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Star Trek: A Ceremony of Losses

In Revelations and Dust, book one of Pocket Books’ ongoing Star Trek novel crossover series, “The Fall,” the opening of the new, Federation-designed DS9 was marred by a shocking murder.  Then, book two, The Crimson Shadow, chronicled upheaval on Cardassia as the greatest challenge to their new democratic government emerged.

And so we have arrived at book 3, David Mack’s A Ceremony of Losses.  Julian Bashir, still reeling from the events of Revelations and Dust, is contacted by his old friend and colleague, the Andorian Shar.  Shar was a character introduced at the very beginning of Pocket Books’ post-finale series of DS9 novels, in S.D. Perry’s Avatar.  It seems that the reproductive crisis affecting Andor — a story-line that has been running through the novels ever since those early DS9 relaunch books from back in 2001 — is reaching a tipping point.  If a solution to the fertility problems affecting the majority of Andorians is not found within the year, it will spell extinction for the Andorian people.  Shar believes that the solution lies in the Shedai meta-genome, an incredibly-complex piece of alien DNA found by Starfleet a hundred years ago, but classified at the highest level for fear the genome could be used to create terrible weapons.  (This is a story-point from the Original Series era “Vanguard” series of Trek novels, and it was brought into the 24th-century-set Trek novels in the “Typhon Pact” novel Paths of Disharmony, in which the Andorians’ discovery that Starfleet had been hiding this information led to an upheaval in the Federation.)  Julian is drawn to help the Andorians, but doing so would involve his accessing the classified Shedai information, which would be a crime of treason against the Federation.

A Ceremony of Losses is an excellent book, one that not only presents one of our heroes with a meaty moral dilemma, but that also, in the book’s second half, turns into an edge-of-your-seat thriller as Bashir races against the clock, and against enemies on all sides, even those who were once his friends and colleagues, to do what he feels is right and try to save the Andorian people.

I was particularly excited that A Ceremony of Losses finally brings some resolution to the story of Andor’s fertility crisis, a story that has been running through the Trek books since 2001.  That’s a heck of a long time for that story-line to have been hanging, and I was thrilled to see this issue finally addressed head-on in this novel.  It’s also great to see Shar finally front-and-center again.  He got a lot of focus in the early re-launched DS9 books, but after 2004’s Andor story in Worlds of Deep Space Nine, he has pretty much been ignored.  (He did re-appear in Paths of Disharmony, but didn’t get a lot of focus.)  I am thrilled that he is finally the center of a story again, and I was pleased by how central a role he played in the work to solve his planet’s extinction-threatening problem.

David Mack has written some of my favorite Star Trek novels of the last decade.  His DS9 novel Warpath was exceptional, his Mirror-Universe stories (most notably The Sorrows of Empire and Rise Like Lions) were thrilling, and of course his Destiny trilogy was an extraordinary achievement that re-shaped the Star Trek universe.  His Bashir-focused “Typhon Pact” novel Zero-Sum Game was a rare example of a novel written by Mr. Mack that disappointed me.  I wasn’t that interested in his depiction of the Breen culture, and I was not won-over by the romance between Bashir and the genetically-engineered Sarina (the mute member of the “Jack pack” who appeared in a few episodes of the show).  Reading A Ceremony of Losses, I was at first surprised by how directly this novel was set up as a sequel to Zero-Sum Game.  The Bashir-Sarina relationship is central to the novel’s beginning, as was their continued fencing with the enigmatic Section 31.  Even more importantly, although this novel is set several years after Zero-Sum Game, when A Ceremony of Losses opens, we see that Bashir is still haunted by his actions in that book.  (Bashir had long played in the holodeck at being a spy, but in Zero-Sum Game he actually became one, going undercover amongst the Breen to discover and destroy their attempt to duplicate Starfleet’s incredibly-fast slipstream drive.  In so doing, Bashir wound up destroying a Breen installation, killing many.)  The developments in A Ceremony of Losses are so great that, in some ways, they redeem Zero-Sum Game in my eyes.

Of all the DS9 characters, Bashir feels like the one who has been the most standing still over the past ten years of the novel continuity.  He’s pretty much the only character still in the same place he was when Deep Space Nine ended: as the chief medical officer on DS9.  So not only am I very happy to see Bashir’s status quo shaken up dramatically in this book, I am thrilled to see the character finally be a central player in the over-all Trek story again.

