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Anybody who meets the above criteria (and especially if you meet them all) should look up Dave Galanter's new book, Troublesome Minds. Don't get confused now. There are no books that take place in the Trek continuity set up by the movie, at least not yet. But if you're a fan or the original series, you can't go wrong with this book. It has Kirk, Spock, McCoy, all at their best. It has an interesting, and possibly even more importantly, a *self-contained* plot that still brings up good philosophical questions.
When the Enterprise responds to a distress call and saves the one-man ship in question, Captain Kirk discovers that he has saved a man who was sent to die by his people. Berlis, a member of a telepathic species known as the Isitri, was sentenced to die because otherwise, his planet would be doomed. Berlis seems harmless, but his telepathy is so strong that he can take over whole planets without even thinking about it, or even being aware of it. Every time a "troublesome mind" (as the Isitri call them) takes over their planet, the neighboring Odib people suffer as well. But no longer. The last time this happened, a treaty was made, stating that if it happened again, the Odib were allowed to come and wipe them out. With Spock becoming being influenced by Berlis and the Isitri pleading that Kirk allow them to kill Berlis before Hell breaks loose, things go from bad to worse. Because Berlis has made his way back home.
Galanter has told a classic Trek tale where both sides have their own motivations and there are no true villains. Berlis comes closest, but he isn't even aware of what he is doing. When people fall under his influence, he believes they truly want to help him rather than doing it because he's thinking the same thing. The Odib are looking out for their own interests because every time one of the "troublesome minds" comes to power, millions of Odib die in the consequent fighting. It's almost the classic no-win situation that Kirk finds himself in, and while he will do his best to rectify the situation that his compassion has initiated, he knows that many people will die regardless.
Galanter captures all of the Trek regulars very well. Troublesome Minds feels almost like an episode, with distinct "commercial break" endings in many chapters. He also concentrates mainly on the Big Three characters, though the rest of the regulars aren't slighted (unlike many of said episodes). The relationship between these three characters is marvelous, though I felt there were a few too many times that Kirk gave an "irritated glance" or looked at McCoy in annoyance or whatever after McCoy made one of his acerbic comments. Other than that, I thought all three characters were handled brilliantly.
The same can be said for the plotting and the aliens as well. Galanter has created an interesting culture, so telepathic that many of them are deaf because they don't use their hearing. Thus, Galanter is able to talk a lot about sign language, an area that is dear to his heart for personal reasons. Watching Kirk get frustrated when he's trying to communicate with one of the Isitri that is trying to help them is a great scene, both lightening the touch a little bit as well as commenting on how uncomfortable it can be for those with hearing to communicate with those who are deaf.
The ending is one of those moral dilemmas that Galanter leaves to the reader to decide exactly what the ending means, which is nice. Whatever the reader decides, you know the characters are going to be dealing with it for some time to come. Galanter has said in interviews that he places this book near the end of the original series, so it's very possible that events in this novel help guide him to leave Starfleet and try to become the ultra-logical Vulcan he was trying to be in the first motion picture.
Troublesome Minds is like one of those Pocket Books Trek novels of yesteryear, but this time in a good way. The book is relatively short, it's self-contained, and it tells an interesting story. It has a fascinating plot with great aliens. Kirk knows that his rescue of Berlis has caused this whole thing, and he consciously feels every death that happens as a result of it. But it's clear throughout the novel that, given the same circumstances, he would do it again. Because to let somebody in distress die just because it *might* cause a problem is just something that he can't do. Galanter writes Kirk as dynamic but flawed, which I think is the perfect characterization.
If you're a fan of the original series and want a novel where you don't have to figure out what might have happened in another book, give Troublesome Minds a try. You'll be glad you did.
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