Writer: Gerard F. Conway
First Publication: 1974
Some books hold a special place in your memory. Way back in 1974, I was looking for authors to follow. At that point I was already hooked on the Perry Rhodan series and started on my lifelong Isaac Asimov fandom. “Mindship” was the 90th book published by DAW Books. I had enjoyed other DAW Books such as the works by A. E. Van Vogt, D. G. Compton, Andre Norton, and E. C. Tubb. This book stood out because of the author’s name and the Kelly Freas cover. I was also a big fan of comic books, and still am, and remembered reading in a letter column that one of my favorite comic book writers had a new science fiction book published. When writing science fiction, he used his full name Gerard F. Conway. In the comic book world he was known as Gerry Conway. One of the comics he was best known for writing was a two-part story in the Amazing Spider-Man. The story showed the death of Gwen Stacy in part one and the death of the Green Goblin in the second. At the time I did not know that he had his first novel published by Terry Carr in the Ace Science Fiction Special series. In the last few years, I tracked down his first novel, “The Midnight Dancers”, but was not impressed by it. While on vacation this summer, I decided it was time to re-read this old favorite of mine. I have not read it since my original reading back in 1974.
The prologue of “Mindship” appeared in a different form in Terry Carr’s first Universe anthology under the name of “Cork”. The cork is a sensitive (psychic) who reads the emotions of the ship’s crew. The job of the cork is to smooth over negative emotions, get the crew to work together, and channel the strong emotions to the ship’s engineer. The emotions are converted into the energy that runs the ship, hence the ships are called mindships. Unfortunately, due to the stress they are under, the corks tend to suffer a career ending breakdown. The main ship of this story has limped back to a base after it’s cork breaks down. The captain finds a very young cork and recruits him. When the ship comes into contact with a black hole, the young cork dies due to the actions of the captain. The main story is focused on the older brother of the young cork. Kilgarin retired from being a cork before suffering a breakdown. He suspects that foul play was involved in his brother’s death so he takes his place.
To put it mildly, Kilgarin is not a nice person. He is not sympathetic to his friends and will use anyone to reach his goals. This book is a combination travelogue of the planets they visit, the mystery of what happened to his brother, and Kilgarin’s descent down darker and darker paths to get to the bottom of the mystery. Characters die due to his neglect. A cork is supposed to make a ship run smooth but he does more damage to the psyche of his crewmates than he should. Through it all, Conway keeps the reader interested in his protagonist. Kilgarin and the crew are fascinating individuals. By the end of the book, he becomes a different person. Some of the relationships he has damaged are broken beyond repair. If you are looking for a book where the hero gets the girl and everything is set right, avoid this book. Just like in the real world, things do not end the way we would like them to. Conway makes his characters come to life. It is easy to thing that they are based on real people.
Highly recommended. After all these years it is still a favorite of mine.