Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Better-Than-Average Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Novel Demons Of Air And Darkness Satisfies!

The Good: Interesting concept, Good pacing, Good character moments, Nice overall story development
The Bad: Plays the same card the last book did.
The Basics: Keith R.A. DeCandido presents a chapter in a larger story of the Iconian gateways with the Defiant and Deep Space Nine crews on a humanitarian mission!

As Star Trek: Deep Space Nine continued in novel form, the publishers at Pocket Books tried to integrate it into the larger Star Trek universe better. As a result, when there were crossover series', this oft-forgotten corner of the Star Trek universe was brought in. One of those few - to date - crossovers was a little series about Iconian gateways and the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel in that series was Demons Of Air And Darkness, by novelist Keith R.A. DeCandido.

I was not all that impressed by the other Star Trek novel of Keith R.A. DeCandido, Diplomatic Implausibility (reviewed here!) that I had read. However, I was not about to avoid the next Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel in the rebooted series simply because of the author. The novel was Demons Of Air And Darkness and it appears to have been both a stand-alone Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel and a piece of a larger crossover in the various elements of the Star Trek franchise. As such, it has cameos by Jean-Luc Picard and Calhoun and Shelby from the novel-only "Starship Excalibur" series. But, largely, this is the new face of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and it works pretty well.

Moments after bringing a new communications array in the Gamma Quadrant back online in preparation of the U.S.S. Defiant's renewed interest and ability to explore that quadrant, Commander Vaughn and the Defiant are recalled. StarFleet has gone to a fleet-wide yellow alert when the mysterious Iconians return after two hundred thousand years of being absent from the Alpha Quadrant. They activate all of their gateways and the potential represented by the appearance and activation of the space and planet-bound gateways is astonishing to the leading governments of the Alpha Quadrant. While Quark goes on a mission to represent the Orion Syndicate's interests in acquiring the gateways, Kira, Vaughn, Taran'atar and Tenmei head to Europa Nova to deal with an environmental crisis while Nog and Shar try to figure out why there are no gateways near Bajor.

Quark is soon faced with a serious problem; he is negotiating against his cousin Gaila, a Ferengi who absolutely hates him. While Ezri remains in command of Deep Space Nine, Nog and Shar reason that the Denorios Belt might be responsible for the lack of gateways in the Bajoran system, before Shar is waylayed by his politician mother with additional pressures to return home. But the situation at New Europa is the crisis that seems most devastating. As Bashir works to save lives by evacuating colonists using a small fleet of ships, Kira and Taran'atar pass through the Iconian gateway to try to disable the Malon freighter that is dumping antimatter waste into New Europa's atmosphere. Unfortunately, the Malon themselves are dead, fallen prey to a Hirogen, whose hunt may cost more than just Kira and Taran'atar's lives!

Demons Of Air And Darkness is a surprisingly well-plotted book, save that DeCandido mixes up one important detail and plays the same card that Dean Weddle and Jeffrey Lang did in the prior Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel, Abyss (reviewed here!). The card is a very simple and increasingly annoying writer's trick that makes use of the novel format, because this is not a television series. Simply put, subterfuge is much easier in a novel than it is on television. Characters are, quite simply, recognizable by their casting. As a result, simply writing "a Jem'Hadar" or "a Bajoran dabo girl" becomes a great way to escape that particular problem in the novels. This sets up reversals when the reader finds out which Jem'Hadar is menacing our protagonist or which Bajoran has truly accompanied Quark on his mission (readers who have been with the series thus far will not be surprised as the dabo girl is the noticeably absent character from the cast list). And DeCandido might have gotten away with it were it not for the fact that the same reversal was used in the prior novel and, frankly, it would be refreshing to read something a little more original than simply omitting the name and description of a character so that when it is revealed it is a surprise. In the case of the Jem'Hadar in Abyss and the dabo girl in Demons Of Air And Darkness, the clandestine aspect would have been evident the moment the characters appeared on screen. It would have been refreshing for the reader to have the facts the opposition didn't have and enjoy that secret knowledge more than banking on the reversal (classic problem with Star Trek: Voyager, for example). The mixed-up detail is significant enough that it is annoying to the careful reader: Kira and Taran'atar realize that the Malon ship must have powerful transporters because the Hirogen is aboard, but the Hirogen beamed aboard from his ship moments before it was destroyed, using his transporter, not the Malon's.

