“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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