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Alternate History in Star Trek Part 24: DS9 Spinoffs ask “WHAT YEAR IS IT?”

By Tom Anderson

In this latest segment of my never-ending rundown of the Star Trek franchise (with a particular focus on its use of alternate history and time-travel tropes) I will cover comic and novel non-canon spinoffs from Deep Space Nine from roughly the period 1995-1997. The fact that an article can be produced from what feels like such an overly specific category should be an illustration in just how much Star Trek-related material has been produced over the years; remember, this article is a continuation of when I first looked at DS9 spinoffs back in part 16!

I previously discussed the oddity that many of the DS9 Malibu comics seemed to prefigure plots in the series itself, but given the timescale it seems unlikely they actually influenced each other – just peculiar coincidences. In those comics we’ve already seen a plot involving an alternate-timeline Curzon Dax trying to stop a war with the Dominion (which, of course, goes on to start at the end of season 5) and a plot where the Klingons plan to invade Cardassia but it’s narrowly averted (which formed the start of season 4 minus the aversion), among others. I’ll now mention the last few Malibu specials before the handover to Marvel, which I avoided talking about before as they crossed into events following the start of season 4.

“Oaths” by Terry Pallot is a moral dilemma where Bashir wants to use Quark’s shady contacts (including the Maquis) to source a live-saving drug for a dying Bajoran child, in the face of Odo’s opposition. “Honour” by Christopher Pelton (a title which I’m sure has never been used before…) examines Nog’s decision to join Starfleet as he gets cold feet. An anti-Changeling hate group targets Odo in “Dangerous Times” by Joe Fielder. In “Bonds of Honour” (see what I mean) by Dan Mishkin, Worf is wrongfully accused of destroying a Federation starbase and faces prejudice due to his Klingon background – almost the reverse of the plot in the episode “Rules of Engagement”. “Unhappy Trails” by Moose Baumann is kind of a revival of the TNG episode “A Fistful of Datas”, with DS9 characters joining Worf in an Old, sorry, Ancient West holoprogramme. Like the Mark Lenard example we mentioned last time, there was also another ‘celebrity special’ part-contributed by an actor from the series – in this case Aron Eisenberg (Nog) who co-penned with Mark Paniccia the story “Rules of Diplomacy” in which Nog has to escort a young Klingon to Ferenginar.

Finally, the last Malibu miniseries is “The Maquis: Soldier of Peace” by Mark A. Altman, in which Bashir is kidnapped by the Maquis while holidaying on Risa, and this leads into a plot with a Cardassian named “Gul Dulcet” (I’m sure he has a lovely singing voice) who claims to have one of the Maquis’ brother captive. Except this brother was serving on Captain Chakotay’s crew on the Don’t Ask The Name Of This Ship, and Dulcet claims to have that whole crew captive…so the reader knows he’s lying, which is a nifty plot twist. Backup stories to this miniseries include “Memoirs of an Invisible Ferengi” by Chris Dows and Colin Clayton – points for a title shoutout to one of my favourite ‘box office bombshell’ films from video rental shops in the 90s – and “A Tree Grows on Bajor” by R. A. Jones. And with that, the Malibu comics come to an end, with the licence passing to Marvel Comics.

In both comics and novels, spinoff writers in this era would come to struggle with the fact that DS9 kept shaking up the situation with characters and ‘geopolitics’ so often. We’ve already seen that some of the final Malibu comics relied on the Maquis as a source of plots; well, before too long the Maquis will be wiped out in the space of a few episodes after Cardassia joins the Dominion, and then where are you? Gul Dukat could go from minor enemy to reluctant ally to arch-enemy to mad lone wolf over the course of a couple of seasons. The Klingons’ relationship with the Federation also changed repeatedly. I can imagine it being very frustrating to be a spinoff writer with a long lead-in time at this time, because there seems to have been a reluctance to explicitly set stories and comics earlier than ‘now’ in the series (and perhaps fans would have seen this as not ‘counting’). This was not the relatively stable, episodic, self-contained story setting of TOS or (especially) TNG that birthed dozens of novels whose era could remain somewhat vague. One couldn’t assume that a ship, person or organisation one used would still be around by the time one’s work rolled off the press. Because of this, many (but not all) DS9 spinoff works in this era tended to retreat to a more cautious and self-contained plot structure, only expanding in scope again once the on-screen series had concluded.

