Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Strange New Worlds 9 - Old Testament Trek and Ferengi Fables

Reviews of stories from Strange New Worlds 9 may contain minor spoilers.

Two stories in this collection are worth reading not only because of the stories themselves, but becuase of the unique ways that they are told.

"Book of Fulfillment" by Steven Costa is written in an excellent approximation of King James vintage Old Testament prose. It begins with a nice tip of that hat to The Next Generation with a reference to professor Galen, seen in "The Chase," and mentioned in "Gambit I,II." The story is a translation of a fragment of an ancient manuscript. This race describes their encounter with "the Liberator" who "came from beyond the sky," and his attendants: the Healer at his left hand, the Sage at his right, the Wayfinder, the Armsman, the Proclaimer, and the Machinist. According to the scroll, "the Sage spoke quiet words of counsel in the ear of the Liberator, speaking of the oath. And the Healer spoke fiery words of counsel in the ear of the Liberator, speaking of the suffering of the people."

In terms of style this is probably one of the most innovative stories in the collection. As you read this 'ancient scroll,' your mind reconstructs the events it describes as they would have been portrayed in an episode of Star Trek. It effectively captures the essence of TOS, and provides some nice continuity with some of the other series as well. What's so delightful about this story is that it really could not be enjoyed on the screen the way it is intended - it is captured much more effectively on the printed page. And this is evidence of the author's mastery of the craft.

A second story told in a unique style is "The Last Tree on Ferenginar: A Ferengi Fable From the Future" by Mike McDevitt. As the title suggests it is told as a fable for Ferengi children. The storyteller tells us the tale began "long, long ago, probably more than a thousand fiscal cycles hence . . ." From the opening lines to the end of the story McDevitt expertly captures the essence of Ferengi thinking and culture.

By the second page of the story we are treated to an inspired moment of Douglas Adams-esque commentary on Leeta's name: "As many of your children may have heard, a lita is a unit of currency on the planet Bajor, where Leeta happened to be from. I merely point this out because it is considered as ironically amusing as when Throk the Pusillanimous of the Ninth Era married an Earth banker whose name was Penny. Or Glint the Rotund who took as mate a Klingon accountant named D'Arsik. Actually this sort of thing happens a lot, but it is not really the point of this story."

There's a great moment of satire, worthy of Chauser's Canterbury Tales, when we learn about Ferengi priests who perform the "mystic money-meld." The story explains, "The money-meld in an ancient ritual where the priest grasps key points of one's wallet and intones, 'My money to your money, your cash to my cash. Our money is now one.' Whereupon the worthy evangelist would run away very fast and leave one's wallet empty."

I could list many other great bits from this story, but I'll let you discover the rest of the humor for yourself. The Ferengi are often used as comic relief, but often the comedy itself is not worth laughing at. Here the quality of the comedy is solid from beginning to end, and the storytelling style only makes it stronger. I won't spoil the ending for you, but let me give you something to compare it to. Once Doctor Bashir explained the story of the boy who cried wolf to Garek and explained the lesson: If you lie all the time, people won't believe you even when you do tell the truth. Garek asked, "Are you sure that's the moral, Doctor?" Bashir asked him what else it could be. Garek replied, "Never tell the same lie twice."

Well just as Garek taught us a very Cardassian moral, "The Last Tree on Ferenginar" concludes by teaching us a very Ferengi moral.

Reviews of other stories to follow . . .