by Gerard F. Conway
Reviewed date: 2019 Jul 12
Rating: 1
191 pages
cover art

I like to see growth in a character, but that growth should come sometime before the last two pages of the book.

Faster-than-light travel through hyperspace is possible in ships powered by psionic energy. A typical "mindship" crew is made up of Sensitives who have powers of telepathy and Physicals who do not. While a mindship is in flight, the properties of hyperspace inflame emotions. Love, anger, hate, loathing, etc. run high in all crew members, Sensitive and Physical alike.

The most important individual on a mindship is the Cork. The Cork is a Sensitive whose job is to take those inflamed emotions, drain them away and channel the mental energy to the ship's Engineer, who uses the energy to drive the ship through hyperspace. The Cork is also responsible for ensuring that the crew's emotions never boil over into violence and that nobody goes insane, even as the crew is perpetually on the knife's edge of emotional overload. Corks have a tendency to burn out or fail catastrophically. A blown Cork can die, and without a Cork, the mindship crew may die or go mad as well.

Corking is a dangerous job.

James Kilgarin is a retired Cork ekeing out a living on the colony world Endrim. The Company mindship Charter arrives with news of his brother's death. Marc Kilgarin had signed on as Charter's Cork, and the job killed him. James blames Charter's captain for his Marc's death, and he signs on to finish Marc's contract, with the goal of learning just why the Captain killed his brother.

James Kilgarin is an unlikeable man. He may be a sociopath. When we first meet him, he's running a brothel on Endrim. When he signs on as Charter's Cork, he pays a visit to his special lady friend, Marka, and announces he's leaving--basically asking her to come along. Then he walks away. He repeats this performance with his friend Raymond.

Both Marka and Raymond sign up and join him on the mindship. He appears not to appreciate this at all. Despite having basically asked them to come along, he spends the voyage avoiding them. He refuses to talk to them, tells them he doesn't want to be friends, and asks to be left alone. All he wants is a little bit of help from them when the time comes, but he doesn't want to be friends.

Mostly Kilgarin drinks. Well, drinks and refuses to do his job. He neglects his duties as Cork. Emotions boil over, violence breaks out, crew members die. Kilgarin uses his Sensitive powers to forcefully root through the minds of several crew members, including (finally) the Captain, to learn why his brother Marc died. And he gets into lots of violent fights at the various ports of call--although this seems to be part of his job. I guess the Company mindships are expected to beat up and terrorize the colonists on the various worlds they visit. The Company is a brutal overload.

In the end, Kilgarin finds out why his brother died: the Captain had some serious PTSD and guilt about a traumatic experience he had as a kid, and saw himself in the young Marc Kilgarin. And that, apparently, made him want to kill "himself", that is, kill Marc Kilgarin. So he signed him up as Cork despite knowing that Marc was inexperienced and would never survive the job.

Kilgarin uses his Sensitive mental powers to heal the Captain so that he remembers his traumatic childhood experience, but removes the psychic scars so that he can function normally.

And in the last two pages of the book, Kilgarin admits that he's a terrible person who uses other people for his own selfish ends. He even has the self-awareness to admit that his brothel was the ultimate logical extension of his attitudes toward others: what better way to use others than to literally own their bodies?

He decides to change.

It's not a satisfactory ending.

Archive | Search