Saturday, January 17, 2015

Dark Mirror

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Dark Mirror by Diane Duane
First published December 1993
Read December 28th 2014

Previous book (The Next Generation): #28: Here There Be Dragons
Next book (The Next Generation): #29: Sins of Commission

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Spoilers ahead for Dark Mirror!

From the back cover:
Stardate 44010.2: the twenty-fourth century. Humanity's greatest dreams have become reality. Along with dozens of other sentient races, the people of Earth have formed the United Federation of Planets—a galactic civilization that governs much of the known universe for the good of all. Over the past two centuries, mankind has tamed its basest instincts, and reached the stars… 
But suppose it hadn't happened that way at all? Suppose instead humanity's darkest impulses, its most savage, animalistic desires had triumphed? Suppose the empire mankind made out in the stars was one ruled by terror, where only those willing to brutalize their own kind and their neighbors could survive? 
One hundred years ago, four crewmembers of the USS Enterprise crossed the dimensional barrier and found just such an empire. A mirror image of their own universe, populated by nightmare duplicates of their shipmates. Barely able to escape with their lives, they returned thankful that the accident that brought them there could not be duplicated. Or so they thought. 
But now the scientists of that empire have found a doorway into our universe. Their plan: to destroy from within, to replace one of our starships with one of theirs. Their victims: the crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D. 
Here, from the author who gave us the smash New York Times bestseller Spock's World, is a dramatic Star Trek: The Next Generation adventure unlike any seen before. A story that shows us the crew of the Enterprise-D in mortal combat against the most savage enemy they have ever encountered... themselves.

Notable quote:
Picard swallowed, his throat gone dry, more betrayed by the black ink on the yellowed page than by anything that had happened to him so far. He turned the pages and found what frightened him more second by second: a Shakespeare horribly changed in all but the parts that were already horrible. Titus Andronicus was much as it had been. So was Macbeth, and oddly, Lear; but Picard paged through the latter and breathed out unhappily, almost a moan, to find one small part missing: that of Cornwall's "first servant," who tries to protect old Gloucester from having his eyes plucked out and is immediately killed—a matter of a few lines in the original, now gone completely. And the other two servants gone dumb, and not even a single voice raised, now, to protest the old man's fate at the hands of Lear's hateful daughter and her husband. 
Slowly Picard shut the book, put it back, and looked mistrustfully at the Bible—and, beautiful language or not, decided not to pick it up.

My thoughts:

I first read Dark Mirror many years ago. It was nearly the first Star Trek novel I ever read, with only Peter David's excellent Q-Squared having been read first. I can still remember spending the night at my aunt Rose's house, reading Dark Mirror under the covers with a penlight into the wee hours. I was so enthralled by the depictions of the darker, more treacherous versions of the characters I'd come to love. In particular, the sadistic yet subtle viciousness of the mirror universe's Deanna Troi disturbed me greatly. So, after all of these years, how does Dark Mirror fare upon re-reading?

I was, for the most part, pleasantly surprised by how well the story held up. In particular, I was worried that I'd find the delphine commander Hwii to be too "cutesy" a character. However, he was as delightful as I remembered, and an interesting addition to the story. Once again, the alternate versions of the Enterprise crew were frightening, in a way that the Original Series mirror characters weren't. There seems to be a darker edge to this story than TOS's "Mirror Mirror."

Diane Duane has a good handle on the characters and their reactions to the atrocities and "moral shift" of the alternate universe. The revulsion experienced by Picard in particular is conveyed very well. I also appreciated the depiction of Geordi LaForge in this novel. He is a character who is often given short shrift, and it was great to see the story making very good use of LaForge.

When I was younger, I remember pondering why exactly Data didn't have a counterpart in the mirror universe. I understand the "in-universe" reason given, but story-wise, I couldn't understand the omission of his character. In this re-read, I realized that the reason was two-fold. First, going up against an alternate crew that had a Data of their own would be a much more difficult challenge than what was depicted in the story, and second, the "evil twin" story had already been done for Data, and having a mirror universe counterpart here might come across as a simple re-hash of Lore.

Of course, in the years since Dark Mirror was published, Trek canon has taken a much different direction with regards to the Mirror Universe. While I did enjoy this story and how it depicted the outcome of Spock's attempt at reforming the Terran Empire, I felt that the story that Deep Space Nine told was a little more interesting. The idea that Spock's actions had unintended consequences for the Terrans was a compelling one, and the fact that those events were turned around completely in the Mirror Universe novels, especially The Sorrows of Empire and Rise Like Lions, makes that story even more compelling. Still, Dark Mirror was an interesting look at what the Empire might have turned into a century after "Mirror Mirror."

The idea of seeing your own life taking a completely different turn, resulting in an "evil" version of yourself is a chilling one, and it would be terrifying to come face to face with those aspects of yourself. Diane Duane conveys this feeling very well in Dark Mirror. A savage, brutal version of oneself has the added terror of possibly having an insight into your own psyche, and a familiarity with a part of yourself that you would much rather pretend doesn't exist. That is where the truly frightening aspects of this story come into play.

Final thoughts:

One of the rare instances that something I loved in my childhood holds up as well as I remember! Dark Mirror was a page-turner then, and it was just as compelling now. Diane Duane has a way of crafting a fascinating story that often has high stakes as well as great character moments, examining an important facet of the human condition along the way. Although the conclusion of the story relies heavily on technobabble (and stars... Duane often uses ship maneuvers involving stars in the climaxes of her novels! Why is that?), Dark Mirror is still a great read.

Both disturbing and entertaining, Dark Mirror will always have a reserved place on my bookshelf.

Further resources:

Also by Diane Duane:

My next read:

My next review will continue my Deep Space Nine relaunch re-read, but this time, it will be for a story that I somehow skipped the first time through! Look for Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Volume One: Cardassia: The Lotus Flower, coming next week! (Gosh, that's a lot of colons...)

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