The Lives of Dax
Edited by Marco Palmieri; featuring stories by Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Judith Reeves-Stevens, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Jeffrey Lang, Michael Jan Friedman, Jeffrey Lang, S. D. Perry, Susan Wright, Robert Simpson, Steven Barnes, and Julia Ecklar [as L. A. Graf]
Publication Date: December 1999
Timeline: 2075 – 2375
In Memoriam: Back in my review of Gateways #4: Demons of Air and Darkness, I dedicated this reread series to Aron Eisenberg’s memory. It saddens me to hereby note the recent loss of two other major Trek figures: D. C. Fontana and René Auberjonois. Requiescat in pace.
“Dax is a living anthology—a collection of stories,” writes editor Marco Palmieri in the introduction to this book, which serves as an exploration of Dax’s intricate tapestry.
Because of this book’s structure, and unique concept, in which the Dax symbiont serves as our unifying narrative element, we’re going to change our format review and talk about each story in the order in which it appears. And then, as usual, some closing thoughts.
“Second star to the right…” by Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Judith Reeves-Stevens
This novelette begins “a few weeks since the Dominion war had finally ended,” with the station in a relative state of quietude. The Lives of Dax was originally published in 1999, before the DS9 relaunch series officially began, and was later incorporated into it retroactively. This could have been chronologically problematic, but Palmieri must have had an idea of where he wanted things to go, because this story and its conclusion—the anthology closer—not only serve as a nice wraparound justifying Ezri’s deep-dive into the memories of each of her symbiont’s prior hosts, but also keeps the book’s “present” neatly contained and free of clash with the events of Avatar, Book One.
The framing device set up here is pretty straightforward. Ezri visits the holosuite and ends up having a long conversation with Vic Fontaine about the precise circumstances under which she ended up receiving the Dax symbiont. (This makes good use of the idea that Vic is informally a counselor). Onboard the Destiny, we learn, a renegade shapeshifter impersonated two crewmembers, the Vulcan doctor T’pek, and Ezri’s close friend, Ensign Brinner Finok. Finok had been preparing to become a Trill host, but because of the shapeshifter’s attack, Ezri Tigan was the only viable candidate left for Dax. Ezri had no desire to become joined, and she could have refused to become a host, but that would have lea to the death of the Dax symbiont.
The moment in which Ezri Tigan decides to save the symbiont and become Ezri Dax is powerful: “And one inescapable realization from her present still burned in her consciousness with all the intensity of a dying thought. Until now, her life had been wasted. […] Somehow, she had been given a second chance. […] Ezri opened her eyes. ‘Do it,’ she said softly, regretting those words even as she knew she must say them.” Her sense of responsibility as a Starfleet officer and her ethical duty as a Trill set her life on a path completely different from the one that she had envisioned, i.e. being joined, but at least she is certain that she has made the right decision.
The Reeves-Stevenses, prolific authors and contributors to the Trek universe in a multitude of capacities, have a great sense of story rhythm, and they’re a strong choice to open the book. They have a deft touch, getting inside the characters we’re interested in with efficiency and sensitivity.
From a critical perspective, I’d say that Ezri’s relationship with Brinner felt undercooked, and the Destiny’s attack by a Jem’Hadar happening “off-screen”—Ezri is passed out at this point and only learns about what happened upon waking up—could be seen as a missed opportunity for a fun action beat. Vic Fontaine’s slang becomes a little grating after a while, too, though I love this line by him:
“What’s it like being a hologram? I couldn’t have said it better myself. Confused, with a capital con.”
Overall, this is a solid intro.
“First Steps” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
As Ezri attempts to do justice to Vic’s question at the end of the previous story—“So then what happened?”—she goes back to the first of Dax’s hosts, Lela. The key episode of Lela’s life that she recounts is the one that redirected Lela’s journey from a life in politics to an exploration of space.
