Well, I've finished it, and I can say that it's one of the rare anthologies where I really enjoyed all the stories. I can't say that any of them totally blew my mind, but they were all very good, in different ways.
The only flaw of the anthology is... well, the concept itself, and the fact that every writer obviously felt compelled to shoehorn a line or two that would emphasize the story's connection to the sin it is supposed to represent - even when it's a very loose and far-fetched connection (Ravenant
, a great story, which however has nothing to do with Gluttony, despite the insertion of the word hunger
several times in the story; including the reference to Walsh's "hunger" for profit, which is really greed). Other times it can give too much of a morality tale vibe, as in Romulan and Cardassian stories, which feature "Pride/Envy was your downfall" speeches by Grodak and Garak respectively. But I wasn't very bothered by this, since I expected worse when the anthology was first announced. I was very doubtful of the very concept, which seemed to promise preachiness combined with using aliens as embodiments of human flaws. Fortunately, the actual stories in the book are much better than the concept.
I will also mention that the cover is one of the better ones in the recent years, though I wonder if it was necessary to use the image of Ocett on the cover to represent a different female Cardassian. Same goes for Decius.
I'll reviews the stories in the order they appear in the book, though I didn't read them in this order (I actually started with the Cardassian one, followed by Klingon, MU and Romulan, left the Pakled and Ferengi stories for after I've re-watched "The Samaritan Snare" and "Business As Usual", and ended with the Borg story, because of the glowing reviews it got from most people, so I wanted to finish on the high).
Pride: Romulans - "The First Peer"
This story had one of the best endings out of the stories in the book. It wasn't exactly unpredictable - I figured that things would not end well for Toqel and the Romulans, considering the theme - but I wasn't expecting the spy reveal. Other good points include filling some gaps in the Trek history, having a good motivation for the main character, and - something I particularly liked - when it called Toqel on her arrogance and underestimation of the Klingons, I felt it was a good point directed not just at the Romulans, but at the way that Klingons have often been depicted on screen and seen by fans as well as characters in-universe as brainless savages, even though it should be obvious that people who managed to build such a powerful Empire must be a lot smarter and trickier.
However, this might be my least favorite story in the book because of its pacing. It started really slow, and didn't grip me until the last couple of chapters. The first chapter is all about some people we don't see in the rest of the story, the main character doesn't appear until the second chapter, and chapter 5 is about some Starfleet admiral who doesn't really matter in the story. I guess that these are probably references to some earlier books and stories, which I haven't read - but though I might appreciate them better if I did read them, I find this to be a failing in the story. The main concern should be how it works as a self-contained work, and cute references should not hamper that and ruin the pacing.
Greed: Ferengi - "Reservoir Ferengi"
The title itself made me warm up to the story, since it's a reference to one of my all-time favorite movies.
I liked the titles of the chapters and the flashback technique, though it turned out to be more linear than I first expected, with just one long flashback to the events of the previous year. I wasn't expecting to see Brunt in any kind of (partly) sympathetic role, and it was interesting to see things from his point of view. The story had good pacing and explored the issue of greed in a darker and more serious way than it has mostly been done on the shows, further developing the theme of selling weapons and war profiteering that was started in "Business As Usual", by showing the mentality of war profiteers from the inside. At the same time, it didn't felt preachy, and it was great that it showed a condemnation of Gaila's actions from Brunt's very Ferengi perspective, rather than a more Human one. It is interesting that Quark and Brunt both had a problem with the same crimes, but for different reasons. I also enjoyed seeing everything else from Brunt's perspective, which are more typically Ferengi than Quark's - for instance, his appreciation of Ferengi female beauty and disgust at alien, including Human looks. (Quark and Rom can't be typical in their appreciation of clothed female beauty of many tall alien species.)
On the flip side, it some comedy touches were too cute - Space Switzerland was a bit too much. Trek always uses inspiration from the real world, but to make it that literal was a bit too silly.
Envy: Cardassians - "The Slow Knife"
This one might be my favorite in the book - in any case, it's the story that gripped me from the start and didn't let go and that I read the fastest. The main reason is probably that the main character's situation is very relatable, even though we understand that she is wrong, consumed by ambition and envy, selfish and myopic, but the depiction of the patriarchal and nepotistic Cardassian military environment and her position in it as a capable person hampered by her gender and lack of connections makes it hard not to identify with her resentment, if we've ever lived in a culture and job market where "who you know" is more important than "what you know".
