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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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05/21/2005 Archived Entry: "Trek book review: Hollow Men"

Hollow Men
A Star Trek Deep Space Nine novel
by Una McCormack
Published by Pocket Books

Review by Kathryn Ramage

Deep Space Nine was my favorite Trek series and, for a time, my favorite TV show. One of the things I loved most about it was its moral ambiguity -- what the show itself called "shades of gray." For a change, the Federation was not always right nor perfect. We frequently heard the points of view of people from other cultures -- the Bajorans, the Cardassians, Odo, Quark -- and at times they had very good points about the social blandness or underlying bigotries of the Federation world. The bad guys could sometimes be helpful, sympathetic, and even charming. Conversely, our Starfleet heroes sometimes committed highly questionable acts.

The best episodes of DS9 reflect this ambiguity. For example, the high point of the sixth season was an episode titled "In the Pale Moonlight." In the midst of the Federation's war with the Dominion, Captain Sisko hopes to convince the Romulans to join in the fight. To this end, he engages the services of Garak, the station's resident outcast Cardassian, former spy, interrogator, and possibly professional assassin. When their efforts to uncover evidence proving that the Dominion plans to attack the Romulan Empire next fail, Garak proposes that they forge some. In spite of his reservations, Sisko agrees to this plan; he says he'll "do anything" to bring the Romulans into the war on the Federation's side. He doesn't really mean anything -- as a upstanding Starfleet officer and Federation citizen, there are limits to how far he'll go -- but Garak takes him at his word. Step by step as the plan unfolds, Sisko ends up overlooking, allowing, or encouraging various ethically dubious or illegal acts that Garak commits under his authority, until the plan culminates in the death of a Romulan senator and his aides. It's Garak's work, but the Dominion is blamed and the Romulans become Federation allies, just as Sisko had hoped. At the end of the episode, Sisko is distressed by the path he's been led along to accomplish his goal, but he insists that he can live with it–he repeats it several times–and then he deletes the personal log into which he has narrated all of this. It is a powerful conclusion to a powerful episode.

Una McCormack's Hollow Men follows up with the ramifications of Sisko's and Garak's actions in "In the Pale Moonlight." The question here is: Can Sisko live with what he's done after all? The novel begins soon after the events of the episode, and Sisko's conscience is tormenting him. The death of the Romulan senator Vreenak particularly haunts him. He blames himself as well as Garak, but seems to take it out on Garak more than himself.

When the two travel to Earth to attend a conference with the Federation's new allies, Sisko's conscience finally overwhelms him. He confesses to his superiors, and their response is not at all what he expects. Then, two mysterious men show up to tell Garak that they have another job for him: There is a troublesome ex-Starfleet officer who's now leading an anti-war movement; he's been speaking out against the military, and they want him silenced....

What follows is a tense and compelling story, as Sisko tries to work through his unassuaged guilt, and Garak tries to determine the best way to cope with the impossible situation Sisko's confession has put him in. The resolutions to their individual problems are not simple nor entirely comfortable, but they are wonderfully within the spirit of the episode they follow and the best of DS9 as a series. It's a look at the Federation's highest ideals versus its dark side, plus some ugly truths about the exigencies of war. When I finished reading, I was left feeling almost as if I had seen a new episode of the show for the first time in a long time.

While all this is going on on Earth, the rest of the DS9 crew is involved in a subplot back on the space station that concerns the theft of a large amount of liquid latinum, some darling Bajoran matrioshka dolls, an odd alien prisoner of Odo's who doesn't seem to stay in his cell, and Dr. Bashir's sudden distaste for his favorite Bond-type spy games (I am especially grateful to Una for leaving the odious holo-lounge singer Vic until the very last pages, and not letting him into the rest of the story).

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