on 5 July 2005
Hollow Men, by Una McCormack, is one of those "love it or hate it" types of novels. It's a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine story that takes place during the series itself (as opposed to afterwards, as the latest DS9 books have been). In the series episode, "In the Pale Moonlight," Captain Sisko had to go against all of his ethics in order to trick the Romulans into joining the Dominion War, as the Federation was losing. The situation spiraled out of control until he was guilty of countenancing murder in order to get the job done. Hollow Men is the aftermath, and it's told in McCormack's normal style. Not many "events" occur, and the book lives or dies on whether you believe in (and are intrigued by) the characterizations and the internal aspects of the plot. Me? I loved it. But your mileage may vary.
After the events of the television episode, Sisko is on his way back to Earth to attend a conference, the first one that the Romulans will be a part of. Starfleet Intelligence wants Garak, the Cardassian tailor and ex-spy who performed most of the skullduggery, to come along. Sisko is being eaten up by guilt for his actions, trying desperately to justify them internally but hating himself more and more, and this carries over to Garak. Garak, of course, is concerned that Sisko will break and confess everything, and he's certain he's going to end up in a Federation prison. When they get to Earth, however, they get wrapped up in more intrigue, as an ex-starfleet officer turned peace activist becomes even more important to the entire war effort, and secrets that should never be revealed are in danger of coming out.
McCormack is the author of the Cardassian story in The Worlds of Bajor: Volume One, which I happened to love. Her characterization of Garak was dead-on in that story, and she captures him very well in this one too. His sarcasm and general wit are evident, but we also see his cunning and his intelligence. When he gets wrapped up in the Starfleet Intelligence plot, he is determined to follow his own path to finish the job, and he will even refuse to do the job if he doesn't like what he finds out. He's calm under pressure, he knows what torture is like and so is ready when he's about to be on the other end of it than he's used to. I especially loved his reactions to the peace protests when Sisko takes him to one of them. He honestly can't believe that such a protest would be allowed during war time, and thinks back longingly to the days on Cardassia where stuff like this would be stamped out immediately. He has plenty of traditionally Garak quips. Basically, if you like Garak, you should love this book.
Sisko's guilt is also extremely well done. Even better is his reaction when he doesn't get the reaction he quite expected upon revealing what happened. He searches desperately for something to salve his conscience, and while this might seem out of character for the Sisko we know, to me it seemed realistic for a man who has transgressed his principles as far as he has. He knows what happened was necessary, but he feels like he should be punished. The various attempts he makes to get that to happen are excellent, ending in a wonderful discussion with the one person who he can depend on to talk him through this.
There is also a story that takes place on DS9, involving Odo and a shipment of latinum (the main currency outside of the Federation). This plotline isn't as interesting as the main one, and it doesn't even tie into the main story until the end (in a way that, admittedly, comes out of left field a little bit, and is my only real problem with the book). All of the characters are well done, but there wasn't that much to really grab me until near the middle of the book. Some people have claimed that a fault with the book is that nothing happens for long periods of time. While this is true, I found myself so fascinated with the Sisko and Garak storyline, and interested enough in the station plot that I didn't really notice.
I said that Hollow Men was a "love it or hate it" type of book, and basically it boils down to whether or not you like McCormack's style. So far, she's written two novels for the Star Trek line, and both of them have been more internal books with events taking place as conversations between characters that advance the plot, or dealing with issues rather than events. I think that she does a lovely job getting you into the minds of the characters, and enough happens that I'm not bored by them. There is always some action later on in the story, and this book is no exception. But she takes great pains to set up the action, making sure the action stems from the characters rather than just throwing in a random battle or two. Occasionally, the set up drags too long, as with the story on the station here, and it threatens to lose the reader. But I could hear Avery Brooks (Sisko) and Andrew Robinson (Garak) speak a lot of the lines she gives them, and they carry their sections even before anything actually happens in the story.
Overall, Hollow Men is an excellent entry in the Deep Space Nine saga. If you've read McCormack's previous book, your opinion of that will probably determine whether you agree with me here. However, I can definitely say that this book is worth a try, especially if you're a fan of our favourite Cardassian tailor. This one is up near the top of my Trek book list for 2005.