#126: Fallen Heroes (DS9 #5)

This week, when Quark acquires a Cardassian lockbox, Odo demands to be present for the grand opening. But when Quark pushes the little red button, he fast-forwards to some gnarly spoilers. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew find themselves trapped in a series of unwinnable mandatory battles. How many types of Ferengi cringe are there? When’s the worst time to get self-conscious about cursing? Could this have been the shortest Star Trek novel ever? All this and more in Fallen Heroes, the book where Odo is the hottest person on the station.

Fallen Heroes
Author: Dafydd ab Hugh1
Pages: 282
Published: February 1994
Timeline: Between “Rules of Acquisition” (S2E7) and “Necessary Evil” (S2E8)
Prerequisites: No knowledge of the show is required. Surprisingly, however, there are multiple references to what were at the time extremely recently published DS9 books—namely, The Siege (#2) and The Big Game (#4).

Following a transaction with a Lonatian trader, Quark sees a net gain of one (1) sealed Cardassian mystery box, which scans as safe, much to Odo’s dismay. It takes some nerve-wracking safecracking, but Quark manages to avoid setting off the self-destruct mechanism and successfully opens the box, which contains not two tickets to a comedy club, but a small nondescript trigger. Quark pushes the button, and he and Odo quickly recover from a brief DVD skip to find the station bathed in an all-encompassing silence. A little light exploration reveals (almost) everyone aboard the station is dead, and Odo eventually pieces together that he and Quark were in a static time bubble while whatever happened was happening.

Three days earlier, a ship of unknown provenance exits the wormhole, its crew demanding the immediate return of their prisoner. Before anyone can figure out what they’re talking about, the mysterious aliens forcibly board the station, cut through its shields like melted butter, and swiftly and brutally murder anyone who can’t answer the question of where their prisoner is to their satisfaction—which, since they never offer even the slightest hint as to what they’re on about, is literally everyone. The setting alternates between the siege and its aftermath; with each new body Odo and Quark stumble upon, we get a flashback to that character’s valiant last stand. Some are more exciting than others; Kira’s and Bashir’s are both pretty good, and Sisko’s in particular is a big standout.

Fallen Heroes is the Star Trek debut of Dafydd ab Hugh, who we will, in the course of this project, see a modest number of stories from, most of them set in Deep Space Nine. He’s also known for writing four Doom novels and the Hugo- and Nebula-nominated novella “The Coon Rolled Down and Ruptured His Larinks, A Squeezed Novel by Mr. Skunk”. This novel, like another recent one, Here There Be Dragons, was inspired by a desire to subvert a Trek convention—in this case, bending the “everybody dies” rule. This is a very difficult kind of gambit to pull off. John Peel managed to do it pretty well. Dafydd ab Hugh … didn’t.

The obvious major problem with a story where everyone dies is that there’s no way to get emotionally invested. When the status quo has to prevail and you know that everyone has to be okay, the impact is muted. Now, you can argue that there have been deaths and close calls in Star Trek novels that were patched up yet still worked, and I’d agree. But there has to be some extra dimension to it. A character could have a fundamental inkling that this is not the correct order of the universe, like Spock in The Entropy Effect or Riker in Imzadi. When Chekov is knocking on death’s door in an L.A. Graf novel, it’s a sure bet he’s going to be fine, but they always make sure to pair with Sulu or Uhura, his two best friends on the Enterprise, and their rapport and their response to his suffering add emotional heft.

The reason it doesn’t work here, I think, is threefold. One: it’s an issue of excess over moderation. It’s easy to buy the idea of one or even two characters facing certain death; having almost everyone do it strains credulity. Two: even if you’ve watched all of Deep Space Nine and you personally are close to these characters, they are not close to each other at this point in the show. Come back after the Dominion War and try this out then. And three: it’s only done for shock value—nothing more.

