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A novel by Andrew J. Robinson (2000, Pocket Books)
A Star Trek Deep Space Nine Novel

An autobiography of Garak, through his time training and working for the Obsidian Order, the Dominion War, and the aftermath of the war.



Read February 13th to 18th, 2002  

A very steady read. I was very impressed with the way the character of Garak came into this story, through the tone of the narration. But it never really rose to any passionate degree, and I question the effectiveness of placing three distinct stories intertwined like this.

Ah, plain and simple Garak. The man who never was plain and simple on the TV show is shown to be very plain and simple in this book. On TV, he was confident, full of mystery, and was rarely, if ever, caught off guard. The one facet of his personality that did continue through it all was his ability to get things done, no matter the cost. He continues to do that throughout the book, as well. 

I came into this book hoping to learn about the restoration of Cardassia after the Dominion War. There was a little of that, but it was not as interesting as the main body. After What You Leave Behind, I had assumed Garak had committed suicide. The way he left the Federation group after Cardassia fell, I was sure he didn't want to live on this cindered world. And perhaps he came close to killing himself, but rejected that path in the end. Instead, he started doing random things, which led to his encouragement of the people's mourning and inadvertently paved the way towards a rebirth.

The book takes place in three time-frames. The first shows us how Garak became the Cardassian his was when we knew him on DS9, through his years of training and as an operative of the Obsidian Order. The second, in the sixth and seventh seasons, when he is anxious for his world to be rid of the Dominion. The last point of view is in the "present", as he tries to figure out how to live on a world ravaged by the Dominion.

The first storyline takes place in the past, and is the most interesting part. As Garak tells the doctor, he started writing journals to alleviate his loneliness when he was exiled to Terok Nor. He starts at the beginning of his life, on the edge of adulthood. As a child, he doesn't realize that the gardening his foster father (whom he thinks is his father) does has any meaning other than planting flowers. But as he gets older, he grows more disdainful, because his father is of the service class.

He is sent to the Bamarren Institute, where Cardassians are trained for the military. I really enjoyed this part of the book, as he makes allies and enemies (I wouldn't call any of them friends, really). It gives us a really good insight into Cardassian society, giving us distain for people of lower rank, politics and treachery, random segregation that society feels is meaningful, but initiates wonder at, and so on. The Institute is run by students for students, though classes seem to be taught by adults. All the rigors of military life are set into these new recruits at an early age, where they are told to forget their names and live as numbers in team groups. 

Although it is stressed (by rather severe beatings) that no work should be done without the team in mind, Garak is still a loner.  Though not a friend, there is another loner in his team, and they grow close.  Out in the wilderness, on a hunt-and-evade strategy game, Garak manages to evade all of his potential captors.  To do this, he develops a skill of which I became very wary.  I didn't like the disappearing trick he "learned" from the camouflage reptile.  It is way too much like magic, or worse, like the Force, to be part of the Trek universe.  To evade detection right under somebody's nose takes skill -not camouflage.  To disappear when he was previously in sight is just nonsense.  All the talk about life energy, bending it to his will, and deflecting it around him so that he remains unseen seems way too Jedi-like for my tastes.

After he participates in a physical battle for political power at the Competition, helping a powerful individual to gain control of the ruling body at Bamarren, he is betrayed by that leader, and kicked out of Bamarren by Enabran Tain, who turns out to be his father, and the head of the Obsidian Order.  Of course, we knew this from DS9, but it is interesting how the revelation comes through the narrative.  We get so much detail concerning their relationship, and it really describes how Tain maintains his distance, and never actually acknowledges that Garak is his son.  

Garak is a sentimental fellow, which is the main reason Tain won't call him "son" (aside from the fact that his mother is unwed, and is of the service class, maid to his real father).  He spends much of his time pining away for Paladine, a woman he met at Bamarren, who used him, and who was engaged to wed the man who betrayed him and took power after the Competition.  He actually never forgets her, in a way that is much more believable than the similar circumstances in which Han Solo never forgot Bria Tharen after The Paradise Snare.  

Even after Tain brings him into the Obsidian Order, Garak thinks of her during and between missions.  When he spies her in the park, with a child, he watches longingly.  They start seeing each other, because her husband, Lokar, is stationed on Bajor.  

It is really interesting how the author fleshes out Garak's life.  He takes every single event that we learned about Garak during the series, no matter how small, and weaves an expanded dialog around it.  My favorite was his stint as a gardener on Romulus, a story that kept popping up on the show.  He even meets up with Dukat during a conference.

Unfortunately, Garak seems to be a pretty poor operative.  He can get the job done without any problems, but is constantly questioning himself.  He is not the confident person we saw on TV, and is often caught off guard, even during the time period where he is on the station!  Part of the problem also lies about a third of the way into the book, when all the people seemed to merge in their personalities, including Garak.  I could easily tell Cardassian from human and other species early on, but after a certain point, the differences stopped being apparent.  Mannerisms, feelings, and attitudes, except for a few pointed examples, were the same as any human's would have been, even though Garak's thoughts tell us otherwise.  I even wondered at one point how reptilian Cardassians were -do they even sweat?

