#156: Warped (DS9 event)

This week, when a rash of murders sweeps the station, the cause is traced to a new kind of holosuite experience. But when the con man offering the radical new thrills takes a government job, a few murders are small potatoes compared to what he’s got planned. Can Sisko become one with the Matrix? Is this book aware of hardcover expectations? And what’s wrong with simple language? All this and more in Warped, the book that’s all talk.

Warped
Author: K.W. Jeter
Pages: 345
Published: March 1995 (hardback)
Timeline: Between seasons 1 and 2
Prerequisites: Knowing what became of Kai Opaka; otherwise, none

Ahrmant Wyoss’s attempt on Sisko’s life on the promenade isn’t the only such act to happen recently, but since it’s the first one to target a character in the main credits, it’s time to launch a serious investigation. The murderers’ minds all seem to be grafting aspects of some other world or fantasy construct onto the regular reality. That fantasy is coming from a new line of tampered holosuites installed in a remote part of the station. The altered holosuites contain a banned technology called cortical induction (CI), which bypasses the usual tactile sensations the holosuite ordinarily offers and taps straight into the user’s brain. If used often enough—and it doesn’t even have to be that much—CI can begin to permanently transform a user’s perception of reality.

The owner and operator of the snuff suites is a guy named McHogue, a former business partner of Quark’s, though Quark now claims there’s something ineffably off about the guy if you look into his eyes. But a weird look isn’t enough to put off McHogue’s clientele—least of all the Severalty Front, a Voltron of all the political factions Kai Opaka was appeasing before the answered the call of the Prophets. They love McHogue so much that they repeal Bajor’s restriction on non-natives holding government positions to make him their new Minister of Trade.

As it happens, the murders are merely the result of a small test of the CI tech. McHogue announces a greater plan to turn Bajor into a hot-ticket pleasure planet by building a new city that features the CI holosuites front and center. But of course, there’s more to the scheme than meets the eye. McHogue is starting to ramp the CI up to lethal levels, and not to tell a savvy entrepreneur how to run his operation, but most successful business ventures tend to not kill off their customer base. He must have something more in mind then, and he does. Something that stands to tear apart the very fabric of the universe…

Although Bloodletter was not that great, someone must have seen enough good in it to imagine K.W. Jeter was up to the task of writing Deep Space Nine‘s first hardcover event novel. To put it bluntly, however, that person imagined wrong. Warped is a hot mess that barely makes any sense and features some of the most jacked-up narrative escalation I can remember encountering in one of these books. Not many Deep Space Nine books have been very good so far, so I was hoping an event novel would be the time the series chose to rise to the challenge. Alas, not so much.

One problem that is at least consistent throughout the whole book is that Jeter’s writing, especially his dialogue, is unbearably stuffy and overly pleased with itself. Besides making the book difficult to want to read, it turns several of the characters into charmless robots. Deep Space Nine is a fundamentally more serious breed of Trek, but its characters still smile and crack jokes. All these characters do is talk, talk, talk, spitting out bulky paragraphs entirely devoid of flavor or personality. Poor Dax probably gets it the worst of all; if it wasn’t for her first-name basis with Sisko being established from the beginning, she’d be nearly impossible to tell apart from a computer.

Yet strangely, for all its rarefied language, Warped feels like it was made up as Jeter went along. One gets the distinct sense of a class know-it-all BSing his way through a research paper. Fill it with a few big words, some tortured sentence construction, and a dash of passive voice, and it should sound smart enough to cover up the fact that it’s saying hardly anything of substance. The pleasure planet scheme is a natural enough extension of the original murder plot, even if the way it contrives to get this mediocre rando into a position of power on Bajor is laughably dumb. But when it starts getting into the reality-bending shenanigans suggested by its title, it goes hopelessly adrift. It’s almost as if Jeter read Q-Squared halfway through writing Warped and realized, “Ohhh, so these are the stakes now? I gotta ramp it up!”

Unfortunately, that takes Warped far beyond what it’s capable of reasonably sustaining. McHogue is ridiculous all over, but he’s marginally more believable as a two-bit hustler than as a demigod who wants to lock everyone inside their own snuff fantasies. Developments in the first two thirds of the book occasionally threaten to become interesting, but by the time Sisko and McHogue meet in a climactic battle reminiscent of Neo and Agent Smith’s showdown in The Matrix (despite being written four years before that movie came out), I was rolling my eyes so far back I could see down my own throat. It’s just as well; I’d rather look at whatever’s down there than at anything in this book.

