Heather Reviews: "Lives of Dax"

THE LIVES OF DAX, Edited by Marco Palmieri, Pocket Books 1999

Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens (Ezri); Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Lela); Jeffrey Lang (Tobin); Michael Jan Friedman (Emony); S.D. Perry (Audrid); Susan Wright (Torias); S.D. Perry & Robert Simpson (Joran); Steven Barnes (Curzon); L.A. Graf (Jadzia)

SUMMARY: The affectionate ensemble book that Pathways should have been. A delightful departure from the character-poor Trek novelizations that generally dominate Pocket's offerings. Intelligently crafted, entertaining, worthy of repeat reading. A must buy for all DS9 fans and a solid, enjoyable read for fans of any of Trek’s series.

Rating: On a scale of 1-4 stars: * * * *

Buy The Lives of Dax now at Amazon.com

Review by Heather C. Jarman

Eternal life?

No question that immortality ranks near the top of the human wish list. Witness the pyramids, Ponce deLeon's quest for the Fountain of Youth and the obsessive pursuit of medical innovations to prolong life. And it isn't simply a matter of endless youth--it's a hope that all the living you've done isn't lost when your tired cardiac muscle goes on permanent sabbatical.

Being the great recycler it is, logic dictates that, somehow, the universe finds a way to use the quantum forces, particles and waves that make up our consciousness, preserving the electrochemical imprints called memories that hum through our synapses. Possibilities abound:

a) Reincarnation: progressing or regressing up the spiritual food chain (to quote the Indigo Girls, How long till my soul gets it right?);
b) Choirs of heavenly angels, strumming harps and letting down-in-the-dumps mortals know that God loves them;
c) Assignment as ghouls, ghosts and demons doomed to haunt the earth and make semi-regular appearances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Naturally, Trek has an answer to the immortality question--and it isn't necessarily "Q."

Rather, it's Dax.

In the Star Trek universe, humanoids known as the Trill maintain a symbiotic relationship with another sentient worm-like species. Born in murky pools deep beneath Trill, the symbionts are implanted in Trill bellies. A fusion of Trill/symbiont consciousness occurs and thoughts, feelings, experiences, and sensations become shared. When the humanoid host dies, the symbiont passes to another host, taking with it the memories and experiences of a lifetime.

We first witnessed this unique process in TNG's "The Host" when a Trill symbiont, Odan, passes to Riker after his host’s untimely death. The symbiont's love for Beverly Crusher transcended the diplomat's death, found expression with Riker and endured when Odan passed to a female host.

Deep Space Nine spun the Trill concept, added some spots and Jadzia Dax, the 8th host of the Dax symbiont, came to life.

Through out its seven-season run, DS9 explored some of the mystical rituals surrounding the symbiont/host relationship and dropped tantalizing hints about some of Dax’s past lives. The closest the audience came to glimpsing Dax’s intriguing background came in the episode "Facets," when the DS9 gang took turns playing host to Dax’s various persona (Kira as Lela; O’Brien as Tobin; Leeta as Emony etc.). Sure, we discovered that Tobin was a nail biter and that Curzon harbored a secret crush on Jadzia, but "Facets" served as platter of gourmet cocktail noshes. Dax’s rich, complex existence largely remained a mystery.

Until editor Marco Palmieri decided to mine this character’s potential to create Pocket Books’ first professional Trek anthology, The Lives of Dax.

Ninth host Ezri’s tale bookends the eight stories crafted by popular Trek and science fiction authors such as Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Michael Jan Friedman as well newcomers to Trek S.D. Perry and Jeffrey Lang. Keeping true to the spirit of Dax, each story utilizes a unique voice: Steven Barnes’ Curzon story is told from the point of view of Starfleet cadet Benjamin Sisko; S.D. Perry relates a crucial moment in Audrid’s life through a letter written to Audrid’s daughter. Consequently, each Dax story can stand alone. But like Dax--whose hosts, separately, led remarkable lives--it is the collective weight of each life entwined with the lives of the others that makes this anthology a joy to read, and an important event in the Trek fiction world.

