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30 August 2023

Star Trek: The Destiny Era: The Missing

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Missing
by Una McCormack

late November 2385
Published: 2015
Acquired: February 2021
Read: June 2023

Well, look! Following on from Lust's Latinum Lost, our first DS9-branded book in five years, we now get our first actual DS9-branded novel, shelved right next to The Never-Ending Sacrifice.

But as a Deep Space Nine novel, it might seem a bit odd. Its main characters are Beverly Crusher and Katherine Pulaski, both main characters on The Next Generation. Beyond that, there's a lot of Ro Laren, who appeared in TNG on screen, though she became a DS9 prose character way back in 2001's Avatar, Book One. Plus, it follows up some on the events of Typhon Pact: Brinkmanship, a TNG novel in all but name, and it features chapter openers extracted from Captain Picard's logs!

Yet, I said "it might" because until it was pointed out by a poster on the TrekBBS, I didn't even really notice! It felt like a DS9 novel right from the off. I think this is down to a few reasons. One is that Pulaski, prickly and full of personality, but fundamentally decent, fits right in with the DS9 cast. I really enjoyed the way McCormack wrote Pulaski, which felt a bit redemptive, in that I think it's what TNG might have been going for in season two, but didn't quite accomplish most of the time. I liked her developing friendship with Crusher, and McCormack does a good job of writing her as someone whose personality traits are sometimes weaknesses, but which she knows how to leverage as strengths. I never thought I'd say this, but more Pulaski please.

Another plus is the return of Odo to the fold. I guess he was up to something in The Fall that I didn't remember, but here he comes to DS9 to intervene on behalf of an old Cardassian colleague and ends up drawn into the events of the novel. McCormack excels with Odo just as she does so many other DS9 characters, capturing his dialogue—and his occasional lack of it. The scenes between him and the Tzenkethi asylee Cory were a particular highlight, both when he runs into her in the station temple and when he seeks her ought in the station security cells. Plus there's some great stuff with Quark and Odo. (And just Quark in general; he's not a big part of this book, but all his scenes work well.)

But most of all this works as a Deep Space Nine book because it feels like a Deep Space Nine book. It's about the kind of things Deep Space Nine was about: the legacies of colonialism, empire, and war, the tension between idealism and realpolitik in espionage, and the making of families by people who have none. There's four plotlines here: a group of travellers called the People of the Open Sky come to DS9 and there's something a little suspicious about them, the civilian science vessel Athene Donald launches with a crew including Typhon Pact members and immediately runs into some belligerent aliens, the Tzenkethi expert from Starfleet Intelligence, Peter Alden, comes to DS9 with asylee Cory and she runs away, and Ro and Odo try to track down some Cardassian prisoners who never returned home after the Dominion War. All four plots intersect with those three themes.

Colonialism, empire, and war always run through DS9, of course; here we see them in the People fleeing them, but unable to ever fully leave them behind; Ro must deal with some harsh crimes perpetrated against the people who once did much the same to her people. That tension between idealism and realpolitik is a key one, and the novel keeps it complicated. Should Castellan Garak do what is political or what is right? Is Peter Alden too suspicious for his own good? Is he exploiting Cory? It would be easy to sneer at Peter (some in the original review thread for this book seemed to find him a caricature), but though Pulaski sneers at him, I don't think the novel does; sometimes he's wrong... but he's also right a couple times, and without his know-how Pulaski would have never saved the day... and in the end, it turns out she's been the one who's too pessimistic.

And then we come to family. The "missing" of the title are the children, family, and friends we've lost. Maybe we left them because we had to walk away, maybe they left us. Maybe we were left by them. The People leave their original society, Odo is left by his people, the Cardassians leave prisoners with the Romulans, Cory leaves Ab-Tzenketh, Pulaski and the Athene Donald leave the Federation, Ro left her people way back when. Even Crusher leaves hers. They are all missing. But what goes missing can be found: the People find a new home and a new family, Odo made his own family on DS9, the Cardassians made a new home and so even do Cory and Peter, Ro made a new family in Starfleet even if it took a long time. And at the end Crusher goes back to her family: missing and found.

That's not all; the book plunges into questions of exploration and first contact in ways that feel very Star Trek but also put some pressure on it—surely the most Deep Space Nine of moves. You can see the influence of Ursula K. Le Guin here; her League of All Worlds, later the Ekumen, comes across as influenced by Star Trek's Federation in some ways, and here the influence comes back, some of the questions Le Guin posed being returned to their point of origin. Crusher even cites Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," and I found this a much more interesting engagement with its ideas than the somewhat ham-handed take on them in Strange New Worlds.

All of this is wrapped up, of course, in McCormack's deft characterization and strong narrative voice. I often feel that Star Trek novels are written by people who want the words to be as unobtrusive as possible, as though the words get in the way of the story. But the words are the story, and McCormack's playful narrative voice is fun to hang out with. It's not perfect—one occasionally feels something important to the plot has been elided or rushed (is there no Defiant to help the Athene Donald?)—but what is important to the book is always there in full so it's hard to be annoyed with it since you're always being entertained by it.

I keep thinking about a line from the very first chapter, what Picard thinks is the ultimate challenge: "the challenge that one sets oneself: to be pitted against the unknown and to find within oneself the capacity to respond not with fear but with curiosity, empathy, and humility." It's a good summation of what Star Trek teaches us we can do, and what this novel reminds us that we must find in ourselves to do again each day.

image courtesy ScreenRant
Continuity Notes:
  • Doctor Crusher is taking a leave from the Enterprise to replace Bashir as CMO of Deep Space 9 following the events of The Fall. This was a thing I totally did not remember happening. To be honest, I remembered hardly anything about the status quo of DS9 following The Fall, and had to be reminded and/or look a lot of stuff up.
  • I read this after Picard: Second Self but of course it was published first; both books focus on the fallout of the Romulan/Cardassian front during the Dominion War, describing it as one of the most brutal. I don't think this derives from anything on screen, so McCormack is carrying over one of her own ideas from the Destiny continuity into the new one.
  • One would think if there was an ongoing galactic terrorism crisis targeting space stations where the perpetrators seemingly had the ability to just appear anywhere it would come up in this book set on a space station where the villains have the ability to just appear anywhere. One would think. :shifty:
Other Notes:
  • I felt like there was a bit of meta shade directed at earlier books when Pulaski observed it didn't make sense for someone in a marriage to work through a problem by temporarily splitting up.
  • O'Brien appears very suddenly and very late, almost like two-thirds of the way through the book someone reminded the writer he was back on the station so she started using him as a character from that point on.
  • Starfleet's worst chief of security, Jefferson Blackmer, appears in this book. Not even McCormack can totally salvage a character whose entire personality is "likes space stations," but he is more interesting here than in any of his David R. George III–penned appearances. He offers his resignation to Ro, but alas, she does not take it.
  • Oh! Garak is in this. He's well written, of course, but my favorite part was how Odo responds to Garak's new position of authority.
  • McCormack's inspiration was a tweet from Dan Tostevin, my former editor at Unreality SF. He showed me this tweet back when the novel came out, but I think his twitter has vanished now.
  • I want to know what "excellent speculative novel" about a first contact Picard mentions reading. It sounds Le Guinnish but doesn't map onto anything I can think of from Le Guin.

I read Destiny-era Star Trek books in batches of five every few months. Next up in sequence: The Next Generation: Takedown by John Jackson Miller

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