This week, when Molly O’Brien’s imaginary friend turns out to be real, Nog fears a visit from the Ghost of FCA Future. But when Jake trusts the specter and crosses over, he’ll have to figure out how to turn clipping back on to warn his dad about a bomb. Do Japanese pitchers ever pan out? How do Ferengi ground their kids? And which crew member would narc on you for downloading ROMs? All this and more in The Star Ghost, the book where oo-mox ruins everything.
As you may recall, the previous three books targeted at young readers followed Worf adjusting to life as a cadet at Starfleet Academy. Which is more or less relatable, if maybe not completely universally so. Plenty of people know or remember what it’s like to attend a new school, struggle to fit in in an unfamiliar setting, figure out how best to do right by their cultural heritage, etc. Owing to the nature of Starfleet, however, the character growth must share space with the call to adventure. As mostly good as those books were, Worf’s personal journey did at times get muddled or lost among the action.
But as the kid-lit subseries leaves Earth for the time being and enters orbit around Bajor, a new potential problem presents itself. The rigors of Starfleet Academy necessitate a more fundamentally serious brand of storytelling. Whereas the minute you get to Deep Space Nine and start following normie kids with normie lives, they’re talking about ghosts? Like, what, are they trying to shake a few peaches out of that Goosebumps tree? Luckily, Deep Space Nine has the two most well-written and emotionally grounded teenage characters in all of Star Trek, and in the hands of an author who can use them well, even a story like this can be kept firmly on the rails.
Molly O’Brien is holographically air-painting a tall, thin figure in a silver cloak with glowing red eyes. Keiko should probably take a more active interest in her daughter’s activities, because her explanation that this is just Molly’s imaginary friend “Dhraako” is way too nonchalant. Nog and Quark, on the other hand, are closer to the correct amount of freaked out, claiming the figure is a “Ferengest”, which, per the station computer, is a “vengeful ghost that haunts its descendants when they violate Ferengi customs or ethics” and curses them with bad luck in their business ventures. Jake tries to appease Nog with logic, which works for a short time—until they both see it in the flesh, so to speak.
While Nog turns to the adults for help, Jake, clearly unfamiliar with the concept of stranger danger, follows Dhraako to a lower deck, where it turns him semi-corporeal like itself and warns him that the station is about to be destroyed. The Cardassians are in the neighborhood negotiating for the privilege of using Deep Space Nine as a way station for their mineral freighters, and one of their number, Gul Chok, has planted a bomb in the fusion reactors. If the negotiations don’t proceed to his liking, he’ll just light the place up like a Christmas tree and do the cool-guy walk away from the explosion. Jake not only has to warn his dad about it, he also has to figure out how to phase himself back to a solid state so he can do even that.
The only real flaw in this book—and it’s not even that big of one—is that it comes with a light load of cliche kids’ media baggage. Jake is a decidedly more “normal” kid than your average Academy cadet, so you get occasional instances of that thing where middle-aged authors try to imagine what kinds of things everyday kids struggle with. Dad has to contend with the Cardassians, but I have to deal with—MATH HOMEWORK?!? This alien food is gross! It tastes like VEGETABLES!!! I’m trying to save the entire station, but I’m GROUNDED?!!?!?!!1!?!? The adults are also more or less useless, though not in the malicious way the more flippant kidcoms like to make them out to be. It’s all very in-character and actually executed quite well.
In fact, The Star Ghost features what I consider the most authentic representations of Deep Space Nine characters I’ve encountered in a book to date. Believe me, I’m as shocked as you are. Dax and Bashir are conspicuously absent, but everyone else who shows up passes the sniff test. Jake and Nog carry the book capably in that respect as well; in particular, their banter in the early pages establishes a fun tone for what’s to come and really sells how deep their friendship is despite its relative newness.
I have to admit I’m a little floored by how good this book was. It smuggled a solid story in a deceptive wrapper. There’s nothing I love in this project more than being surprised or proven wrong, and this one really got me. It’s so easy to scoff at YA literature and assume it can’t provide the thrills and satisfaction of a more “mature” novel. This book could have been stoopid with two O’s. I mean, really: ghosts? But it gets as out there as any good sci-fi, it maintains a deft balance between fun and serious, and it even earns the modest emotional tug it goes for at the end. I don’t gamble, but if you had told me, “The Star Ghost will be your favorite Deep Space Nine book yet,” even I would have bet against that. Yet here we are.
