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Star Trek The Lost Era (Book 3): The Art of the Impossible (2328-2346)

After re-reading Excelsior: Forged in Fire (the story of how Hikaru Sulu became the captain of the USS Excelsior, as well as the backstory behind Kor, Kang, and Koloth’s connection with Dax as seen in the DS9 episode “Blood Oath”) and Serpents Among the Ruins (the story of “The Tomed Incident” with the Romulans, and the end of Captain John Harriman’s command of the USS Enterprise B), I was eager to continue reading the next adventure of “The Lost Era” (the years between Captain Kirk’s final adventure in Star Trek: Generations and the beginning of Star Trek: The Next Generation).  I remember loving the next book in Pocket Books’ “Lost Era” series of novels, The Art of the Impossible, by Keith R.A. DeCandido, when I first read it about a decade ago, and I was excited to read it again.

The novel is every bit as spectacular as I remembered it being, a real highlight of Pocket Books’ series of Star Trek books.  As opposed to the other novels of the “Lost Era” series, this novel doesn’t take place during one specific year — instead, it spans eighteen years.  I commented that the previous “Lost Era” book, Serpents Among the Ruins, dug deeply into geeky Star Trek lore.  Well, the event that forms the basis of this novel is even more obscure than the Tomed Incident and the Treaty of Algeron that were depicted in Serpents.  The Art of the Impossible depicts the Betreka Nebula Incident.  This event was only mentioned once, in a jokey (but very memorable!) exchange from the fourth season premiere of Deep Space Nine, “The Way of the Warrior.”  After getting beaten up by some Klingons, the Cardassian Garak remarks that he has no idea why the Klingons might not like him.  Doctor Bashir reminds Garak of something called the Betreka Nebula Incident.  “A minor skirmish,” Garak scoffs.  “That lasted eighteen years!” Dr. Bashir replies.  The whole thing is just a joke, for the punchline of Garak being so dismissive of some sort of conflict that lasted almost two decades, and it’s never mentioned again.

But in this novel, author Keith R.A. DeCandido takes that one little line of dialogue and expands it into an epic tale of interstellar intrigue, weaving together characters and references from across all of the many Star Trek series into a phenomenally entertaining novel.  A small conflict between a Cardassian ship and Klingon ship over the rights to the salvage of a crashed vessel on a planet in unclaimed space threatens to turn into a shooting war.  Diplomat Curzon Dax is brought in to mediate the conflict.  Drawing upon Federation history, and the technique the Organians used to mediate disputes between the Klingons and the Federation (as depicted in the Original Series), Dax challenges the Klingons and the Cardassians to each develop a colony, on separate continents of the disputed planet.  Whoever most effectively develops their territory, as judged by Dax, will be given claim to the planet, and the wreckage of the crashed vessel.  What seems like an amicable solution leads to two decades of scheming and espionage across the quadrant, a bloody cold war that continually threatens to erupt and drag the entire galaxy into war.

I’m not sure quite where to begin with my love for this novel!  Let me start by noting how much I appreciate how smoothly The Art of the Impossible flows from the ending of the previous “Lost Era” novel, Serpents Among the Ruins.  This book brings back several characters from Serpents, such as Dax, Elias Vaughn (a major character in the Deep Space Nine series of novels, whose backstory has been intriguingly fleshed out in Serpents and in this novel), and the Klingon Ditagh.  Although Starfleet characters do feature strongly in this novel, I love that the book’s primary focus is on the Klingon and Cardassian characters.  We don’t encounter a Starfleet officer until almost seventy pages into the book.

Mr. DeCandido’s novel takes several minor Star Trek characters and brings them to life.  On the Klingon side, we spend time with Colonel Worf (Worf’s grandfather, as depicted in Star Trek VI), who is given a robust characterization that redeems him somewhat from the ineffectual lawyer he was shown to be in Trek VI.  We also meet Mogh, Worf’s father, as well as his mate Kaasin, their “nanny” Kahlest (as seen in the TNG episode, “Sins of the Father”), and their rival Ja’rod (whose son Duras was a frequent thorn in Worf’s side during the run of Next Gen).  I particularly enjoyed meeting a young K’mpec (who we meet as the old, fat Klingon chancellor in “Sins of the Father”) and learning of his friendship with Mogh.  (I also loved how the descriptions of K’mpec in the novel begin with him being young and athletic, and then show him growing increasingly fat as the years pass.  That was a nice touch, as was the mention of K’mpec’s infatuation with Kahlest, which was mentioned in “Sins of the Father.”)  Speaking of attention to detail, we even see the Romulan’s capture of two Klingons named L’Kor and Gi’ral, an event referenced in the (not-so-great) TNG two-part episode “Birthright.”  Wow!

