This week, en route to Capulon IV, Troi helps a telepathic nun learn how to put up some barriers. But when the king’s shady behavior necessitates an accelerated itinerary, they suddenly have to cram for a final they thought was still a few weeks away. And when they’re drugged and imprisoned, they’ll need a Hail Mary to prevent an imposter from seizing the throne. Will Data solve religion? Am I seeing phantom anagrams? Is this Guinan’s worst advice ever? All this and more in Guises of the Mind, the book that truly has faith of the heart.
Guises of the Mind
Author: Rebecca Neason
Published: September 1993
Timeline: Early to mid-season 6, shortly after “Emissary” (DS9 S1E1+2)
Star Trek‘s general outlook on religion tends to fall slightly to one side of the middle or the other, never quite right on. Most commonly it’s a begrudging tolerance, occasionally an acute respect—the obvious (and proper) exception being when it impinges on the rights of others. The books, on the whole, have been a little kinder about it, often offering swift yet gentle reproof to any character that callously dismisses it entirely out of hand. Edgelord atheism isn’t non-existent, but as someone who finds merit in and practices Christianity, I’ve appreciated the franchise’s relative lack thereof. Guises of the Mind, however, may very well be the first published piece of Star Trek media with a significantly Judeo-Christian bent.
Picard is pleased as punch to be hosting representatives of the Little Mothers, a religious order that takes in society’s castoffs from all over the galaxy. They and the Enterprise are headed to Capulon IV, where the Mothers will help Joakal, the planet’s soon-to-be Absolute (italics are the book’s, not mine), usher in a new era of social reform. Of the two delegates, Sister Julian is animated and talkative, but Mother Veronica is withdrawn. Counselor Troi realizes Veronica is a telepath who has never developed any mental shields. She offers to help, but Veronica refuses.
Meanwhile, trouble brews on Capulon IV as Joakal is attacked by his doppelganger. The lookalike is a twin brother Joakal never knew he had named Beahoram. Beahoram is by Capulonii definition an “abnormality”, satisfying the condition twice over as both a twin and as someone with mind powers. Abnormalities are normally euthanized whenever their nature or disability becomes apparent, but a sympathetic guard instead secretly sent him to live far away. Growing up with the knowledge that his brother enjoyed a life of royalty while he languished in exile, Beahoram is consumed by resentment and anger, and plans to assume Joakal’s identity, usurp the throne he feels he deserves, and use his mental abilities to strip Joakal’s mind until he becomes a vegetable.
Back on the Enterprise, Deanna’s progress with Veronica moves forward in baby steps, and is slowed further by a childhood trauma Veronica needs to work through. When the Enterprise contacts Capulon IV, Joakal’s (i.e., Beahoram’s) sketchy behavior leads Picard to bump their arrival up from a couple of weeks to a couple of days. Once there, Troi, Picard, and Veronica beam down for a meeting. Their meals are drugged, and the three are tossed in a cell with Joakal. To have any hope of success, they’ll need to rely on Elana, Joakal’s betrothed who also smells something fishy, and hope she can get the message to the right people before Beahoram completes the coronation and becomes the Absolute.
It’s amusingly apropos that a book with such a strong religious component took a Christ-like amount of patience to get published. Guises of the Mind began in 1985 as a TOS story called The Gift of Silence, and went through almost eight years of requested changes, rejections, and re-call-ups before reaching shelves in its finalized form. That road to publication is too long and meandering to recount specific details here, although it is one of the more interesting entries in Voyages of Imagination. Neason’s patience and positive outlook certainly deserve plaudits; several authors walked away with far more bitter memories after much less editorial runaround. But is the book’s victorious publication after nearly a decade of travails a sign from God—or a deal with the devil?
