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Trek Literature "...Good words. That's where ideas begin."

View Poll Results: How would you rate Zero Sum Game?
Outstanding 38 22.22%
Above Average 78 45.61%
Average 45 26.32%
Below Average 8 4.68%
Poor 2 1.17%
Voters: 171. You may not vote on this poll

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Old November 12 2010, 12:06 AM   #226
Angstromdweller
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Re: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game Review thread

Almost Unique wrote: View Post
I'm just glad we finally found out that David Mack's a genderless robot
Nah. It could just as well be a powerful entity that transcends such lowly things as gender.
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Old November 12 2010, 12:36 AM   #227
Rush Limborg
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Re: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game Review thread

^I recall once asking David Mack:

"When you do push-ups, sir...do you push yourself up...or do you push the world down?"

(I wonder if someone should start a "David Mack's FACTS" thread....)
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Old November 12 2010, 01:05 PM   #228
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Re: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game Review thread

^ That one made my day Rushbo!
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Old November 12 2010, 01:56 PM   #229
William Leisner
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Re: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game Review thread

Almost Unique wrote: View Post
I'm just glad we finally found out that David Mack's a genderless robot
If Dave were a robot, it would a Bender model: drinking, smoking, cursing, and all manbot (despite the lack of characteristic features on his shiny metal ass plate).
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Old November 12 2010, 03:36 PM   #230
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Re: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game Review thread

I've finally got the book. I'll report back soon .
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Old November 12 2010, 06:35 PM   #231
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Re: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game Review thread

sfroth wrote: View Post
The reason the book wasn't better for me, though, is that the spy storyline focused on two completely new characters, who happen to share names with some previously established characters. Sure, it's been a long time since we saw Sarina, and we really only saw a child awakening from a long sleep, with this being her all grown up. However, I really don't see the transition from the old Sarina to this, and Mack really didn't make it believable to me.
Rush Limborg wrote: View Post
Come to think of it...I would say this screams for another novel--i.e., Sarina's journey, from the scientist's family to ...
I would be inclined to agree on both counts. But as Ezri said, Sarina makes Julian look slow. She found a way to counteract a virus that he had been researching for months in less than a day. And how she went from talking like a deaf person to having a normal voice, as Julian said, takes "weeks of speech therapy." Becoming an intelligence operative, I'm not surprised she'd have evolved a persona consistent with the real life Faith Salie, which was likely Mack's intent.

With Bashir though, how he hasn't made any new friends among his current colleagues is tough to figure.
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Old November 12 2010, 07:33 PM   #232
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Re: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game Review thread

William Leisner wrote: View Post
Almost Unique wrote: View Post
I'm just glad we finally found out that David Mack's a genderless robot
If Dave were a robot, it would a Bender model: drinking, smoking, cursing, and all manbot (despite the lack of characteristic features on his shiny metal ass plate).
And knowing this it's not so surprising that the first Trek book to use fuck in dialogue was by the Mackbot.
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Old November 12 2010, 07:34 PM   #233
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Re: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game Review thread

Rush Limborg wrote: View Post
I see it. David Mack, an "it"?
Could be worse. There's a review on Youtube that speculates whether Christopher Bennett is actually a woman for some reason .......

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-b57x7qYW9Q
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Old November 12 2010, 09:59 PM   #234
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Re: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game Review thread

^Why, because he's dang good when it comes to characterization?

For pete's sake--that's what everyone says about ME! And last time I checked, I'm certainly not hermaphroditical!
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Old November 13 2010, 01:42 AM   #235
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Re: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game Review thread

Having finally gotten my hands on Zero Sum Game, I thought I’d run through it and note down my observations as I go. Here’s part one. This is lengthy and probably not very insightful, and so must be posted. Who else is going to listen to me prattle on about a Trek book? That’s what you people are for. I’ve probably spoiled every scene of the book, so don’t read on if you haven’t read it yet.

