Progress: As best I can determine, at just over five hundred pages of small print, this is the second longest Star Trek novel ever published. It’s comprised of seventy-two chapters divided into four main sections.
Part One: Prynn, Elias Vaughn’s daughter, dies on the bridge of the Defiant as the ship takes a heavy beating from Jarada vessels. This turns out to be fallout from Starfleet’s dealings with the Jarada related to the Europani evacuation to the Jarada planet of Torona IV. After the gateways shut down, the Jarada felt duped by Vaughn’s deal, which had brokered them gateway information in exchange for absorbing the Europani refugees. The Jarada express their anger by going after the Defiant; fortunately, at the story’s outset, the half-million Europani they took on have been safely relocated from Torona IV to Bajor.
Back on the station, Kira feels compelled to read from the ancient text When the Prophets Cried, but out of respect for her Attainder status, she resists the urge. And yet parts of the text are still familiar to her because she’s unwittingly memorized them through repetition. She then receives news that the Mjolnir, under Captain Hoku, is three weeks early arriving at DS9. Taran’atar is itching to get away from Dr. Tarses and resume his duties. Admiral Akaar (this is Leonar James Akaar, first glimpsed in “Friday’s Child”), who arrives via the Mjolnir, meets with Kira and asks her a series of questions about the Europani evacuation. At first she feels like he’s looking for reasons to place someone else in charge of DS9, but then she realizes he may be evaluating a broader situation: the application for Federation membership by Bajor.
First Minister Shakaar is running late in his daily schedule and so misses his springball game with Second Minister Asarem Wadeen. Wadeen, undeterred, seeks him out at his office, and they discuss the fact that Starfleet is indeed close to making a decision about Federation membership. Also, the Cardassian provisional government, via legate Alon Ghemor, is requesting normalized diplomatic relations between Bajor and Cardassia.
Next we learn that apparently Prynn didn’t die after all (!). In fact, Bashir boasts that she’ll be “up and about in a few days.” Vaughn thinks about his past (unspecified) troubles with Prynn, and the enormity of “what he had done.”
Taran’atar finally gets his wish and is discharged from the infirmary, and Kira joins him in a holosuite combat program. While there, she receives news that the Defiant has arrived, as well as the Trager, commanded by Gul Macet.
Prynn and Vaughn have a heart-to-heart in DS9’s infirmary, during which he apologizes for actions taken that caused harm to Prynn’s mom, and addresses the tension in their relationship. But the distance remains.
Part Two: The Defiant prepares to set out on its three-month mission of exploration into the Gamma quadrant. Vaughn meets with Taran’atar, who reiterates that the Dominion will not attack them during their voyage, but warns of “other dangers” in the regions they will be exploring.
With the Iconian crisis behind them, Kira restarts the search for Jake. (About time!) Gul Macet, who was contacted by Admiral Akaar, requests permission to dock, so that the Trager can transport the Europani on DS9 back to Europa Nova.
The relationship between Bajor and Europa Nova is strengthened as Bajor agrees to donate food supplies to the refugees. Europani President Silverio delivers a ‘thank you’ speech on Bajor, which is observed by Charivretha, Shakaar, and Asarem.
On his way to the port computer core, Nog first bumps into Ensign Roness, and then into Taran’atar; this second encounter shakes him, and Nog accuses the Jem’hadar of having blown his leg off. His hatred of the Jem’Hadar—well established in earlier relaunch novels—has apparently been triggered by this encounter.
Quark is grumbling about business not going well, despite Treir drawing in new customers, and he flirts with Ro Laren at the bar, giving her some Saurian brandy. Vaughn comes by and picks up an item he had especially asked Quark to procure.
Akaar visits Vaughn in his quarters, and Vaughn proffers the Capellan liquor, grosz, he obtained from Quark. During a lengthy conversation, Akaar reveals that he thinks it unwise for Vaughn to be serving with his daughter as they set off on the Gamma mission, and so he has reassigned her; Vaughn implores him to reverse the decision, and eventually Akaar does.
Nog visits Kasidy on Bajor, bringing her Argelian teacakes from Quark’s. Nog shares with her that he somehow knows—based on a strong feeling he has—that Jake is okay.
Ensign Candlewood and Shar trade some banter as Shar prepares to have dinner with Zhavey. Anichent, Dizhei, and Thriss, Shar’s three bondmates, are waiting for him in Zhavey’s quarters. When he arrives, Zhavey implores him to once again return to Andor and complete the shelthreth, but Shar refuses and leaves.
