© 2010 David Mack
'I think it's safe to say that Julian Bashir, Secret Agent, will return.' - Bashir, "Our Man Bashir"
On the cover: Nicole de Boer as Captain Ezri Dax, Alexander Siddig as Dr. Julian Bashir, who has apparently grown a Beard of Sorrow. CGI as the USS Aventine.
The Federation has known many great enemies in its few centuries of existence -- the Klingons, the Romulan Star Empire, the Cardassians, the Dominion, and the Borg have been the most notable. Time has worn them all down: the Klingons have become allies, the Romulans are weakened by civili War, Cardassia is impotent, the Dominon has retreated into the Gamma Quadrant, and the Borg are...gone. In the wake of the last great Borg war, various second-class powers of the galaxy (Gorn, Tholians, Breens, and more) have banded together in a military and partial civil union known as the Typhon Pact. The Pact has existed in a state of cold war with the Allied powers since A Singular Destiny, but their recent theft of the plans for Starfleet's latest and greatest asset -- the Slipstream War Drive -- threatens to turn hostility into a general war.
The slipstream drive is vastly superior to standard warp drives and has so far discouraged the Pact from waging open war against the battered and diminished allied powers. They cannot be allowed to turn their stolen data into effective plans for a slipstream drive of their own, and so Starfleet tasks Captain Ezri Dax with inserting two operatives into the suspected home of the Breen slipstream project. Dr. Julian Bashir and his genetically modified peer Sarina Douglas have been hand-picked for their improved physical and mental abilities, which include a heightened ability to adapt to strange and changing situations. Given that next to nothing is known about Breen culture, adaption is a necessity. While the two operatives descend into the belly of an alien city, Dax lurks outside the Breen orders attempting to evade a Breen-Romulan* fleet which knows that the Aventine is up to something.
Zero Sum Game is an interesting change of pace: political/spy thrillers aren't all that pervasive in Trek lit to my knowledge. I enjoyed David Mack's worldbuilding; I imagine giving life to a long-established power was quite the responsibility, but the civilization that Bashir and Douglas explore is fascinatingly believable. He treats them as more than just villains, although the Breen Confederacy is plainly ruled by an intrusive military state with a kind of secret police. When the Breen official in charge of the shipyard discovered his operations center littered with dead bodies, he is horrified that the enemy operative (in this case our hero) had taken so much innocent life just to destroy the slipstream project. On that note, readers are also treated to Dr. Bashir's inner conflict, as he is driven by his responsibility as a physician to "do no arm" and his duties as a Starfleet officer to do what needs to be done.
Par for the course for Mr. Mack; Zero Sum Game has a lot to offer Trek fans beyond the fast action-spy plot and discovery of Breen civilization. Bashir's long been my favorite DS9 character and I enjoyed the spotlight being on him for a change: the last time that happened was during the first run of Trek relaunch books. He's changed quite a bit from the bubbling young lieutenant who first appeared in "Emissary": once full of idealism and energy, he's now a mature veteran of several horrific wars who feels lonely in a station now populated by total strangers: aside from Quark and Nog, no one remains on the station from the old (television run) crowd, and now even his newly-met comrades from the relaunch have been leaving him. It's tough to see him put through the mill like this, especially considering a revelation at the end of the book. The action remains interesting and varied throughout the book: while Bashir and Douglas are exploring the Breen industrial center, Ezri is engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with some irritated Romulans, and by the time that action settles down our two operatives are in the thick of things. Even the Federation president gets a little attention.
Recommended to Trek lit readers, especially given that this is the first book in the Typhon Pact series, which will explore the 'new political reality' throughout next year. Book #2, Seize the Fire, came out in the last week or so.
- Abyss, the last Bashir novel (not counting Worlds of Deep Space Nine #1, where he just tagged along behind Ezri) One of my favorites, focusing on Bashir, Ro Laren, and Taran'atar.
- David Mack's homepage and Memory Alpha bio.
- Typhon Pact on TvTropes. Note: this book was released in late October, and it's already got a full page. Some of the people in TrekBBS's TrekLit forum have been busy.