Just as a report about war crimes during the occupation of Bajor is published on Cardassia, Pulaski and Alden come to visit - and are embroiled in internal politics, kidnapping and the attempt at defamation of Natima Lang, the next hopeful for head of the Cardassian Union's university.
I love McCormack's Cardassia, it's rich, well-nuanced, and her Garak is to die for, pure and simple. 15 years have passed since the end of the Dominion War and Cardassia is on a good way to becoming a lasting democracy. One important step is facing its own role in past events, like the occupation of Bajor, and its consequences - in this case putting criminals on trial. But the situation is still unstable enough that accusations against a popular figure might put democracy as a whole in danger. And this knife's edge comes through beautifully. However, ultimately, as long as Garak's in power I simply don't quite see any serious threat to Cardassia's fledgling democracy. He's too vigilant and circumspect - but after his term, I guess all hands are off. For we know a young democracy is most in danger of falling back into old authoritarian patterns when people begin to feel safe and stop paying attention.
Garak's own position is, of course, rather unique; he was a member of the Order back on Bajor, did his own share of criminal acts, has always frowned upon democracy and the rule of law - but keeps steering Cardassia on the right path. Of course, he has his agenda, of course, he keeps secrets, and I think Garak wouldn't be Garak if he didn't, but he's the one character who has changed most consistently throughout TV and treklit, and having him as the strongest supporter of democracy now feels right and true. One thing I find really extraordinary is how drawn he seems to be to doctors, as in Parmak, as in Bashir who have always acted as some sort of moral compass for him. Just one thing: How long is the castellan's term? And can't Garak be reelected for another term?
As for Bashir: Since I haven't yet read "Section 31: Control" I don't know what happened there, but just the few little scenes (the last one with Garak especially moving) have moved that novel up quite a few spots in my to-read list.
As much as I love McCormack's portrayal of Cardassia, I really can't relate to her Pulaski who smells conspiracies and shows prejudice whereever she goes. She's annoying as hell, and even if she doesn't care about diplomacy she's old and experienced enough to realize when to speak and what to say (and in what way). So her blunder with Garak and the media is a bit tiresome. But I like Alden - so he should keep popping up in McCormack's novels, but please spare me Pulaski!
Overall, another solid entry about Cardassia - nowhere near Never-Ending Sacrifice or Crimson Shadow, but still an entertaining glimpse into Garak's reign as castellan.
As a sidenote: Apparently, this novel is meant to be set 3 years into Garak's term as is mentionned multiple times within the narrative (which makes sense, given the various changes and developments Garak's pushed through since), but the historian's note has it set one year after Crimson Shadow... well, since TrekLit doesn't have the license to move beyond 2387 (the Romulan supernova), they've certainly hit a bit of an obstacle here.
If you choose an action, you choose the consequences of this action.
... and this novel is ripe with consequences.
First of all, Miles's cryorevival comes with a seizure-condition that rears its ugly head in the most inconvenient moment - moreover, Miles then lies about it in his mission report, and Illyan has little choice but to dismiss him from service.
And Miles now has to learn for himself who he is if he doesn't have ImpSec and through them the Dendarii Mercenaries to prop him up. Who is he on Barrayar? Just the little mutant who gained access to the Imperial service through nepotism? Can he be Lord Vorkosigan, and survive without the little admiral?
Add to that Gregor falling in love - and Illyan himself falling to pieces. And Miles's focus quickly shifts from personal anguish and depression to that which he does best: problem-solving.
I've reread Memory now 5 or 6 times from cover to cover with countless repetitions of the various most memorable scenes, like the confrontation with Illyan over lying, or all the meetings with Gregor... and I'm still as pulled into this story as if it's the first time. The Vor Game was Gregor's story, Mirror Dance Mark's - and this is finally Miles coming fully into his own, accepting and embracing who he is (and not only what he created for himself). He's wrestling with temptation: go down the easy route, or do it right; the realization that despite all insecurities and yearnings there are lines that he won't cross; and the moment calm finally settles his mind, and clarity focuses it - that's still immensely satisfying to read.
Some prices are just too high, no matter how much you may want the prize. The one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart.
It doesn't come as much of a surprise that I especially love the Barrayar-set novels within this series. First of all, Bujold's talent to create characters is fantastic, and it's one thing to see Miles in all his glory among the Dendarii (as head of the chain of command), but it's a wholly different experience to see him in a more socially complex setting. Remember, on Barrayar children like him were killed not so long ago (and boy is it an intense scene when he seeks out Raina and Harra Csurik to ask for forgiveness!), even his own grandfather tried to kill him. He's had to fight his whole life to make a place for himself, and most people still think that nepotism is all that got him into service. And that most of his service was in covert ops doesn't help with his self-esteem issues. So, coming from the top of the food chain, he's suddenly the odd one out, having to find his way against prejudice, suspicion and jealousy.
