Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Millennium: A Dud From Two Masters Of Trek

The Good: The timeline in the back, The middle section
The Bad: Language, Storyline, Oversights, typos
The Basics: Despite a strong, interesting middle filled with exposition about cool events in an alternate timeline, Millennium is a disappointing read and not worth the effort.

I was biased toward Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Millennium from the moment it first came out. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is my favorite television show of all time. I was biased towards the Millennium books because they were written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, who have a tremendous knowledge of the Star Trek universe that I respect. They are the writing team that make William Shatner's Trek books into something other than an ego stroke for Shatner. And, to be honest, the covers of the Millennium books were downright cool.

I was biased towards the books, heavily.

So, when I saw that Pocket Books had put out an omnibus version of the Millennium books, putting all three volumes, The Fall of Terok Nor, The War Of The Prophets and Inferno into one giant book, I knew it was time for me to pick it up. I did. And I read it.

I'll make this simple and save you the real time of reading the rest of this review and the actual book; don't bother. This one is a real, absolute dud. I don't know how Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens did it, considering the quality of several of their other books (most notably Federation, reviewed here!), but they managed to write a complete piece of crap that I cannot possibly recommend.

Millennium 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. The premise of the first section of the novel 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.

The second portion of the novel explores the world of the future in the Star Trek timeline, wherein the Bajoran Ascendancy - a fanatical group led by Kai Weyoun - has just about decimated the known universe in a religious war to bring about the end of the universe. The crew of the USS Defiant, thrown into the future when the red wormhole opened, interacts with the last remnants of the StarFleet of the day, which is on a desperate mission to stop the Ascendancy and make sure the end of the universe does not come.

The last section of the novel resolves all of the various plotlines and puts us back into the known universe of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Okay, what sold me on buying this novel in the first place? It sounded cool. The idea of StarFleet in tatters, Weyoun - the Dominion puppet - being a religious icon in the Bajoran faith, and all of the twists that would come from twenty-five years of warfare against a brutal enemy (the Dominion is gone, replaced with the Grigari). It sounded cool and Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens seemed to be the ones to pull off such a story. Indeed, the idea of a Star Trek novel directly tackling the end of the universe seemed cool.

Why did it fail?

First off, and I recognize that this book was originally three shorter books, the process of getting there is too long, far too boring, and - regrettably - not worth it when we do get there. The middle portion of the book is the strongest part. Seeing all of the differences and twists on the characters in the beleaguered remnants of StarFleet is very cool. The middle section, where we meet Captain Nog and the senile Admiral Picard, and learn about Project Pheonix and the effort to save the future of the universe is very cool.

The first major problem is that it takes far too long to get there. The book belabors the investigation into the murder of Dal Nortron, a character introduced solely to die and set an investigation into his death into motion. The problem is we have no vested interest in Dal Nortron and after the first one hundred to two hundred pages of the book, we couldn't care less who killed him. Added to that is the pointless addition of a new character, a Bajoran named Arla Rees. Rees is a Bajoran who grew up on a colony and thus missed the Occupation and has no belief in the Prophets. Rees is bland, unlikable, and serves only as a counterpoint to Major Kira and her deep seated faith in the Prophets. In short, she adds nothing to the mix and stands out in the novel as being present simply to make a point and to be relevant to the plot. And when Rees does the most significant acts that turn the plot on her character, it comes far too late in the book and the reader doesn't care a bit about her.

The first part of the book was so slow, so poorly constructed as far as keeping my interest, that I found myself turning in this omnibus edition to the edition's sole difference from the three separate volumes; a timeline of the story. Included at the back of the book is a very nice timeline that shows what happens when in this story (for the events of the first two volumes, it would be almost impossible to have added the events of the third novel into the timeline). Reading the timeline encouraged me to read the rest of the book.

What a disappointment.

Why? The timeline is much more interesting than the events of the book. For example, the timeline cites "2388 . . . Project Looking Glass. A massive Klingon fleet commanded by Chancellor Martok transitions to the Mirror Universe and attempts to take the Bajor System by force." Then there are roughly five lines that follow telling the result of the attack. I read that (and other events) in the timeline and said, "Cool. That's going to be an awesome scene when I get to it!" The problem is, in the middle of the book, while Worf is demanding of a StarFleet captain where all the Klingons are in this dark new timeperiod, the answer is almost identical to the description in the timeline. Therefore, we do not "see" Project Looking Glass, it is described to us in a few lines of exposition to answer another question that simply explains this new, decimated galaxy. Almost all of the events mentioned in the timeline are like that; they elude to interesting, very complicated scenes, which are stated in the text as simple exposition, explanations of plot events that happen "off camera."