MVP & LVP
- My MVP this week is Dhraako, the eponymous star ghost. Dhraako is a pretty cool customer—one of the more chill aliens to ever show up in Star Trek. The name given by Molly is actually a shortening of its proper appellation, a Dhraakellian Quester, “an expression of the Dhraakellian Whole.” Individual Dhraakellians serve the Whole, acting roughly the way organs do in a body, with a Quester equating to the eyes and ears, observing and reporting. Dhraako has been assessing the station and sending its findings back to the Whole since the Terok Nor days, though only the young can perceive it, for reasons unknown (and which I found I didn’t really care about anyway). I just really liked its whole vibe. Dhraako and Jake have trouble comprehending each other initially, but they come to an understanding fairly quickly,1 and even in the most urgent moments Dhraako’s unshakeable chill reassures both characters and readers that everything is completely under control.
- This week, I’m giving LVP to Odo. Late in the book, Nog takes Odo through some of his secret passages and hideaways in an effort to locate Jake. Odo briefly observes a computer that Jake and Nog can play arcade games on (though only, Nog reassures him, “the flat stuff”) for free, earning Nog a cluck of disapproval. This is probably the most in-character thing in the entire book. Like, of course Odo would berate you for having emulators. He would absolutely insist on checking that you owned a copy of the game you were downloading a ROM of, and he would 100 percent be back in 24 hours to watch you delete it. Not too hard to guess what Odo’s favorite arcade game would be. Don’t copy that floppy, Nog!
Nuggets & Stray Bits
- With the move to a different series comesa different illustrator as well: the interior artwork is now drawn by Todd Cameron Hamilton. His pencil work is far less delicate than James Fry’s; either he bears down harder or doesn’t sharpen as often, or both. His drawings are somewhat off-putting for the way you can always tell who they’re supposed to portray despite the fact that, aside from general features, they never look anything remotely like their intended subjects. He’s one of a type of artist I’ve always found irksome, who technically displays talent at drawing any single individual object or feature, but cannot put two together in any combination without it looking weird, wrong, or awful.
- Two Bajoran kids in an arcade play Cardassian Shootout, while Nog cleans up on Ferengi Trader. This is another aspect of the book that could have gotten overly goofy, but it inspires an interesting thought: you don’t think much about video games in Star Trek, and though one might be inclined to imagine holodecks and holosuites would render them obsolete, I don’t think that would actually be the case. Anyway, business acumen may not run in Nog’s immediate family, but at least he’s got the lobes for video games. (pp. 1–4)
- The computer, p. 19: “An amplified discussion of Ferengi mystical beliefs and practices is available. Would you like to access that, or would you care for a list of related topics?” — Hmm, sounds a lot like a question posed by a certain other information service…
- Lots of classic baseball names dropped on page 29, but no Buck Bokai? There is one fake legend named, though: Hiro Osaka, “the greatest pitcher of the twenty-first century.” Not sure I buy that. Japanese pitchers never really work out long-term. They always dominate for about two years, and then suddenly everyone figures them out, or they get hurt, and they’re never as hot a ticket again.
- “‘You’ve got great ears,’ Jake said [to Nog]. ‘It’s just that you were surprised, that’s all.'” — You know, if I could erase one thing from Star Trek canon, oo-mox would be a pretty solid front runner. In this context, Jake is just trying to reassure Nog that he’s a good Ferengi. But when you know what oo-mox is and what it essentially equates Ferengi ears to, it ruins so many scenes. Remember when Dax asks everyone to volunteer for that ritual where she meets all her past lives, and Quark says hard pass, and Dax immediately changes his mind by fondling his ears? How does that read as anything other than jacking him off?2 Same thing here. Brad Strickland was obviously just trying to have one friend comfort another. But I have the concept of oo-mox polluting my brain, so “You’ve got great ears” autocorrects to “You’ve got a great dick.” And yes, not all aliens have their genitals in the same place, thank you Iman, great point. Nevertheless, I think I’d still like oo-mox banished from canon forever, thanks very much. (p. 33)
- Grounding a child is never fun. But next time you have to do it, try putting a little Ferengi stank on it. Hit ’em with a turn of phrase like “I rescind your contract of freedom of movement”, or perhaps “You are bankrupt of the coin of freedom”. Way worse-sounding! (p. 58)
I strongly recommend The Star Ghost. It just goes to show you, great Trek can come in any kind of package. This one provided a great adventure without falling prey to excessive wackiness or other potential pitfalls of its genre. The Starfleet Academy books got Trek kids’ books off to a strong start, but this is the first one that really pops.
NEXT TIME: Kirk and crew must think happy thoughts in The Patrian Transgression