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Alternate History in Star Trek, Part 16: Early Deep Space Nine Spinoffs

By Tom Anderson

In the previous two articles in this series, I gave a rundown of the first three seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9), how it initially struggled to find its feet before establishing its own unique brand, though never reaching the mainstream impact of its predecessors. In this article I’ll be looking at the early DS9 non-canon spinoff material, novels and comics, which were produced in those first three years of the show on-screen (1993-1995).

Just as we saw with Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), the fact that this material was coming out in parallel with the show’s early years meant that authors often struggled to get a grip on the characters and setting. This also tended to favour quite cautious and self-contained plots due to worries of contradicting the more detailed ‘worldbuilding’ of DS9 as it grew, which is understandable. There are exceptions to this, however. Another point one will note with the early spinoffs is how authors often had difficulty keeping up with changes to the show’s retools: the introduction of the Dominion as a threat, of the USS Defiant, of Sisko’s promotion to Captain, and of the introduction of a certain new main cast member at the start of season 4 (which we’ll get to). I find it interesting that I recall seeing novels that had clearly been written before these introductions, being ‘updated’ with hastily dialogue like “With the Defiant away at—” to explain why it wasn’t part of the story. You’d think it would be easier just to explicitly set a novel at an earlier point, but from what I recall, when chronology was given it was only to say a novel was set before or after a different author’s novel!

Let’s focus on comics first. Up to this point, the Star Trek licence had been variously held by Gold Key, Marvel and, most productively, DC. With the new DS9 series for the 90s, however, the licence turned to one of the newer American comic book producers becoming more prominent at the time – Malibu Comics. It tells you everyone you need to know about the era in comic books that the cover of the first DS9 comic also came with a limited edition gold embossed version for no reason. That first story, “Stowaway” (1993), is typical of early DS9 spinoff media in general; we get to see Jake and Nog having fun absconding from Keiko’s school, an alien mould threatens the station (seriously) and then Gul Dukat shows up and demands they give it to him as a bioweapon. The second issue also prominently displays the giant cogwheel airlocks that became one of the more recognisable elements of DS9 – the hard work of the set designers going for an alien aesthetic paid off. These first few comics were written by Mike W. Barr, who had previously written the Mirror Universe Saga among other earlier Star Trek comics. The Malibu artwork has also been criticised for not measuring up to that typical in the DC comics, although that is also partly the comic aesthetic of the time (which has not aged well).

Barr comes up with a more interesting concept (and one which fits Phil Farrand’s “Bajor: Terok Nor” definition of compelling early DS9 content) with “Old Wounds”, in which a dying Cardassian Gul wants to return to Bajor, where he was born under the occupation (and married a Bajoran woman) before he dies. Unsurprisingly, Kira is the central character here. “Emancipation” (thankfully no connection with the dreadful Stargate SG-1 episode of that name) prefigures the episode “Sanctuary” I discussed last time, in which the crew offer asylum to people from a slave race fleeing captivity in the Gamma Quadrant. As we’ve seen elsewhere, good ideas can sometimes appear first in Star Trek spinoff media before being folded back into the on-screen canon.

This is followed by an issue containing three short stories by different authors, following different characters (and illustrating the strength of DS9’s cast – a lesser-made but better-founded criticism of Star Trek: Discovery than most is it lacks sufficient depth in its secondary cast). The third story, “Program 359”, is particularly interesting, as it involves Sisko obsessively replaying the Battle of Wolf 359 in the holosuite to see if there was any way he could have saved Jennifer. It’s a very Star Trek concept (the no-win scenario simulation), but it feels inappropriate after the message of “Emissary” – it could have worked as a flashback, perhaps.

The Malibu comics then typically have a different writer for each issue or story rather than a consistent one, though Dan Mishkin wrote more than any other. “Working Vacation” involves Kira interfering with a class conflict on a Gamma Quadrant planet, which ends with Sisko telling her she broke the Prime Directive (see what I mean about writers not getting the setting yet – Kira doesn’t have to obey the Prime Directive, she’s not a Starfleet officer!) “Requiem” (a title which I’m pretty certain was used before…) has O’Brien, while repairing the station, discover the diary of a Bajoran girl who lived under the Cardassian occupation, presumably an Ann Frank reference. “Descendants” features humanoids from the wormhole with amnesia whom the crew wonder may be connected with the Prophets – or, Bashir suggests, the Preservers! (TAKE A SHOT)

Another indication of how these stories were overly influenced (unavoidably) by the early DS9 episodes is how often “Jake and Nog get into escapades” is used as a plot device, which appeared misleadingly often early on in the show. “Lapse” is a particularly weird one where Odo refuses to get vaccinated against the flu, then when he is, it has side effects (was this written by an antivaxxer?) In another example of how early writers didn’t get the show’s elements, Odo at one point poses as Quark, which wouldn’t be possible as he can’t do humanoid faces well.

