Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Reread — Ferenginar: Satisfaction Is Not Guaranteed

Worlds of Deep Space Nine #3
Ferenginar: Satisfaction Is Not Guaranteed

Keith R. A. DeCandido
Publication Date: February 2005
Timeline: November 2376, seven weeks after Unity

Progress: Quark’s Bar—excuse me, Embassy—is feeling the repercussions of recent Ferengi economic reforms, like income tax, championed by Quark’s brother, Grand Nagus Rom. A Ferengi named Chek, the head of Chek Pharmaceuticals, books Quark’s embassy (“the last outpost of true Ferengi values”) for a private meeting of ten notable businessmen, which Quark attends. Chek makes the case that, as a result of Rom’s reign, Ferenginar is heading towards both a financial and a moral crisis, and that the only way to stop the decline is to oust Rom from power.

A conflicted Quark, partially compelled by the sixth Rule of Acquisition (“Never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity”), agrees to travel to the homeworld and to assess the situation for himself firsthand. Since Leeta is going to give birth soon, Quark decides Nog should join him on the trip, and he talks Ro into going along for the ride as well. Nog manages to have dinner with Jake and Korena on Bajor before departing.

Grand Nagushood hardly agrees with Rom (“being ruthless gave him a headache”). He would much rather solve technical problems away from people, but is instead bogged down by endless meetings and political power schemes. Rom manages to get Congressman Liph off the Congress of Economic Advisors on account of Liph’s theft of government funds, but Brunt takes his spot, and argues that Rom should be removed as Nagus because of a breach of his marriage contract to Prinadora, Nog’s biological mother and Rom’s wife before Leeta. Aiding Rom are First Clerk Krax (Zek’s son), and Ishka (Rom and Quark’s mother and Zek’s wife), as well as the newly arrived Quark, Nog, and Ro. Rom needs all the help he can get, because Leeta’s pregnancy is suffering complications, a situation consuming all of Rom’s inner resources.

Zek, ailing from dementia on Risa, and without Ishka to rely on, is particularly vulnerable to predatory outsiders. One such is Quark’s slimy cousin Gaila, who convinces Zek to return to Ferenginar and make a public statement against Rom.

As part of their efforts to help Rom, our intrepid trio must find a way to break into the quasi-impenetrable Glat Archive that houses original Ferengi contracts, in order to disprove Brunt’s claim about Rom, a task which Quark wisely outsources to Eliminator Leck. Ro finds evidence of shady dealings by various parties through her own means. Eventually it is discovered that Gaila, Brunt, Investigator Rwogo, Chek, and Prinadora’s father, Dav, have all been in cahoots, and that the contract Brunt has presented is a sophisticated forgery. Ro astutely invokes the seventeenth Rule in Rom’s defense as well. Rom is eventually cleared of the charge and remains Grand Nagus. Ishka hires Prinadora, to try and help instill new values in her, and Ishka and Zek return to Risa. Leeta gives birth to a healthy baby, named Bena.

Beggars can’t be liquidators, so a now-discredited Brunt enters into a partnership with an equally ousted Gaila (cue the sequel). Quark also figures out that Krax wasn’t the goody-two-shoes that he presented as, but Krax argues that his involvement with the conspirators was actually a subtle way of exposing them by accelerating their plan. Quark, agreeing to keep it to himself for now, vows to collect on this advantage in the future.

Throughout this whole adventure, Ro has found Ferengi culture increasingly unpleasant. (The endless rain on Ferenginar hasn’t helped her mood any, either.) Back on the station, she realizes that Quark will always be on the lookout for new opportunities, both criminal and personal, and thus can’t commit to a serious relationship with her—besides which, such would be a conflict of interest with her new job. Thus, their romantic liaison comes to an end.

Behind the lines: I’ve never been particularly fond of the Quark/Ferengi episodes on DS9. Though I found some of them amusing the first time, on successive series re-watches I’ve tended to skip most of them (though I do watch “Little Green Men” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon”). Because some of these storylines were vague in my mind, I thought it might be helpful, before tackling DeCandido’s Ferengi-centric novel, to go through a refresher. Also, the world is in the midst of a scary pandemic right now, and even the vague possibility of a few yuks seemed worth pursuing.

