Prophecy and Change: DS9 anthology

Edited by Marco Palmieri (Pocket Books)

Prophecy and Change celebrates the tenth anniversary of Deep Space 9, a series that injected a welcome dose of moral ambiguity into the Trek formula. The anthology follows the course of the series from the pilot episode to the finale and beyond, with ten stories that embrace a range of genres and put the spotlight in turn onto each of the main cast members.

The stories are arranged in date order, which, though logical, has the unfortunate side effect of leaving some of the most interesting and challenging contributions to near the end. Among these is Heather Jarman’s The Devil You Know, which came closest among the stories of this collection to recreating the feel of an episode. Focusing on an exhausted and conflicted Jadzia during season 6, the characterisation is solid, with some interesting insights into the experience of being a joined Trill, and some surprisingly hot sex scenes, given that they involve Worf! This is, on the whole, a well-constructed and nicely-paced story – though I found the last few pages rather a slight let-down, and even a little jarring.

My other favourite is the contribution from new writer Una McCormack: set on Cardassia during season 7, Face Value is a complex story exploring friendship and loss, trust and betrayal as Kira, Garak and Damar try to come to terms with the past, the present and the future. The characters and setting really come alive in this piece, and the only complaint I can make is that it ends all too quickly!

The opening story of the anthology, Ha'mara by Kevin G. Summers, is set on Bajor in the aftermath of the pilot episode, Emissary, as various characters struggle to understand its implications. The Bajoran background is sharply realised, and the scenes between Kai Opaka and various original characters are strong: pity there aren't more of them, as I found the main plot with Kira and Sisko somewhat clunky and woefully lacking in tension. Nevertheless, an interesting contribution that’s definitely worth the read.

The Orb of Opportunity by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels presents an intriguing reason for Nog’s decision to join Starfleet. An extremely neat idea, though I found that the sometimes clumsy execution detracted from my enjoyment of the story.

Broken Oaths by Keith R.A. deCandido is a well-written story that focuses on the relationship between Bashir and O’Brien after the episode Hippocratic Oath. I was surprised to read a story that felt so 'fanficcy' in its exclusive focus on character relationships in a professional collection. Despite some amusing passages (particularly the cameos by Garak and Worf), on the whole the story felt slight and didn’t linger in my memory.

...Loved I not Honor More by Christopher L. Bennett builds on House of Quark, my favourite Ferengi episode. Though it flows well and has one or two fun ideas (especially where the author explains my Trek pet peeve, the matter/energy question), this was another story that felt a touch thin, possibly because it doesn't seem to add all that much to the episode.

Three Sides to Every Story, by another new writer, Terri Osborne, explores the relationship between Jake and Ziyal during the Dominion occupation of DS9. I have to admit Jake is not one of my favourite characters, which might be one reason why this story failed to gel for me, but I found the characterisations rather flat, and the tense and claustrophobic atmosphere of the station wasn’t sufficiently well evoked.

Jeffrey Lang’s Foundlings pairs Odo and one-off character Thrax to investigate some deaths occurring under very peculiar circumstances. Being a sucker for the detective genre, which is all too rare in amateur fanfic, I found this another very enjoyable story. Odo is well realised and the plot offers a few nice twists and turns. As with some other stories in the collection, however, I felt the end was weaker than the rest: a touch sickly sweet for my taste, and I wasn't sure Thrax's actions and motivations, as finally revealed, quite stood up to examination.

Chiaroscuro by Geoffrey Thorne has the most ‘hard sf’ flavour amongst the collection. I'm not sure, however, how well the sf plot really works within the DS9 framework – while judged purely as an sf story, the central idea is a bit cliché. Nevertheless, Chiaroscuro contains some insightful study of Ezri’s difficulties in coming to terms with the repercussions of being joined, and fans of this character will no doubt appreciate the story.

To my surprise, I have to admit that Andrew Robinson’s contribution was one of my least favourites of the collection. Possibly one needs to encounter A Stitch in Time and The Dream Box first to appreciate The Calling, but reading it in isolation I felt it was too far divorced from the DS9 milieu, as well as being disjointed and incomplete. Strangely, only intermittently when reading it did I hear Garak’s distinctive voice.

Judged purely as a pro-anthology, Prophecy and Change recreates the diverse moods and themes that characterised the television series with some success. The Editor is to be congratulated on putting together a collection that offers something for pretty much every fan of DS9, yet manages to retain a coherent feel. Face Value and The Devil You Know are two outstanding stories that do an excellent job of building on the best features of the series, and other strong contributions include Ha’mara and Foundlings.

As an avid reader of DS9 amateur fanfiction approaching Trek profiction for the first time, I found the collection had a rather different overall flavour. Unsurprisingly, the writing in Prophecy and Change is, on average, considerably slicker even than the better end of amateur fiction – characters move about on stage snappily, dialogue is crisp and in character, setting is well established &c. However, the constraint placed on writers by professional publication to stay strictly within the universe as given seems to have weakened some stories. In Ha’mara, the tension in the main plot is lost because of the lack of jeopardy for Kira and Sisko. In The Devil You Know, the reset button is rather too obviously employed at the end to return Jadzia in pristine condition to the toy box. Several stories lost potential ‘zing’ because unconventional hook-ups weren’t ever on the table. Overall, it contributes to a feeling of blandness, even of forgetability, that amateur fiction (while uneven in quality) frequently avoids.

22 November 2003