16 August 2016

Deep Space Nine Reread, Season One (Bonus Installment): Warchild by Esther Friesner

Finally, my blogging of reading projects can swing back to Deep Space Nine, which I left off writing up last December. But before I get to my Season Seven book, here's a bonus book for Season One. Largely coincidentally (I have a very large reading list that I move through very slowly), I recently read Esther Friesner's Warchild, which takes place, according to the "Historian's Note," between Seasons One and Two. Unlike the books I read during my rewatch, this one was not a reread; a friend gave it to me with his recommendation as one of the best numbered novels.

Acquired July 2008
Read May 2016
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #7: Warchild
by Esther Friesner

This is true. Warchild came out around the time Season Three was premiering, and Friesner has an astonishing grasp on the characters as they existed at this point in time. Kira is wary of the Federation, but knows it can help her world; Sisko is skeptical of being involved in local political and religious matters. It even manifests in the small touches and running jokes, such as Kira's weariness when Bashir brings up the pre/postganglionic exam mistake that cost him the valedictorian position in his class at Starfleet Medical. As this indicates, where Friesner especially nails it is Bashir. Long before the show did any of those (usually strong) Bashir's idealism and propensity for personal investment causes him to throw himself into a medical crisis beyond his capacity to handle ("The Quickening," "Hippocratic Oath," "Chrysalis"), Friesner captures that very well here. I think this might also be Bashir's first romance in the course of the series, as he gets involved with a young Bajoran healer who ends up entering into a religious order. Friesner also portrays Bashir as an excellent multitasker-- something that neatly ties into the Season Five revelations that he's genetically engineered. (Though here he has no experience with genetic engineering himself, and in fact, Jadzia does the heavy lifting in this regard when it comes to finding a cure for a Bajoran epidemic.) Let me quote a passage (at length, sorry), that I think really captures her handle on his character:
     He often told himself that he'd chosen a career in medicine first of all as a result of that incident during the ion storm on Invaria II,* when simple medical knowledge might have saved that poor girl's life. Having his career as a professional tennis player pop like a soap bubble during his first match merely confirmed his choice. But he knew as well that he had chosen to become a physician because it satisfied many different urges of his soul. As a doctor, he would be able to solved a thousand fascinating human puzzles-- puzzles that must be solved, with stakes of life and death in the balance. His expertise would earn him as much admiration as any of his boyhood heroes, and even if dashing bladesmen no longer existed outside of holosuite programs, he could still save the lives of countless damsels in distress with a scalpel if not with a sword.
     But even the many promises of a medical career were not enough for him. He refused to become just another doctor; he would become the best. He joined Starfleet because their standards were almost as high as his own, and because the dream of adventure on some distant frontier still beckoned.
     His posting to Deep Space Nine seemed like the fulfillment of his every desire. And once here, finding Garak was icing on the cake. Julian was never more pleased with himself than after having a long and-- he hoped-- revealing interview with the Cardassian. He couldn't for the life of him understand why no one else on the station seemed to recognize or appreciate his efforts.
     That didn't stop him from trying to make them see what a good job of amateur espionage he was doing.
I quote all this because I think Friesner captures elements of Bashir that the writers of show had scarcely pinned down at this time: his need to solve puzzles, his need to be the best at everything he does without fail, his desire to play the spy, even his propensity for placing himself in heroic roles in holoprograms, which the show didn't give us until Season Four! It synthesizes some of the disparate rationales given for Bashir's desire to be a doctor, something the writers on the show would grapple with in Season Five when it came time to write "Doctor Bashir, I Presume." There, it's kind of explained by Bashir lying/deflecting, but here it's more because our motivations are complex and disparate.

Friesner is more interested in the realities of decolonization that any of the DS9 novels I read: her Bajor is fragmented into political and religious factions trying to decide the destiny of their world, and the portrayal of the refugee camps feels very authentic to the Bajor of the early seasons. One wishes the show had done more Bajor episodes like this, as opposed to making them gullible superstitious peasants like in "The Storyteller." Friesner gives names and identities to different political and religious groups, something the show did only sparingly. It's a damaged world, with a significant need for healing, and Friesner makes that seem like real, important work, instead of writing it off as the show often did.

Sometimes the book feels ambling and unfocused: it's about an epidemic, it's about Bashir's going rogue, it's about a child of Bajoran prophecy gone missing first on Bajor and then on the station. But what makes it work is Friesner's keen grasp of the characters. It's a shame her only other piece of Star Trek fiction is a TNG book written during the "rainbow stripe" era, where I feel like the books got particularly generic; I'd love to see what she could do with the DS9 characters as they were made even richer by the later seasons of the show.

Continuity Notes:
  • Supposedly the book takes place between "In the Hands of the Prophets" and "The Homecoming," as I stated earlier. I'd favor a slightly earlier placement, as the references to the death of Kai Opaka make it seem like the election for the next kai hasn't really gotten started yet; certainly the DS9 crew doesn't have the personal investment that would come from the Winn/Bareil showdown. The latest episode to have an explicit reference is "Progress" (Mullibok puts in a nice little cameo), so I'd put it sometime after that.
  • Though, ideally, I'd like to put it before "The Storyteller," as Sisko is very nervous about sending Bashir on a medical mission to Bajor-- something he's already done if this takes place after "Progress"!
  • Contrary to what is stated on Memory Beta, the Revanche party (a faction of the Cardassian government from the novels Valhalla and Betrayal) have nothing to do with this book.
  • The end of the book nicely sets up Season Two's opening trilogy, with this novel's major antagonist revealed as an adherent of the Alliance for Global Unity, a.k.a. the Circle.
  • "The Temple" is referred to throughout the book, which is the complex we occasionally see in matte paintings where Opaka and later Winn hang out. I don't think this term was ever used on screen, but it made me realize that this location has no name at all on screen! Warchild indicates that all Bajoran religious orders are housed in the Temple.
  • Friesner draws on the fact that Bashir's father was a diplomat, as mentioned in "Melora."
  • I can't say that I ever noticed the earrings of Bajoran children on the show. When talking to a 17-year-old boy who looks much younger because of malnutrition, Bashir observes that he ought to have known the boy was 17 because of his earring: "I see you're well past the age of initiation."
Other Notes:
  • The Ferengi have epic poetry about price wars; Nog recited one for a school assignment. Jake, of course, recited "Casey at the Bat."
* This is what the show called "Invernia II," and is from "Melora"; it is characteristic of Friesner's folding in of some of the character flavor established in Season Two back into Season One. There is also a conversation between Kira and Odo recalling "Necessary Evil."

Next Week: I finally finish off Deep Space Nine, with Prophecy and Change!

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