Kira and Akaar bid Vaughn farewell as the Defiant prepares to launch on its mission.
Thriss shows up at the airlock just as Shar is about to board the Defiant, and asks him once more to return home. He says he will come back to Andor as soon as the mission is over, and in the meantime he asks Ro to allow his three bondmates to stay in his quarters on DS9 in his absence.
Vaughn delivers an inspirational speech on the bridge of the Defiant and gives the order for the ship to head out into the wormhole.
Part Three: Prylar Eivos Calan gives Kasidy an update on the excavation at B’hala, which is proceeding faster than expected. He gifts Kasidy a jedonite figurine, and catches her up on growing unrest in the Vedek Assembly following the unearthing of the Ohalu scriptures.
Six days into its journey, the Defiant comes across the Vahni, a peaceful and sophisticated race. They’re pretty neat aliens, evoking just a shade, if you’ll forgive the pun, of the heptapods from Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life.” Here’s their introductory description:
The beings—two of the Vahni Vahltupali—had two legs below a long, narrow torso, two tentacles that approximated arms, and a bulbous, headlike projection atop their frame. Tall and slender, their bodies possessed a firm but malleable and many-jointed skeleton, allowing them to contort their bodies dramatically. They had neither vocal nor auditory organs, but a complex ocular organ ringed their heads. Most intriguing of all had been their flesh, over which they could exercise remarkable control, changing its color and texture in whole or in part.
The two beings sending the message had been different colors, one a reddish blue and the other a greenish yellow, but the shapes and hues flickering across their skins had been identical and had repeated. The crew had concluded that the Vahni communicated via the epidermal patterns, and they had set out to decode the transmission.
They welcome the crew to visit their world, and are shown hospitality by the Vahni Ventu. As Vaughn is about to beam back up to the Defiant, though, an apparent quake knocks him and Ventu over, and a building collapses. The Defiant has also been impacted by the phenomenon responsible for the planetary surge, he learns, but they’re able to beam him and the other two crewmembers with him—Bowers and Roness—back up to the ship.
Kasidy speaks to Kira, passing on Prylar Eivos’s message about discord in the Assembly, and warning her that they may want to blame her for their struggles, because Kira was the one who made the Ohalu text accessible to the general population of Bajor.
The energy surge that caused the quake and destabilized the Defiant has destroyed a nearby moon. Moon fragments are now threatening the Vahni planet. Ezri and Gerda Roness use a shuttle to try and deflect one fragment that poses an imminent threat, but it breaks into three smaller pieces and things go horribly wrong. The shuttle falls towards the planet, and Roness is killed. Ultimately the shuttle is tractored by the Defiant, with Ezri eventually being beamed back aboard.
Taran’atar observes children playing on Bajor. He makes various mental notes, feeling very much the outsider.
Vaughn attends the Vahni Remembrance event, to commemorate and mourn the loss of the three thousand Vahni—including Ventu—as well as Ensign Roness, all killed as a result of what is now believed to be a large-scale artificial energy pulse. The moon debris has been dealt with, but the source of the warp-speed energy pulse remains unknown, and the likelihood of a future pulse poses a great threat.
Akaar meets with Kira and asks her more questions about Bajor that make her uncomfortable. However, he also shares that a delegation from Bajor and two from the Federation will be congregating as part of a summit, overseen by him, to determine whether Bajor is going to be admitted to the Federation or not.
Bashir catches up with Ezri, who is struggling with the death of Gerda Roness, yet feels a strong sense of responsibility to return to her duties as the Defiant’s First Officer. Bashir is worried she might be pushing herself too hard and not giving herself the time needed to process her grief.
Business continues to fare poorly for Quark, and things go even worse when Quark thinks he can hear Taran’atar hovering nearby in shrouded form, and presto, it turns out he’s correct. Taran’atar unshrouds at the bar, scaring away most of Quark’s clientele. Quark, understandably miffed, reports the incident to Ro.
Further investigation by the Defiant reveals that at least one entire planetary system has been obliterated, with more pulses expected. The Defiant traces the apparent source of the energy pulse to a world that permanently shrouded in impenetrable cloud cover. They study these clouds, looking for an opening through which to send down a probe.
Ro brings Quark’s concern about Taran’atar’s behavior to Kira’s attention.
