David Mack made his Star Trek debut as a prose writer in the year 2001, when he co-wrote the eBook two-parter Invincible for the S.C.E. (now Corps of Engineers) series. But that wasn’t his first foray into Gene Roddenberry’s universe; before that, he had already contributed to it in different ways. He co-wrote one Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode (Starship Down) and the story treatment for another (It’s Only a Paper Moon), both with John Ordover; contributed a “Making Of” article to the novelisation of the Star Trek: Klingon game, and a minipedia to the hardcover omnibus of the first four New Frontier novels; and co-wrote the four-part Star Trek crossover comic Divided We Fall (also with John Ordover).
Since 2001, he has contributed to the tapestry of Trek literature in many ways, from short stories, more Corps of Engineers eBooks, and novels, to the development of a whole new series, Star Trek Vanguard. It is in the last three months of 2008, however, that his biggest and perhaps most ambitious project will be published: the Star Trek Destiny trilogy, an important centrepiece of the Pocket Books Star Trek lineup for 2008–2009.
David kindly agreed to speak to Unreality SF about Destiny and some of his other projects. Asked how he would describe the trilogy to someone who hasn’t heard about it yet, he answered, “In terms of its story, the trilogy is about Starfleet, the Federation, and our heroes facing their greatest threat, the Borg, in an all-out clash of civilisations. As far as its theme, it’s about the need for hope.”
Giving a bit more detail about the individual novels, he adds that “within that framework, each book also has its own thematic idea. The first book, Gods of Night, is about the way that violence often seems to be self-perpetuating — or, as expressed in the words of Bertolt Brecht, ‘Der Krieg findet immer einen Ausweg’ (‘War always finds a way’). The second book, Mere Mortals, is about the way that we are each our own prison, and the way that we reflect and eventually personify the qualities of our confinement. The final book in the trilogy, Lost Souls, is about finding nobility in the very struggle of life itself.
“I’m all for speculation and hype, so long as it whets the readers’ appetites and gets them to dig in and enjoy the trilogy, and doesn’t become a surfeit that makes them prematurely sick of its taste,” David replies, when asked about the hype the trilogy has received online, and the widespread discussions and speculations it has inspired. “That said, it feels sometimes like the whole situation is a bit out of control. It makes me wish that it were possible to direct the process with a bit more precision. But, c’est la vie.”
The trilogy will feature almost every Star Trek series, as he reveals when asked who would be part of the trilogy. “We’ll see or at least name-drop characters and ships from all of the series except the original Star Trek, since the trilogy steers a wide berth around the twenty-third century. As previously disclosed, the principal players in this trilogy are the post-Nemesis crew of Jean-Luc Picard’s Enterprise-E; the Titan under Captain William Riker; and a new ship, the Aventine, captained by Ezri Dax, the recent recipient of a battlefield promotion. We’ll also see or hear about the participation of the Voyager under Captain Chakotay, the Excalibur (from Peter David’s New Frontier books), the U.S.S. da Vinci (from Corps of Engineers), the I.K.S. Gorkon (from the Star Trek: Klingon Empire series), and some characters from the Enterprise era.”
Fans of Keith R.A. DeCandido’s novel Articles of the Federation will be delighted to hear that a popular character will make a comeback in the trilogy as well. “The political side of things receives considerable attention in the second and third books, bringing back the administration of Federation President Nanietta Bacco.”
Of course, having characters from so many different series necessitated some close communication between David and the various authors responsible for the stories leading into the trilogy, and those responsible for showing the aftermath. “Once the outlines for all three books were approved by the Star Trek licensing department, I brought several of my fellow-authors into the loop to solicit their advice,” he explains. “I called upon Keith R.A. DeCandido for his omnipedic knowledge of Star Trek continuity, both canonical and literary. Christopher L. Bennett graced me with the benefit of his vast scientific expertise. Kirsten Beyer, Andy Mangels, and Michael Martin shared their in-depth understanding of the characters from their respective literary bailiwicks.”
He describes the process of creating the trilogy and surrounding novels as very similar to the way things are done in another medium. “In a lot of ways, we treated the writing of the trilogy — as well as the books that directly precede and follow it — the way a TV writing staff might treat the plotting of a season of episodes. The editors served as our ‘showrunners,’ and we all did our part to keep the details straight across a very large body of work split into multiple segments.”
It wasn’t only the authors who had to communicate very closely. The fact that characters from so many different series appear in the three books made the editorial work a tricky challenge. “At all stages of the project,” David reveals, “from development through copyediting, I had to work with two editors, Marco Palmieri and Margaret Clark. Marco is in charge of the Deep Space Nine and Titan books, and he also oversees Keith’s books in the Klingon Empire series, as well as the Voyager titles. Margaret supervises the Next Generation and Enterprise books.”