A problem like that is enough to derail a book all on its own, but there’s still more to unpack. Another gigantic issue with Fallen Heroes is that its entire premise depends on a thoroughly contrived bit of obfuscation. Nothing about this story works if the Bekkir (the alien invaders) don’t come in guns a-blazin’, shooting first and asking questions never. IF they communicate even one aspect of their situation, the rest gets solved over tea and crumpets on the promenade and this story is ten pages long. There is no real compelling reason for the Bekkir to be the way they are other than not being able to justify the story otherwise. And yes, this is addressed within the text,2 and no, it doesn’t make it any better.

There are some decent bits here. The action sequences are mostly pretty good, and the climax actually possesses the intensity the rest of the story wishes it had, with Odo in particular as close to a fatal meltdown as he’s ever gotten. (It’s telling that the one near-death in the book resonates more than any of the actual ones.) But the things it botches are about as major as can be—ideas with drawbacks that should have gotten chucked out the window during the brainstorming phase. There are some things you don’t often see happening in novels, and Fallen Heroes calls to mind many of the very good reasons why that generally is the case.

MVP & LVP

  • My MVP this week is Jake Sisko. Now, it’s Odo who is the man of action here. Most early DS9 authors were apparently enthralled with the idea of Odo, and ab Hugh is no exception. However—this is a mild spoiler, but whatever—Jake and Molly O’Brien are the only non-time-traveling survivors of the Bekkir massacre. The latter, rather understandably, has regressed in the wake of extreme emotional trauma, and has gone back to, uh, jettisoning the airlock on herself, if you catch my drift. Jake has also been put through the wringer; first, he had to watch his mom die on the Saratoga, and now it’s happened all over again to his dad. But in the midst of all of it, he can somehow see beyond his pain and keep his head screwed on tight enough to take care of Molly. Odo will get down next to a fusion reactor and risk turning into a permanent puddle to save the station, but is there any way in hell he would evr change a diaper? Absolutely not. Jake Sisko, MVP.
  • This week’s LVP is the Bekkir. For pete’s sake, even the Borg talk to you before they assimilate you. What makes these people think they’re so special? They’re very secretive about themselves and their home world. What’s going on? Do they have embarrassing baby pictures floating around out there? Moles in weird places? Bad credit? Any of those would be better (and more believable) than their total radio silence.

