“Star Trek Destiny,” a trilogy comprising the novels “Gods of Night,” “Mere Mortals” and “Lost Souls” by David Mack, was released in a new omnibus edition by Gallery Books last week. Hero Complex contributor Linda Whitmore caught up with the author about this massive, 800-plus-page undertaking, which explores the origins and fate of the Federation’s most daunting enemy: the Borg.
LW: You’d written more than a dozen “Star Trek” novels when you began the trilogy. You write in the acknowledgments that a painting by Pierre Drolet of the crashed Columbia NX-02 in the book “Ships of the Line” “planted the seed of this idea in the minds of my esteemed editors, Marco Palmieri and Margaret Clark.” How did a painting spawn more than 800 pages on the genesis and fate of the Borg in the “Star Trek” universe?
DM: Actually, I had written eight “Star Trek” novels prior to penning the “Destiny” trilogy, plus the Wolverine novel “Road of Bones.” In addition, I’d written a nonfiction “Star Trek” book called “The Starfleet Survival Guide,” three eBook novellas for the “Star Trek: S.C.E.” (Corps of Engineers) series and two “Star Trek” short stories for anthologies. And before all of that, I co-wrote two episodes of the television series “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” As for the inspiration provided by Pierre Drolet’s painting … well, that really is where the whole project began. I met with my editors in November of 2006, and they told me that the painting, which had been accompanied by a blurb that suggested the ship had been discovered in the Gamma Quadrant during the 24th century, had generated a significant amount of fan response. Many readers who saw the painting and read the blurb assumed that it must be a teaser for some forthcoming novel, and enough of them wrote in to ask about it that the editors decided it might be worth pursuing.
What my editors asked during that initial meeting was whether I could craft an epic, multiseries crossover trilogy using that image as my starting point. Recognizing opportunity when it slaps me in the face, I said, “Yes, I can.” In truth, at that time, I had no idea how I would do this. The challenge during story development was to craft an explanation for how this Warp Five ship from the 22nd century could have traveled to the far side of the galaxy, a journey that should have been far beyond its capabilities, and then connect that tale to a suitably grand parallel narrative involving several of the universe’s 24th century ships and crews. After some consideration, it seemed that a force capable of bending space-time would need to be involved somehow. And because several other books published in the year-and-a-half preceding “Destiny” had reintroduced the Borg as an enemy, I felt that the most dramatic possible story for the trilogy was also the one that most urgently needed to be addressed and dealt with, once and for all: the existential threat posed by the Borg Collective to the Federation and its neighbors.
LW: Describe “breaking story” for this trilogy, which is extremely plot-driven and, well, “epic” is a suitable word. Was there input from editors, collaboration of any kind, or was it you locked in a room with your computer?
DM: A little of both. After I’d accepted the job, I went away and drafted a rough proposal, and then I sent it to the editors. We met shortly afterward, and for various reasons, that first idea didn’t make the cut; the Borg weren’t yet part of my story. I received extensive notes and suggestions, and I went away to write a new proposal. This happened a few times. Part of the challenge in developing the story for “Destiny” was that, because it would affect the ongoing story continuity for all the book lines set in the 24th century (as well as the post-finale “Star Trek Enterprise” novels, set in the 22nd century), I had to come up with something that suited the big-picture needs of two editors instead of just one. What one of them liked, the other often vetoed. In several cases, when they were in agreement, I was the one who objected.
After I’d hit upon the idea of making the Borg the engine driving the trilogy, the hard part was selling the editors on it. They were worried that the Borg had been overused in recent novels, and it might feel too soon to bring them back on such a scale. They also made clear that if I wanted to use the Borg, then this had to be “the Borg story to end all Borg stories.” I took that request to heart and revised my proposal into a tale that utilized time travel, parallel narratives in different centuries, and a cool bit of science tech (programmable matter, a.k.a. claytronic atoms or “catoms”) to spin a yarn that would be the Alpha and Omega of the Borg. After many more back-and-forth sessions over the details, the three of us were finally satisfied with the outline, and I returned to my home office to spend the next 10 months writing the manuscripts for the three novels.
LW: The painting you cite as inspiration shows a downed starship. But is the fate of the Columbia your idea, or was that based on previously published material?
DM: Pierre Drolet’s painting of the Columbia was inspired by an image from the 1965 film “Flight of the Phoenix.” I don’t know who wrote the blurb stating that the ship had been found in the Gamma Quadrant; it might have been one of the editors, or it might have been one of the curators of the art for the coffee-table book. The details of how the Columbia NX-02 came to be lost in the Gamma Quadrant and the fate of its crew were entirely my invention, as were the identities of the majority of its crew. Only its commanding officer, Capt. Erika Hernandez, and two of its enlisted engineers, Rivers and Strong, had ever been mentioned by name or seen on-screen in “Star Trek Enterprise.”