Seeing him interact with Gregor, his foster-brother, friend and ultimate liege-commander is always a joy because of the various, sometimes contradicting layers of their relationship. Love Gregor, pure and simple, and seeing him find love and joy is one of the many highly enjoyable facets of this novel (as is his courtship told from Miles's PoV - the horse, groomed to within an inch of its life!!!). The same goes for Illyan who was a confidant of Miles's father, always the protector... but who couldn't protect Miles from himself. Again, so many layers of loyalty, familial and personal, not to mention the chain of command make for a complex and differentiated relationship. Add to that Ivan and Galeni whose lives are inextricably bound to Miles's through various reasons, and the story unfolds. Loyalty, friendship, trust, all these build the foundation and, paired with Miles's (and Gregor's) inimitable judgement of character and indomitable drive, make for a fascinating study of loss, betrayal and overcoming adversity.
Yes, Memory isn't an action-packed, fun romp through the galaxy. It's introspective, it's sometimes painful, but, again, oh so rewarding. Chicken always come home to roost. My favourite of the entire saga.
This is the first of the Wildfire-aftermath stories. It features Corsi, who along with Stevens, returns home and learns why her father has always been so biased against her joining Starfleet - because during the Cardassian war, Starfleet asked to install sensor equipment on his ship to spy on the Cardassians... What should have been a run of the mill-trade run turned into a standoff with Cardassians, and his brother, Corsi's uncle, had to pay for it.
This story deals with guilt, regret and prejudice (and of course, stupid mistakes which lead to tragedy). In the small-universe-syndrom one of the Starfleet operatives Aldo Corsi had to deal back then, was William Ross.
Corsi is doubting herself, because, while she was incapacitated, lots of her staff died on the daVinci, and Duffy had to make the ultimate sacrifice; and of course, Stevens just grieves for his best friend. Frankly, I'd have liked to see the focus more on Stevens instead of on Corsi, because I'd rather have seen a best friend deal with his very personal grief than stuck up, duty-bound Corsi deal with her professional regrets. I'm not saying that Corsi's grief doesn't come across as very real (and the background story about her father and uncle did touch me), but given the often stated relationship between Duffy and Stevens as best friends I think that not exploring that angle a wasted opportunity. There should have been more, even clichéd tears, whatever, but not just Stevens as a sidenote to shed some light on Corsi... especially not in this "aftermath"-situation.
Why did it take 20 parts until SCE finally picked up speed, to actually get to the heart of it?!? What KRAD began in War Stories, is continued here: the SCE finally gets a living and breathing soul.
The daVinci is called for a rescue mission. The USS Orion launched a testrun of a device called "Wildfire" in the atmosphere of a gas giant which could change the fate of star (like the Genesis device did for planets), but something went wrong, and the Orion no longer replies to calls. At least the Wildfire-device should be salvaged since it could be used for more devious purposes. The team find the Orion derelict in the gas giant's atmosphere, and the Wildfire device primed for detonation - but before it can be disarmed, pretty much everything in the salvage operation goes wrong... and the daVinci itself faces destruction, and the crew certain death.
This was Mack's first solo work in Star Trek - and possibly, this is what he had envisioned for "Starship Down", the episode he wrote for DS9 and that this story is frequently referring to... and even back as a novice TrekLit-writer he knew how to shake up a series (although he went on to greater dimensions in later works). Interestingly, whereas he concentrates on the action later on, here he focuses on the personal stories, relationships, courage & heroism, and duty & self-reflection, which works astonishingly well. And I have to admit that I got a lump in my throat in part 2, quite a few times actually, yet it's strange that Gomez's reaction didn't move me half as much as Stevens's. But maybe that's going to change once I've read the aftermath-stories to come - and there's no doubt, that I'll continue with this series now. I simply can't stop here, hanging on the edge of grief and despair, without any of the emotional gratification of a good "what happens next". Well done, Mack.
I also appreciated the fact that the main character's death in this novel is a final one. We have a body that's been declared dead - so I'll expect consequences in the next stories (that have already been hinted at here).
Just a couple of factual nitpicks (which threw me out of the very emotional last chapter just a tiny bit):
A victim dying of suffocation due to CO2 intoxication without any outward pressure like strangulation etc. won't show any petechial bleedings on the face/sclera - simply because petechia are caused by the venous flow being interrupted while the arterial flow's still pumping blood into the tissue. And if there's no blockage in the venous system, there won't be any petechia.
And modern CPR uses a 30:2 rhythm (compression:breathing) regardless of the cause of the cardiac arrest, not 8:1 like it was described here - though, of course, since this was a case of CPR given pro forma, let's not be too strict about that.