Worlds of Deep Space Nine Volume One
Publication Date: June 2004
Timeline: November 2376
Progress: Jarman’s novel takes up the Shar storyline, picking up about four weeks after Unity. Shar’s zhavey Charivretha asks him to come to Andor and provide assistance with a delicate political situation, which involves Thriss’s mother, Thantis, dialing up the temperature of her party’s political antagonism to Vretha’s. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Commander Matthias is looking to attend Thriss’s funeral on Andor, so the group decides to make the trip together. Once there, instabilities due to both storms and political riots essentially force the three of them to continue their journey as a group, rather than Shar and Prynn breaking off on their own (though they do get hold of a shuttle for a bit). Matthias comes into possession of an Andorian drug known as saf, which is eventually used to drug Vretha and kidnap her.
Shar, Prynn, and Matthias are led to Vretha’s location by a woman named Thia, and Shar and Prynn, whose shared experiences see their relationship deepen and become more overtly romantic, mount a rescue. Vretha ends up resigning from her position on the Federation council. Shar discovers that the Yrythny eggs he previously passed on to Andorian scientists have, pun intended, hatched some dangerous knowledge which would permit the re-engineering of the entire species into two sexes, an extreme solution to the reproductive crisis. We also learn from Shar that “a growing number of our scientists think my people didn’t even evolve on Andor. That hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of years ago, we were refugees from some other dying world.” In an interesting twist, while helping to tend to Matthias, who ends up in a bad way, he inadvertently finds evidence to the contrary, suggesting that “nature does indeed support a four-gender paradigm” (thereby explaining the book’s title).
Thia is cast out by her bondmates. Shar leads the ritual at Thriss’s funeral, and though he decides to create a new bonding group with Thia, Anichent, and Dizhei, he also makes clear his interest in Prynn by gifting her a shapla, or betrothal symbol, containing the single word “Someday.”
Behind the lines: Over the course of the relaunch novels, Shar has become such an integral, complex character, and the reproductive crisis of his people such a standout creative element with far-reaching implications, that it’s almost surprising to take a step back and realize Shar wasn’t around before these books. If someone ever asks you to make a case for the DS9 relaunch novels, you could go about answering in a dozen ways; one of those would be to simply say, “Shar.”
Through the prior books in this series, we’ve progressively learned more and more about Andorian biology, culture, and bits of its history. This novel pulls back the veil even farther and casts us deep into Andorian tradition and belief, science and mythology, as well as the geography and climate of their homeworld. And because of the writers’ initial choice to have extrapolated from the line in “Data’s Day” that the Andorian species is comprised of four sexes, this feels like one of the more genuinely innovative, non-human worlds we’ve encountered. Shar was a key player in the events of Mission Gamma, Book Two: This Gray Spirit, and it’s lovely not only to have the consequences of that particular plot continue to ripple here, but to see Heather Jarman return for the crafting of this tale. She approaches the subject matter with sensitivity and a clear passion for worldbuilding, as she did in her previous outing. This is reflected in her rich descriptions of Andorian landscapes, rituals, customs, clothes, even foods (e.g. “A seared marine animal of some kind and roasted vithi bulbs finished off the course.”). A glossary of Andorii terms is included at the end of the book—really neat stuff.
A good chunk of this story is structured as a travelogue, using various locales to showcase specific aspects of Andorian society and ideas. Our characters arrive at the scene—for instance, as when we are introduced to Harbortown, the third largest city on Andor—and the narrative pauses to provide us with various details about its history and so on. I enjoy this approach, but it may feel old-fashioned to some readers, and makes for a somewhat leisurely pace, even when events themselves are urgent. One sequence that stood out for me actually occurs before we travel to Andor: Prynn working on the outside of the Defiant’s hull after Shar fails to show up for their rendezvous, and him finding her there. Besides the gosh-wow factor of the setting, this scene nicely sets the tone for a story that makes full use of its science-fictional potential. One example of many: the concept of Andorian Cipher neuroimprints, which is inherently interesting, but also highlights Jarman’s skill at locating Andorian elements within the broader Trek context (“Vulcans still practice the transference of katra telepathically. And the human scientist Noonien Soong once devised a method by which memories could be encoded into an artificial intelligence”). In a kind of bookend to the zero-g sequence, the ritual depicting Shar coming to terms with Thriss’s death and letting her go right at the end of the novel was also excellent, achieving poignancy where the story benefited from it most.
