Monday, April 16, 2012

It's The End Of The World . . . As DS9 Knows It (I Feel Blah). The Fall Of Terok Nor Disappoints.

The Good: Sets up the middle act well, General knowledge of Star Trek history
The Bad: Boring, Obvious, Not terribly well written, Requires far too much suspension of disbelief, Sacrifices character for plot.
The Basics: In a disappointing outing from two masters of Star Trek, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens present a murder investigation that leads to an entirely different story.

The best Star Trek writers are the ones who look at the Star Trek universe and either figure out how it all fits together best (like Peter David tying elements like the Doomsday Machine into the Borg) to make the disparate elements make more sense or those who address a serious lack in the narrative of the franchise (like Michael Jan Friedman's ambitious histories of Jean-Luc Picard before he took command of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D or even the way some writers bring in neglected ethnic minorities). Two people whose work in the books was so impressive at the former concept that they were asked to write for the show are Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. Their mastery of putting together the elements in the Star Trek universe that make little sense on their own was what compelled the producers of Star Trek: Enterprise to give them a crack at making the cannon version of why there are two severely different looks for Klingons in the Star Trek universe. They delivered a story that was quite possibly the best it could be given the problematic elements of original series Klingons appearing as modern (full make-up and ridges) Klingons on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

So, no matter what, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens are two people who have proven they know the Star Trek universe backward and . . . well, with The Fall Of Terok Nor, we see their vision of "forward." Unfortunately, it is hardly as compelling as we might hope. Actually, The Fall Of Terok Nor is not so much the disappointing flash forward into the Reeves-Stevens Future of Trek, but rather an incredibly boring setup to get the reader there in the future.

The Fall Of Terok Nor is the first book in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Millennium Trilogy. For those who insist upon going against my ultimate recommendation and looking into this book and series, the far more economical way to do it would be to pick up the Millennium omnibus (reviewed here!). Because Pocket Books made no bones about how they were producing a trilogy with these books, they are clearly intended to fit together and those who suffer through this novel are probably going to want to find out how the book continues and ends. The best way to do that is through the omnibus edition. That said . . .

The Fall Of Terok Nor begins with a fairly standard murder investigation on Deep Space Nine. Set after the televised episode "The Sound of Her Voice" and before "Tears of the Prophets" at the end of the sixth season, the book begins in the darkest hours of the Dominion War. Sisko and his crew are waiting for approval for the first real offensive against the Dominion and as the crew goes about its usual thing, a trader associated with Quark is found dead. Dal Nortron, an Andorian who is helping Quark peddle the mysterious and legendary Red Orb, has been killed and Odo is convinced Quark is a murderer.

The investigation into Nortron's death exposes a mysterious section of the station that does not appear on any of the schematics, a Cardassian laboratory that has ties to the Day of Withdrawal (the day the Cardassians left Deep Space Nine), and the Bajoran pah wraith cults that have been formed around the belief in the mysterious Red Orbs of Jalbador. With Deep Space nine filling up with traders and rogues like the archaeologist Vash, it quickly becomes apparent that the Red Orbs do exist and when they are proximate to one another bad things will happen.

The premise of The Fall Of Terok Nor is that the Red Orbs, which aren't supposed to even exist, could belong to the Pah Wraiths - malevolent, non-corporal entities that are like the Prophets in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, save that they are evil. Thus, the bringing together of the three Red Orbs is supposed to trigger a cataclysmic event, in this case, the opening of a red wormhole and then - twenty-five years later - the end of the known universe. In order to make this premise work, Quark and Odo begin to remember the final days of the Occupation and the Cardassian Withdrawal, which leads them to a secret room in the bowels of the station that has somehow gone unnoticed because of shielding or just Chief O'Brien being sloppy.

But fundamentally, the problem with The Fall Of Terok Nor is that Odo, Garak, and Quark are all revealed to have memory loss surrounding the Cardassian Withdrawal that is associated with the mysterious room and the Cardassian attempts to study the Red Orbs. This is roughly equivalent to a child telling a joke (poorly) and providing vital information for the punchline after the line has been delivered (". . .what you didn't know is that the man was talking to a cocker spaniel, you know?"). In other words, in order to make this premise even partially plausible, the reader has to assume the validity of a whole lot of information that was never presented in the series.

And it's a bit of a stretch.

By "bit of a stretch," what I truly mean is "it taxes suspension of disbelief far beyond the reader's ability to buy the premise." First, The Fall Of Terok Nor begins as a very standard, pedestrian murder investigation. In other words, the novel begins with a fairly boring premise and it is only in the course of the murder of Dal Nortron that Odo stumbles into the real mystery. But between the death, the many accusations against Quark and the discovery of the Orbs Of Jalbador, it's a whole lot of boredom of the most typical and formulaic murder investigation story.

When the Red Orbs are introduced as a concept, they do not seem like a bad idea. Indeed, they make quite a bit of sense on the surface. When the Pah Wraiths were first introduced in "The Assignment" (reviewed here!), they were a fairly impressive concept: enemies for the gods of Bajor. That's a great idea, come to think of it (something that people tend to forget is even the Biblical god has enemies, indeed, much of the Old Testament is essentially god lining up humans against its enemies - "worship no other gods but me . . ."). The problem I suddenly have with the concept of the Red Orbs - coming up as I review this book and consider the way it fits into the larger Star Trek universe - is that when the Pah Wraiths first show up in "The Assignment," shouldn't they have started a massive hunt for the Red Orbs, as opposed to trying to witlessly destroy the Celestial Temple? Not addressed in The Fall Of Terok Nor.

But once the prophecy of the end of the universe is laid out from the coming together of the three orbs, the reader is pretty much just waiting for it to come true because that's how prophecies in the Star Trek universe tend to work. And Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens don't disappoint, they get there. But again, this is hardly the engaging story it could be and by the time they get where they tell us it is going, the book is over, all set up for the next volume.

Problematically, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens telegraph far too much of the book. Because of what happens in the secret room on Deep Space Nine, the reader is set up for yet another time travel type adventure which will involve characters running around avoiding alternate versions of themselves. Is that in The Fall Of Terok Nor? No, but it is set up to go there and part of the fundamental problem with the book is that it is entirely predictable.

Moreover, this is not the best-written book by this pair. The writing is very expository and it does not flow terribly well. Instead, it reads like a technical manual as the writers assemble the disparate elements of the Star Trek universe needed to tell their story. Instead of reading like a coherent narrative, it reads like a forensic team assembling a book.

In the process, the Reeve-Stevens' sacrifice even the pretense of character in favor of plot. The Fall Of Terok Nor is all about what is happening in the murder investigation and in relation to the appearance of the Red Wormhole with no real time to reflect from the characters. The closest we get is the sudden introduction of memory loss with Odo, Quark and Garak and the sudden revelation that Jake and Nog knew about a hidden holosuite where they used to play . . . it's droll, poorly presented and does not sell the rest of the series. Considering where the volumes are going, that might not be a bad thing.

It is worth noting that Reeves-Stevens do make their usual bevy of allusions, including many references to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series premiere, "Emissary" as well as to events in the Dominion War.

For other Star Trek book reviews, please visit my takes on:
Vendetta By Peter David
Federation By Judith And Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Ashes Of Eden By William Shatner


For other Star Trek novels reviewed by me, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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