LW: It’s my understanding that all official “Star Trek” novels must be vetted by the franchise’s Powers That Be, so that nothing violates “ST’s” “history of the future.” Could you talk a little bit about how they felt about the direction you wanted to take the story? Were you given specific guidelines? Was that relationship creative or collaborative? (Spoiler alert: Fans who have not yet read the book will want to skip the next answer.)
DM: When my editors sent the trilogy proposal to Paula Block, then the licensing executive in charge of “Star Trek” products, her only response after reading it was to ask, “Are you really sure you want to do this?” We assured her that we did, and she gave us the green light: I’d been given permission to kill off the Borg. Part of what made that possible was that I’d specified a very “Star Trek”-appropriate resolution for the story, and based on my past work for the series, I had earned a measure of trust from both the editors and the licensor. They had faith in my ability to know where the figurative line was, and to have the good sense not to cross it. Though I had on more than one occasion in the past received helpful notes for my novels from Paula and her colleague, John Van Citters, in this case both the outline and the final manuscripts passed the approvals process without significant changes.
LW: In the acknowledgments you say that Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels tweaked their “Star Trek Enterprise” novel “Kobayashi Maru,” published in 2008, to track with your trilogy. That’s quite a testament to the “ST” universe. What did they change?
DM: One of the most heartening aspects of working in a large shared universe such as the current, interconnected continuity of the “Star Trek” novels is the heightened degree of communication and cooperation not only between authors and the editors, but between the authors themselves. Many of us remain in regular contact, either through message boards, social media, email, conventions or friendly get-togethers. When one of us is working on a project whose details might contradict (or be contradicted by) another author’s work — past, present or upcoming — we tend to check in with one another. That was the case with regard to the “Destiny” trilogy and Mike and Andy’s novel “Kobayashi Maru.” I’d realized they were working on a story that would serve as the lead-up to the Earth-Romulan War in the 22nd century, and that they likely planned to use Capt. Hernandez and the crew of the Columbia in their story.
At first, my only goal was to provide them with the crew roster and descriptions I had prepared on a cheat sheet for myself. (I’d needed one for each starship crew, as well as a full graphical timeline, to keep my details consistent across all three books.) After we compared notes, however, it became clear that the timing of events in my story needed to be reflected in theirs — for instance, the fact that the Azure Nebula doesn’t exist prior to the year 2168, or that the Columbia went missing in action in 2156, before the Earth-Romulan War was formally declared. These were the sorts of facts that we tried to address with some late changes to their “Kobayashi Maru” manuscript during copy-editing. In some cases, we succeeded; in a few other cases, discontinuities slipped past us. But we tried, and I think that should count for something.
LW: You reference specific episodes from the canon (Deanna Troi’s pregnancy from “TNG’s” “The Child,” the Ressikan flute from “Inner Light,” the Bajoran wormhole of “Deep Space Nine,” Picard as Locutus, the Khitomer Accords from “The Undiscovered Country,” the Borg’s pursuit of the Omega Molecule from “Voyager,” etc.). There are literally hundreds of such continuity details in the trilogy. Were all those references from TV shows, movies and novels, or are some of them your own invention? I’m a fan, but I’m sure I couldn’t vet all of them.
DM: Most of the continuity nods peppered throughout the trilogy are from the shows and films, or from previous novels in the shared continuity. When I reference such details, it’s because I think it’s important to provide readers with context for why certain characters feel as they do. In my opinion, the key to using such allusions is to make them as minimalist as possible, while making sure to include whatever key fact made their presence necessary. Above all, their appearance in a story must feel entirely natural; whenever possible, I prefer to integrate them into a scene’s action rather than simply having a character stop and think about their past history.
LW: Talk a bit about the alien races, weapons, ships, etc., that you invented for the trilogy.
DM: I invented exactly one ship and one alien race/civilization for the “Destiny” trilogy. All the weapons used in the story were depicted on-screen in the episodes or feature films. The trilogy’s first breakout star was its new starship, the Aventine. It is described as a “Vesta-class explorer,” Starfleet’s newest and most cutting-edge starship class, packed with experimental technologies, the most dramatic of which is its test-bed propulsion system, a Quantum Slipstream Drive, usually referred to as simply “slipstream.” In the trilogy I described the Aventine as having a long, sleek, streamlined quality, like a shark. It was later brought to life in a series of beautiful digital images by designer Mark Rademaker.
At the core of the trilogy, however, is the reclusive alien civilization known as the Caeliar. They are vaguely humanoid but have large, bulbous skulls, gangly limbs and curious, tubelike airsacs that drape over their shoulders and feed into their enormous heads. The Caeliar are pacifists and recluses, and their curious brand of morality makes them think it’s OK to hold unwanted visitors hostage forever rather than let them compromise their privacy, but they will also sacrifice themselves en masse to protect those prisoners’ lives in a time of crisis. They are absurdly powerful, arrogant, curious and — though they don’t realize it — culturally stagnant when we first meet them in “Gods of Night.”
