Sunday, 20 September 2015

Experiencing a Crisis of Consciousness

Dave Galanter's latest foray into The Original Series plays heavily with Vulcan history which in turn puts Spock centre-stage. Beware SPOILERS

For the most part Galanter's novel is entertaining and sets out to explore the boundaries set by the Prime Directive. Imagine if you will that the author is prodding at it with a stick to see what happens. Indeed at the core is a traditional conflict between two species. The formerly indigenous Kenisians and the people who settled on their deserted home planet many years after they had vacated it, the Maabas. Given that this was going to be a diplomatic novel I wasn't too fussed to start reading but it's got a lot more facets below the surface.

For one the Kenisians are pretty multi-faceted themselves or more precisely consist of multiple personalities residing within each individual. It is reminiscent of the Trill but in that with that race at some point the symbiont will die. Here personalities are added to the next individual and so on and so on meaning that the more experienced members of the Kenisians have over 400 predecessors within them. Oh and they happen  to be related to the Vulcans which adds a further spin to the encounter and also allows us to revisit - in some depth - the concept of katra which came to the fore back in The Search for Spock.

Now the Maabas on the other hand are pretty boring. Their main problem is establishing a community on the wrong planet and then attempting to gain admission to the United Federation of Planets just as the Kenisians return to claim their home world; how typical.  True to form to "help"  the situation is the Maabas Federation ambassador who actually seems like she knows what she's doing for once. I know, hard to believe and I had to cover check a few times to make sure that I was reading a Star Trek novel.

While this isn't an action-adventure story, Galanter has steered away from the stereotypes you would associate with a Star Trek tale. Having a likeable and engaging ambassadorial character is a major step and changing the parameters around the planetary conflict scenario really does work here. Instead of it being a simple return-and-invade scenario, Dave Galanter has pulled in aspects which only fall into place once you understand both the oppressed and the oppressor.

I think its safe to say that the author has done an OK job but it is one of those books that may well be easily forgotten in the midst of long-awaited Deep Space Nine novel Sacraments of Fire,  the very popular continuation of the Voyager saga in Atonement and all that just off the back of the superb The Fall arc which is having repercussions right across the 24th Century literary universe in virtually every sense possible.

Y'see the trouble with the novels focusing on The Original Series is that they have nowhere to go. There can't be any main character deaths, there can't be any huge revelations to change the character of the leads because it has to all fit within the framework between Where No Man Has Gone Before and The Motion Picture. Each ends up being standalone and has to reach a certain point by its conclusion. Maybe I'm being cynical but there's really only so much more that can be done with this section of the franchise? Not that I'm saying Galanter has written a duffer by any stretch of the imagination. It's well thought out, nicely paced and has some entertaining twists and a conclusion that, while inevitable, doesn't take a straight path.

Crisis of Consciousness also splits the familiar Kirk/Spock partnership right from the start, placing the captain heading towards a conflict with a mysterious third party and Spock into the clutches of the Kenisians who are leaning on him to provide them with a super-weapon using a substance called na'hubris which is found within the mines of a nearby minefield (obviously). Placing Kirk and Spock apart works to spice up the narrative and while we know they will never kill either it's about how they deal with their individual situations. Removing the logic from one situation and the emotion from the other as always helps to emphasise the need for each in the partnership (but not so much the requirement of McCoy here I thought). Galanter's choice to focus more on a limited set of characters works much better allowing them to express themselves much more and definitely allows the guest cast to shine more effectively. 

Relegating the likes of Chekov and Uhura to background characters actually works really well for once and while they do assist within the story they don't take away from the pace of the book and Galanter even manages to find time to add in Carolyn Palamas, last seen in Who Mourns for Adonais? as a key part of the team involved with this adventure. Certainly it could have been anyone in this position but the author gives a good nod to continuity without going over the top which is one of the things that always bugs me to death when it comes to novels from The Original Series. Mr Galanter has managed to rein in the chance to over-reference and kept focused on the job in hand. I might start doing a "Khan Kount" to see how many episode references get chucked into these books in the future.

The Kenisian Zhartan is the most interesting of the guest characters here. Exploring her character(s) expands the race and also how their minds work being bombarded by numerous personalities all the time vying for control and attention. Exploring Zhartan is key to the understanding of the Kenisian people and provides some of the more nail-biting moments as we come to realise how much conflict is actually going on within each of these people - some parts agree with the decision to attack the Maabas and others are vehemently against such actions. Pippenge, the ambassador who is assisting Spock

One of the twists within the story did remind me slightly of Savage Trade which we've also recently reviewed since the actual enemy here isn't what we're led to believe in some degree. However, this doesn't take away from Crisis of Consciousness. I'll be honest I started reading this expecting to dislike it and give it a pasting. Instead I've come away pleased to have read it and actually having found it a pleasant experience. While not a novel which will be regarded as one of the greats, it's still a solid read that will entertain.

Crisis of Consciousness is available now from Simon & Schuster priced £7.99 ISBN 9781476782607.

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