So, we’re in 2382 according to the Historian’s Note, and the first few scenes take place in April. The Pact’s been up and running for about a year, so we can assume (I suppose) that it’s stabilized itself by this point. I would guess the form of its leadership or governance is now apparent (Bacco herself was waiting to find out last we heard).

It opens with an action scene, a small one and quite effective. David Mack is good with action scenes; I’m never too interested in action overall (I much prefer quiet conversational scenes) so it takes a good writer to hold my interest through them. Mack almost always does so.

Captain Granger’s thoughts are interesting – he “wasn’t sure anyone would ever give a true account”. Signs of the times, perhaps? I might be reading far too much into minor details, but it did seem to be a subtle reminder that this is post-Destiny. It’s quite a shaky and destabilized galaxy, and Granger’s comment seemed very jaded and mistrustful, as if he’s gotten into the mindset of his being powerless while forces beyond his control determine everyone’s fate. Again, I’m probably making far too much of it, but it did catch my attention. Things are on shaky ground still, following the Borg invasion and subsequent political reshuffle.

Our first familiar characters; Akaar and Nechayev. It’s good to see them. One thing I like about the novels now is how they use Starfleet Command as a legitimate setting in its own right, rather than some nebulous organization on the other side of a comm.-channel that occasionally disgorges an admiral in someone’s path. It makes the Trek universe as a whole seem more significant when we actually see the place where decisions are made, and populate it with characters we know.

Okay, so the setup is a good one. Quite predictable I suppose, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s entirely logical that the Pact would seek to negate the Federation’s technological advantage and acquire slipstream. Speaking of technological advantages, the Romulans have perfected phase cloak (but is the floor still its one weakness, I ask you? ). I was reminded of the Romulan/metaweapons thread at this point; it looks like the potential of Romulan cutting-edge science is being brought into play after all. It’s interesting that “Cloaked Romulans potentially all around us” is considered relatively unimportant now. Once that would’ve been the Federation’s worst nightmare, now it’s something Nechayev brushes aside as secondary to the real concern.

We move to President Bacco; another familiar (and welcome) face. What I said about Starfleet Command goes for the Federation government, too. The fact that so many casual fans and observers of Star Trek insist on an interpretation of the UFP as a military regime shows how underused the Federation government was on screen. I’m glad the novels rectified that, and avoid the sense that Starfleet makes the decisions within the UFP.

Bacco is well-written again. When Mack writes her, it’s clearly the same character as KRAD gave us. She’s not an imposter, it’s recognisably Bacco.

Another “lanky” Zakdorn. Mack really wants to get away from the “Zakdorn are short and plump” idea, doesn’t he? This is a perfectly interesting minor character, who manages to be more than just a job description despite having no role beyond his job description.

We get some insight into the Typhon Pact’s interstellar relations. After the Pact Signatories recalled their ambassadors, they apparently appointed a joint ambassador representing the Pact itself. It’s Tezrene, which suggests they aren’t in the mood to be friendly.

It’s an effective opening, setting up the situation nicely, and with plenty of hints as to the current political state of the galaxy. Between Bacco’s anger and Granger’s oddly resigned suspicion, there was even a nice hint at the psychological state of the Federation, too. As usual, Bacco and her staff work well; they carry the scene with their character without overshadowing the scene’s purpose as “background” and set-up for the main plot.
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Old November 13 2010, 01:49 AM   #236
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Re: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game Review thread

Deep Space Nine! It’s a depressing place, really. No-one’s there anymore, as we’re swiftly reminded. Bashir drinks alone at Quark’s (Quark’s still here. He’s going to die in that bar). The station feels oddly unwelcoming, which I suppose is the whole point, mirroring Bashir’s vaguely dissatisfied mood. I would have liked a more joyous return to my favourite corner of the Trek-verse, but evidently there’s a purpose to the gloominess, getting us into the right mindset for Bashir’s current character arc, so I’m okay with it.

