Monday, August 13, 2018

Mudd in Your Eye

Star Trek #81
Mudd in Your Eye by Jerry Oltion
Published January 1997
Read September 12th 2017

Previous book (The Original Series): #80: The Joy Machine

Next book (The Original Series): #82: Mind Meld

Mass-market paperback: | |
E-book (Kindle): | |

Spoilers ahead for Mudd in Your Eye!

From the back cover:
After millennia of warfare, the planets Prastor and Distrel may have finally achieved a lasting peace. Investigating on behalf of the Federation, Captain Kirk is shocked to find out that the architect of the peace is none other than that notorious con artist, Harcourt Fenton Mudd! Mudd claims to be a changed man, but Kirk has his doubts. He knows that Mudd has to be running some sort of scam, but what is he up to? Kirk must find out soon--before the peace gives way to unending war.

My thoughts:

Mudd in Your Eye is set during the Star Trek original 5-year mission, sometime after the episode "I, Mudd." In this tale, the Enterprise finds itself traveling to a planetary system that has recently ended a centuries-long conflict. At the heart of this new and unexpected peace is the notorious con-man, Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Is his new role as peacemaker a sign of altruism blooming in the heart of this once-despicable man? No, of course not. He's Harry Mudd, after all.

I initially read Mudd in Your Eye for an episode of Literary Treks in the lead-up to the new series, Star Trek: Discovery. We had learned that Mudd would be a character on the show and decided to do a sort of tie-in episode about a book that examines his character. With precious few to choose from (although I suppose the Bantam novel Mudd's Angels from 1978 could have been a contender), we dove into Mudd in Your Eye in the hopes that it would provide some insight into the Mudd character we didn't have before. If nothing else, having since seen the first season of Discovery, I feel that his characterization in Mudd in Your Eye kind of serves to bridge the differences between Roger C. Carmel's portrayal of the character in "Mudd's Women" and "I, Mudd" (and "Mudd's Passion") and Rainn Wilson's interpretation in the Discovery episodes "Choose Your Pain" and "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad." This may be the due to the fact that in a novel, we spend more time with the character, and he must thus be written more realistically than in an episode of TOS. While he certainly retains his buffoonish qualities, the character has a deeper side to him here. Although, not that much deeper. He is, as I have said previously, still Harry Mudd.

I found that Harry Mudd's characterization in Mudd in Your Eye served to balance the two Harry Mudds we have seen in canon Star Trek, in my mind at least.

While Harry Mudd is an interesting character in this novel, I find myself much more drawn to the alien culture depicted here. We spend much of the story in the dark about the motivations that drive the Prastor and Distrel in their centuries-long conflict, seemingly over a piece of fruit and which of the two worlds has the right to eat the best part of it. Yeah, no, I'm serious. It may seem like a ridiculous reason to fight a war, but honestly, what exactly is a non-ridiculous reason to kill when it comes right down to it?

We soon learn that the entire culture is run by computer (another TOS trope, but used fairly well here). In the case of these two worlds, when one is killed in honorable combat, they are transported to "Arnhall" to be assigned to their new life. Soon, they are resurrected on the opposite planet. For example, if you are killed on Prastor, you begin your new life on Distrel, and vice versa. Because the computer preserves your pattern and can resurrect you, fighting and killing has become a way of life for this culture. It's really a fascinating pair of worlds that Jerry Oltion has set up here, and Mudd in Your Eye becomes a novel that would be well-served by a re-read once the reader understands what is going on.

Unfortunately, the system of resurrection creates what, to my mind, are a few narrative annoyances in the story. Because this system exists, we of course get a situation in which multiple main characters are killed while on the planet surface. We are expected to believe that Kirk, Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty, all of whom have survived many dangerous missions in the past, are all killed. They are killed, of course, because there is a mechanism in place to resurrect them. We as readers know they cannot possibly be dead, but the novel drags out the situation before finally revealing them to be alive. While obvious, it still rankled somewhat that the story relied on this misdirection for as long as it did.

"He's dead, Jim!"
No. No he's not.

There are, however, some amusing repercussions of the situation in the novel. Kirk's "second death" in the story comes out of nowhere, and while gruesome, it did have me laughing out loud.

The primary conflict in the novel comes when the resurrection system attempts to revive Harry's android keeper, a replica of Stella, his wife that Harry left behind when he went into space. The system doesn't know what to do as the strange pattern effectively "jams" the system, and people on both sides seem to begin dying for real. The ultimate solution to this problem was certainly interesting, and it meant we got to see the "real" Stella, something that Star Trek: Discovery ended up doing as well.

We see the "real" Stella, both in this novel and in the Discovery episode "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad."

Final thoughts:

Mudd in Your Eye is definitely an enjoyable TOS adventure, with some fascinating world-building. I was never the biggest fan of Harry Mudd, but his character is a little more well-rounded in this novel. His final gambit at the end of the story in order to get away once again was inspired, and I have to admit to being as fooled as Captain Kirk was. A fun story with an interesting premise that held my attention, Mudd in Your Eye would benefit from a re-read due to the twists we learn later in the story. Some narrative choices knock the score down a little bit in my opinion, but not egregiously. 3/5 stars.

More about Mudd in Your Eye:

Also by Jerry Oltion

My next read:

Next up: a classic Star Trek hardcover: Sarek by A.C. Crispin!

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