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Star Trek: Terok Nor – Night of the Wolves by S.D. Perry & Britta Dennison (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first season. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

Prequels are a tricky business. Not just because we already know the ending – after all, we love adapting old familiar stories in new ways, and knowing the outcome can easily lend a project an air of grand tragedy or irony. However, the temptation with prequels is to make it all make sense, to tie absolutely everything up in a neat little bow, resolving all the plot threads and removing any hint of ambiguity or mystery from the original work – less of a story in its own right and more of a “fill in the blanks” approach.

James Swallow’s Day of the Vipers occasionally fell into this trap as it offered an account of the Cardassian plot to take control of Bajor, but it managed to offer its own insights and character development – giving us a suitably complex and self-justifying version of Gul Dukat. Night of the Wolves is somewhat less successful at avoiding the same problems, with a plot that appears to have been fashioned by linking off-hand references and back story from various early episodes together.

We get Odo and Kira meeting for the first time; an account of the liberation of Gallitep; a back story for a young Damar; the roots of Natima Lang’s dissatisfaction with the Central Command. None of these threads seem to build to anything insightful or clever, instead playing out predictably – pretty much exactly as we might have imagined them.

Okay, that’s not exactly fair. Everybody likes to imagine the space surrounding their favourite shows in different ways. Everybody imagines a slightly different personal history for Kira, a slightly different origin for Odo, and perhaps even a different story for Damar. Still, when the show provides enough details, the broad outlines are going to resemble one another – there’s a path of least resistance towards tying them all together.

So writing a prequel is a delicate balancing act. Lean too heavily on the common wisdom, the obvious plot points, the logical interpretation of events, and you wind up creating a story that is too pedestrian or too predictable. It’s easy to wonder why there’s a need to tell such a story if it exists to fill in gaps or to weave a tapestry together from scraps of information provided by the show.

On the other hand, if a writer shakes things up too much, deviates too far from the spirit of what was hinted at in the original material, becomes too inventive, then it feels a little too contrived or convenient. A twist for the sake of a twist is seldom satisfying, and trying to up-end expectations simply to keep things fresh can often seem a little disingenuous. After all, those buying Night of the Wolves want an origin story of Deep Space Nine, and exploration of the Occupation, so a sharp left-turn into Romulan politics or the history of some minor fringe character would feel a little too subversive.

The demands on the authors writing the Terok Nor series must have been intense. As tempting as it is to delve into the rich tapestry of the show’s back story, it’s easy to forget that the reason the Occupation is so fascinating is because we already know so much about it. Does witnessing Kira’s liberation of Gallitep make her dialogue in Duet any more powerful? Does knowing that Damar has a tragic back story make his character arc any stronger?

The problem with Night of the Wolves is that everything feels almost rote. It’s almost as if somebody composed a checklist of events rooted in the Occupation and then decided to compile them into a trilogy of novels. The explanations and motivations all seem very generic and straight forward, following the path of least resistance. When the story needs to explain how Natima Lang became a radical, it forces her to get to know a Bajoran. When the story needs to justify Damar’s hatred of the Bajorans, it gives him a personal tragedy.

There’s nothing wrong with these story beats, they just feel very generic. They feel so generic that there’s no real reason to show them. Indeed, it would be more interesting if the novel had opted not to show them. Natima Lang might be more interesting if her faith in the Central Command couldn’t be broken by a conversation with an oppressed Bajoran. Damar’s hatred of Bajorans never felt like it needed a justification – he grew up in a culture that teaches the inherent superiority of the Cardassian Union.

There’s something very strange about this, something very simplistic. Damar has one of the strongest arcs on Deep Space Nine, going from a loyal subject of Cardassia to the man leading the rebellion against the Dominion. Night of the Wolves seems to suggest that Damar must have been a good man at some point in the past, and that there needs to be some sort of convenient reason for his conduct earlier in the series.

The suggestion is that Damar can’t have been a racist bully who figured out basic decency, but that he must have always had some element of heroism to his character, it was just obscured when we first met him. This seems overly simplistic, a reversal of the type of moral simplification the show attempted with Dukat in Waltz. It seems a very crude view of the universe, suggesting that there are certain absolutes and that certain qualities can’t change. As a result, the Damar introduced in Return to Glory is revealed to be misguided rather than a jerk.

(That said, if the story did feel the need to offer a reason for Damar’s hatred of Bajor, the excuse offered feels rather shallow. Having Damar suffer a personal and professional loss as a result of Bajoran terrorism feels like the most cliché way to make him hate the planet and its inhabitants, as well as reducing a supporting character into little more than a narrative crutch which exists solely to wound Damar.)

Similarly, Night of the Wolves makes a mistake all-too-common in prequels, filling in blanks that don’t need filling. There’s a certain fannish quality to prequels, the fun of imagining “what if…?” or “how about…?”, playing with the established history while trying not to break anything. Giving Damar a tragic origin is definitely part of this, but there’s also a weird pseudo-encounter between Odo and Kira.

The pair were established as first meeting properly in Necessary Evil, but Night of the Wolves pushes the two together when each is unaware of the other. Kira uses the lab where Odo is kept, while Odo is still purely liquid. The book suggests that it was love at first sight, certainly for Odo:

But there was something about her, the novelty of her appearance, her voice—if he couldn’t have spoken to her, he wished he could at least have looked at her just a little while longer.

It feels just a little bit too contrived, a little bit too convenient, almost a transparent play towards the show’s decision to establish a romance between the characters.

That said, some of the touches do work reasonably well. While Dukat’s interest in Kira seems to reinforce the idea that there has always been one degree of separation between named characters on the show, it makes sense in light of the revelations in Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night. Indeed, the way that the relationship eventually plays out – while radically at odds with Dukat’s account of events – feels organic and perfectly in-character.

Authors S.D. Perry & Britta Dennison do have a knack for world-building, and their exploration of how the Occupation has affected the sociology of Bajor is quite astute. Drawing from world history, there’s something that rings true about their depiction of the Cardassians as a colonial force, including the way that the Central Command re-appropriated land, formed plantations and tried to encourage “civilian settlers” to come to Bajor.

(Similarly, their exploration of the impact of the occupation on Bajor’s religion is quite clever, drawing on what the show hinted at in episodes like Accession. “The church had been affected by numerous schisms at that time, and many Bajorans had simply abandoned formal religious services altogether, though most still believed in the Prophets,” we’re told, suggesting that the Occupation was a large part of how the religion became as loose and casual as the version presented on the show – more a collection of vaguely Eastern philosophies and imagery than an organised belief structure.)

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Night of the Wolves might have been more interesting had it chosen to focus more on these cultural themes than in connecting the dots scattered across seven seasons of Deep Space Nine into a loose plot. There’s some very clever commentary on the importance of fertility in Cardassian culture, fitting quite well with what has been established of the species on-screen, and exploring gender roles within the species. However, these elements feel more like clever details than ideas to be engaged with or digested.

As it stands, Night of the Wolves feels like a bit of a let-down, the most generic sort of prequel that explains the mechanics of how the Occupation occurred in the most straight-forward manner imaginable. It never feels subversive or sly, often feeling routine or rote. This is the history of Deep Space Nine pretty much exactly as the show suggested. Which makes the reader wonder why a trilogy of books were necessary.

You might be interested in our reviews of the first season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:

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