Star Trek Typhon Pact: Rough Beasts of Empire
Now this is more what I’m talking about! David R. George III’s new Star Trek novel, Rough Beasts of Empire, is by far the strongest installment in the Typhon Pact series so far, and one of the best Trek books I’ve read in years.
This third Typhon Pact novel only enhanced the comment I made in my review of the second book, Seize the Fire by Michael A. Martin: that this Typhon Pact series was not turning out to be at all what I had expected. Since the idea of the Typhon Pact — an alliance made up of most of the United Federation of Planet’s major adversaries — was established a few years ago in A Singular Destiny by Keith R.A. DeCandido and Losing the Peace by William Leisner, I had assumed that this four-novel Typhon Pact series would now tell the story of the Pact’s confrontation with the Federation.
But having read three of the four books of the series, it hasn’t turned out that way at all. The novels haven’t been about a conflict between the new Typhon Pact and the United Federation of Planets. (The Typhon Pact was locked in an interstellar cold war with the Federation at the start of the series, and remain exactly in the same place here at the end of book three.) Rather, the first three novels have focused on the character arcs of various characters from across the Star Trek series (Julian Bashir, William Riker, Spock, and Benjamin Sisko) while also exploring the cultures of the various Typhon Pact races.
It’s certainly not the fault of the authors that I had different (though I think reasonable) expectations for what the series would be. And, indeed, I don’t mind at all that the novels have been more about character and world-building. My complaints are more that the first two novels in the series were not all that exciting. But while I was somewhat lukewarm about both Zero Sum Game and Seize the Fire, this third novel, Rough Beasts of Empire, is a real winner.
First of all, I was very pleasantly surprised that, despite the Typhon Pact label on the book’s cover, this novel is actually the meatiest Deep Space Nine focused novel to have been published in YEARS, and easily the best DS9 novel since David Mack’s Warpath from back in 2006. (I did love Una McCormack’s The Never-Ending Sacrifice, but that novel didn’t advance any of the main DS9 story-lines — which was also a complaint I had about Zero Sum Game which, despite featuring Dr. Bashir and Ezri Dax, in my opinion frustratingly skirted all of the big lingering DS9 stories.) But Rough Beasts of Empire dives into the character of Benjamin Sisko in a way that none of the other DS9 novels really have, and it fills in a number of big pieces as to what Mr. Sisko has been up to for the past several years. I was surprised and pleased that this novel begins about a year prior to the other two Typhon Pact novels, so that we get to follow Sisko and Spock’s stories from there, gradually filling in fertile back-story that had been skipped over by the recent Trek novels.
Of course, while Rough Beasts of Empire fills in a lot of back-story, it’s also very coy about a lot of key recent events on DS9 (that the novels haven’t covered because they jumped in the timeline from the end of the last DS9 novel, The Soul Key, ahead three years to the events of the crossover-series Star Trek: Destiny). We get tantalizing references to a terrible event on one of Bajor’s moons, and the novel playfully avoids revealing to us the identity of DS9’s current station commander. But most critically, we are kept in the dark as to what pivotal event drove a wedge between Sisko and his wife, Kassidy, and caused Sisko to flee Bajor and return to Starfleet. Mid-way through the novel we are, at last, given the reason for Sisko’s seemingly out-of-character actions, and I LOVED that this connected to a plot point from the final arc of DS9 episodes that I had thought long-forotten. But we still don’t know what traumatic event concerning danger to Sisko and Kassidy’s daughter Rebecca caused Sisko to so dramatically reassess his life choices. This makes it a tough, at times, to engage with Sisko’s story-line, because so much of what he does in this novel seems out-of-character for the man who, by the end of the Deep Space Nine television series, had so memorably declared himself to be “of Bajor.” And it’s frankly hard not to hate Sisko for the choices he makes in this novel which, despite his protestations to the contrary, seem selfish. (I’ve read a lot of super-hero comics in which the hero dumps the girl he loves in order to “protect” her, and he always comes to realize eventually that hurting the ones he loves is a shoddy way of protecting them.) I’m as bugged by the undoing of Sisko’s end-of-the-TV-show character developments (his marriage, his having found a home on Bajor) as I was by Zero Sum Game‘s undoing of the happy ending the show gave to Julian Bashir by finally allowing him to win the heart of a Dax. I fully recognize that we’re not at the end of either of these stories, and I am fully willing to follow along to see where these character threads go. But with such a long wait between DS9 novels these days, it’s difficult! (I only hope that Mr. George’s series of Trek novels planned for next year does turn out to be focused on DS9, as is rumored on-line. I am chomping at the bit for someone to fill us in on all that took place for our beloved DS9 characters during the three years between The Soul Key and Destiny. And I also hope I won’t have to wait too many more years before Mr. George or another writer resumes the story of Benjamin Sisko to see what happens to him following the difficult events of Rough Beasts of Empire.)
