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Literature / Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: A Stitch in Time

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A book in the so-called Star Trek Novel 'Verse (and one of the novels that provided its foundation, actually). It presents the Back Story of Elim Garak, of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Of course, it is completely and utterly true. All of it. Even the lies. Especially the lies.

From the back cover:

"For nearly a decade Garak has longed for just one thing - to go home. Exiled on a space station, surrounded by aliens who loathe and distrust him, going back to Cardassia has been Garak's one dream. Now, finally, he is home. But home is a world whose landscape is filled with death and destruction. Desperation and dust are constant companions and luxury is a glass of clean water and a warm place to sleep. Ironically, it is a letter from one of the aliens on that space station, Dr. Julian Bashir, that inspires Garak to look at the fabric of his life. Elim Garak has been a student, a gardener, a spy, an exile, a tailor, even a liberator. It is a life that was charted by the forces of Cardassian society with very little understanding of the person, and even less compassion. But it is the tailor that understands who Elim Garak was, and what he could be. It is the tailor who sees the ruined fabric of Cardassia, and who knows how to bring this ravaged society back together. This is strange, because a tailor is the one thing Garak never wanted to be. But it is the tailor whom both Cardassia and Elim Garak need. It is the tailor who can put the pieces together, who can take a stitch in time."

Considered an honorary part of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Relaunch, it is one of the most popular Star Trek novels around. Part of its appeal is its being written by Andrew J Robinson, the actor who played Garak.

In Summer 2023, the novel was finally adapted into an unabridged audiobook narrated by Robinson himself.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Enabran Tain is a horrifically poor parent, particularly when his "we are the night people" speech is considered in full. In the framing arc, Garak is finally forced to confront the simple fact that, yes, Tain was a terrible parent. This occurs after Dr. Parmak reacts with horror when hearing how Tain once tried to have Garak killed. The "for the good of the state" arguments just don't hold weight anymore, and Garak's rationalizations are spent.
  • Aesop Amnesia: Garak's biggest problem with the Directorate is that they've learned exactly nothing from the devastation of the Dominion War. Even though their homeworld is in ruins, millions of soldiers and civilians are dead, and the government can barely feed and shelter the survivors, they still believe in maintaining the old militaristic Cardassian Union.
  • After the End: The framing arc takes place on Cardassia post-Dominion War. The planet is in ruins.
  • Ambiguous Situation: The reason for Nal Dejar's presence at the Directorate meeting isn't clear. Was she a full-blown member, or merely there as a caretaker for Pythas Lok? She never speaks at the meeting, nor is she asked directly for her input, but her Obsidian Order past likely made her more secretive, so either is possible. If the former, did she and Pythas leave the Directorate together? (It seems likely.) If the latter, what was her opinion of the Directorate, both before and after Pythas quit the Directorate?
  • Anachronic Order: The novel has three distinct timeframes, each of which intercut each other, often tying into each other as the story continues. The timeframes are:
    • Garak's early life (from his early days at the Bamarren Institute to the Cardassian withdrawl and his abandonment on the station);
    • The year before Garak leaves to assist Damar's rebellion (corresponding to roughly the last season of the TV series); and
    • The present, dealing with Cardassia Prime's recovery from the Dominion's wrath.
  • Arc Words: "Finding your place".
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Can you find your place? Do you know your place? Anything to do with "your place", really.
  • Asshole Victim: Proconsul Merrok of the Romulan Empire seemed nice enough...until he proposed a toast to "the spoonheads staying within their own borders" with Garak not only present but involved in the toast. Garak suddenly felt far less conflicted about Merrok's impending death.
  • The Atoner: Garak, who has finally realized the evils of My Country, Right or Wrong and acknowledges his role in promoting these attitudes.note 
  • Badass Pacifist: In the climactic standoff between the Restoration Cadre (a tool of the Directorate to instill fear in the populace) and the civilians of the Reunion Project, the civilians stand between the thugs of the Cadre and Garak's memorials (which were targeted by the Cadre for destruction), not actively fighting back, but 'holding their place'. An early attempt by a young Cadre member at instigating a brawl utterly fails to provoke a response from the members of the Reunion Project, and eventually it's the Cadre members who leave.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: To the human observer, Garak's school (Bamarren Institute for State Intelligence) is this. See Training from Hell, below.