Though it’s easy to tell Neason was devout, it’s clear she took great pains to avoid being preachy, at which I’d say she succeeded overall. There’s a thing that religious people often do, however, where when they step onto science-positive turf, they work so hard to be reasonable and not rock the boat that they sometimes wind up hedging on their position in a way that doesn’t always look so great in hindsight. I’ve done this several times myself trying to look like a “cool Christian”, and it happens a couple times here as well. Religion, particularly that of the Christian persuasion, demands a certain amount of transparency and vocal commitment, and while having your nun characters say things like (paraphrasing here) “we’ve learned to keep religion a matter of the heart” will certainly win you a handful of points with a secular crowd, there are ways to hold a confident stance without sounding loony that Neason didn’t manage to hit upon here.
In terms of the more regular programming, Guises is a serviceable book. Deanna gets an arc that makes better use of her talents than usual, and it feels to me like Picard, taking the role of deuteragonist, gets more of actual import to do in this book than he has in a hot minute. One big complaint is that Beahoram turns out to be a fairly lame villain; I was honestly hoping for a bit more of a climactic telepathic showdown, maybe with a villain not quite as psychically powerful as, say, Zakal from The Lost Years; but when the rubber hits the road, Beahoram folds distressingly easily.
I’m really curious about Rebecca Neason’s background, but unfortunately, there isn’t much information about her out there, and at this point few if any new and/or revelatory facts are liable to surface.1 Even though it took ages to achieve publication, I’m glad it did, because it brought a subject to the foreground that rarely gets more than a passing glance in Star Trek. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and it’s certainly not going to blow anyone’s mind, but it deserves a touch of recognition for bringing something at least slightly unique to the table.
MVP & LVP
- The MVP I’ve chosen this week is Mother Veronica, who gets put through the wringer in this book such that one could credibly accuse Picard and Troi of treating her more like a tool than a person. Mother Veronica essentially has a little under 300 pages to move beyond a childhood trauma and learn how to use telepathic she’s grown up being ashamed of and trying to hide, and that’s a huge order. It’s honestly quite a bit more than one can reasonably expect of an episodic installment, not to mention the fact that Picard and Troi’s extreme reliance on her does a disservice to their usual ingenuity.
- My LVP this week is Guinan. There’s a subplot in Guises of the Mind where Data becomes curious about religious belief and asks various crew members—most of whom don’t get anything else to do in the story—for their takes. Beverly and Geordi give him noncommittal answers, but Guinan ultimately concludes that whatever you believe, that’s correct. This is a reassuringly squishy answer, but there are several things wrong with it. For one, we all eventually have to decide that one way or thing is right and the rest of them are wrong, or at the very least not right for us. (See? I’m doing the hedging thing right now!!) Additionally, it must in the fullness of time bear out that way—probably not within our lifetimes, but never say never. The main thing is that this wishy-washy vibe doesn’t mesh very well with the specifically Christian angle Neason has established both through the way she started off the book and through her background. In a less specific context this wouldn’t have stood out so much, but it just doesn’t work at all with what she’s going for and really leaves Guinan with the short straw.
Nuggets & Other Stray Bits
- Throughout the book, 30 is posited as a holy number in Capulonii culture, and the way chapters are broken up in this book, it feels like it might be on track to end on that number. So it comes as a mighty huge disappointment when it clocks in at 27 (28 if you include the epilogue). A real missed opportunity there!
- The letters don’t track one-to-one, but I have a suspicion that Beahoram is a pseudo-anagram of Rehoboam, who in the Bible went to war with his brothers after they broke off from Judah and formed a new Kingdom of Israel. It’s so thematically resonant I’m not sure I can be convinced it’s a coincidence.
I just barely recommend Guises of the Mind, though not without a few caveats. It’s right on the edge of what I would consider recommendable. Depending on your tolerance for religion and discussions thereof, you might despise this book, or you might get something out of it that you wouldn’t expect to normally get out of a Star Trek novel. Outside of that, it’s a serviceable adventure with some decent action and some good character work for Counselor Troi and Captain Picard. Definitely not a must-read, but a choice off the beaten path if you’re looking for something that checks some unusual boxes.
NEXT TIME: Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines for The Great Starship Race