Star Trek Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire - David Mack I still haven't gotten Harbinger from my library yet so if Mack proves unworthy of my attention, this may drop from the list, but I was at the bookstore yesterday and found myself leafing through this book, which opens with the Mirror Universe Spock strangling the Mirror Universe Kirk while the Mirror Universe Marlena Moreau looks on - looked like good, solid pulp SF.

Definitely a candidate for my brain-candy shelf.

I had hoped to get Harbinger Star Trek Vanguard 1 before Sorrows of Empire but circumstances conspired to make that impossible. It’s odd, really, I checked on the status of my holds and found that both Harbinger and T.F. Powys’ Unclay have disappeared from the catalog. Yet, the only way I could have placed a hold is if they had been present.

“Tis a puzzlement,” as Yul Brynner said.

Sorrows of Empire did not disappoint. Make no mistake. This is pure brain candy. Highly processed corn fructose for the mind. If you were to subsist on a literature diet made up wholly of similar fare your brain would turn into a fine, pinkish-grey gruel that would dribble out of every orifice until you had become a mental vegetable. But in measured proportions, the body can tolerate it.

One of the things that attracted me (guilty confession?) to Harbinger was the promise of Vulcan/Klingon lesbian sex (see review here - While Sorrows does not have V/K lesbian sex, it does have Vulcan/Vulcan lesbian sex, which I quote here in full (for the prudish, don’t worry, it doesn’t go much beyond the initial kiss; for the prurient – well, it doesn’t go much beyond the initial kiss):

“T’Meri opens her eyes and finds her face and T’Prynn’s only a few centimeters apart. Their lips are parted and trembling with anticipation. The sensations are a mystery to T’Meri, whose next pon farr is still four years away – until she realizes T’Prynn is hiding the fires of her own desire, and that some of that ardor has been transferred in the mind-meld.

The urge to kiss the older woman is overpowering. T’Meri searches her thoughts. She realizes T’Prynn desires her.
Burns for her.

She feels the heat of T’Prynn’s breath inside her mouth, mingling with her own, but all she can think about is the fact that, despite Governor Sarek’s attempts at liberal social reforms, Vulcan’s laws – preserved for thousands of years by the Council of Elders at Mount Seleya – forbid her and T’Prynn from succumbing to their true natures.

T’Prynn’s lips graze T’Meri’s.

Surrendering to the swell of passion lingering from their mind-meld, T’Meri returns T’Prynn’s kiss and gives herself over to a woman more than three times her age. T’Prynn is voracious in her desire, primal in her way of touching, almost savage in the way she removes T’Meri’s garments.

We are already conspiring to help destroy the Empire, T’Meri rationalizes between desperate, fumbling gropes as T’Prynn pulls her toward a bed. We are already criminals. (pp. 302-303)

On a more serious note, one of the best episodes of the original Star Trek series is “Mirror, Mirror.” Kirk, Scott, McCoy and Uhura are beaming up from Halka as a magnetic storm rages and are transposed with their counterparts from an alternate universe where Enterprise is the flagship of the Empire, officers maintain private mafias and promote themselves through assassination, and Kirk’s mission is to annihilate the Halkans if they refuse to surrender their dilithium crystals. In both universes, fortunately, Mr. Spock is a man of integrity. Before he transports back to his Enterprise, Kirk argues that Spock’s support of the Empire is illogical since it cannot endure and calls upon him to replace it with something that can. Mr. Spock promises, “I will consider it.”

Sorrows of Empire is the chronicle of the alternate Spock’s campaign to become emperor and ultimately engineer the downfall of the Empire, having planted the seeds of a future “federation.” And, for what it is, Sorrows succeeds. David Mack is a good writer who keeps things moving along, and maintains the integrity of the series’ main characters, albeit through the mirror universe’s lenses.

The chief flaw of the novel is that it tends to become too episodic. Many of Mack’s chapters cover but a single year in Spock’s plans, and that only in a few pages, so there’s no opportunity to get into the characters’ heads or explain their actions or motivations. For example, after Spock kills Kirk, he mind-melds with Marlena and they fall in love. I was willing to suspend belief for the duration of the novel but with post-peruse reflection, it becomes an increasingly unsatisfactory plot device. There’s also an interesting subplot concerning Spock’s mother Amanda and her opposition to what she suspects her son and husband are up to that is abruptly severed when Spock has her shuttle explode, killing her. However, whenever Mack gives himself a few chapters to play around in, he proves that he can handle action and story development, so I continue to look forward to Harbinger, which promises to be a more conventional novel.

Another flaw, though not Mack’s fault, is the unfortunate presence of the Tantalus Device. Devotees will know that this is the “magic” device from the original episode that allowed Kirk to eliminate all of his enemies. What it is, is the product of lazy writers, unconcerned to come up with a more realistic story line.

In truth, like Spock’s and Marlena’s relationship and the Tantalus Device, the mirror universe doesn’t bear too intense a scrutiny. For example, where did the alternate universe begin to “go wrong”? I never followed the post TOS Star Trek incarnations too closely but I recently watched the “Enterprise” episodes “Through a Mirror Darkly…” and gathered that the Empire predated warp drive and had been in existence for several centuries.*! In Diane Duane’s Dark Mirror Star Trek The Next Generation the entire universe is skewed evil. There’s a scene where our Picard has an opportunity to look at his counterpart’s library and finds many familiar authors but their contents are subtlely altered to reflect all of the worst instincts in humans. The version I’ve always leaned toward is the one found in Mike Barr’s Star Trek The Mirror Universe Saga Star Trek DC Comics]: The Romulans win the Earth-Romulan War and occupy Terra for a decade. The leaders of the subsequent revolt vow never to allow Earth to be conquered again, and thus the Empire is born.

And how would all of the myriad series episodes play out? How would the alternate Kirk have handled the Gorn and Metrons? Or Miri? Or the Guardian of Forever? And, from the very episode that spawned these musings, what would have happened had the alternate Marlena beamed back with our universe’s landing party? Would our Marlena have been transposed?

And the really big question: Why don’t clothes transpose? How did our Kirk et al. wind up in their counterparts’ uniforms and vice versa?

Well, I wouldn’t recommend this to my non-ST GR Friends but to those who are, I do.

* It was fun watching the opening scene of the “Enterprise” episode where Zefrem Cochrane makes First Contact with the Vulcan captain. In the movie “First Contact,” they shake hands. In the alternate universe, Cochrane blows him away with a sawed-off shotgun and the humans storm the ship.

! The opening credits of the Mirror Universe episodes hints at a possible origin for the Empire – the fascists won WW2.

** I strongly suggested that this is pure pablum but like all of the better ST tales, this one does reflect the better impulses and philosophies of humanity. In this case, in an afterward, Mack mentions Chalmers Johnson’s [b:The Sorrows of Empire Militarism Secrecy and the End of the Republic – the burdens of empire are inevitably more expensive than their benefits (if any). Ultimately, freedom, cooperation and peace produce more enduring and meaningful outcomes.