Friday, September 25, 2009

Hollow Men

Spoilers ahead (for a book from four years ago).
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
I've been eagerly waiting to read this book since it was first announced, and I've had it in the house for four years. So why am I just getting around to it now? Because I wanted to see it in context. I've got all the DS9 DVDs and had started working through them years ago but stalled at some point. Earlier this year I picked up where I left off, and now that I'm near the end of the sixth season, the time finally came to read this. (Yes, I saw the episodes as they aired, but that was a long time ago.) And it was worth the wait. It's a damn good book.

So, a recap. At the time this book begins, the Dominion War has begun, DS9 has been taken by the Dominion and Cardassia and retaken by the Federation, Sisko and Garak have managed to get the Romulans involved in the war using tactics Sisko feels uncomfortable with, Worf and Dax have married, Odo is still in love with Kira but has only recently reconciled with her over his actions with the Founder during DS9's occupation, and Bashir has been abducted and interrogated by Section 31.

Hollow Men, for the most part, follows up on the events of "In the Pale Moonlight." In that episode, desperate to get the Romulans into the war on the Federation's side, Sisko, with Garak's assistance, comes up with a plan to con them by providing false evidence that the Dominion intends to attack the Romulans. It doesn't work as planned, and it's the murders committed by Garak that actually end up achieving the desired goal. At the end of the episode, Sisko says to himself that as awful as that is, he thinks he can live with it. As far as the TV series is concerned, he does. But the book shows that it's not that easy. Sisko wants someone to know what he's done and wants some kind of punishment. Garak is becoming aware of that and is concerned, not least because the two are going off to Earth for a major conference that will involve the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans.

Meanwhile, some of the others at DS9 are noticing that Bashir is not his usual self. After the Section 31 incident, he's lost interest in the romanticized espionage of his holosuite games. And so the b-story begins, as a freighter brings a load of latinum to the station that, everyone is convinced, someone will try to steal, and Dax suggests Odo get Bashir to act as an investigator, to take his mind off things.

Hollow Men is, then, both a suspenseful espionage story and a puzzling caper story, but it's driven as much by character as by plot. Sisko and Garak in particular get a great deal of attention, and McCormack captures their voices perfectly. Occasionally, in a story written by a British author, dialogue may have moments phrased in a way that sound normal to a British listener but not quite right to a North American, and that never happens here. I could really hear Brooks and Robinson's voices doing the dialogue, and, just as importantly, I could always believe their characters would behave as they do here.

It's an interesting reminder of just how much of an ensemble show DS9 is that we don't often think of Garak from Sisko's perspective. We're more accustomed to Bashir's somewhat more positive view of him, and it can be a surprise to be reminded just how little Sisko likes or trusts Garak, even as he puts himself into a position where he has to trust him, because there's no alternative. (Trust, between people, between cultures, is a key theme of the book.) Garak, of course, has his own concerns about Sisko; he can't manipulate him the way he can manipulate some other characters. The irony is that they're both afraid of what might happen if Sisko's conscience gets the better of him and he tells Starfleet what they did, but the reaction is not what either expects. Starfleet is happy with the results and happy to keep things quiet, and Garak is seen as a more valuable asset.

The book gets steadily more suspenseful as it goes on. An old friend of Sisko's is now a leader of a peace movement, but there's something very odd about it all. Meanwhile, Starfleet Intelligence wants Garak to assassinate Roeder, Sisko's old friend. And on DS9, despite Odo's best efforts, someone is about to pull off a major heist. Because the story is so suspenseful and the prose so well written, I raced through the book, not stopping enough to think about what was going on, so the revelation of how the two storylines converge came as a surprise. It probably wasn't for a lot of people; there are enough clues. After all, the b-story's initial focus on Bashir suggests a follow-up to Inquisition, and the a-story is about the ugliness of espionage -- something Bashir's just learned about. it shouldn't be too much of a leap to expect Section 31 to get involved.

One last point... McCormack's written Blake's 7 fanfic in the past and she mentions "the works of Chris Boucher" among others as an inspiration in her acknowledgments. Boucher wrote a lot of Blake's 7, and now I want to read a full length B7 novel by McCormack. Given what she does here with Sisko and Garak, I'd love to see what she does with Blake and Avon, who have trust issues of their own. (And am I the only person who read the Ariadne scenes as looking like something out of B7? Well, probably.)

I started with a quote from Eliot's "Hollow Men," and before I wind this up I'll quote a bit of McCormack, from near the end of the book, that shows in a few lines McCormack's skill with character and dialogue.

    Odo eased himself into the seat next to Garak. "I forgot to ask," he said, "how was Earth?" At the far end of the bar, Quark put the stopper in the bottle of Saurian brandy he had been watering and came over eagerly to listen.
    Garak put down his glass, opened his mouth to speak, stopped, thought for a while, considered replying, and then thought for a little while longer.
    "I was punched repeatedly by pacifists," he said at last.
    "So," said Quark, picking up a cloth and wiping the bar. "Much as you expected, then?"

McCormack should be on any editor's shortlist of DS9 novelists. She's done a relaunch novel, The Lotus Flower, that (among many other things) did more to make Keiko O'Brien a real and believable character than the TV series managed to do; Hollow Men, a novel set during the series and featuring the regulars; and a very different kind of DS9 novel, The Never-Ending Sacrifice, that spans most of the time covered by the TV series but shows its events from a very different perspective. Wherever the DS9 line goes next, I hope McCormack is part of it.


At 12:39 PM, Blogger D. Browning Gibson said...


I aggree wholeheartedly with your review of Hollow Men and your assessment of Una McCormack as a talented writer for Trek in general and DS9 in particular. She is one of my favorite writers these days in Trek Lit.

At 12:41 PM, Blogger D. Browning Gibson said...


I agree wholeheartedly with your review of Hollow Men. I loved that book.

More than that, you're right: Una McCormack is a great writer, one of the best, in my opinion, writing Trek Lit.

At 8:00 PM, Blogger Whirling Mahakala said...

I'm awfully tempted to look for this book now. I really dug "Lotus Flower" and "Never Ending Sacrifice," but I'd heard "Hollow Men" paled in comparison. Lets hope for something more from McCormack.

At 8:07 PM, Blogger Steve said...

WM, if you like Garak, you really need to read this one. I think I liked it better than The Lotus Flower, fwiw.

At 8:11 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Hey, WM, just looked at your profile. Nice to see someone else who likes The Lady Eve and The Thin Man.


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