Marvel Comics, of course, had a great deal of past experience with Star Trek comics (as I’ve previously discussed) and drew upon some of their experienced writers as a result. The first Marvel DS9 comic, debuting near the end of 1997, was the two-parter “Judgement Day!” (speaking of overused titles…) by veteran TOS comic and novel writer Howard Weinstein. It starts the series off with a bang, with Deep Space Nine being pulled through the wormhole to face an uncertain future on the Gamma Quadrant side, attacked by the Jem’Hadar. Once restored, this is followed by another two-parter, “The Cancer Within” by Mariano Nicieza (are we absolutely sure it wasn’t Kevin J. Anderson, with that title) which involves a Maquid plot. Do you see what I mean about the changing situation causing problems – the second issue came out in February 1997, and the episode “Blaze of Glory”, in which the Maquis are finally and definitiely wiped out by the Dominion and Cardassians, debuted only three months later in May.

“The Shadow Group” (someone’s run out of thesaurus options), also by Nicieza, uses a terrorist plot and a threat to Dukat’s daughter Tora Ziyal’s life (again, we’ll see how this becomes problematic later…) “Risk” by Weinstein is a two-parter with Sisko on trial after the Defiant accidentally stops an alien attempt to travel instantaneously to any point in the galaxy. Well, obviously, don’t they realise that’ll result in them hyper-evolving into lizards and/or doing something really stupid with magic mushrooms and a giant water-bear? Nicieza returns for the two-parter “Public Enemies, Private Lives” (pretty good title) where the Romulans interfere in ‘geopolitics’ by helping…the Maquis. This one came out in August 1997. Whoops. Poor writers. Maybe this finally led Weinstein and Nicieza to give up, because the remaining six issues are penned by a pair of different writers, Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels.

Martin and Mangels’ first effort is the wonderfully-titled “Lwaxana Troi and the Wedding of Doom”, following up to the episode “The Muse”, in which she married Odo for legal reasons to avoid her child being claimed by the father, who wanted to raise him away from his mother and in a male-only environment according to the customs of his people. This time Lwaxana wants a divorce so she can remarry, once again being a headache for Odo. This is continued in “Four Funerals and a Wedding” (Harry Enfield did the same joke) and these two also introduce the character of Etana Kol, a Bajoran sergeant who will, unusually, make the leap from comics to the ‘DS9 Relaunch’ novels later on. Incidentally, the TNG episode “The Game” features an undercover Ktarian spy called Etana Jol; one wonders if either the writers accidentally subconsciously reused a name, or maybe there’s something the Bajoran character isn’t telling us…

The next two comics, “Command Decisions” and “Day of Honour” (no, not that one) are part of a big Marvel crossover event called “Telepathy War” because, even when doing licensed media, Marvel and DC cannot resist doing big crossover events – I’ll discuss this elsewhere. They again show the problem with the situation rapidly changing in the on-screen show, as these comics (which came out in December 1997 and January 1998) use a preemptive Dominion/Cardassian attack on DS9 as a theoretical plot point, when on screen this had already happened in “Call to Arms” back in June 1997.

I’ve slightly gone over my arbitrary date cutoff, but for completeness I’ll mention the final Marvel comics. “Nobody Knows the Tribbles I’ve Seen” (again, Martin and Mangels have some strong title game) is a collection of stories about why Klingons hate Tribbles. Finally, “Requiem in Obsidian” (I repeat myself) is a Garak-centric story in which he seemingly keeps seeing a woman he killed when part of the Obsidian Order around the station. (By the time this came out in March 1998, on screen Garak had just got back to the station after spending months away from it with the Federation crew while it was under Dominion occupation…so I suppose that’s OK)

Perhaps unsurprisingly after those timing problems, Marvel then gave up. There were some plans for a miniseries that would have avoided the issue by being set in the past under the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor, but that didn’t pan out. The Marvel series would be the final DS9 comics published while the show was still on screen (concluding in 1999), with a single four-issue WildStorm miniseries coming out in 2000 followed by two IDW miniseries, one in 2009-10 and another in 2020-21. Apparently comics writers got so brassed off by DS9’s shifting setting that we can now only have a new DS9 comic every ten years; a shame for such a rich setting. I’ll go through these another time (they are part of the ‘DS9 Relaunch’ post-finale spinoff project), but otherwise that’s it for DS9 comics. Now, on to the novels.

