Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Reread — Original Sin

Original Sin
David R. George III
Publication Date: September 2017

Timeline: February-March 2380, approximately one year prior to the 2381 section of Typhon Pact: Rough Beasts of Empire, and March 2386, following Ascendance and The Long Mirage

Progress: The bulk of this novel consists of chapters that alternate between 2380 and 2386. Here are the essential events of these two plotlines told sequentially:

2380: A Bajoran named Radovan, who’s been dealt some tough blows, falls in with the Ohalavaru, the religious followers of the texts of Ohalu (see Unity and more recently Sacraments of Fire).

At one of their meetings he meets a woman named Winser, who takes a romantic interest in him. He resists her advances until he doesn’t, and then immediately regrets his behavior but assumes no responsibility for his actions, internally blaming her instead. Radovan is beset by gruesome nightmares involving death on Endalla, inspired by a real-life tragedy he lived through in which several Bajorans perished when they resisted an order to leave the moon. The order was given by Elias Vaughn in the company of Benjamin Sisko, who, along with his daughter Rebecca—the Avatar of prophecy—appear regularly in Radovan’s night terrors. Radovan ends up interpreting these visions as a call for him to personally save Bajor from destruction, and comes to believe that Rebecca plays a special role in said plan.

One day, while transporting from Adarak to their home in Kendra Province, Kasidy Yates and Rebecca dematerialize at the point of departure but only Kasidy reforms at the destination. Sisko quickly determines that Rebecca’s carrier signal has been diverted: she’s been kidnapped. Sisko and Kasidy leverage all of the government resources at their disposal to mount a focused but unpublicized investigation. A top security specialist working for First Minister Asarem Wadeen, named Jasmine Tey, is, with the Siskos’ approval, assigned the case, and rapidly comes up with a profile that matches Radovan. After some protracted cat-and-mouse-ing, Radovan first murders a snoopy Winser, and then detonates a bomb that kills him and Rebecca before they’re apprehended by Tey’s contingent. Tiny Rebecca, however, in the instant of detonation leading to her demise, taps into a previously unknown ability and reverses time, or at least resets the local fabric of existence to a short while before the detonation. The energy release of her skill allows Tey to locate and apprehend Radovan, thereby preventing the explosion from happening.

2386: Three months into a mission of exploration in the Gamma Quadrant, the Robinson, captained by Benjamin Sisko, hits a weird energy pocket. Shortly thereafter twelve alien ships appear, none of them similar; they refuse to communicate, and their weapons destroy local spacetime, bringing the Robinson to a complete halt since its warp and impulse systems cannot function in null space. The alien ships dock, a sonic signal knocks out the Robinson’s crew, and when they wake up they discover that the intruders have left—and have absconded with 87 crewmembers, all of them children. This includes Rebecca Jae Sisko. Naturally, this conjures up memories for Sisko and Kasidy of Rebecca’s abduction in the 2380 story. The Robinson is stranded in a pocket of null space and it takes some ingenuity to work their way back to normal space. On the hunt for the alien attackers, they discover another ship trapped in null space, which has presumably been stranded there for a long time, its crew dead.

Through the careful study of astronomical readings, the crew locates a bizarre saucer-shaped world, suspiciously surrounded by null space, with a section like a Dyson sphere. The Robinson confirms the life signs of the missing children. Sisko gives the order to mount a rescue, and with the target world within reach, a dozen alien vessels head towards the Robinson and attack once again. While the ship takes a beating, the transporters fail to materialize the children across null space, but Sisko has hatched a backup plan involving runabouts headed for the far side of the Dyson section. He and two security officers make it aboard the alien world and discover that the aliens causing all the trouble are half organic, half machine. They manage to partially communicate with one of them, who identifies himself as Zonir of the Glant, but the exchange proves unproductive. Three rescue teams manage to forcibly retrieve sixty of the kidnapped children, but suffer three casualties in the process, and cause the deaths of several Glant. Alas, Rebecca is not among the rescued.

Further communication with the Glant reveals that each individual designs a generational successor for itself, and that the machine parts are integrated with fresh new minds which must be found from outside the species. These specially malleable minds are called the Gist, and the Glant consider the children they took to now be their Gist. Their process of “actualization,” already underway, will cause the irreversible melding of the children’s consciousness with Glant machine frames. Negotiations are fruitless, so Sisko orders another retrieval mission. Once again, it appears that the crew is too late to save Rebecca, whose mind transfer is already partially completed, but her rage and resistance trigger another temporal reset, as in the 2380 storyline, allowing these events to play out differently. The Robinson rescues their remaining children then seeds the area of space with warning buoys to prevent others from falling into the Glant’s clutches.