The character work for Shar here continues to be consistently solid, and his pairing off for this adventure with Prynn is dramatically astute, as we see each of them through the lens of the other. As Prynn gradually figures out more about him and the ways of his people, and he about her, I was reminded of a conversation about inter-species romance between Dax and Melora, in which Dax referenced “a hydrogen-breathing Lothra who fell hopelessly in love with an Oxygene” and pointed out that they managed to be together for fifty-seven years by only spending “forty minutes a day without their breathing apparatus” in the same room. Shar and Prynn, I thought, you have a chance. In that regard, I suppose the ending is bittersweet, but not for a lack of real connection. The rapport and rhythm of their flirtatious exchanges—as for example when Prynn tells Shar that she likes her surprises wrapped up with bows, and he replies (after she explains what bows are), “I fear that I failed to pack bows”—is consistently engaging and well-crafted. I was sold on this relationship. In a way, Shar in this dynamic reminds me of a Vulcan, with his stoicism played for deadpan humor when appropriate, but with the awareness that beneath it lies a core of passion, and the possibility of rage and violence.
Prynn gets solid character development as an individual entity too, which is important. I appreciate Jarman continuing t0 explore the Prynn-Vaughn relationship, also, even if it’s not the focus of this story:
Her own awkward encounters with Vaughn since their return home—some sad, some difficult—taught her that avoiding confrontation wouldn’t help facilitate the healing process. Vaughn’s insistence that he would be part of her life had started her gradually moving past her mother’s horrific death.
Given all the ups and downs between these two, that’s heartwarming. Jarman is really good at peppering in fun details, and one of my favorites related to Prynn was this one: “… she shifted her focus to her novel—a campy horror yarn about the early terraforming days on Mars.” Hurrah for in-universe fiction! Matthias, another entirely new relaunch character, is also nicely fleshed out, specially her dealing with the fallout from Thriss’s suicide. Additionally, she provides another “alien” perspective, one not so emotionally intimate with Shar and interesting in its own right.
The theme of coming fully into one’s own, which often involves a degree of separation from one’s provenance and family, and how to strike a balance that allows for such freedom while still honoring the past, is compellingly explored. Early on this observation by Shar elegantly encapsulates where he starts the novel’s journey: “‘Remoteness’ was a better word; he felt far away and he took this understanding as affirmation of the choice he had made to sever his personal ties to Andor.” By the end of the novel, he’s in a very different place. Prynn too, in her own fashion, reflects on her family past. Vaughn has been such a strong presence that it’s taken her determined effort to move out from his orbit, but has she truly succeeded?:
…the relentless magnetic craving of wanting his approval, to please him, had never abated. That was the problem with parents. Of course they gave life and that earned them the right to expect a lot, but in Prynn’s experience, parents didn’t hesitate to run roughshod over their children when their own needs required attention.
The notions of responsibility and societal obligation are writ large over this narrative. I appreciate Jarman’s take on how easily tampering with the Andorian reproductive scheme could go wrong: “Bioethically, the forced reengineering of Andorian sexes could be considered a crime against sentient life.” The parallels with other eugenics atrocities are called out explicitly, and make for a powerful admonition against going down this path. As was the True Way in The Lotus Flower, here the Visionists are a staunch conservative group opposed to change and prepared to take radical action to make their voices heard: “The Visionists value tradition above all.” Sigh. These thematic overlaps make the pairing of these two novels under one set of covers clever and complementary.
As I mentioned earlier, Jarman’s approach can be construed as lacking in suspense, and sometimes the history lessons and lengthy political arguments really do grind the narrative down. In Chapter 2, for instance, the wordy Enclave discussion imparts a lot of interesting information, but comes across as a very long scene with underdeveloped talking heads. Still, if I had to pick, I’d rather have more of this and less slam-bang action, particularly in an explicitly world-centric framework such as this one.
Memorable beats: Many of the exchanges here are quite long and lose their charm when stripped out of context. But here are two shorter ones that I think work well on their own:
Elder Tha to Vretha, hitting on what many would consider a universal truth of politics: “You can count on no one to sacrifice their political career on your behalf, Charivretha. Remember that.”
And my favorite: “Sometimes,” Shar said, “what is just and what is right aren’t the same.”
Orb factor: Another 8 luminous orbs for this one.
In our next installment: We’ll be taking on Trill: Unjoined by Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin, the first novel in Worlds of Deep Space Nine: Volume Two, in this space on March Wednesday 11th!
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.