One series was a special concern for Marco Palmieri. “One hurdle that was evident early on was that, although we all wanted Deep Space Nine to be a part of the trilogy, it was important to Marco that we not spoil plot points in his upcoming DS9 books, and that we not lock him into certain continuity details that might hamper the creativity of future authors on that series. So we negotiated back and forth about which characters from the post-finale Deep Space Nine books could safely be brought forward to the Destiny trilogy. Eventually, we settled on Ezri Dax as our new captain, and she brings Sam Bowers, Dr. Simon Tarses, and engineer Mikaela Leishman with her.”
David is grateful for the way the two editors coordinated things during the planning and writing process. “Before we ever sat down to author-editor creative meetings, they had already sorted out their own debates in private,” he discloses. “Consequently, when they met with me, they were able to present me with one set of unified notes on which they had already agreed. Had it not been for that, I might have succumbed to some manner of psychological collapse shortly after finishing Book One.”
Given the “crossover event” nature of the trilogy, one would assume that David’s creative freedom in planning the books was limited, but he disagrees. “I was entrusted with a positively insane amount of creative freedom for this trilogy. Some of the things we’ve chosen to depict in Destiny will probably come back to bite us all on the ass, but what the hell: ‘The greater the risk, the greater the reward’, as the Ferengi say.
“Aside from having to steer clear of establishing too much about the outcome of currently developing plotlines in the Deep Space Nine and New Frontier books, I was able to mess with a lot of characters’ lives,” he continues. “Because of the long lead time I was given for development on this project, authors writing books in some other series were provided with the information they needed to follow my lead.”
Comparing the experience of writing three connected novels in succession to that of his work on the Vanguard series, where he had more time (and a novel by other authors) in between his two entries, he explains that the two experiences were entirely different.
“For the Vanguard books, I wrote a series bible that mapped out the big-picture plotline of the saga, but I left enough flexibility in that plan to allow for other authors to introduce new ideas and change its direction. Consequently, when I sat down to write the first Vanguard novel, Harbinger, I had a nebulous idea of where it all might go. Instead of worrying about setting up specific narrative threads to be exploited later, I focussed on establishing a sense of the place and introducing the people who dwelled there.
“I returned to that literary universe nearly two years later, after my friends Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore had added a full-length novel (Summon the Thunder) and an eBook novella (Distant Early Warning) to the saga. After reading those, my conception of the saga changed, and I started seeking out new narrative threads based on what they had wrought.
“My approach to the trilogy was, by necessity, completely different,” he continues. “Because the plan was to release all three books in rapid-fire succession in the final quarter of 2008, it was necessary to plan them far in advance. And, as a single-author trilogy, they needed to have a higher degree of narrative and thematic cohesion than my work on Vanguard.
“Before I was allowed to start work on the manuscript of Gods of Night, I had to draft an approved outline for the entire trilogy. My editors and the licensor wanted to see the big picture, the overall story, structure, themes, and narrative hooks of Destiny, from start to finish, before giving me the green light. The full outline for the trilogy ran roughly sixty single-spaced pages. But it was worth the effort. Most of the heavy lifting in terms of the story was done there, and that allowed me to focus on the line-by-line writing at the manuscript stage.”
Destiny is the next of David’s projects to be published, but another Star Trek book by him has already been announced, with details revealed at the Shore Leave convention in Baltimore in July. He will write the fifth book in the Vanguard series, continuing the alternation between volumes by him and by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore. “The original plan for Vanguard was that it be a multi-author series. When I developed the series bible for the saga and planned out the story progression for the first few books,” he admits, “I rigged the deck, so to speak, to make it more likely that Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore would get the nod for Book Two, by making sure it would focus on the integration of the S.C.E. ship U.S.S. Lovell and its crew, of which they had been the principal creators.”
This was a move that paid off. “Summon the Thunder turned out to be a hell of a book — one that impressed me and editor Marco Palmieri, who had already decided after my work on Warpath that he wanted me to come back for another turn on Vanguard.
“Marco, Dayton, Kevin, and I met over lunch one day during Shore Leave a few years back and discussed the notion of turning it into a back-and-forth game of one-upmanship. The idea appealed to all of us. It was an approach that hadn’t been done much before that, and we all felt that we worked well together. And so, this crazy little conspiracy was hatched.”
Not much can be said about Book Five yet, he admits, “because I don’t know anything about Dayton and Kevin’s book, Open Secrets”. He shares his tentative plans for the book with Unreality SF, though. “I’ve been kicking around a story idea that centers on Cervantes Quinn and reveals some of his shady backstory, but that’s all in flux until I see what my compadres have in store for me with Book Four.”
As mentioned above, David not only is a regular writer for the series, but also helped to develop it with Pocket Books editor Marco Palmieri. Asked if everything worked out as planned he answers, “Yes and no. In some ways we’ve followed and fulfilled more of the series bible’s original plan than I had expected to at this stage, and in other ways we’ve deviated from the plan and set out on new paths.
“At the risk of sounding like a cheerleader or a Stepford Author, I think that Vanguard is already turning into something even better than what we had originally planned. It really is starting to take on a life of its own, and I’m excited about getting back to it early next year, when I sit down to write Book Five.”
