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

View Poll Results: Rate Brinkmanship.
Outstanding 25 27.47%
Above Average 44 48.35%
Average 16 17.58%
Below Average 4 4.40%
Poor 2 2.20%
Voters: 91. You may not vote on this poll

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Old September 29 2012, 08:51 AM   #76
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Re: TP: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack Review Thread (Spoilers!)

Halfway through now. I have to admit, I'm having some issues with picturing the Venetans.
I'm not hooked yet like I was with PoN/RtD which I couldn't put down. But that's not to say I'm not liking it. I'm getting this feeling that Una's working towards something, something ugly. Something bad. Things are only going downhill. Very curious to see where it's going to end.

Oh, and as for Ezri... still not liking the novelverse Ezri that much (give me Season 7 Ezri any day of the week), but she's not as annoying and selfrighteous as she was in previous novels. I'm holding of judgement untill the end of the novel, but I am hoping that Una will make Ezri likeable again for me.

Small little tidbit... Bowers is usually written as quite a stick-up-his-ass. He seems different in this one, even telling Alden (someone he JUST met) to call him Sam. Ofcourse, it's been over a year and half (in universe) since we last met Sam, so he could have changed, but he seems a lot less standing on ceremony and the chain of command sofar.
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Old September 29 2012, 12:50 PM   #77
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Re: TP: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack Review Thread (Spoilers!)

Just finished Brinkmanship an hour ago. It's been a while since I last read anything by Una McCormack, having skipped The Never-Ending Sacrifice, but ended up reading this one almost in one go. It was that good. I'm not going to cover everything but here's some random thoughts.

SPOILERS START FROM HERE

First, I want to applaud making Beverly Crusher the PoV character for the Federation side of the story. I feel that out of the original TNG characters remaining at the forefront in the novelverse, she's often the one with the fewest "screen time" (or page space, if you will). It made for a very refreshing perspective, that I found somewhat reminiscent of "Suspicions", an episode which I've always enjoyed (and which of course also had its theme of Doctor Diplomacy). These parts really felt very true to character to me, from the scenes where she befriends Ilka (great character btw!) to her obvious outrage at Akaar at the end. It also resonated quite well with my own feelings on how TrekLit has shifted to this darker universe of late, where Our Heroes spend much more time preventing war than they do exploring as they did before. Having both Crusher and Dax voice this same concern felt right to me, like the characters themselves have noticed and want to take action to change things. It makes the ending very bittersweet, as despite all the machinations - nobody wins.

Second, somethat in response to Mage's post above, I'd like to comment on the Venette. While reading about their city and their physiology, especially the furred Venetans like Hedron, I settled on something like forest lemurs. We have this rather idyllic setting of a capitol city without any hustle and bustle, where even buildings have an organic feel, and where people seemed to lead uncomplicated lives. (Which might contrast with certain lemurs I've seen, who can get quite lively after all). Having this peaceful society become a focal point for interstellar conflict made for a very "paradise lost" kind of story, and I really felt for them, in over their heads as they were. For in truth, the Venette wouldn't have much say in their own future if the Tzenkethi and the Khitomer allies had really gone to war here. All they'd be able to do was try and survive the onslaught. I quite liked this focus on the "lesser powers" caught in between the Pact and Accords powers, forced to pick sides or being fought over without any real choice in the matter. It's something I'd been contemplating earlier, nice to see that I wasn't the only one.

Lastly, something about the Tzenkethi. I much lamented the limited focus on them in Paths of Disharmony, given I got kind of excited with the tidbits we did get. Brinkmanship made up for that immensely. The Tzenkethi been one of the major unknowns for a while now, and getting this glimpse into their society and their motivations for opposing the Federation was very welcome. I've also begun to see a pattern unfolding in the different powers that make up the Pact here: many have some kind of "comformism" (I hope I'm using the right word here) in their society, as opposed to the Federation's diversity. The Romulans have long had a tightly regulated society, the Breen have their repression of individuality and the Tholians have their xenophobia. I also appreciated seeing into the "cracks" of Tzenkethi society though, for example the discussion of "genetic anomalies" between the two enforcers, Cory's dreaming beyond her station and even Alizome's "how did it come to this?" discussion with Beverly at the end. It makes the Tzenkethi as a whole really come to life.

