Friday, May 18, 2007

Strange New Worlds 9 - "Orphans" (Grand Prize Winner)

This is a review of the Grand Prize winner from the Strange New Worlds 9 collection. It is therefore more thorough and contains significant spoilers.

One of the draw backs of many episodes of Star Trek is that in the end our heroes fly off into the galaxy and completely leave behind the alien/planet/problem-of-the-week never to be heard of again. The grand prize winning stories picks up one of these dropped story lines and follows through. Consider the episode"The Hunted" ( TNG).

In this story the Angosian government created genetically enhanced soldiers. When the war was over, the soldier were discarded, confined to a penal moon because they were too violent to be reintegrated into society. We learn all of this when one of these soldiers, Roga Danar, escapes and runs amok on the Enterprise. But when the episode is over, Picard literally beams off of the planet when these super-soldiers storm the Angosian capital.

And we never hear of the Angosians again . . .

. . . until now.

Now we get find out what became of Roga Danar and the rest of his fellow warriors. The story is called "Orphans" by R. S. Belcher. Like many stories in this collection, it pulls together threads from various series (DS9 and TOS in particular). As the story opens Dr. Bashir and Admiral Pressman (from the TNG episode "Pegasus") approach Danar and his fellow soldiers on the behest of Section 31. They want to recruit them for a special mission against the Jem'Hadar.

The combination of characters is brilliantRoga Danar and the other Angosian soldiers, Dr. Bashir, and the Jem'Hadarall genetically enhanced to some degree. It leads to a show down between the two groups of super-soldiers, but along the way allows Danar and Bashir to confront their uncertanties about their own identities. The Jem'Hadar are completely genetically engineered - they are manufactured, given their identity as ruthless, relentless warriors. But for Danar and Bashir it isn't as clear where what is really them stops and where the genetic enhancements start.

Their identity crisis culminates on a mission to keep the Guardian of Forever from the hands of the Dominion, which adds another layer to this theme. The Guardian itself is a constructed entity of some kind, and we get at least a glimpse of its self-concept as well.

The set up is great, the theme is compelling, having the Angosians face off with the Jem'Hadar is a stroke of brilliance. However I do have some minor complaints about how the story plays out.

First, the story is told in the third person, but basically from Roga Danar's point of view. However, at some points the story delves into Bashir's inner thoughts. In a novel it is a lot easier to sustain a change in point of view like that, but in a short story it can be a little bit disorienting. I just wonder if there could have been another way to give insight into Bashir's feelings without leaving Danar's point of view.

Second, the ending bothers me a little on a couple of levels. (Here's where some of the biggest spoilers come in - don't say you weren't warned.) At the end of the story the Guardian of Forever vanishes - it moves through itself and is gone. Now, I'm not going to claim the Guardian couldn't do that, but to me it's just a matter of respect. The Guardian is one of the most enduring and beloved icons of all of Star Trek from one of it's strongest episodes. To me you can't just make an icon disappear like that, especially not the Guardian of Forever. It should be there . . . well, forever.

To quote Pressman: "So let me get this straight. You just let one of the most ancient and powerful creations in the universe off its leash. We have no idea what it will do or what its agenda is." Something about loosing the Guardian just rubs me the wrong way.

Also, Danar's resolution is a little ambiguous. He feels like he has finally learned to accept himself for who he is. But I don't know how that addresses the chemical-biological-behavioral Pandora's Box that these soldiers have opened up inside them. Coming to terms with yourself is a great theme, but I just wonder how well it could actually solve Danar's problems.

But take that criticism as it is intended, as small points of concern in a very strong story, with a great premise. The follow-up to Angosian history, tying in Section 31, Admiral Pressman, and the Jem'Hadar, the inner turmoil of the characters, the competing agendas of everyone involved in this missionit is all great story telling.

Reviews of other stories to follow . . .