An analysis of the information obtained by the probe reveals deserted buildings, possibly the entire remnants of a civilization, on the surface of the planet. Bashir shares his concerns about Ezri returning to duty with Vaughn, but Vaughn decides that they are ultimately un-actionable. The decision is made to take the shuttlecraft Chaffee down to the mystery planet.
Kira visits Taran’atar at the holosuite and, brilliantly, discovers him studying multivariable calculus. Just thinking about this scene makes me smile. She asks him about his recent observing activities, and he explains that after clearly disturbing Nog, he thought he might more effectively pursue his mission of observation by being (mostly) shrouded.
Nog comes up with an extremely unlikely—a three percent success probability, to be exact—and risky plan (as in, it could blow up the Defiant) to counteract the next anticipated energy pulse. This pulse is predicted to arise in the next two days, and could destroy the Vahni Vahltupali completely.
Ro Laren muses about her life choices and her new situation aboard DS9.
The shuttle Chaffee attempts to navigate the treacherous cloud system but ends up crashing on the surface of the mystery planet.
Coinciding with a power disruption, a strange, amorphous grey substance gets on board the Defiant, where Bowers discovers it in one of the Jeffries tubes. All attempts to remove it and beam it away are unsuccessful. During one of these maneuvers, Ezri accidentally comes into contact with the substance and falls into a coma.
An old associate of the Orion woman Treir (who joined the station at the end of Gateways #4), named Hetik, appears at Quark’s, and Treir brings him on as a “dabo boy.” Quark’s not having it, though, and wants Hetik fired.
Vaughn and Prynn, recovering from the shuttle’s emergency crash landing, help save Shar, and devise a plan for Vaughn to attempt to walk to the source of the energy pulse while Prynn works on fixing the transporter.
Ezri wakes up from the coma and tells Bashir that the substance they’ve encountered is in fact alive. An alien intelligence has communicated with her, and is aware of the pulse. Bashir analyzes the substance further and, based on Ezri’s readings after her encounter with it, posits that it may partially exist in subspace, or in an alternate dimension.
Treir suggests to Quark that it might be wise to let Hetik stay on for a week and then make his final decision based on Hetik’s ability to draw clientele to the bar. Quark visits Vic Fontaine and tells him about his woes. He then goes for a stroll with Ro and they talk until late in the night. Gently, and quite amusingly, she lets him know that his cologne stinks.
Vaughn covers some fifty kilometers on his way to the source of the pulse. During this trek he introspects about his relationship with his daughter and examines some of the key moments in his life.
Kira welcomes Seljin Gandres, the Trill Ambassador to the Federation, to the station, as well as his aide, Hiziki Gard. Fleet Admiral Akaar wants to discuss something with him before the summit the following day.
Prynn continues working on shuttle repairs and Shar, whose leg was badly broken in the crash, regains consciousness. Prynn brings him up to speed on their situation.
Quark finally decides to give Hetik a tryout at the bar. Treir, who considers herself less of a dabo girl and more of Quark’s business associate, makes the case for a salary raise and change in title. Kira requests Quark’s presence via Ro.
At the empty city believed to be the source of the pulse, Vaughn believes he sees Captain John Harriman of the Enterprise NCC-1701-B.
Kira asks Quark about his recent procurement of certain delicacies, and he tries to find out from her what the upcoming occasion is for the gathering of a particularly “eclectic group of people.”
Ezri wants to allow her Dax symbiont to come into sustained contact with the alien substance. Bashir thinks she’s pursuing unnecessary risk because she hasn’t fully dealt with the loss of Gerda. She vehemently disagrees. Finally Sam Bowers tips the balance in favor of Ezri’s plan.
Quark continues to try and figure out what is going on at the station, because something big is clearly up. He tracks Ro’s movements. Taran’atar requests holosuite access once again, and Quark asks him why he’s really here. The Jem’hadar reveals not only his mission to study the Alpha Quadrant, as communicated to the station’s command crew in Avatar, Book Two, but also specifically his instruction by Odo to monitor Quark. Priceless.
Vaughn makes his way towards a tower in the abandoned city which appears to be the origin of the pulse, and sees a figure resembling the dead Ventu. Ghostly appearance number two. Hmmm.
Shakaar arrives on the station and invites Kira to talk in his quarters, where he asks her opinion about who would make a good next Kai, to which she replies Vedek Pralon. Shakaar begins to ask her how Pralon might interact with other governments if Bajor were admitted to the Federation, but Kira is called away by the Alonis ambassador.
