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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – A Stitch in Time by Andrew J. Robinson (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first and second seasons. 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.

A Stitch in Time remains a fascinating read. Sure, Star Trek actors had written novels before. William Shatner had turned his Captain Kirk novels into something of a cottage industry, even turning in a Starfleet Academy novel to cash-in in the success of JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot. However, Andrew J. Robinson’s A Stitch in Time is the first tie-in novel written by a cast member without a ghost writer or a collaborator. A Stitch in Time is entirely about Robinson’s relationship with Garak, the character he played for seven years on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

It’s a very thoughtful, eloquent and beautiful piece of work – providing the reader a great deal of insight into how Robinson sees Garak as a character, stripping away a lot of the mystery and intrigue that surrounded the character during his appearances. It feels like an attempt by Robinson to offer Garak some measure of closure, to put the character to rest.

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It’s hard not to read A Stitch in Time in Robinson’s voice. Part of this is down to Robinson’s decision to frame the story as a first person recollection (or confession), a series of “entries” in a personal diary or log as Garak tries to set everything straight. However, it’s also clear that Robinson understands Garak. The prose style is elegant, playful, wry – very much in the style of Garak’s dialogue during the show. There’s the same tendency for philosophical musing and his habit of playing down his own history.

A Stitch in Time is an incredibly disjointed book. While structured into three parts (and an epilogue) the narrative tends to jump around a quite a bit. Garak’s life story is juxtaposed against his own perception of the events of the final season-and-a-half of Deep Space Nine, with another narrative unfolding in the wake of What You Leave Behind and considerable space devoted to Garak’s exile on Terok Nor even before the Federation assumed command.

There are recurring characters and plot elements connecting all of these separate segments. The book ends with a reunion between Garak and an old school friend, for example, while he also happens across all manner of survivors in the wake of the Dominion War. Events flow from one to another, and Robinson makes the progression reasonably clear to the reader. A Stitch in Time is easy to follow, and never confusing.

And yet, it seems, the book is held together more firmly by theme than by character. Subplots involving Romulan intrigue or Federation betrayal often feel like their own short stories nested in the larger novel. This disjointedness feels organic – it feels like the only logical way for Robinson to tell a story like this. This looseness is undoubtedly down to the origin of the project, with Robinson writing diary entries in character to help him get to grips with Garak as an actor:

What I was doing was this old actor’s trick, that when you get hired for a role – and I didn’t know a Cardassian from a pastrami sandwich and they weren’t going to tell me! – you write a biography, which gives you a history of where this character comes from, what his influences are, and so forth. And I was reading it at the cons, I was getting a really nice response from the fans. David George, who co-wrote “The 34th Rule” with Armin Shimerman, was at one of the readings, said I should contact the people at Simon and Schuster, and I did. They asked, “Can you put a story to it?” I wrote a narrative outline, and they agreed to it. And that’s where it came from. It wound up being a pleasure to write. The reason I don’t miss Garak is because of the book. I get total closure. I was able to say all the things about the character that I wanted to say. The important thing about Garak is that he lives in the subtext. Again, with the iceberg analogy, the substance of Garak is what you don’t hear. It’s what he doesn’t say. And in order to make that work, you have to have something real about the character. You just can’t pretend that you have substance. You can’t pretend that you’re having real thoughts. If the character is supposed to be substantial and mysterious, then there has to be something that is being mysterious about him. That’s really the genesis of the book.

Indeed, reading the novel, it’s not hard to believe that the entries set during the height of the Cardassian conflict – between In the Pale Moonlight and What You Leave Behind – were at least outlined by the actor while filming those episodes. There’s a wonderful sense of inevitability about them, as if Garak is trying not to get lost as the show moves towards its final act, and as if he’s trying to find some measure of peace before the show ends.