  • Call-Back: Many.
  • Cruel Mercy: As in the show, this was Tain's motive for getting Garak's execution commuted to exile. It wasn't done to save his son's life, but to instead punish Garak for betraying him and denying him a quick death.
  • Death of the Author: In-universe. Garak's building of the structures out of the remains of Enabran Tain's house doesn't have any meaning to him at first, but Dr. Parmak and others see it as him building memorials to the fallen. Eventually Garak accepts this interpretation and continues his work along those lines.
  • Double Consciousness: Young Garak, caught between two cultures; the mainstream disciplined Cardassia promoted by his mother and Enabran Tain, and the Oralian Way represented by Tolan. Garak feels drawn to the latter, but cannot escape entanglement in the former. His attempt to resolve his Double Consciousness will last him the rest of his life. Mila acknowledges the struggle in the quote below, when attempting to keep Garak focused on the realities of modern Cardassia:
    "You are my son and you are a Cardassian. Not a Hebitian!"
  • Eye Scream: Three Lubak loses an eye to a honge when he panics.
  • False Flag Operation: The assassination of Lokar Barkan was intended by Tain to be this. Garak was supposed to go to Bajor and link up with a double agent in the Resistance. They would then kill Lokar and make it look like the work of the Resistance (thereby removing his most dangerous political enemy with none of the wiser about the Obsidian Order's role). Unfortunately, this plan goes out the airlock after Garak gets captured by Lokar and kills him while in custody.
  • Fantastic Racism: In the brief Klingon subplot.
  • Fantastic Slurs: "Spoonhead" for Cardassians.
  • Flower Motifs: Edosian Orchids. Lots of symbolic significance in various ways, throughout the novel.
  • Foregone Conclusion: We know that Garak's attempts to end his exile early won't work, and that he'll end up stuck amongst the Federation and Bajorans for the next six-and-a-half years.
  • Giant Flyer: Not too giant, but the Honge.
  • He Knows Too Much: After befriending Dr. Parkmak during the rebuilding of Cardassia, Garak learns that he was actually Tain's personal physician. He and Parmak both speculate Tain had him arrested because, as his doctor, he'd knew too much about Tain's physical weaknesses (though Garak also thinks it was out of petty embarrassment over Tain's longstanding weight problems).
  • Heel Realization: A number of Cardassians in this novel, Garak included, come to realize their role in the destruction visited upon them by the Dominion. Even a few members of the Directorate eventually come to realize this, though others among them do not, and likely never will.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: Garak, in his first person narrative, frequently comments on humanity as they appear to a Cardassian.
  • I Owe You My Life: The novel shows us why Garak holds Odo in such high esteem during the series, he saved Garak from a lynch mob on the day of the Cardassian withdrawal from Bajor.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Endemic in the Cardassian Union. Bashir actually makes the point that this is precisely why the Dominion found Cardassia easy pickings - they call themselves a "union" but in fact they weaken their resolve and their ideals constantly, through in-fighting and petty rivalry. Garak's later meeting with the Directorate shows that its members are still engaging in the same in-fighting as before.
  • Ironic Echo: "You're always welcome..." The closing line of the novel, addressed to Bashir by Garak, this is the same line given to Garak by Astraea, the leader of the Oralian faith. Its use at the end therefore signifies the genuine spiritual confidence behind Garak's invite, and suggests he has truly found a sense of peace within himself, at least on some level. He is "opening up" to Bashir, implicitly with genuine eagerness to make a connection. This represents considerable Character Development. It's ironic in that Garak, a "night person" is echoing Astraea, vessel of the light.
    • In the TV series, Garak would often say "There's hope for you yet" whenever an idealistic character (usually Bashir) showed signs of pragmatism or suspicion, especially regarding him. In the present day, he works with the idealistic Dr. Parmak, who hopes to improve Cardassian society. Garak's reaction to finding such idealism among his own people? "Perhaps there's hope for us yet."
  • Like a Son to Me: Tolan says this of Garak.
  • Loophole Abuse: Dukat would love nothing more than to kill Garak the moment he's exiled to Terok Nor and to and avenge his father's disgrace and death. Unfortunately, thanks to Tain's political influence, Garak's execution was commuted into exile and Dukat's been forbidden from harming Garak. That doesn't mean, however, that he can't make Garak's exile on the station as demeaning and miserable as possible (though Garak wonders if the Tailor punishment was actually Tain's idea rather than Dukat's).