Eventually, Garak and Paladine are caught in their affair.  This, combined with a botched interrogation where Dukat's father was disgraced by Garak, but retained enough memory of the examiner, and Tain was not happy.  Being captured, Garak endures a rough military interrogation by Lokar himself -but survives because of the wire in his brain which Dr. Bashir eventually removed during the second season.  After that, he is sent, disgraced, to Terok Nor, and is forced to mend soldiers' clothing.  It really seemed like a natural progression, and was actually quite beautiful to behold.  Garak refuses to accept defeat, and begins dealing with Quark for information and clients, as he begins designing clothing for a more varied clientele.  

The first part of the book, even though it had its faults, was without a doubt the best part.  I especially liked his interactions with his first human (while at the same time disgracing an unstable team member), his first soccer game, and his encounter with a Federation ambassador near the time of the withdrawal from Bajor.  His sad acceptance at being left behind, accentuated by a visit from Rom, is a fitting conclusion to this storyline.

I am not quite sure what the point was about the second time-line.  I suppose it helped to amplify the stress we saw Garak go through in Afterimage, how tense he was -how tense the entire station was- especially with all the waiting.  I wonder how much the author was sympathizing with the viewers of DS9 when he describes the interminable waiting, as the Federation, Klingons and Romulans debate the best way and time to invade the Dominion stronghold known as Cardassian space.  He even mourns Dax, though he doesn't say anything at all about Ezri (that's fine as far as I'm concerned).  

During this time period, he gets to know a friend of Ziyal's, and they come together because of the grief they share from her death at the hands of Damar.  Remara, of course, turns out to be a spy for a group of Bajoran survivors who didn't get to board an escaping shuttle that Garak had ordered destroyed, thus losing their families.  So we get a little more of his Obsidian Order days from this relationship.  It was very well done, but after she fails to kill him, she tells him to watch out for other assassination attempts.  This is an open ending that I didn't really know what to do with.  

The other aspect of this time period is Garak's guilt over working against his own people.  It is very interesting how the author presents alternative interpretations of what happens to his character on the TV show.  His anxiety was solved very easily by Ezri in the show, but in this book, Garak tells Dr. Bashir, quite correctly, that one model does not fit all species.  Considering how Ezri used human psychology in Afterimage, it was disappointing to find out that she was right in her analysis.  From Garak's point of view, with the continued problems, it works much better.  His greatest depression, mixed with joy about what it represents, comes when he discovers that Damar has gone missing.  But if Garak can figure out that he has turned to the rebels, why is Weyoun caught so off guard (in that terrific revelation in the final arc).  

The main problem with this section is that Garak seems involved in way too many things at the same time.  It would have been much nicer if we were treated to a single running plotline, instead.  

The third plot has much less to do with Garak's past, though he does come face to face with some people we met in the first plot.  He clears the rubble of Tain's house by creating a memorial there -but that was not his intention.  It was just part of the healing process, as he can't face digging out so many people from the ruins after the Dominion pulled out.  He spends a little too much time describing how ironic things are (not only in this timeframe), but I guess Garak was full of irony anyway...

It's interesting to see how Garak ends up embracing democracy after all, after he berates it at every turn.  But he saw how Cardassia's other governmental system turned out, so he supposes this can't be any worse.  But he also gets the last word, in a funny statement about how nothing ever gets done with all the opinions floating around!

Although the early timeframe introduces us to a young and not fully formed Garak, I was amazed at how the two later timeframes gave us voices that sounded exactly like the characters we knew!  The narrative easily carries the tones and inflections of all the characters, especially Garak.  It was truly remarkable, until the characters started falling into a mold.  

I also enjoyed the way the entries in his narrative journal changed as time passed.  As the past is recited, it is in the past tense, relating exactly what happened and how he felt.  Getting closer to his exile, which is when he started writing the journals, it becomes more of a reminiscence of what happened not long ago, until it becomes an actual daily journal.  During that time, there are no broad summaries, and there is less focus on what was said, but rather describing it, and analyzing the emotion behind it.   

The main character changed, as well.  Garak didn't seem as mysterious as he became on DS9, but I could see the changes as time progressed, very subtly at times.  Still, we didn't really get near the Cardassian that we knew from the TV series.  I also wondered why he kept meeting up with his old schoolmates.  Surely the Obsidian Order was a large organization?  But his schoolmates were in a military academy, not an espionage one.  How did they all end up where he could meet them so easily?

The story didn't really have a conclusion, in that it was ongoing in each of the three timeframes.  The book ended with a sense of hope for the future -though I was a little incensed that Garak was too shy to find out what Paladine's fate was.  It seems that she joined an illegal group that embraced the people Cardassians originally overwhelmed, millennia ago, to take the planet as their own.  It was a group that Garak introduced her to, but I wondered at the likelihood of an illegal group that managed to meet in the exact same place for decades, not only through the Dominion occupation, but worse, the years before it.  Another unanswered question is how Pythas felt about Garak's exile.  Again, Garak respects his friend's privacy by not asking the question.  I liked that (and the similar situation with Paladine), but it still drove me nuts!  (In a good way, I think...)

The book was evenly written from beginning to end, no matter which storyline we were dealing with.  It showed the same level of anticipation, intrigue, sentimentality (a "fault" in this Cardassian), and dedication.  But it seemed to lack passion.  There were no real passionate entries, where the adrenaline would rush, forcing pages to turn almost by themselves as we try to figure out events or motivations.  This was a very good try, and a very interesting read.  I have always liked Garak, and I feel that I do know him a little better now.  But I'm still not sure it is exactly the same person we met on Deep Space Nine.


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