Nuggets & Stray Bits

  • The merchant Quark acquires the mystery box from is a Lonatian, a species whose rhyme-based language apparently sounds florid and mellifluous in its native context, but is rendered by the universal translator into clunky, dopey couplets. This is, um, certainly a decision. Luckily, it doesn’t last nearly as long as it feels like it’s going to.
  • Broke, Not Woke: The night before the beginning of the story, Kira went to Quark’s, where he secretly replaced her synthehol with real Ferengi wine. Odo noticed she was soused and got her back to her quarters before she could make a fool of herself. Awfully kind of him. However: “The downside was that Odo (and apparently everybody else) refused to believe it was Quark’s idea, not Kira’s, for her to swill Ferengi wine all night … or at least, they all pretended not to believe her protests; she could not be sure.” Oh, no. No, no, no. So, besides the fact that this is ultra-gross and why would anyone ever write anything like this … since when does ANYONE believe Quark over Kira? Especially Odo?!? You couldn’t hardly ask for a more whopping thud to start a novel with than this. (pp. 2–3)
  • One cute detail about Ferengi culture ab Hugh invents is that, much like how there are numbered Rules of Acquisition, there are also numbered types of Ferengi cringe. Some of the ones mentioned include:
    • No. 1: “I cringe on general principles; now what do you want?” (p. 5)
    • No. 8: “You caught me with my fingers in the biscuit tin, but society’s to blame” (p. 24)
    • No. 5: “I express great shame for my stupidity and throw myself on your mercy; please don’t kill and eat me” (p. 142)
    • No. 63: “Please make my death as quick and efficient as possible, avoiding needless suffering on my part. I suggest a quick knife-thrust between the third and fourth cervical vertebrae.” (p. 143)
  • “[Kira] tried not to watch [Sisko] too obviously as he elegantly descended the stairs, lithe as a festival dancer. Good thing his nose is so disgustingly smooth, she thought; otherwise there might be a certain temptation.” — Another wiggy thing about this book: there’s a distressing amount of this kind of talk—which is to say, any at all. But this isn’t the only instance. Just the most representative one. Some people take a bizarre view of Star Trek as a show stuffed to the gills with pent-up horniness where casual sex is liable to break out at any minute. Usually, we call those people “Rick Berman”. (pp. 29–30)
  • Quark and Odo, p. 132:
    “To quote a famous human philosopher, “Ask not what you can do for your country; ask rather what you can do for yourself.”
    “Who said that?”
    “Oh, I can’t remember every slightest detail, Odo. Leona Boesky or President Henry Ford, one of the founders of Earth economics. We study other worlds’ great economists in business school, you know.”
    —At first pass, “Leona Boesky” struck me as perhaps being the name of a very specific kind of British person, who commits a white-collar crime and, after being duly punished, spends the rest of her life getting an endless amount of hilarious blowback about it from celebrities and the media, kind of like e.g. Jimmy Carr and his tax evasion. However, a bit of cursory Googling seems to indicate that this is a conflation of Leona Helmsley and Ivan Boesky, both very wealthy people who committed white-collar crimes in the late 80s and early 90s—the former, tax evasion; the latter, insider trading. (Incidentally, Googling “leona boesky” brings Fallen Heroes up for the first two results.)
  • Odo has a disconcerting habit of stretching out his chin when he strokes it while in deep thought. Quark is grossed out by it, and I definitely second that.
  • Jake, p. 231: “I figured out it must be a code right away, but for a long time, I didn’t know what the hell—what the heck he meant.” — Part of me really likes this piece of dialogue, because it’s a subtle reminder that despite his very mature handling of his circumstances and of the death surrounding him at every turn, Jake is still very much a child. But it also reminds me of the struggles I’ve had in trying to help my own son engage appropriately with cursing. I don’t bug out about mild swears, but he used to always, and I’d tell him “You don’t need to be the potty mouth police”—that is to say, I’d let him know when it was worth getting worked up about someone’s language. So a little bit of that old feeling came back while reading that passage. Like, of all the times to get self-conscious about a minor cuss. But, like I say, very apropos kid behavior.

Final Recommendation

I strongly do not recommend Fallen Heroes. The book hinges nearly totally on a couple of heavily faulty notions, and features a couple of other unsavory choices besides. Though not totally without its upsides, they’re not nearly enough to even begin salvaging the wreckage. But hey, at least it didn’t lack for things to talk about.

NEXT TIME: Spock’s dad takes center stage in Ann Crispin’s swan song Sarek

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#127: Sarek (TOS event novel)

7 Comments

  1. Adam

    One of your weaker reviews IMHO. This book is pretty much universally beloved among the Trek faithful (despite its reliance on 1 1/2 seasons of the show), and it seems most of your issues stem from your own personal views on carousing, drinking, and sex. It also marks the umpteenth time a book from the 80s or 90s not being “woke” enough (for you) in this “modern age of enlightenment” gets strikes against it.

    Hey, I love your writing. And you’ve got a definite wit. But I do wish your more progressive (or possibly regressive) views wouldn’t hinder your objectivity.

    Then again? You might argue your subjective thoughts are the entire point of this thing. Ha. And I’d feel pretty foolish expecting more.

    • jess

      Well, everyone may love this book, but I’m not everyone. I’m me. I actually consider it a benefit that I don’t have the element of fandom osmosis to inform me ahead of time which books have good reputations and which don’t. For example, I only learned long after the fact that people love Crisis on Centaurus, and I find that frankly baffling. So I don’t feel swayed one way or another going in, and it keeps my viewpoint honest.