One complaint I had about Zero Sum Game that is not assuaged by this novel is that I am still not hooked by the Bashir-Sarina relationship.  I have written in previous reviews that I loved that Bashir and Ezri Dax got together at the end of the DS9 TV show, and I am not happy that the novels broke them up.  Zero-Sum Game put Bashir and Sarina together as a couple, but there was so much cause to doubt Sarina’s true motivations that, as I wrote in my original review, I really wasn’t sure if we as an audience were supposed to be rooting for them as a couple or not.  Did Sarina have ulterior motives or didn’t she? Was she still working covertly for Section 31 or wasn’t she?  Zero-Sum Game left me entirely unsure.  David R. George III’s duology Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn also raised questions about Sarina’s loyalties.  From what I can tell here in A Ceremony of Losses, we are not supposed to doubt that Sarina is a hero, and we are supposed to root for her and Bashir’s romantic relationship, but I’m just not there.

While I am complaining about romantic developments, I also have to moan, yet again, about the lack of resolution to Shar and Prynn Tenmei’s romance, left hanging since the 2004 Andor story in Worlds of Deep Space Nine.  When Prynn made an appearance early in this book, after we’d already seen Shar, I got hopeful.  But sadly, Prynn doesn’t have much to do in this story, and the only time her romance with Shar is mentioned is when we read that, from her point of view, while she still loved Shar, she was no longer “in love” with him.  Sigh.  This is a big, big let-down for me.  I really invested in their relationship in those early DS9 relaunch books, and I am very bummed that it seems to have been abandoned.

I have one other small complaint about A Ceremony of Losses.  This involves some spoilers, so readers who haven’t yet read this book might want to skip to the next paragraph.  OK, while I am truly delighted that the long-simmering storyline about Andor’s fertility crisis has been finally resolved, I must confess to feeling that Bashir’s being able to basically solve the problem inside of a week was rather anticlimactic.  I know Bashir is our hero, and I know it’s established that he has been genetically engineered to have super-human intelligence.  But still, this has been an important story-line in the Star Trek novels for well-over a decade.  We have read that the greatest minds of Andor, and the entire Federation, had been working on this problem for years.  That Bashir could solve the problem himself after a week of working on it just seemed way, way too easy for me.  (OK, yes, I know some other scientists — some great cameos, by the way — were helping him, and I know that access to the Shedai meta-genome was key, but still, basically it was Bashir who saved the day, and after only a tiny amount of time on the case.  This was way too simple and too easy, in my mind.)  I’m not sure what I was expecting in terms of how this medical issue would eventually be solved, but Bashir solving everything after a few all-nighters wasn’t it.

What redeems this aspect of the story, for me, is how successful the book is in its second half, after Bashir has found the cure.  A Ceremony of Losses, at that point, turns into a tense, fast-paced action-adventure/suspense story, as Bashir must use all of his wits to escape everyone who is hunting him — which includes members of the Typhon pact, many Andorians, and all of Starfleet — to successfully get the cure to Shar and his comrades on Andoria.  I love the way this part of the story was crafted, giving us a lot of insight into the strategies and tactics of the many factions all of whom, for various reasons, don’t want the cure to reach Andoria.  The most controversial aspect of the novel is that even the Federation’s leaders don’t want the cure to reach Andor (I won’t spoil why), and thus Starfleet itself is mobilized to hunt Bashir.  This puts Bashir on a collision course with his former lover Ezri Dax, in command of the Aventine.  Ezri gets some great stuff to do in the novel’s second half, and I really enjoyed seeing her back in the mix of things as well.  The second half of A Ceremony of Losses reminds me of the David Mack from Warpath, able to write a really ripping, page-turner of a yarn that is full of complex plots-within-plots and sci-fi strategies.  Great stuff.

Most of all, I liked how strongly Mr. Mack gave the sense, right from the beginning, that this wasn’t going to be one of those Star Trek stories in which a character defies orders, and then everything is all right at the end.  It’s clear right from the beginning that Bashir is giving up his career in Starfleet to do what he does, and that his freedom and even his life might be forfeit as a result.  That gives the book a strong tension, and I was pleased that there’s no magical get-out-of-jail-free card given to Bashir at the end of the book.  I’ll leave it at that, just to add that I am eager to see the events of this book followed up on, as I’d love to see more about the effect of the end of this book on Bashir’s fomer friends and allies, such as Ezri and particularly Chief O’Brien (who sadly only gets a brief mention in this book).

We’re three for three so far in “The Fall,” with two more books remaining in this crossover series.  I can’t wait for what’s next.

Previous Star Trek novel reviews:

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

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Sky’s The LimitResistance and Q & ABefore Dishonor and Greater than the SumDestiny 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 StormRise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures

Star Trek: Titan – Book 1: Taking WingBook 2: The Red KingBook 3: Orion’s HoundsBook 4: Sword of DamoclesUnder a Torrent SeaSynthesis, Fallen Gods

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: The Fall — Book 1: Revelation and Dust, Book 2: The Crimson Shadow

Star Trek: New Frontier – Series overviewStone & Anvil, After the Fall, and Missing in ActionTreason and Blind Man’s Bluff

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)Book 3: The Art of the Impossible (2328-2346)

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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