I liked the ruminations about Bajor, now a prime vacation spot. That added a rather poignant sting to the whole emotional vibe I was getting from the station. As Bajor enjoys its time of prosperity, DS9 by contrast is feeling old and tired. It’s as if the station’s setting has outgrown it, and now it’s hanging around awkwardly, a relic leaving its days of relevance behind. Which of course is just what Bashir is doing, as he ponders his age and then reflects on his old “frontier medicine” enthusiasm and how the frontier has become just another part of the Federation.

Bashir has a beard. It’s nice when characters actually resemble real people and change their appearance now and then. (Vale doesn’t count. That was a continuity fix ). Bashir admits he’s lonely. As I said, not the most gripping or fulfilling return to DS9, but it’s so obviously tied to the character work I don’t mind.

A bit of a surprise: Vaughn’s here. Well, his comatose body is. Prynn’s here too (yay!). I know some readers got bored with their relationship after a while, but I never did. I was continuously impressed both by how they kept finding ways to twist the relationship in new directions and by how they made it complex enough to be convincing. The authors seemed to have great respect for what they were trying to portray; a parent-child bond that was in tatters but which could never be truly sundered. It was an acknowledgement that human relationships, particularly those as powerful and troubled as this, don’t have easy resolutions or simplistic progressions, and that “fixes” aren’t real fixes at all, only temporary measures. The relationship is ever changing and ever redefining itself, and the people involved keep going over the same problems and trying new means of relating to one another. There was no resolution, only change, and sometimes it was heading in one direction only to swing to something new. It was, I thought, very mature storytelling that suggested the authors truly cared about the characters they were writing - enough to make them fully realized people with real relationship dynamics. So this little hint at the latest twist in the Vaughn/Prynn saga was welcome.

Interesting also is the book Prynn’s reading him. Some very interesting thematic content, considering Vaughn apparently went down in the Borg invasion. A real echo of the emotional power of Destiny here.

So, after finishing her reading aloud of Destiny Book 2: Mere Mortals – sorry, of Twilight Kingdoms Trilogy: Book 2 Prynn discusses her reluctance to switch off Vaughn’s life support and leaves. Very interesting to catch up with the characters like this - at the low point of an ebb - without acknowledgement of how they got there. It feels rather odd. What I’m saying I suppose is that it does genuinely feel like time has passed and there has been a gap of years since we last saw these people. And the sense that Prynn and Vaughn’s story might be winding down to its inevitable conclusion does feed in well to the general tiredness of the chapter. (That’s not a complaint, it’s clearly supposed to feel this way).

Bashir categorizes the Federation as something almost stultifying, as something that conquers, sanitizes, homogenizes. Something tells me that homogeneity is going to be important in this novel . A major theme or just a reoccurring idea? We’ll see, I suppose.

Jang Si Naran is still around (having been introduced in Warpath). Totally disregarding this novel for a moment for a generalized observation, there should be more Thallonian characters in non-New Frontier works. We have so many nods and references to the Excalibur and Trident, to Brikars and Hermats, etc, but the backdrop to New Frontier is so often overlooked. We should have Thallonian refugees and ex-pats show up with greater frequency.

A reference is made to the Sindorin mission. I’m always pleased when authors directly acknowledge the earlier stories. We don’t need excessive details that might distract non-committed fans, but continuity-obsessed folks like myself appreciate these little reminders that prior events happened, and are informing character’s current decisions and outlooks. David Mack is good at this, though – he makes a lot of continuity nods without bogging the current story down in flashbacks or explanations. Very little “recapping” yet the story clearly builds on earlier works.

The main plot has now arrived. Bashir is (of course) going to go undercover and infiltrate the Breen so as to destroy the Typhon Pact’s prototype slipstream project.

Ro is rather flat-out “let’s just fight people” here. Characteristic of her command style? She was only throwing suggestions about but still, it’s interesting she went straight for planet-razing.

