The Fire and the Rose: A Reflection on Oblivion’s Gate
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong, To love that well which thou must leave erelong. — Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73
Very late last night, I read the last page of Coda, Book Three: Oblivion’s Gate. I had another sip of red wine from the glass at my side, and glanced up at the lit candles in my Advent wreath. The tiny flames were blurred by the tears in my eyes. I had no words. I’m not sure I do now. But while I try to find my words, I encourage you to look up David Mack’s “Big Mood” playlist on Spotify.
Specially curated for this book, it contains the songs that inspired him most as he wrote. “The Garden”, by Rush, provided the theme, and classics like “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas, “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce, and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult, provided the mood. As these are songs very dear to my heart as well, they added layers of meaning to my reading experience. These are songs of love and grief, of searching for meaning in life, of loss and longing. And that’s exactly what Oblivion’s Gate is about: not the timey-wimey stuff, or the technobabble, or the epic battle scenes, but love. The love of parents for their children; the love of spouses for one another; the love of friends; the love of mentor and mentee. And it is about the pain of loss, because that pain is the price we pay for loving. That’s the deal.
What made Oblivion’s Gate so unbearably poignant and meaningful to me was that, as David wrote about great grief and loss, he was himself acquainted with grief, and he brought those experiences to the book. He dedicated the novel to three dear ones he lost: his mum, his colleague and friend Dave Galanter, and musician Neil Peart. 2020 was a year of loss and grief for me, as well as for so many of us, and this dedication lent the book heartfelt plangency.
One of the first things that struck me was the beautiful, poetic quality of David’s prose. It is the writing style of someone who has read and absorbed a great deal of poetry and music, and he brings that musical, poetic quality to the novel. The Old Testament scholar and nerd in me had to smile that he chose to name one of the black holes ‘Abaddon.’ A Hebrew word more easily recognizable in its Greek form (i.e., ‘Apollyon’), ‘Abaddon’ means “a place of destruction: an underworld abode of lost souls: hell.” It is a fitting name for a place suspected of being the hiding place of the hellish Devidians.
The Trekkie nerd in me shouted for joy that he chose to name the Starbase near Abaddon “Starbase April”. I have written that Captain Robert April is my favorite Star Trek character and why, but in fandom, his name is too often just an answer to a trivia question.
As a woman of faith myself, I deeply related to Vedek Kira’s unimaginable loss as she contemplated the loss of the Prophets, of the faith she had built her life upon, and of the guidance the Prophets had always given her. In her despair, I heard echoes of the two disciples of Christ walking the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13 through 35), talking about the crucifixion that had ended all their hopes and crushed their faith. Yet, as Christ was with those disciples even as they did not recognize him, so the Prophets were with Kira. Christ made himself known to the disciples in the breaking of bread, and the Prophets made themselves known to Kira in the familiar Orb of Time. When it came time for her to lay her own life down, Kira could say, as Emily Brontë did, “No coward soul is mine… I see Heaven’s glories shine, and faith shines equal, arming me from fear.” (No Coward Soul is Mine by Emily Brontë)
The nature of television shows means that – week after week, season after season – we see our heroes survive the unsurvivable, and we can begin to find them invincible, as somehow cheating death. But Oblivion’s Gate gives us a precious gift: that of seeing our heroes realize they are about to die, and resolve that their deaths shall mean something. The great revelation of the novel is that the post-Nemesis novel time stream has splintered from the Prime timeline, and that to save that timeline and countless others, they must travel back in time and prevent their timeline from ever beginning – they must “give all to time.” And they will make that ultimate sacrifice, of everything they have ever known and loved, because they are Starfleet.
But what saves the book from utter nihilism is the closing. The memories of the sacrificed timeline somehow live on in Picard. All the love that saved the Prime timeline from utter destruction by the insatiable Devidians is somehow embedded in the Prime universe. Perhaps there is, as the Prophets suggest, an existence beyond the bourne of Iinear time and space, and an existence that cannot be destroyed with a timeline. I found myself haunted by Emily Brontë’s final poem, written upon her deathbed: “If sun and moon were gone, And stars and universes ceased to be, And Thou wert left alone, Every existence would exist in Thee. There is not room for death…” (No Coward Soul is Mine by Emily Brontë)
Grace Note: Write the words, Brother Bennie!
And after a tornado of Picard’s memories sets us down in the middle of a vineyard in Le Barre, France, the scene changes one more time. Benny Russell, seated at his typewriter, dreaming of the starship crews who have no greater love than to lay down their lives for the one timeline they can save. And as their story comes to its poignant end, Benny begins another one.
Benny’s story, and Picard’s, continue in The Last Best Hope.
And all is well.
Ruth Anne Amsden has been a Trekkie since she was a ten-year-old reader voraciously devouring Star Trek novels (her family did not allow television in the home). She is working toward her first BA and aspiring to professionally write Star Trek novels as love letters to the novels she loved growing up.