Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Tale Of Two Bajorans: Kira And Ro Reboot Star Trek: Deep Space Nine With Avatar!

The Good: Generally interesting characters, Good writing
The Bad: Essentially the same plot at the first pilot to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine!
The Basics: A good, but not great, restart of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine begins with Avatar, Book One!

For those who might not read my many, many reviews, I am a huge fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (reviewed here!). I was one of the few who was hooked from the first episode and I cry every time the last frames come up on screen of the last episode. It was a powerful part of my life during some rather formative years, so it is almost a surprise it has taken me so long to getting around to getting into the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel series as it has. Actually, it is not so much of a surprise: I gave up on the Star Trek novels shortly after Star Trek: Voyager began and Pocketbooks was cramming out two per month on the average month. The first original Star Trek: Voyager book was abysmal; the characters sounded nothing like the characters and it was just all-around bad.

Lately, though, I had been hearing rumors that because there was a chance somewhere between 0% and "never" of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine either returning to television or being picked up as a film franchise, Pocket Books was now being given license from the Powers That Be at CBS/Paramount to continue the story of Space Station Deep Space Nine following the series finale. Given how climactic and final "What You Leave Behind" (the series finale to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, reviewed here!) was, the novelists working on the project basically had to reboot the series and they started doing that with Avatar, Part 1 by S.D. Perry. Avatar functions as a pilot for "season eight" of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, much the way that "Emissary" (reviewed here!) functioned as a pilot for the television series.

Three months after the end of the Dominion War and the disappearance of Captain Benjamin Sisko in the Fire Caves of Bajor, Jake Sisko is working at the archaeological excavation of B'Hala when a Prylar hands him an ancient prophecy concerning him and the Emissary (Captain Sisko). Eager to see his father again, Jake abandons the dig and makes plans to make a journey that will allow the prophecy to come true. Elsewhere, in the Badlands, the U.S.S. Enterprise-E is hunting rogue Breen ships that have been sighted following the war. Instead, they come across an old Cardassian vessel that is housing a secret of its own, a secret that will call the 101 year-old Elias Vaughn to change his life.

Unfortunately, it is at this time that space station Deep Space Nine is running a complete and total retrofit of the station and the Defiant and it is at its most vulnerable. Protected by a lone ship, the new command staff of Deep Space Nine - made up of familiar faces like Colonel Kira Nerys (now the commander of the space station), Dr. Bashir, Lieutenant Nog (Chief of Operations), and Lieutenant Ezri Dax (ship's counselor) and characters entirely new or new to this context, like Security Chief Lieutenant Ro Laren, Ensign Thirishar ch'Thane (Andorian science officer), and Commander Jast (first officer) - is overrun with mechanical problems when Prylar Istani Reyla arrives on the station and is killed in an apparent robbery which also results in the death of her assailant. As Ro and Kira square off over the new security chief's handling of the situation, the station comes under attack by three Jem'Hadar attack ships. Normally this would not be a problem, but with the station and Defiant in the middle of complete overhauls . . .

Avatar, Book One is a reboot of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine franchise, but it is also a continuation of the story that was told in the television series. S.D. Perry and the producers of the novel series are smart enough to not simply recreate the television series. As a result, the characters who left in the final episode: Odo, Worf, and O'Brien are all still gone. Similarly, there are giant political and religious holes in the Cardassian and Bajoran governments. First Minister Shakaar is still the leader of Bajor, but the religious leaders from the Vedek Assembly are scheming to figure out the future of Bajor and the Cardassian Union is absent, save the mention of a letter Bashir receives from Garak.

In other words, change is entirely in the air at Deep Space Nine and three months after the final frames from the television series, Avatar picks up as a new pilot. On the good, this is very strongly the universe of Star Trek presented in this novel. The book includes the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise-E, plus Ro Laren and Simon Tarses from Star Trek: The Next Generation, making it a clear and powerful crossover with the established Star Trek universe. That both works and it doesn't. It works in that since the pilot to Star Trek: The Next Generation, there has been some firm character connection to another Star Trek series to "pass the torch." The problem here is that it was the Enterprise and Picard who appeared in "Emissary" to make that transition, so it feels much like replaying the best ideas from the television series. I understand Perry could not use any characters from Star Trek: Voyager - the U.S.S. Voyager has not made it home when this book takes place - but that feeling is still left in the text that they are rehashing "Emissary."

