Enterprise is on the way to negotiations with the Maabas when a Kenisian ship attacks and claims the Maabas' homeplanet as their long lost homeworld from which they were driven off millennia ago by unknown conquerors - the same ones which centuries later attacked the Maabas and caused them to settle down on the now abandoned planet. Kirk tries to forge an agreement, and the Maabas even suggest that they are willing to share the planet, but it turns out that the Kenisians are more interested in a research facility that they left behind... and waging war on their erstwhile conquerors because the Kenisian mind contains the consciousness of their ancestors.
This is an interesting novel on more than one level. As with Galanter's previous entry "Troublesome Minds" this reads like a TV-episode, everybody had something to contribute and the portrayal of the "species of the week" (in this case plural), especially contrasting their different coping mechanisms concerning the same events in their pasts, was engaging. Another distinct plus is the fact that the plot was unpredictable enough with twists and turns to keep me on my toes. Things are not what they seem to be, and mere scanner data turns out to be unreliable when only viewed through the prism of fear and hatred.
Essentially, this novel focuses on the question of how different cultures react to one and the same event. Both the Maabas and the Kenisians were attacked and driven off their home planets. Whereas the Maabas reacted by focusing on themselves, essentially closing themselves off for a long time, just now reaching out to other species (although I couldn't quite see the xenophobia that is mentionned throughout, a certain wariness perhaps, but at least the characters we saw were open-minded and pleasant towards new species, even the attacking and threatening Kenisians), the Kenisians cultivated their hatred for the conquerors. Not surprising really, given the fact that the minds of the then attacked people reside within the consciousness of the now acting parties. The Kenisians are described as Vulcanoid, and indeed, they share their looks but also their telepathic abilities (When exactly did they split off the Vulcans? Before or after the Romulans?) - and they developed their own use of "katras" in a kind of amalgamation of the Trill symbiote giving every new host the experience of a previous one, and of course, the Vulcan-style katra. But in both cases the person carrying the katra/symbiote is a clear individual - he or she decides what to do. In the Kenisian case, though, it's a constant struggle between katra and the person carrying them, in the book the person is called a "multividual", up to the katras imposing their will, sort of continuing to live their life, just in another body. Which is what leads to the continued fear and oppression of the erstwhile conquering species and the inability to distance themselves from past and painful events - something which you see every day even in people not influenced by past lives... I'd like to revisit the Maabas and Kenisians on their now shared planet at some point in the future, see how their different views of the world are influencing each other. This point, sharing a planet, having vastly different attitudes should perhaps have been more than merely an afterthought, though. And speaking of katras: Since this novel is set before TWOK or TSS, Galanter treads a fine line revealing this Vulcan custom to the rest of the crew, just remaining inside the canon knowledge.
The second facet of this novel is Spock's role in preventing the Kenisians to deploy a weapon that could essentially rip whole solar systems apart. He gets kidnapped to help them work out some kinks with the device (which they were after on the Maabas homeplanet), and essentially finds himself alone with the Enterprise as uncertain backup. When convential means such as delaying tactics or faking information don't work he resorts to using his mental powers, essentially forcing mindmelds and reinforcing the internal struggle within every Kenisian after showing them means to separate the individual from the various katras. As logical as that decision was, Spock is revolted... and takes the first steps to learn about Kolinahr, to purge his logical mind of those feelings of unease and disgust. Actually, we see a Spock later on in "The Undiscovered Country", arguably doing a much more harmful sort of mind-rape for the "greater good", but then again, before that one he had abandoned Kolinahr, died and been resurrected... and no one bats an eyelid about his actions. Which disturbed me greatly, and some novels tried to show the aftermath of and reactions to his actions. Galanter's Spock is pretty straight-forward, his decision-making process relatable which makes his "solution" palatable and his moral conflict certainly sensible. And his struggle is reinforced by the fact that the Kenisian leader early on in the story uses a mindmeld on Kirk which he didn't consent to to get her way... an act by which everyone was horrified. Granted, the circumstances of and the reasons for these acts may not be comparable but it's interesting that Galanter chose this as one reason for Kolinahr, especially in the context of canon usage of mind-melds later on.
The downside of this novel is the Enterprise-side of things. They rush to Spock's rescue, but get delayed by every means possible, attacks, mines, even space pirates (which reminded me a bit of those Pakled, with a touch of Ferengi, I guess)... which gets a bit repetitive and drags out too long. There are a few nice scenes, and everyone gets their opportunity to shine (although why McCoy should diagnose someone who just hit his head and has a bleeding head wound with an aneurysm instead of a concussion, or why Scotty should suffer from noteworthy "internal bleeding" in his broken wrist - since every bone has blood circulation, a broken bone means that there's blood in the surrounding tissue - with nothing indicating a damaged radial/ulnar blood vessels compromising the circulation in his hand, remains a mystery to this medical mind), but it's just not the most interesting part of the story, just a tactic to force Spock to do things by "any means necessary", as ordered by Kirk.
Overall, Galanter again tells an intriguing story, introduces an interesting moral dilemma and shows that he has a great handle on the TOS-characters and their interaction. Unfortunately, especially in the second part it all gets weighed down a bit by passages that could have easily been shortened or even cut without damaging the integrity of the plot. Still an enjoyable read - and I'm definitely on the look-out for more TOS books by this author.