Trill is at this time a relatively isolationist world. When aliens attempt to contact the planet, they are greeted by an automated message stating that “Trill did not want contact with outsiders” and basically asking them to go away. The strategy usually works, too—but not this time. The ship in question sends a response, and Lela takes the controversial step of replying. As a junior member of the Trill ruling council, she calls a general meeting to determine the best course of action. The ship’s alien message, she feels, could be interpreted as a plea for help. The more senior council members, disagree, however, arguing that it may just as well be a request for trade. But Lela takes matters into her own hands, or almost so, and pursues further communication with the ship. A short while later, Trill is attacked, and she wonders whether she made a terrible mistake. It’s time to reach out to the Vulcans, who help explain the alien’s motivation and needs. They also reassure Lela realize that, despite her breach in protocol, she did the right thing.
This is one of my favorite stories in the anthology. Rusch, a veteran, award-winning storyteller and editor, with hundreds of credits in all variety of genres, approaches this first and foremost as a science fiction narrative about the changing of the societal and political Trill status quo as pivoted by one individual’s actions. The background details and supporting cast, including Odan and the Vulcan T’Pau, are all wonderfully handled, but it’s Lela’s inner complexity that pulls everything together: the fine balance of enthusiasm-bordering-on-rashness with thoughtful contemplation of her own limitations makes her a fascinating person with whom it was a pleasure to spend time. This is a compelling investigation into fundamental compassion vs. the pragmatism of realpolitik. The pacing is excellent, the sense of crises planetary and personal genuine, and the ending is a triumph of Trekkian philosophy at its best.
Here are my two favorite passages, both spoken by T’Pau, which elegantly capture a sense of wonder and the aspiration to evolve:
“Our experience observing other cultures has demonstrated that it is the species who strive, who try new things, who ultimately thrive among the stars. Those that hide their heads stagnate. They do not survive.”
“In this universe we are all young, Lela Dax,” she said at last. “That is the subtle truth that often eludes so many promising life-forms. Youth contains the potential for growth. Once an individual—or a culture—forgets that, the growth stops.”
Surely, words worth remembering.
“Dead Man’s Hand” by Jeffrey Lang
We move on to the Tobin host next, featured in an exciting episode involving a transporter prototype aboard the Heisenberg, “a ship owned by the Cochrane Institute of Alpha Centauri.” And yes, there’s another Vulcan, “the quiet, reserved Vulcan mathematician” Skon, who happens to be Sarek’s father and therefore Spock’s and Sybok’s granddaddy.
Conflict with the Romulans is the plot dynamo here, and though it becomes clear fairly on that Tobin’s technical know-how and the transporter prototype will save the day, the specifics of how this plays out are still engaging, with a few ingenious details sprinkled throughout. Lang succeeds in immediately making us care about Tobin as a character distinct from Lela and Ezri and Jadzia, and Tobin’s discovery of inner resources by the story’s end fells well-earned. Lang effectively creates a thrilling sense of danger and risk as the situation on the Heisenberg rapidly deteriorates, which is no small feat, since we know the outcome of Tobin’s survival in advance. At one point Tobin sees no way out of his situation and hears “a small voice in the back of his head say, Stop being so dramatic.” It turns out to be Lela. He implores her to save him, and she replies with one of the best comebacks in the anthology: “I’m dead. Save yourself.” I really enjoyed this explicit interplay between one host and another via the symbiont, and I wish there had been more of this in the stories that follow.
My favorite passage, which occurs when Tobin expresses surprise that Skon, as a Vulcan, would use the word “evil”, herewith:
“Evil—malice, malevolence—call it what you will, is not an abstract concept ascribable to some supernatural power. The desire to gain advantage over others either through deliberate action or inaction is one of the fundamental motivations in sentient beings. How could logic overlook such primal behavior?”
“Old Souls” by Michael Jan Friedman
While attending the University of Mississippi, Leonard McCoy has a brief relationship with the “the famous Emony Dax, three-time latinum medalist in the ’24 Olympics on Aldebaran.” He also manages to blunt an attack by his Trill-hating roommate, and erstwhile Tessma friend, Sinnit Arvid.
I appreciate this story’s ambition to fill out the details behind a romantic interlude only passingly referred to in the episode “Trials and Tribble-ations”, while showing how those events had a profound impact on McCoy, in fact setting him on the course to become a doctor (“Something about the exchange moved McCoy in a way that he had never been moved before. The ability to help, to heal … he had never appreciated the magnitude of it. But he did now”). I also enjoyed the interplay between McCoy and Emony Dax, and the sense of youthful promise evoked by McCoy, and the story’s clear handling of discrimination (“‘I may be your friend,’ he [McCoy] replied evenly, ‘but I’m not a bigot. And until now, I didn’t know you were one either.’”) You can sense me leading towards a “But,” can’t you?
