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Star Trek Deep Space Nine: The Never-Ending Sacrifice

October 23rd, 2009
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My faith in the continuing DS9 saga is restored!

Last week I week I wrote about my disappointment with how the spectacular DS9 novel series has sort-of petered out over the past few years, but after reading the other DS9 novel published this year, Una McCormack’s spectacular The Never-Ending Sacrifice, I am again reminded about just how amazing this series can be.

The Never-Ending Sacrifice is a sequel, of sorts, to the intriguing second-season DS9 episode “Cardassians.”  In that episode, an elderly Bajoran man arrives on the station with his adoptive son, Rugal, a Cardassian child who was left behind when the Cardassian occupation of Bajor ended.  Allegations emerge that the Bajorans are raising Rugal to hate his own kind, and when his actual father arrives on the station, relieved that the son he believed dead still lives, the Cardassian government demands that Commander Sisko turn the boy over to them.  It’s a complex episode that fleshes out a lot of the show’s back-story — including a look at what went on during the Cardassian occupation and the reasons for their withdrawal (indeed, this was the episode that revealed that the Cardassians’ name for the station was Terok Nor), as well as a lot more about the deceitful web of Cardassian politics (including more information than we’d learned at that time about Garak and Dukat) and how life on Bajor was proceeding after the Cardassian withdrawal.  Despite all those great qualities, though, I was always troubled by the ending of the episode.  After all that build-up, Sisko’s decision is revealed in the closing moments in a simplistic commander’s log (it’s as if the writers just ran out of time and realized that they had to end the episode), and I couldn’t believe that Sisko actually decided to take the boy from his adoptive parents, with whom Rugal had expressed a clear desire to stay.

It was an episode that demanded a follow-up, but none ever came during the seven-year run of the show.  Luckily, Una McCormack has stepped in to fill that void.  The Never-Ending Sacrifice follows the life of Rugal from the moment he was taken by his Cardassian father-by-blood, Kotan Pa’Dar, back to Cardassia Prime, all the way through the tumultuous events of the series and through the post-finale series of novels as well.  Ms. McCormack has masterfully woven together the intimate story of Rugal’s young life with the epic tale of the rise and fall of Cardassia.

Both aspects of the story are extraordinarily compelling.  Rugal is an interesting protagonist.  Following the events of the episode “Cardassians,” I expected him to be depicted as an angry, hateful young man because of his forced separation from his adoptive Bajoran parents.  And, indeed, there is much anger in Rugal as depicted by Ms. McCormack.  But she also shows us his intelligence, his gentleness, and above all his surprising equilibrium even when caught up in extraordinary galactic events.

I also really enjoyed Ms. McCormack’s depiction of the larger story of Cardassia.  She has written almost exclusively about Cardassia in her work for Pocket Books so far (in the novel Hollow Men, set during the 6th season of the show, as well as the terrific novella The Lotus Flower from Worlds of Deep Space Nine volume 1) and she continues to flesh out that world and its culture, history, and politics here.  She also has great fun in weaving Rugel’s story in and out of the galactic events that we saw transpire over the course of the show.  She connects a lot of dots and addresses a number of plot points that the show was somewhat vague on.  (I particularly enjoyed the way she fleshed out exactly how the Detapa Council managed to seize control of the government from the Central Command, and what happened to that government once Dukat arranged the alliance between Cardassia and the Dominion.  Those events were all hinted at by the DS9 writers, but the details had always remained tantalizingly unknown, at least until now.)

There are a lot of other fun references and appearances by familiar faces that I won’t spoil here.  Well, OK, I will tell you that, of course, a familiar former tailor makes an appearance.  His answer to the question “Did you try to pretend Tora Ziyal was still alive?” is absolutely heart-breaking, and one of the most haunting things I’ve read in a novel in quite some time.  (It’s also a great testament to the power of the Deep Space Nine story as a whole, and all the wonderful work by every one of the writers, actors, and craftsmen involved in that series, that a small reference to events like that from the series can carry such emotion and meaning.)

The Never-Ending Sacrifice is an outstanding piece of work, one that fits well into the larger continuing Deep Space Nine story-line but that is also a perfectly complete tale all on its own.  Magnificent.

(Oh, and I also have to give Ms. McCormack props for the absolutely perfect title, a lovely reference to one of my very-favorite Bashir/Garak conversations.)

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