What makes them seem even more “other” to our Starfleet characters is the fact that the Caeliar, who once were an organic species, have evolved into a fully synthetic one. They replaced their bodies and brains, one atom at a time, with a form of programmable matter called catoms (a nascent technology I learned about thanks to fellow science-fiction author Robert Metzger). Living as synthetic beings with transmittable sentience, they can come and go as smoke, defy gravity, pass through walls and reshape their floating cities at will. But as Capt. Erika Hernandez of the Columbia learns during her centuries-long captivity among the Caeliar, the seemingly invincible aliens’ powers come at a terrible price.
LW: What was the most challenging aspect of writing the “Destiny” trilogy?
DM: Artistically, it was keeping the continuity details straight across four starships and multiple different points in time, while also working to make sure all the story arcs and temporal loops converged properly at the story’s climax. Logistically, it was writing three very complex novels while also holding down a fairly demanding day job at the Sci Fi Channel (back in the days before it was SyFy).
LM: Who vetted all of the “Trek” back story?
DM: My editors did most of the heavy lifting, and the licensing executives reviewed all three manuscripts. In addition, I had a brilliant team of beta readers: fellow “Star Trek” novelists Keith R.A. DeCandido, Christopher L. Bennett, Michael A. Martin, Andy Mangels, and Kirsten Beyer.
LW: The original novels were published in October, November and December 2008. How nice for your readers not to have to wait years for the sequels. Which book took the longest to write, and why? Which was the most logistically challenging, and why?
DM: Each book took me about 100 days to write, and each presented its own unique challenges. In terms of balancing parallel story lines, I think the second book, “Mere Mortals,” was the most complicated of the three, because it had to tread a fine line: The story arcs had to start to converge, but the final merging of the narratives had to happen in book three, “Lost Souls.”
LW: Did you do anything special to celebrate the completion of the final book?
DM: I honestly don’t remember. Most likely, my wife and I made something decadent for dinner and opened a bottle of good red wine. Single-malt scotch might also have been involved.
LW: Talk a little about yourself: Where you’re from, where you went to school and what you studied, how you got into writing and “Trek.”
DM: I grew up in a little town in western Massachusetts, watching “Star Trek” reruns and dreaming of growing up to be a writer. I started collecting rejection letters in my teens, and yet I remained undeterred. Whether that’s evidence of commitment or stupidity is hard to say. When I was 18 years old, I moved to New York City to attend film school at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. I graduated with my BFA in film and television production, but most of my four years had been spent focusing on screenwriting. Consequently, I entered the workforce during the recession of 1991 with no job skills except those I’d learned as an editor on NYU’s student-run humor magazine, the Plague. Through my 20s, I worked as a magazine editor for various companies and publications in New York City, and I also worked as a freelance writer. I also spent this time sending spec teleplays to “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”
During this time, my college pal Glenn Hauman introduced me to one of the people then editing the “Star Trek” novels, a man named John Ordover. John, who wanted to write for magazines, gave me the novelists’ guidelines for “Star Trek.” After I’d read them, I realized my novel-in-progress violated every one of the rules, so I burned it rather than waste John’s time with it. That act of kindness led to John and I becoming friends and teaming up to write “Star Trek” teleplays. We made our first two sales in early 1995 — first to “Star Trek Voyager” and then to “Deep Space Nine,” and we later sold another story to “Deep Space Nine.” Thus, my bona fides as a “Star Trek” professional were established. John and I also wrote a “Star Trek” comic-book miniseries in 2001, titled “Divided We Fall.”
Throughout the late 1990s and then the turn of the millennium, I was a freelance editorial aide at Pocket Books, reading slush manuscripts and writing in-house reference materials for authors such as Peter David. Then, in 2000, I was hired to write a 5,000-word filler piece for John Vornholt’s novel “The Genesis Wave, Book One,” and that led to me being invited to write the nonfiction book “The Starfleet Survival Guide.” In 2001, after I’d proved I could finish a book, I was invited to pitch stories to the new “Star Trek” eBook line, “Star Trek: S.C.E.” (Corps of Engineers). I co-wrote my first “S.C.E.” novella, “Invincible,” with veteran author and editor Keith R.A. DeCandido. After that, I started writing solo, starting with my novel “Wildfire.” The critical and commercial success of that eBook led to me being invited in 2003 to write my first full-length paperback novels, a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” duology — “A Time to Kill” and “A Time to Heal.” The latter tome became a USA Today bestseller, and I’ve been writing novels ever since.
– Linda Whitmore
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