The Fall: A Ceremony of Losses
Publication Date: November 2013
Timeline: August-September 2385
Progress: “One failed pregnancy at a time…the Andorian people were dying.”
The Andorian reproductive crisis has been with us for some time. There were hints of it in the Avatar duology, our very first relaunch books in this review series, and when we reached Chapter 11 of Gateways #4: Demons of Air and Darkness it was made explicit. The discovery of the Yrythny Turn Key in Mission Gamma, Book Two: This Gray Spirit raised the possibility of a solution, and indeed that path still seemed viable, if admittedly risky and extreme, as recently as Andor: Paradigm.
However, the Yrythny Turn Key turns out not to have been the solution the Andorians needed. Indeed, in Typhon Pact: Plagues of Night the Tholian Assembly provides Andor with information kept by the Federation—the Shedai meta-genome—which the Federation had deemed classified and thus non-shareable, that offered them renewed hope. Learning that the Federation had been holding out also inspired something else: resentment.
Andor secedes from the Federation in the off-review book Typhon Pact: Paths of Disharmony, an act that we glimpse indirectly in Plagues of Night. In the latter, a comnet reporter offers the following comments:
The Andorian ambassador, Gilmesheid ch’Pavarzi, delivered the news directly to Federation President Nanietta Bacco earlier today. The new presider will speak before Parliament Andoria shortly, in an address that will be broadcast via the Federation News Service. In his remarks, he will formally declare the secession of Andor from the United Federation of Planets.
When this novel opens, Thirishar ch’Thane, or Shar, as we know him, has been working diligently on the problem of Andorian extinction for some time. He’s also endured significant losses, chronicled outside this review series: his zhavey Charivretha zh’Thane was killed (Destiny: Lost Souls), his bondgroup and child were killed by the Borg, and Andor itself was attacked by the Borg (Paths of Disharmony). The ruling party in Andor at this time is the Treishya, the group that initially pushed for secession, and which took over some three years before the events described herein. ch’Foruta is the active Presider of Parliament Andoria, but staying in control is proving a challenge: “Only a tenuous power-sharing agreement with the conservative True Heirs of Andor and several hard-liners from the centrist Visionist party had enabled the Treishya to wrest control of the parliament from the liberalist Progressives and their minor-party allies.” That balance is now severely strained.
Our story kicks off five days after the assassination of Federation President Nanietta Bacco, as seen in The Fall: Revelation and Dust. Shar is being closely monitored by his own government, and though much research progress has been achieved in his work with Professor zh’Thiin, a cure is still not at hand. The Treishya, it turns out, is holding vital parts of the meta-genome data from Shar and zh’Thiin because they want to delay a cure until re-election, so as to bank on that success. Unrest leads to the destruction of Shar’s lab, and he decides it’s time for a little help from his friends. Through Quark, he sends Bashir a message.
Bashir, who is remorsefully out of sorts—“There are days when I feel like I’ve lost my way. Like I’ve forgotten who I am”—is compelled by his compassion to try and help. The cost, he realizes, will be tremendous. The only way to assist Shar is to obtain a full copy of the meta-genome himself, which is an instant career-ender. He convinces Sarina Douglas to assist him via Section 31. She in turn plays S31 (or does she?) by pointing out that no matter what the ultimate outcome of Bashir’s efforts is, when the dust settles he’ll be susceptible to recruitment. So Sarina obtains the meta-genome, which means that Bashir obtains the meta-genome. But it proves too complex for him to analyze by himself, so he creates the pretext of a conference and invites the Federation’s top geneticists to Bajor. The more people he involves in his efforts, the greater the risk of the whole operation falling apart. This becomes clear when Breen spy Jyri Sarpantha, a Silwaan surgically altered to look Bajoran, almost takes out the scientists’ complex.
The Breen are not the only ones to suspect that Bashir is up to Something Big. Federation pro temp President Ishan Anjar orders Captain Ro to put a stop to Bashir’s activities, and though she buys him time, eventually she has to crack down on him and his allies. With pre-planned assistance from Sarina and Prynn Tenmei, though, Bashir manages to escape. Better still, he’s found the cure and injected it into himself in the form of a retrovirus.
