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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The 34th Rule by Armin Shimerman & David R. George III (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

The 34th Rule is a particularly notable piece of Star Trek fiction. It is the first Star Trek novel credited to a main cast member while their show was still on the air. Armin Shimerman, Eric A. Sitwell and David R. George III had pitched the idea for The 34th Rule as an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. When the producers were not interested in developing the idea, Shimerman and George decided to expand the idea out into a full-length novel. The 34th Rule was released during the seventh season of Deep Space Nine.

Shimerman was not the first actor to be credited on a Star Trek novel. William Shatner had already launched his own “Shatner-verse” series of novels following the “resurrection” of James Tiberius Kirk after his death in Star Trek: Generations. However, Shatner was pretty much done with the franchise at this point – having officially passed the torch to his successors as part of Generations. However, Shimerman was the first to publish a novel while the show was on the air.

The 34th Rule is a decidedly ambitious piece of work. It is clumsy in places, perhaps a little heavy-handed and on the nose. Nevertheless, it is a well-constructed and thoughtful Star Trek epic – one the feels in keeping with the mood of Deep Space Nine, even if it occasionally veers a little too far.


Apparently, Shimerman had always been interested in writing. Indeed, he has noted that his interest in writing was somewhat unique among the cast of Deep Space Nine:

Most of the male actors on Deep Space Nine, like TNG, all wanted to become directors. And they did become directors. I, for the most part, didn’t want to be a director, but I did want to be a writer because I had been a writer as a young man.

Shimerman makes a point. Avery Brooks, Alexander Siddig, Rene Auberjonois, Michael Dorn and Andrew J. Robinson would all direct for the show.

However, Deep Space Nine also produced its fair share of writers from the ensemble. Andrew J. Robinson would become the first Star Trek cast member to write a book entirely unassisted. Aron Eisenberg wrote a comic book for Malibu comics. However, Armin Shimerman blazed something of a trail. The book’s cover capitalises on the actor’s involvement. “Quark’s biggest deal – by the actor who brings him to life!” it boasts. No wonder the book sold so well.

Shimerman has enjoyed considerable success as an author in the wake of Deep Space Nine. He wrote The Merchant Prince trilogy shortly after Deep Space Nine wrapped up. Although he had a co-author on the first two books, he felt confident enough to write the majority of the final book on his terms. As such, The 34th Rule feels like a big moment in Shimerman’s development as a writer. It expresses a very clear desire to become a prose author.

To be fair, Shimerman himself has concede that he mainly worked on The 34th Rule in an advisory capacity, consulting and trading ideas with David R. George III:

On The 34th Rule I worked with David R. George III and Eric Stillwell and we actually pitched that as an episode of Deep Space Nine and when they turned us down the three of us walked out of the building and thought, well maybe we can write this into a book. David did most of the writing and I pitched in with ideas. I really had very little to do with the writing of that book but while it is one of my books I consider myself a little be out of that project.

This makes a certain amount of sense, as The 34th Rule feels very much like a David R. George III novel in terms of prose and structure. It is a tale of galactic politics and game-changing scale, albeit one that never loses sight of its characters.

As David R. George III notes, The 34th Rule is quite a sizeable book. It came in at almost twice the minimum length for a Star Trek novel, due to efforts to extend and develop the core themes of the story:

Over the course of about three weeks, Armin and I met enough times to expand our story and map it out from beginning to end. Writing a novel with a contractual minimum of 70,000 words—which equates to approximately 280 manuscript pages—requires the creation of a considerably more involved tale than does crafting a 60-page teleplay. To that end, Armin and I added a great deal of complexity to our story, which we originally called War Is Good for Business, but which we ultimately titled The 34th Rule. And as it turned out, The 34th Rule would clock in at 135,000 words.

That work shows. The 34th Rule is quite an epic story. It is at once an intimate look at Quark’s relationship to the rest of the cast on Deep Space Nine and a galactic war story, with hints of mystery and conspiracy mixed in to keep things fresh.