Under careful supervision from Bashir and his medical team, the Dax symbiont is placed into contact with the alien gray substance.
Charivretha talks with Shar’s bondmates and raises a number of questions. Because of the Andorian crisis, are individuals beginning to metaphorically “die” as individuals even as they attempt to collectively save the species from extinction? What is the difference between responsibilities and demands?
Next Vaughn relives the episode on the Defiant in which he thought his daughter had died: memory/ghost number three. This is enough for him to realize that the clouds on the planet are reforming into people and events from his past; by focusing on his mission, he pushes himself through the illusion and onward toward the site of the pulse.
The big summit begins, and goes well as the various ambassadors mingle. Quark tries to get information from Ro, who tells him she can’t speak to him because she’s on duty.
Prynn successfully gets the transporter going, and comes up with a plan to use a second portable one for her and Shar to “skip-transport” across the planet until they’re free of the cloud cover. They talk about Vaughn having sent Prynn’s mom on the mission in which she died.
Kasidy interacts with a Bajoran shopkeeper at a gallery.
Vaughn vividly remembers his mom sharing her diagnosis of a terminal progressive disease with him, and re-experiences the sense of having been left alone with his grief. Soul-searching about this will help him empathize with how Prynn must have felt after her mom died.
Kira is unable to meditate, so she checks in to see when the Rio Grande maintenance will be done.
Dax’s link to the alien substance gives her the backstory we’ve all been waiting for, yay! In short: the Prentara developed a super-powerful mind-to-mind VR, found another universe they called the thoughtscape, but discovered that this dimension was composed of or inhabited by beings named the Inamuri. The energy pulses are basically the Inamuri fighting back against a perceived invasion of their realm, and the clouds on the planet are a manifestation of the thoughtscape. Also, helpfully, Dax’s awareness during this link includes the perception of Vaughn down on the planet, which makes sense, since she’s now communicating through the thoughtscape.
Quark commiserates further with Vic Fontaine, who consoles him by saying that, even though Quark thinks he’s ruined his chances with Ro with his recent behavior, Ro is in fact quite fond of him.
Vaughn’s readings indicate four hours to the next pulse. Plot bomb countdown is ticking—loudly. As he’s neared his destination, he’s observed evidence that the inhabitants of this city died by their own hand.
Continuing to work together, Prynn and Shar figure out how to use a probe sent from the Defiant to convey explosives to where they believe Vaughn is, to help put a stop to the imminent pulse, per Nog’s plan. But they have to use their transporter’s power cell to do so; thus, no more transport hopping.
If we’re into this plot thread, we sigh with relief as Quark and Ro reconcile. If we’re not into this plot thread, we roll our eyes. But I think you have to be just a bit dead inside to not care at all.
Vaughn receives information from Dax, via the probe, and he decides to set only a certain limited number of bombs to detonate, which—instead of sealing off the Inamuri in their universe once again—will widen the rift and potentially let them out. Then, as everything around him goes into psychedelic overdrive disintegration mode, he dives into a maelstrom.
Admiral Akaar advises Kira to watch Shakaar’s broadcast to Bajor, streamed during a break in the summit’s first day. In the broadcast, Shakaar announces that Bajor’s renewed petition to join the Federation has been approved!
Part Four: Leading up to the pulse, Shar and Prynn discuss some major life decisions. Then a huge plume shoots into the air in the distance.
Quark sees Shakaar’s speech, and is understandably concerned about what Bajor joining the Federation will do to his business, since, among other things, the Federation isn’t really into money. Ro offers to buy him a drink, which is pretty sweet.
Vaughn perceives the thoughtscape beings himself, and believes that he’s about to die.
Kira seeks out Admiral Akaar, and she tells him that she feels like he was judging Bajor through her, with all those pesky questions. In fact, he says, he was judging her by her relationship to Bajor. Kira then learns of Akaar’s personal experiences and his hopes that one day his own people, the Capellans, will also be able to join the Federation.
Energy signatures on the Defiant show that the long-dreaded pulse, now real, is not a threat. Ezri congratulates Nog, but he says that his plan had nothing to do with their good fortune. Two openings in a new grey substance covering the planet allow the Defiant to lock on to Vaughn, and allow Prynn and Shar to be returned to the ship.
