During the first few seasons of DS9 on television, the Gamma Quadrant was *horribly* underutilized. Here we have Star Trek, this wonderful mythical universe that laid open the galaxy to human and alien explorers, and Deep Space Nine, a part of that rich universe, a remote outpost at the mouth of a galactic Nile River, the Gamma Quadrant wormhole.
The writers during the first few years of the show could only use this premise for "funny alien of the week" stories. Until they started dropping hints about The Dominion, and suddenly, the wormhole and where it led became scary, ominious, dangerous.
I think this illustrates some of the reasons DS9 has always been considered the 'problem' child of Trek mythos. DS9 doesn't really do the 'exploration' thing very well, but it does a fantastic job of putting good people in very bad places, and lets us see how they work things out. Their morals may get a little bruised, but for the most part, the Federation crew of DS9 is committed to exploring the most important part of the galaxy: the quest to find a way to unite sentient beings together in common cause. Cowboy diplomacy at its finest.
So, 3/4 of the way through the "Mission Gamma" series, I find myself rushing through the sections describing the Defiant's current mission of exploration in the Gamma Quadrant. All the *really* fun and meaty stuff is happening back on the station. From Andorians in dire straits, to Cardassians, Bajorans, and Federation members celebrating (finally ... maybe) Bajor's entry into the Federation, these sections of "Cathedral" are alive, snapping and crackling with all the conflict, tense moments, huge cast, interweaving plotlines, and "Oh my god, I can't believe they can do that on STAR TREK" moments I've come to expect and love from DS9.
As such, I found it very difficult to get "into" the experiences Bashir, Nog, and Ezri Dax have as a result with a mysterious alien artifact. The aliens who protect this artifact are one-dimensional, and are there only to provide artificial tension. Bashir's loss of his genetic enhancements reduces him pretty quickly to a gibbering idiot, yet log entries he makes are surprisinly lucid. It all just didn't mesh very well for me, and for the first time I felt the authors entrusted to carry on DS9 into an "eighth season" didn't quite have a full grasp on some of the characters they were writing. It's almost like one author wrote the Gamma Quadrant scenes in the book, and the other wrote the stuff back on the station. Perhaps that is indeed how the book was created, but unfortunately I found it jarring, taking me out of the story several times.
Nevertheless, the incredible drama unfolding on the station, not to mention an absolute STUNNER of an ending, have got me salivating in anticipation over the last entry in the series, "Lesser Evil". The stuff on the station is definitely what has kept me going throughout this series, and it's so good I find myself able to forgive myself for not liking the "exploration" stuff. From one cleric's decision to act in accordance with his faith and not his politics, to a betrayal so shocking I was shaking when I put the book down, the Alpha Quadrant's where the action is at. Originally gave this book three stars, but bumped it up to 4. That cliffhanger, if you're a true fan of DS9, will really leave your jaw hanging.