Bashir has a licence to kill. Inevitably, and to my lasting shame, I hear the James Bond music in my head. Exposure to mass culture has ruined us all. Anyway, despite the Intelligence officer giving it a moment to “sink in” we don’t get any immediate reaction from Bashir. I guess it would disrupt the progression of the scene too much, but is it also possible he’s avoiding reflection on it. Doctors with licence to kill...that doesn’t really work too well.

I notice that while in “Full Circle” it was insisted by Captain Eden that the Federation had no desire to claim new territories that appears to have changed. At least, Starfleet Intelligence is pretty sure that within a decade slipstream will have allowed the Federation to establish itself elsewhere. I guess the Pact situation has made them a little more pragmatic.

Building on the Sindorin reference, the “use or place of the genetically-enhanced” plot thread resurfaces. Starfleet’s good at making use of such people isn’t it?

I was amused by the opening of Chapter Four. I know some can’t stand them, but I like the Jack Pack. The Federation’s second greatest think tank, slightly less mature than Seven and the Doctor’s. Slightly. This time, they’ve apparently got necessary insights but are refusing to share them unless they get to choose a specific person to tell. It’s sort of like telling the government that you have the cure for cancer but you’ll only tell them if they answer you these riddles three. And the government feels they have to play along. The whole thing just amuses me, and is a nice balance for the “raze planets” and “expand our reach” comments in the last chapter.
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Old November 13 2010, 03:02 AM   #237
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Re: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game Review thread

Next we get some insight into the Breen; finally! I’m glad Trek lit is now willing to explore the corners of the universe it’s been previously neglecting. We don’t need to invent new aliens all the time; there are plenty of fascinating ones already established. So the Breen are a multi-species organization – there is no race called “Breen”, just a national identity. I particularly liked the detail that their metallic screeching isn’t in fact their language being translated. It’s a scrambler preventing the speaker’s actual language being heard. Most intriguing of all, only 10% of the Breen are cold-dwellers. That’s very interesting. In fact the more I think about it the more impressed I am. Breen = cold is an association made again and again onscreen and in the minds of fans. It’s as important to our grasp on them as warfare and honour are for Klingons. Breen; they’re the refrigeration guys. And now we find that 90% of them aren’t refrigerated at all. That’s quite a brave move.

Sarina Douglas is growing on me thanks to the skill with which she handles Jack. Very amusing.

I have a minor problem with the Sarina Douglas/Bashir romance. This might be difficult to explain; it’s not that I’m unconvinced by it; instead, it’s that my acceptance of the idea of it stems from an aspect of its nature that undermines its presentation on the page. Given that these are genetically-enhanced characters with extremely powerful minds, I can buy into the idea that the memories of their time together are powerful and vivid, near overwhelmingly so, and are easily prompting their behaviour now. I’m not genetically enhanced (that I know of ) but my memory for emotional interactions is so vivid I often never truly leave the moment. Years of distance mean nothing, because the moments never fade. So I can buy entirely the conversation here and the way in which their reunion provokes such powerful urges. I can accept fully the not-speak-for-seven-years-but-now-back-together-and-it’s-as-if-they-never-parted relationship. The problem of course is that timeless memory doesn’t translate onto the page. The writing is fine, and I can get what Sarina’s saying and accept the relationship is meaningful, but it still feels odd. Intellectually I can grasp entirely why it works (thanks to my own experience) but you can’t really get a sense of it in front of you. You have to understand it’s there without seeing it. As I did just that, I guess it works, but there’s still something uncomfortable about it. ... I’m sure this last paragraph made no damn sense at all, but there we are. Sorry.

Sarina’s troubles with the institutes and their reactions upon finding she’s genetically enhanced is interesting given where she’s headed – a society where everyone is outwardly similar and differences are apparently hidden behind a facade.

The Breen capital is confirmed as an icy world (I assume this is where the Cardassian embassy Dukat spoke of is located. “It’s very cold on Breen”.)