Quark greets Ro at the end of her shift and walks her to her quarters. He asks her if she’ll go out on an actual date with him—and she says yes.
To her enormous relief, Prynn learns from Bashir that Vaughn is alive, and, like her, is in the medical bay.
Kira calls Kasidy and shares with her the news of Bajor’s acceptance into the Federation. In a sense, they reflect, this is the long result of the Prophet’s efforts as much as it may be ordinary politicking.
We conclude with an explanation of how Vaughn was saved, what he learned—the moral of his story, so to speak, and how it informs his dynamic with Prynn—and what happened to the thoughtscape. The Federation makes plans to send another crew to interact with the gray substance now covering the planet and further an understanding of that species.
What you don’t leave behind: One of this book’s strengths, in terms of continuity, is that it brings in just about everything relevant from the previous relaunch novels, and leans on that for effect more heavily than it does on pre-relaunch events. In that regard, it feels like we’ve reached a turning point in this series.
Your journey’s end lies not before you, but behind you: “When the children have wept all, Kira quoted to herself, anew will shine the twilight of their destiny, and she realized that When the Prophets Cried had not been taken from her; as often as she had read it, as well as she knew it, that could never happen.” That’s a powerful realization and moment of self-assurance for Kira. The prophetic fragment could be interpreted to apply to Bajor’s entrance into the Federation—we shall see!
Don’t tell me you’re getting sentimental: Kira has been through a lot since this relaunch series began, and despite the support of new people in her life, she’s not been able to rely on either the Emissary or Odo, arguably the two foundational parts of her professional and personal support networks respectively. Add to that the Attainder. When Shakaar is honestly curious about her opinion regarding the next Kai, it leads to this reflection: “She thought that the impromptu meeting had gone well, but as she strode out into the corridor, she found herself surprised that Shakaar still valued her opinion.” Oh Kira; of course he does, and as well he should. Hang in there!
All I do all day long is give, give, give: Quark is treated more multi-dimensionally in this volume than in others. He’s still Quark, but when he feels, he feels deeply, and we sense that his emotions towards and investment in Ro are genuine, not just a passing infatuation or a cover for some kind of strategic long game. It’s refreshing and touching, and makes me want to read The 34th Rule, co-written by this author and Armin Shimerman (Kira alludes to that book’s events, too). As involving as the Quark-Ro relationship is, though, my favorite Quark scene in this novel occurs in Chapter 46, and features not Ro but Taran’atar. Quark applies strict reasoning to prove to Taran’atar that the Founders aren’t “gods.” What’s endearing and admirable is Quark’s persistence. When his first two arguments (that the Founders can’t be gods because they lost the war, and that the Founders can’t be gods because Odo was inaccurate in his description of Quark’s character) prove unsuccessful, he comes up with a master stroke:
“If I’m a lawbreaker, then doesn’t that mean that Odo should have arrested me and put me in prison?” Quark argued. “But here I am, free. Which means either Odo was wrong and I’m not a lawbreaker, or he was right, but he wasn’t a good enough chief of security to catch me. Either way, I’d say that doesn’t make him much of a god.” I should’ve been a Vulcan, Quark thought, dazzled by his own display of logic.
The Jem’Hadar said nothing.
Not a line delivered by Quark, but I was also amused by this comment made by Kira about Quark: “‘What’s he done now?’ Kira asked. ‘He and Morn aren’t staging vole fights again, are they?’” And the less said of Morn’s poetry readings the better.
A chance to enjoy paradise again: “I am concerned, Lieutenant,” Julian said haltingly, “that your fervor to put yourself in harm’s way may be an overcompensation for the loss of Ensign Roness.” The scene in which this exchange occurs, in Chapter 45, could have easily veered into soap opera material, as some of the previous Dax/Bashir tête-à-têtes have. But George keeps the focus on plausibility of motivation, depicting two mature characters struggling with a difficult situation but never giving in to their worst impulses. I found Bashir’s position somewhat irritating, sure, but I had to remind myself that, whatever his emotional protectiveness towards Ezri might be, he’s also a doctor, and that he was at least trying to tread carefully. He’s not had a lot of relationship experience, either, so probably deserves some slack.