Then again, it’s worth worth noting that Robinson has a wonderful grasp of character continuity. In his acknowledgements, he graciously acknowledges the assistance of his editor in helping him avoid the “infamy” of mistakenly identifying hasperat as a Cardassian dish, but it seems quite clear that Robinson was well aware of what was going on. Indeed, these passages often contextualise Garak’s character arc during the last year-and-a-half of the show.

For example, Robinson seems to have noted the fact that Garak and Bashir spent less time together from the fourth season of the show and makes a point to incorporate it into his writing. This was undoubtedly a practical decision on the part of the writers. Bashir and Garak played well together, but keeping Garak defined by Bashir was far too limiting – it restricted the character. Allowing Garak to play off Odo or Worf or Sisko or Kira allowed for more dynamic chemistry.

Robinson tries to figure out a way to make that practical decision work in the context of his own character. He manages to do so rather gracefully. He doesn’t assume that Bashir and Garak were simply hanging around together off-screen, but instead suggests that their friendship is simply winding down – another sign of how the crew of Deep Space Nine were all reaching the end of an era. (Which plays into one of the interesting aspects of What You Leave Behind, that it consciously avoids the “…and the adventure continues” ending of All Good Things.)

Similarly, Robinson is able to skilfully rationalise various other creative decisions. The writers were unable to find room for a resolution between Garak and Damar during the already over-crowded ten-episode closing arc, so the death of Ziyal wound up a dangling plot thread. Robinson respects this, deciding not to include a reconciliation as a “deleted scene” slotted between the events of the those ten episodes. He does, however, acknowledge the lack of closure, having Garak concede, “When Kira and I were first assigned to work with Damar’s resistance group, I had every intention of killing him at the first opportunity in revenge for his murder of Ziyal.”

Similarly, Robinson is able to push his own interpretation of Garak to the fore, making some insightful and clever observations about the character. For example, Robinson explicitly mentions the Cardassian “reptilian brain dominance”, a significant influence of his portrayal of Garak. Most obviously, A Stitch in Time manages to slip in a graceful and subtle nod to Garak’s “omnisexuality.” It was an element that was very much present in Past Prologue, but something that was pushed into the background in his later appearances.

Given the historic difficulty that Star Trek has had with portraying diversity in sexual orientation, the decision to shy away from such a reading feels a little too conservative and cautious. Robinson handles this gracefully, casually dropping in a reference to the fact that Garak can be attracted to male characters that might easily be missed by inattentive readers, remarking that, “Five was an athlete who also did well in class. I could see that he was attracted to Eight. As indeed I was.”

Robinson has suggested that the powers that be were very supportive of his novel and his creative freedom, but the only restriction was apparently over the inclusion of sexual material:

The other thing was, Paramount did have a problem if things became too sexually explicit; there’s a certain decorum, and I understood that because this is a family franchise. And believe me, I didn’t feel that there was anything salacious that I needed to say.

Reading A Stitch in Time, I can’t help but wonder if Garak’s bisexuality was something toned down in various versions of the novel. (Not that there’s anything “salacious” about sexual orientation, but given how cautious Star Trek be handling the topic and how Robinson specifically cites that example, it’s interesting to speculate as to whether there was some censorship in effect.)

In many respects, and appropriately enough given the context and the title, A Stitch in Time is about closure. In the epilogue, Garak seems to hesitate about sending his memoirs to Bashir, perhaps reflecting Robinson’s own doubts about releasing a novel that began as a way to crawl into a character’s skin:

You see, Doctor, I seriously debated whether or not I should send this to you. As I went over it I wondered who this mawkish and self-serving person was. Grow up! I wanted to tell him. Get on with your life.

Despite Robinson’s suggestion that he would love to play Garak again, and the promise of a sequel novel written by Robinson and fellow cast member Alexander Siddig that never emerged, A Stitch in Time feels like a farewell.

Sure, Robinson has written a some more material involving Garak. The short story The Calling, published as part of Prophecy & Change, serves as something of an epilogue to A Stitch in Time. Robinson and Siddig wrote and performed The Dream Box, a play that toured the convention circuit but Robinson was not comfortable publishing in any mass-market form. Or even filming as a YouTube video. These feel more like footnotes or postscript to Robinson’s relationship with Garak.