Another example of a comic story prefiguring a later on-screen one is “Dax’s Comet”, in which the titular comet is heading near the wormhole and some Bajorans believe it will bring the end of the world – very similar to the later episode “Destiny”. The same can be said of “Images” which involves a half-Cardassian, half-Bajoran spy (someone of that makeup would not appear on-screen until the fourth season) and Kira having to open up to them in a manner similar to “Second Skin”, which came out slightly earlier. Also, the spy gets beaten up by racists from The Circle (remember them? Neither does anyone else). “Hearts of Old” features Jadzia Dax encountering a Trill ex-lover from before she was joined, and who refuses to be joined himself; an interesting idea, but another one that suffers from later Trill episodes making decisions about how Trill culture views relationships which at least partly invalidate it. “Last Remains” is interesting because of how it depicts an old Romulan ship using a 2160s non-canon design from the Star Trek Chronology. “Deep Space Mine” is the fun idea of Grand Nagus Zek having told some Gamma Quadrant aliens that the Ferengi run the station, so Quark and Sisko have to trade jobs for a day.

This is followed by a three-parter called “The Secret of the Lost Orb”, which partly prefigures some ideas later used elsewhere. And because Star Trek comic writers really cannot get enough of Harry Mudd, we also get a DS9 story starring his grandson, Horace Tiberius Mudd. “Friend and Foe Alike” sees Ro Laren enter the picture – the first, but far from the last, time DS9 spinoff writers would decide to introduce her after all to the setting originally planned for her (in Kira’s role). The Maquis are also appearing by now. In an illustration of how difficult the writers were finding it to keep up with the show changing, this story can only take place in between “Explorers” and “The Adversary”, as Sisko has a goatee but is still a commander!

The story “Sole Asylum” follows up on Thomas Riker from “Defiant” in a Cardassian prison. “Enemies and Allies” is set in the Mirror Universe and follows the adventures of our previously-established heroes Mirror Tuvok and Mirror Bashir. “Remembrance” is a follow-up to “Blood Oath” in which the granddaughter of the Albino comes after Jadzia in turn. Finally, the Malibu Comics run comes to an end with its 32nd issue, “Turn of the Tide” (1995), about a Cardassian seeking revenge on Kira.

The comics boom of the early 90s had slackened, Malibu was in trouble and would soon be bought out. The DS9 comics would be relaunched under Marvel (the cutoff falling pleasingly exactly where I need it for these articles!) However, there were also a few annual stories and one-shots to mention in this period. “The Looking Glass War” (1995 – nice John le Carré title reference there) features an alternate version of Curzon Dax appearing from a universe where the Federation and the Dominion are about to go to war (foreshadowing). Our crew have to go and help prevent it, despite agonising over whether the Prime Directive counts in this case. It also features a murder mystery over who killed alternate Odo (why does Odo always get killed in alternate timelines?) which our Odo has to solve – there’s a nice twist!

The following annual features “No Time Like the Present”, in which a reactivated alien artefact left behind by the Cardassians causes the station to leap between different alternate timelines. This is worth mentioning not only because it involves AH, but because the timelines glimpsed are completely mad. We get the nice Star Trek case of Khan winning the Eugenics Wars, but we also have time-travelling Keiko becoming the lover of Sulu(??) and O’Brien being thrust back into the first Cardassian War under Robert Maxwell’s command.

The one-shot “Lightstorm” (1994) features support from Klingons when a Gamma Quadrant race tries to have Sisko & co. sentenced to death, an interesting idea (help coming from the nearest Klingon rather than Federation ship) used once or twice in the canon show. “Terok Nor” features a flashback to the construction of the station. “Frozen Boyhood” has Jake in the future with an antique CD player which his father found in an old Earth exploration ship found drifting near DS9, prefiguring some themes of the episode “The Visitor” which came out shortly afterwards. The final Malibu comics of this type involve events from the fourth season so I won’t mention them here.

