on 19 May 2005
One of the common things about the books in Star Trek's A Time to... series is that the two books by the same author are just one continuing story. There's a cliffhanger at the end of the first book and then the second one goes on from there. While David Mack's A Time to Heal is the same in this respect, it is much different in tone and substance from it's predecessor, A Time to Kill. The first book had very short chapters and moved at a frenetic pace. The political intrigue was there, but it was mixed in with six separate special operations missions that filled the book with the tension of one thing going wrong making the whole thing fall to pieces. A Time to Heal, instead, is much more introspective. There is still a lot of violence (and the infamous David Mack body count), but the passages are much longer, the violence much more personal, and the deaths a lot more meaningful. This is another outstanding book.
The planet Tezwa is under Federation occupation, as it was the only way to keep the secret that the Federation government had given advanced weapons to its despotic leader, Kinchawn, hidden. Kinchawn and his government escaped, however, and captured Commander Riker in the process. They head an insurgency of terror that kills many Starfleet officers as well as natives of the planet in bombings and other terror attacks. Captain Picard and the Enterprise head a fleet of Starfleet vessels to help the new Tezwan government maintain control, as well as to hunt Kinchawn down. Unbeknownst to them, many of their clean-up orders are designed to remove all evidence of the government's secrets. As things begin to spiral out of control on Tezwa, more and more Starfleet officers are killed, but Picard's crew also begin uncovering what really happened. If they are allowed to continue, a government could fall. Or is that exactly what Section 31, the infamous secret intelligence organization, wants?
I'll get the obvious out of the way first. Yes, this book reads like a novel about the war in Iraq, and if you want to see it as a political novel, you're more than welcome to. Personally, I think there's enough ambiguity in the book that it's not clear that Mack is using it to make a political statement. Personally, I choose to read it as a novel set in a situation similar, but not exactly the same. Mack has obviously used current events as a springboard to an interesting story, and that's all I'm interested in.
And the story *is* interesting. In many of my reviews of this series, I have stated how wonderful it is that we are getting to know various other crewmembers of the Enterprise in some detail. This comes to a head in A Time to Heal, as many of these people we have come to know die pretty tragically in this book. Some do survive, so you are still able to be surprised when a death finally happens. Mack's ability to make each death felt by the reader is unmatched. These are not just faceless characters, given a character trait or two for identification, ready to be bumped off at a moment's notice. The carnage really does begin to affect you. While the book is extremely interesting, this causes it to be a little depressing and hard to get through as well.
In fact, that's probably the major strike against the book. It gets very oppressive very quickly and then stays that way for long passages. The death and destruction is vividly told, but it's also constant. Thus, it may not fit what you expect a Star Trek novel to be and you may not enjoy it. If you skip it, however, you will be missing one of the pivotal books in the whole Star Trek series, as events in this novel lead into both the next book (A Time for War, A Time for Peace) and the continuation of both Riker's story as captain of the Titan (Taking Wing) and the Enterprise's story (A Death in Winter). Just be ready for a little grimness before all of this.
The characterization in A Time to Heal is much the same as in the previous book. Beverly Crusher gets a lot more characterization as she not only starts leaning toward accepting the position at Starfleet Medical, but finds a love interest that may spur Picard into finally making a move on her after all these years of guilt-ridden friendship. The scene where Picard comes to her quarters for breakfast and discovers crumpled sheets is wonderful. Riker gets to act all stoic as he's held prisoner for most of the book, and Troi gets some counseling of her own, which isn't quite as interesting. LaForge and Data are mostly characterized through their attempts to track down what's really happening, though Data gets a lot of development as the acting first officer in Riker's absence. In fact, that may be the best part of the book, as we get to see him in action, running constant battle drills because of the situation that they're in. It's a vivid contrast to Riker's command style, and it's a major impetus for Riker when he finally returns.
The only character who suffered much was actually Picard, as he's not really prominent in the book. He seems to be very "hands-off" during the occupation and he doesn't seem very effective. Most of the concentration in the book is on everybody else, so that's not necessarily a bad thing. He just doesn't seem to be as "in charge" as he usually does, which doesn't seem like him. He really comes into his own during the conversation with the admirals, near the end of the book. He steers them around to his way of thinking very nicely.
All in all, A Time to Heal is a wonderful book that's just hard to get through at times. The continuing violence gets a bit monotonous after a while, but the attempts by the government to cover up what's really going on do help to break that up a little. What we're left with is a great book that leads into the final book in the series. If you're thinking of continuing the Next Generation saga, then this book is definitely important. Feel free to read whatever politics you want into it as well.