You’re not wrong. My involvement with Dax’s macro-arc was diminished by Friedman’s choice to tell the story from McCoy’s point of view. It made me feel somewhat removed from the symbiont’s experience and how it connected to other events in Dax’s life. Still, the story is breezy, relatively light-hearted fun, a nice contrast to some of the tales that follow, and I think Friedman deserves credit for pulling off the romantic elements, which Trek sometimes struggles with, pretty convincingly.
And, if nothing else, there’s some thematic unity with the two preceding stories, as captured in my favorite line:
‘The universe is full of surprises,’ Dax told him. ‘As you go on with your life, you may find that running toward them is more fun than running away.’
“Sins of the Mother” by S. D. Perry
This story takes on epistolary form, as Audrid Dax writes a long confessional letter to her daughter Neema Cyl, in which she reveals the true nature of the circumstances surrounding the death of Neema’s father and Audrid’s husband, Jayvin Vod.
I took to this piece immediately. For one, it pulled me right back into Dax’s frame of reference through the use of the first person, which makes its position immediately following Friedman’s story astute indeed. Then too, I find Perry’s writing really satisfying: she eloquently probes the depth of her characters without sacrificing external action or descriptive richness. There’s also something about this story’s tone, simultaneously elegiac and hopeful of redemption, and the grimness of the events it depicts, that for me perfectly align it with DS9’s aesthetic quintessence.
So, what are these dark events, the secrets that Audrid has for so long kept from her daughter Neema, causing a tragic estrangement between the two? In short, a Starfleet probe discovers a comet outside the Trill system with “a unique bioelectric signature […] comparable to that of a tiny percentage of Trills.” An away team that includes Audrid and Jayvin lands on the comet and investigates the readings, which are revealed, disturbingly, not to belong to Trill symbionts, but to their apparently-related parasites. One of these parasites attacks and successfully takes over Jayvin. Audrid has no choice but to let her husband die after his possession by the creature, and in short order three Trill ships are dispatched and blow up the comet.
Besides delving into Audrid’s feelings of guilt and loss, the story raises fascinating questions about the symbiont’s provenance: “Was some ancient traveler from another world responsible for the beginning of life on Trill? Were the symbionts even indigenous to the homeworld? What if there was another homeworld, one that preceded Trill by hundreds, even thousands of centuries?” The answers aren’t forthcoming in this particular chronicle, but they do send the imagination racing.
The only extraneous element, perhaps, in which I thought was an excellent piece, was the inclusion of Pike. It’s pleasing, in a familiar sort of way, to see him in action at this point in the timeline, and, sure, our knowledge of his character helps sell his robust command presence, and his ultimate decision to keep the Trill’s authentic nature—their joined status is not commonly known at this time—under wraps. But it was also a little distracting from the story’s affective core. Nevertheless, as I said, a terrific read, and along with Rusch’s “First Steps,” one of the book’s two standouts for me.
“Infinity” by Susan Wright
This novelette tells of Torias Dax’s attempts to achieve transwarp flight, and the ultimate price paid for this stab at historic glory, as seen through the context of Torias’s relationship with Nilani Kahn, who would eventually become Lenara Kahn.
Two elements worked against my enjoyment of this story. The first was Torias himself; I found myself having a hard time connecting with him, or even being curious about what made him tick. The second was the transwarp scenario itself, from the early holo-simulations to the eventual test run on the Infinity. Unlike what happened with Lang’s tale, here I found my foreknowledge of the outcome impeding my immersion in these events. The inclusion of Saavik, and references to Kirk and others, didn’t enhance things for me, either.
Wright’s prose is certainly readable, and I think she has a particular knack for making technobabble palatable. There is one memorable moment, too, worth citing:
Suddenly the universe was still. And for an instant, Torias was everywhere.
He was not only in the pilot’s seat of the Infinity, he was also on the bridge of the Excelsior, and on the observation deck with all the dignitaries. He could see Saavik bite her lip in an uncharacteristic show of concern. He could see the blood vessels quivering on the surface of her eye….
