Sunday, January 22, 2012

Troublesome Minds

Star Trek: Troublesome Minds by Dave Galanter
Published June 2009
Read January 20th, 2012

Previous book (The Original Series): Errand of Fury #3: Sacrifices of War
Next book (The Original Series): Inception



Click to purchase Troublesome Minds from Amazon.com!

Spoilers ahead for Troublesome Minds!


From the back cover:
First contact becomes an interstellar incident when the Starship Enterprise responds to a distress call from an unknown ship and saves the life of a man left to die by his own people.  Berlis, member of a telepathic species calling themselves the Isitri, claims not to know why those from his homeworld want him dead.  Captain James T. Kirk wants to believe him, but the damage is done: the Enterprise can neither leave the stranger to die nor turn him over to those who would kill him.
Berlis seems harmless, but his people say he cannot live among them: his telepathy is so strong that their wills are subsumed to his.  The same fear that compels the Isitri to seek the death of one of their own drives the neighboring Odib people toward genocide.  For every time a "troublesome mind" dominiates the Isitri, the Odib pay the price in their own blood.
With Spock becoming erratic under Berlis's influence, and the Isitri begging Kirk to allow them to destroy the man who threatens their existence, matters take a disastrous turn when Berlis makes his way back to Isitra ... and an entire world falls to his whims.

About the Novel:

The Enterprise rescues an alien by the name of Berlis, who seems quite amiable and pleasant.  While he is aboard, Captain Kirk and other members of the crew feel drawn to him and want to do anything they can to help him.  However, after his departure, the feeling begins to fade, and the crew suspects there may be more to Berlis than meets the eye.  This is confirmed when Spock, defying all logic and reason, disobeys orders and risks the lives of the crew in order to help Berlis evade capture by his people.  It seems that Berlis is a "troublesome mind," a telepath so strong that members of his species who are nearby find their own wills completely subsumed, and under the complete control of Berlis.  His people greatly fear coming under the control of a troublesome mind.  The last time one of them gained power, the entire civilization acted as puppets to the troublesome mind's will, and when he finally died, the planet "woke up."  Children who were controlled early on by the troublesome mind found themselves elderly, having never lived their own lives.

The threat of the entire population under the control of a troublesome mind is so terrifying that a neighboring species, the Odib, has vowed that if the Isitri come under the influence of one of these telepathic terrors again, they will destroy the entire civilization rather than risk being the target of an entire race of people bent to one man's will.  Now, in part because of the actions of Kirk and the Enterprise, the Isitri have come under the control of Berlis, and the Odib are threatening full-scale war.  Captain Kirk must find a way to resolve the situation, and adding to his difficulties is the doubt he has in his friend and first officer, Mr. Spock.  Is Spock acting of his own accord, or has he become yet another victim of Berlis' "troublesome mind"?

My Thoughts:

Troublesome Minds is a beautiful and tragic story.  The moral questions it raises are difficult to resolve.  The real tragedy of Berlis' character is that he doesn't even realize the effect he has on others of his species.  His control is so complete that the people who fall sway to it do exactly what Berlis wants.  Can you imagine living your entire life with everyone around you catering to your every whim?  You would probably just think that you are a very deserving and loved person, not that your mind is controlling their every action.    From Berlis' perspective, those around him simply have the same wishes and desires that he does.  The fact that the Isitri Council wishes him dead must be completely baffling to him, as he feels he has done absolutely nothing wrong.


However, the risk posed by his telepathy cannot be understated.  An entire civilization under the control of one man is a frightening thing.  Can you imagine falling under his influence one day, not even realizing that your own thoughts and desires are not truly your own?  Only when the troublesome mind is finally removed, decades later, do you realize you have not lived your own life.  This passage from chapter nine, telling of the life of a man whose mind had been enslaved by a troublesome mind, was truly chilling when I first read it:


Sketel had lived through a war with the Odib, and so personally knew the horrors of Isitri slavery.  In his case, he went to bed a little boy and when the troublesome mind was finally dead, he awoke to find his parents long passed, years of his life missing, and married to a woman he didn't really know or love.  She was pregnant with their second child.  He knew them intimately -- and yet did not.

Captain Kirk, by saving the life of this one man, may have accidentally doomed the entire race.  Here we see a moral quandary: saving the life of someone should be a good thing, but does Berlis actually need to die in order to save the entire Isitri race?  Dave Galanter has given us a story to which there is no black or white answer.

Another aspect of Troublesome Minds that really impressed me was the way the main characters came across.  Dave Galanter has truly mastered the "voice" of the Star Trek characters, Captain Kirk in particular.  I could very easily picture and hear William Shatner delivering Kirk's lines and his mannerisms were similarly well-written.  The other two of the "big three" -- Spock and McCoy -- are also extremely well-written.


Final Thoughts:

I have to admit that when I first pulled Troublesome Minds off the shelf, I expected an average, paint-by-number Star Trek: TOS novel.  Not so.  Dave Galanter has written a surprise classic in my opinion.  The fascinating moral quandary, well-written characterizations of Kirk, Spock, and Bones, as well as a troubling and thought-provoking conclusion contribute to one of the better Star Trek novels I have ever read.  Troublesome Minds did an excellent job of capturing the feel of a classic Star Trek episode.

Final score for Troublesome Minds: 9/10.  Very well-written, and a true pleasure to read.

My next read:

For whatever reason, I've decided to re-read the Gateways series of novels.  I didn't read all of them the first time through, so I figure I should give them another chance.  First up is One Small Step by Susan Wright.