      My main complaints with this book stem from the fundamental unsustainability of the dramatic tension of an “everybody dies” plot as well as the entire book hanging on the fact that the Bekkir are unrealistically uncommunicative even for fictional villains. There are three whole paragraphs about it. By contrast, the “woke” bits are a very small piece of the puzzle. As evidenced by the fact that they’re in the Nuggets section. I maintain there’s no compelling reason to put something like that on Kira or to talk about the attractiveness of characters out of left field, and I find it distracting, But if it doesn’t hit you the same way, that’s cool.

      I’m not “woke” to score imaginary points with anyone. Just because something wasn’t considered wrong or squicky in its day doesn’t mean it wasn’t. I’m unapologetically outspoken about what I consider acceptable and what I don’t, whether it’s in the writing of fictional characters or in life in general or wherever. Things like this that I point out were always gross even in their day, albeit probably more accepted, or not as heavily scrutinized. Besides, when I do a “Broke, Not Woke” bullet point, I’m not even using the term entirely seriously. I would never self-describe as “woke”. It just rhymes and quickly communicates, “Hey, here’s a piece of this book that aged like milk.”

      Outside of the exciting climax, I didn’t care for the book, at all, and I stand by everything I said.

  2. Adam Goss

    I’ve read one of ab Hugh’s books – the 4th part of the Invasion crossover – and I found it generally lackluster and uninteresting, barely memorable (I.e. I remember reading it and how it made me felt, but NONE of the details). I have not read Fallen Heroes, but in spite of the rave reviews by Trekkies elsewhere I gotta say your review hit points that mean a lot to me. The plot sounds like it’s not my cup of tea even if it is a chance for Odo to shine and for Quark and Odo to have character interaction (let’s face it, that’s never a bad thing). And the business with Kira and the wine… even if it WASN’T squicky, it’s just not in her character, something screamingly obvious from DS9’s pilot episode, and writers who ignore established characterization annoy a lot. (I can understand struggling with characters who were not well-developed in the first place – one poor Chakotay leaps to mind – but when you’ve got a brilliantly and clearly portrayed Kira at one’s disposal for telling a story and you drop the ball on THAT, there’s just really no excuse.)

    As for the “pent up horniness”… I admit I have conflicting feelings on that. On the one hand, sex *was* clumsily handled in the shows – either hinted at with taste and discretion (which is for the best, perhaps), or completely absent, which frankly is just unrealistic – people have sex lives, or some of us do anyway. It may be none of our business and I get it that there were limits to what the various TV series could write or show on broadcast television, but there does seem all too often to be a lack of even a hint of things-a-going-on. On the OTHER hand, we have seen over the years many an author, especially in the realm of fan fiction, writing characters into explicit situations that just don’t fit the characters well at all, rather it’s trying to make the characters fit a desired situation (essentially trying to square a circle). That’s all well and good for a personal fantasy, sure, but for a commercial, licensed, professional publication? Even just a hint of that kind of thing really shouldn’t be there unless it is done VERY well with an eye for being tasteful and fitting the characters. I look forward to your review of Sarek later this week in this regard, as that is quite probably the single most erotic Trek novel published (pretty much because of just one hot little scene)

    • jess

      I think I know what you’re on about with the Sarek mention—it’s a scene between a certain human and a certain Klingon, if I catch your drift—and I don’t mention that scene specifically, but I absolutely loved those two, and I agree it is an example of that sort of thing done right. Let’s just say I felt the need to cross my legs while reading at work.

  3. Adam Goss

    Also, “aged like milk” – I’m glad I didn’t have any drink in my mouth when I read that!! I am SO stealing that phrasing!!

  4. Adam Goss

    Erf, slight correction: i meant to specify that it was out of ODO’s character to not believe Kira about the wine, but also out of character for Kira to be reluctantly oggling Sisko. Sorry! Last comment!

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