Aliens of Trek Lit, Chapter Eight: The Breen!

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Deranged Nasat, May 4, 2014.

  1. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    Or don't, since one of the more interesting qualities of the Trek Lit Breen is that only one of their races is associated with the cold, despite the perceptions of outsiders.

    Previous entries in this unofficial series:








    Plus, the rambling Cardassian Chronicles:



    So, the Breen, the race who began as a running joke, took on associations with danger and cold, and then became a surprise superpower in the final half of DS9's final season. The novels, starting with David Mack's Zero Sum Game, have finally taken us under the mask and fleshed this mysterious species out - most notably, by reconciling some of the canon contradictions with the reasonable notion that there are many Breen species.

    In a sense, the Breen are another attempt at a rival for the Federation, a sort of conceptual mirror that presents both familiarity and opposition as regards the protagonist nation. There have been several of these before, and the Typhon Pact itself might be considered an example. The first and most heavily explored is the Klingon Empire, of the 23rd Century, which has lent itself to many fascinating stories (at least in my opinion). With the Klingons, we have a nation whose driving cultural values are at odds with those of the Federation to the extent that understanding seems near-impossible. The Federation is committed to peace, a position that is literally morally repugnant to what the Empire has become under the total domination of the warrior caste and its martial traditions. The Klingon culture is repulsed by the culture of the Federation - or as Klingons view it, the Human Empire - which has been founded and expanded on the basis of dishonourable and hypocritical means, immoral in its foundations and intolerable for the affront it represents. Not through honourable warfare does it expand but through deception and cowardly appeals to peace, afraid to face foes in spiritually-rewarding combat. It is by rights a khesterex - the passive structure that dies - yet it is not passive, and expands like a komerex, pretending to be something it isn't. An intolerable insult. The Federation’s desire for peace seems incompatible with the Klingons, leading to great dilemma in Federation foreign policy, but both it and the Empire are ethically driven rather than practical or pragmatic, so they are, in that sense, very much alike.

    Later examples include the Dominion, though I would argue that this one never quite worked as it might have, partly because the Federation’s inner workings were so rarely explored on TV, and partly because the Federation rarely seemed as diverse as it supposedly was. The planned but cut appearance of the Hunters of Tosk as navigators aboard Jem’Hadar vessels would have made the Dominion bridge more diverse than the Federation one! I know alien makeups cost money, but DS9 had so many background aliens in any given episode that they should have thrown more alien Starfleet officers into the mix. There are welcome examples of just this, like in The Ship, which includes a Benzite and a Tiburonian, two previously established but underexplored Federation races (to be honest, anything other than Vulcan falls into that category).

    Finally, of course, we have the Borg, who are a mirror of the Federation in their drive for unity and desire to improve themselves through incorporating as many races and cultural bases as they can, but who represent a crushing, soulless conformity.

    Which brings us at last to the novel interpretation of the Breen Confederacy. The Breen are interpreted as a multi-species nation, the term “Breen” referencing a shared cultural and national identity spread across multiple stars rather than a species, race or planetary culture. No species or race is legally subordinate to another - they are true partners. However, where the Federation is open, bright and trusting, the Breen are secretive and dark.

    The Breen assign people to roles to which they are suited - in practice, this means certain jobs and professions are dominated by certain races, but great care is taken to ensure that the decision is only made on merit, not on account of race. The Breen guard against bias by obscuring the race or planetary culture of a Breen citizen at all times. This is, of course, very interesting in terms of the story opportunities it offers. It reminds me, personally, of how those who most loudly insist on cultural and ethnic diversity are in fact often some of the most hypocritically averse to it - after all, in their overly-sensitive response to anything disharmonious, they obviously don’t believe that different peoples can interact or live together safely, because they act as though any natural friction will cause a disastrous breakdown unless everyone is tightly controlled and engage in mutual censorship or policing. Having just read Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel, I think of Thoris’ quote that serves to summarize the book, regarding fear and the Babel myth. The Breen represent a society where fear, in some form, has overtaken the qualities their Confederacy appears to have been founded on.

    Note: I would love some exploration of Breen history, and how they came to be the society they are. There were small hints in Zero Sum Game, in Thot Keer's references to myths of his homeworld, but I want more. Much more.

    Another fascinating detail about Breen society and the Breen mindset comes from Zero Sum Game's depiction of Breen commerce and state intelligence services; identifying people by commercial history rather than any truly personable characteristic. Measuring someone by the impression they make on society while screening the person themselves out of consideration.

    Nor is the Federation the only nation we might compare and contrast with the Breen. I wonder, for example, if the Breen ever met the Watraii of Vulcan's Soul? Watraii all look similar due to low genetic diversity and they hide their features out of a cultural shame at wearing the face of the “murderer race”. Breen are most certainly not all the same but wear identical suits to conceal their biological diversity. One thing I mentioned in the Brinkmanship review thread was that I think it's interesting to consider the Breen’s new allies the Tzenkethi in comparison to the Confederacy. Both are Typhon Pact nations explored in the novels through a vehicle of espionage. One of the two societies, the Breen, insists on citizens hiding their biology, consigning their genetic heritage to the shadows while random, non-controllable talents define who you are and the role you play. They accept a sea of variants behind an outward conformity, celebrating diversity but being morally opposed to exhibiting it openly, and its people are all walking around in identical full-body suits. Yet this society is noted more than once as being difficult for outsiders to infiltrate. The other society, the Tzenkethi, is by contrast ordered and structured entirely on the basis of biology, where genetic heritage determines identity, 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, like the accepted range of their bioluminescence. Yet this society is relatively easy to insert foreign operatives into.

    In the initial Breen story, Zero Sum Game, which is a vehicle for Bashir, it seems we have also a potential comparison between Bashir and the other "augments", Bashir having hidden his unique talents to conform to a Federation frightened of genetic inequalities and the assumptions of inherent superiority that the Federation’s powerful Human contingent insists it leads to, and the Breen - whose culture and society require outward conformity for fear of bias.

    The Breen have become prominent recurring antagonists over the last few years worth of novels – from Zero Sum Game through Plagues of Night/Raise the Dawn to the first two Cold Equations books to Absent Enemies to Disavowed. Most of these appearances also form an arc of sorts in which the Breen are desperately trying to close the propulsion gap with the UFP so as to win the new “cold war” and challenge the Romulans for the unofficial leadership role in the Pact. The race whose depiction on screen revolved around being mysterious yet powerful, competent yet reclusive, have been well defined in the novels; fortunately, Mack and the other authors have replaced "Breen are mysterious" with something worth exploring.

    So, thoughts on the Breen as they appear in the novels? :)
    Last edited: May 4, 2014
  2. David Mack

    David Mack Writer Commodore

    Jan 25, 2003
    New York, NY
    Nice summary! Based on your comparison of the Breen and the Tzenkethi, all I can say is … boy are you going to enjoy my upcoming novel Section 31: Disavowed. :)
  3. Wadjda

    Wadjda Commander Red Shirt

    Nov 13, 2013
    Great stuff Nasat.
  4. Markonian

    Markonian Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jun 2, 2012
    Yorkshire, UK
    David Mack did a great job in expanding the Breen in Zero Sum Game. They've retained some of their trademark mysteriousness while being evolved into something interesting in their own right.

    As Nasat said, a story how the Confederacy came together would be attractive.
  5. publiusr

    publiusr Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Mar 22, 2010
    I love all this in depth background.
  6. Jedi_Master

    Jedi_Master Admiral Admiral

    May 25, 2011
    Soaking up the sun
    Very well written summary.