But complaints about the frequency of DS9 novels aside, I found Rough Beasts of Empire to be a riveting read. I loved the exploration of the Romulans and, in particular, I really dug the time spent focusing on the Romulan political system and the attempts to rebuild the Senate (following it’s annihilation by Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis). The scenes on Romulus wonderfully wove together aspects of Romulan culture explored in various previous Trek novels (little details like the name of the Romulan language) and cannonical on-screen material (such as references to the Continuing Committee, which was such a key plot point in the terrific DS9 episode “Inter Arma Einem Silent Leges”). But Mr. George also added in a wealth of additional elements all of his own.
I was also very pleasantly surprised to see that this novel was devoted not just to further exploring the Romulan culture and political situation, but also that of the Tzenkethi! With the Tzenkethi, Mr. George had pretty much a complete tabula rasa upon which to begin sketching in the details of this mysterious race. (These aliens were only mentioned in one single episode of all the Star Trek shows — the third season DS9 finale — and even then they were only talked about, never seen.) I hate to keep criticizing the other Typhon Pact authors, but where I found David Mack and Michael A. Martin’s explorations of the Breen and the Gorn to have fallen back on some familiar tropes (caste systems, etc.), it was a delight to see that, even as he explored the Tzenkethi, Mr. George allowed them to continue to be truly alien and unique. In particular, I loved the whole business about the way a key Tzenkethi operative is challenged to figure out a way into the residence of the Tzenkethi leader. And I appreciated how Mr. George didn’t over-explain the Tzenkethi’s use of inferior and superior floors. Once I figured out what that was all about, I thought it was super-cool.
I wrote a lot, above, about Sisko, but of course I also need to comment on how great it is to see Spock again. Here too, in Spock’s story, Mr. George very cleverly shows us how all of the recent tumultuous events on Romulus (from Nemesis to the novel Taking Wing by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin, and beyond) have affected Spock’s now more-than-a-decade-old effort towards the reunification of the Vulcan and Romulan peoples. I’d been wondering about that, and it was wonderful to follow the way Mr. George wove Spock’s story in and around the events of the last year or so of time in the Trek novels.
I loved Rough Beasts of Empire right from the start, but as I entered the novel’s last hundred-or-so pages the intensity of the story kicked up to an even greater degree. Some real serious shit goes down in that last section of the novel. I was really blown away by some of the dramatic changes that befall long-running characters (and so happy to see that, finally in this Typhon Pact series of novels, we were getting to some forward momentum on some long-running stories). Several story-lines that began years ago in the Trek novel-universe finally reach fruition, which was very exciting to see. And I haven’t even mentioned the return, mid-novel, of a great Next Gen supporting character!!
David R. George III is an amazing writer, one of the very best working in the Star Trek universe. Rough Beasts of Empire is everything I could possibly want in a Star Trek novel: complex, intergalactic politics; dramatic character arcs; the advancement of the larger Star Trek story, and compelling prose from start to finish. More please!!
Previous Star Trek novel reviews:
Star Trek — Unspoken Truth
Star Trek: Voyager — Full Circle