The fact that other authors like Ward and Dilmore — or James Swallow, whose Mirror Universe Vanguard short story The Black Flag will be published in the anthology Shards and Shadows in early 2009 — are playing in the corner of the Trek literature universe he helped to bring to life doesn’t make him feel overly protective. “I’m more flattered than anything else,” he reveals. “The notion that other authors have expressed interest in and excitement about writing stories featuring characters and situations that I helped develop is very gratifying.
“As possessive as I might feel about Vanguard, however, I’ve known since the first day I sat down to work on it that it would never truly be ‘mine’. It belongs to Star Trek.” That doesn’t stop him from being proud about the recognition that elements of the series have received, though. “Seeing a Vanguard-like station appear in the remastered version of the episode The Ultimate Computer made me feel like I had been a part of adding something cool to this fictional shared universe that I love.”
Many of David’s works have a fair number of action elements, which has earned him such nicknames as “Mack the Knife” or “The Angel of Death” in fandom. He’s unsure how to take it, he admits. “Sometimes it irks me; sometimes I laugh about it. I can’t control what nicknames fans want to give me. I’ve heard of several that were far less flattering than ‘Angel of Death’ or ‘Mack the Knife’. I guess I should be grateful those ruder monikers haven’t caught on in fandom at large.”
The playground which he visited for his very first Star Trek prose story — the Corps of Engineers eBook series — has been closed down for the foreseeable future, a fact that makes him sad for several reasons. “Novellas felt to me like a natural fit for Star Trek storytelling,” he acknowledges, “in that they approximate the complexity of an average episode. The shorter format also kept the stories light on their feet, figuratively speaking, which I think made for some fun reading.
“For me,” he adds, “working on those shorter tales was a great learning experience. My first time working in prose fiction, I co-wrote Invincible with Keith R.A. DeCandido, which gave me my first inkling of how to translate an outline into a finished story. My next eBook, Wildfire, was my real audition for Star Trek fiction-writing. After it was published, editor John Ordover told me that it was the strength of that work that got me the invitation to write A Time to Kill and A Time to Heal. I continued writing for the eBooks even after that duology came out, of course, because the eBooks were a great opportunity to hone my craft, and for that I remain grateful to Keith and John.”
When asked if there is anything in the Star Trek universe he would like to write about, but hasn’t had the chance to tackle yet, he answers that there is, but understandably he refuses to talk about it. “I say that not to be a jerk but because I need to play my cards close to my vest until I have contracts in hand. I’m talking with the editors about some Star Trek book ideas I’ve wanted to tackle for a long time, and which I might get a chance to pursue in the near future. Until the deal is written in ink, however, I can’t talk about it.”
Until then, David certainly won’t be idle, since he already has other projects on his schedule outside of the Star Trek universe. One of those projects is a The 4400 post-finale novel with the working title Promises Broken. “It’s set a few months after the series’ final episode, The Great Leap Forward, and it will build upon events depicted in Greg Cox’s forthcoming post-finale 4400 novel, Promise City,” he explains.
“In a lot of ways,” he adds, “I approached Promises Broken with the mindset of crafting the ‘grand finale’ tale the show might have done if its final six episodes had been allotted a budget of two hundred million dollars. A lot of the lingering story threads and dramatic questions from the end of season four will be dealt with in Promises Broken. Its storyline, which has just been given the green light by the licensor, has been described as ‘epic’ and will kick over the status quo of the series.”
As one of only two authors writing post-finale books for that series, it seems possible that David will have a fair amount of influence on the direction of the line, but he disagrees. “I’m writing the last scheduled book in the series, which means I get to wreak havoc on the series’ status quo and the characters’ lives, but unless the book sells like gangbusters and spurs Pocket to extend its commitment on that license, I’d say my ‘influence’ on the line will be minimal.” On the other hand, that’s also had a positive effect for him, since on the creative-freedom front he “was all but given carte blanche.”
Another project of his that will see the light of day in July 2009 is David’s first original novel, The Calling. “Our main character, Tom, is a 33-year-old guy who, since he was 16, has sometimes been able to hear when other people pray for help. When he hears such a prayer, he feels compelled to get involved in some way. Then, one day, he hears a life-or-death plea from a kidnapped little girl. That desperate prayer draws him into a deadly struggle involving corrupt New York City cops and Russian mobsters.
“More importantly, along the way Tom discovers his own role in a larger, epic struggle between the forces of good and evil, and he makes new friends and new enemies in the bargain.”
So, while the Destiny trilogy is an important milestone in his writing career, which consumed twenty-one months of his life from start to finish, he certainly isn’t resting on his laurels, and he continues to make an impact on the literary world, both inside and outside the world of media tie-ins.
Gods of Night, Mere Mortals, and Lost Souls will be released by Pocket Books in October, November, and December 2008 respectively. The Calling will be released by Gallery Books in July 2009, and Promises Broken will be released by Pocket Star in October 2009.