s because he can see at once that it’s not a serious threat. It’s hard to get a sense of how dangerous the Kzinti might be in combat, since Spock disables their captain relatively easily and since they appear in animation as large purple bipedal cats, but they certainly don’t seem very bright; the Romulans could eat them for dinner if the Romulans ate bipedal cats. Apparently Kzinti honor works rather like Klingon honor in that their captain can’t call for reinforcements because Spock kicked his butt in combat, so his priority is not even retrieving the weapon (he makes no serious threats to Uhura to make this happen) but challenging the herbivorous pacifist to a duel, which Sulu is clever enough to reject. The crucial deadly setting on the Slaver weapon, which Spock says completely converts matter to energy, creates an explosion that looks like a nuclear detonation yet apparently creates no radiation since he witnesses it without ill effects.

“The Slaver Weapon” feels like part one of something – or maybe more like part three of something, since we get the human-Kzinti wars summarized in two sentences and never get a full picture of when people first discovered the Slaver stasis boxes or what they’ve allowed us to do. It’s interesting – at least, if you aren’t too infuriated to learn that there’s a species out there who make the Ferengi, Klingons, Orions, et al look like radical feminist societies – but there’s lots of exposition dropped in dialogue by the only three crewmembers who appear, and it ends very abruptly and violently, with all the Kzinti apparently dead. I’ll tell the truth: I’d rather have a more fluffy episode with Kirk and McCoy around to provide occasional comic relief.

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Michelle Erica Green

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Michelle Erica Green

Writer, mother, reader, traveler, teacher, partner, photographer, activist, friend, fangirl, student, critic, citizen, environmentalist, feminist, vegetarian, enthusiast. TrekToday staffer for many years, former news reporter, current retro reviewer.

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