A pleasant shift in focus for Chapter Five: our first Breen POV character! One Thot Keer, and immediately he’s interesting due to how familiar he is. There’s nothing exotic or strikingly alien about Keer. He comes across as an “ordinary” guy; he takes pride in his shipyard, is irritated by inconvenient business partners and visitors, etc. An interesting path to take with the Breen - instead of making them “alien” making them very “human”, doing a 180 on the whole “Breen are mysterious” characterization. I like it, and I like Keer.

This chapter also gives us our first insights into how the Pact members are interacting. Volnar’s picked up the language easily enough – “rational discussion...mutually beneficial...greater cooperation”. It’s a shame Keer just wants them to go away and let him work.

Keer’s dismissive of the Gorn representative, who he thinks of as Volnar’s “pet”. Are the Gorn being sidelined in the Pact or are the Breen and Romulans too busy fixating on one another as “the rival” to care about their other allies?

Again, I like Keer and in particular his reaction to Volnar’s little sales pitch. He’s just a soldier and engineer with work to do and he doesn’t have time for pretence and politics. Ironic, given his culture and what we’re learning about the Breen? Or maybe not- I’m considering the line “he blamed politics for this state of affairs”. Hmm, the Breen were always nonaligned in the past, they strive for outward homogeneity...perhaps Keer is the everybreen who just does his work behind that faceless suit without care for such things. Maybe the Breen people aren’t reacting too well to this whole Pact business – not because they’re xenophobic or racist, but because it’s getting dirty politics into their nicely bland and straightforward working world. I guess more will be revealed later in the book...
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Old November 13 2010, 04:11 AM   #238
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Re: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game Review thread

The Aventine scenes felt a little underwhelming. To be fair, it’s not really a problem with what we got so much as desire on my part to see more. Of course, their role here is that of supporting cast, so I shouldn’t expect anything extensive. It’s still a bit disappointing; Kedair is present but she doesn’t get to shine, doesn’t really do much to remind you of the character in Destiny and A Singular Destiny. Oh well, this isn’t her story. I’d have liked more insight into Dax here, too, but again, not her story.

Another continuity nod – the Breen ship at Ravanar, mentioned originally in “A Time to Kill”. A nice reference that satisfies my love of continuity without getting in the way of the story, just like the mention of Sindorin.

The dinner is awkward. Again, though, that’s surely the point. Nothing much is said or worked through, which is a bit disappointing, but I suppose Mack’s chosen another way to show us the current state of their relationship, one that isn’t so intensive. I really do get the impression that the two have grown apart for good. Rush Limborg will hate me for saying it (), but I feel that Dax has truly outgrown Bashir. She’s moved on and he’s just stalling. Maybe if we keep in mind the comment made about Bowers we might then say her attitude is tied to her current circumstance, but that doesn’t seem convincing to me. Bashir’s final comments as he leaves also support the sense that she’s moved on while he hasn't. He can see and acknowledge it himself. I’m sorry, Rush, I think it’s pretty much over.

The chapter’s conclusion references opposition to Dax’s captaincy. Apparently, there are critics expressing the belief that experience gained through being a Joined Trill doesn’t translate into command qualifications. Seeing as I don’t remember any previously established in-universe opposition, I’m reading that as reference to fans; those who were underwhelmed by Dax’s promotion. Now it’s an in-universe debate too, of course, but mostly I think that was acknowledgement of the original real-life version.

Bashir seems to have genetic elitism on his mind; he’s quick to assume Sarina buys into it on some level. He feels the need to make comments like “just because she isn’t genetically enhanced...”
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Old November 13 2010, 04:16 AM   #239
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Re: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game Review thread

^I have to say, Nasat, while I see what you're saying...I think something has to be said for Ezri's reaction when Julian mentions Sarina's name. As the book notes, "her mood darkened". For the rest of the scene, she basically over-reacts to what he says, and puts him on the defensive, until he gets up and leaves.

Whatever her feelings for him, or lack therof...I didn't get any impression that she was "over" him....

'Course, to each his own.