When examined as a whole, many anthologies have Picasso-like, cubist dimensions: intellectually, you know the squares and triangles are supposed to be a person, but the Left Brain often struggles to find the face. The Lives of Dax succeeds in crafting a recognizable portrait. Instead of abstract geometries, this book paints a seamless landscape of lucid, often lyrical prose as it follows a classic Campbellian hero’s journey. Tracing Dax’s footsteps through the centuries has the unmistakable feel of sitting around a campfire and falling under the spell of a master storyteller.

Each Dax host displays some archetypal qualities. Lela has shades of feisty Shakespearean heroines Portia (Merchant of Venice) and Rosalind (As You Like It) as well as contemporary pop icon Princess Leia. Bashful, absent-minded professor Tobin is part medieval court jester, part idiot savant, part Albert Einstein. The others also have a comfortable familiarity to them: Audrid—the noble mother; Torias—the Top Gun Tom Cruise/Han Solo anti-hero; Joran—the insanely brilliant artist consumed by his arrogance, a la Dr. Frankenstein or Dr. Jekyll; Curzon—the mentoring Merlin tutoring the pupil destined for deification.

Casting these characters in familiar molds doesn’t lessen the stories’ originality; rather, this solid storytelling technique gives the collection thematic cohesiveness. While the reader can find common traits and points of reference shared between all the Dax hosts, Palmieri's brilliant idea of having different writers tell the individual stories assures the reader a unique experience with each host. The book works well as a whole and as individual parts. Where Dax departs from the predictable is in scope and detail.

The Lives of Dax tells the epic story of the Federation’s birth and development, personalizing it with a generous sprinkling of intimate details that will charm all Trek fans. In Lela’s story, guest legend T’Pau informs Counselor Dax that the Vulcans have just made First Contact with humans. Tobin works with the Vulcans and Terrans in the early days of the Romulan War to develop the transporter. Young Leonard McCoy relates how Emony Dax (as referenced by Jadzia in "Trials and Tribble-ations") helped him decide on a career path. Audrid takes an exploratory journey with Christopher Pike. Holography plays a role in murderous Joran’s twisted schemes. In a prelude to Voyager’s Tom Paris’ breaking the warp 10 threshold, test pilot Torias loses his life in a highly risky experimental flight, setting up the complications that impact Jadzia three lifetimes later in the episode "Rejoined." After the third readthrough, I’m still discovering knowing winks to devoted fans, shimmering within paragraphs like hidden gems.

To the cynical, Dax’s life might look like Forest Gump on warp plasma. Isn’t it just too convenient that Dax happens to link up with the much-loved luminaries of the Trek universe? (Dr. Chapel, anyone?) Maybe. But I didn’t find the nauseatingly saccharine sentimentality or ham-handed preachiness in Dax that I associate with life being a box of chocolates. For example, what could have been too precious in Michael Jan Friedman’s "Emony" emerges as a tender valentine to a beloved—and recently lost—fan favorite, DeForest Kelly.

As with any anthology, Dax’s stories range in quality. While all featured interesting insights, I did have my favorites. I’ve re-read Kristine Rusch’s "Lela" four or five times, each time savoring the strong but simple language and clean narrative. The opening lines immediately clue the reader that you’re in for something special:

"Until she was joined, Lela never dreamed of space. She dreamed of leading, of a life dedicated to the service of Trill. But she never dreamed of space. How strange, then, that the Dax symbiont had never seen the stars, and yet it was the dream of stars that the symbiont had imparted to Lela."

Lela’s adventures hint at stories worthy of a novel. She is ideal as the first Dax host because Lela courageously pursues principle and knowledge. "Lela" captured what I feel is an important Trek theme: "…it is the species who strive, who try new things, who ultimately thrive among the stars. Those that hide their heads stagnate. They do not survive." Aren’t T’Pau’s words merely a rephrasing of the famous "Space, the final frontier" speech?

Steven Barnes’ "Curzon" adds new hues to an already vibrant, happy-go-lucky character. Beyond the Tongo-playing, ale-drinking ladies man, Barnes highlights how and why Curzon Dax became a person of such critical importance to Benjamin Sisko. Barnes’ story features the anthology’s most intriguing science fiction elements when he creates a fascinating interplay between prejudice and other-species biology. The supporting cast in "Curzon" is as interesting as Curzon himself.

