Star Trek: A Ceremony of Losses by David Mack (Book Review)
In the last year, roughly, I’ve slowly gotten back on track with reading Star Trek novels. First with James Swallow’s Cast No Shadow last year, and then with the first two books in the Typhon Pact: The Fall 5-book series this year, the experience has reminded me again and again of how and why I fell in love with Star Trek in the first place. The aforementioned series also happens to be on my “25 Series To Read in 2014” reading challenge list as well, and is one of the more rocking series I’ve had the pleasure of reading as part of that challenge. The first book Revelation and Dust was slow-paced and a bit too complex but the second one The Crimson Shadow really blew my mind. Going into the third book, I wanted more the latter and none of the former.
A Ceremony of Losses is written by Star Trek stalwart David Mack and is definitely among the finest examples of tie-in fiction I’ve read to date, in the context of the best novels I’ve read to date in the Stargate, Star Wars, Star Trek, Warhammer, WarCraft and a bunch of others. This time the focus of this novel is on the Andorian fertility crisis and the consequences of the Andorians’ secession from the Federation two years ago. And our characters are also much different, although many of them are drawn from Revelation and Dust since one half of the novel takes place on the newly consecrated Deep Space 9 and on Bajor. Just as Una McCormack did with The Crimson Shadow, so does David Mack with A Ceremony of Losses and presents one of the finest examples of Star Trek fiction.
When I was reading the novel yesterday (and I finished it all in a single day so go me!), what really struck me that in the scenes when Julian Bashir talks with his fellow Federation genomic specialists about the Andorian Fertility Crisis and trying to find a cure for it, David Mack’s writing gets very technical. I didn’t understand even a percentage of it, but it all felt very realistic and created a sense of verisimilitude that enhanced the overall reading experience for me. A Ceremony of Losses isn’t a hard sci-fi novel, but it comes very close and with the way that David writes the dialogue so naturally, he creates the feeling that he knows what the hell he is writing about and then that feeds into his characters so that they appear to be actual experts rather than faux experts. Masterfully done, these bits. They are a rather small part of the novel to be sure, but are some of the most important scenes.
A Ceremony of Losses happens to be a novel with the biggest cast I’ve seen to date, rivaling perhaps only Revelation and Dust, at least in all the books I’ve read this year. David Mack touches on several different areas of the Star Trek universe, all over the Beta Quadrant, from the Andorians to the Tholians, from the Humans on Earth to the Romulans, from the Federation to the Typhon Pact, and more. At first I was a bit apprehensive whether David Mack would pull it off, but he managed it quite handsomely and made the novel a most entertaining one as well. There is no clear protagonist in the novel unless you count Doctor Julian Bashir of Deep Space 9 or Thirishar ch’Thane of Andor (a former Starfleet officer alongside Bashir), and that worked very well with the story that David was telling. It all allows him to have a much greater narrative scope than would be otherwise possible and you get to see just how richly and deeply layered the Star Trek universe is. There are all sorts of things happening, on Earth, on Bajor, on Deep Space 9, on Andor, and elsewhere and David flows from one to the other quite effortlessly.
Which brings me to the pacing of the novel. There are a lot of twists in this novel, a lot of times when you feel as if “that’s it, this is the end of the line for the good folks” and yet David continues the story. The highs and lows flow into each other seamlessly so that it all becomes a single cohesive effort. From one situation to the next, from one character to the other, from one location to the other, you are never left disoriented. The chapters are all broken into small chunks so as to be much more easily read, and this applies to the various POVs within those chapters as well. Sometimes the small POVs can feel a bit off, mostly in the beginning, but once the novel gets going, it doesn’t stop, and it is one hell of an exhilarating ride.
Each character, major or minor, is given a chance to shine and there are certainly lots of dramatic and cinematic scenes in the novel. Lots of action happens here, the kind that you can expect from any good-great Star Trek story and in that too David does not disappoint on any level. Since I’ve been out of the loop on Star Trek fiction for several years, I’m not so familiar with many of these characters, but the way that David writes them, I never felt alienated or wrong-footed or anything. It was as if I knew them all along. Ezri Dax, Sarina Douglas, Thirishar ch’Thane, Simon Tarses, Admiral Akaar, and so on. Even Ishan Anjar, though I hate the character and would like nothing more than to ground that despicable excuse for a president pro tem into dust.
And in that, we see just how good David Mack is with the characters. He really gets you to feel for them, whether in a good way or a bad way. I always found myself rooting for the good guys very strongly while I brimmed with hate for the bad guys and couldn’t wait for them to get their deserved comeuppance. It also helps considerably that he manages to nail the voices of the characters that I am indeed familiar with, characters such as Quark and Julian Bashir. And as time goes on and I read more Star Trek novels, I’m sure that I’ll become even more familiar with them, and then see how David’s characterisation holds up in terms of inter-novel consistency. Which I’m sure won’t be a problem at all.
One thing that I’ve liked about the Typhon Pact: The Fall novels is that they are all effectively stand-alone and they focus on quite different crises that meta-textually come together to form a much larger event. You can read these novels in any order you want and you won’t be lost, especially since the first three novels are largely concurrent (to a degree).
And I also loved that we got to see a very personal side of the Andorian culture, just as we did with the Cardassians in The Crimson Shadow. The fertility crisis, which will lead in to a situation where the Andorian species becomes functionally extinct in about a century unless a solution is found, means that the good guys and the bad guys are all fighting against the clock. For the good guys, it is because it is the right thing to do, their responsibility as fellow sentients. For the bad guys, it is because they want the Andorians to join the Typhon Pact and so will do whatever is necessary for that, even helping solve the damned crisis at hand. In a situation like this, the real villains turn out to be quite different to those that you’d expect, and this in turn builds on the events of the previous two novels, namely, the murder of the Nanietta Bacco, the President of the Federation at the time of her death.
There are lots of things happening in this novel, and David manages to make everything stand out, and the same goes for the characters as well. A Ceremony of Losses is undoubtedly one of the best novels I’ve read all year, and it is also quite a bit emotional as well in parts. Plus, given what happens with Julian Bashir in the second half, David has managed to make him one of my absolutely favourite Star Trek characters to date. All in all, a great and fantastic job by David Mack!
Posted on June 10, 2014, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged Admiral Akaar, Aliens, Andor, Andoria, Andorian Fertility Crisis, Andorians, Bajorans, Beverly Crusher, Book, Book Review, Breen, Chief Miles O'Brien, David Mack, Deep Space 9, Deep Space Nine, Ezri Dax, Federation, Ferengi, Genetic Engineering, Genetic Modification, Ishan Anjar, Julian Bashir, Leonard James Akaar, Nanietta Bacco, novel, Novel Review, Pocket Books, Quark, Revelation and Dust, Review, Review Central, Ro Laren, Romulans, Sam Bowers, Sarina Douglas, Science Fiction, Simon Tarses, Space Opera, Star Trek, Star Trek: The Fall, Starfleet, Starfleet Command, Thirishar ch’Thane, Tholians, Tie-in fiction, Top 25 Series 2014, Typhon Pact, USS Aventine, USS Enterprise. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.