11:35:28 on May 30
By: Steve Krutzler
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine A Stitch In Time, by Andrew J. Robinson - Book Review
Written By Steve Krutzler
Cruising along the Intracoastal Waterway en route to the Bahamas, I pulled out my copy of the recently published “A Stitch In Time”, the self-told (in a manner of speaking) life story of Elim Garak—quite possibly the most popular recurring guest character in the history of ‘Star Trek’—espoused by none other than the actor who played him for seven years, Andrew J. Robinson. It had been sitting on my shelf (along with the other two copies and numerous other new ‘Trek’ novels Pocket Books sent me for reviewing purposes) for over a month now and though I was intrigued every time I glanced at the novel—I too was fond of the Cardassian tailor who populated some of the very best episodes of ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’—my prior experience with ‘Trek’ novels inevitably kept me from picking it up.
I’m not a big novel reader and when I did read a fair amount of ‘Trek’ novels, I found them to be artistically unchallenging and not much more than another episode with more description of my favorite characters than I realized I cared to know. Long passages devoted to Sisko’s first cooking experience are less than page-turners. I also found every character’s “voice” so perfectly emulated that the fascinating idiosyncrasies, which made these people so interesting on screen, were nauseatingly frequented paragraph after paragraph and soon you were overwhelmed by what I not-too-euphemistically call the “just too much ‘Star Trek’ syndrome”.
In fact, this is one reason that I had any interest in this new book by Andrew Robinson at all: so little is known about the character of Garak that over-saturation of characterization seemed less likely. Further, I was also interested to see how a novel about a character written by the actor who portrayed him would turn out; in effect, Robinson’s outsider status to ‘Trek’ novel-writing gave me a glimmer of hope that perhaps I could get beyond the first fifty pages. And so, as I began the novel motoring South on Florida’s ICW, continued reading on the open Atlantic traveling to the Bahamas, and finally finished it a few short days later while moored in Spanish Cay Marina, I was treated to a tale which somehow allowed me to overcome my usual inability to read little more than twenty pages in one sitting and made me wish it hadn’t ended nearly four-hundred leaflets later.
Right off the bat, the novel’s first-person perspective is already less conventional than the typical ‘Star Trek’ novel and one is quickly presented with prose which is organized into a tripartite format, each section carried throughout the book and somewhat parallel to the others. ‘A Stitch In Time’ is the story of one man looking to find himself and each of the three running narratives—retrospective of his life from childhood onward, retrospective of time on DS9 leading up to the events of “What You Leave Behind”, and present-time in the form of letters to Dr. Bashir from Cardassia after the Dominion’s defeat—is vital to the portrait Robinson paints of his reluctant hero.
This reluctance turns out to be Garak’s achilles’ heel; for the novel suggests a man whose character and life experiences have been shaped less by his own decisions and more by his acceptance of others’. Recurring throughout is the image of Garak as a simple gardener, and indeed his gardening skills come in handy numerous times. But it is his unique ability to cultivate a unique orchid in inhospitable climates that serves as the best metaphor for Garak’s character; wherever he ends up, he survives to the disgust of others who would see him perish merely because he dared to act beyond the programming his society expected of him.
And there are many Others: Robinson’s novel has the virtue of putting ‘Deep Space Nine’s characters into supporting roles, the role Garak has always played, and developing a rich cast of characters which Garak seems to bounce off of throughout a life in which he is a jack of all trades (and master of… all, no doubt!). This depth of new characters, with appearances of some you’ll remember, really sets this novel apart from the standard ‘Trek’ fare and makes the experience intensely satisfying for the reader, who is anxiously devouring every paragraph to learn more about a character we only saw a few times per season.
In the same vein, the detailed narrative takes the reader to a setting rarely visited in the series, Cardassia. Ever since their introduction in ‘Next Generation’, their nature and culture has seldom been explicitly explored independent of their status as villains and their relationships to the Bajorans and the Dominion. ‘Stitch In Time’ takes advantage of this void by firmly explicating the nature of Cardassian culture as plainly as Klingon or Romulan. Where Klingons are warriors or Romulans are spies, Robinson builds on the various fragments given in the series to define Cardassians as warrior-politicians; strategists with an eye for cunning and a heart for glory. One of Garak’s first lessons is essentially “strength in numbers,” and this is a trait developed throughout as vital to Cardassian culture. Though strategy must be executed to benefit the group, the group strategy is never the individual’s strategy, and a system of “masks” is important in a society dominated by political intrigue. Robinson even hints slightly at the origins of Cardassian society, adding an unexpected dimension to a lusciously ripe racial heritage.
The originality of this novel joins with the familiar facts most viewers already know about Elim Garak to create a vividly imaginative picture that fills in most of the gaps left open by Ira Steven Behr and his staff when ‘DS9’ ended last year. Everything fits together in a satisfying manner that doesn’t leave you ready to close the chapter on “Mr. Garak,” but rather, and most surprisingly, leaves you hungry for more. The book is more than a missing a character dossier and draws you into a whole new world of the ‘Trek’ universe, convinced that this is only the beginning of Garak’s journey, a journey which may take him on a quest to rebuild Cardassia from the ground up. Old associations are broken but not forgotten and things are not what they seem.
More than a stitch, this novel is an intricate fabric: a wonderful departure for the avid ‘Trek’ reader and a brilliant delight for the casual if not-at-all ‘Trek’ reader. Does this signal a more diverse and stimulating collection of ‘Star Trek’ novels on the horizon? This novel may have arrived just in the “stitch” of time.