One suspects that Shimerman had considerable input into the book’s approach to Quark. In general, The 34th Rule is quite insightful and logical in its approach to the character. Quark’s attitudes and observations make a great deal of sense in the context of Deep Space Nine, particularly his criticism of the Federation and the Federation’s attitude to the Ferengi. In many respects, Shimerman and George are continuing a line of critical thought that Ira Steven Behr laid out in The Jem’Hadar, carried to its logical conclusion.

At one point, Quark even calls out the Federation for their vices and their blind spots. “I’m glad you at least see that, because this hegemony of the Federation over Bajor isn’t just about responding to a cry for help; having a Starfleet presence here is a tactical advantage, and it was even before the wormhole was discovered. Face it, Captain: you denigrate the Ferengi for our pursuit of profit, but you are imperialists.” It may be over-stating the point, but his criticism feels legitimate.

However, while The 34th Rule does great work with Quark’s character, it does have problems writing the characters around Quark. While the portrayals of characters like Sisko, Worf, Odo and Dax seem in character, the rest of the cast seem particularly callous and insensitive about Quark’s plight. The 34th Rule makes some very astute points about how the show treats Quark, but it overplays its hand at points.

Kira does not come off particularly well in The 34th Rule. This may be George and Shimerman struggling to capture her voice, but she seems almost cartoonishly racist in her attitudes towards Quark – having an awkwardly written epiphany late in the novel. Kira has a lot of reason to hate Quark – consider the events of Meridian, for example – and the novel does seem to suggest that Kira’s attitudes are not as strong towards other Ferengi.

Nevertheless, it feels like we’re watching a very heavy-handed “very special episode” where Kira learns that racism is a bad thing. It is clumsy and forced and contrived, if only because it grossly over-simplifies the relationship between Kira and Quark.  The other members of the supporting cast don’t fare much better. Bashir is a condescending jerk to Quark, even after Quark has just escaped from a concentration camp. The 34th Rule does not do much good work with the larger ensemble.

(That said, the pieces of the book focusing on Sisko and Odo work better, because they seem to have a deeper understanding of how the characters work. The 34th Rule understands that Odo and Quark like each other more than either will admit, but Quark will give a lot more than Odo. The novel also builds on Sisko’s attitudes towards the Ferengi that have been foregrounded since The Nagus back in the show’s first season. Sisko’s arc is perhaps exaggerated, but it is underplayed compared to that of Kira.)

The 34th Rule is perhaps a little on the nose. One of the rather unfortunate aspects of the Ferengi – particularly during their early appearances on Star Trek: The Next Generation – is the sense that they are very clearly Jewish stereotypes. They are greedy, money-hungry, untrustworthy Goblins with exaggerated physical features. The introduction of the Ferengi in The Last Outpost is not one of the franchise’s prouder moments, and those problems never really go away, even after Deep Space Nine started to develop and expand them.

So The 34th Rule hits on a rather clever idea. It juxtaposes the Ferengi with the Bajorans. Both races are clearly influenced by historical depictions of Jewish populations. When Deep Space Nine comes to an end, the Bajorans have just emerged from the Occupation – an experience which is frequently described in terms that evoke the Holocaust. Victims of oppression struggling to assert their own place in with world, the Bajorans are a much more nuanced and sympathetic example of Jewish archetypes.

Putting to two in opposition to one another is an ingenious idea. George and Shimerman use Prophet Motive as a jumping-off point for The 34th Rule, to the point where it feels like The 34th Rule is the kind of story that should have been told using all the core ingredients of Prophet Motive. The Ferengi and the Bajorans come head-to-head over the issue of the Orb that Zek brought to the station in Prophet Motive. The two races push each other to the brink of war.

It is a decidedly epic scale for a Star Trek novel. It is hard to imagine Pocket Books signing off on a story this ambitious when Richard Arnold was vetting proposals. Two established alien races declaring war? One of the main characters exiled from the station? Brutality and oppression? Murder and mayhem? The climax features a battle in the skies above Bajor, with Sisko racing against time to stop the Bajorans and the Ferengi from committing to an irreversible course of action.

