One of the best Worf stories ever written, Keith R.A. DeCandido's Diplomatic Implausibility concerns Worf's first mission as Federation Ambassador to the Klingon Empire. Several hundred years ago, the old, bad Klingons conquered taD, an icy world rich with minerals; the native al'Hmatti became "jeghpu'wI'," conquered people who are less than citizens of the Empire (the novel helpfully includes a Klingon glossary of such terms). During the hostilities between the Federation and the Klingon Empire shortly before the outbreak of the Dominion War, the al'Hmatti deposed the Klingons long enough to appeal to the Federation for recognition. Now the Klingons want control so other jeghpu'wI' don't get ideas; the Federation wants to do right by the al'Hmatti; and the al'Hmatti themselves will do whatever it takes to gain their independence.
Into this volatile situation, Chancellor Martok dispatches Ambassador Worf aboard the Gorkon. Commanded by war hero Klag, the ship has a senior staff that includes Martok's son Drex, a terrified engineer with no idea how to be a warrior, a Khitomer descendant rescued by Worf, and an unenthusiastic gunner named Rodek -- who used to be Kurn, son of Mogh, brother of Worf. Thus the new ambassador must deal not only with the al'Hmatti, but with a shipful of Klingons with competing agendas, and a few ghosts Worf hasn't laid to rest. It's a compelling crisis, and the deepening complexities of taD's political situation create striking parallels with the personal struggles of Worf, Klag, and several of the minor characters.
From a plot standpoint, I raised an eyebrow at the gimmick of sending an ambassador from the same species as the conquerors to a planet where oppressors are instantly identified by their forehead ridges. Worf makes clear that his loyalties lie with his responsibilities to the Federation, but the al'Hmatti don't know that. If they somehow got enough information to realize he wasn't raised Klingon, they'd probably learn of his ties to the Chancellor's House, which would make him even less acceptable. Even for readers, it's hard to know whether a volatile situation might make Worf define himself first and foremost as a Klingon; we've seen him place loyalty to his Klingon heritage above even his Starfleet oath at times. It makes for a good read, because the situation forces Worf to balance all the aspects of his identity, but it seems like poor planning on the part of the Federation. Still, by the end of the novel, we have a more solid perspective on Worf's struggle to keep all of his commitments, and the prices he pays daily in the form of casual insults and misunderstandings.
DeCandido draws upon many Worf stories I'd forgotten, like his relationship with young Jeremy Aster when the boy's mother died on the Enterprise. It's nice to see these loose ends addressed, though it's a bit surprising how little Jadzia and Alexander seem to enter Worf's thoughts. The existence of Rodek must be a constant source of frustration to him, especially now that Worf is one of the most powerful men in the Empire while his blood brother languishes under an altered personality because of a dishonor that no longer matters. We get to hear Worf argue Klingon feminism, crack jokes about being the target of assassins, and observe quite seriously that if Drex doesn't shape up, Worf will have to kill him. There's a lot of humor, and the Klingons seem more complex than they often have onscreen.
Klag, too, is a fascinating character. The captain lost his arm at the Battle of Marcan, where he singlehandedly fought off a squadron of Jem'Hadar, and he stubbornly refuses to have it replaced by a prosthetic. Yet he comes to realize that he won the battle on adrenaline and guts, not because he's just as strong without the arm. And he comes to terms with a father who lived out his days in comfort on Qo'noS rather than fighting.
Klag's recognition of the need for reform on many levels of his culture is refreshing. One starts to wonder how long the Klingons can last, given the trends in advancement by assassination and grievous holodeck injuries sustained by would-be-warriors. The obsession with honor is a disturbing aspect of Klingon society -- in this novel, it leads to the killing of a warrior whose mistakes don't seem grievous enough to warrant his slaughter, and it nearly results in war with the al'Hmatti. Although the crisis with the jeghpu'wI is eventually solved to the satisfaction of most, taD is only one subjugated world; we don't get any indication that Martok plans to liberate the rest of the oppressed. Perhaps this story will serve as a wake-up call; I'd love to read about reforms in the post-war Empire.
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