  • Mask of Power: This is the first appearance of the Oralian Way, a Cardassian religion featuring masks in its rituals and ceremonies. The masks channel a being's spiritual power, even allowing a priestess to serve as a vessel for Oralius, the guiding spirit. The masks became important in Star Trek: The Lost Era.
  • Mirroring Factions: The novel constantly draws parallels between the Cardassians and the other planets and cultures of the galaxy. Romulus and Cardassia are both secretive worlds with active (and rival) espionage organizations and factional in-fighting. Romulus, as Cardassia once was, is a vibrant world full of life, and Cardassia ultimately ends up dark and grey as Romulus is. The drunken Klingon warrior who chases after Garak turns out to share his claustrophobia. Garak and Odo are both the sole members of their races, living in isolation on Deep Space Nine. Garak compares Doctor Parnak to Doctor Bashir as wide-eyed idealists who really should know better but are better for it.
  • Misery Builds Character: A large part of the thinking behind Cardassian education, apparently.
  • The Mole:
    • If Garak is to be believed, he entered the meeting with the Directorate with the intention of infiltrating them. But as the meeting goes on, he finds himself unable to conjure up the energy necessary for the deception, and eventually decides that even in the role of a Mole, the Directorate is not his place.
    • When he's captured by Barkan Lokar in the climax of Part Two, Garak deduces from the interrogation (let alone his capture and how Lokar identified him as Procal Dukat's interrogator) that his rival must have a source inside the Obsidian Order (though Garak never learns his or her identity before or after his exile).
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Something else strongly encouraged in Cardassian education. However, following the Dominion bombardment of Cardassia Prime, and the horrors of the aftermath, Garak rejects the idea. He also says he finally understands why Kira Nerys hated him (and any other Cardassian with the My Country, Right or Wrong attitude).
  • Noodle Incident: Reference is made several times to Garak‚Äôs mission to Tzenketh (where the walls fell in on him leading to a claustrophobic attack), but as usual nothing is revealed as to what exactly the mission entailed.
  • Odd Friendship: Garak and Dr. Parmak, an elderly physician he once arrested and interrogated during his time with the Obsidian Order. It's even odder when you remember that Dr. Parmak was the man that Garak broke merely by staring at him for hours, an incident mentioned in the series itself—and indeed it's a good long way into the story before Dr. Parmak can look Garak in the eye again.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: We never get to hear the full text of Dr. Parmak's speech, but what we do learn of it later, it's clear he took Garak's advicenote  to heart. Further, the speech was so effective it spurred at least one member of the Directorate to outright quit the group, and reached the hearts of at least two other members.
  • Only One Name: Averted; in the TV series only a minority of Cardassians ever had their first names given, but the novel reveals them for many of the others, such as Skrain Dukat and Corat Damar.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Krim Lokar (Nine Lubak) ends up with elements of this, after rising rapidly through the Cardassian social hierarchy due to the political manipulations of Barkan Lokar.
  • Precision F-Strike: Near the very end of the book a soldier exclaims: "This is shit. Shit! Shall I fight women?", compared to the parent show, this is extremely strong language.
  • Properly Paranoid: Arguably Procal Dukat.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Some of the Cardassian military believe this, most notably Procal Dukat.
  • Reassignment Backfire: A variation with Garak's exile and being forced to become Terok Nor's tailor. Dukat intended for this to be a demeaning and humiliating experience for Garak, but it backfires as Garak not only rises to the ocassion, but also turns it into a thriving business.
  • Resolved Noodle Incident: The broad strokes of Garak's backstory revealed on DS9 and related incidents are finally dramatized, from the circumstances of his exile to the business with Dukat's father that earned him the Gul's enmity.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: By the end of the novel, Garak no longer cares for the manipulative politics of his people, and chooses to walk out on a meeting between reactionary officers and would-be-politicians, declaring that he has no place among them.
  • Spy School
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Garak and his childhood friend Palandine. His refusal to break off the relationship when Tain finds out is part of the reason he is exiled to Terok Nor.