Malibu also did a ‘celebrity series’, another very 90s concept, involving celebrity guest writers. “Blood and Honour” by Mark Lenard (who played Sarek and the Romulan commander from “Balance of Terror”) features the son of that commander on a mission to DS9. The miniseries “Hearts and Minds” seems to, very strangely, follow the plot of “The Way of the Warrior” at the start of the fourth season, despite coming out a year earlier – I won’t mention more right now, but it almost feels like it was based on an earlier version of the script, but I don’t think that works chronologically. The only major difference is that the war in question is averted, and turns out to be manipulated by the Romulans behind the scenes rather than a certain other threat force…

Thus endeth the Malibu era of Star Trek DS9 comics, so I shall draw a line here and now discuss the novels that came out during this period. Like TNG, the DS9 novels were published by Pocket Books, and also like TNG, the first novel released was a novelisation of the first episode. “Emissary”, novelised by J. M. Dillard, came out in February 1993, only a month after the episode itself. I’ve never read this one myself, but (again like “Encounter at Farpoint”’s novelisation) it includes a number of ideas from earlier versions of the teleplay that were dropped from the final episode. Some would appear in later episodes, notably parts of Odo’s backstory from “A Man Alone”, while others would be dropped. There are also some natural inconsistencies, such as Quark’s brother Rom being given another name (he was intended as a one-off ‘Ferengi Pit Boss’ background character in the original script) and O’Brien being identified as an ensign. As is common with novelisations, we also get more detail on things such as character names on the USS Saratoga at the beginning Dillard stated that the most challenging part was being able to write the non-linear encounters between Sisko and the Prophets, which she eventually rendered as a stream-of-consciousness.

Here I will cover the next twelve numbered DS9 Pocket Books novels in chronological order, which takes us up to the end of 1995, followed by the non-numbered specials from that same period. The second novel was “The Siege” (1993) by Peter David, with no connexion with the later episode by that title. As with his TNG work, David foresees later trends in the series, such as other members of Odo’s race being found in the Alpha Quadrant (a concept which would not appear until the final season of DS9). He also has his habit of inventing races on a whim that we’ve never heard of before or since yet are significant enough to pose a threat, in this case a race called the Edemians who have a confrontation with the Cardassians. As with the comics I discussed earlier, David had the incorrect impression that Odo was capable of imitating humanoid faces adequately, and oddly enough, here he imitates Quark, just like the comic! Perhaps the best idea in this novel is a scene where Sisko talks about Wolf 359 and Jennifer’s death and how he wishes they were safely on Earth at the time rather than in Starfleet. Bashir retorts by saying that he was on Earth at the time and everyone was panicking and berserk. “If the Enterprise crew members hadn't pulled a last-minute miracle out of their hats, I might be sitting here pasty-white with a gun instead of an arm, saying, 'Drinks are irrelevant'." Bashir also refers to the news of the Borg invasion being ‘all over the internet’ which probably seemed instantly-dated at the time, yet arguably still holds up in 2022 – not sure if it will in 2367 though.

“Bloodletter” (1993) by K[evin] W[ayne] Jeter, who incidentally coined the term ‘steampunk’, is a typical ‘Bajor: Terok Nor’ story with a violent fanatic of the Bajoran Resistance emerging from Kira’s past (a plot that seems to have been used a zillion times) and the Cardassians trying to build a base on the far side of the wormhole to control it. “The Big Game” (1993) is by Sandy Schofield, actually a pseudonym for Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. The plot involves Quark hosting a huge interplanetary poker tournament, with guests from TNG such as the Duras sisters, the time-traveller Rasmussen and the Ktarian agent Etana Jol – Riker himself was allegedly invited but had to pull out. Things are then livened up by a murder mystery that Odo has to solve. Much more of a Star Wars plot than a typical Trek one.

