Sunday 26 January 2014

The Fall: A Ceremony Of Losses - Mack is Back

I like to say I have a linear mind, I like to know the beginning before the middle, or even the end. I even went back to watching Deep Space Nine in anticipation of reading this.

I have read series books from the end, or even the middle, previously. You can always tell proficient writers from experienced writers by reading non-linear – truly experienced writers have the ability to draw you in from any point in their story, even half-way through a particular book. This is especially true when writing about characters you already know, or have grown up getting to know.

Such is the case with this book – A Ceremony of Losses. I had no idea what to expect, nor what to write about, it being my first review. So let me start, at the beginning, of the middle...and be warned I might drop some of those pesky SPOILERS in along the way.

Perseverance is the key to this story's start. For someone starting on this book, David Mack does a admirable job of filling in the blanks. Not so much to believe you know all the previous stories, but enough to make you want to explore the detail of them – a tricky balance to achieve, to be sure.

The negative here being that with so many Andorian names, references, titles and terms to grasp so early on, you actually have to be Andorian just to make it through the first chapter without a headache, or the literacy version of brain-freeze.
As a newcomer to the non-canon series of novels, I have to admit, a little catch up was necessary in order to put the novel into perspective. For example; the new Deep Space Nine space station, a new 'Frontier Class' station. Another addition is the USS Aventine; a rather impressive new Vesta class starship equipped with slipstream technology. I was however unaware of precisely how much I'd missed ...

Mack's use of characters – Dr Bashir, to name one of many old faces, is done well. Capturing Julian's childish demeanour whilst keeping his suppressed ego has been done remarkably well. This should come as no surprise to those who know the author though, as history recalls, he did have a writing hand in two interesting Deep Space Nine episodes - season four's Starship Down and season seven's It's Only a Paper Moon

I did have a puzzling moment with one Captain Ezri Dax, I first picked up on it from +Clive Burrell's review. I struggled to see how Dax has gone from a jittery councillor, to a commanding, confident captain, without a massive personality change. I do not wish to dwell on this though, as after catching up a little background reading (no spoilers), Ezri's character actually has gone through an extreme makeover.

Beyond the old faces, there are some very well defined characters alongside and supporting. With moderate access to certain characters' features and a background or two, it serves to understand them, but not emphasise them. One who I'm sure will catch your attention, and who has already been made known to us of the 'TV series only' bunch - Sarina Douglas (Deep Space Nine - Statistical Probabilities, Chrysalis). I'm sorry, a little spoiler alert here... Again, another person who has undergone a huge transformation. Here we had a reclusive, socio-phobic person - turned Section 31 super spy! It's the Trek version of 007 starting off in the loony bin, asking for his medication to be 'shaken, no stirred'...

Away from familiar faces, and for spoilers sake I won't dwell on this, but if you're looking for clues to forthcoming installments - pay close attention to Admiral Akaar, especially towards the end. I won't say much but I would say it is definitely David Mack's clear nod to the starting of book four.

The plot, without giving too much information away, centers around a major upheaval in the Federation, contemplating the extinction of the Andorians. The politics within this story can at times, make for tough reading. Again, perseverance is the key here. If you were after a book to 'settle in bed' with - this is not it. There is too much detail and too many (multi-layer) political plots to grasp. Try speed reading through this and I guarantee you'll spend twice as long having to reread the last paragraph, only to forget what happened previously. Or, as my colleague eloquently put; a "Thinking Man's Star Trek". After looking over book one's review, plus a few group discussions, it does seem that this is going to a common theme along the entire series. They all give you the impression you're in way over your head, that you don't have the attention span of a nuclear physicist and you're going to be brutally brow-beaten for not having so.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not condemning the detail throughout the whole book; most is quite relevant and informative. I especially like the build up near the end; everything balancing on a whim, an entire species hanging in the balance, a beautifully described orbital action scene. I was quite gratified at that moment to find I had, for the first time in the book, suspended all of my other senses, just temporarily until I was confident it had passed.

Only one terrible grievance remains from this whole experience - but it's as big as Bajor itself. As I mentioned before, the plot focuses around the Andorians and their cessation from the Federation. After this, the Federation interim President has declared an embargo of Andor. No food, medicine, commerce or communication to or from the Federation. 

To be quite frank - I just cannot see this. I understand that from a story perspective, it is a key plot line and there are the political aspects that give it cause, but the Federation is by nature a peacekeeping force. I just can't imagine the democratic processes allowing for such an action, even with a despotic President at the helm. There are too many allies and political elements within the Federation that would resist such a move. It is as if David Mack has thrown much politics into this, but failed to grasp the true nature of Federation politics.

That being said, if you can overlook this flaw (if it is indeed one at all for you), the rest of this book is very well thought out, structured and written. Yes, there are some moments that really test you, but you are rewarded for your persistence at the end. Pros and cons considered, here's my conclusion:

The story as a whole is actually quite riveting - a medical mystery, wrapped up in political turmoil, lightly sprinkled with well played espionage, finished with a good side helping of action.
I'll be having a ceremony of loss if I don't read them all, but I won't stand on ceremony over this – until I've read them all. Is it fundamentally flawed? Too political? Perhaps, but also perhaps that's just me, and I'd happily read it again. In fact, I intend to. Whilst I'm doing that - you decide!

Next up in The Fall we have The Poisoned Chalice. Time to head back aboard the USS Titan.

Image by Tobias Richter

A Ceremony of Losses is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £6.99; ISBN 9781476722245.

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