With The Children of Hamlin by Carmen Carter it feels like we’re settling into a rhythm. The first book strained the characters in ways that didn’t feel realistic. Picard was a grumpy old git, Troi was flimsy, Riker was racked with self-doubt. By #3 though that stuff is ironed out, and the characters are basically acting as they should. The story is about the Children of Hamlin, who were abducted from their settlement by the Choraii, a bunch of crazy musical aliens. Of course it riffs off the story of the Pied Piper, but that never jars. In fact it’s all very understated- as TNG always is at its best.
The deal is this- the Choraii wiped out the outpost of Hamlin and stole the children 40 years ago. Everybody knows about the Hamlin massacre. It gives Picard heart-burn to think of it. Now 40 years have passed, and the abductees will be grown up. For the past 10 years the Federation has been conducting top-secret trades with the Hamlin for the ‘children’, giving small amounts of raw metal (lead, zinc, gold) in exchange.
The problem is the children are barely human any more. They have adapted to life on Choraii ships, breathing in liquid oxygen, weightless, constantly surrounded by the Choraii’s musical language. When they come back to the Federation- they just die. They can’t adjust.
There are no happy endings in this story. It’s simple and stark. There’s no way for Picard to blast his way out of the problem, no easy answer- what TNG did best. He, and the crew along with him, must simply bear it. The ‘children’ are essentially irrecoverable.
The story has lots of modern day analogs. Stockholm Syndrome is one- where kidnapped peoples come to sympathize with their captors. Another is the situation between North Korea and Japan. Some 40 or so years ago North Korea infiltrated Japan and kidnapped hundreds of Japanese citizens. The thought is they hoped to learn from them what made Japan strong, and copy it. Their adbuction was covered up by the Japanese government at first, but information has been coming to light for years now. Many of them are still over there. Mentioning the abductions often brings out a welter of strong opinion. One woman who had her child abducted is especially famous for being on TV and heart-rendingly asking for them back. Who knows though if they even could return and reassimilate? Perhaps it’s impossible now.
An interesting second plot involves the Oregon farmers. They’re on board the Enterprise being transported to a new colony planet. They’re basically like the Amish, believing in minimal use of technology. They serve no purpose in the wider story at all, but I didn’t begrudge their presence. Many TNG episodes had this kind of dual structure, with unrelated stories happening at once. Kind of a day-in-the-life of the Enterprise. In fact I think these Oregon farmers may have actually made it to the screen at some point. Either way, it was nice.
A good book, 4 out of 5.