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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Lives of Dax: The Music Between the Notes (Curzon) by Steven Barnes

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.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine struggled with the character of Dax on-and-off for the first three years. Terry Farrell found herself at the centre of interesting character-driven stories with Playing God and Facets, but the show tended to treat the Dax symbiont as a macguffin that just happened to be inside Jadzia. Episodes like Dax, Invasive Procedures and Equilibrium tended to marginalise Jadzia so that the symbiont itself could be pushed to the centre of a story driven by other members of the ensemble.

However, Dax is a character with absolutely phenomenal potential. There is something absolutely fascinating idea of a creature that has lived for centuries, and seen generations of history unfold within its lifetime.The symbiont has witnessed countless changes and pivotal moments. Dax has seen civilisations fall and alliances form; Dax has seen old enemies become true friends, and watched civilisations reach out into the cosmos.

The realities of a seven-season television show mean that Deep Space Nine never really got to explore the fact that Dax was living history. Perhaps Blood Oath and Trials and Tribble-ations come closest, using Dax as a rather logical bridge spanning almost a century of continuity. One of the joys of the Star Trek universe is how expansive and how limitless it is. Infinite diversity and all that. While even Dax cannot have seen everything, Deep Space Nine never felt like it captured the sense of Dax as living history.

At its best, Pocket Books’ The Lives of Dax anthology captures this sense of change and movement. The books spans the width and breadth of the Star Trek franchise, as lived through the life of one single organism. It is beautiful.

ds9-thelivesofdax1Star Trek tie-in novels can wallow in continuity references and seem to imply that the universe consists of about thirty people whose lives continuously and inevitably overlap. There is a tendency to tie everything together, as if to fashion one very clean network of cause-and-effect, where both are echoes of some familiar parts of the franchise. Guest stars are elevated to experts, and our leads seem to repeatedly bump into the same characters doing the same things over and over again.

To be fair, there are a few stories in The Lives of Dax that lean in that direction. For example, the story centring on Jadzia – Reflections – elevates one-time guest star Verad to the status of a super villian. The character of Verad was interesting and compelling when he appeared in Invasive Procedures, but Reflections boiled away everything interesting about Verad so that it might have a familiar face to position at the heart of its story.

However, Steven Barnes’ The Music Between the Notes is a great example of how The Lives of Dax captures the potential of Dax as an observer (and participant) in the shared Star Trek universe. Although Curzon exists at the centre of The Music Between the Notes – and despite the fact that the short story tells us a lot about him – the short story is primarily focused on one Benjamin Lafayette Sisko. The Music Between the Notes is narrated by Sisko in the first person.

To be fair, Barnes has a lot of experience writing Sisko. He adapted the episode Far Beyond the Stars into prose. However, there are points in The Music Between the Notes where it is quite difficult to get a read on Sisko’s narration. The style seems rather intimate and personal, but it is never clear who exactly is listening to the story. Perhaps appropriately, it is very hard to imagine the story flowing as told in conversation with anybody except Jadzia; and almost certainly in the first few seasons.

Whatever the context, The Music Between the Notes is a lovely little vignette – it is one that does a lot to enhance the character of Curzon Dax and Benjamin Sisko. Most interestingly, Barnes hues rather close to the characterisation of Curzon Dax in Facets and implied in Dax, presenting a genuinely brilliant and charming man with a ruthless streak. “He was a monster,” Sisko confesses to himself towards the end of the story, when he realises just what Curzon has done to ensure peace.

This characterisation is a lot more compelling and intriguing than the way that Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels wrote the character in Forged in Fire. Martin and Mangels seem to offer a more straight-forward and heroic version of Curzon Dax, a character who fits more comfortably with the background narrative of episodes like Blood Oath. It is quite easy to draw a connection between Barnes’ version of Curzon and the sort of ruthless pragmatism demonstrated by Verad Dax in Invasive Procedures.

Here, however, Barnes also gives us a chance to witness Curzon’s influence on the development of Benjamin Sisko. A young ensign stationed on Pelios, Sisko finds himself assigned to the veteran diplomat. At one point, Sisko reflects on how cleverly Curzon has trapped him with a question – forcing him to choose between offering a “callow, straight-out-of-the-academy comment” or “something that went against Academy philosophy.”

Deep Space Nine made much of the relationship between Sisko and Curzon Dax. There were a few anecdotes mentioned over the course of the series, and Sisko conceded that Curzon was always a mentor to him. However, The Music Between the Notes offering an interesting glimpse at the early stages of that relationship – a sense of how the two bonded and what exactly Sisko learned from the elder Trill diplomat.

The Music Between the Notes makes a few rather interesting implications. Astutely, Barnes suggests that Curzon helped to open Sisko’s mind and broaden his horizons. Pelios feels very much like a smaller version of Deep Space Nine, a crossroads between the familiar and the unknown. This early interaction between Curzon and Sisko is presented as the kind of experience that might have prepared Sisko for the cultural melting pot that would be Deep Space Nine.

Barnes also suggests that Sisko might have inherited his ruthless pragmatism from Curzon. The Music Between the Notes centres on Curzon resolving a tense diplomatic situation with brutal realpolitick. The Music Between the Notes concludes with a very real and very serious sacrifice by several major players, as well as a very questionable ethical decision made by Curzon with repercussions for several different parties.

Sisko’s initial condemnation Curzon for making that choice, and his subsequent attempts to reconcile these actions, seem to hint at the tough decisions that Sisko will have to make over the course of Deep Space Nine. Barnes presents Curzon as a mentor to Sisko in a very real and substantial sense. Barnes suggests that Curzon’s influence played a part in making Sisko a different sort of leader than Picard or Janeway – more willing to embrace other cultures, and more comfortable making morally questionable choices.

It is a lovely story, one which does a lot to underscore just how influential and important the Dax symbiont could be across the Star Trek franchise. This is a character who walks in eternity, who has been present for important moments, both large and small. In the context of The Lives of Dax, Curzon’s influence on the development of a young Benjamin Sisko is just one small point of intersection with the larger Star Trek universe. There are much more “important” moments of Star Trek history captured in the anthology.

To use a tired metaphor, all the characters make ripples in the Star Trek universe, like a stone dropped in a large pond. However, the Dax symbiont is almost unique in its ability to skim the surface of the pond, leaving a trail of interconnected ripples in its wake. Some of those ripples are waves, and some are bare perceptible. The character is practically unique in Star Trek lore, and The Lives of Dax celebrates that uniqueness in a way that Deep Space Nine never could.

The Music Between the Notes is a reminder of just how many footprint the Dax symbiont must have made while traversing the expansive shared continuity of Star Trek. It’s a superb illustration of just what a wonderful idea The Lives of Dax was.

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

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