Most of the story, though, is well-paced, clever and well-executed. Demons Of Air And Darkness - a phrase used to describe the Iconians in Star Trek: The Next Generation - presents the return of the Iconians and the only real flaw with them is the lack of intellectual curiosity presented in this novel in relation to the Iconians. None of the StarFleet officers in this book seem especially curious as to the nature and existence of the Iconians after two hundred thousand years. This plays a minor part in this particular novel, though it's fairly predictable to fans of the series to guess that the people in negotiations with Quark are not entirely in control of the gateways. The Iconians are given dialogue bits where they communicate between one another and the reader picks up pretty quickly their true nature. Still, DeCandido plays that card well, holding it until the last possible moment.

The whole idea of the Iconians, of course, was brought up in the television series. The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Contagion" (reviewed here!) introduced the concept of the Iconians and their gateways and the idea was revisited on Star Trek: The Next Generation with "To The Death" (reviewed here!). It helps to watch one or both of those episodes before reading this book as the nature of the Iconians is otherwise somewhat vague and alluded to more than explicitly described.

That said, this chapter in the gateway story that overcame the Star Trek franchise when the novel was originally published, is remarkably strong on its own and the way it manages to stay distinctly Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is through its emphasis on the characters. More than that, Keith R.A. DeCandido is given the task of fleshing out some of the new novel-only characters. Bashir and Ezri are largely neglected in favor of Elias Vaughn, Shar, Taran'atar, Quark and Kira. Three of those are unique to the book series. Far more than plot-driven, much of the action in Demons Of Air And Darkness is refreshingly character-driven.

Take, for example, Elias Vaughn. Outed in the prior novel as the father of the Defiant's new conn officer, Prynn Tenmei, Vaughn is the new commander of the Defiant and the first officer at Deep Space Nine, effectively filling the niches Worf and Kira previously held. Vaughn represents a pretty astonishing concept in the Star Trek novel world and the overall concept of the Star Trek franchise. Over one hundred years old, Vaughn represents the chance to expand the backstory and depth of the Star Trek universe by creating a guy who has been around doing things off camera for the whole time (and longer) the modern Star Trek series' have been without contradicting what is established canon. So, for example, in this novel, we learn that the two on-screen missions involving the Iconians were not the only ones and that Vaughn participated in a highly classified mission involving the Iconians. It's a clever idea and it seems like one that could work extensively in the novels, so long as it is properly used. Vaughn is a great source for referencing various episodes of Star Trek as he supposedly has an amazing security clearance. His part will work better - I suspect - when we encounter something he has heard about or has peripheral knowledge of, but not direct experience with. We can buy that he was on a mission involving the Iconian gateways, though. It is nice to see Vaughn commanding and commanding well in this book, establishing himself as a fairly vital character.

Thirishar ch'Thane, the new Andorian science officer, is also featured prominently in Demons Of Air And Darkness. Ch'Thane - or Shar as he is commonly called - is the son of, among others, the representative from Andor to the Federation Council. Shar's mother makes an appearance in this novel and the badgering for him to return to Andor persists, pretty much as it has since he was first introduced. He and Nog continue to develop a friendship and it is refreshing that Nog's character is not so abandoned that when the refugee crisis from New Europa comes up Nog is disappointed they have to give up searching for Jake Sisko, who disappeared a few books back! Shar, though, is becoming likable and his character works especially well, giving Nog a decent companion.

Taran'atar continues to grow on the reader as he continues to do Odo's bidding by following Kira's orders. While his part is relegated once again to a battle scenario, it works, especially with his pairing with Kira. They make for an unlikely mentor/student relationship with Taran'atar in the role of the curious student. Kira, for her part, comes into her own well in the last half of the book.

For those fearing that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is becoming unrecognizable in its novel form, there is relief in the form of Quark. Quark's presence in the book is surprisingly active and while Quark never truly grows as a character, it is refreshing to see him doing things, like negotiating and weaseling around the Orion Syndicate.

Fans of the Star Trek franchise will find a lot to like about Demons Of Air And Darkness, though while many of the vital points involving the Deep Space Nine crew are wrapped up neatly, there are a number of threads still unresolved by the end of this book. Fans of science fiction in general and action-adventure stories will also find enough to be intrigued by in this one, though there are no overwhelming philosophies in this book and it is somewhat simplistic on the science fiction front. There's enough action adventure for fans of that and fans of the Star Trek franchise will likely enjoy seeing StarFleet and Federation personnel working on a humanitarian problem. In other words, this does not degenerate into yet another stupid "kill the villain" scenario.

Keith R.A. DeCandido does a fine job with the writing, though few Star Trek novels are a source of sophisticated or complicated diction, this one is good enough. In other words, Demons Of Air And Darkness is more likely than most Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novels to intrigue the reader and keep them coming back for more!

This book is part of the Twist Of Faith omnibus, reviewed here!


For other Star Trek book reviews, 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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