  • Stealth Expert: Garak, hence his Obsidian Order identity "Agent Regnar" (a Regnar being a small animal capable of changing colour and texture so as to blend into its surroundings). Garak achieves his stealth through a meditative technique that allows him to "blend" his personal energy signatures into the background energy fields. It's hinted that all Cardassians could in theory learn the technique - if they were paying attention and weren't conditioned into ignoring the deeper realities of life around them.
    • One of the best examples is when the other students are arguing about him next to his bunk, while he's lying on it. One of the students then reaches to open a secret compartment behind the bunk, when Garak suddenly jumps to his feet, startling the student, who was convinced that Garak was elsewhere.
  • Spanner in the Works: The aftermath of Garak's interrogation of Procal Dukat. As Tain observes, Garak has been connected to the incident — though, while a problem, it's not the problem (since the Order expected Procal might recall enough of the interrogation despite his drugging). No, the problem is that Lokar Barkan's identified Garak from Procal's recollection. While he and Skrain Dukat can't prove anything, Garak's now made two very powerful and dangerous enemies — enemies against which he has no leverage to neutralize them (as Procal incriminated himself, but not the rest of the Brotherhood). So, this all complicates Tain's plans for Garak to succeed him as the Order's Director (though the greater complication is that Garak's now made a powerful enemy at the exact same time he's carrying on an extramarital affair with the man's wife). Tain knows Lokar will eventually discover the affair and he'll devote all his energy and resources to destroying Garak, the political consequences be damned.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Garak's old friend Pythas Lok (Eight Lubak) has a habit of doing this to Garak...even when he's relying on a cane to walk.
  • Training from Hell: The Cardassian children at the Bamarren Institute. It's unclear what age they are - it could really be anything from the equivalent of 12 through to 20. The academy is run as a rather brutal military camp, with extensive physical training and combat. It also utilizes harsh discipline and extensive, often physical, punishment for failure or rule-breaking.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The novel is presented as a letter from Garak to Bashir. As it's Garak, we should probably be somewhat wary of his first-person recollections. However, despite that valid point, it's presented as Garak seeking to get a lot of his personal baggage off his chest, with the passive assistance of the one man he probably trusts the most. So he's quite possibly being the most honest we've ever seen him. At the very least, his religious and philosophical insights are almost certainly truthful, even if some of the historical background might be a bit uncertain.
    • Partway through another re-telling of the "Bajoran transport" story that he'd related during "The Wire", Garak breaks off, stating internally that "the stories" were beginning to blur together—suggesting this version of the story might not be the whole truth either.
  • Villain Team-Up: In addition to Tain's rivalry with Romulan Proconsul Merrok, this is the other motive behind Tain ordering Garak to assassinate the Romulan politico. The Star Empire and the Cardassian Union are exploring a potential alliance (including the exchange of advanced cloaking technology the Cardassians want very badly). However, Merrok keeps sabotaging the negotiations.
  • War Is Glorious: The Directorate, a reactionary militant movement opposed to democratic reform, still believe this. Most of the Cardassian population now think differently, and the Directorate are unable to truly rally support. They are therefore forced into accepting the proposed elections, forming a reluctant part of the new government.
  • What Were You Thinking?: Quoted verbatim by Tain after he confronts Garak about his affair with Palandine.
  • Wicked Cultured:
    • Garak's opinion of Gul Madred, which is why he always liked him despite his longtime disdain for the Cardassian military.
    • Garak also has the same opinion of Proconsul Merrok, leaving him conflicted about his impending assassination — until Merrok's racism comes out.
  • Would Not Hit a Girl: At least some of the Cardassian soldiers, apparently. It's somewhat ambiguous - he may be angry because the men present are violating his A Real Man Is a Killer beliefs - but a Directorate thug at a public rally announces "this is sh* t. Shall I fight women?" before leaving without a fight. It should be noted, in a possible subversion of the usual trope, the possible Would Not Hit a Girl tendencies are not necessarily presented as admirable here, or a "redeeming" character trait.
  • You Are Number 6: The youths training at the Bamarren Institute are not permitted to use their names; instead they are assigned a group and a number. The number (one to ten) signifies their position within the group, with the lower numbers considered superior. Supposedly, they are numbered according to skill level, but politics and birthright play just as large a role. At the end of each three-year course, the numbers switch, and it is here that lower-born youths with talent can achieve a more deserving position. It's a mix of meritocratic principles and social stratification.