#106: Emissary (DS9 #1, episode novelization)

This week, Benjamin Sisko boards the galaxy’s most remote truck stop with his arms full of baggage, and I don’t mean Samsonite. He’s far from the station’s only disgruntled employee, however, and every one of them will have to turn those frowns upside-down if they hope to clean up after the previous Cardassian tenants. Sisko tells Picard to take this job and shove it, but the sudden appearance of a seemingly stable wormhole may render the question of a career in academia academic. Is Sisko the messiah the Bajorans have been searching for? Can a hew-mon and a Ferengi be friends? And how often do Vulcan names get recycled? All this and more in Emissary, the book that was made possible by a grant from the Jake Sisko Career Fund and by Viewers Like You.

Emissary
Author: J.M. Dillard
Pages: 274
Published: February 1993
Timeline: Concurrent with season 7 of TNG
Prerequisites: “The Best of Both Worlds” (TNG S3E26 + S4E01)
Not to be confused with: “The Emissary” (TNG S2E20)

At long last, we place the third jewel in the crown of our rotation, the series from which the very website you are reading right now derives its puntastic moniker: Deep Space Nine. When Deep Space Nine premiered on January 3, 1993, its flavor immediately distinguished it from the rest of Trek to that point, especially the squeaky-clean Next Generation. It took less than two years after Gene Roddenberry beamed off this mortal coil for the stewards of the next series to take his dictum of no interpersonal conflict (along with a number of other long-held Star Trek customs) and cram them up a Jefferies tube. Not that that’s a bad thing. Far from it, in fact. On the whole, I’d call Deep Space Nine my favorite series of the franchise. But that’s neither here nor there right now; let’s jump right in and meet this motley crew of frumpy frowny faces.

Benjamin Sisko is the newest arrival to the station, the Starfleet officer chosen to oversee the Bajoran transition to independence following the end of centuries of Cardassian occupation. Sisko comes to the station with a rain cloud over his head. Three years have passed since he lost his wife Jennifer during the Federation’s battle against the Borg at Wolf 359, and he’s still incredibly bitter about it. Mired in resentment, he holds Jean-Luc Picard (who was assimilated, renamed Locutus, and forced to lead the Borg offensive against the Federation) personally responsible. In fact, the moment when Picard meets Sisko in person to hand over the reins and Sisko promptly gives it to him with both barrels is one of the more emblematic manifestations of DS9’s paradigm shift.

Rounding out the rest of the main cast are Ben’s son Jake, an only child who’s tired of moving and losing friends, has come to associate space with danger, and wants to go back to Earth; Major Kira Nerys, who spent her childhood toiling in Cardassian camps and later striking back against her oppressors, respects Starfleet only barely more than the Cardassians, and wrestles inwardly with matters of faith; Jadzia Dax, the Trill science officer whose previous host Curzon Sisko was good friends with; Miles O’Brien, ported over from TNG, who bears the unenviable task of repairing the systems the Cardassians stripped when they moved out; Odo, the shapeshifting constable with a extremely rigid sense of justice who yearns to learn literally anything about his origins; and Quark, the Ferengi bartender whom Sisko ropes into rebuilding the community around the station’s recreational promenade. The only crew member with a truly sunny disposition is Julian Bashir, the Academy-fresh doctor whose naive craving for frontier adventure severely grinds his new comrades’ gears.

First seasons of Star Trek tend to be pretty rough, their pilots even more so. “Emissary” isn’t perfect, but I would deem it the best among Trek pilots I’ve seen.1 It’s the one that’s the most assured of itself. It has a clear sense of purpose and seems to have a healthy knowledge of what its characters are working with going in. The social and hierarchical dynamics, although more complex than in Treks past, establish and connect smoothly. I think that of all Trek pilots, it’s the one that comes closest to achieving at the outset everything that it wants to. All well and good for ninety minutes of television—but what does that leave the person writing the book version to do?

In this case, not a whole lot. There’s actually little here that you can’t glean from watching the episode. Most of the original elements come in the form of flashbacks, such as Sisko’s evacuation of the Saratoga and O’Brien’s accidental murdering of a Cardassian at Setlik III. Jake and Nog also meet here, as opposed to a few episodes later, based on material from the teleplay Dillard worked from. There’s also a lot of exposition, some of it appreciated—for instance, I don’t recall if it’s explained in the pilot why Odo is so insistent about no weapons on the promenade, but the book takes an educated whack at it—and some of it frankly baffling. (More on that below.)