So, we come to scoring in the poll. I don't deal out "Outstandings" easily, but I'm going to make an exception here. Thanks to Una McCormack for a great read!
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Old September 30 2012, 04:59 AM   #78
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Re: TP: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack Review Thread (Spoilers!)

Mage wrote: View Post
And the people at S&S really couldn't be bothered with a better cover then this photoshop?

Atleast the actual novel could not be worse then the cover. I love Una's work so far (The Neverending Sacrifice was fantastic!!), so can't wait to dig into this one. And I'm actually looking forward to reading more about Ezri and her crew, even though they are the least interesting crew out there for me.
I have to agree that the cover is an awful mess. Even the coloring is poor. We'll have to wait until this makes it to Germany so they can redo the cover properly.
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Old September 30 2012, 05:24 AM   #79
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Re: TP: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack Review Thread (Spoilers!)

Mage wrote: View Post
Halfway through now. I have to admit, I'm having some issues with picturing the Venetans.
The Convention is described as a multi-species society. I assumed that the Venetans encountered belonged to the furred species save when, as with negotiator Rusht, they were described as much more humanoid.

I'm not hooked yet like I was with PoN/RtD which I couldn't put down. But that's not to say I'm not liking it. I'm getting this feeling that Una's working towards something, something ugly. Something bad. Things are only going downhill. Very curious to see where it's going to end.
Crusher's anger at having been played by Akaar may come out.

Oh, and as for Ezri... still not liking the novelverse Ezri that much (give me Season 7 Ezri any day of the week), but she's not as annoying and selfrighteous as she was in previous novels. I'm holding of judgement untill the end of the novel, but I am hoping that Una will make Ezri likeable again for me.
I quite liked Ezri's depiction. The speech she gave Alden isn't quite a Crowning Moment of Awesome, but ...
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Old September 30 2012, 08:30 AM   #80
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Re: TP: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack Review Thread (Spoilers!)

Just finished it, and voted above average. I hate that score, since it makes it sound like I only found it slightly above average.
I found it a great read, highly appreciating (as stated above) the Crusher POV. She is not my favorite character by far, but it was a change of pace which I really appreciated.
Ezri finally came across as a competant ships captain, with the same problems every captain needs to deal with and wondering sometimes on wether or not she might be doing the right thing. Untill now, Ezri in the novels always came across as someone who knew she was right, and found it odd others disagreed. Such a relieve to read this Ezri Dax.

The plot itself was very gripping for me, and I'm very glad everything tied together nicely at the end. I truly hope we will see more Venettan in TrekLit, since even though I had some issues picturing them, I do find they are one of the more interesting species/alliances we have encountered sofar.

Una, thank you for a wonderfull novel, I truly hope we will be seeing more from you in 2013.
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Old September 30 2012, 04:59 PM   #81
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Re: TP: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack Review Thread (Spoilers!)

Finished, giving it a Above Average. Good story & characterization, interesting aliens and character moments.
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Old September 30 2012, 09:26 PM   #82
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Re: TP: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack Review Thread (Spoilers!)

I just finished. Nothing really appealed to me or stood out.
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Old October 1 2012, 07:19 AM   #83
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Re: TP: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack Review Thread (Spoilers!)

I loved it. It very much reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Thirteen Days, which was about the Cuban Missile Crisis (and starred Bruce Greenwood, the future Captain Pike, as President Kennedy). I find these sorts of "international Mexican stand-off" stories, about nations that unintentionally find themselves on the brink of war and can't figure out how to defuse the situation, absolutely fascinating.

I also appreciate the moral ambiguity of it. McCormack has often cited John le Carré as an influence, and it shows. She seems to have a consistent thematic concern with the idea of institutional or national guilt, with the idea of morally compromised institutions and persons acting to protect--or to serve, at least--empires or hegemons that find themselves less powerful than they one were. Usually, she's done this through Cardassia -- but here, the hegemon is the Federation.

