The Price You Pay is the second companion book to the Stargate SG-1 series by Ashley McConnell. It was first published in July 1999 and the timeline for the story is approximately midway through season 1.
“On this world, you pay for survival – with your life.”
Eons ago, the evil forces of Apophis and his minions made a sinister pact with the people of the planet M’kwethet. The inhabitants of the primitive world would pay homage to their masters by way of tribute – providing their best and strongest specimens to the Goa’uld as host bodies for their young. By doing so, they would avert total annihilation… while the hosts would be doomed to a living death. For years, the helpless supplicants obeyed – and were sacrificed.
It is on this world that Col Jack O’Neill and his SG-1 team find themselves stranded. With the new “payment” about to be sent, the unit struggles to rescue a terrified populace that does not want help, while facing the possibility of being marooned forever. But one fact overshadows all else – the Goa’uld are on their way, and O’Neill and his team must make the ultimate sacrifice.
Synopsis (** SPOILER ALERT! **)
SG-1 travel to NPR76309, or M’kwethet as its known by the locals, and initially things appear fine. The people are curious, believing the team to be “Rejects”, but before they can get any answers to their questions, team are taken to the council leaders. Here, the leaders ask them if they’ve brought instructions from the Goa’uld – which they deny – and suddenly, the leaders have no time, nor inclination, to speak to any member of SG-1.
The reason the people of M’kwethet know of the Goa’uld, but don’t fear them, is because they’ve managed to strike a deal: the bad guys will let them live in peace… if the locals send through a “Chosen” offering every two years. This offering is actually a carefully selected group of young people from the planet – who are made to believe it’s a great honour to be chosen – but who will actually just become Goa’uld slaves. (Think of The Hunger Games and that’s basically what they are competing and being selected for.)
It just so happens that M’kwethet are preparing to send the next batch of “Chosen” participants when SG-1 arrive. Upon discovering what’s going on, the team clash with the locals over their “tradition” and unable to convince them to stop sacrificing their children, they decide to leave – only for Colonel O’Neill to discover that the planet doesn’t have a DHD (Dial Home Device) to open the Stargate. The team are stranded.
The council order the team to stay out of the way and not cause any trouble – so Jack subsequently orders his team to find out everything they can about their hosts. Carter and Daniel quickly make friends with some of the potential “Chosen” and (with Teal’c’s help) manage to convince them that being chosen is not an honour. As a result, some of the young people decide to run away until after the ceremony. Carter and Teal’c help hide them while Jack and Daniel go in place of the kids. The latter duo plan to go through the gate and acquire a portable DHD from the Goa’uld so they can eventually get back to Earth. Things don’t go to plan though once Daniel and Jack arrive on this new planet. Known as Saqqara, they find themselves on an Apophis home world.
This is the second novel by Ashley McConnell and it’s set midway through the first season of SG-1. I understand that the show was still very much in its early days here, but when I read this story, it almost felt like a poor attempt at fanfiction. For example, the author’s handle (or lack of) on some of the characters was one of the main issues for me; Ashley tried, but for fans reading this book, they will know it’s not in keeping with their TV counterparts. The character of Sam Carter in particular is just way, way off.
The storyline in itself was thought-out; you had an idea of where the situation was heading – and how it was going to go down – so there was episodic-like potential there, but it never quite broke through. The ending especially felt rushed, and potentially important moments were glossed over (or not addressed at all), possibly for convenience, who knows? Overall, it just fell short where it became an ‘okay’ story, instead of a ‘great’ story.
If we stay with SG-1 for the moment, I would say Teal’c is the one most “in character” – and that’s purely because he doesn’t actually have much to say. Of the times when he does speak, it’s almost like they are throwaway or dismissive comments; something the stoic Jaffa definitely didn’t do in the series! There were parts of the book when Jack’s character was passable (bar the fact that he let one half of his team get drunk while on a mission, he left Daniel behind on Saqqara, and the author seemed intent on making him flirt with any female he came into contact with). Daniel really, really annoyed me throughout this story; I can’t even tell you why. He just did – and I know he was still searching for his wife at this stage, and this is referenced in the book, but he deliberately goes against Jack’s orders and tries to find her. He had absolutely no guilt in blowing the entire mission to go on a wild goose chase. It just bothered me.
But now we come to Samantha Carter. I love Carter; she’s strong, independent, intelligent. A true role model and I love how Amanda Tapping has deliberately portrayed the character on the show in this way. Sadly, Ashley did not grasp these elements of Sam at all in this novel. No matter who spoke to her, her initial response was “to glare” at them. Or, one second, she was wholeheartedly supporting the colonel’s actions to leave M’kwethet; the next, she was about to start a fight because she was sure she could change the locals’ mind. She was portrayed as indecisive, whiny, and unprofessional.
It didn’t feel like a team who actually liked each other or even tried to get along or make things work, and at key points/conversations in the story, their interactions felt wrong. There’s a scene in Chapter 5 when SG-1 are – reluctantly – invited to the M’kwethet’s great feast. They are ordered to stay out of the way, but Sam and Daniel try to find out what they can about the Goa’uld’s history with the planet. It results in the two teammates getting drunk… and Jack and Teal’c let it happen. I know they might still be relatively new to travelling through the Stargate, but there were certain lessons they learned early (the Brief Candle episode, anyone?). Getting drunk while on a mission is a no-no!
The other main issue I had was, in my eyes, the huge gaping plot hole. A probe was supposedly sent to this planet and all the data came back telling the team about the weather, the people on that planet, etc… but somehow everyone managed to miss the fact that the planet had absolutely no DHD?! It’s not like it’s easy to miss.
The ending was also a disappointment, in that I felt Ashley went for an ‘easy’ option as opposed to taking the time to explain a few things. For example, the leaders of M’kwethet refused to let the team go home as they believed they should be punished for messing up their tribute to the Goa’uld. They were even threatening to kill the team as a warning to anyone who felt like starting trouble in the future. However, Jack made a passing comment that they’d get punished at home instead (because they didn’t meet their mission criteria of establishing an ally in the fight against the Goa’uld) and the M’kwethet leaders were suddenly delighted. They believed the team would be killed by their own people once they stepped through the gate on Earth – so they let them go without a second thought. I just found it difficult to get my head around, personally. Much like how the Goa’uld seemed happy to let the people of M’kwethet live in peace as part of an exchange deal… it didn’t make sense. The Goa’uld are the bad guys for a reason.
Lastly, from a shipper’s point of view (as I’ve been asked to include this), there’s no real Sam/Jack moments here. There’s an observation from Daniel – regarding how he’s caught Jack sneak a glance or two at Sam when she isn’t looking – but aside from that one line, there’s barely anything else. For the most part, they just seem to be at each other’s throats.
In summary, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to read this novel again and I can’t say I would recommend it. In fact, the best part about this book, is that my copy is signed by the original SG-1 team.
Chevron Rating: 3/7