Behind the lines: The word Gamma appears on this book’s cover right after Deep Space Nine in a design font that, to me at least, suggests this may have been conceived as the first book in a new Gamma quadrant exploration subseries within the DS9 relaunch. Instead, this was the last relaunch book published.

As an end point for this long-running series, it leaves much to be desired. My main issue—and not one I’m laying squarely on the shoulders of George, for this is a problem that has arisen over the last ten or so books—is that the original core cast of characters that powered at least the first half of the relaunch has become significantly scattered, so that really only Sisko, Kasidy, and Rebecca in this volume provide a genuine feeling of being in the DS9-verse. Yes, we do see Vaughn in a brief flashback sequence, but that actually makes matters worse, reminding us of the absence of so many other familiar characters. A secondary issue, which we’ve seen in other recent George novels, is the choice to dedicate a large part of the narrative to events that took place years before the continuity’s “present.” In this particular case, the decision strikes me as unnecessary from a backstory perspective, and unfortunate from a dramatic standpoint.

Now, ignoring this volume’s finality (as of this writing) in the post-finale saga, I still don’t think it’s particularly successful as a single entry evaluated on its own terms. The main reason can be found on pages 139-140, which contain the following lines:

Even though they had rarely discussed it at any length, Kasidy knew he referred to the first time Rebecca had been kidnapped. They had been so happy to bring her home unharmed, and cautiously optimistic—and eventually thrilled—that she’d manifested no emotional wounds from her abduction. Kasidy and Ben engaged Doctor Lennis Delah, a professional specializing in early-age trauma, who initially met with their daughter three times each week, and then just twice, and finally only once. After a couple of months, the doctor declared additional sessions of no particular value to Rebecca and suggested that they continue on an as-needed basis. They never had cause to send their daughter back; they simply concentrated on providing a safe and loving environment for her.

We obviously know that Rebecca survives the kidnapping of the 2380 thread before we launch into it because she’s alive in 2386, but the above paragraph, with its explicit synopsis of that plot’s psychological denouement, effectively robs that entire storyline of whatever suspense and immediacy it was trying to conjure up. I understand that George is trying to get us to focus on Rebecca’s mental well-being while keeping the ace of her temporal displacement abilities up his sleeve, but that reveal is too slender, and even gimmicky, to justify the sheer weight of detail afforded to the 2380 plot.

The book opens with a bang:

Brilliant light erupted from the improvised device, engulfing the man holding it as the explosion tore through his body. The detonation also felled the men and women standing beside Rejias Norvan, dropping them broken, burned, and bloodied to the ground.

Readers who have been following this series may recognize this kind of opening gambit by George. Consider, for instance, the opening of his Typhon Pact: Plagues of Night:

A river of fire flooded the corridor. Visible through ports in the outer bulkhead, uniformed Starfleet officers raced before the wave of the explosion, but not fast enough. Overtaken and engulfed by the flames, they surely could not have survived.

Or Typhon Pact: Raise the Dawn’s first line:

Deep Space 9 exploded.

In the center of the U.S.S. Robinson bridge, Captain Benjamin Sisko felt shattered. From where he had fallen to his knees on the deck, he watched the main viewscreen as a massive blast ripped through the lower core of the space station.

You get the point. The author has a penchant for concussive action openings. In the case of Original Sin, though inspired by a real recollection, the description above turns out to be part of a dream, which renders this technique somewhat flat. Since almost all of the 2380 story is anchored in Radovan’s perspective (a few brief scenes are from Rebecca’s point of view; more on that later), one could argue that the relative strengths or merits of this half of the novel depend not on what happens but how interesting Radovan’s perceptions of such events are. I’d be with you on this up to a point, because his inner justifications for his behavior, his flights into anger, and his compulsiveness and mania do provide interesting material. The lack of specificity regarding the Ohalu prophecies putatively motivating Radovan, though (p. 189: “He still hadn’t deciphered the relevant prophecies in The Book of Ohalu—he hadn’t even determined which passages referred to him…”), undermines some of these efforts. More damningly, much of this inner richness is ultimately defanged by Tey’s reductive assessment that Radovan was simply “mentally ill.”

Additionally, while some elements of the 2380 storyline mirror those of the 2386 plot, their aesthetics are markedly different. In the former, we’re immersed in a gritty, planet-bound procedural that feels small, almost claustrophobic, and is seen through a psychological lens with a distinctly contemporary vibe. In the latter, we’re presented with suspensions of the laws of nature in unexplored space, never-before-seen aliens with untranslatable words and ideas, and a bevy of derring-do set pieces amidst a conceptually challenging first contact scenario. To some readers this contrast may prove a boon, but for me it was a mismatch.

