Book Review: The Never-Ending Sacrifice

The Never-Ending Sacrifice
By Una McCormack
Published by Simon & Schuster, 2009
ISBN: 1439109613
Review copy purchased by reviewer

Review by Kathryn Ramage

“The author is supposed to be chronicling seven generations of a single family, but he tells the same story over and over again. All the characters live lives of selfless duty to the state, get old and die–and then the next generation comes along and does it all over again!”

“That’s the whole point, Doctor. The repetitive epic is the most elegant form of Cardassian literature, and The Never-Ending Sacrifice is its greatest achievement.”

–Dr. Julian Bashir and Elim Garak, in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, The Wire

The classic Cardassian novel, The Never-Ending Sacrifice by Ulan Corac, opens with a dedication “For Cardassia,” and exemplifies the Cardassian ideal of unwavering dedication to the homeworld and placing the needs of the State above personal considerations. As noted by Dr. Bashir’s and Garak’s discussion above, the plot is extremely repetitive and some readers, particularly human ones, might find it a dreadful bore. Fortunately, Una McCormack’s novel of the same name is neither.

McCormack’s The Never-Ending Sacrifice is the tale of Rugal Pa’Dar, a Cardassian boy who made his appearance an early Deep Space Nine episode, “Cardassians.” In this episode, we discover that Rugal was abducted from his family as a small child while his father was stationed on Bajor during Cardassia’s occupation of that planet, left in an orphanage, and eventually adopted by a Bajoran couple. When he is found as a teenager, a custody dispute arises between Rugal’s Bajoran parents and his biological father, Kotan Pa’Dar, who is now an important official on Cardassia. Commander Sisko of Deep Space Nine decides to return Rugal to Pa’Dar.

The episode ends there. McCormack follows Rugal’s life through the next eight years as he comes of age on that militaristic, oppressive world that bears a close resemblance to the one portrayed in George Orwell’s 1984; everyone is closely monitored by listening devices and the Obsidian Order, Cardassia’s intelligence agency, for signs of seditious thoughts or acts. Unquestioning loyalty to the State is of primary importance. And Rugal is as rebellious as a boy who considers himself Bajoran and hates all things Cardassian would naturally be. His father’s repeated refrain is “Try not to get us all killed”–a warning that Rugal ignores at first, since he resents Kotan for taking him away from his Bajoran family and the world he considers his true home.

As the years pass, Rugal does not learn to love Cardassia nor the ideals it upholds (he tries to read Ulan Corac’s novel once, but falls asleep during the first chapter). He does, however, learn to care for things and people on it: his father, an orphaned girl who is being brought up by her relatives, some of the older traditions of the Cardassian people, such as the moving chant his father and girl-friend perform at his acerbic grandmother’s funeral. He understands something of how their world came to be the way it is, and seeks to change it.

For a DS9 geek, this story is a fascinating retelling of almost the entire series, as viewed from someone living on Cardassia during that same time. The episodes related to Cardassia are well-researched, and the story is full of characters and incidents from them. Rugal and his father are acquainted with dissidents who appeared in other Deep Space Nine episodes, and of course have repeated confrontations with Gul Dukat (who stole Rugal from his father in the first place). The Klingon invasion of Cardassia, the Dominion War, and its aftermath are seen through Rugal’s eyes. While I was reading, I kept saying to myself, “Yes, I remember that! That happened in [episode name].” There is little to be seen of the major characters from Deep Space Nine except for Dukat, but Miles O’Brien and Elim Garak both have important parts to play near the end of the story. But it is the development of Rugal’s character as he grows from surly teenager to political activist to unwilling soldier to one of few surviving Cardassians in a war-shattered galaxy that makes this story more than a catalog of previously seen DS9 characters and events. In the end, Rugal comes full circle when he adopts an orphaned human child he finds on a colony world and fights to keep her over the objections of people who believe the child belongs with her own kind. He realizes then that he too is part of a never-ending sacrifice, and not “For Cardassia.”