This week, when the wormhole starts coughing up Borgballs, Sisko makes the tough choice to close it down for a while. For his trouble, he gets hounded by a missionary who keeps asking to speak to the manager. Meanwhile, Bashir tries to wrap his head around anti-vaxxers, and a serial killer with the same shapeshifting abilities as Odo brings chaos to the crowded station. How much would Deep Space Nine cost to buy? Could Odo actually fly if he shapeshifted himself some wings? And will O’Brien ever learn how to do even one magic trick? All this and more in The Siege, the book where keeping it real goes horribly, horribly wrong.
Author: Peter David
Published: May 1993
Timeline: One month after “A Man Alone” (S1E4)
Prerequisites: Familiarity with the first five episodes or so helps, but isn’t mandatory
Not to be confused with: “The Siege” (S2E3) or “The Siege of AR-558” (S7E8)
It’s flu season, and not even wormholes are immune: the one situated next to Deep Space Nine has come down with a nasty bout of subspace compression. Just to demonstrate how serious that is, we see it hork up some Borg cube debris. Fully aware that closing down the wormhole will fill his station to capacity with Grumpy Guses, Sisko makes the decision to temporarily deny any and all passage through the wormhole.
Among those whose jimmies are rustled by this inconvenience is Mas Marko, an Edemian missionary spreading the gospel of K’olkr throughout the galaxy along with his wife, son, and two retainers. Marko is more than a little pushy about going through the wormhole, but is dissuaded effectively enough when Sisko rolls that beautiful Borg footage for him. For the time being, Marko is content to proselytize on the promenade, and you can probably guess how receptive people are to that. But Sisko gets a funky vibe off the son, and enlists Bashir to ingratiate himself to the boy and figure out his deal.
All the while, a serial killer has been quietly infiltrating the station. There’s no rhyme or rhythm to his victim selection: first, he chooses one of Mas Marko’s retainers, then brutally eviscerates a Cardassian about to sexually assault a Bajoran woman. (Her poor daughter witnesses both.) Sisko and Odo must entertain the possibility that not only do they have a serial killer onboard, but also that by all accounts said killer is, like the constable himself, a shapeshifter. Keeping the masses calm long enough to conduct a proper investigation looks to be a tall order, to say nothing of assuaging their fears about letting a shapeshifter take charge of that investigation.
As the first original novel for a new series, The Siege faces an uphill battle. In order to strike when the iron is hot, an author must start writing before the series has even gotten off the ground, well before the characters’ personalities are locked in and sometimes before they are even cast. Whatever they make up will inevitably be invalidated by future developments, maybe even by the time the book hits shelves. It really is an unenviable spot to be in. The best-case scenario for an author is to somehow create a story that’s entertaining enough to make the wildly off-base personalities forgivable. The obvious analogue here is Ghost Ship, the first post-“Encounter at Farpoint” TNG novel, written by Diane Carey. Carey had far less access and material to work with than Peter David, but Ghost Ship is (I maintain) fairly enthralling despite being based nearly entirely on the series bible, and if you can swallow the goofy character portrayals. David was at least armed with the first five scripts, and he nailed all the personalities astoundingly well, considering. So why don’t I like The Siege nearly as much?
Part of it comes down to what I feel to a be a misapprehension of the fundamental nature of Odo. Insofar as there is a “main” character is this book, I’d say it’s Odo; the biggest plot thread has to be solved by him and raises resonant questions about him and his shadowy origins. Being drawn to Odo and his whole sort of Weltanschauung is understandable—if I didn’t know anything about the show, I think he’d be one of the first characters I’d key in on myself. But where David misses the mark is that he interprets Odo’s abilities through the lens of superheroics, which is more amusing as a thought exercise than in actual practice.
Even from the jump, a hallmark of Odo’s shapeshifting is that he doesn’t do it very well. He can assume a humanoid form just well enough to not freak out some children and most adults. Yet here he holds his own against a murderous psychopath of far greater shaping skill in a contest of rapid-fire transformation on multiple occasions. Turning into, say, a mouse or a table is one thing—although not terribly sexy, such metamorphoses usually serve a pragmatic end of clandestine surveillance. Shapeshifting is a fact of Odo’s life that he begrudgingly tolerates. But that’s not much fun to write about, so instead we get a flight of fancy straight out a comic book where two men try to pummel each other with hammer arms. David seems to be under the impression that they would do this sort of thing on TV if they had the budget, but I’m not so sure. At one point Odo grows wings. And flies. Yeah.1
Other running concerns involve a Ferengi named Glav who’s interested in purchasing the station and O’Brien trying to learn magic tricks and sucking at it. These seem like trifles next to the heavier concepts of violence and religion, but they both tie in to the greater story in surprisingly unforced ways. Still, although David’s talent for keeping multiple plates spinning is impressive, The Siege doesn’t pass muster. Ironically, it’s not (entirely) for the reasons you would expect from a novel written prior to the show’s airing. Some of those reasons are outlined above, but there are others we haven’t talked about that are better suited to the sections below.