Indeed, Robinson seems to suggest that writing A Stitch in Time was very much about getting closure on Garak:

That book is near and dear to my heart. I got out a lot of stuff I wanted to say about the character, and also about me. Because, basically, after a while there’s that strange symbiotic relationship that happens between an actor and (a character). When you really love a role and you really get inside the skin of that role, that’s what happens. And that happened with me and Garak.

As a result, there’s a sense that A Stitch in Time really lays everything out, providing Garak’s own history and personality as clearly as possible.

Robinson himself has admitted that he wanted A Stitch in Time to feel entirely honest, rather than as evasive or ambiguous as Garak’s personal history recounted in The Wire. It reads like an attempt to sort of lay it all out there, much like Sisko’s confession in In the Pale Moonlight, an attempt by a character to make sense of a messy jumble of issues. Robinson felt it essential that A Stitch in Time feel candid and honest, by virtue of the fact that it was unfolding at the end of an era:

One of the struggles I had when I was thinking about the tone of the book was how much is this going to be Garak tweaking us and how much of it is going to be an honest recounting? I chose to make it more of a confessional, because here’s a man who’s at the crossroads of his life. He’s on a planet that’s been devastated by the actions of his own people, and he comes to a point where he realises that his education, his conditioning, his socialisation has failed, as has his civilisation. Here he is living over the dead body of his mother, living in this graveyard which is the metaphor for this civilisation that’s now a graveyard, and it makes him look at himself with new eyes: Who is he? Can he go on? Can he admit that this was all a lie and that he’s as responsible as anyone else for the devastation? And the only way he can go on is to accept his responsibility in the form of this memoir that he sends to Julian Bashir. In that sense it’s less playful than perhaps some people would like to have him, certainly than he is portrayed on the series.

At the same time, Robinson does an excellent job weaving little details from the show into his narrative.

He covers the “big” moments in Garak’s life – his history with Gul Dukat, his exile to Terok Nor, his abandonment during the Cardassian withdrawal – but there’s a meticulous attention to detail. The appearance of a Kohn-ma operative, for example, provides a logical tie to Garak’s first appearance in Past Prologue. It’s suggested that there was some small measure of truth in the desperate confessions that Garak made in The Wire. His time on Romulus is explored, and guest stars from Profit and Loss and Second Skin get their professional histories explored.

None of this is obtrusive. Star Trek novels can often feel a little over-burdened by the desire to incorporate links to existing stories, or to connect dots that don’t need to be connected. Robinson manages to include these characters in a manner that feels relatively fluid. This is probably down to the rather unfocused structure of the novel, Robinson’s willingness to let the story “wander” off on tangents as life (even a fictional life) is wont to do.

This isn’t about shoehorning Cardassian bit-players like Entek or Toran into a single cohesive narrative that strains to accommodate them. Rather, this is about a bunch of overlapping and disparate narratives, some of which just happened to feature Toran and Entek. Robinson manages to connect the various dots without ever making the universe appear over-crowded or contrived. It’s a rare skill, and something which helps identify A Stitch in Time as a fine example of the tie-in novel form.

Still, that does A Stitch in Time something of a disservice. It’s a wonderful exploration of the link between actor and character, a wonderful insight into both Robinson’s creative process as a performer and his insight into Garak’s personality. It’s an astoundingly thoughtful and considered piece of work, published with incredible confidence and demonstrating both impressive technical skill and endearing charm.

It’s easy to see how Robinson laid a template for Pocket Books to follow with their Deep Space Nine “relaunch” novels, helping to chart an entire universe for the writers to explore.

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

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4 Responses

  1. I didn’t realise Andrew Robinson was even a writer! I may have to buy A Stitch In Time after reading this review. 🙂

  2. If only it didn’t cost so much to buy a copy. I would love to read it!

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