“Fallen Heroes” (1994) is one I can talk more about, as my school library had it. It was penned by Dafydd ab Hugh, previously mentioned as a TNG novel author (though this is chronologically his first Trek work), who described it as “the one where everybody dies”. Odo collars Quark trading some sort of strange Gamma Quadrant alien artefact, only for everything to change around them. Odo initially thinks the artefact put them into stasis for three days, but later they decide it was a time jump. The rest of the book is told in repeated flashbacks and flashforwards as Odo and Quark explore a deserted station, while we see what led to the deaths of their comrades. A ship from a mysterious alien race (but one possibly referenced in Cardassian mythology), the Bekkir, showed up and its people keep asking “where is the other one like us”, beaming aboard and searching the station to do so. It turns out that they are almost immune to energy weapons, and themselves use advanced projectile weapons. Sisko, inevitably, uses the tractor beam as a ‘baseball bat’ to swat these away, while O’Brien overloads the hand phasers into ‘phaser grenades’ as a weapon against them. Later, they realise that they should use the replicators to make an advanced Klingon projectile weapon, but by that point the station is so badly damaged that the replicators no longer work.

Everybody gets a death scene, including one I remember from Jadzia Dax, revealing that Hugh thought for some reason that her spots changed colour with her emotions and faded white when she died. Not sure where he got that from. Anyway, Sisko used the reactor to trigger an EMP that killed everyone, Bekkir and crew alike, except for Jake and Molly who managed to get to a shielded area. Quark and Odo figure out they can change history and save everyone – the Bekkir were looking for that same artefact that transported them, and it also be used to go back. Odo has to retrieve a key from a Bekkir body near the reactor. The heat causes him to melt; Quark manages to use the key to transport them back in time. He is able to head off confrontation with the Bekkir (threatening to throw hot molten Odo in a bucket at people who get in his way!) by giving them the artefact, much to Sisko’s confusion. Our epilogue has Quark gleeful that he’ll be left to his own devices while Odo cools down, only to find Kira has taken his watchful place at the bar. For an author’s first Trek novel, this one was quite good.

Lois Tilton, 2005 winner of the Sidewise Award for Alternate History, also penned the next novel “Betrayal” (1994), her only Star Trek work. A delay due to a later author breaking his hand meant that this one is actually set after “Valhalla” which we’ll get to below – only relevant in that it references shifts in Cardassian politics. DS9 gets visited by a Cardassian ship under the belligerent Gul Marak. One of Marak’s personnel, a Cardassian named Berat, has been demoted from glinn (lieutenant) to menial repair work due to a political ploy that wasn’t anything to do with him. He decides to jump ship onto the station, and Nog hides him in return for his help fixing the Cardassian replicators (confusing O’Brien, who’s been trying to get them working properly for months!) Berat is eventually discovered and given amnesty, with Gul Dukat outmanoeuvring Marak and giving Berat support when it’s exposed that Marak tried to plant a bomb in DS9’s engine core. This one captures the Cardassians quite well considering the early state of the series, including inventing the swearwords ‘fark’ and ‘flakk’ for them, which even Jake picks up, much to Sisko’s displeasure.

Esther Friesner is another author who penned a DS9 novel before a TNG one, stating that DS9 was an easy place to start because there wasn’t much to catch up on! “Warchild” (1994) is a follow-up to the Kai Opaka storyline, with Bashir having to find a prophesised Bajoran child. It’s the sort of plot that would be fine on-screen, but doesn’t really make sense as something that can happen self-contained within a novel and never referred to again, given that it’s painted as a global issue and an important prophecy. She did, however, also write it for character development for Bashir, as she had noticed that Siddig’s performance had become more subdued between seasons 1 and 2.

John Vornholt was directly inspired by the very detailed TNG Technical Manual in the next novel, “Antimatter” (1994), in which terrorists seize a tanker of antimatter bound for a new ship being built at the Bajorans’ shipyard. This is also one of the few cases in Star Trek depicting a ship being built on a planetary surface, which was controversial for many people in the 2009 reboot film. Yet another newcomer author was Melissa Scott, who wrote “Proud Helios” (1995), about Sisko teaming up with Dukat against pirates (similar to “The Maquis”). Dukat’s ambiguous characterisation was another thing authors in this period often struggled with (as indeed did the show’s writers at times).