This larger political and conspiratorial plot works relatively well on a number of levels. It ties together two disparate elements of Deep Space Nine in a way that feels satisfying. The show would have “Bajoran” episodes and “Ferengi” episodes, but it kept the two largely separate during its run. The 34th Rule makes for a much more effective synthesis of two recurring plot threads and episode types than something like The Emperor’s New Cloak, which merged a Ferengi episode with a mirror universe episode.

It also helps that The 34th Rule is based around the idea that Grand Nagus Zek is very good at what he does. The character was portrayed as shrewd and ruthless in episodes like The Nagus and Rules of Acquisition, but that aspect of the Grand Nagus slipped slowly into the background during the show’s run. With episodes like Prophet Motive, Zek became a character who felt more and more like Quark and Rom’s wacky uncle who would visit from time to time.

As such, it is nice to reaffirm the idea that somebody who has secured a position at the pinnacle of the Ferengi Alliance would be a very keen strategist and deal-maker, one very good at understanding what people want and how best to manipulate them into offering what he wants. After all, Deep Space Nine worked quite hard to develop the Ferengi and to give them some small measure of respect, so the portrayal of Zek as a canny political (and economic) operator feels like something that the show itself might have worked harder to maintain.

Still, there are problems. The most obvious is right on the cover of the book. The 34th Rule is a story about how Quark and Rom are sent to a concentration camp. This is a very effective way of holding the franchise to account for some of the anti-Semetic subtext that underpins the Ferengi. Shimerman is well aware of this subtext. He appeared in The Last Outpost, so he knows exactly how offensive those early appearances were.

That said, The 34th Rule hinges on the idea that the Bajorans would reopen Gallitep. In Duet, Gallitep was described in terms that evoked Dachau or Auschwitz. It was a place of untold suffering and horror. Kira’s account of the horrors she witnessed during the liberation underscore how deeply unpleasant the place was, the scar that it left lingering on the Bajoran psyche. So the idea that anybody would reopen Gallitep within five years of the end of the Cardassian Occupation feels forced. The 34th Rule overreaches itself a little.

To be fair, it fits thematically. One of the recurring themes of The 34th Rule is the idea of the cycle of violence – that horror and brutality beget one another, that the Cardassian Occupation has left a deep psychological scar on the Bajoran people. This shared trauma motivates them to respond so aggressively to Ferengi threats. As Winn argues to Shakaar:

“But perhaps if Bajor had not been such an obvious target for the Cardassians,” she continued, “history would have been kinder to us.” She slipped away from the doorway and walked back across the room to Shakaar. “To that end,” she told him earnestly, “we cannot allow history to repeat.”

The irony is – of course – that such an aggressive stance must inevitably force history to repeat. It’s a cycle of abuse, repeated behaviour patterns. The victim becomes an abuser. The Bajorans reopen Gallitep. It is a very effective image, a very charged one. However, it also feels like The 34th Rule pushes that theme past the point of internal logic.

“This couldn’t have happened on Bajor,” we are told. The inference is quite clear, and something that has been repeated many times across history: it could happen anywhere. Society must never become complacent. It is very easy to slip back into the past, to lose all the forward momentum that has been gathered. It is a worthy sentiment, and one that feels quite in tune with the ethical and moral philosophy of Deep Space Nine. It just seems like the events reinforcing that sentiment are very forced.

To be fair, The 34th Rule does try to justify the decision to reopen Gallitep. The novel makes it clear that this was not a decision sanctioned by the Bajoran government, but instead another iteration of the cycle of abuse. The sadistic Colonel Mitra opened the camp on his own prerogative as a way of working through the trauma he endured there. In a particularly heavy-handed sequence, he even starts calling himself “Gul” Mitra, as if to underscore how victims of abuse are prone to become abusers themselves.

Still, despite this significant problem, The 34th Rule is an interesting book. It might overplay its hand, but it holds some pretty good cards. It is a very blending of two of the show’s recurring plot threads, and an insightful critique of the way that the franchise has treated the Ferengi. While a little awkward and clumsy in places, it makes for an impressive debut novel for both Armin Shimerman and David R. George III.

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

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