- Terok Nor (#1)
- Takes place fifty years prior to Deep Space Nine
- Published by Pocket Books in 2008
- A Space Opera
- 499 pages
Bajor. A world of plenty, inhabited by a people who wish only to tend to their affairs and live life as the Prophets intended. Cardassia, a world brutalised by famine and war, now seeking a new avenue of expansion. The two peoples meet under the banner of peace, but it is a peace that will not last . . .
The Lost Era is a corner of the Star Trek literary universe that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention. Unlike other books, these novels don’t continue the story of their respective characters after the events we’ve seen on screen. Their primary function is to fill in the gaps between The Original Series and The Next Generation, tending to focus one either a single character (as in the Picard-centric The Buried Age, by Christopher L. Bennett), or on some major incident referred to, but never seen, on screen. Not a series as such, The Lost Era is a banner flown over a series of standalone novels. But it’s a banner you’ll also find emblazoned on the front of the Terok Nor trilogy, of which Day of the Vipers is the opening volume. These three stories tell of the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor, in the half-century leading up to the pilot episode of Deep Space Nine.
Day of the Vipers focuses on the early contact between Bajor and Cardassia, culminating in the beginning of the occupation. Deep Space Nine has a rich history to draw on, with plenty of hints and recollections as to what happened back then, but aside from the broad strokes, Swallow is largely free to invent his own narrative. One thing I appreciated is that this isn’t the story of a sudden invasion. It’s more insidious than that. Right from the opening, it’s clear what Cardassia’s long-term goals are. But the way they actually go about occupying Bajor is more engaging than simple conquest. There’s a lot of foundation-laying of the history between the two civilisations, but once the first Cardassian boots touch ground, it’s a tense and gripping ride. There are slight shades of Earth and Vulcan’s First Contact about it, with the Cardassians initially claiming to be benign guests, even friends. But soon enough, there are troops on the borders and spies within the echelons of power. Reading this in 2022, it’s almost impossible not to see parallels with real world events, which is bang on trend for Deep Space Nine. This book really does feel like an extension of the show.
Being set so long before the show, there aren’t many familiar faces. A few side characters (the Cardassian Pa’Dar being a prime example) get a look-in, but the majority of the names are new. On the Bajoran side of things, our protagonist is militia officer Mace, who neatly fills the role of a man just trying to do his job as conditions worsen around him. I say protagonist, but Day of the Vipers has one of the largest casts of any Trek book I’ve read. And it needs to, because while Mace may be concerned with smaller scale affairs, there’s a much broader political, military, and religious context to be explored. I’ve never been that much of a fan of the Prophets as executed on TV, but Swallow does a great jo of showing how the Bajoran faith informs every aspect of their society.
On the Cardassian side, we get to see some of their religion too. I don’t believe that the Oralian Way ever appeared in the show (Appendix material suggests Andrew Robinson created it for A Stitch in Time), but it fits so well I’d believe you if you said it did. The use of a parallel religion does exactly what a book like this should. It shows us a side to the Cardassians we haven’t seen before. One Cardassian we have seen before, however, is Skrain Dukat. Now, Gul Dukat is arguably the best villain Star Trek has ever produced, and this younger version is a fascinating study of his origins. While he is by no means sympathetic, it’s fascinating to see the circumstances that lead to both his rise to power, and his driven nature. The cast is vast, but if this is not Mace’s book, it’s Dukat’s.
It feels a little bit strange to have a book go so deeply into Cardassian society and not see Una McCormack’s name on the cover, but Swallow proves himself her equal with this book. It is a lot heavier than I was expecting, and a lot richer too. It’s not only a great expansion of Star Trek, it’s flat out a great piece of science fiction.