Well, after scaring myself senseless with an especially terrifying horror novel, I needed something a bit more cheerful and relaxing. So, after going through one of the piles of second-hand “Star Trek” books that I accumulated in 2011-13, I ended up choosing Rebecca Neason’s 1993 “Star Trek: The Next Generation” novel “Guises Of The Mind”.
Although it is theoretically possible to read this novel without having seen “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (since it tells a self-contained story), it is best to have watched at least a few episodes of the TV show beforehand in order to get to know some of the characters. Even so, the novel does a fairly good job introducing the show’s characters.
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Guises Of The Mind”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
On the United Federation Of Planets starship USS Enterprise, Counselor Troi is having a bad day. Not only has one of her patients decided to take a leave of medical absence, but a bereaved crew member doesn’t want to talk to her.
Not only that, since the Enterprise is travelling to a planet called Capulon IV to sign a treaty with the soon-to-be crowned King Joakal and to transport two nuns who want to set up an orphanage on the planet, Troi’s empathic powers are needed to make sure that everything goes smoothly.
During a formal dinner with the nuns, Troi notices that one of them – Sister Veronica – is a telepath. Sister Veronica notices that Troi has picked up on this and, filled with fear and horror, she flees the dinner.
Meanwhile, the benevolent and just King Joakal is preparing for his formal coronation with his trusted advisor Aklier and thinking about his secret plans to reform the planet’s archaic traditions and laws. He also misses his love, Elana, who is torn between becoming queen or devoting her life to religious servitude. But, when walking through the corridors of the palace, Joakal is attacked by a mysterious man. Before the man bludgeons Joakal into unconsciousness, Joakal glimpses the man’s face. It is identical to his own.
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is was a lot of fun to read 🙂 It’s kind of like a cross between a new episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, a gripping adventure story and “Game Of Thrones” 🙂 It is an atmospheric and thrilling tale of intrigue, treachery and suspense 🙂
Plus, after reading Peter David’s “Imzadi” and Charlotte Douglas & Susan Kearney’s “The Battle Of Betazed” quite a few years ago, it is always good to see another Troi-based novel too 🙂
This is also one of those “Star Trek: The Next Generation” stories that is set on a less advanced world, allowing the story to blend elements from both the sci-fi and fantasy genres too. This works really well and, surprisingly, there is actually more emphasis on things like telepathy, intrigue, religion/philosophy, adventure and traditions than on futuristic technology. Although the most dedicated of “Star Trek” fans will probably notice that Capulon IV doesn’t seem to have developed warp technology (and therefore shouldn’t be able to join the Federation), this is a small criticism to make of a really atmospheric and compelling story.
In addition to a vaguely “Game Of Thrones”-like atmosphere, filled with treacherous plots and skulduggery, the novel’s worldbuilding is fairly good too. Although we only get a relatively basic overview of the history of Capulon IV and only really get to see one part of the planet (eg: the palace), there are enough intriguing details to make the place feel suitably real. Yes, everything is a little bit stylised, but this just adds to the “old adventure story/fantasy novel” atmosphere of the story 🙂
Thematically, this novel is pretty interesting. In addition to being a story about telepathy, the major themes in this novel are religion and self-acceptance. Both of these are explored in a reasonable amount of depth, with the novel taking a surprisingly open attitude towards the topic of religion – whilst also mentioning some of the problems that it can cause too. There is also a sub-plot where Data tries to study several religions too. The theme of self-acceptance is mostly explored through the inner conflict Sister Veronica feels due to the conflict between her telepathic powers and the traditional religious environment she has grown up in.
In terms of the characters, this novel absolutely excels 🙂 Most of the novel’s characterisation is focused on Troi, Sister Veronica, King Joakal, Aklier, Elana and Joakal’s twin brother Beahoram. All of these characters have realistic motivations and backstories that really help to add a lot of drama and conflict to the story. Likewise, although Beahoram is a bit of a stylised moustache-twirling villain, we get to learn enough about him to know how and why he has become like this.
In terms of the writing, it is really good. The novel’s third-person narration is descriptive enough to be atmospheric and to make you care about the characters, whilst also being “matter of fact” (in a mildly formal way) enough to keep the story moving at a reasonable pace.
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At 277 pages, it never feels too long. Likewise, the story moves along at a fairly reasonable pace and becomes more and more compelling as it continues. Whilst I wouldn’t exactly call this novel “fast-paced”, it isn’t exactly slow-paced either.
As for how this twenty-six year old novel has aged, it has mostly aged well. About the only dated thing in the story is a brief discussion about autism, where it is viewed as a disease (which the Federation have found a way to “cure”). This moment is especially bizarre, considering the many criticisms of eugenics etc… later in the story. But, aside from this, the novel is pretty much timeless.
All in all, this is a really compelling and fun sci-fi fantasy story 🙂 Yes, some elements of the story are a little bit stylised, but this just adds to the fun. Not only that, this novel also has excellent characterisation and a fairly gripping plot too.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.