Saturday 7 February 2015

Bashir Gets Sectioned in David Mack's Disavowed

Ever since their introduction in Deep Space Nine's Inquisition, Section 31 have been one of the most intriguing arrivals into the franchise, popping up again in Enterprise and also revealed as the builders (among other things) of the USS Vengeance in Star Trek into Darkness.

Now they're turning to recruit former medical officer on Deep Space Nine, Doctor Julian Bashir into their ranks once more as his story continues from the events of The Fall in Disavowed. *COUGH* SPOILERS* COUGH*

The evolution of the Deep Space Nine story in the novel series is one factor that has drawn me back to the literary Star Trek world after a serious length of absence. A lot has happened but the turn of events in the recent five book series pushed a very big button which seemed to draw a line under a lot of things but at the same time marked a jump off point for virtually every major character in the franchise who is alive in the post-Nemesis galaxy.

Bashir's story for one was left hanging. Spat out of Starfleet following his actions to save the Andorian people, hunted and imprisoned, he's now free and without a blemish on his record. Trouble is that there are others with designs on his future and it goes by the name of Section 31. 

Disavowed is a far cry from what I expected. I thought we were going to be in for a straight spy story with Bashir in some form of deep cover a while after The Fall however I couldn't be further from the truth. As the galaxy (still) recovers from the devastating Borg attacks chronicled in Destiny, events are moving along both in this universe and the mirror one with some parties hoping to expand their influence into other realms. Bashir himself does display some of that smug, genetic brilliance at points throughout Disavowed but it never seems to grate. It's provided just in the right amounts and I did feel that I could connect to him, moreso in the later chapters and events.

The first 100 pages give the impression we're heading into that aforementioned spy territory however when we get the inclusion of the Mirror Universe it all takes a rather unexpected twist and one which ramps the book up in my estimations. Frankly, if Resurrection and The Emperor's New Cloak had managed to provide this kind of entertainment level then we'd have been in safe hands - David Mack you should've written for TV Star Trek. This novel makes you think about the whole wormhole piece that was never explored onscreen in the Mirror Universe stories. What exactly was across the other side? Who was there? 

Well, precisely who you would expect is the answer; the Dominion. The interesting bit here is that the Dominion of the Mirror Universe is very much like the Dominion of the regular universe which kind of makes sense. The Founder acts with the authority, presence and don't give a s**t that became her hallmark in Deep Space Nine while the Weyoun we have here is just as slippery and ever-present to pass his opinion. Mack has truly got his cast down-pat perfect - and for those who wondered where Eris vanished to after The Jem'Hadar, we do get to see her again here and with the nod to those telekinetic powers that disappeared with her.

We could kill some paragraphs talking about the grittiness of the alternative universe, the dark tones etc etc but that's what you would expect and Mack delivers in dumper truck loads. What is especially cool in Disavowed is the arrival of one Jean-Luc Picard captaining the jaunt ship Enterprise with his first officer K'Ehleyr and tactical officer Deanna Troi. I didn't expect Worf's ex to be in this story however a fiesty female Klingon is always worth a serious amount of page inches and the character played by Suzie Plakson in The Next Generation is just about edgy enough for me. Her inclusion is a brilliant curve ball that I would never have considered but gives Picard that other opinion he so often belayed with Worf in the Prime Universe(!).

Stepping back from the story this could have easily been any set of characters but involving the "ignored" The Next Generation characters is a solid gold step that Deep Space Nine made oh so more obvious by including Mirror Tuvok in Through the Looking Glass. Clearly not a commercial for Voyager in any way. At all. Honest.

The Section 31 squad which Bashir becomes involved with here do tend to disappear into the background once the novel hits it's tipping point around Bashir and his first visit to the universe in Crossover. One particular action that occurred then has caught the attention of the Dominion which then cascades into the negotiations between the Gamma Quadrant power and the fledgling Commonwealth of the Alpha Quadrant overseen by a certain Michael Eddington and his counsellor, Saavik.

Picard is Picard is Picard and even the mirror version is the seasoned negotiator as well as a freedom fighter. His relationship with Troi is certainly misty here; friends certainly but maybe more if you read between the lines or was I just thinking a little more than I should have been? Troi is more headstrong and there's more than a little irony that Marina Sirtis originally auditioned for the role of tactical officer for The Next Generation - she finally made it but only on paper! Mack hasn't fallen into the usual Mirror Universe trend of suddenly making every well-known Prime character appear as an alternative version of themselves. You half expect Riker, Geordi and Beverley at the least to all appear and have a cameo performance but we manage to steer clear of that overplayed cliche (Vic Fontaine in The Emperor's New Cloak anyone?!) and tread carefully through to focus only on the necessary ensemble. There's no baggage here and that's a big payoff for the reader. Everything is just so, ordered, necessary for the story.

Indeed, Disavowed successfully stays away from turning into an action/adventure novel for the most part and focuses more on the political machinations between the Dominion and their potential allies in the form of the Commonwealth. It's a clever little "what if" position with the Alpha Quadrant on the back foot from the off however there's an ace in the sleeve which made me re-read an entire section of the book to make sure I hadn't missed it. I can assure you that I hadn't and it's also one of those points I've wondered about for years - whatever happened to.....?

Mack has produced a unique, different and thoroughly engaging novel in this Section 31 entry. It's like nothing else we've seen for some time and while taking us in an unexpected direction it's brilliantly continued the story we've only recently completed in The Fall. I can absolutely recommend this to any fan out there. For some the continuity might be an issue when you realise Bashir is no longer in Starfleet and he's dating the Sarina Douglas formerly of the "Jack Pack" from Statistical Probabilities but don't let that put you off. The worst thing that can happen is that you're going to be investing in a lot of older Star Trek novels just to keep you up to date. Personally I'm already chomping at the bit for the next installment of this expanded universe saga.

Disavowed is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £7.99 ISBN 9781476753089

What did you think to the novel? Was it better or worse than expected? Do you think this universe expansion has enough legs? Let us know below!

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