Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The 34th Rule

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #23
The 34th Rule by Armin Shimerman & David R. George III
From a story by Armin Shimerman & David R. George III & Eric A. Stillwell
Published January 1999
Read February 1st 2018

Previous book (DS9 published order): The Dominion War, Book Four: Sacrifice of Angels

Previous book (DS9 numbered): #22: Vengeance
Next book (DS9 numbered): #24: Rebels, Book One: The Conquered

Mass-market paperback: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk
E-book (Kindle): Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk

Spoilers ahead for The 34th Rule!

From the back cover:
For once, business is going well for Quark, not that anyone on Deep Space Nine truly appreciates his genius for finding profit in the most unlikely of circumstances. Quark is even looking forward to making the deal of a lifetime -- when he suddenly finds himself stuck right in the middle of a major dispute between Bajor and the Ferengi Alliance. It seems that the Grand Nagus is refusing to sell one of the lost Orbs of the Prophets to the Bajoran government, which has responded by banning all Ferengi activity in Bajoran space. With diplomatic relations between the two cultures rapidly breaking down, Quark loses his bar first, then his freedom. But even penniless, he still has his cunning and his lobes, and those alone may be all he needs to come out on top -- and prevent an interstellar war!

My thoughts:

The Ferengi, a creation that came from the early days of Star Trek: The Next Generation, suffered from an image problem. Initially meant to be the "big baddies" of TNG, the Ferengi were never really taken seriously. Many fans saw them as comical and over-the-top, and certainly not as the Klingons of The Next Generation as they had been intended to be.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine did much to "rehabilitate" the Ferengi. With a Ferengi bartender, Quark, as a member of the main cast, DS9 lent a sort of credibility to the Ferengi, acknowledging that they were not on the level of Star Trek's great villains from the past, but nor were they just a laughing stock. Still, there were humorous Ferengi moments, and not everyone took the diminutive profit-obsessed species seriously.

Armin Shimerman as Quark, and also one of the authors of The 34th Rule.

A notable exception, however, was the actor who played Quark: Armin Shimerman. You can tell by watching his performance that he took his role as Quark very seriously, seeing the character as much more than just comic relief or a foil to the Starfleet members of the main cast. Quark is very much the hero of his own story, whether that's playing the role of the romantic lead in the episode "Profit and Loss," or getting caught up in a story with a strong social message like "Rules of Acquistion." The 34th Rule, written by Armin Shimerman (along with David R. George III), continues the DS9 rehabilitation of the Ferengi. The story takes the character and his species quite seriously, and confronts head-on the somewhat discriminatory and bigoted attitudes that characters in the Trek universe sometimes have towards the Ferengi.

Contrary to what certain factions on the internet would have you believe, Star Trek has always been about promoting a social justice message and advancing the cause of liberalism. It hasn't always gotten it perfect, but for the most part, Trek has promoted a progressive worldview. Racism is a topic that Trek has tackled, both directly and indirectly, a number of times. Growing up watching Trek, I didn't notice the racism that pervaded the show whenever the Ferengi came up. For example, in the TNG episode "The Perfect Mate," the Enterprise rescues a pair of Ferengi, after which Riker orders Worf to assign them quarters, "not too close to mine." When viewed through the lens of racism, this flippant remark speaks volumes.

A dispute over a Bajoran orb leads to war between Bajor and the Ferengi Alliance.

In this novel, Grand Nagus Zek is in possession of a Bajoran Orb of the Prophets (see the DS9 episode "Prophet Motive"). The Bajorans obviously want it, and are willing to bid for it in an auction held by the Nagus, but Zek bars them from participating. In response, Bajor issues an edict expelling all Ferengi citizens from Bajoran space, which cuts off Ferengi from the wormhole, which has a significant impact on Ferenginar thanks to the loss of trade with the Gamma Quadrant. In retaliation, the Ferengi Alliance institutes a blockade on Bajor, which is still reliant on foreign aid to recover from the decades-long Cardassian occupation.

In response to the Bajorans' expelling of Ferengi citizens from their territory, Grand Nagus Zek institutes a blockade of Bajor.

Quark and Rom decide to remain on Deep Space Nine, whereupon they are imprisoned on Bajor in the old Galitep forced labor camp, formerly used by the Cardassians during the occupation. They are under the control of a former inmate of the camp, and under him, they are regularly beaten and tortured. A major theme of The 34th Rule seems to be the cycle of violence; the victims of horrific violence can often become the abusers themselves. The trauma that Quark and Rom experience at the hands of their overseer is chilling, and these parts were extremely vivid and well-written.

Despite the seriousness of the plot of The 34th Rule, there are some amusing moments as well. Armin Shimerman previously played three other roles prior to taking on the role of Quark, and he "cameos" in this story as all three of them at various points, which was a fun touch.

Quark comes across very well in the pages of this novel, which is to be expected seeing as it was co-written by the actor who played him. The rest of the characters "sound" right as well, and it was fun to get to go back and visit a story that takes place during the television series. I love DS9, and reading The 34th Rule really did feel like I was watching a lost episode. Armin and David know these characters and this setting quite well, and The 34th Rule was a truly enjoyable read with a very poignant and important message.

Final thoughts:

The 34th Rule was a great read. Armin Shimerman and David R. George III have crafted an excellent tale that fits very well into the Deep Space Nine continuity, and forces the reader to look at the Ferengi in a way that is all-too rare: not as silly, over-the-top antagonists, but as well-rounded characters fully deserving of respect and consideration. The messages regarding racism and the cycle of violence are well-represented in this novel's pages, and the story carries on the proud Trek tradition of shedding light on issues of social justice and liberal ideals. 5/5.

More about The 34th Rule:

My next read:

Next up: continuing the Shatnerverse reviews, Captain's Blood.

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