Friday, June 19, 2009

Mirror Universe: Shards and Shadows

I intended to write a blow-by-blow review of each story in this book, but I find myself unable to summon that sort of effort. In fact, I’m not really sure what made me seek Shards and Shadows out after all these months; perhaps something to do with upcoming DS9 books tat take place in the Mirror Universe, perhaps a lack of genuine passive fun when it comes to my reading pile. But what I do know is that despite some failures, the collection of short stories is worth your time.

Two years ago, Pocket published six short novels that took place entirely within the Mirror Universe, as depicted in such memorable Star Trek episodes as 'The One Where Evil Spock Had a Goatee.' The experiment was a success, and shortly thereafter this collection was announced in order to tie up some loose ends and expand the universe. For instance, Margaret Wander Bonano explains how Captain Kirk acquires the Tantalus Device that allows him to disappear people, all the while fleshing out the character to seem more than the raging mad
man he was depicted as in the episode.

Stories that take place later during the Klingon/Cardassian Alliance and the Terran Rebellion set the stage for some of what surely will follow in the upcoming DS9 book The Soul Key. Susan Wright pits Intendant B’Elanna Torres against Kes in a psychological, telepathic battle. Keith R.A. DeCandido tells an interesting epistolary story about the politics and scheming of the Alliance command. Jim Johnson follows Keiko Ishigawa and her adjustment to life as one of the top commanders in the Terran Rebellion.

This isn’t to say that all these stories are good, Johnson’s is a story we’ve seen a million times with someone set up to look like a traitor even though we know she won’t be because she’s the hero, but they do weave a broader tapestry of the universe and blurs the line between the good/evil division that the DS9 episodes reduced the struggle to. Other stories miss the mark entirely, like Michael Jan Friedman’s ‘The Traitor,’ which focuses on Luc Picard who was so uninteresting in The Worst of Both Worlds and has an ending that renders the entire story pointless.

And while I understand that the fiction-only characters have a following, stories like James Swallow’s ‘The Black Flag’ about the mirror equivalents of the Vanguard crew and Peter David’s next tale concerning New Frontier are too insular to really work here. And where cameos of characters might work on television, the medium of print doesn’t handle the tossing out of names for their own sake so well. I might have been more interested in Pennington than in a Reyes with a laser eyeball. (If you have no idea who these people are or why you should care, then I think you understand my problem with these stories.)

Though it has been praised by those I respect, I found the worst story of the collection to be Dave Stern’s ‘Nobunaga.’ First of all, I hate stories that end up as a dream, simulation, etc. Secondly, and this may not be a fair criticism, but with the ending of Age of the Empress depicting the resurrection of Archer, I wanted to see the story picked up from there. Instead, we get nothing more than a couple of sentences to bridge the rift, not to mention an Archer that much more resembles the one from our universe than the one depicted in In a Mirror, Darkly.

There are stories that really work well here, like Wright’s and DeCandido’s, some that are just fun like Mack’s and Christopher L. Bennett’s, and a couple that just didn’t really work for me. Nothing lives up to the tall bar that Mack set with The Sorrows of Empire, but the collection does succeed in fleshing out the mirror universe, making it a place that really calls for more stories to be told. This book rekindled an interest in the fiction line that I felt was fading fast, and now I am looking forward to picking up some of the newer releases.

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