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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Lives of Dax: Sins of the Mother (Audrid) by S.D. Perry (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry. This is actually supplementary to the first season of the Next Generation, specifically the episode Conspiracy.

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine relaunch was the first truly successful attempt to continue a Star Trek television show past its final episode. Of course, there had been novels written before taking place after the finalés of the various shows, but the Deep Space Nine relaunch was the first conscious attempt to directly build upon the events of the series and structure the novels as something of an “eighth season” to the show. If I get through the seven years of Deep Space Nine, I am seriously considering covering the novels.

What’s interesting is that the novels didn’t quite come to be in an instant and decisive sort of way. There was a hazy grey period where books were published after What You Leave Behind, but not necessarily structured as part of that “eighth season.” Two of those books, The Lives of Dax and A Stitch in Time were retroactively welcomed into the relaunch. Indeed, this short story from S.D. Perry proves to pretty essential to the relaunch as a whole.

Like Deep Space Nine itself, the novels picked up and developed on particular themes and plot threads. The entrance of Bajor into the Federation is the most obvious, a plot point set up in Emissary and never completely resolved in the show. However, one particular plot thread seems to have emerged from out of nowhere, stretching back to an aborted arc from the very season of the second generation of Star Trek television shows. The relaunch built heavily on Conspiracy.

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The alien invasion at the end of the show’s first season remains a rather weird chapter in the production history of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s an episode that feels weirdly out of place on the show. At the end of the show’s first season, as The Next Generation struggled to find its own identity, Conspiracy offered a breath of fresh air, something completely and radically different. However, it was far from a blueprint for the future of the show. The Next Generation never did another show like it.

A variety of reasons were offered for the decision not to revisit the story. According to The Art of Star Trek, the audience response to the episode was so negative the aliens never returned. Which feels strange when discussing a show that kept bringing back the Ferengi. According to The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, early pitches suggested the parasites were agents of the upcoming Borg threat, when the Borg were conceived by Maurice Hurley as a bunch of insectoid aliens. (Insectoid aliens seemingly quite popular on The Next Generation, with the unseen Jerada from The Big Goodbye also fitting that mould.)

There are other possibilities. According to The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, writer Tracy Tormé had originally wanted to do a story about a Starfleet coup d’etat, motivated by the Klingon détente. While it’s a plot quite similar to two of the feature films (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek: Into Darkness), Gene Roddenberry objected to the idea, and a compromise was sought. According to Ronald D. Moore on Inside the Writers’ Room, there was never a follow-up because Roddenberry hated that episode.

So the parasites went on to be one of the great Star Trek loose ends. Maybe it was best that way, even if they did offer a rather disturbingly unique threat for the franchise. The shows routinely did possession storylines, but the notion of a parasitic alien species keen to undermine and disorganise Starfleet from the inside out is a fascinating concept, one a bit stranger than Romulans or Klingons or Cardassians.

In a way, the parasites do fit better as part of the landscape of Deep Space Nine, and I can understand why the relaunch writers thought to include them, even if I’m uncertain about revealing every aspect of their back story. For one thing, the thought of sinister and subversive alien infiltrators in Starfleet was a massive part of Deep Space Nine‘s long-running arcs. Conspiracy could be seen as a distant ancestor of Homefront and Paradise Lost, albeit with a great deal less nuance than the later Deep Space Nine story.

Linking these creatures with the Trill seems a logical thing to do. Although the Trill were established on The Next Generation, they were developed within the framework of Deep Space Nine. And their culture – one based on secrets and cover-ups and misdirection – is certainly loosely compatible with the methods of these parasitic alien invaders. Sins of the Mother tells a story linking the aliens to Trill culture, providing a strong basis for their later reappearance in the Deep Space Nine relaunch.

There’s a variety of interesting stuff here. For one thing, I like the fact that this was chosen as Audrid’s story, that it was placed in the context of the original Star Trek show. Fleet Captain Christopher Pike puts in an appearance here, which places the story just before or in the early part of the first season of Star Trek. And, to be fair, it’s a very logical place to encounter these parasitic creatures, which are more like something from a horror film than a later Star Trek show.

In a way, the Conspiracy aliens feel like refugees from the early days of the original Star Trek. The first half of the first season felt like it unfolded in a Lovecraftian universe. The Enterprise wandered through an old and dying universe. Planets were collapsing or ruins were being excavated. With the exception of Mister Spock, intelligent humanoid aliens were hard to come by. Instead, it seemed like the galaxy was filled with horrors left behind by civilisations far older than humanity, with beings far more powerful than we dared to imagine occasionally meddling on our plane of existence.

Though Sins of the Mother establishes the aliens as distant relatives of the Trill, they feel more like long-lost cousins of Ruk for What Are Little Girls Made Of? or the salt vampire from The Man Trap or the Talosians from The Cage. Things grotesque and threatening and impossibly old. As McCoy argues in the rebooted Star Trek, “Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.” While this wasn’t quite true of any of the spin-offs, it feels like an appropriate (if melodramatic) description of the first half-year of the original Star Trek.

Even the presence of the Trill fits quite well with this. The Trill are distinctly “other” as far as Star Trek aliens go, despite their outwardly human-esque appearance. Indeed, that’s part of the beauty of Michael Westmore’s revised Deep Space Nine design. They look very human, but are something very different. The concept of joining is fascinating, two lives blended together – that of the human-esque host and that of the immortal slug carrying lifetimes of experiences.

As I noted above, one of the reasons that the creatures from Conspiracy remain so fascinating, despite only appearing on screen once in the past quarter of a century, is because of the mystery they represent. Sins of the Mother does chip away a bit at that mystery, and the later relaunch books would strip them of it entirely, but here there is some small concession to the inexplicable nature of these creatures. Although they are explicitly linked to the Trill, we are told that the comet carrying them “had come from somewhere else.”

One of the problems posed with constructing a prequel to an episode like Conspiracy is that it runs the risk of undermining the original episode. After all, one of the things about the alien invasion in Conspiracy is that it must have come from nowhere to be really effective. The beauty of the infiltration is that it would have had to have caught Starfleet by surprise. (Given it went undetected despite the parasites’ somewhat brazen methods, the only advantages that would excuse this would be both Starfleet’s complacency and the element of surprise.)

The fact that the story is set on a comet suggests that this isn’t quite the “survey team on an uncharted planet” which found the creatures before Conspiracy. And Perry suggests that Trill state secrecy played a role in covering up the disastrous mission, refusing to even pass on what they know to Starfleet:

There is no official record of the parasite’s existence anywhere on Trill, no autopsy report, nothing. The council saw to that. I imagine that the records were destroyed along with the creature’s body, or all of the evidence was filed away somewhere, a dusty box in a dusty room, purposely forgotten.

It gives Sins of the Mother a strangely poetic quality, lending the infiltration just a bit more tragedy and pathos. It could possibly have been easily prevented, if only the Trill were capable of sharing their secrets with outsiders. Secrets beget secrets, and there’s something interesting in the idea that Trill secrecy might have had far greater repercussions outside their own world.

As an aside, I like Perry’s style here – structuring most of the story as a letter from Audrid Dax to her daughter. The Lives of Dax works well because of the sheer variety of storytelling opportunities that it offers, and the way that it offers a vehicle to explore the shared history of the Star Trek universe from a slightly different angle. Sins of the Mother is a fascinating piece of work, and well worth a read.

Read our reviews of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

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