On the Cardassian side, we encounter Corbin Entek, just starting out in the Obsidian Order.  (Entek would cause a lot of trouble for Kira in the DS9 episode “Second Skin.”)  We get to meet Enabran Tain (introduced in the DS9 episode “The Wire,” and eventually revealed to be Garak’s father) just after he has seized control of the Order.  We also see Legate Kell (a minor character, seen only once on a viewscreen in the DS9 episode “Civil Defense,” where we learn that he supervised Gul Dukat when the Cardassians occupied Bajor).

On the Federation side, we meet Deanna Troi’s father, Ian, and learn of his friendship with Elias Vaughn.  We also meet Rachel Garrett, who would become the Captain of the USS Enterprise C (as seen in the classic TNG episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise”).  We get to see a bit of Uhura, Sarek, and a newly-married Lwaxana Troi.  I was particularly pleased by the inclusion of Sergey Rozhenko, the Starfleet officer who would go on to adopt Worf after finding him alive at the massacred Khitomer colony.

Mr. DeCandido breathes life into all of these heretofore minor and obscure characters, weaving them together into the expansive tapestry of this novel.  I was extremely impressed by the way Mr. DeCandido was able to reconcile what I had previously felt were contradictory pieces of backstory into a smooth, seamless timeline.  For example, in the first season Next Gen episode “The Neutral Zone,” we learned that the Romulans had withdrawn from interstellar affairs and had been isolated behind their closed borders for decades, since the Treaty of Algeron.  And yet, we learn in that very episode that the Romulans attacked the Khitomer outpost, killing Worf’s parents, an event that clearly would have happened during this period of apparent isolationism.  Similarly, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” tells us that the Enterprise C came to the defense of the Klingons at Narendra Three, giving up their lives to save them from a Romulan attack.  But, again, that event would have occurred during the period of the Romulan’s isolation.  So which was it?  Had the Romulans been unseen for decades, or hadn’t they?

Mr. DeCandido cleverly weaves together all of these references into a clear, coherent story, one that respects and acknowledges even the most obscure bits of Trek lore.  To stay with the above example, he is able to depict the Romulans in a way that doesn’t contradict any of the previously confusing references, instead showing us how, despite closing their borders officially, the Romulans didn’t cease to exist — they continued to strategize as to how to get the upper hand against their interstellar neighbors, and they did occasionally venture outside their borders.  It’s a very smooth, compelling explanation.  To give another example, Mr. DeCandido also was able to explain away the major inconsistency from “Sins of the Father” — namely, if Worf’s nanny, Kahlest survived, why didn’t she bring Worf with her back to Qo’noS, rather than leaving him to be found by Sergey Rozhenko?

The Art of the Impossible isn’t just about one obscure event mentioned in a DS9 episode.  Under Mr. DeCandido’s pen, we see how this was a critical period of Star Trek history, and we see how all of these different events — mentioned in different episodes from across many decades of Star Trek televised adventures — all fit together.  The fate of Colonel Worf, the death of Ian Troi, the destruction of the Enterprise C at Narendra Three, the attack on the Khitomer outpost — these aren’t random occurrences.  In The Art of the Impossible, we see how these events are linked, different moves on a complex, interstellar chessboard of competing interests: the Federation, the Klingons, the Cardassians, the Romulans.

I am so impressed by the way that Mr. DeCandido was able to dig so deeply into the geeky depths of Star Trek lore, exhibiting extraordinary attention to detail while crafting such a thrilling story of interstellar politics.  This is a spectacular novel, one of the very best Star Trek books that I have ever read.

Previous Star Trek novel reviews:

Star Trek – Unspoken Truth , Troublesome MindsCast No ShadowExcelsior: Forged in Fire

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Sky’s The LimitDestiny trilogyA Singular Destiny, Losing the Peace,Immortal CoilCold Equations Book 1: The Persistence of MemoryCold Equations Book 2: Silent WeaponsCold Equations Book 3: The Body Electric

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – DS9 relaunch overviewThe Soul KeyThe Never-Ending SacrificePlagues of Night and Raise the Dawn

Star Trek: Voyager – Full Circle

Star Trek: Enterprise — Kobayashi MaruThe Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s WingThe Romulan War: To Brave the Storm

Star Trek: Titan – Book 1: Taking WingBook 2: The Red KingBook 3: Orion’s HoundsBook 4: Sword of DamoclesBook 5: Under a Torrent SeaBook 6: Synthesis

Star Trek: Typhon Pact – Book 1: Zero-Sum GameBook 2: Seize the FireBook 3: Rough Beasts of EmpireBook 4: Paths of DisharmonyPlagues of Night and Raise the DawnBrinkmanship

Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations – Watching the ClockForgotten History

Star Trek: The Lost Era – Book 1: The Sundered (2298), Book 2: Serpents Among the Ruins (2311)

Star Trek: Mirror Universe (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Shards & Shadows – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire — Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Rise Like Lions –  Star Trek: Myriad Universes (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Shattered Light

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

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