To that end, and in case you want to chuckle along, here are the episodes I re-watched:

  • The Nagus” (Keith’s warp rating factor = 6; mine = 7)
  • Body Parts” (Keith’s rating = 8; mine = 7)

My average rating for these episodes? Around 5.9. On the one hand, I’m glad I gave these a second chance; some were better than I remembered, and there’s also a greater range of styles and approaches than I recalled. On the other hand, this isn’t exactly stellar material, with just two standouts out of the sixteen (“Little Green Men” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon”), and one (“Who Mourns for Morn”) that’s admittedly a bit thin but which nevertheless brings me great joy, and has now joined that select cadre of fêted shows known as “personal favorites.”

As part of my prep, I also spent an afternoon with the two ancillary books The Ferengi Rules of Acquisition and The Legends of the Ferengi (the audiobook presentation, by the way, though abridged, is entertaining, with an excellent voice performance by Armin Shimmerman, and zany production effects).

Was all this helpful? Indeed, since DeCandido makes use of many details and characters from these episodes. Also, it helped me clarify my own thinking about the Ferengi-centric storylines on DS9. Herewith a few general observations about what I like/don’t like and why, which I’ll relate back to our book momentarily:

  • I don’t find the Ferengi and their culture intrinsically funny or clever. The conceit tends to be one-note. Ferengi aspirations and teachings are often simple inversions of what we contemporary humans might consider noble or wholesome, and therefore I suppose potentially satirical, but not automatically amusing.
  • Yes, there are clearly parody elements referring to specific chapters of human history, but they’re typically “as subtle as a phaser” (to crib a simile from Dean Wesley Smith & Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #14 – The Long Night).
  • I’m surprised, given their putative cultural values, by how naïve, or at the very least, inconsistent, some of these characters are. Quark, in particular, often seems to be several steps behind those around him, even when it’s obvious to us that he’s a mark.
  • The actors in the lead Ferengi roles are very good, and therefore tend to elevate even lackluster material. Good timing and weirdly specific choices, like the way Max Grodénchik says “Mooooogie,” can go a long way.
  • The comedy tends to be broad. I think it works best when it accompanies ingenious plot twists and reversals, and when it arises naturally from the extrapolation of an “absurd” alien society, and it tends to fall flat when it relies on gags or slapstick. Some of the comedy falls into the cringe sub-genre.
  • The Ferengi episodes that work best for me are those that would still function as interesting dramatic stories if their comedic elements were removed.
  • My three favorite Rules of Acquisition are #59 (“Free advice is seldom cheap”), #65 (“Win or lose, there’s always Hupyrian beetle snuff”) and #236 (“You can’t buy fate”). In fact, only the first one of these is strictly canonical, the other two being sourced from the aforementioned reference books.

DeCandido mentions Michael Jan Friedman’s New Worlds, New Civilizations in the Acknowledgments, which I was happy to see; that particular reference book isn’t cited much and, as DeCandido says, it’s excellent.

When I reviewed DeCandido’s Gateways #4: Demons of Air and Darkness, I wrote that “I was pleasantly surprised by the importance of Quark’s sub-plot to this story, and all of his scenes are thoroughly diverting.” I guess I wasn’t the only one impressed by that at the time, and it’s rewarding to see DeCandido apply himself wholly in this direction with the present story.

We may as well start with a few continuity bits I particularly liked: “You know,” Jake recalls during dinner with Nog and Korena, “he actually asked a girl to do that [pre-chew his food] on a double date once when we were kids?” Yes, that scene still makes me smile. The physician taking care of Leeta here is Doctor Orpax, the same who misdiagnosed Quark with Dorek Syndrome in “Body Parts.” We also see how Zek’s failing faculties—our first glimpse of this was in “Ferengi Love Songs”—have really deteriorated into severe short-term memory loss, making his reliance on Ishka that much more pronounced. The bond between Ishka and Zek is genuinely sweet without being maudlin, as is the romantic connection between Rom and Leeta. Kudos to DeCandido for striking the right notes here, because without these “humanizing” elements, we’d be a lot less invested in the outcome of this yarn.

I also thought the humor, an obvious prerequisite that if mishandled could have been pretty offputting, was effective, mostly because it was never over-the-top, it was balanced with other more serious elements, and because a lot of it was dialogue-driven, as opposed to situational. DeCandido has a nimble touch with sardonic banter, as exemplified by this exchange between Quark and Ro:

Quark asked, “You don’t like it here?”

