Andrew Robinson started writing Garak's autobiography, A Stitch in Time, several seasons ago while he was working on the character's backstory for Deep Space Nine. The actor's obvious affection for Garak came through in his performances, and comes through again in his first novel, one of the best Trek novels ever published by Pocket Books.
The complex, emotional story begins in the present and weaves back and forth, as the Doctor annotates his personal log for the perusal of Dr. Bashir, his best friend during the years of his exile from Cardassia. So the novel covers three time periods: the present when Garak has returned home, the immediate past in which he worked with Bashir and the crew, and the distant past which shaped his values as a Cardassian - still the most important label in Garak's self-definition, though his deviation from Cardassian norms makes him a pivotal figure in its reconstruction.
Strangely, the events set on Deep Space Nine comprise the least interesting part of the story. Oh, it's fun to hear first-hand how Garak sees Kira's terrorist past and Sisko's Federation principles, but we've already got a pretty good idea about all that, so there are few surprises in Garak's interaction with those familiar faces. Cardassia is where Garak's heart is even while he's away, and that hierarchical, militaristic society blossoms in his descriptions.
In less than 400 pages, Robinson pulls together Cardassian history from the episodes into a legacy as colorful as the Klingons, with a surprising secret past that draws Garak personally and politically away from everything we know about Cardassians. Of course we also get his personal story, beginning with the heartbreak of the year he spent at the prestigious Bamarren Institute with a reptile as his closest companion. Though he made the acquaintance of a man who would eventually become a friend for life, as well as the woman for whom his passion would repeatedly lead him to knowledge and danger.
Unsurprisingly, Palandine remains elusive, as did Garak himself during seven years on Deep Space Nine. She's a marvelous character, one of the most interesting Cardassian women yet created; though she clearly is victimized by Cardassian patriarchy, it's hard to reduce her to the status of victim. Enabran Tain, whom Garak learned was his father during the television series, also remains elusive in a convoluted Oedipal narrative that explains Garak's fascination with alternate myths of Cardassian origin. From the man who raises him, he learns gardening, craftsmanship, and the history not taught in state-controlled schools.
A Stitch in Time is a surprisingly emotional read given that we know how many situations must turn out, based on what happened on Deep Space Nine. It features cameos from just about every Cardassian we've ever met on Star Trek plus a meaty role for Dukat, whose own family history receives surprising exposure.
What's most impressive is how present Bashir seems to be throughout the narrative, even though the novel is told in the first person, so he can never respond to Garak's monologue. Garak's humor was always more overt when he spoke to Bashir, and this book captures perfectly the nuances of their relationship - even the jealousy, which I was somewhat surprised to see the author acknowledge. ("Official" girlfriend Ziyal isn't present in Garak's psychic landscape, even though her father looms large.)
Garak comes across as a complicated, sophisticated, not always likeable but never boring individual, with more surprises in his past than I'd ever thought to suspect. I'm so glad the character was left alive at the end of Deep Space Nine, because I'd love to see him come back - but only if his creator gets to control his destiny. Robinson is an enormous credit to the Trek franchise, which should be so lucky as to find other actors who take their roles so seriously.
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