(BTW...you noted that something just didn't seem "right" with Sarina/Julian. In this case, I'll say...you've got good instincts. Read on in the book to see what I mean....)
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Old November 13 2010, 04:27 AM   #240
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Re: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game Review thread

The early part of this book, which I much preferred to the latter half, reminded me a bit of the Worlds of DS9 novels: a bit of intrigue allows a few members of the DS9 crew to explore an alien world in more detail than was ever possible on the show, with a few important character moments blended in, and the sense that future storylines are brewing.

I thought the Breen were easily the most interesting part of ZSG, and since most of what we learn about them is revealed fairly early on, that's the part I enjoyed the most. At times Trek lit can read like official fanwank in a sense: basically, David Mack does a very clever job of taking the incoherent bits and pieces of pre-existing continuity involving the Breen and "explaining" them in a fairly plausible and compelling way. It's much better than the similar extended fanwank of Fearful Symmetry and The Soul Key (on the subject of Illianna Ghemor), since the way that storyline was dredged up went entirely against the spirit of the original episodes, which were about family and the ties of the spirit being just as strong, if not stronger, than blood relationships (instead of interdimensional killing sprees and other nonsense).

In this case, we didn't care about the Breen before, and now they are interesting, so nothing is lost, and much is gained.

Most of the rest of the book was pretty dull and cliché-ridden. Dax is a bit of a problem, as she has no defining characteristics at this stage, other than Nicole DeBoer's very attractve face on the book's cover. Ezri was more interesting when she was struggling with being a joined Trill. Now she has the problem that all writers' babies have, namely that the writing for her is boring and eye-roll inducing at times. It doesn't help that the crew of the Aventine run the full gamut of Trek clichés at a rate of about two a page during the closing sequence. Something will have to be done to challenge Dax in the future, some sort of internal conflict or adversity.

The writing for Bashir is better, especially in the beginning. His loneliness rings true, and the general sense that others have moved on to bigger and better things, while he has remained stagnant, strikes me as exactly the kind of thing Bashir would feel, whether it is justified or not. He has a streak of self-loathing and self-doubt despite his enhanced genetics. On the other hand, I never got the feeling that anything other than a sort of lip service was being paid to Bashir's regret at having to kill.

In fact, the narrative can hardly wait to get the killing underway, even to the point of forgetting that these weapons have stun settings. Also, aren't some of the Breen non-humanoid and therefore unlikely to be killed by blows to the chin or to the back of the head? This especially struck me as odd. I kept expecting the characters to forget this, and the narrative to remember. Basically the need to have an adequately stylish body count seemed to overshadow any moral qualms that Bashir might ordinarily have, to the point that his perfunctory moment of high-mindedness did not seem genuine in the slightest.

Sarina is a combination femme-fatale cliché and plot convenience. On the bright side, the whole "unwilling intelligence agent" angle has always worked very well for Bashir, so, as contrived and predictable as Sarina's new career and allegiance are, they are still probably viable choices for future stories.

ZSG is very plot-heavy and character-light overall, so the plot would have to very good for this to be anything other than a mediocre book. It's not that good, so it's pretty mediocre overall, though uneven: I found the Breen stuff very enjoyable, but the climax tedious in the extreme. If only Bashir and Sarina had actually been cultural observers, rather than intelligence agents engaged in a desperate struggle to see how the plot will bend over backwards to save them

Often I felt like I didn't have to go on reading the actual text to know exactly what would happen next (sometimes exactly what would be said next, in the case of the Aventine's crew). This went on for most of the latter third of the book.

My favorite sentence was The Saga of Deep Space Nine will Continue in bold at the end. I hope this means plans are being made to get the main DS9-R moving forward again. When it does, I hope the authors remember that focusing on characters is what DS9 did best.

In summation, I didn't think ZSG was very good, but it was still an enjoyable read, especially for the Breen material, and it's good to see some new Trek Lit on the shelf!

Last edited by flemm; November 13 2010 at 04:50 AM.
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