The Chimes at Midnight: A Reflection on The Ashes of Tomorrow
The final episode of Deep Space Nine invited us to reflect upon “What You Leave Behind”. The Coda trilogy of novels does the same thing. The first and second books in the trilogy, Moments Asunder by Dayton Ward and The Ashes of Tomorrow by James Swallow, are love letters to the past twenty years of Star Trek novel continuity, and both authors do an excellent job ensuring there are plenty of Easter egg references to previous books in that continuity. I’ve just finished reading The Ashes of Tomorrow, and I’d like to share my thoughts on it.
Memories and Merits
As the story’s events begin, it was amazing to see Sisko in command of the USS Robinson, and to experience the first of several visions from the Prophets through his eyes. The gravity of his vision, portraying the destruction of Bajor and countless other worlds, really gave us a sense of how high the stakes are in this trilogy. The repeated warning “No time… No time…” further drives that home.
It was also wonderful to see Ben with his son Jake and daughter-in-law, Azeni. Their scene captured the warmth and trust between this father-and-son pairing that was undoubtedly the best part of DS9 for me.
Speaking of fathers and sons, I was touched by Worf’s need to reach out to his son, Alexander. It endeared me to the character to see this warrior showing such tender vulnerability. The relationship between them was often fraught, and in this scene, the deep love between the two was warmly apparent.
I found it deeply moving to see Vedek Kira Nerys seeking enlightenment in her monastery. Nerys is my favorite character in all of DS9, and to see this former freedom fighter and military officer finally find peace, only to have a vision from the Prophets that takes that peace away from her, meaningfully resonated for me.
Speaking of beloved old friends, it was wonderful to see Ambassador Spock, after all the perils and adventures he had endured, also seeking peace and wisdom from the katras of his ancestors on Mount Seleya. I found it satisfying to see this Vulcan, who had once been so tormented by his mixed heritage, in a place of peace and working toward reunification.
Recalling Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the book briefly references Spock’s time on Vulcan seeking to achieve Kolinahr, when the telepathic voice of V’Ger and James Kirk’s unspoken longing for his friend drew Spock from the purging of emotion and back into service. I loved this call-back.
Bringing Back Bashir
I did have a few issues with other parts of the book. For example, I felt that Julian Bashir’s return from his catatonic state was rushed and didn’t have the emotional impact or meaning I was hoping for.
After Bashir had ended up catatonic in David Mack’s novel Control, Garak avoided going to see him for almost the entirety of Una McCormack‘s subsequent novel, the excellent Enigma Tales, and finally did visit him in the very last scene of that book. The novel also featured multiple flashbacks involving Julian and Garak, and I read those sections with tears running down my face. Those scenes were beautifully conveyed, incredibly heartfelt and evocative.
But to casually bring Julian back just as a plot point and then hurry him off on a mission, as The Ashes of Tomorrow did, missed the mark for me emotionally. That it was the death of Ezri Dax (a demise that takes place in Moments Asunder) that brought him back was also troubling to me. It seemed to reduce the death of a major and beloved character to “fridging” – that is, killing a female character to motivate a male character.
All that being said, though, I was moved by Bashir’s words to Garak: “Watching over me all this time…You brought me back […] I had no constant except for your voice. I want you to know, it meant a great deal to me.” These words redeemed the “not quite there” disappointment I felt in the scene.
I confess some of the other great emotional moments in the book also missed the mark for me. I wasn’t as emotionally moved as I’d hoped I would be. Characters I have loved for so long met their end in this novel, but somehow it didn’t quite land for me. And I’m someone who thinks nothing of crying over books. This could be my, in Kristen Beyer‘s words, “destruction fatigue”; perhaps I was feeling numbed by so many character deaths.
But with my writer’s and editor’s hat on, I think that using words like “unfortunate” and “luckless” to describe characters who have perished tends to cheapen those deaths and lessen the emotional impact; they are rather dismissive words. I think that finding stronger words to convey the emotional impact of a character’s death would easily fix this issue.
I struggled a bit with the way some of the characters were written, such as Sisko, Picard and a few others. Each character has their own unique patterns of speech, cadences, and word choices, and we should be able to tell exactly who is speaking by the way they are written. In this book, I didn’t find I could differentiate between the voices of the characters as well as I have in other Star Trek novels I’ve read.
On the other hand, I very much appreciated the quiet moments in this book. There was time for Picard and Crusher to prepare a dinner party for some of their closest friends. Time for Jake Sisko and his wife Azeni to discuss the success of his book Anslem and the difficulties of following up with a second book after such a strong debut. Time for Quark and Ro Laren to profess their desire to grow old together. Time for Nerys and Odo to share a bonding moment.
I enjoyed most of the book, had a few struggles with other parts of it, but on the whole, I loved The Ashes of Tomorrow and would recommend it. There can be no doubt that this book was written out of deep and abiding love for Star Trek, both the on-screen series and the litverse, and it was impossible to read it with anything but equal love.
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.