Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Siege Review (Unread 021)

I liked to read Star Trek novels during weeks where I watch some of the TV episodes. Having the episodes fresh in my mind, I can very easily visualize the novels in ways that make me feel like I’m watching unaired episodes. I tend to enjoy my series (be it novels, comics, or television) in spurts. I’ll be hooked on Star Trek like a man who’s never seen an episode. I’ll watch it daily for a few weeks until stopping completely for a few months before starting again. During those weeks where I feel like a new fan, I liked to enjoy my Star Trek in bed before I go sleep, on the road to work, during my lunch break. Really, anywhere and anytime I have a moment to read a few pages. It’s a great way to feed an addiction.

Recently I’ve been watching Deep Space Nine and between episodes I’ve been reading the only DS9 novel written by my favourite Star Trek author, Peter David. Titled The Siege, it’s the first original DS9 paperback novel (the first was a novelization of the series premiere). According to Memory Beta Peter David only had the series bible and the script to the first five episodes at his disposal on which to base his novel. Because of these limitations, the novel suffers from odd or inconsistent character traits. Some of the characters are more rigidly defined than they often appeared to be in the first season. Odo’s character is a good example, as he’s hooked on the idea of justice to the point where he willingly endangers himself. Dr. Bashir is another good example but before I get into that, here’s quick summary of the novel’s plot.

When the wormhole located near the station is affected by a subspace compression, Deep Space Nine forbids any travelling to or from the wormhole to prevent any ships being destroyed or damaged by the unstable wormhole. This happens shortly after a ship with a curious passenger pops out of the wormhole and shortly before Edemian missionaries arrive at the station in preparation to cross the wormhole and spread the gospel of their deity, K’olkr, in the Gamma Quadrant. Commander Sisko bares them passage through the wormhole and convinces them to wait on Deep Space Nine until the wormhole is deemed safe enough to be used again. After their arrival on the station, a violent murder takes place. Another murder follows soon after the first one. Sisko makes the difficult decision of putting the station in quarantine while his crew investigates the serial killings. After a Cardassian and an Edemian are murdered, both leaders, Gul Dukat and Mas Marko, respectively, want to have the perpetrator handed over to them so that they can enact justice according to their customs. Their arrival threatens the safety of the station as well as Sisko’s sanity.

There are also a few subplots that serve to add more depth and resonance to the main plot. For the most part, it’s character work, and that’s where the story works best. It’s also where the story feels odd because of the differences with the way the characters were portrayed throughout the first season of DS9. Is it contradictory then that the characters are what make this novel work? Because they were responsible for my enjoyment of the book, in addition to David’s writing style which is smooth and uncluttered. He’s also funny and manages to makes jokes despite the serial murder plot.

The Siege takes place early on in the first season of DS9. It’s noticeable because Sisko is still struggling with his new role and juggling his work life with his family life. The care of his son is constantly competing with his duty as a Starfleet officer and commander of the station. It’s interesting to see a similar yet different situation with another character. Chief O’Brien is also adjusting to his new life aboard the station. His role at Deep Space Nine takes up a significant portion of his time and his family life is clearly affected by it. His wife, Keiko, is stuck in a job that doesn’t fulfill her personally and isn’t even in her field of expertise. She’s a botanist who spends her days running a classroom for kids on board Deep Space nine. She’s frustrated, O’Brien’s overworked, and the tension is starting to affect their family life. Showing these everyday struggles of crew members helps us empathize with them. Even though we’re aware that all of the characters from the television series will survive the book and avoid being murdered, David makes us care about their predicaments throughout the novel because he’s given us reasons to identify with them.

For some of the other characters, like Quark and Odo, they’re pretty close to their portrayals on the series. Quark is undeniably Quark. His sense of self-preservation and greed is clearly on display and I can effortlessly visualize Armin Shimerman performing these scenes in my head. Odo is close, but not entirely the same as he is on the show. We do get to learn a few interesting things about him, which is nice, but what I like about him in The Siege was how he put aside any chances of discovering his origins in favour of protecting his future with his family on Deep Space Nine. For many people this would be a tough decision to make, especially since the murderer is the only other being similar to Odo that we’ve met at this point in the series’ timeline. The choice Odo makes works because his character traits are clearly defined earlier in the book and the first few episodes of the show.

Another good example of characterization that aims true but misses the mark is that of Julian Bashir. Like his TV counterpart, David’s version of Bashir is pretty naïve and gets himself into trouble. He’s also headstrong and fights for what he believes is right. In The Siege, Bashir fights tooth and nail to administer treatments to one of the Edemian missionaries that suffering from a fatal disease. The problem he faces in doing so is that curing the illness is in direct violation of the Edemians’ religious beliefs. Bashir's dedication to the preservation of life is admirable and gives a good amount of insight into the character's professional life. He's one of the least developed main characters in season one and it's nice to see him getting his fair treatment in this book.

This book could easily have been grim and toned deaf to DS9’s identity as a Star Trek TV series. When I think of Star Trek I don’t picture a space police procedural, and that’s not what this book is. Still, it deals with a murderer and the crimes are bloody. David does counterbalance some of the book’s dark nature with futuristic optimism. Despite all the horror and paranoia happening aboard, Dr. Bashir spends a considerable amount of his time trying to save the life of a young Edemian. While not a masterpiece, even by the standards of Star Trek novels, nor an exemplary outing by David, The Siege successfully ties in all its sub-plots into a cohesive narrative and sticks the landing. The characters are off-kilter but still recognizable. I can’t imagine why a fan of DS9 wouldn’t enjoy reading it and really, what more could you ask from tie-in fiction? 

No comments:

Post a Comment