As previously mentioned, under Pocket Books the various Star Trek series usually had one set of arbitrarily sequential numbered novels, and an annoyingly separate unnumbered set of ‘giant’ or ‘special’ novels in parallel – which I will cover separately at the end to avoid going mad keeping dates straight. Last time in part 16 of this series, we’d just got up to “Station Rage” in the numbered books (in which it’s number 13 of 27) and “Warped” in the unnumbered ones. So let’s move on…

“The Long Night” (1996) by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch is typical of the more self-contained style adopted by many DS9 spinoff authors at the time, with a plot involving Quark finding the lost treasure of a deposed tyrant from a planet we’ve never heard of before and never will again – with the plot twist that the treasure includes the tyrant himself in suspended animation. And, forgive me for sounding like a scratched record, but the plot also features the Cardassians being partly behind machinations that lead to said planet launching an attack – when, by the time this novel came out, on screen the Cardassians had had a democratic revolution and were quite busy being invaded by the Klingons themselves.

“Objective: Bajor” (1996) by John Peel (no, not that one – him of the TNG book “Here There Be Dragons”) is one I read and enjoyed at the time; it feels very much like a bit of classic Isaac Asimov-type sci-fi that’s been stuck into DS9. Again, we’ve got timing problems – Sisko on the cover has both hair and a beard, a combo which he rocked for exactly 5 episodes at the end of season 3, and the Cardassians are still a dictatorship – but for the most part, these are quibbles. A Cardassian ship encounters an unknown alien craft that’s a jaw-dropping eight thousand miles long (apparently the Cardassians use imperial measurements, who knew) and is destroyed by two smaller ships it sends out which fly on either side of the Cardassian ship with monofilament cutting wire between them. The armadillo-like aliens, known as the Hive, are refugees from one of the Magellanic Clouds who have crossed the vast gulf to the Milky Way to escape a conquering foe, a journey which took more than two thousand generations. (A neat way of doing the classic generation ship plot in Star Trek without having to make the aliens a pre-warp civilisation).

A lot of the book is told from the xenofiction perspective of a member of the Hive named Tork, who is part of a reform-minded group but angers his more radical friend Harl when he is co-opted by the ruling Hivemasters. The Hive aliens believe in a whig-history or Darwinian model of society in which life naturally moves from the seas to the land to space, and hold people who still live on planets with contempt. The Hive ship consumes an entire Bajoran colony world, Darane IV, for its resources (with a nifty description of how it does this with giant transporter-type beams razing the surface). The Hive people are willing to speak to a furious Sisko, however, as he lives on a space station. The crew tour the Hive and meet Tork, and Odo uses his investigative skills to help Harl get off when he is wrongfully accused of a crime by the Hivemasters. A wise old member of the latter (and thorn in the side of the petty rulers) encourages Tork to question authority, with Tork having uncovered some worrying inconsistencies in the Hive’s scriptures and records that entered around the time of the 203rd generation. The Hivemasters, meanwhile, busy themselves using Darrane IV’s resources to split the Hive into two new ships like amoebic fission – they believe it is their mission to now continue to seek out worlds to feed their expansion. One of the two new ships and half-crew aims itself at Cardassia Prime (wait, didn’t the Cardassians already strip their homeworld of resources?) and the other at Bajor (hence the book’s rather inappropriately dull title).

