Monday, August 25, 2014

The Sorrows of Empire

The Sorrows of Empire
© 2009 David Mack
464 pages

In the original series episode "Mirror, Mirror",  Star Trek heroes Kirk,McCoy Uhura, and Scotty inadvertently changed places with their counterparts in a mirror universe, alter egos who were agents of a galactic empire whose standard operating procedures tended more toward murder than peaceful negotiation. Surviving only by pretending to be imperial officers, the four managed to escaped back to their own universe -- but not before leaving an impact on the mirror universe's Mr. Spock, who was tantalized by the vision of a peaceful republic, governed by men of outstanding decency.   Convinced that his empire is rotting from within, being destined for destruction and a dark age, Spock decides to save it by effecting a coup and offering it a saving vision.  The Sorrows of Empire is a masterful introduction to the Mirror Universe books.

The Mirror Universe as seen in the original series and later in Deep Space Nine are worlds apart; in one, humans control a galactic empire; in the other, they are rebels persecuted by the Klingon-Cardassian alliance.   The Sorrows of Empire links the two together, delivering the story of how the Terran Empire came to be defeated in battle, and the humans turned from rulers to slaves. But whereas Deep Space Nine's  take was utterly cynical, advancing the perception that peace and goodwill cannot withstand against tyranny and malice,  Sorrows gives a different interpretation.  Through stages, and aided immeasurably by his soon-to-be-deceased-superior's secret weapon,  Spock rises to power -- first seizing the Enterprise, then building respect and assuming command of Starfleet, then finally eliminating the Empress herself -- and then engages on a long-term plan of Seldonian ambition.  The Empire is destined to fall,  democratic reforms or not -- so he arranges for an intentional defeat of the Empire, done in such a way that will simultaneously undermine its enemies and plant the seeds for the creation of a second Republic -- the realization of the other universe's dream-Federation.

The Sorrows of Empire is impressively executed;  while the Mirror Universe tends toward kitsch, the gratuitous violence and general vulgarity displayed in the Deep Space Nine episodes is absent altogether. Because so much time passes through the plot,  Trek fans will see it mature through several Trek episodes and a few movies. References to the greater universe abound in number, and range from the subtle to the obvious;  only the nerdiest could spot Lieutenent Xon, from the abandoned Star Trek: Phase 2,  but the many connections made to other Trek novels make a superb standalone novel even better. Not only does Sorrows integrate a lot of canon material into its narrative, but there are tie-ins to Trek literature as well, like the Vanguard Project. David Mack's arrangements of plot and characters succeed, too; despite the abundance of minor characters, most of whom are familiar, the tale never loses focus on Spock and his dream.

Although the logical Spock may be confused with the counterpart we know and love, his differences between our universe's Spock go beyond the goatee. The sheer weight of empire molds his character in ways Trek fans wouldn't expect, but  his efforts to avoid becoming the monster he's trying to destroy must be appreciated. Spock is tortured by desiring morality while at the same time having make hard choices, rather like Sisko in "In the Pale Moonlight".

On all accounts, Sorrows of Empire enthralls.

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