Not the kind of thing you’re likely to forget, no matter how many lifetimes you’ve had!
“Allegro Ouroboros in D Minor” by S. D. Perry and Robert Simpson
Remember Joran Dax? Perry and Simpson’s novelette take us deep into Joran’s unstable mind, walking us through his perceptions and thoughts in the wake of three grisly murders, and his encounter with the irresistible Temzia Nirenn, who proves to be his undoing.
Music, as suggested by the story’s title, plays an important role here, in terms of setting and in the cadences of the language itself. Perry and Simpson write evocatively and poetically, making repeated use of abstract images to connect Joran’s ideas and desires. For example:
Temzia nodded slowly, and in that moment, she was the teacher, a truth greater than the circle, the connection between the infinite and the need—it wasn’t enough to understand the concept, he wanted to feel it, to touch her and know more.
Providing a measure of relief from Joran’s disturbed psyche is Verjyl Gard, the investigator tasked with tracking him down and putting an end to his heinous crimes.
The closest analog I can think of for this tale would be one of the better episodes of Dexter. We’re both repelled by Joran but also feel a sense of empathy towards him. It takes storytelling skill to achieve this, and I’m not entirely surprised, though I am grateful, that two of my favorite authors in the relaunch novel series so far pulled it off. (Of course, they did so before writing the books we’ve covered).
Also, what happens here adds layers to what we saw in “Field of Fire”, which is another bonus.
And at the story’s end, there is at least a possibility of hope:
“…things are never as dark as they seem. Maybe.”
“The Music Between the Notes” by Steven Barnes
Barnes, a consummate genre professional, wastes no time at all in smoothly setting the alien stage for a mission involving a young Ensign Sisko and Curzon Dax on one Pelios Sation:
“Bactrica, with just over two million arable square kilometers and a population of forty million souls, was governed by a hereditary theocracy.
A world of beauty, grace and wealth, four times within recent history Bactrica had been invaded by a mysterious people called the Tzenkethi, who in later years would launch a brief but bloody war against the Federation. Three times Bactrica had repulsed the Tzenkethi by her own efforts, and a unique energy-weapon technology. The most recent invasion had required Federation intercession. During it, Bactrica’s reigning monarchs had died. The line of succession was clear, there was no crisis of leadership, but the Bactricans had finally decided that there was strength in numbers.
[…] Our presence was officially neutral but de facto protective. Despite her recent near-disaster, Bactrica took the official position that her spiritual nature protected her from the need for membership in what they considered a militaristic Federation.”
After these and other introductions, a complicated intrigue involving strategic negotiations, conceptual breakthroughs, and a romantic competition of sorts between Sisko and Curzon (at least, in Sisko’s initial estimation), ensue. Barnes packs a lot in: a lengthy discussion of non-linguistic cognition, an alluring Empath mime, an intriguing biological collective, an alternative system of alien reproduction, and so on.
Much of this material is thought-provoking, rousing on a philosophical, and even metaphysical, level. Alas, I didn’t feel like it gelled in the context of this anthology. My two main issues with this story were that I didn’t particularly buy into its portrait of the Sisko-Curzon dynamic, which felt overwrought, and, more importantly, I felt too distant from Curzon Dax, too enmeshed in Sisko’s perspective. Sisko narrates in the first person, and after a while I longed to be outside his point of view, mostly just to be able to get inside Curzon’s head, but also because this Sisko came across as overly passionate (“In a moment, I would kill Dax for what he had done. In a moment, I would—”).
The inclusion of Cal Hudson was a pleasing touch. In fact, I thought his character was better developed than either Sisko’s or Curzon’s. The alien societies, and how the plot tied into the story’s dominant eponymous allegory, seemed ill-at-ease with the Trek universe. It was also perhaps an overstuffed novella; I think Barnes had enough interesting conceits here for a novel.