MVP & LVP
- My MVP for The Siege is Sisko. Peter David did an outstanding job capturing nearly all the characters’ voices even at this incipient stage, but Sisko stands out all the same. Watching him clown on Mas Marko and put him in his place is a delight, the exact sort of Sisko-brand dressing-down that would fit comfortably into any season of this show.
- My pick LVP this week is Bashir. Strap in and brace yourself for a wall of text, because this is about to get ugly.
So I mentioned earlier that Sisko asked Bashir to find about the missionary’s son, Rasa, specifically why he’s so listless and weird. After clumsily getting him onto a biobed, Bashir learns Rasa has panoria, a sort of wasting disease not quite exclusive to Edemians but enough so for all intents and purposes. But when he confronts Rasa’s parents about it, they say they don’t want medical intervention, and that having panoria is “the will of K’olkr” and if he caught a disease and dies of it, that’s just what was willed to be. Classic source of frustration, right? Of course it is, we’ve all at least heard something like this. Bashir, however, cannot accept this. Again, understandable enough; as a doctor, his main drive is to save patients, and it must be incredibly frustrating to encounter patients who do not want to be cured. He takes it WAAAAAY too far, though. Bashir is so dead-set on convincing the mother, Azira, to capitulate and get him cured that he sets up a holosuite, has her lured in there, and forces her to watch a hologram of her son endure the final stages of the disease. There are certain words for this kind of behavior that I promised myself I wouldn’t use on this site, but I am real close to making an exception. And yeah, the book’s all like “he knew what he’d done was terrible, hE kNeW iT wAs MoNsTrOuS”—okay, so, if you knew that, then why’d ya go ahead and do it anyway? And look, I get it. Anti-vaxxers are the worst. I’ve cut people off from my life just for learning they didn’t vaccinate their kids. They are supremely frustrating, mind-boggling people. But there’s an easy solution to their problem that I always think about in these instances that I can’t believe never occurs to more people, a solution that, in the best tradition of Star Trek, would satisfy all parties: instead of thinking that it’s K’olkr’s will to give people nasty diseases that they must unhappily submit to dying of, why not believe instead (or, if you’re Bashir, convince them to believe instead) that K’olkr created the medicine, gave someone (even someone who doesn’t necessarily believe in him) the inspiration to invent it, and made all these circumstances conspire to give you access to the medicine when he knew you’d need it because he knew this would happen and he’s giving you a way out? But no, let’s just create this monstrous, infuriating sideshow and subject a poor, meek woman to her worst nightmare. The missionaries aren’t blameless; anti-vaxxers never are. But there’s no respect for their wishes on any level, and it’s not like he’s contagious; it’s established, again, that panoria only affects Edemians, so it doesn’t quite track with, say, measles. At the end of the day, this is brutal disregard for a private family decision, pure and simple. That Bashir not only gets merely a slap on the wrist at the end but that that slap on the wrist is implied somehow makes it all the worse. Peter David is a talented writer, but I worry about what the hell is going on in his head sometimes.
Nuggets & Other Stray Bits
- The incident of the Borg cube getting annihilated by the subspace-compressing wormhole does put a pretty tight stopper on the niggling question of “How screwed would the Federation and Bajor be if a fleet of Borg cubes suddenly spawned right on top of a defenseless station?”. As Ben points out to Jake, it’s honestly probably the best thing that could happen. If the Borg find a wormhole that puts them right in Federation space, but it tears them apart like wet tissue, then they just put a “do not use” sign on it, move on, and never think twice about it. Kind of makes me wish the show would have addressed it.
- “[Keiko] did not understand why in the world [Miles] had been dead set on naming their offspring Elvis if it had been a boy. Fortunately, the issue had been dodged when a girl arrived…” — Now there’s an alternate timeline for ya. (p. 4)
- I know the Byfrexians have appeared in a previous Peter David novel, but I can’t for the life of me remember which one, even after digging through the archive. (p. 43)
- “Bashir’s lips thinned almost to nonexistence. ‘And do your standards,’ he inquired [of Quark], ‘include erotic representations of Deep Space Nine personnel? Hmm?'” — Although a nice moral-high-ground moment for Bashir, it’s largely upended by the season-one version of him, particularly the one presented in “If Wishes Were Horses” (the actual worst episode of season one, in my opinion, not “Move Along Home” as so many love to claim). It is more in keeping with later , though. (p. 178)
- Say, what are the ladies up to in this book? [checks in] Oh, they’re dancing naked for Quark and Glav in holosuite program “XXX-three”. Stay classy, Pete!
I give The Siege 2 out of 5 shapeshifting serial killers. Although the characters’ voices are pretty well locked in for only working from a few scripts and a series bible, the book succumbs to many of David’s less savory inclinations plus a few new ones. Approaching Odo’s abilities from an angle of super-heroics, and Bashir’s behavior is so appalling it takes the rest of the book down several notches. I understand the urge to call in a heavy hitter like David to get the novel arm of your new series started off on the right foot, but this couldn’t hardly be a less auspicious start.
NEXT TIME: Kirk gets a little crabby in Windows on a Lost World