The challenge of writing about Star Trek books is where to start. There are literally two encyclopedias on them. They are a mountain. A section at a library. I could do a column on the work and never run out.
Thankfully I get to put any discussion of the tropes of Trek books away today. I’ll get to those in time because I majorly love the works. Today though I’m looking at one of the most unique books ever written for a license.
Elim Garak, played by Andrew J. Robinson, is one of the greatest side characters in any Star Trek show. He’s untrustworthy and evasive. A constant liar. Yet he’s also a noble, likable, funny man. He’s the kind of character a tie-in was made for. It was inevitable he’d get a novel focused on him. How it happened is what sets it apart.
Robinson was at a loss as to how to handle the character when hired, knowing nothing about Trek, so he started writing a biography for the character. He read it at conventions. Writer David R. George III heard a reading and suggested it became a novel. Robinson reworked the memoir and what results is this, to date the only non-ghostwritten Trek book by an actor.
The book follows three timelines. The bulk of the work is a straightforward memoir following Garak from his childhood to his spy days to his exile. The second section takes us to the Dominion War. The third section finds Garak retired to a rebuilding Cardassia. It’s a solid structure that keeps the reader alert.
The bulk of the book is yes, another prequel but I want to go into why reading it here is so exciting. Robinson knows how to spin a great story. He explicitly looked to John LeCarre as his inspiration for that section and he nails the morally ambiguous vibe. This is a book about the forces that shape a man into a deceiver. Garak was doomed by his childhood and a schooling that horrifies.
There’s a lot of fun in following his rivalry with the cruel One Charaban, his school age foe whose true name is a delight to learn if you’re a Trek fan. It’s potent to see his inevitable doomed romance. And there’s the pain of his fractured relationship with his mentor Enabaran Tain, a relationship whose true nature is only revealed in a brief line.
The other two timelines are great reads too. In the second we see Garak wrestling with his past. He’s moving toward a soul and that means paying the cost. Then in the third we see him at peace at last.
This is, to say the least, a different book from the standard Trek book. This is a real novel. There are some serious themes that set it apart. The violence hurts here in a way it usually doesn’t. Because Robinson wasn’t the standard tie-in author, he crafts a work that doesn’t adhere to the norms. And it’s great for it.
If there is a drawback, it’s that you really do have to know the character. If you aren’t fully versed in his history during DS9, a lot of references will fly by you. Robinson writes like a man who was there for all of it and assumes we were too. It’s a small issue that can be fixed with a Wikipedia read but you need it all the same.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: A Stitch in Time is a rare bit of gold in a wildly mixed franchise in print. You won’t find another book like it.