But the only truly disappointing aspect of the book version of “Emissary” is that it doesn’t give J.M. Dillard’s voice any chance to shine. She’s been able to put her stamp on the later TOS films, but perhaps since these characters weren’t known quantities yet, she could have had less wiggle room. Whatever the case, there’s nothing in this book that immediately and definitively marks it as a Dillard work,2 and it does suffer for it, both in terms of enjoyability and necessity.

So if you’ve watched the episode, you’ve more or less read the book, which is disheartening, but thankfully is more the exception than the rule. It is a solid episode, however, especially for a pilot, and worth revisiting in any form—certainly, I’d return to it before I would to “Encounter at Farpoint”. Really, it’s more of a formality than anything; what I’m really excited for is to start moving into the original stories and seeing what authors manage to do with what I personally consider the most compelling of any of the crews.

MVP & LVP

  • The MVP of the week is Sisko. It’s not every day you end up successfully explaining the concept of linear time to wormhole aliens that have never heard of it and have no use for it, thus allowing them to help you let go of the past that’s been dragging you down. I always love the baseball analogy in this episode, though I wish it had been possible for it to be salient to also somehow explain jambalaya to them.
  • My LVP, based pretty much solely on the amount of stuff to do and personality exuded, is Dax. Every time I watch this episode, she’s the one who makes the faintest impression on me, and her preternatural calm feels less like the accumulated wisdom of several lives lived than drawing a total blank on how else to have her act. I feel like it took a while for her character to hit her stride, whereas everyone else came out fully formed more or less right from the get-go.

Nuggets & Other Stray Bits

  • Emissary features yet another instance of Dillard using the name Storil for a Vulcan. This time, he’s the captain of the Saratoga. How many Vulcans can possibly have the same name? I know there are only so many “S” names to go around, but even so … maybe it’s time to retire this one?
  • “Sisko realized he was bigoted against bigots, but it was one bias he did not strive to transcend.” — Being bigoted against bigots isn’t really a thing, of course, but the heart is in the right place, I suppose. (p. 23)
  • “Locutus” is at one point (p. 52) misrendered as “Locotus”, which makes me picture him wearing a sombrero and frowning while Q plays mariachi trumpet in his face.
  • “Yet whether Sisko decided to leave or stay, he would find his way smoothed by an anonymous benefactor; and as long as Picard lived, Jacob Sisko would be given every possible assistance in his chosen career. He would help them both however he could.” — I keep coming back to this passage because it’s so weird. I feel like most people who just got torn a new wormhole wouldn’t respond by resolving to set up a trust fund for the son of the guy who just thoroughly reamed them, but I think we can all agree Picard isn’t most people. I get trying to have Picard see it through Sisko’s eyes, but this still seems like a really bizarre takeaway. I wonder if this was part of the original teleplay in any way or if it’s a whole-cloth creation of Dillard’s. I suppose that mystery is lost to time. (pp. 54–55)

Final Verdict

I give Emissary 3 out of 5 stable wormholes. It’s one of the less thrilling novelizations we’ve checked out so far in terms of beefing up the source material, yet nevertheless executed solidly and competently all the same. You don’t get nearly as much of that unique Dillard feel as you do from other novelizations she’s helmed, but the fact that you get to meet arguably the most interesting crew in the franchise makes up for it. Of all the series to be covered, this is the one I’ve been looking the most forward to since the site’s inception, and revisiting the franchise’s strongest pilot makes for an auspicious start.

NEXT TIME: The Enterprise-D gets Grounded

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3 Comments

  1. Brandon Harbeke

    Great write-up! DS9 is also my favorite Trek series.

  2. Casey Pettitt

    DS9 is definitely my favorite series. Timeline note: I believe this is concurrent with season 6 of TNG. Great reviews and glad I’ve finally (nearly) caught up!

  3. Matt N

    I’ve been looking forward to you getting to DS9 too. It’s the richest series by far.

    A couple of notes: Emissary takes place following the TNG season 6 episodes “Chain of Command”. And the Cardassian occupation has been ongoing for decades, not centuries.

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