I liked the way the story filled the gap about the Setlik III massacre, as well as Garak's role in it. Garak was always one of my favorite DS9 characters, but I felt that he was somewhat sanitized in the later seasons, when he lost some of his moral ambiguity - and it has to be said that Andrew Robinson's excellent novel A Stitch In Time
, one of mt favorite Trek books, contributed to it, since people tend to take everything in it as a literal truth about Garak, even though it should not be the case since the novel was written 100% from the POV of a notorious and self-confessed liar, his Starfleet Human friend. I'm sure that there are lots of things in his past as an Obsidian Order agent that Garak would withhold from Bashir, and being involved with setting up the Setlik massacre is exactly such a thing.
Wrath: Klingons - "The Unhappy Ones"
I haven't read any of the Klingon-related fiction related to the conflict between the smooth-heads and the ridge-heads, so this was a new theme to me. (I can't bother to remember the Klingon words. BTW, did I ever mention that I hate it when Klingon episodes and stories feature a lot of Klingon words that actually can be perfectly translated to English? It's not just because I have to come home and look for the meanings on the net, but because stories about other alien culture rarely feature 'alien' words, and when they do it's just the specific untranslatable words like the name of specific meals and drinks.) It was one of the more compelling stories that I read very fast - whether it was the pacing and structure, with mini-stories about each of its many characters, making an entire mini-society the protagonist rather than one character, or the fact that racism and injustice tend to get the reader emotionally involved. Contrary to what some posters have said, there is a lot of anger in the story from pretty much everyone, whether it is something that the reader immediately condemns, like racism, or something that we can relate to, like anger at the injustice and incompetence. I agree with the point made earlier than the ending is a little too neat - but I'd be lying if I said I weren't hoping for such a resolution, and Sorkav really had it coming not just for his racism but for his gross incompetence, so it was a logical ending. It's just Kor's speech at the end that makes the ending seem too neat and happy: it's not like Sorkav's downfall and the resolution of his particular case will solve the problem of racism in the Empire.
Lust: Mirror Universe - "Freedom Angst"
This turned out to be much better than I expected, especially after all the thrashing of this story by a few previous posters. I liked it much better than the huge majority of post-Terran Empire MU fiction (which includes most of DS9's MU episodes). When I saw the words "Mirror Universe" and "Lust" in the same sentence, it really didn't bode well, especially knowing it was supposed to be the DS9-related MU. I've made it clear a lot of times that I'm no fan of what DS9 has done with the MU, especially in its later MU episodes. The only things that made me hopeful were the fact that it's set before the rebellion (when the entire story became 'rebels vs Evil Empire' i.e. Human heroes vs evil Klingons and Cardassians' - not a very interesting concept for an alternate universe), and especially, that the writer, Britta Dennison, co-wrote books 2 and 3 of the Terok Nor
trilogy, which I greatly enjoyed. Fortunately, it turned out that my fears were unfounded - this MU story is, for a change, a realistic story about people living in an oppressive society and trying to make the best out of their situation as second class people with few rights and almost no freedom, which includes compromising their morals, committing crimes and collaborating with their oppressors. (It reminded me in that respect of the above mentioned Night of the Wolves
and Dawn of the Eagles
, which might be why I liked it.) Instead of using sex as a titillation or showing promiscuity as a sign of decadence and loose morals, it actually realistically depicts the relationship between sex and power/social structures - whether it is a person in a position of power whose sexually predatory behavior is a way of implementing and enjoying their own power over people (The Intendant), or a person of low social standing using a marriage to advance one's position (Sisko and Jennifer), or sex as, fundamentally, an expression of the desire for freedom (Sisko's affair with Kasidy), or dangers and exposure to blackmail that someone's knowledge of one's sexual affairs can bring (Sisko and Janel/the Intendant), or the problems and uncomfortable situations brought on by unwelcome sexual interest from a friend (Sisko and Janel, again). The other big theme of the story is freedom
, as indicated by the title - one of Sisko's main drives is to gain some degree of freedom for himself through a better social status, but this is repeatedly leading him into positions of being dependent on someone - first Jennifer and her father, then the Intendant - and even less free. One might even see Sisko's sexual dalliances as following a pattern: perhaps Jennifer's love felt as suffocating as the Intendant's bare lust, not through Jennifer's fault but because he didn't feel as he depended on her; while his interest in Kasidy (and flirting with Ezri) was at least partly wanting to be free and get involved with someone on his own free will. Sisko's unanswered question to himself why he was not satisfied with having a beautiful wife who loved him, good job, etc. has an obvious answer that the title hints at: he wasn't free, but he will only understand much later (as seen at the end of "Crossover") that he could and must actually fight for real
Positive points also for including homosexuality in the way that doesn't insult the intelligence and has no implications of homosexuality as an expression of decadence and loose morality, since it's, for once, a character that could, for all we know, be gay or bisexual in the prime universe as well. (And for once, it is a male character.) It makes sense that the Trill culture doesn't have problems with same-sex relationships or put much weight on gender, since the most respected people in their society live multiple lives as both males and females.