Besides the aforementioned, a couple of other items were distracting. One was certain word repetitions (e.g. [italics mine] “On the other hand, if I said something that went against Academy philosophy, it would doubtless end up in my record. Permanently. Dax was doubtless studying me carefully with an eye to future promotions.”) The other was the occasional reference that seemed to be out of place, like an allusion to Admiral Janeway arriving on Pelios during the story’s events. These unfold within Curzon’s lifetime, obviously, and Curzon died in 2367, which represents the uppermost bound on the year (we know, for other reasons, that it takes place years earlier), while Janeway didn’t become an Admiral until 2378.
This story’s failure to move me, I think, illustrates the importance of the lens of expectation with which we approach narratives. If I had encountered this novella in a Steven Barnes collection I have the feeling I would have responded to it much more warmly.
“Reflections” by Julia Ecklar [as L. A. Graf]
In this novelette, Jadzia and Sisko investigate the bizarre joining of Jadzia’s sister Ziranne with a mysterious symbiont. Their efforts to save Ziranne’s life and ascertain the identity of the injured symbiont within her uncover new aspects of Trill physiology and joining scenarios, as well as a twisted scheme by our favorite Trill villain, Verad.
This story’s plotting is the most elaborate (convoluted?) in the anthology, with several clever reveals. It also does good character work, particularly with an extended flashback sequence that brings to life early shared experiences between Jadzia and Ziranne. Graf gets the voices of the characters right, and contributes more to the Trill mythos than the other authors.
This story’s narrative structure has a certain similarity with that of “Equilibrium”; in both instances, a ticking host/symbiont-rejection time bomb sets off a quasi-procedural into the less glamorous recesses of Trill society. The main difference is that the payoff is significantly better here, and is given more room to breathe.
I appreciated the opportunity to spend time with Jadzia, such a memorable character for six seasons of DS9, and I found Graf’s take well-crafted and quite moving.
“… and straight on ’til morning” by Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Judith Reeves-Stevens
This is really the conclusion of the Reeves-Stevens’s opening piece, rather than being a separate story. Essentially it provides a contemplative bookend, pun intended, highlighting Ezri’s realization that the experiences of all the previous Dax hosts, though difficult to integrate and presently destabilizing to her sense of self, are, on the whole, additive to her existence. Vic says it best:
“Seems to me that you didn’t want to get joined because you were afraid of losing yourself. But from what I can tell, none of Dax’s previous hosts lost anything from being joined. They just got more.”
Thanks to Emony—which makes for a nice callback—she’s able to recognize the stars recreated in the holosuite’s Nevada night sky and to find her way. As she parts ways with Vic, the scene closes with the following lines:
No longer lost, Ezri Dax set off on her own journey, sure at last of her own destination, but, like every Dax before her, curious to see what she might find along the way.
Though perhaps overly emphasizing the idea of a “destination,” this is as good a way as any of anticipating Ezri Dax’s arc in the relaunch novels, a testament both to the Reeves-Stevens’s finesse with words and to Palmieri’s editorial foresight.
Behind the lines: In my opinion there are three main types of stories here. Rusch’s “First Steps” and Perry’s “Sins of the Mother” function doubly as thoughtful science fiction narratives and engrossing Trek yarns—the best of both worlds! A second category is comprised of the stories “Dead Man’s Hand”, “Old Souls”, “Infinity”, “and “Reflections”, which provide Trek entertainment value of varying intensity, but aren’t quite as compelling on their own inherent science-fictional merits. Finally, Perry and Simpson’s “Allegro Ouroboros in D Minor” and Barnes’s “The Music Between the Notes” might make for arresting pieces of non-Trek fiction, but in my opinion fit somewhat uncomfortably within the Trek mold.
While none of these stories was bad, and all offered at least one or two intriguing ideas, I wish the ratio had been a little more heavily skewed towards the first category and away from the third. Also, I really appreciated authors who incorporated previous Dax host memories or references actively in their narratives, leading to a sense of accruing personality for the symbiont, rather than focusing on the depiction of self-contained experiences.
Orb factor: I’m awarding this anthology a rating of 7 orbs. It had an admirable goal, and it provides a unique cauldron for literary experimentation across centuries of Star Trek’s chronology. Despite a couple of outstanding stories, and consistently competent work, I found the approach too episodic to truly fulfill the promise of Dax’s multi-host continuity.
In our next installment: We’ll be discussing S. D. Perry’s Rising Son in this space on Wednesday January 8th!
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.