There’s a first time for everything: Ezri Dax has now lost someone under her command, and that event begins to change her, and will likely continue to have consequences in the remaining three books in this series. Dax has faced worse situations and brings a vast reservoir of experience to her perspective, but this is Ezri we’re talking about, so it’s a significant first. Not to mention being changed and enriched by Dax’s link to the Inamuri. When Bashir questions Ezri’s use of the word “commune” rather than “communicate,” her response drives home the fundamental difference:
“No, there was no communication,” Ezri said. “Dax could sense the minds of the Inamuri, and their memories, and maybe even Prentara memories imprinted on or swallowed up by the Inamuri. And this story I’m telling… Dax didn’t learn all of this in this form; we’ve deduced it from what Dax did learn.”
I will be waiting: I think George’s depiction of Kasidy and her adjustment to the realities of her new life on Bajor and her potential spiritual significance for its people is the best we’ve encountered in the relaunch series up to now. Nog’s visit in Chapter 13, which I appreciate is observed from Kasidy’s point of view, is unhurried and heartwarming. It wraps up with a nice bit of description, tinged with a subtle shade of melancholy, but also deeply hopeful:
They talked for a long time after that, about her solitary life on Bajor, and about his work on Defiant, and about Colonel Kira and Dr. Bashir and Quark and other people. They even spoke more about Jake, and also about Ben, in a way that she thought neither one of them had in a long time: without frustration or sadness, but with the simple joys of love and remembrance. They sipped at their tea and hot chocolate—Kasidy refilled their cups twice—and nibbled on the teacakes, which Nog also salted. When they finally rose from their chairs so that Kasidy could show Nog around the house, she thought that she felt stronger and more positive than she had in a very long time. And for his part, whatever had been troubling Nog when he had arrived seemed to have left him as well, as least for the time being.
Ah, friendship at its finest.
Kasidy’s later interaction with the shopkeeper in Chapter 58 serves as the springboard for a noteworthy realization:
Maybe the people of Adarak would allow Kasidy—maybe she would allow herself—to look beyond the place the Bajorans claimed for her in their culture. Somehow, in just a few minutes, this loud, genuine woman had brought Kasidy a lovely sense of calmness and acceptance.
If I get lost: Part of Nog’s reason for visiting Kasidy is wishing her goodbye in person before setting off on the three-month mission of exploration. When Kasidy inadvertently evokes the disappearances of the Emissary and Jake, by urging him to make sure he returns safe and sound, Nog’s understated response—“I’ll be back”—artfully channels what Sisko himself said the last time Kasidy saw him. No Terminator jokes, please.
This one’s from the heart: A welcome return for Vic Fontaine as unofficial station counselor, this time to Quark, on not only monetary matters but also questions of the heart. Vic makes two appearances in separate chapters, both of which I enjoyed, as George gets the voice exactly right. Asking about Quark’s business, Vic says, “Trouble at the till?” And a few beats later, he utters a great line: “You twenty-fourth-century types are more colorful than the strip at night. It’s fabulous.”
All bets are off: And here is by far the most momentous event in the history of Bajor that we’ve seen since “Emissary”; at long last, the promise of the Federation membership story arc is fully delivered upon. Huzzah! In his speech Shakaar advises that the official signing ceremony will take place “six weeks from today,” which seems pretty fast, and presumably places that event within the ambit of this Mission Gamma miniseries. On the way there, though, he cautions that “there are many issues still to be resolved.”
Dramatis personae: Smaller supporting characters like Asarem Wadeen or Enkar Sirsy (Shakaar’s assistant) didn’t make much of an impression, but I enjoyed Admiral Akaar. At first, he comes off as gruff, though nowhere near as overtly antagonistic or button-pushing, say, as Edward Jellico. But as we get to know him better, we see more of his character having been tempered by a rich tapestry of experience, a long and complicated life that complements and in a way mirrors Elias Vaughn’s own journey. He offers more riches to be explored, and I hope he takes over the role that Admiral Ross used to be play. The scene in which he expresses his concern for Vaughn while they drink grosz does much to humanize him, so that we read his later interactions with Kira in a more charitable light. His final exchange with her contains an insightful moment, well-rendered:
“The Attainder is the result of how some Bajorans view you,” Akaar said. “Or perhaps it is not even that, but a form of political expediency. But with respect to you, Colonel, it is not the Attainder that interests me, but how you have dealt with it. You have carried on, and not just for yourself, but in continued service to your people.” The words surprised Kira, not because they were not true—they were—but because they revealed an opinion she would never have guessed Akaar to possess.