S.D. Perry’s "Audrid" didn’t capture my imagination as effectively as did her 22nd century Agatha Christie murder mystery, "Joran," co-authored with Robert Simpson. Readers glimpse into futuristic detective work as the Trill government utilizes the unique insights gained over a symbiont’s lifetimes to help solve a puzzling case. Joran’s complexities--hinted at in "Fields of Fire," among others--are explored, and the reasons behind his tortured existence more fully understood.

Jeffrey Lang’s "Tobin" proves to be an impressive prose debut. More than any story in the anthology, Lang's "Tobin" evidences a wry wit that ought to provide more than a few laugh-aloud moments. (I’ll forgive Mr. Lang the anthology’s most obvious anachronism in his use of the adjective "flopsweat." Albert Brooks drowning "on air" in Broadcast News is a priceless film moment—not to mention Brooks being one of my favorite film actors/writers.) Finding an interesting story in the adventures of a socially obtuse mathematician might have proven impossible in the hands of a less inventive writer, but Lang demonstrates why his forthcoming Trek novel is something to look forward to.

What the two-part "Ezri" accomplished was fleshing out the backstory of a new, but important, character. Nicole DeBoer’s brief-but-memorable sojourn during DS9’s seventh season left more than a few unanswered questions about the former Ensign Tigan. Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens capture Ezri’s Ally McBeal-ish insecurities but endow her with the steel backbone we come to see in previous hosts. In the "Ezri" sections of Dax, we learn how a young Trill--one who never submitted herself as a candidate for joining—came to carry the most famous symbiont in the Federation. Ezri’s stubborn resistance to tradition, ironically, makes her an ideal host for Dax, a symbiont noted for its non-conformist tendencies.

I've heard other fans rhapsodize poetic about "Emony," but I was less enamoured of her story than I was of others. The story's uniqueness stems from its subject, the young Leonard McCoy, not from any literary or artistic elements. Don't misunderstand me. "Emony" is a fine story but I wonder if telling a tale of pre-Starfleet McCoy through the eyes of the exquisitely wise and beautiful Trill would have been a better approach.

My only significant disappointment was in L.A. Graff’s "Jadzia." Though generally true to Jadzia’s history, Graff’s narrative feels convoluted. In subsequent re-readings, I remained a bit confused about what happened and why. Perhaps my expectations of a Jadzia story were higher because of her place in Trek; it may be that very position that makes it difficult to tell a story more thrilling than what we already know of her.

Aside from its unique style and storytelling method, The Lives of Dax is significant because it marks a break from the typical formulaic stories I’ve come to associate with Trek fiction. Only rarely have I found a contemporary Trek novel that I feel is worth making a permanent part of my library. Voyager novels are particularly gutless: the body of a candy apple red '67 Mustang draws you in, the engine of a '72 Dodge Dart greets you when you get behind the wheel. Trek novelizations have little more substance than stretched out episodes. The much-hyped Strange New Worlds contest places such narrow parameters on fan-writers that the resulting anthologies are sadly bland. Peter David’s solidly written New Frontiers series is one of the only marginally groundbreaking concepts presently pioneered by Pocket Books. Trek fiction remains a curiously safe representative of a supposedly progressive future.

We need more books like Dax--books where capable writers are given the freedom to imbue their prose with their own unique style and sophistication. Trek fans have intelligent, discriminating taste and should be given the chance to enjoy a thoughtful product. Dax certainly qualifies as intelligent, thoughtful—and, no less important, fun—fiction.

When I finished reading The Lives of Dax, I flipped back to the front, embossed the title page with my initials and started reading again.

I’m still hungry.

I want more Trek fiction that so thoroughly absorbs me that an hour on the treadmill passes in a blink. More reasons to fall deeply in love with this futuristic vision we call Star Trek. More provocative stories, more daring writers. More…more….Perhaps it is as simple as more Dax.

May Dax continue to be as fascinating as Reeves-Stevens, Rusch, Lang, Friedman, Perry, Wright, Simpson, Barnes, and Graff have imagined. I, for one, will be hoping for long—even eternal—lives.

Heather Jarman is a featured columnist for The Starfleet Journal and occasional contributor to Delta Blues’ Voyager reviews. She can be reached at hcj@reviewboy.com

To purchase The Lives of Dax, click here.

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Last Updated: January 16, 2000
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