While the Cardassians mobilise one-quarter of their fleet to defeat one Hive (and do so, at the cost of the entire fleet in an epic battle scene – totally something that can happen off-screen in a non-canon novel and never be referred to again …) Sisko takes a different tack to deal with the Bajor one. Tork is brought to the Bajoran wormhole and the Prophets, with their non-linear time perspective, are able to help him understand what his preconceptions wouldn’t let him see from his research. The 203rd generation of the Hive rose up against the original Hivemasters, overthrew them and then edited the records and scriptures to hide the fact that they had staged a revolution. Instead, they made it look as though the Hive’s mission had always been to consume planets and spread – rather than its original mission, to plant its people on a new homeworld. After so many spaceborne generations, they had become agoraphobic and could no longer face the prospect of living on a planet. Horrified by both this and the death of half the Hive’s people at Cardassian hands, Tork is able to overthrow the Hivemasters (who know the secret) with the crew’s help, and the other Hive ship converts the dead planet of Darrane III (Darrane IV’s neighbour) into a verdant paradise, consuming itself in the process. It will take time for the Hive people to adapt, currently not able to look at the open sky without panicking, but it will happen.

What I especially like about this book is that it feels morally complex – the Hive killed thousands of Bajorans on Darrane IV, but then lose half their people (mostly innocents) at the hands of the Cardassians, are we rooting for the Cardassians or not in their battle (which ends with their formerly dislikeable commander making a heroic sacrifice), etc. Peel does a good job of tying in DS9-specific elements like Odo’s investigating and the Prophets, because otherwise this really would feel like a decent xenofiction novel uncomfortably wedged into the Star Trek setting. And we will be seeing other Star Trek novels that do that far more clumsily.

“The Heart of the Warrior” (1996) by John Gregory Betancourt tries to go the other way and be expansive with its plot’s scope, which predictably means it was soon obsoleted. Kira and Worf try to infiltrate the Gamme Quadrant to find the secret of the Jem’Hadar drug ketracel white, while peace talks are hosted on the station between the Federation, the Cardassians, and…the Maquis. Well, at least they were still around at this point and Cardassia wouldn’t join the Dominion for a few more months. But we can guess that the ketracel white plot, by definition, can’t come to anything without affecting the setting, so one wonders at why it was used as part of a non-canon novel plot. “Saratoga” (1996) by Michael Jan Friedman is a nifty self-contained idea, by contrast, in which Sisko meets up with fellow survivors from the USS Saratoga (destroyed at Wolf 359) and then there’s essentially a mystery plot where one of them may have betrayed them. It is very similar to Friedman’s previous TNG novel “Reunion” (no connection with the episode of that name) which did the same with Picard and the Stargazer. Friedman admitted the similarity, as well as pondering whether the narrow plot scale worked as well for DS9 as for TNG with the coming epic Dominion War. As you may gather from my comments above, I think he made the right choice by not trying to do an epic-scale plot in such a volatile setting.

“The Tempest” (1997) by Susan Wright is similarly self-contained, with a storm trapping crew and traders on the station. As one may guess, it’s heavily inspired by the Shakespeare play of the same name, with Worf as Prospero and Keiko as Miranda. As we haven’t talked about AH for a while, I will mention that when Dax and Keiko fly into the storm, Keiko has a vision of an alternate timeline in which she’s living on Bajor with her family – which might also have been meant to imply the future at the time, but in the end the O’Briens went back to Earth at the end of the series. “Wrath of the Prophets” (1997, and a good title), by the trio of Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, and Robert Greenberger, features Bajor hit by a pandemic (oh dear) so for help they must turn to the Maquis (oh, dear) who are led by Ro Laren (oh, dear). If timed differently this could have been fitted into the Double Helix series, on reflection. One nifty idea is that the secret of fighting the virus may lie in the memories of one of Dax’s past host’s lives. In general, both comic and novel writers were really, really, really keen to feature Ro in DS9 and other settings involving her in the Maquis, but rarely talked to each other about it, with the result that there’s multiple appearances of her all implicitly treated as the first or only one by other characters. (Besides this, there’s the novels “Behind Enemy Lines” and “Abyss”, the comics “Friend and Foe Alike” and “”The Enemy of My Enemy”, and ultimately the DS9 Relaunch novels).

