Friday, September 30, 2016

Substantialreads: Nine

Sod substance, this month I read officially licensed fan fiction chronicling the further adventures of a TV series I used to love. Books I didn't bother reading even when they were current and I was young and easier to impress. This is going to be great!

S.D. Perry, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Avatar, Book One

2001 / E-book / 284 pages / USA


I was hoping for an authentic season eight premiere, and apart from a gratuitous Next Gen interlude (like they'd get those actors back), they've delivered. This pops the cap off the loosely sealed finale and ploughs further along familiar furrows of mystical woo-woo, post-war blues and unwise romance. It's a shame that most of the good characters left in the finale, but Quark's still around, reliably free from character growth as ever, and his parts are predictably the most enjoyable. There are several uninspiring new characters I have eight more books to start caring about.

S.D. Perry, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Avatar, Book Two

2001 / E-book / 234 pages / USA


Stories heavily focused on the Bajoran religion could be deadly dreary at times, but Ro's presence adds a refreshing secular twist, mm-mm! Considering Kira was originally created as a Ro substitute when Michelle Forbes declined to be involved in the series (try getting out of the books when Paramount owns your likeness), putting the two of them together works surprisingly well. S.D. Perry's trying her hardest to make us like these new multicultural cast replacements, but it's only the Jem'Hadar-out-of-water that's got me intrigued. For the least gripping story thread, I'll go with Ezri taking a long hard look at all nine of herselves and deciding her uniform should be a different colour.

Jeffrey Lang & David Weddle, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Section 31 #3 – Abyss

2001 / E-book / 292 pages / USA


"Season eight" takes a couple of thematic detours courtesy of Pocket Books' summer crossover series, but the shifts in tone and character focus aren't any more jarring than is customary for episode threes anyway. As doom-laden and bloody as this story of genetic engineering and jungle combat is, it was fun to fly out on a random mission again and leave most of those story threads dangling for a while. Even if this is the third time they've done this same story with Bashir, even if it includes a B-story about Ewoks, I can't deny that it's a treat to be getting new (15 years old) DS9. I'm getting through these books a lot quicker than ones I supposedly liked better.

Keith R.A. DeCandido, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Gateways #4 – Demons of Air and Darkness

2001 / E-book / 320 pages / USA


The crossover elements are more overpowering in this fourth book of six that you're allowed to read independently but are made to feel like a dick if you do. Quark's scenes are better than the main story again, and even though his cousin shows up, it doesn't descend into the lousy Ferengi family sitcom as those episodes often did. The Voyager elements dragged it down, mainly by reminding me that the series existed, and there's an overload of pointless cameos from That Character in That One Episode of TNG That Time whose names I recognise thanks to wasting so much of my formative years reading reference materials.

Keith R.A. DeCandido, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – 'Horn and Ivory'

2001 / Part of an e-book / 66 pages / USA


This doesn't count as one of my 9/9/9, considering it's basically the end of the previous book, greedily lopped off and bundled with the endings of the other six Gateways books so readers have to buy at least two. Joke's on you, Pocket Books, because I pirated the lot of 'em! And if this isn't the worst story in this anthology, it isn't worth anyone's money.

David R. George III, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Mission Gamma #1 – Twilight

2002 / E-book / 504 pages / USA


Now that the war's over, it's good to be getting back to some good, honest star trekking, though I was oddly disappointed that this week's imaginative aliens would have been impossible to realise under the limitations of a late 90s TV budget. Hopefully there'll be less of this embracing the freedom of the format in the future, and I can imagine Michael Westmore gluing bumpy foreheads to American actors as usual. We're not here for proper sci-fi, know your audience.

I don't know why this one's double the usual length, but I'm surprised Pocket Books didn't just cut it down the spine or reshuffle the chapters of these two separate, parallel plots to make this a five-book series rather than four. That would mean the hassle of awkwardly Photoshopping another cover, I guess.

Heather Jarman, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Mission Gamma #2 – This Gray Spirit

2002 / E-book / 390 pages / USA


Splitting up a large and ungainly cast is often an effective strategy for making sure every character stays relevant and gets their screen/page-time, but not so much when they're divided along apartheid lines. Now half the story is Starfleet do-gooders trekking around pretending like it's Voyager while the aliens are left behind to deal with their unrelatable political and religious schisms. And when you keep bringing back forgotten characters who were in that one episode back in season two, it only makes it more irritating when major players like O'Brien, Garak and Odo continue to fail to show up.

Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Mission Gamma #3 – Cathedral

2002 / E-book / 404 pages / USA


Turns out it wasn't the divided action that was the problem last time, it was just a really boring story. This one's only half-boring as the Bajoran religion continues to drag things down station-side, while over in the Gamma Quadrant an ancient, multidimensional space enigma keeps things more interesting. It helps a great deal that this was written by a couple of prolific DS9 veterans. Okay, they only wrote the comics and not any of the actual episodes, but they understand these characters and know exactly how to put them through heck for the printed equivalent of 45 minutes.

Robert Simpson, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Mission Gamma #4 – Lesser Evil

2002 / E-book / 266 pages / USA


Absent friends are returning one by one, which is gradually improving the atmosphere. They even kill off an established secondary character – admittedly one who hasn't been seen in a few years, but compared to the spin-off media's former policy of strict non-interference, this is revolutionary! But then they go and spoil it all by drafting in some irrelevant Next Generation foes to account for all the political turmoil, rather than allowing it to be organically home-grown. And bringing in the Borg as well was an unwelcome reminder that I'm reading a kid's book.

S.D. Perry, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Rising Son

2003 / E-book / 308 pages / USA


This is as clean a place to quit as any, as S.D. Perry returns to clear up what the pesky, meddling kid has been up to during the past seven books while everyone else was occupied with crossovers and bipolar quartets.

After all that overcrowding, stripping back to a single character's adventure was a relief, and I'm glad it was Jake's. He rarely got anything of substance to do on the series, probably due to real-life hindrances like child actor restrictions and education, but I always liked that they steered clear of the obvious Wesley Crusher/Mary Sue route by making the captain's son an aspiring writer rather than a hero. Here, he takes a gap year and tries his hand at being a criminal.

After so many pointless TNG callbacks in the previous books, it's also satisfying to see the nostalgia shift to the actual series they're supposed to be doing, with an abundance of references to the early years and the return of many old, familiar, differently-foreheaded faces. Things are finally heading in the right direction, but I'm only contracted for nine installments and I can only handle so much fan fic, officially licensed and dubiously canonical or otherwise.

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