The only flaw is that the ending was not as effective as the ending of some other stories, since Ezri's appearance at the end felt rather random and unnecessary.
Gluttony: The Borg - "Revenant"
Possibly the strongest story in the book. The only problem is that, well, it has nothing to do with Gluttony. But then again, it would be difficult to write a good Trek story with that theme. And this is a great story - a very effective and gripping horror thriller that could just as well be enjoyed by someone who didn't know anything about Trek. The story brings back all the dread (and then some) to the Borg that they had lost in the late seasons of TNG and on VOY, while presenting a unique perspective and the Borg different from the regular Borg we knew. Good use of Locarno. The plot itself and the ending pose a lot of questions and I would love to read some sort of continuation of the story. More about it in this thread
Sloth: the Pakled - "Work Is Hard"
Good lighthearted story. It is smart. Like a good late TNG episode. Not like a bad early TNG episode. It makes the idea from the episode go, removes stupid parts, explains it the smart way. The Pakled are not stupid, the Pakled are not all the same. Geordie learns better, Enterprise people had prejudice, Geordie make friends with the Pakled. But the Pakled show the sin of being lazy, the story has a point.
Only three stories really gave us cultural explorations beyond what we’d already seen – Klingons, Cardassians, and Romulans. And Wardilmore’s Romulan story did actually work beautifully, becoming I think easily the high point of the collection (surprising, for me; I have mixed feelings about their other stories) – it explained a huge hole, tied in brilliantly with existing Vanguard continuity, and actually used the Pride theme in a way that made sense and worked as a moral message. KRAD’s Klingon story was pretty neat, fleshing out some of the cultural problems in the TOS era that hadn’t really been explored, but the ending was a little too perfect and happy to really be a believable exploration of prejudice. Just a little too trite. So that wasn’t as interesting as I wanted it to be. Swallow’s Cardassian story gave us a nice backstory for Setlik III, which gave me some nice seeing-the-dots-connected fanjoy, and a compelling emotional arc for the main character, and so on its own was definitely worth reading, but as an analysis of Cardassian culture was very similar to the ones we’ve already gotten (Terok Nor, A Stitch In Time) and so the theme of Envy wasn’t particularly well used here either.
And the other four just told us stuff we already knew. The Ferengi story was the worst offender here; it’s another Ferengi farce written exactly the same as every DS9 Ferengi farce was, and with no particular narrative flair. The end might lead to something if it’s actually followed up on, but mostly that whole story was a serious meh. The Mirror Universe simultaneously presented a story much less interesting than the extrapolations in Dark Passions (again, a surprising thing to say), a story that undercut its own fundamental premise (by showing Sisko wasn’t motivated by lust, and neither was anyone else besides Kira), and an emotional arc that was profoundly uninteresting either way.
That is a very odd thing to say, since Sisko's affair with Kasidy and Janel's unfortunate pass at Sisko play such a big role in the proceedings and (together with Kira's interest in Sisko) set the whole thing in the motion. "Lust" in the most obvious sense means sexual desire, and surely Sisko was
motivated by sexual desire (for Kasidy), among other things; and in fact, the only people in the story who were not
shown to be motivated by sexual lust were Stan Devitt and Bokar. Though if you use "lust" in the sense of lusting for power, comfort, etc., they obviously were motivated by that kind of lust, as was partly Sisko (though I'd say he was actually yearning for as much power - like his own ship - that would give him a degree of freedom).
I disagree about the Ferengi story as well, it was not written as a farce, despite humorous touches like the Space Switzerland, and it actually dealt with greed in a darker and more serious way than most Ferengi stories. I also think it had a very good narrative flair. In fact, the only story that I found somewhat unsatisfactory in narrative flow and pacing was the Romulan one (see above).
I don't really understand your argument about the Cardassian story being very similar to the previous Cardassian fiction when it comes to the analysis of the Cardassian culture. How is that any different from the Romulan story? I didn't learn anything new about their culture from it that I didn't already know about the Romulans from the canon sources. If you're going to be strict about it, none of the stories really contain any particular revelations about the cultures in question - and they can't, because those cultures have already been developed and explored a lot; the only exception is the Pakled story, but that's because Pakleds hadn't been explored at all.