To be fair, the Federation's moral compromise in Brinksmanship is less extreme than we tend to find in real life democracies; however shabbily the Akaar and Bacco treated the Venettans, the fact remains that they chose to turn their backs on the UFP and to allow a hostile power to place technology that could be used as a bioweapon on the UFP border. The Venettans truly did start it, and while we may admire their extreme openness, their utter refusal to accept the common realities of espionage and manipulation in international relations stands out as a form of ethnocentrism to me (especially when they condemn the Federation for espionage and refuse to acknowledge the possibility that the Tzenkethi do the same or worse). They did take threatening action towards the Federation, and there's no way around that.
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Old October 1 2012, 05:47 PM   #84
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Re: TP: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack Review Thread (Spoilers!)

I've returned to find the novel waiting for me, and will be starting tonight. I'll have a review in a day or two. Very much lookinh forward to this.
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Old October 3 2012, 01:25 AM   #85
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Re: TP: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack Review Thread (Spoilers!)

Tirius wrote: View Post
Having both Crusher and Dax voice this same concern felt right to me, like the characters themselves have noticed and want to take action to change things.
I liked that aspect of the novel, too. I felt like it neatly acknowledged both that the post-Destiny galaxy leaves the Federation more precarious, having to spend much of its time stabilizing things politically and otherwise - so that it isn't truly acting as it would like to yet honestly can't at present, and hinted at the dangers of changing and becoming too comfortable with how things are, losing track of the ideal. It did this while also ensuring that the characters are written as being aware of that danger and concerned by it, though not to the extent that there's a "doom and gloom" feel. It felt reassuring, both by seeming to remind us that the clean-up from Destiny hasn't been swept under the rug and by promising that our heroes are indeed committed to getting back to the Federation As It Can And Should Be, once reality allows. And that they know they can't take that for granted and need to work at it.

And that leads me nicely into one of my observations about the themes of the novel!

My review is below. It is a short and not at all rambling piece and who I am kidding, it's the usual mass of speech, almost Dukatian in its weight and breadth:

Brinkmanship was a far “lighter” novel than I was expecting. It wasn’t a heavy-hitter with a particularly wide scope, for all that it involved high-stakes politics between four major powers; it was more intimate and tightly focused. It explored the new status quo, did a lot of interesting things with the established pieces, and did it without transitioning into a new new status quo by forcing further Big Developments. That was a welcome relief in one sense, given all the changes and surprises that the other Typhon Pact books have featured. Don't get the wrong idea, I like that we had those changes and surprises – I’m eager to push the boundaries at the bleeding edge of the Trek timeline. But this once it was more rewarding to explore what we’ve got rather than changing the shape of the board.

It was wise to explore the expanded Khitomer Accords, showing how the upgraded relationships committed to in preceding novels are going to function. The Federation’s new “complication of Cardassians” trick hits just the right note between cynical and genuinely uplifting. This alliance is going to work, even if it’s as much about steering your friend into the path of someone pushy while having to grudgingly go along with their occasional demands to keep them happy as it is enjoying each other’s company. The story also built further on the Tzenkethi, who continue to be a worthy addition to the alien societies of Trek lit and were handled well here.

Thematically, the story appealed to me. One of the reasons I love Trek lit is the variety of stories it tells regarding individuality and membership; tales of individuals, races and organizations dancing around each other, seeking a balance between self-determination and inclusion/subsumption. Finding their comfort zones with one another, looking for a level of contact or exchange they feel safe with, and also searching for a balance between their own conflicting desires. Issues of acceptance, belonging, responsibility; all resonate with me greatly. This is a novel about conformity and the search for belonging, but more specifically about the price of full self-awareness and moral agency, the appeal of having none of that, and the uncertainty that comes with having to second-guess everything. Most of all, it seems specifically to be about the luxury, or the trap, or the sympathetic desire, or the terrible selfish urge, of seeking a life free from self-responsibility. Without ever really stressing that this is the issue up for discussion (save a strong opinion piece from Alden near the end, but he's already established as a character with definitive viewpoints on certain subjects and a hard time keeping an objective distance from his impulses) the novel explores the range of potential ways in which we could relate to this state of affairs – a life where our tolerances, comfort zone, moral duty and sense of place were mapped out so completely we don’t have to worry about them. Subsuming oneself into a system of absolute trust and freeing oneself from the strain and mental anguish of full self-awareness.