“Trial by Error” (1997 – another good title) by Mark Garland, is another good example of the self-contained model to avoid having to discuss ‘geopolitics’, although it runs into the downside of therefore feeling a bit pedestrian at times. Quark has negotiated a deal with a Gamma Quadrant race called the Aulep for a valuable mineral called trellium – a name that seems to have a zing to it, as the writers of “Enterprise” also independently picked it later, and so recently did Brandon Sanderson in his Cosmere novels. However, turns out the Aulep might not actually own the mineral – does a comically similar race called the Rylep do so, or maybe the Beshiel? In an amusing moment, Sisko at one point grills the Aulep representative about where exactly their space is, and he hastily replies something like “Nowhere near the Dominion, we made that clear!” Even at a young age, I could tell this line might as well have read “Nowhere near where the main plot of this show is happening!”

“Vengeance” (1998) by Dafydd ab Hugh is the first example I thought of with the timescale problem I’ve alluded to throughout this article, before I sat down to write it. I like Hugh’s other work but there are just so many problems with this one, and not even just the timescale. The plot is that a rumour is spread that the Klingons are going to ally with the Dominion, which is a lure to get the Defiant away from the station so a group of renegade Klingons led by Colonel General Malach can move in and take over the station. OK, first let’s deal with the timescale. By the time this one came out, not only had the Klingons reformed their alliance with the Federation, but the Dominion War had started, the station had been under Dominion occupation for weeks (which isn’t mentioned when Quark muses on how he’s now lived under Cardassian, then Federation, now Klingon rule) and Klingon participation had been crucial in winning the key battle. Kira is also still pregnant during it, so I suppose you could say Hugh was just going for an earlier time setting.

But maybe you’re sick of me bringing this timescale issue up by now (I know I am) and you don’t care about that. Worry not, there are lots more weird things with this book to complain about. For some reason Hugh wants to bring back Worf’s mind-wiped brother Kurn (now known as Rodek, son of Noggra) who is one of Malach’s renegade supporters. Kurn/Rodek appears like once so they can say Worf faces his own brother on the back cover, and then escapes O’Brien turning the life support off which takes out most of the Klingons, and that’s it – completely worthless ‘Ricky Gervais with a stupid expression gurning and pointing at a celebrity’ pointless level of cameo.

Then we come to Malach himself, the main antagonist – a warrior so great he has a green mineral named after him. Malach, we are told, is Worf’s oldest friend. The two met on the Klingon homeworld when Worf was six, before his family went to Khitomer, and they became blood brothers. Now Worf has to fight his etc. etc. Come on, this is like all those DC writers who want to insert stuff into the day Bruce Wayne watches his parents die. This is about as unfitting with Worf’s backstory as you can possibly get, and all for the sake of one throwaway antagonist we’ve never heard of before and will never heard of again. At least we cared about the horrific death of Worf’s formerly-nonexistent childhood friend Ross Grant in “Ancient Blood” because Grant actually did stuff in the book and is a human and we know Worf grew up among humans. Memory Beta passive-aggressively notes that “Vengeance” had only one print run. I am not surprised. Oh, I will give Hugh points for one thing, though – metatextually pointing out the absurdity of the mutually non-canonical Star Trek novel format by having Jake Sisko muse about writing a story which is clearly a shout-out to the plot of his previous DS9 novel “Fallen Heroes”.

We’ve reached 1998 so we’ll leave the numbered novels there (there are only 5 more). The only unnumbered novel we haven’t yet covered in this era is “Legends of the Ferengi”, allegedly told by Quark to series showrunners Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe, featuring the stories that inspired the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition in-universe. Quark’s actor Armin Shimerman did the audiobook. As Behr and Wolfe were so involved in the show itself, unlike other spinoff work this featured ideas that fed back into the show, such as Quark’s “Marauder Mo” childhood action figure. It also influenced the “Millennium” novel trilogy, which we’ll discuss another time.

That’s it for DS9 spinoffs in this era – which actually comprises most DS9 spinoff material full stop, except the Relaunch era material. Next time, we’ll be looking at Voyager spinoffs instead.



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