MVP & LVP

  • The MVP of Warped is Sisko. Apparently, his experience in the wormhole gives him a pretty big leg up in situations that call for stepping outside reality. That does at least make a certain amount of sense, even if it doesn’t help make the climax any less goofy.
  • This week’s LVP goes to Bashir, though it’s more about how Jeter handles him than about any specific action (even though he does do at least a couple fairly rude and underhanded things in this book). Like most early DS9 authors, Jeter seems to view Bashir as completely unlikable, unsympathetic, and unworthy of any positive character growth whatsoever, and even goes out of his way to avoid using the character, having Dax handle routine medical situations he could just as easily tackle. I was only 8 when DS9 premiered, so I wouldn’t have been aware of any fan scuttlebutt at the time. But did people really hate Bashir that much? Sure, he was a sleaze for a couple of seasons, but he had a winsome demeanor that still made you want to like him at least a little, and he got better. I don’t know, it just always shocks me to feel how strong people’s hate vibes for him are.

Nuggets & Stray Bits

  • Drinking game: knock back a shot every time Jeter uses the word “datum”.
  • Odo, p. 41: “The murders themselves appear to be the result of some kind of high-level autistic functioning, in which the components of the normally perceived environment—such as other people—are seen as parts of another, completely enclosed world.” — I bring up this passage not only because I’m not certain I trust a tie-in book from the 90s to have a firm enough grasp on the nuances of autism to be speculating about it, but also because I learned only very recently that “high-functioning” can be an offensive term. In short, it’s an inadequate piece of terminology because it represents an assessment based on IQ rather than cognitive ability and diminishes the struggles that people who do well in test settings may have in other areas of life. It’s a term I’ve often used to describe myself, but I’ll be working to remove it from my lexicon.
  • Sisko, p. 45: “When lives are at stake, the worst-case scenario is the one which [sic] must dictate our actions.” [looks around at pandemic in which almost 250,000 people have died, there’s been no significant lockdown or compensation for disruption of work, and fully half the population is trying to will the virus into not existing by resuming their lives as if nothing is wrong] Yeah, you’d sure think so, wouldn’t you, Ben?
  • O’Brien, p. 234: “Never mind. Just showing off my erudition, quoting a little Bertolt Brecht at you. Early twentieth century—you [i.e., Odo] wouldn’t be familiar with him.” — Setting aside the fact that “erudite” is not a word I would probably ever use to describe Miles O’Brien, this is a perfect example of how up its own butt this book can get. Is this really O’Brien talking, or did Jeter do a self-insert without telling anyone?
  • “The lights of the small space flickered and dimmed; beyond them, [Bashir] could hear the structure of DS9 creak and groan, the frame members straining against their connectors, like an ancient sailing ship heeling beneath a storm-force gale. That was a bad one, he thought, feeling then a trace of embarrassment at how simple and stupid the words had sounded inside his own head.” — Another passage that highlights Jeter’s baffling relationship with words. What’s wrong with the wording of that thought? Why would Bashir be embarrassed about it when it never even left his mouth? To me, this seems to speak to some kind of fear Jeter has about sounding unintelligent, which in turn informs his whole writing style and explains why the book reads the way it does. (p. 276)

Final Assessment: ☹️

Although intermittently intriguing, Warped is made unnecessarily unpleasant by stiff sentence construction, stuffy dialogue, and needlessly elevated vocabulary that saps all the personality and charisma right out of the cast. However, despite the highfalutin language and Jeter’s desperate and obvious desire to be seen as intelligent, the story feels made up as it goes along and makes progressively less and less sense. I had hoped that DS9’s first hardcover would represent a step up from the average hit rate thus far, but alas, no dice.

NEXT TIME: Data discovers the Secret of the Lizard People 

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3 Comments

  1. Adam Goss

    Even the title sounds misleading to me. I never read the book as my best friend back in college absolutely villified it after reading it, and I just assumed all this time that “Warped” referred to, you know… WARP. As in warp drive, one of the biggest and most prominent tropes of Trek. Even non-Trekkies know about warp speed. And this sounds like it has nothing to do with that whatsoever.

    • Tony

      I’m sure it was meant to be a pun, but man, what a horrible book.

      I’m reading the DS9 books from the first, but other than episode novelizations, I haven’t read a really good one yet.

  2. Adam Goss

    I have not read many DS9 novels yet (they started to come out around the time my taste for Trek novels was starting to waver/refine because so many seemed lackluster and repetitive due to the constraints put on the authors by that awful consultant working for Roddenberry). I know we don’t fully agree on The Big Game, Warchild and The Siege, but I do know REALY good DS9 novels do eventually come. Wrath of the Prophets was terrific, and the relaunch two-parter Avatar was amazing. A Stitch In Time is almost canon as well as great, and I’m looking forward to The 34th Rule.

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