Fandemonium Books (2007)
Reviewed by Joanna Kasper (this review was first published in March 2009)
Media tie-in novels can be problematic as they are often viewed by other members of the writing community as something less than real writing. With an existing fan-base waiting eagerly for anything new, there is a temptation for publishers and authors to be less stringent in standards of writing and adhering to canon. Certainly, some of the media tie-in novels I have read in the past fall into this category. Fortunately, there are many more such novels that are written by talented authors who are fan enough to ensure that not only is the writing good but that the canon survives. Alliances is one of the good ones. I’m a Stargate SG-1 fan and reading this book has given me a deeper understanding of the individual characters and a new perspective on the Stargate universe.
The story is set immediately following the events depicted in the Season Four episode “The Other Side”. In this episode, SG-1 are faced with making some heavy moral decisions regarding obtaining new technology and weaponry to assist Earth in its fight against the Goa’uld, at the cost of supporting a totalitarian regime determined to ethnically cleanse their planet, Euronda. The divisions within the team that develop during the TV episode are carried through into the book and threaten the successful completion of their mission. Although you need to have at least a passing familiarity with the series to fully appreciate this story, don’t worry if you haven’t seen the relevant episode recently, there’s enough back-story provided for even the most forgetful fan.
After the spectacular failure of the mission on Euronda, serious questions are being asked in Washington about Colonel Jack O’Neill’s abilities and leadership. Not surprisingly, it is Senator Robert Kinsey who is leading the pack. Fans of the series will know Kinsey, and if you had any sympathy for him beforehand, that will change after reading this, he is the ultimate self-serving, slimy politician. The trouble deepens when O’Neill is temporarily suspended from duty for attempting to strangle Kinsey and there are also serious divisions between members of SG-1 over the decisions that were made during the Eurondan mission.
During this upheaval, Jacob Carter contacts Stargate Command with a plan to both provide more willing hosts for Tok’ra symbionts and get more spies into Goa’uld strongholds. It is a plan that needs human involvement in order to succeed and could put Earth in a stronger bargaining position with the Tok’ra. It involves Samantha Carter infiltrating a Goa’uld slave breeding camp where left-over memories from her encounter with the Tok’ra symbiont Jolinar will help her determine which of the slaves would be suitable hosts/spies. Teal’c being too visible as Apophis’ ex-First Prime, it is only the human members of SG-1 who infiltrate the slave village where the most beautiful slaves are being bred as high level servants or future Goa’uld hosts. The decision has been made that only those slaves Carter considers to be viable future allies can be removed from the camp and the Team is to ensure that their presence remains undetected even under extreme circumstances. The stresses of living in a slave community completely indoctrinated in the worship of a false god and not being able to follow their usual practice of debunking the religion and freeing the oppressed only increases the tensions between O’Neill, Carter and Jackson.
The simple fact of this being a book rather than a television show allows for a deeper examination of the character’s thoughts and feelings. We can see inside their heads, and Miller has managed to stay very true to character when she has depicted this introspection. Jack O’Neill doesn’t suddenly start to consider socio-political implications of Goa’uld dependence on a slave economy; but he does spend a lot of time trying to rationalise and understand the actions of himself and other team members. Was it murder when he closed the iris, knowing that Alar would almost definitely follow through the Gate? Why the hell can’t Daniel, just for once, follow an order without questioning, publicly, Jack’s every decision? We see Jackson’s intellectual and humanitarian frustration at dealing with O’Neill’s militaristic perspective on the world. Carter is very much stuck in the middle, annoyed with both of them and coping with discovering that her mentor has feet of clay.
For a novel based on an action series, this is actually more of a character-driven story. The action is all there to be enjoyed, but Miller has explored more of the unsaid tensions between characters. If you’ve ever wondered how O’Neill and Daniel Jackson manage to work together and remain friends when they are such completely opposite personalities, much of that is explored here and it makes fascinating reading.
There’s also an examination of just how much carrying a symbiont has changed Jacob Carter’s life and his relationships with those around him, especially his daughter. The emphasis in this book is on the relationship between O’Neill and Jackson, although there is that one scene where O’Neill and Carter are in bed together which is very revealing … but that would be giving too much away!
Teal’c is the only team member who doesn’t get much head time, although each character at one time or another wishes that he were there to provide both overwhelming strength and honour in difficult situations. Teal’c is the constant for the team, the strong foundation on which the rest of them depend. It would have been nice to hear more from him, to find out more of what makes him tick, but Miller can only work within the framework of the series and we just aren’t given that kind of insight into his character. You need something from which to extrapolate, which she has done very well with the other characters, but Teal’c is completely alien in every sense of the word, both in the series and in this book.
This novel is very much a part of the Stargate world, if you’re not a fan, you probably wouldn’t read it, and it wouldn’t make much sense if you did. It’s not a standalone action story, being dependent on the reader’s prior knowledge of the characters and the series, but this is not a bad thing. It actually answered some questions for this particular fan (and raised others) and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my favourite interstellar adventurers all the more.