In absentia: I miss Jake. But this novel provides strong reassurance (if it was really needed, considering the inherent optimism of the Trek universe) that he will be returning to us unharmed, if perhaps changed.
Behind the lines: This novel accomplishes a lot. It deals with at least four major simultaneous plot strands, brings together dozens of characters in fresh ways, and fashions not one, not two, but three non-humanoid alien races that are interesting to read about and evoke a sense of wonder reminiscent of TNG’s most memorable adventures. Speaking of which, the book’s last line—“Finally, Vaughn had begun to explore”—poignantly occurring right after Vaughn begins healing his relationship with Prynn in earnest, wonderfully takes us back to Q’s closing mandate in “All Good Things”: “That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknowable possibilities of existence.”
A standout thematic element is that of loneliness, and how it’s mirrored by the Inamuri through their projections of one’s memories, thereby revealing something fundamental about their own state.
“When I… when Dax… communed with the thoughtscape,” the lieutenant said, “it wanted to keep that connection… it cherished that connection.” Vaughn nodded, understanding the terrible loneliness of the Inamuri, and how desperately it craved companionship.
All of this novel’s main characters struggle with and grow through their connections to others in the course of the story. Character voices, particularly when conveyed through thought, sound right. A wealth of details consistently generate verisimilitude. And the plot itself is well thought out, and perhaps the most intricate in the relaunch series so far.
I’m sorry to say that George’s writing style didn’t work for me. I felt like entire scenes could have been condensed into paragraphs without any loss of meaning or emotion; in fact, whole chapters could have profitably been excised. Much of what this story gets right in terms of ideas and characters was for me undone by glacial pacing and an awkward sense of dramatic relevance. The Defiant doesn’t make it into the Gamma Quadrant on its ostensible mission until page 176. By my reckoning, that’s way too late. Much of what came before could have been succinctly summarized or interspersed later on, on a need-to-know basis. I felt like I read an almost novel-length’s amount of prologue before getting to events of any significant import. And even those felt drained of tension by George’s choice to catalog almost every thought and emotion entertained by the players involved in something akin to slow motion.
As a result of these long, drawn-out descriptions, particularly noticeable in between lines of dialogue, not only was the story brought to a halt countless times, but the dialogue itself started to sound repetitive (perhaps in an attempt to spare the reader having to go back and scan the previous lines?). Imagine character A says something, and then you encounter half a page of description and inner monologue, and then character B replies, and so on. It precludes any sense of naturalistic flow or rhythm. Here is an illustrative example: On page 89, a scene kicks off with Vaughn saying, “Please sit.” A few lines of description follow. Then he says, “I wanted to confer with you about this region of space.” More lines of description. Then: “We intend to explore this region. Are you familiar with it?” This is followed by a lengthy paragraph of description, only after which does Taran’atar reply: “I am familiar in part with this area of space.”
This issue was compounded by George’s choice to share with us a character thinking about doing something, then showing us said character doing it, and then having the character expound about having done it, often with other characters already aware of what had happened. The repetitions were often acknowledged in the dialogue by use of the phrase “Of course” or other similar formulas. Again, I’ll just pick one chapter (24) as an example: Four paragraphs in Kira thinks, “Of course.” On the following page, Admiral Akaar says, “Of course, if you are not comfortable discussing your people…” Next page: “‘Of course it is,’ Kira said, her voice rising.” A couple of pages later: “‘Of course,’ Kira said.” Next paragraph: “‘Of course,’ Akaar said.”
As a result of these stylistic issues, I wasn’t engaged by what was happening the way I was with some of the previous books in this series, and ended up feeling detached, rather than absorbed. Even though I liked and even admired what was happening, the prose consistently kept me a distance from it.
Orb factor: I understand that this novel holds an important place in the relaunch series, and I expect it’s beloved by devoted readers. Despite being relationship- and character-centric, though, which I applaud, and having clearly been fashioned with love, the book’s style truly dampened my enjoyment of it. I may annoy or anger some of you with my rating, but I have to be honest. The most I can give it is six orbs.
In our next installment: We’ll be discussing Heather Jarman’s Mission Gamma, Book Two: This Gray Spirit in this space on Wednesday November 20th!
Alvaro is a Hugo- and Locus-award finalist who has published some forty stories in professional magazines and anthologies, as well as over a hundred essays, reviews, and interviews. Nag him @AZinosAmaro.