This leads to a remarkably unsatisfying feeling when reading Millennium. All of the best parts happen in the interval between the opening of the Red Wormhole and the reappearance of the Defiant in the future.

Even more unsatisfying is the results of all of the efforts of the middle section. The middle section of the book is a build-up to the end of the universe. Because the Defiant is thrown into the future in this book between two episodes in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine television show, there are certain things the reader knows upon sitting down to read the book. The crew is going to find a way out of this predicament. We know that. There are plenty more episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine following this book. Thus, we know that everyone survives somehow and the universe is restored.

So, then, why do Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens bogart from one of the worst episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to make the novel work? I refer to the terrible episode "Destiny," wherein a prophecy is introduced in the first act and by the end of the show it has come to pass, when those look at it from a certain perspective. In Millennium Judith and Garfield make the case that everything that happens - with all of the time-travel elements - has already happened and thus it was going to happen again the same way. However, because of the nature of the end of the universe, the universe has to end in order for our characters to make the journeys they need to to make the original events play out. If it sounds confusing, well, that's time travel.

The problem that this raises is that it makes the writers ridiculously timid. What could be a daring and dark storyline is undone from the beginning by the temporal mechanics of the story. In short, because the plot dictates that certain events will happen, things that defy the sensibilities of the plot occur as well. The universe the crew of the Defiant finds themselves in is very dark, yet the crew takes no casualties among the main cast. Indeed, at the climax of the first section, as the red wormhole is opening in Quark's Bar, it seems inconceivable that everyone would manage to get off the station. Yet, even the characters that would have very low priority for being beamed out (like Quark) manage to get rescued.

In short, the novel suffers because the authors worked the plot in such a way that made them less daring on the character and realism aspects. The real sense of peril is absent from the story once we understand the true reason why Captain Nog is determined to get back to the past. From that point on, it is simply a matter of watching how the pieces come together to make it all happen and the results are far from satisfying.

Indeed, the whole last third of the book is almost as bad as the first third, filled with questions that cannot be answered well. For example, the presence of Deep Space Nine in the pocket universe makes no real sense. Why? Deep Space Nine exists in a nonlinear frame of reference for no explicable reason. The station only disappeared once (when the Red Wormhole opened) and it appeared pretty well destroyed when that happened. There is no acceptable answer given for how the station survived being destroyed the first time, much less the presence of Vic Fontaine on it. Even worse is the senseless sense of movement throughout time that those on the station go through. People on the station jump back and forth in time on Deep Space Nine between key dates in the plot. However, Deep Space Nine only existed in the same space for one of those events. That is to say that for whatever other problems might be revealed by Deep Space Nine appearing in the pocket universe after its apparent destruction, the time travel through it makes no sense. Deep Space Nine was destroyed by the Red Wormhole when it opened. Granted. However, the crew also manages to find themselves on the station over six years in the past. The station would have been orbiting Bajor at the time. Thus, it would not have occupied the same physical space as the Deep Space Nine that was destroyed by the Red Wormhole.

The novel is peppered with a number of startling errors like that. I say "startling" because Judith and Garfield usually have the most expert sense of knowledge about the Star Trek universe. However, there are errors like the position of Deep Space Nine and Weyoun refers to the Defiant as the first starship to pass through the wormhole, though it was not. Even more annoying are the spelling errors. This book - even in its omnibus version - contains several errors in spelling. That's annoying.

In fact, after the first fifty pages, I was ready to give up on this book because it wasn't grabbing me (and I read all of Finnegan's Wake (reviewed here!) even though I couldn't understand what it was saying!) and that's something I never do. If the timeline in the book had not convinced me the opening was setting up for a very cool middle and end, I would have given up on it. The only thing I would have missed was a cheap laugh at the end.

In the final pages of this nine hundred thirty-nine page behemoth, there is an in-joke to fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine involving Dax and Gul Dukat. Is it worth the journey to get to that? Absolutely not.

I love Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and I've long been a fan of the Star Trek novels written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. But Star Trek Deep Space Nine Millennium is a real dud that is not worth one's time or effort to read.

This is an omnibus edition of the novels that were originally released separately as the Millennium Trilogy. They were:
The Fall Of Terok Nor
The War Of The Prophets


For other book reviews, please visit my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the books I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2008, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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