“Not so far.”

“It’ll grow on you, trust me.”

“Quark, the only thing growing on me is mold.”

Smiling, Quark said, “Food for later, then.”

There’s precedent for noir-ish vibes in the on-screen Ferengi canon (think, for instance “Profit and Loss”) and DeCandido picks up on that aesthetic in several scenes of plotting and counter-plotting, making it explicit with a closing line that references Casablanca. This blend of tones is helpful, as it adds variety to the tale and prevents things from becoming stale. There are also a couple of moments in which characters reflect on Ferengi affairs in a way that works meta-textually. Rom, for instance, rightly observes that “people see us as caricatures,” and more profoundly, Ro later articulates one of the reasons we care about Quark in the first place, namely that despite his endless duplicitousness, he’s completely transparent: “he’s so sincere in his lack of sincerity,” she says, “I mean, yes, he’s totally full of it, but he’s completely up-front about how full of it he is. It’s kind of—well, endearing.” True that.

The plot itself moves along briskly. Some beats are predictable (if you’re at all paying attention in Chapter 1, when we learn that Gash “was the best forger in the Ferengi Alliance,” you’ll easily guess the reveal behind Rom’s marriage contract sub-plot; and there’s really no dramatic tension at all related to Leeta’s pregnancy), but—and this was key for me—this tale didn’t outstay its welcome. It was nice to see Leeta receive some backstory, too, since her character was really under-developed in the series, and I appreciated the symmetry of having the story open and close at Quark’s on the station. I’m also pleased with the decision to bring the Quark/Ro relationship to an end, though it did parallel the Bashir/Ezri dissolution at the conclusion of Trill: Unjoined a bit too closely. No matter; I think the dynamic between Ro and Quark was played out, and it was a wise choice to have them move on, particularly for Ro’s stated reasons.

This novel passes the basic litmus test I mentioned earlier of being engaging even without its comedic frills, and I’m impressed by how DeCandido was able to compensate for the lack of actors channeling this material through his writing skills. Thankfully, he also refrains from making any of our protagonists dolts, the way that Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe sometimes did. Is this as thought-provoking and meaty as the previous novels in this mini-series? No. But a change of pace was welcome.

We get one nifty Vic Fontaine line (“Quark found himself reminded not of a Rule of Acquisition but of an old human saying he’d heard Vic Fontaine use: ‘Sometimes it’s worth paying the extra nickel for the good stuff’”) and five new Rules of Acquisition in this tale:

  • #20 – “He who dives under the table today lives to profit tomorrow.”
  • #25 – “You pay for it, it’s your idea.”
  • #88 – “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
  • #200 – “A Ferengi chooses no side but his own.”
  • #280 – “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

As a corollary to #200, and following the estimable precedent set by the conjoined Rules #34 and #35 (“Peace is good for business” and “War is good for business” respectively), I humbly suggest the following as Rule #201: “Follow the latinum.”

Memorable beats:

  • Ro to Quark: “That’s VIP—which in your case, stands for very important pain in the ass.”
  • Ishka to Quark: “You know, Quark, I may not like you all that much—but times like this remind me why I love you.”
  • Zek, remembering when his son Krax was born: “There was something precious about the purity of a newborn baby who hadn’t even acquired a proper portfolio.”
  • When Zek says, “It was the least I could do,” Quark mutters the following response, which made me laugh out loud: “Never let it be said that Zek didn’t do the least he could do.”
  • Rom’s inspirational speech towards the novel’s end is a highlight: “If the Ferengi are gonna keep surviving, if we’re gonna be an important part of the galactic community—then that’s what we have to be, a part of it, not just its exploiters. And I believe we can do it. I believe that we can still earn a profit, but not do it at the expense of others.”

Orb factor: If you enjoy Ferengi shenanigans, you’ll find this a smoothly-executed caper; how much latinum would 8 orbs fetch on the black market?

In our next installment: We’ll be tackling The Dominion: Olympus Descending by David R. George III, the second novel in Worlds of Deep Space Nine: Volume Three and the final installment in this miniseries, in this space on Wednesday, April 1st!

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.

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