A peace that comes from a certainty of position and an absence of self-analysis is a most appealing one, especially for those caught between conflicting truths or identities. Efhany finally seeks this state, even knowing that in her case it’s a form of oblivion, because it’s the easiest way out and (so it’s hinted) because her Cardassian social instincts leave her vulnerable to its lure. Alden could probably do with being a bit closer to that state than he is, but thinks it’s a terrible, unconscionable thing that he’d never inflict on anyone. That wistful appeal of saying “do my thinking for me, nurture me and know what’s best” is very powerful, and was captured very well here, for the most part.

In a sense, the Venetans too have arrived at this blissful state and have genuinely prospered in it, while remaining relatable. However, it’s a false bliss in some regards because their peace is crippling to their development, a fact which becomes apparent when they finally decide to step out into the wider galaxy and can’t handle the complexities and harshness of it; indeed their leading citizen is rendered physically ill by the stress of what she has to confront. Something I was very much sympathetic to, by the way. In all, the Venetans were an interesting addition to the Trek universe. I enjoyed their blend of patient wisdom and stroppish child-like attachment to their own comfort (and they are stroppish, for all their patience and gentle understanding. When people won’t play nice and do things in their carefully-mannered way they become judgemental and, by their standards, harsh. They were amateurs in the field of alien contact and it showed). A fascinating picture of a mature and rightly self-assured people who yet have no real capacity for understanding the world around them; it was an intriguing set-up that could use further development.

We’re given more than one angle on it thanks to the comparison/contrast with Dax, who also exhibits a blend of youth and settled wisdom, only far more functional. The equivalency between Dax and the Venetans is alluded to several times, of course, – interestingly usually in the form of Dax reflecting on the knowing, directed-for-her-alone looks the Venetans are giving her (that’s another thing the Venetans do that I’m not sure they realize they’re doing; they divide and target just as well as any of the more political races. They're not as totally non-hierarchial as they might seem). In all, a paradoxical lack of maturity defines the inhabitants of the old and comfortably prosperous Venette Convention. Perhaps because they’ve developed in isolation, with little in the way of challenging perspectives to encourage growth? Unlike Dax, who by Trill nature must balance and integrate a range of strong and difficult perspectives and experiences. But like the lower Tzenkethi grades, who know only what makes them comfortable because it's when comfortable, happy and ignorant that they best perform their function for the whole.

As for Dax herself, while her friendly relationship with Alden was a little underdeveloped for my tastes, it did give us the “I am Dax” speech, which I agree was a great moment. No lengthy fretting over something she must have long ago become fully comfortable with, but acknowledging her journey and the conclusions she had to reach over the course of it. Nicely played. Between her non-relationship with Bashir in the earlier Typhon Pact books and that scene here, I feel like Captain Ezri Dax has finally finished establishing herself as a character distinct enough from Still Not Really Sure Who I Am Ezri Dax of old. Nice too that the answer to her queries on identity is now firmly “I am Dax” - but this isn't her surrendering to the symbiont or subsuming herself to previous identities, but full acceptance of her status as a worthy host. It’s Ezri saying “I am Dax”, not Dax saying it, if that makes sense. And that’s pleasing. I liked too that Dax and Bowers were written as trusting friends within the limits imposed by their professional relationship. They’ve known each other for 7 years, and been Captain and First Officer on the Aventine for almost 3. They should be at ease with each other by now.

On the subject of characters, Ilka also contributes to what I've decided is the central theme – as a modern Ferengi female, she has (in this case eagerly) moved out of that situation I’ve been talking about, where everything she needs to know is determined for her and “growing up” is discouraged (in this case, until recently prohibited) and has embraced (been able to embrace) a position where she has the capacity to function as a fully responsible being. But there are always drawbacks, for here she must wrestle with multiple conflicting wrongs, betray an ideal here to do what must be done there, face the knowledge of the self-doubts and compromises that come with full self-awareness and the social space given to exhibit it in. Notably, Ilka is more comfortable with it than people like Alden or Crusher – understandable given that, for a Ferengi female seeking a role in the wider galaxy, self-responsibility - warts and all - is something to strive for and a goal eagerly pursued against much resistance. Another example of how different characters suggest different means of relating to this theme, and an example of how these perspectives make sense in the context of the character.

