Friday, March 1, 2019

A Time to Heal

Star Trek: The Next Generation
A Time to Heal by David Mack
Published September 2004
Read November 13th 2018

Previous book (A Time To): A Time to Kill

Next book (A Time To): A Time for War, A Time for Peace

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E-book (Kindle): | |

Spoilers ahead for A Time to Heal

From the back cover:
A cataclysmic war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire has been miraculously averted, and a new government is finally in place on the planet Tezwa. But deadly secrets still threaten the fragile peace accord. 
Rebels still loyal to the old Tezwa regime have captured Commander Riker and are willing to kill to achieve their goals...the Orion Syndicate is interfering in the rebuilding -- and may also be involved in much more than that. But the most devastating revelation of all threatens the very foundations of the Federation itself -- leaving Captain Picard to possibly face the very conflict that he labored so hard to prevent....

My thoughts:

 A Time to Heal is the eighth book of the A Time To series, and the conclusion of a duology consisting of this book and the previous one, A Time to Kill.

While I have enjoyed the A Time To series overall, there is one aspect of the format that has been bugging me. The stories themselves are interesting and engaging, but in previous duologies, the stopping point between books one and two have seemed arbitrary. Usually, there's some sort of cliffhanger, and it feels like "Part I" and "Part II" of a Star Trek television episode. This may indeed have been what the authors were going for, but it irks me when a book doesn't feel like a complete story, even when it's an installment in a series.

However, A Time to Kill and A Time to Heal do not exhibit this issue. The story in this novel is very different from A Time to Kill. While the story does indeed continue in Heal, the pacing and atmosphere of both books are very different. And each novel feels like a complete story, which I was very appreciative of.

From the very start, A Time to Heal distinguishes itself from the previous book. While A Time to Kill was a fast-paced action/adventure, A Time to Heal is much more contemplative. If the first book is the story of the invasion and capture of Tezwa, the second is the story of the long slog of occupation. Reviews I've seen online say that the novel is "slow going," and comparing it to A Time to Kill, that's certainly true. But it's telling a very different story, and I felt that the pacing was entirely appropriate for the events of the novel. Starfleet forces, now occupying Tezwa, are trying to bring aid and support to the population, all the while under constant attack by forces loyal to deposed leader Kinshawn. As David Mack said in Literary Treks 250, if A Time to Kill is the 2003 invasion of Iraq, A Time to Heal is the long, brutal, and bloody 8-year occupation that followed.

Deanna Troi faces her demons in A Time to Heal.

Commander Riker, who was captured by Kinshawn's forces at the end of the last novel, is imprisoned and tortured for information. On the Enterprise, Deanna Troi questions one of Kinshawn's generals, who has been captured by Starfleet. This section of the story was certainly difficult to read, but it comes with some hard lessons, both for Deanna and for the reader. Deanna, desperate to get Riker back, ends up resorting to interrogation methods that push the boundary of the definition of "torture." These methods, of course, turn out to be ineffectual, proving that torture is designed not to get information but simply to inflict pain. At the end of the novel, Deanna has to come to terms with her feelings and what she has done.

A Time to Heal isn't, by any stretch, a light tale. There are some heavy themes being explored in its pages, but David Mack does an excellent job of crafting an engaging story that explores these issues in a mature and thoughtful way. War is never pretty, but Star Trek has tended to present a fairly sanitized version of war. Not so in this novel; men and women whom we have come to know well in the A Time To series are senselessly killed, and horrors are visited upon the crew and the people of Tezwa that would look very familiar to anyone who has been in armed combat.

War is stupid, senseless, and bloody. A Time to Heal presents that awful truth in a stark and uncompromising way.

Star Trek's vision of warfare tends to be very sanitized. Not so in A Time to Heal.

The fallout from these events continue into the next novel, A Time for War, A Time for Peace by Keith R.A. DeCandido. The conflict on Tezwa and the resulting suffering stems from actions taken by President Min Zife of the Federation, and his decision to cover them up rather than face the consequences. And the consequences that result from those decisions affect the Star Trek literary universe, even up to the present releases.

A Time to Heal also has a lot of great character work for the rest of the TNG cast as well. Geordi gets some interesting stuff to play with as he slowly pieces together the basis of the conspiracy that the Federation president has been party to; Picard and Crusher face the fact that their relationship has deteriorated as Beverly decides to move on to Starfleet Medical; and in a bit that I loved in particular, Riker acknowledges that his hesitation to move on to his own captaincy has had a detrimental effect on not only his own career, but that of Data, who deserves to move up into the first officer position at long last. Tragically, us fans who have seen Star Trek Nemesis know that he will not have the chance to take that promotion.

Final thoughts:

Overall, A Time to Heal is an excellent novel, showing the true difficulty and associated horrors of a prolonged military occupation. David Mack pulls no punches with this one, subjecting our heroes to a quagmire that was clearly inspired by real-life events in our very recent cultural memory. While the subject matter is certainly dark, Mack never loses sight of the humanity of the characters, presenting us with a story that will, sadly, be relevant for a long time to come.

More about A Time to Heal:

Also by David Mack:

A Time To...

My next read:

Next up is my review of the second book in the I.K.S. Gorkon series: Honor Bound by Keith R.A. DeCandido.

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