Wednesday, 29 April 2015

McCormack Goes Missing


After having a wonderful chat with Una McCormack at First Contact Day I felt it only right to get stuck in to The Missing.

Now Una had dropped a couple of hints about a character and also how it did crossover with characters from other Star Trek shows but it didn't take me long to realise just how different Deep Space Nine has become in the years it moved from TV into the literary universe.

For one thing the subtitle of Deep Space Nine may as well purely refer to a location now more than to the ensemble of characters fans of the show knew and loved. There's no Sisko, Kira, Dax, Bashir, Worf or Nog for starters so that leaves you with Odo, Quark and a cameo appearance from Garak early on. O'Brien gets name checked a couple of times but the cast is balanced out with The Next Generation's Katherine Pulaski, new CMO of the station Beverley Crusher and now station commander Captain Ro Laren. 

Not a bad thing and I guess the book has to come under some form of banner given that it takes place on the recently built hi-tech Deep Space Nine station - but my warning to fans would be not to expect your favourites to turn up any time soon - a lot has changed.

But then I asked myself if all that really mattered and the answer was "no" because things are transient and it would be wrong to assume everyone would stay in the same place (unless you happen to be on Kirk's Enterprise) and with the expanded universe taking the story far beyond the end of Nemesis, the 24th Century has become a very interesting place.

Occuring after the end of the brilliant (can't say that enough) The Fall series from 2014, McCormack drops us back to the Bajoran sector where assisting an alien race looking to relocate is the name of the game. Fairly straight forward you might imagine but then this is Star Trek and we have another 300 pages to go so it can't just end there. Let's drop into the mix Pulaski about to head off on an Olympic Class starship, the Athene Donald, for regions and missions unknown and things start to take shape.

Not only do we get (I believe) the first meeting between the two former USS Enterprise-D Chief Medical Officers but the relationship between them is just as frosty and just the good side of adversarial and perhaps jealous as we would like. There's certainly no love lost and McCormack does make you feel that all their conversations take place behind gritted teeth with both of them having a certain bald starship captain at the back of their minds for every single word. In fact out of the whole book - which I burned through in a weekend - this was the highlight of the show and their meetings electrified every page they were on. I really felt Una hit these two perfectly in an environment we would never have placed either of them.

But that's only a portion of the story. Captain Ro has a new alien race looking for a home to deal with the People of the Sky but hey, just when we think Pulaski is out of the way she and the Athene Donald run into The Chain. No, not a Fleetwood Mac tribute band or a group of people attempting to buy each other's houses but an  offshoot of the race linked to Ro's recently arrived asylum seekers.

Convienient that this all happens at the same time? Possibly, but then it'd be a terrible story if half of it didn't happen if you catch my drift. The station and our characters are firmly planted between the two factions and there's a certain air of Sanctuary mixed in here.

A more interesting element that does mirror some of the earlier elements of Deep Space Nine and especially Homecoming are the missing soldiers from the Dominion War who, ten years later, have still not been returned from the Romulan Empire. It makes for a more interesting line as Ro acts as the mediator between the two races in the hope of a peaceful resolution. 

Oh and have we forgotten to mention the Tzenkethi?

Potentially but hey, why not now. Yes, McCormack even throws in one of the staples of the literary universe and member of the Typhon Pact, the Tzenkethi with one of their number playing an intricate part within the whole story almost from the first page. While not what she seems, Cordazame proves to link several elements of the story together while adding elements of mystery herself. One issue I do have here is that a solution I would expect to find (and we did) within the JJ Abrams movies is used here as a plot device. While I understand why and how, I did feel it detracted from the story and made me much more aware of the recent movies in relation to the Prime Universe than I might have expected.


Besides, McCormack has so deftly crafted several miniature arcs within this book that I could almost forgive mention of this Plot Device since it's rare to get so many elements all together through the course of just one Star Trek novel. Keeping track of them is certainly a skill and I found it easier to read in big chunks rather than a few pages here and a few there which might have meant I lost a strand. 

Having just a small, core group of main characters does work very effectively and Una has both doctors down pat. Pulaski is, as we've written, nicely crusty and just far enough into the belief in her own greatness while Beverley remains firmly grounded, ever the realist and certainly the diplomat her on Deep Space Nine. For the most part I found these two to be the best characters to follow within The Missing. Ro was OK but her journey from Starfleet to Maquis to Starfleet and ultimately captain of the most key outpost in the Federation never really ran true with me. This in turn made me feel the Bajoran captain was pretty average and didn't stand out well enough. 

Odo and Quark were great additions with the former almost fitting seemlessly back into a law enforcement role but its his albeit brief interactions with the ever-wise Ferengi bartender that remind us of one reason why Deep Space Nine was the best Star Trek series produced.

The Missing might not be an absolutely perfect novel, devoid as it is of the majority of recognisable Deep Space Nine characters as well as that Dominion threat which is long gone. Having this replacement station too only adds to distance the station of the page from the station of the show but none of this can be directed at the author who has still pulled a great read together from a very diverse range of people and situations and managed to resolve it within just one book. There are twists, turns and duplicity galore to keep fans entertained from the start here and some that I didn't expect.  I'd certainly recommend giving this one a go but try and read it in a few sittings rather than bitty dippings. Great to see the station back and fortunately we won't have long to wait for a return with David Mack's Sacraments of Fire coming soon.

For now though I'm turning my reading attention to Takedown which arrived last week and is set at the same time as The Missing. Back to the Enterprise we go!

Have you read The Missing? What were your thoughts on Una McCormack's latest Deep Space Nine novel? Let us know in  the comments below!

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