What follows is a nail-biting series of action sequences interspersed with political maneuvers that see Bashir get progressively closer to his goal of delivering the cure to Andor, then be stymied, then get closer again, then be stymied again, and so on. Both the Federation and the Andorian governments, for opposed reasons (mostly involving the larger Typhon Pact conflict), are working to try and stop him. Things become very personal when Ezri Dax, leading the Aventine, is tasked with apprehending Bashir. Questions of asylum, custody, and jurisdiction play out in an enthralling, realistic way, and culminate with a covert Starfleet military ops team trying to extract Bashir, who has, harrowingly, made it to Andor’s surface and managed to rendezvous with Shar.
In the end, goodness prevails. Dax and others help Bashir, and the cure reaches its rightful destination. Not only that, but Shar exposes the cruelty of his own government. Andor applies to rejoin the Federation. Admiral Akaar, who’s been with us since Mission Gamma, Book One: Twilight, decides that he’s had enough of Ishan’s internal abuses of power. And Kellessar zh’Tarash, who helped Shar and worked against ch’Foruta, plans to run against Ishan as Federation President.
Behind the lines: This is a beautiful, thrilling novel that has quickly become not only a relaunch favorite of mine, but one of my all-time Trek favorites. Its construction around a poignant ethical dilemma with far-reaching consequences—do you follow lawful orders, even when those orders will lead to the extinction of a recently allied sentient species that you could possibly save?—makes it quintessential Trek, and its sense of pacing, character development, continuity and worldbuilding, not to mention realpolitik, add a sophisticated science fictional texture.
A Ceremony of Losses offers the resolution to a storyline we have been following, in-universe, for about a decade, and which readers tracked for at least twelve years in real-world publishing time. That’s momentous, and the novel delivers every step of the way. This resolution would have been easy to botch, and even easier to make anti-climactic. But Mack, who has proven his storytelling verve time and again in this series and beyond, knows precisely how to ramp up the psychological tension and bring the problem down from the abstract to the concrete. This begins in the Prologue, which shows us, in visceral form, what it means for Andorians to no longer be able to successfully procreate. The main bulk of the story continues the process by making Bashir, in whom we are already heavily invested, the character crucible that distills the ethical dilemma to its purest form. By inextricably connecting his personal fate to Andor’s future, we become completely absorbed.
This acts as a lovely resolution to Bashir’s own moral arc, too, providing redemption for someone who over time became mired in questionable ethics. In Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game, Bashir did some things that he’s since come to regret. But he doesn’t launch himself into helping Shar as a way of becoming a martyr. He does it because he realizes it’s the right thing to do, and the culmination of his vocational responsibility as a healer. His recent turbid history doesn’t define him—it offers an extremely plausible context for his motivation.
This is elegantly rendered in a small moment that occurs late in the novel. With extreme pressures on both sides and everything on the line for those involved, Bashir implores Dax for help, even though she has, up to this point, refused. She asks him if he’s absolutely sure he has the cure. It’s the manner of his response that sells the purity of his involvement and helps Dax come around: “His answer was calm and devoid of ego. ‘I’m absolutely certain.’”
Bashir’s evolution also acts as a pivot for Ezri. At the beginning of the novel, while she is enforcing the embargo against Andor that Ishan has enacted as part of his retaliation for its secession, she feels like the orders she’s following are “pointless, spiteful, and misguided.” And yet, understandably, she’s not quite ready to abandon her sworn oath to Starfleet, and potentially throw away her career, because of these personal misgivings.
The conflict that fuels this novel’s drama may be manifested externally—Ishan and ch’Foruta are clearly bad seeds—but it arises internally, from the tension inherent in trying to balance loyalty with moral responsibility. That’s what makes it so powerful. This isn’t a story about megalomaniacal villains or baddies set out on blistering revenge in response to childhood traumas. While we as readers can be fairly confident of Ishan’s moral bankruptcy (by page 46 he’s discussing “strategies to break the Andorian’s will”), Bashir and the others who join him along the way have to take a calculated risk on that front, trusting in their observations and intuitions. Tovak, the Vulcan scientist, brilliantly understates things, calling Ishan “a most disagreeable individual.”