“Valhalla” (1995) is the aforementioned delayed novel set before “Betrayal”, written by Nathan Archer (a pseudonym of Lawrence Watt-Evans). This is another one I read in my school library. A mysterious alien ship falls through the wormhole and the crew investigate – leading to some nice xenofiction moments, like Bashir pushing a big obvious button that someone informs him would be wired up to a trap in some other race’s ship, and noting that the colour green on a display might not mean good to a different culture. (Archer also invents a past host for Dax, because this was the point when you could totally just make them up, before the episode involving all of them). It turns out that the ship’s computer became sentient under the name Enak, and when its alarmed crew tried to shut it down, it ended up killing them a la 2001. Enak’s consciousness then invades DS9, though O’Brien is able to hold it back by reviving ‘The Pup’. This was an alien software being that he discovered in the episode “The Forsaken” and left in a ‘doghouse’ within the station’s software. Enak is held at bay due to ‘the Pup jumping into his lap’ as O’Brien calls it, which is a nice use of continuity. Meanwhile in the beta-plot, Cardassian ships from two rival political factions (tying in with “Betrayal”) threaten the station again. One, commanded by Gul Kudesh, mistakes a Bajoran fireworks display for an attack and ‘counterattacks’. Then Enak, becoming obsessed with ideas of life after death, allows Cardassians to board the station so it can study them killing people and see if it can detect a soul coming out. In the end, Enak decides to commit suicide by ramming its ship into Kudesh’s warship, resulting in the downfall of that faction.

“Devil in the Sky” (1995) by Greg Cox and John Henry Betancourt is another example of later Star Trek authors liking to bring back things from The Original Series (TOS) – in this case the Horta from “The Devil in the Dark”. The crew have to deal with Horta young trying to eat the station itself! “The Laertian Gamble” (1995) by Robert Sheckley has an alien race persuade Bashir to play at Quark’s gambling tables, which somehow results in chaotic events occurring across the galaxy – a similar, if more exaggerated, concept to that seen in the episode “Rivals” from a year earlier.

Diane Carey makes her DS9 original debut with “Station Rage” (1995), the last of the numbered novels we will be dealing with today. In Carey’s conception, DS9 cannibalised older Cardassian space stations when it was put together, and it turns out one of them has some Cardassians in stasis which O’Brien accidentally awakens (unbeknownst to him). These are the ‘High Gul’ and his followers, a faction who were around eighty years ago (basically it’s ‘Space Seed’ but with Cardassians). In another case of novels not getting characterisation right, Garak hero-worships them when he discovers them, quite unlike his usual cynicism. The High Gul plots revenge and tries to take over the station. Meanwhile, the old enemies of the High Gul’s faction are also about to attack the station. This one has some interesting ideas, but isn’t Carey’s best Trek work. Considering it’s self-contained, it also creates unnecessary problems for itself with the 80 years thing (at least it’s not 100 years for once!) considering it then feels the need to reintroduce the High Gul’s wife and political enemy, who weren’t frozen along with them.

In addition to these numbered books, as before there were also unnumbered ones – sometimes ‘Giant’ or from tie-in series. We’ll get to the tie-in series (such as “Invasion!” and “Day of Honour”) another time, but for now, here are the others. “The Search” (1994) is a novelisation of the titular two-part episode by Diane Carey, who seems to have a better grasp of some of the characters here. As with other novelisations, there are some ideas from earlier versions of the script that are abandoned. I actually read this book before seeing the episode (which should give you an idea of how long it used to take TV in the UK to show new Star Trek episodes!) and was disappointed to find some lines missing, especially when they run down the Defiant’s impressive capabilities. “Triple-redundant, interlocking, phaser arrays” is a phrase that has stayed with me ever since, and my imagining of what it would look like was always better than the actual in-show effect when I finally saw it.

The only other unnumbered book from this period was “Warped” (1995) by K. W. Jeter. I remember seeing this one advertised in the back of one of the other books, and the tagline sounded silly and melodramatic even by Pocket Books standards: “AN UNSPEAKABLE EVIL INVADES DEEP SPACE NINE™!” That rather put me off reading it, and the synopsis isn’t much better. Anyway, the plot involves a new religious faction taking over Bajor (which happens about as often as Kira facing an extremist from her past) and murders committed by people driven psychotic by a new holodeck technology, which apparently also threatens the fabric of reality, somehow. I’m sure it’s fine, but none of that especially makes me want to seek it out.

Plenty more DS9 spinoff material to cover as we enter the later seasons of the show. However, before we go there, we have more diversions to make. For a start, “Star Trek: Voyager” would begin during the third season of DS9. But even before we get there, there’s one area of media that’s been glaringly absent from this articles so far: video games…



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