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Star Trek: The Sorrows of Empire

December 17th, 2010
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David Mack’s novella The Sorrows of Empire appeared in the Star Trek: Mirror Universe anthology Glass Empires back in 2007.  It was the highlight of the anthology, and one of my favorite pieces of Star Trek fiction in recent memory.  (Read my review of Glass Empires here.)  Last year, Mr. Mack expanded his story to a full-length novel, and it is a real winner.

The Sorrows of Empire is set entirely in the Mirror Universe introduced in the Classic Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror,” and picks up very shortly after the events of that episode.  The Spock of the Mirror Universe has been swayed by his mind-meld with “our” universe’s Dr. McCoy (in which Mirror Spock gained a glimpse of a United Federation of Planets made up of worlds peacefully joined towards their common benefit) as well as by his final encounter with Captain Kirk (in which Kirk argued that the tyrannical Mirror Universe Terran Empire was doomed to eventual collapse, and so Spock’s continued loyalty to that empire was wasteful and illogical).  So Spock decides to murder the Mirror Kirk and assume command of the I.S.S. Enterprise, but this is merely the first step in a much greater plan to eventually seize control of the Empire itself and begin to introduce reason and Democracy into the structure of the Empire’s society.  But even that is merely the beginning of a much bolder, long-term plan that by which Spock would attempt to reshape the galaxy.

I love Mr. Mack’s conceit of casting Spock as the Harry Sheldon of the Mirror Universe.  The first Deep Space Nine Mirror Universe episode, “Crossover,” painted Mirror Spock as a fool whose reforms lead to the weaking of the Terran Empire and its eventual conquest by a Klingon/Cardassian alliance.  But Mr. Mack’s story completely reinvents and redeems the Spock character as one who knew that his actions would eventually lead to the Terran Empire’s collapse and the brutal subjugation of Humans and Vulcans.  But Spock’s careful actions would ensure that this would not be the end of their civilization — quite the contrary, he saw that this was the only way to transition the galaxy to a much more benevolent, long-lived societal structure, and he carefully planted the seeds to ensure this ultimate outcome.  Spock is presented here as the ultimate tactician — always prepared for his adversaries’ moves, and thinking decades and even centuries ahead into the future.  It’s a wonderfully compelling and heroic depiction of this familiar character.

The novel also sets up Marlena Moreau, the “Captain’s woman” introduced in “Mirror, Mirror” as an equally compelling partner in Spock’s ambitious undertaking.  I love that she is presented as truly being Spock’s partner.  While she might not posess Spock’s extraordinary intellect, Marlena is depicted as very bright and fiercly loyal, and it’s clear that Spock would have been unable to carry out his plan without her.  Theirs is an underplayed, but profoundly affecting, love story.

Mr. Mack has done a nice job of expanding his original novella.  The additions aren’t intrusive — they fit organically with the original text.  We get to experience moments that were previously only hinted at, such as the attempts to assassinate Captain Spock by other Imperial officers fearful of his rapid rise — including as Garth of Izar and Commodore Wesley (who arranges a war games scenario run by the M-5 computer that he hopes will provide cover for the “accidental” death of Spock) — both of which provide fun Mirror Universe versions of familiar Star Trek episodes.  We get to see more of Spock’s mentorship of Saavik.  There’s a great new sequence in which Spock’s mother, Amanda, learns of her son’s plans, and her actions lead to one of the most dramatic moments in the novel.

There are a few additions about which I was a bit more ambivalent.  For instance, we get to see a lot more of Carol Marcus, and the goings-on aboard the Vanguard Station, and we see how exactly she became involved with Spock’s plan.  I love the development of Marcus as a more critical character in this expanded version, although since I haven’t read any of Mr. Mack’s Vanguard series of novels, I did find myself a little disinterested in some of the new Vanguard material.  I was also intrigued but a bit confused by the new material involving the Trill.  I liked the scenes with Saavik and the symbionts (cleverly structured by Mr. Mack to mirror a sequence in “Unjoined” by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels from Worlds of Deep Space Nine: Volume Two ), though I thought those new scenes added some confusion to the scenes with Curzon Dax, from the original novella, that come later in the story.  Could Cuzron really be unaware of Spock’s efforts to annihilate all the joined Trill?  Why then would he continue to serve the Emperor — would he not be in mortal fear for his own life?

The original novella was so good — so tightly packed with compelling plot and intriguing characters — that I would argue that it was just as successful as this new, longer version.  That is not at all a criticism of this novel-length expansion — just extraordinary praise for Mr. Mack’s original effort.  But as a big, big fan of that original novella, I was tickled to read this longer version.  The story still whips by at a tremendous pace — it’s just that now we get to see more of Spock’s plan unfolding, and learn more about other interesting corners of the Mirror Universe.

In both versions, The Sorrows of Empire is a true Star Trek epic.  It’s exactly the type of story that the very best of Pocket Books’ Star Trek novels are capable of delivering.  I know I had some slightly critical things to say about Mr. Mack’s recent novel, Zero Sum Game, but THIS novel contains everything that I adore about Mr. Mack’s best work.  This is a can’t-miss novel for all Trek fans.

I am overcome with anticipation for Mr. Mack’s next Mirror Universe story: Rise Like Lions (due some time in 2011)!!

Previous Star Trek novel reviews:

Star Trek: Titan — Book 1: Taking Wing, Book 2: The Red King, Book 3: Orion’s Hounds, Book 4: Sword of Damocles, Book 5: Under a Torrent Sea, Book 6: Synthesis

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — DS9 relaunch overview, The Soul Key, The Never-Ending Sacrifice, Zero-Sum Game,

Star Trek: The Next Generation — The Sky’s The Limit, Destiny trilogy, A Singular Destiny, Losing the Peace,

Star Trek: The Lost Era — Book 1: The Sundered

Star Trek: Voyager — Full Circle

Star Trek: Mirror Universe (Books 1 & 2)Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Shards & ShadowsStar Trek: Myriad Universes (Books 1 & 2)

Beyond the Final Frontier — Josh’s favorite Star Trek novels

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