Jasmine Tey, who proves to be a key player in the 2380 story, is only introduced halfway through the novel, which is a bit late to inspire much emotional investment. Furthermore, Tey’s uber-competence and unflappable nature don’t make her a particularly riveting point-of-view character. If this had been the first in a new Gamma miniseries, wouldn’t it have made more sense to invest the time that Tey is given here on a character in the 2386 period instead? It doesn’t help that this section also contains some needless repetitions, such as Rebecca’s DNA being disseminated without attribution through Bajor’s transporter network to facilitate her rescue.

Switching over the 2386 section, I enjoyed the mysteriousness of the Glant, and how the Robinson’s crew systematically and logically ascertains more about these enigmatic aliens’ abilities and motivations. In fact, I wish we could have had a little more investigation into their culture after the Robinson’s children were successfully brought back on board, if only because I found these beings imaginatively enthralling and genuinely unnerving. I think George deserves considerable kudos for his take on this first contact scenario; flawed and ultimately unsuccessful not because of nefarious agendas on the part of either party, but simply due to irreconcilable differences and needs.

Also on the plus side, the Robinson’s ensemble performance is satisfying in its own right. Anxo Rogeiro’s character development in Rough Beasts of Empire was memorably handled, and this First Officer continues to be strong and interesting here. Chief Engineer Relkdahz, an Otevrel, is a standout; I could have used more time with Commander and second officer Gwendolyn Plante, as well as more of a focus on Lieutenant Commander and counselor Diana Althouse. If this crew were to feature in an all-new adventure, they’d be fine company for this reader.

Offsetting some of this, I found the more emotional exchanges between Sisko and Kasidy somewhat overwrought and expository, stylistic observations I’ve made at greater length in previous reviews of George’s novels. I don’t really care for the way that Jake gets sidelined in both plots, with Sisko barely thinking about him at all. The children’s abduction, and the obscurity of the abductor’s world, was highly reminiscent of “When the Bough Breaks,” but didn’t seem to acknowledge that. Finally, I found that Sisko and Kasidy’s characterization of Rebecca, during their intense heart-to-heart, as “not normal,” was melodramatic—the kind of description that would be more apt in, say, a Gothic horror story than in this particular context. The conversation does go on to specify their perception that Rebecca is more like an adult than like other kids her own age, but the whole idea of “normal” has been unpacked by other Trek narratives, like “The Measure of a Man” or even Star Trek: Generations, in a way that makes this particular invocation strain credulity. Speaking of Rebecca herself, her character remains elusive, and outside of her surprising reality-rewriting gift, it’s hard to know what to make of her. Admittedly, she’s only ten years old in 2386, but additional scenes in both stories from her vantage point might have provided compelling connective tissue while also bringing her more fully to life.

Thinking back on this book as a cohesive whole, the overall progress of the 2386 plot seems to come at the expense of storytelling energy. The sequence in which the Robinson is encased in null space is neat, but it sticks in my mind as a microcosm of the relaunch series itself at this point. We’re in uncharted waters, but seem to have become adrift in a kind of oblivion, with too many recent books expending significant effort on filling in previous gaps in the chronology and slowly crawling us back into the “normal space” of present time, rather than boldly pushing the story forward.

While this review was being written, Trek-related sites have lit up with news of a forthcoming Coda trilogy set to be published between September and November of this year. Based on the titles, it appears that these three books will likely wrap up the broader Trek litverse continuity developed over the last couple of decades. If that’s true, some plot threads that fell by the wayside of our relaunch may finally be wrapped up, and we may yet receive closure on the fates of several beloved DS9 characters whose futures as of this book are uncertain. Either way, at the very least, we’ll soon know what we’re truly leaving behind…

Memorable beats: Chief Engineer Relkdahz: “…engineering theory comes from our understanding of physics, and its practice relies on the natural laws of the universe. Without the fabric of space-time in which to operate our equipment, without subspace beneath it, reality breaks down.”

Sisko: “My crew are very good.”

Kasidy: “Don’t you understand how difficult all of that was for me? For major events in my life to be dictated by mystical impressions given to you by the hidden members of an alien race? Even if you believe that they’re omnipotent beings—even if they are omnipotent beings—I don’t care. I don’t want them meddling in my life—in our lives—especially when it ends up, directly or indirectly, putting the well-being of our daughter at risk.”

Orb factor: Sadly, despite an intriguing new alien race and the fact that it possesses a certain inherent gravitas because (for now?) it closes the DS9 relaunch books, this tale is a misfire in my book: 5 orbs.

In our next installment: We’ve now covered every book in the DS9 relaunch series! But we’ll be back in this space on Wednesday March 10th with one more post containing some reflections on the series as a whole!

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.

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