Other notes:

I liked seeing the Federation strengthen its ties with the Ferengi and Cardassians. And I was so, so pleased that Dygan has integrated easily into the Enterprise crew as a friend, rather than being their “problematic Cardassian”.

It was actually fascinating to consider the Tzenkethi in comparison to the Breen. One society is about hiding your biology, consigning your genetic heritage to the shadows while your random talents define who you are, accepting a sea of variants behind an outward conformity, celebrating diversity but morally opposed to exhibiting it openly, and its people are all walking around in identical full-body suits. Yet this society is difficult to infiltrate. The other society is ordered and structured entirely on the basis of biology, where your genetic heritage determines who you are, where a form of diversity is celebrated precisely because all the myriad variants know their function and place, and where they advertise that function - and thus their biology - openly through visual cues. Yet this society is relatively easy to insert operatives into. Akaar even explicitly says that Tzenkethi counterintelligence isn’t the best.

It's interesting to have a book featuring Enterprise and Picard in which Picard is not the focus or a POV character. I liked what we saw of his relationship with Dygan. The idea of Picard as a respectable leader of Cardassians is interesting and not, I find, too unexpected. I hope we see more of this relationship in The Cold Equations.

Alizome’s back! I hoped she would be at some point. I’ve expressed interest in seeing her become a recurring trouble-maker and she’s in a position to make that plausible. I was glad to see her.

Finally: the urge to write a “Garak and Bacco” book must be strong indeed; I commend McCormack for having just the one scene rather than littering the novel with them, which would have been awesome but probably counter-productive.
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Old October 3 2012, 03:41 PM   #86
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Re: TP: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack Review Thread (Spoilers!)

My review:
I went into Brinkmanship with high expectations. Looking at the cover, I was reminded of our last Picard/Dax tale- Destiny. Perhaps in giving the book this cover, the publisher made an error in leading readers like me to expect a dynamic Picard and Dax story. In retrospect, if I were to put 2 characters on the cover of this book it would be Crusher and a Cardassian disguised as a Tzenkethi as these were the characters that the book centered around.

That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing except neither of these characters really gripped me. Whenever I generated a mental picture of events, Crusher always seemed out of character. Sure she was out of her element, but the words she spoke just didn’t seem like the words or manner that I expect from the character. The disguised Cardassian spy didn’t strike me either, I can’t even remember her name! That is the difficulty with Star Trek writers spending a lot of time in an alien culture with new characters, they really have to make them stand out and be memorable. Although the Tzenkethi society is original, I found it to basically be another cliché xenophobic totalitarian society who I found far more interesting in DRG III’s Rough Beasts of Empire.

My chief problem with the book was the pace. The status reports about the Tzenkethi freighter fleet began as an interesting countdown but they quickly become tedious, a seemingly needless break in the narrative. Throughout the book, I found the read to be dry and completely devoid of interesting tension or action. I kept anticipating something to peak and hold my interests but instead, the lack of real developments railroaded my attention span like the Tzenkethi railroading diplomatic progress. Though interesting characters are active in the narrative, their lack of useful interaction and progressive action made their roles dry. The first real moment of tension in the book, where a character really stood out, was nearly 70% through when Picard faced down Alizome in the Venetan council chambers.

Then, after all that waiting, I felt let down by the climax. The solution to the crisis, the Tzenkethi manipulating Cardassian embassy staff, came in abruptly and I was unconvinced that this piece of information would resolve the situation. I’ll admit, maybe this wasn’t the writer, it may have been my limited understanding of diplomacy and affairs of state. But, with all the time spent building to that resolution, I felt the resolution needed to be better developed and explained instead of the crisis being put behind so quickly and characters moving on like the ending of a Voyager episode. The Cardassian spy’s ending also made no sense to me. The Tzenkethi and Cardassian biologies are so different. She can made to look like a Tzenkethi but the type of examination that probably comes with a reconditioning would probably reveal the different biology. Then the Tzenkethi lower echelons would know they have been contaminated with a Cardassian spy. No doubt an autopsy of the dead human would reveal the same thing. So I anticipate the bitter sweet ending the writer was going for would actually end with the spy being tortured to death.

