Mass market paperback, 425 pages
Reread June 2015
by Armin Shimerman and David George with Eric Stillwell
In terms of "fitting in," The 34th Rule has a big advantage over previous novels I've read for this project-- instead of being written during its broadcast season, it was actually written much later. In this case, the book was released during Season 7, so the Deep Space Nine of this era was very much a known quantity. The 34th Rule fits comfortably between "Bar Association" and "Body Parts"; I didn't notice any real irregularities. Indeed, the book fills a minor gap in the show's continuity, depicting how the Orb of Wisdom got from Zek's possession in "Prophet Motive" to Bajor's in "In the Cards."
This is really a book of two parts. The first is Quark's imprisonment at the hands of the Bajorans. In classic David R. George III (note, however, that he is listed on the title page only as "David George") fashion, this plot line takes a long time to build up, but once it gets going, it's quite brutal, and of course Armin Shimerman and George have a strong grasp on the characters of Quark and Rom. I would have really liked to have seen the characters receive dramatic material this powerful more often on screen-- even the best "Ferengi episodes" like "Bar Association" still have comic turns that this book just does not.
But the real protagonist is, surprisingly, Sisko. Quark is not really changed by the experiences of The 34th Rule. He's been through a rough time to be sure, and he's learned that Zek is even smarter than he can imagine, and he's had some of his assumptions about the fundamental prejudices of hew-mons confirmed, but he's still basically Quark. But the most interesting thing about the novel is Sisko's character arc of learning about his own prejudice, and trying to move past it. The book's highlight scene is definitely the one where Ben and Jake discuss prejudice while watching Jackie Robinson play baseball in the holosuite, and again, it's a scene that would have been really great to have seen on screen.
What also surprised me in this reread is the extent to which some characters are not changed: Kira moves a little, but barely so, and she's pretty awful to Quark before that, so it's hard to see her shift as very big. There's also a very awkward scene where after Quark has been brutally tortured, Bashir is cracking jokes about his appearance. It's intentionally awkward. I can imagine that if it was on screen, it would have been funny-- Quark's injuries are often played for laughs-- but seeing it from Quark's interiority is not funny. It's actually quite a damning indictment of some of our main characters. Both Kira and Bashir come across quite unsympathetically when you're looking at things entirely from Quark's perspective.
- Sirsy is introduced as Shakaar's aide; she will reappear in that role in the relaunch novels.
- Similarly, the USS New York is mentioned, and Sisko evidently commands it in some later novels. (I still haven't read beyond... Losing the Peace, I think.)
- On one hand, the book can't have any of the Federation characters change their hearts and stop being jerks to the Ferengi simply because of its chronological placement-- they act the same way to Quark in Seasons 5 through 7 as they did before. But it's not a bug, it's a feature: it would be unrealistic for any of them to experience cathartic, large shifts in behavior. And you can imagine everyone's experiences here informing their behavior in the last scene of "Body Parts."
- When the Prophets Cried is a Bajoran religious text about how the Orbs came to Bajor, much read by Kira (and also read by Sisko). This is probably our most sustained and detailed knowledge of any Bajoran religious text. It's nice to have one that's not just a plot-catalyzing spooky prophecy. The only other ones I think we have are Akorem's poems, but I don't think they're canonical.
- Has Zek ever been smarter than he is here? This is probably the only time he ever does something in-story that would validate the idea that he controls a vast financial empire.
- No, seriously, the stuff in Gallitep is brutal. Man, I would love to see Max Grodénchik do some of this.
- I find it odd that Nog only comes up tangentially here. As a Ferengi in Starfleet, what does he think of the Federation's actions here? Even just a chapter from his perspective would have been nice. Wouldn't he have called his dad up?
Next Week: Worf checks up on his son in Honor Bound!