Review: “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Dark Mirror” By Diane Duane (Novel)

Well, after abandoning the novel I’d originally planned to read today since I really didn’t enjoy the first forty pages, I needed to find a better book… and quick!

Luckily, I’d been to Portchester the day before preparing this review and I’d found a few interesting books in the charity shops there. One of those books was a hardback copy of Diane Duane’s 1993 novel “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Dark Mirror”.

According to a note at the beginning of the book, this original spin-off story takes place during the same time period as the fourth season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (mostly because of a few brief references to Picard’s history with the Borg). Still, although this is a new self-contained story, it is worth being familiar with the characters from “Star Trek: TNG” and/or one or two parts of “Star Trek” mythology (eg: the mirror universe) before reading this book.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Dark Mirror”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1993 Simon & Schuster (UK) hardback edition of “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Dark Mirror” that I read.

The novel begins with the USS Enterprise waiting in an empty region of space. Captain Picard is painting a picture of France when he receives a report that a ship owned by a spacefaring people called the Lalairu is approaching the USS Enterprise for a rendezvous. The ship has been carrying a dolphin-like Starfleet navigation expert called Hwiii, who has been conducting scientific studies of the area.

However, shortly after Hwiii joins the Enterprise’s crew, the captain of the Lalairu vessel gives Picard a cryptic warning about something dangerous in the area before leaving very quickly. A while later, the Enterprise experiences some kind of weird spacial distortion before the security systems alert the crew to an intruder. When the intruder is caught, it turns out to be a crew member called Ensign Stewart. The only problem is that, according to the ship’s computers, Ensign Stewart is asleep in his quarters.

After some medical tests, the captured intruder turns out to be a slightly different copy of Ensign Stewart. He freezes with terror when Counsellor Troi tries to talk to him and it soon becomes obvious that the Enterprise has found itself in a cruel dystopian parallel universe. Not only that, an “evil” version of the USS Enterprise is also nearby too. Needless to say, it isn’t long before the “good” Enterprise’s crew begin to hatch a plan to infiltrate the evil version of their ship and stop it from destroying them….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it is fairly slow to start, it becomes a lot more compelling and atmospheric as it continues. Imagine a slower-paced two-part episode of the TV show, but with more depth, atmosphere and drama – and this will give you a good impression of what this story is like.

The “mirror universe” (an alternate timeline containing an evil dystopian version of Starfleet) is an absolutely fascinating part of the series’ mythology and it’s a shame that it never appeared in the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” TV show. So, it is absolutely awesome to see a novel that rectifies this mistake 🙂

In addition to seeing both chillingly evil versions of familiar characters and an atmospheric dystopian version of the Enterprise, this novel also delves into some of the mirror universe’s backstory in addition to exploring issues like morality, loyalty, colonialism etc… too. Likewise, the interactions between the “good” and “evil” versions of familiar characters also allow for lots of drama too.

And, yes, this is more of a suspense-filled spy drama novel than anything else. It is the kind of novel that is more compelling than thrilling, if this makes sense. In other words, if you’re expecting a fast-paced action-thriller novel, then you’re going to be disappointed. But, if you want a grippingly suspenseful dystopian spy story that is filled with compelling drama and science fiction, then you’ll enjoy this one 🙂

Another interesting thing about this novel is that it is a lot more high brow than I’d expected. Yes, the show itself contains some high brow moments, but this novel turns them up to eleven. In addition to lots of complicated scientific lectures and some fairly formal narration, there are numerous high brow cultural references too.

For example, when the Enterprise’s translator finds it difficult to translate the irregular grammar of the Lalairu’s language, the novel jokingly likens this to the experimental writings of James Joyce and Anthony Burgess. Likewise, there’s also a two-page scene that quotes a large portion of an altered Shakespeare play. Even so, if you don’t get all of the high brow references (I didn’t get the opera, poetry and Greek mythology ones), then there’s usually enough contextual information for them still to make sense.

In terms of the characters, they’re really well-written. The main characters are reasonably true to the TV show, with the novel also adding a bit of extra depth to them too. And, although the story mostly focuses on Picard, Troi and La Forge, most of the other characters also get a decent amount of characterisation too. Likewise, their interactions with their evil twins also allows for a lot of extra character-based drama too. In addition to this, Hwiii is an absolutely brilliant new character too – and, although he only appears during a few scenes, he adds some extra humour, sophistication and drama to the story too.

In terms of the writing, it’s fairly good. As I mentioned earlier, the novel’s third-person narration is fairly formal and descriptive (and is a little bit like a literary novel). Although this does slow the story down a bit and might take you a little while to get used to, it really helps to add a lot of extra atmosphere and depth to the story.

In terms of length and pacing, this story is ok. At 337 pages in length, the novel feels slightly on the long side, although not too much so. The novel starts fairly slowly, although the pace picks up slightly later. As I mentioned earlier, this story is more compelling than thrilling – so, expect a more moderately-paced, but gripping, story.

In terms of how this twenty-six year old novel has aged, it has aged reasonably well. This is mostly thanks to the story’s futuristic setting, not to mention that most of the technology still just about seems futuristic (eg: 512 terabyte storage devices, computers with 19 processing cores etc..). However, a brief “historical” reference to an opera house riot in 2002 seems a little bit silly when read today. Likewise, whilst the story itself remains compelling to this day, the more formal and “literary” writing style may seem out of place when compared to modern expectations about TV show spin-off novels.

All in all, this is an atmospheric, suspenseful and compelling novel that “Star Trek: TNG” fans will enjoy 🙂 Yes, it’s a bit slow-paced, a bit formal and perhaps a little bit too high brow. But, if you stick with it, then you will be rewarded with something that is not only like a “lost” episode of the TV show, but is also a bit richer, deeper and more compelling too.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a solid four.

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