So after another Typhon Pact book about the UFP teetering on the verge of war instead of about explorers making peace with strange new worlds, Dax’s words pretty much summarize my feelings on where the Typhon Pact series continuing theme. “Rushing from crisis to crisis, we’re changing. And what will we become? Will there be any room for those of us who want to understand other civilizations? Am I overreacting?”
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Old October 3 2012, 04:47 PM   #87
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Re: TP: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack Review Thread (Spoilers!)

MatthiasRussell wrote: View Post
... Dax’s words pretty much summarize my feelings on where the Typhon Pact series continuing theme. “Rushing from crisis to crisis, we’re changing. And what will we become? Will there be any room for those of us who want to understand other civilizations? Am I overeating?”
lol. I just finished the book the other day, and I missed her climactic dietary query. Did she actually say that?
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Old October 3 2012, 05:06 PM   #88
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Re: TP: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack Review Thread (Spoilers!)

^If she did, I certainly missed it.

Deranged Nasat wrote: View Post
We’re given more than one angle on it thanks to the comparison/contrast with Dax, who also exhibits a blend of youth and settled wisdom, only far more functional....

As for Dax herself, while her friendly relationship with Alden was a little underdeveloped for my tastes, it did give us the “I am Dax” speech, which I agree was a great moment. No lengthy fretting over something she must have long ago become fully comfortable with, but acknowledging her journey and the conclusions she had to reach over the course of it. Nicely played. Between her non-relationship with Bashir in the earlier Typhon Pact books and that scene here, I feel like Captain Ezri Dax has finally finished establishing herself as a character distinct enough from Still Not Really Sure Who I Am Ezri Dax of old. Nice too that the answer to her queries on identity is now firmly “I am Dax” - but this isn't her surrendering to the symbiont or subsuming herself to previous identities, but full acceptance of her status as a worthy host. It’s Ezri saying “I am Dax”, not Dax saying it, if that makes sense. And that’s pleasing. I liked too that Dax and Bowers were written as trusting friends within the limits imposed by their professional relationship. They’ve known each other for 7 years, and been Captain and First Officer on the Aventine for almost 3. They should be at ease with each other by now.
Agreed, my friend! However...I must also add, despite Ezri at last appearing to achieve "equilibrium" in this book--still, her personality is still Ezri. That is, everything we liked about her in the series is on full display, here--blended seamlessly with her clear command capability.

Her lack of "sureness" of who she was in the series has been supplanted nicely with a self-awareness that makes her think about the right things, and "just do" about the right things. In previous Destiny/Pact books, we sometimes saw her leaping before she looked--sometimes mission-wise (i.e. her setting course for Earth before being stopped by Picard), sometimes personally (i.e. her clash with Bashir).

Here, we see her...well, almost afraid to make that kind of mistake. And anyone can sympathize--as she is forced to tread a fine line between diplomacy and security. She is no appeaser--again, she has the same suspicions Alden does, and brings them to Picard and Akaar--but she does not want to ignite, either.

As for her not submitting to previous hosts--that is a very important level of growth for her. For much of the relaunch--and indeed, at times in Destiny or the Typhon books--she seems to be falling prey to some Jadzia nostalgia--or worse, Curzon. We see none of that, here. (Unless the colorful metaphors are from those two?)
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Old October 3 2012, 05:26 PM   #89
MatthiasRussell
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Re: TP: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack Review Thread (Spoilers!)

Yes, Dax made that statement. It struck me when I read it. I did a search in my Kindle; that quote is from chapter 12 during a discussion with Picard.
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Old October 3 2012, 10:39 PM   #90
Supreme Dittodrone
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Re: TP: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack Review Thread (Spoilers!)

Well, then--a nice "that's-the-Ezri-we-know-and-love" moment, right there!
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