Another fascinating element is that while Bashir is unwilling to compromise on his moral principles and decision to help Andor, he must constantly compromise and be flexible in the specific ways of achieving his aim. Time and again he must accept his own limitations, invite help from the outside, persuade others to join his cause, make himself vulnerable, essentially put his life in the hands of strangers. He seeks to collaborate, and in the process forges deep connections with others, born of shared beliefs. He’s completely uninterested in titles and status, perceived or otherwise. These are the traits that help to make him truly heroic, as opposed to simply being virtuous or hyper-competent, and they’re the exact opposite of those exemplified by Ishan. Ishan forces others to do what he wants, relying entirely on the ultimately deflatable authority of his title. He weaponizes rank and fails to inspire or persuade. He protects his own interests always and above everything else, and he’s convinced he’s the smartest being in the room. Bashir is to compassion as Ishan is to hubris.
Not only do our heroes second-guess themselves, they also demonstrate another trait that Ishan lacks—namely genuine self-awareness. Consider Ezri. She has the insight that her initial disagreement with Bashir isn’t about the content of his ideas—“Everything he’s doing, and his reasons for doing it—they all made perfect sense to me,” she acknowledges—but about enacting a familiar dynamic: “I’d spent so long arguing with him over the past few years that even now, with all that behind us, I fell back into the same old pattern of opposing any idea he supports.” Understanding the true cause of her behavior, she becomes free to change it. Ishan, meanwhile, is consistently hostage to his own power-craving patterns. Ezri’s turnabout support of Bashir, incidentally, nicely ties back to Mission Gamma, Book Two: This Gray Spirit: “Dax lived by her own ethical compass.” Rekindling that element of her character here helps catalyze Bashir’s success. And, as with Bashir, her process of discovery is a joined effort, in this case with Sam Bowers, a character I’m growing to like more and more.
Ro’s leadership qualities and growth are also nicely foregrounded here. I loved the speed with which she goes from finding out Bashir’s real work to helping delay the inevitable fallout from his decision. Mack’s character and plot developments are smoothly fused, a welcome change from the last few books in the relaunch. Even when providing glorified cameos to characters like Beverly Crusher or Katherine Pulaski, the nuances are all pitch-perfect, and they steer the plot. Emerson Harris is also a lovely secondary character, and integral to Bashir’s mission.
Mack’s Trek novels tend to tell weighty, if not outright grim, stories, and here he sprinkles in bits of puckish humor at just the right times. At one point Harris grins and says, “I’m a ship captain, Doc. Risk is my business.” Bashir completely calls him on the Kirk-ism: “You’re the captain of an unarmed one-man freighter.” To which Harris replies, “Okay, so my business is delivering cargo. But I’ve been meaning to diversify.” There are many other nods and allusions throughout. The origins of the meta-genome discovery, for example, harken back to the Vanguard novel series, which is appropriately referenced. Another high point, Shar’s excellent call-to-action speech on pages 262-263, evokes Damar’s similarly rousing speech in “The Changing Face of Evil.”
It’s not just about evoking familiar moments or other narratives, though. Mack’s novel expertly shifts between different story modes. One moment the focus is on political strategizing (concepts like “appealing to the base,” which very much resonate with us at the current time); in another, it’s on the challenges of pure scientific research, the next on intricate spy-craft, and so on. Never a dull beat—Mack proves a maestro of the form.
Memorable beats: Ezri Dax to Sam Bowers: “You swore an oath—just as I did—to serve and obey the lawful civilian government.”
Sam Bowers to Ezri Dax: “Opposing injustice is never a waste of time…. Sir.”
Shar: “I guess some people would rather die as they are than risk changing to survive.”
Tovak: “To prioritize politics over the preservation of sentient life is illogical and amoral.”
zh’Tarash: “The gears of state grind slowly, and they never move without a cost.”
Orb factor: A ceremony of losses it may be, but it’s also a splendid return to form worth celebrating with 10 orbs.
In our next installment: We’ll be back in this space on Wednesday, September 16th with Lust’s Latinum Lost (and Found) by Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann!
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.