Review: The Promise Of A DS9 Prelude Falls Short In ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation: Pliable Truths’

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Pliable Truths
Written by Dayton Ward
Published by Pocket Books

The labor camp on the surface was an almost perfect screen for the activities taking place far beneath their feet. So far as they knew, they had been interned on yet another planet to exploit its natural resources for the good of the Cardassian people.

“The Cradis protocol is a direcdtive from the Obsidian Order,” [said Havrel.] “It directs me to ensure we relocate this facility without ever exposing its presence, or leaving behind any trace it was ever here. None of the Bajorans will ever know. They will die here.”

Dayton Ward’s new Star Trek: The Next Generation novel, Pliable Truths, is chock full of fantastic ideas filled with dramatic potential. Set during TNG’s sixth season, soon after Picard’s torture at the hands of Gul Madred in “Chain of Command, Parts I and II,” but before Deep Space Nine’s pilot episode, “Emissary.” The Cardassians are ending their occupation of Bajor and withdrawing from their Terok Nor space station. A tentative agreement has been made to return all off-planet Bajorans held in parts of the Cardassian Empire to their homeworld. The Federation has been asked to provide a neutral mediator to come to Terok Nor (soon to be renamed Deep Space 9) to help the Bajorans and the Cardassians negotiate the details of a possible peace treaty. Of course, they tap one of their most experienced Starfleet Captains, Jean Luc Picard, to be the lead mediator.

This is a wonderful period to set a novel. Who doesn’t want to see the first interactions between TNG and DS9 characters? What would Kai Opaka make of Jean Luc Picard? What if we see Garak and Dukat square off? How will Ro Laren react to news of a secret Cardassian labor camp? All of these pairings, along with many other surprising ones, are featured in this book. Sadly, none of them create the sparks one would hope for. For example, the Cardassians try to rattle Picard by assigning his former torturer, now-Legate Madred, to lead the negotiations. But beyond an off-hand mention to Counselor Troi, this doesn’t result in any interesting exploration of how the events of “Chain of Command” impacted him, which is exactly the kind of thing these tie-in novels can do best, filling in those character gaps for an episodic series. Neither the crew of the Enterprise-D nor the characters we love from Deep Space Nine have any sort of emotional journey.

Looking at the plot, the negotiations storyline didn’t really go anywhere. The book is set one year after the agreement between the Federation and Cardassia (established in the DS9 episode “Life Support”) which resulted in significant concessions and decisions. That seems like more ripe territory than what is presented here. Ward also gets repetitive. There were so many scenes discussing how the Federation stood by and did nothing while the Cardassians oppressed Bajor, but now they intend to ensure Bajoran safety and independence, that I started to laugh when it happened yet again. Action threats on board the Enterprise and the station that seem to hold exciting promise are resolved quickly, and mysteries that crew members strive to solve turn out to have humdrum solutions.

The most interesting thread in the novel is the drama of the secret Cardassian labor camp on a planet just inside the Cardassian border. Presented as a rough analogue for World War II-era concentration camps, Ward does a great job letting us into the mindset of the prisoners there, detailing the indignities they are subjected to and their journey as they resist their captors in small and large ways, as they discover that Cardassia has decided to withdraw from Bajor, and as they realize that despite the withdrawal, their Cardassian captors have no intention of allowing them to leave the planet alive. These scenes are detailed, human, and insightful. While the talks on Terok Nor felt like wheels spinning on ice, these scenes felt vital, urgent, and important.

This leaves Pliable Truths a mixed bag. The labor camp drama is well worth reading, but the events taking place on Terok Nor and aboard the Enterprise are not engaging and add little to the understanding of the characters.

As a fan of Dayton Ward’s work, I wish I could recommend this novel more strongly. Ward is an idea factory. This is the guy who wrote 2020’s cracking spy adventure, Agents of Influence, and dug deeply into Discovery’s characters in last year’s Somewhere to Belong. He’s a veritable Star Trek encyclopedia, serving as a consultant for Star Trek: Discovery and Strange New Worlds, and writing the entertaining tie-in “travel guide” books for Vulcan and the Klingon Empire. Pliable Truths is a readable but unremarkable entry in Ward’s fantastic bibliography.

Available Tuesday

Dayton Ward’s Star Trek: The Next Generation: Pliable Truths from Pocket Books will be released on Tuesday, May 21. You can pre-order it at Amazon in paperback and  Kindle e-book.

Pliable Truths is also available as an audiobook on CD now and also Audible.


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Wow. I love Dayton Ward and other novels he’s done, but this review has been a big let down for me about this one. I was really hoping for some sort of analysis or impact from the events of Chain of Command.

I’ll wait for this one to go on sale before I buy it.

Ouch 😬

Damn it!I was really, really, REALLY looking forward to this one, too!