Sunday, April 12, 2009

Blast from the past: Rising Son

It's almost become a cliche now for people to say "I love the DS9 relaunch books! I didn't bother reading Rising Son, though." There aren't very many books in the series, and all of them are worth reading. So, here are notes toward a review, as written in December 2002.

Spoilers ahead!

Some thoughts written at about halfway through the book:

The book captures Jake's personality well. He's open, friendly, likeable, thoughtful, but still a bit naive. He's eager for some excitement, but also nicely and properly conflicted about his role on the ship he ends up on, Even Odds (thinking his dad wouldn't approve, although everything Jake participates in can be justified somehow.)

The father issue is one of the key themes. Jake latches on to Dez as a father substitute. He's been motivated in this whole thing by his search for his father, with whom he's been very close (one of the TV show's nice touches, and usually handled much better than Star Trek's other families). But he's not a kid now, he's a young man, and transferring his need for his dad, however, temporarily and shallowly, onto Dez is something I expect to lead to some kind of problem. Having Dez set up as someone with his own father issues (underexplored so far) was a good move because it helps integrate Jake into the crew more quickly and easily, but again is the sort of thing that could lead to some kind of problem between Dez and Jake eventually as each can only fill the other's needs so far. Something missing from the story so far: some kind of potential romantic entanglement for Jake, which is often part of a coming-of-age story. Unless the problem between Dez and Jake is going to end up involving Facity, who is apparently the only shaggable humanoid female present Jake's noticed as such.

This is sort of a Farscapish version of Trek, though that would have had more women and more sexual undertones.

Fanwank: references to New Bajor, Tosk, "The Die is Cast", Vash, Q, the Wadi, the Karemma, etc. it's all justifiable in a couple of ways. The planets and races mentioned are all closer to the wormhole than the Dominion is, so it would make sense to bump into them. DS9 was not supposed to be about the Alpha Quadrant and the Dominion only (I liked the line about it being a year before anyone from the Alpha Quadrant even heard rumors about the Dominion). Also, I like how the continuity-heavy stuff Jake's experiencing contrasts with the mostly new stuff the Defiant encounters in Mission: Gamma.

Lots of decent SF stuff (types of aliens, the Wa, etc).

Some thoughts added a few pages later (after the info on Dez's father, among other things):

Stessie's final moments with Glessin were very touching.

Dez trying to emotionally manipulate Jake for reasons that are questionable but not evil make for good DS9-style character-based storytelling. More so than the other Trek series, DS9 is good at morally ambiguous characters and situations instead of clearly drawn good and evil.

The story changes dramatically when Tosk and Wex appear -- are they about to meet Opaka? How does Wex know humans when she sees them?

I should have recognized Ennis from Sen Ennis the first time it was mentioned in passing, though it was obviously going to have some kind of payoff, as was the village of the poor.

Opaka's story is way overdue -- not in the context of this book, but in the context of the Deep Space Nine as a whole.

Thoughts written after I finished reading the book:

The story is well-structured, with everything seemingly there for a reason (even the Wa ends up tying in with the Eav'oq somehow). Early mentions of Eav-oq, the clues that Tosk will lead them to Eav-oq artifacts, leading to discovery of the Eav'oq... it all starts off just as casual details mentioned in passing and builds nicely. The stuff with Raiq gets an interesting payoff when Opaka later realizes what Raiq's people's belief system is actually about -- and I have no doubt we'll be seeing them again. They have the potential to be a really interesting adversary, with their own weird take on the wormhole aliens as another challenge to the Bajoran belief system (which will by then have already been rocked by the Eav'oq).

A bit of a digression: several years ago, KW Jeter's Bloodletter made the obvious-in-retrospect point, never made by the TV writers, that there should be a station on the other side of the wormhole. This novel makes the idea of a Gamma Quadrant group of wormhole alien religious believers seem equally obvious in retrospect. Some of the Eav'oq spin on the wormhole aliens seems potentially problematic, because everything in the Bajoran faith can easily be viewed as consistent with the portrayal of the aliens as beings who don't experience time as we do and who therefore could impart knowledge of the future to Bajorans of the past, who then see and play it out as prophecy. The notion of reincarnation of spirit seems more like a conventional (i.e. Earthly) religious belief and doesn't work as well with the traditional matter-of-perspective way the Bajoran religion has been presented. (That is, the Starfleet types and the Bajoran types can see the same things happening while disagreeing on what they mean. This won't be the case with either the Bajorans or the Starfleet types and the Eav'oq, because they see different things happening.) But again, I suspect that that difference in belief is there to provide some kind of payoff later on, although it may simply be as part of a theological conflict between Bajorans and Eav'oq.

Ending of the book: Tosk gets his payoff from the Hunters but gets to be true to himself; Dez and Jake also both realize they have to be true to themselves and thus are able to part on good terms. The discovery that the Jem'Hadar ship that rescued Jake was after the Even came as a bit of a shock -- Jake's new friends had a narrow escape. But that explains why, in Lesser Evil, it was a Dominion ship that handed over Jake, Opaka, and Wex. They didn't just happen to be there. Everything happens for a reason.

Gamma comment: one thing I missed in Mission: Gamma was references to and appearances by some of the Gamma races the DS9 gang encountered before the Dominion. I've already mentioned this above, but anyway it works nicely as a counterpoint to Mission: Gamma. Instead of having his own ship and his familiar faces, Jake (and later Opaka) is out there alone, having to find a way to get along from the inside -- but whereas Vaughn et al are dealing with new species, Jake at least has some familiar species to deal with. Notwithstanding the fact that the Ferengi and Cardassian characters are among the ones he spends the last time with. (If there's a follow-up novel with the crew of the Even Odds, I'd like Glessin to have a larger part than he had here.)

Jake's spiritual quandary, his frustration with the prophets, is understandable and well presented. Even if he comes to peace with it all, he should never be completely comfortable, because he and his family have, after all, been manipulated.

As for what comes next: the Ascendants will likely be a threat at some point, but for at least the next novel the focus is much more likely to be on the parasites. If the Ascendants do turn out to be the next major adversary for the DS9 regulars, it'll be a nice change of pace. The parasites were a good choice, coming out of established continuity that cried out for some kind of follow-up, and nicely set up in DS9 by The Lives of Dax. Creating a new threat that could only have come from DS9 for the next possible adversary is better yet. Continuity is great, but too much can become a crutch. Making something new that nonetheless fits the series concept so well is a sign that there's some good creative thinking going on. It's also a good way to look at Bajoran religion from another perspective. The events of the first several relaunch books have done nicely at looking at the religion from the inside, through the excommunicated Kira and the agnostic Ro. That will have to continue, as the return of Opaka is bound to have some dramatic effects on Bajoran society. But knowledge of the Eav'oq and the Ascendants will force the Bajorans to look at their society and their faith in a whole new context.

There's a lot of potential for Bajoran political and religious intrigue here, and I always enjoyed the episodes of that type. The story of Deep Space Nine is the story of Benjamin Sisko, but it's also the story of Bajor, and that got lost a bit during the Dominion War. The books have made up for that. However, there are an awful lot of plot threads in progress right now (Kira's attainder, Kasidy's pregnancy, Bajor joining the Federation, the parasites, Opaka's return, Shar's problems (and Andorian problems more generally), Ro and Quark, etc). I hope at least a few of these are resolved in Unity.


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