Friday, May 28, 2004

Random more-or-less relevant notes

Although Decipher hasn't issued any new Star Trek role playing game books in months, they have posted a few adventure scenarios in pdf format on their website, including a new one uploaded only three weeks ago (hey, I've been away).

Still waiting for the Star Trek comic reprint book Star Trek: The Key Collection Volume 1, but now they have some info on Volume 2, due in September. The cover of the first volume is clearly inspired by the cover of the 1976 Gold Key Enterprise Logs reprint collection, but the new second volume's cover bears no resemblance to the 1970s second volume. Compare and contrast:

I've slightly updated the Complete Starfleet Library web page, adding that Star Trek: Technologies of Disappearance book and a couple new Pocket books.

Worlds of Deep Space Nine Volume One

My review, as posted on the Trek BBS:



Cardassia, as the beginning of this year's set of DS9 books, seems to take a slightly different approach this time around. It starts in medias res and has a tighter focus than we get in some DS9 novels. Though we have viewpoint shifts between Garak, Miles, and Keiko, it's still all Cardassia, all the time. It's not a direct follow-on from Unity, in that some time has clearly passed, and I wonder if some fans will be a bit annoyed that they don't get to see all the regulars hanging out together and having a nice time. That sort of thing doesn't really move the story forwards at all, though, and we do get to see everyone in Unity, so it's just as well that this follows the example the TV series set by occasionally jumping ahead a few weeks or months between seasons. With shorter stories, it's best to get right into the story.

Speaking of the story, I liked it. It starts out with that same kind of feel you get from postwar espionage novels and movies like The Third Man, with mysterious forces fighting in the dark while a society tries to rebuild itself. Later on, as the plot progresses, the feel becomes more contemporary, with echoes of events in Palestine and Iraq. For example, the criticism of using children as suicide bombers is especially pointed after the news story a few months back about the Palestinian teenager who decided he didn't want to die after all. There's also a bit that can be seen as a comment on Iraq, in terms of being committed to help clean up and restore order after invading. That's one of the nice things about using DS9 as allegory... from the days of the TV show, it's been possible to see Bajorans and Cardassians as representing certain real world groups, but it's never been too explicit. I've seen people compare the Bajorans to the Jews, victimized by the Nazi Cardassians, and I've seen them compared to Palestinians oppressed by Israel. I like keeping it open and ambiguous so that DS9 stories can comment on anything happening now, and also so that they can just tell stories, not allegories. Being limited to one overt allegorical interpretation not only limits the possibilities of storytelling, it also risks alienating readers who may see their group as being demonized.

Also, speaking of the story, it seemed much more stand-alone and plot-driven than the usual DS9 post-finale story. I suspect it would be pretty easy for someone who hadn't read previous post-finale books to follow. The O'Briens' adventures on Cardassia are a new plot thread started at the end of Unity; we haven't seen a great deal of Garak since A Stitch in Time; we haven't, as I recall, seen as much of Cardassia in the books as we've seen discussions of it, despite the presence in some earlier books of Gul Macet. The Vedek Yevir arc progresses a little here, and it's nice to see that he's still more than a one-dimensional character. Keiko has to respect him for his actions here despite what she knows about his pact actions.

Characterization-wise, I'm not sure if McCormack got Garak exactly as I think of him. He gets some very good scenes and lines but he's not the focus of the story, despite being the main Cardassian character. Still, she doesn't get anything exactly wrong about him, either. There just weren't very many of those perfect "now, THAT's Garak" moments. Interestingly enough, it's Keiko who seems to be the main viewpoint character, suggesting that we're going to be seeing these Worlds of Deep Space Nine mainly through the eyes of human characters. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Keiko's managed to accrue a number of personality traits over the years since her first appearance on TNG, but we usually only get to see one at a time. In this story she's the concerned mother, in that one she's the schoolteacher, and in that one over there she's the scientist. Cardassia showed a Keiko who's all of these things at once, giving her a spotlight she's been long overdue for.

One surprise about this story is the amount of time covered. It'll be interesting to see where the post-WoDS9 books pick up.

If the goal of the series is as much to capture the worlds of DS9 as to advance the stories, this is a definite success. There's atmosphere and setting and intrigue to spare.


Unlike Cardassia's author, Una McCormack, Heather Jarman is now an established contributor to the DS9 relaunch. Her book follows a more strongly established ongoing subplot within the series. This gives this part of the book a slightly more familiar feel.

I think there'll be more online discussion of the Andorian section because it brings some degree of closure to an ongoing character arc. Events on Cardassia have been important during the course of the relaunch but, for the most part, on the political, big picture level rather than on the character level (until now, anyway). Andor's story, through Shar and later, by extension, Prynn, has been intensely personal, presented much more as a character-driven storyline. In the Cardassia novel we're pretty much at the beginning of the O'Briens' adventures in the novels, whereas the Andor story is for the Andorian ongoing storyline what Unity was for a few other storylines: not a complete end, but a resolution of some important points. New developments and complications are possible.

I really enjoyed the way the relationship between Prynn and Shar played out over the course of the book. That kind of character-focused storytelling is one of the best things about DS9, and it was done nicely here, with an open-ended resolution that seemed inevitable, unhappy, and hopeful all at the same time. It's funny to think that Shar and Prynn now feel as much of the cast, and as well developed as characters, as characters who actually appeared on TV. The line between the TV characters and the new characters is now completely gone.

I haven't really read much of the noncanonical material about Andor so I don't know whether Marco and Heather felt bound to observe anything from the Andorian RPG supplement. I'll assume for now that the possibilities of worldbuilding, with a planet that's been mentioned but never really explored since the original series, was too appealing to worry too much about consistency with everyone else's conjectures. At any rate, Andor as presented here is an interesting and different culture, and one I hope won't be contradicted elsewhere. There's a sense of history and tradition, as well as a sense that there are different factions with different ways, that we don't always get with Star Trek's alien worlds. They're too often monolithic cultures with a bare handful of traits. Come to think of it, Andor is one of those rare Star Trek novels, like Spock's World and The Final Reflection, that really takes us inside another world's culture. And it does it well. Like Cardassia, it does that mainly through a human character's eyes again. I wonder if that'll be the case through the whole WoDS9 series.

Little observations and nitpicks:

Both Cardassia and Andor show the news media at work. We don't often see that in Star Trek, though DS9 emphasized it much more than other Trek series through Jake's work with the Federation News Service, so it's good to see it here.

I liked the reference to Thia's work as a botanist on Dramia, assuming that's a TAS reference.

The discussion on page 201 about Andor vs Andoria was a nice touch, and reminiscent of some of the posts from discussions here on the TrekBBS and elsewhere.

I'm not sure I liked the story element about the Andorians being possibly originally from another world because of the absence of other four-gendered life (well, until the discovery at the end). Given how much DNA humans have in common with other life forms here on Earth I'd think Andorians would find similar connections to the DNA of other Andorian lifeforms. It also seems probable that there'd be some evolutionary links to related forms, like the Andorian equivalent of higher primates. But DNA and evolution in the Star Trek universe aren't quite the same as in the real world.

So... the first book in WoDS9 has one story that's a beginning and one that's an ending, one that's more political but with a lot of good character moments and one that's more character-driven but with lots of good political moments, and two stories that explore alien worlds mainly through human perspectives. I don't know if this is going to be something of a pattern through the books or if I'm just reading too much into this. Either way, the book is a good balance. Two pretty-long-for-short-novels in one book, with very different stories, makes for a good deal. Another successful experiment.