Surak’s Soul, by J. M. Dillard

I have reflected deeply on the situation.  The only way to properly maintain my Vulcan ethics is to return to the strictest original teachings of Surak.  For that reason, I cannot condone violence of any kind; and for that reason, I must inform you that I will no longer carry or use any type of weapon.
-Subcommander T’Pol of the starship Enterprise


Sometimes, there is nothing you can do.  You might not have the tools to fix a problem; you might not have the knowledge needed to help.  And sometimes, you’re just too late.  This is a lesson that Captain Jonathan Archer and the crew of the Enterprise are about to learn again.

Arriving at an alien world, after answering what Hoshi Sato believes is a distress call, the crew of Enterprise discovers that just about everyone on that world is dead.  The last ones die as the landing party tries to track down any survivors-and the last one assaults Hoshi, only be to stunned by T’Pol with her phase pistol.  However, his weakened condition isn’t up to handling that kind of hit, and dies from the blast.  This event (in combination with a couple references to an earlier episode in the series) causes her wonder if she has drifted away from the teachings of the most revered figure in Vulcan history.  This is the backdrop of the novel Surak’s Soul.

In spite of the title, the major plot of the book has little to do with Vulcan or Surak, although T’Pol’s crisis of conscience does color her attitude throughout the book.  The plot itself is driven by the crew’s attempts to discover exactly what killed the people of that world-and how to avoid that fate themselves, since the landing party had also exposed itself to whatever influences might have done the job.  They also pick up some aid from an alien life form that can only telepathically communicate through T’Pol; the alien may also have some insight on the fate of the inhabitants of the doomed planet.  Things are never as simple as it seems, however, as translations of the medical logs begin to point to a very dangerous conclusion.

Enterprise, I’ll confess, has been slowly losing my interest as a television series; certain storylines have irritated me greatly, and some of that may bleed over into reviews on the books based on this series.  But I’ve also liked Dillard’s novelizations of Star Trek movies, and that was a point in favor of Surak’s Soul.  Dillard has managed to capture the characters for the most part (more on that in a moment), as well as the feeling that Enterprise is, after all, the first human ship to go so far from Earth-and as such, every situation is a new one for them.  Interactions between the crew seem like they’ve come right out of the television series, especially in the conversations outside of “crisis mode”-and a couple make use of past events in the series.  It becomes a lot easier to write these novels when you have a better handle on the characters, and that only comes about after a number of episodes.

I did have a little bit of a problem with T’Pol’s problem, however; not so much that she was having this crisis-if there’s one thing the series has prepared me for, it’s seeing T’Pol acting a little too irrationally (for a Vulcan, that is).  As the quote above hints, T’Pol is quite unwilling to use any weapons, under any circumstances, to harm anyone-even in self defense.  While this is an admirable position in most circumstances, it’s not exactly what you want to hear from the person who is the second-in-command of your starship, who may easily be in a situation where she is to be responsible for a significant number of lives other than her own.  And the philosophy can be taken to excessive extremes (pointed out later in the book).  She also seems to be a little too trusting-where’s that healthy skepticism that keeps denying the existence of time travel in spite of several brushes with that phenomenon?  In spite of this, however, I rather liked a flashback while T’Pol is trying to work things out where a Vulcan Kolinahr master draws an interesting comparison between Surak and another man dedicated to peace (one who wouldn’t come to mind immediately on Vulcan).

All in all, Surak’s Soul seems like it would translate fairly well into an Enterprise episode, and likely would be one of the better ones (although not necessarily without it’s faults).  It’s not a deep novel, but it doesn’t have to be-Enterprise runs into a problem, a member of the crew undergoes a crisis, and some twists aren’t a bad recipe for a Star Trek book; and the fact that it isn’t a complicated plot makes it extremely easy to read.  Truth to tell, if someone were looking to start reading Trek books, Surak’s Soul would be a better choice than many.

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