Nowhere is this more clear than in the character of Elias Vaughn. Vaughn is headed somewhere - though he is thinking of leaving StarFleet until he encounters what he encounters on the old Cardassian freighter - but he is painted as a man who is lost, who has a vision which appears to be taking him to Deep Space Nine. This is essentially Benjamin Sisko's character arc in "Emissary." The insulting aspect is that Perry seems to get this and Picard observes that he observed the exact change in Elias that he recognizes from the time he saw Sisko go through it.

Beyond that, Avatar is a decent fit into the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine universe. Readers would be best served by watching the episodes "The Abandoned" (reviewed here!), "Rapture" (reviewed here!) and "What You Leave Behind." Without the last two, especially, readers will likely be a bit lost as to what is going on as the events of those episodes trigger much of the action of Avatar up until the moment of the Jem'Hadar attack. Avatar, Book One actually picks up nicely as a "season eight" season premiere, though the plot similarities to "Emissary" would not be lost on readers who are fans of the television series.

What Avatar does very well is fit into the adult concepts that were presented in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. While my usual nit-pick about any Maquis being left alive had to be tabled for me to accept Ro Laren in Avatar, I enjoyed that there are casualties even in this first act of the new series. As for Ro, the fundamental problems with Ro are that she is referred to as a Lieutenant (a StarFleet rank, when she is working for the Bajorans) and there is instant conflict between her and Kira. Kira, having once been a terrorist and having worked over the seven years of the television series to accept everyone from her collaborator mother to Cardassian war criminals who were pawns in their government's machinations, seems to have taken a big step backward here. After all, Ro did her part for Bajoran refugees before the end of the Occupation, left StarFleet to join the Maquis (an organization Kira sympathized with!) and ultimately (we are told in Avatar) was part of a rogue force attacking Dominion installations during the Dominion War.

But even better is the thematic aspect of Reconstruction. The Dominion War is over, but Nog is essentially an anti-Jem'Hadar racist, Elias Vaughn is in the middle of a spiritual crisis where he wants to contribute something other than death to the galaxy (he is a great warrior for the Federation, yet has somehow never progressed beyond the rank of Commander), and Dax and Bashir are already having fractures in their young romance. That works especially well and Perry is able to do things that could not be done on television and seldom are on the shows that can; in the middle of a sex scene between Julian Bashir and Ezri Dax, there comes a huge spiritual shift in the act (Bashir senses suddenly that he is not with Ezri, but with one of the former hosts to the Dax Symbiont) and everything is thrown into chaos as a result. Politically, tensions are high about the treaty that was signed ending the Dominion War and when the Jem'Hadar ships appear and attack, fears run rampant and tensions run high. This works beautifully to open a new chapter for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Above all, it continues the story from the television series and progresses it forward. Can the book be read and get fans into this new literary Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series? Sure. But it is so specific and referential to aspects of the television show, that it will be much more appreciated by fans of the television series than by general readers.

There is a lot to like, as well, within the character of Kira, whose position as commander of Deep Space Nine was a long time coming and is well-presented here. In fact, the only troubling aspect to the Kira aspect of Avatar, Book One (outside the relationship with Ro) is that Kira HAS been here before. In fact, Kira commanded Deep Space Nine for about the same amount of time during the Dominion War when Sisko went AWOL after Jadzia's death. So, why she is so harried seems a little annoying to careful fans (like why she needs someone to coordinate with StarFleet when presumably she was doing that before a year prior - one fails to believe Worf was much of a help to her during that time!) but outside that, Nerys works and her exhausted self is well-characterized here.

In other words, there is a lot of potential here and the story is clearly just beginning . . .

For the first major portion of the eighth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, be sure to check out Twist Of Faith, reviewed here, which includes this book and three others!


For other Star Trek books, be sure to visit my Star Trek Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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