“The Mind Traders” by J Hunter Holly (1966)

A place of crawl­ing spi­ders and poi­so­nous snakes — where night­mares came true.

That was The Black, where men were pun­ished for chal­leng­ing minds more pow­er­ful and their own. The detec­tive from Earth feared The Black more than any tor­ture his own plan­et could con­ceive. But he had to uncov­er the sin­is­ter plot that threat­ened Earth and all its people.

Descrip­tion: On Rig­an, an alien plan­et where the soci­ety is rigid­ly struc­tured accord­ing to the rel­a­tive tele­path­ic pow­er to con­trol oth­ers, some­one is tak­ing advan­tage of that pow­er to kid­nap defense­less humans and pos­si­bly the natives as well. Mor­gan Sell­ers, an inves­ti­ga­tor from Earth, is matched with Jael Forty, a native inves­ti­ga­tor with lit­tle expe­ri­ence in this sit­u­a­tion as crime on that world of this type is very scarce. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the class­es is severe­ly lim­it­ed, adding to the dif­fi­cul­ty. To obvi­ate that, the human inves­ti­ga­tor is dis­guised as a Trav­el­er, a native alien with­out the tele­path­ic pow­er, one that can pass among all of the class­es with­out draw­ing a chal­lenge, pro­tect­ed from tele­path­ic con­trol by the same rigid class structure.

Jael is a 40, mean­ing he is of the class that con­trols 40 tele­path­i­cal­ly infe­ri­or natives, although it is not shown exact­ly how he does that in prac­tice: how­ev­er, dur­ing the sto­ry, he is shown advanc­ing to become a 50, which is also a plot point that will affect the actu­al res­o­lu­tion of the mystery.

Com­men­tary: “The Mind Traders” is a much more mem­o­rable sto­ry than “The Fly­ing Eyes” by the same author. The depic­tions of the rigid class struc­ture sticks in the mind long after the sto­ry is over: the way the dif­fer­ent class­es seg­re­gate at par­ties, the way dress col­or (Trav­el­ers wear red, 40s were green) indi­cates class, the def­er­en­tial way sub­or­di­nate class­es must address high­er class­es, the men­tal bat­tles that deter­mine ris­ing in class­es. It also shows the dif­fi­cul­ties involved in hav­ing and main­tain­ing that social struc­ture, espe­cial­ly when that soci­ety comes into con­flict with anoth­er soci­ety, and the res­o­lu­tion of the plot sug­gests dras­tic changes to the soci­ety as a result.

Rec­om­men­da­tion: Rec­om­mend­ed more for the soci­etal depic­tion than any­thing else. It shows just how a soci­ety com­prised of mind con­trol­ling telepaths can exist, what lim­i­ta­tions came about to pre­serve the soci­ety and the indi­vid­u­als and how it has adapt­ed to main­tain itself. As a mys­tery it is most­ly flat, the major mys­tery being how the soci­ety works, not so much the actu­al crimes involved. It should also be not­ed that while the Rig­ans are capa­ble of tele­path­ic mind con­trol, they are not com­mu­ni­cat­ing telepaths but they are empaths.

Also of inter­est is the method of pun­ish­ment called “The Black”. From the descrip­tions, it appears to be a total iso­la­tion of all out­side stim­uli, a com­plete men­tal cut-off from the out­side world, which allows all of the inter­nal night­mares full reign with­in the con­scious­ness, pos­si­bly fos­tered by the one enforc­ing The Black. It is the main pun­ish­ment for trans­gres­sions on Rig­an oth­er than being Controlled.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly the title leaves some­thing to be decid­ed, as it just isn’t as descrip­tive as “The Fly­ing Eyes”: some­thing like “The Mind Mas­ters” or “The Mind Rob­bers” would have much more descriptive.

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