Dayton Ward interview
The Destiny trilogy left the Star Trek universe in a shambles, leading to the rise of a new power bloc, the Typhon Pact, in A Singular Destiny. Now, some of Trek literature’s most lauded writers have cast a spotlight on that alliance in the Typhon Pact miniseries. Among them is Dayton Ward, who’s contributed the final book, Paths of Disharmony. He kindly agreed to talk to Unreality SF about the book, the state of the Star Trek universe after Destiny, his upcoming works in the Vanguard series, and his original endeavours.
When asked for specifics about Paths of Disharmony, Dayton explains that “it’s set just over a year after the events of David Mack’s Star Trek Destiny trilogy, and features Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E visiting the planet Andor. The planet got hit pretty hard by the Borg in Destiny, which only served to exacerbate the existing fertility problems plaguing the Andorians for generations. One medical approach that seemed to hold promise is falling well short of hopes and expectations, and there’s a growing sense among the Andorian people that the Federation isn’t doing enough to help them. This, after the gut punch the planet took during the Borg attack. A conference is being convened on Andor to take a hard look at the problem, propose solutions, and demonstrate those efforts which are underway and which offer renewed hope that a resolution can be found. Picard and the Enterprise are there as part of their overall ‘troubleshooter’ duties on behalf of Starfleet, as rebuilding efforts continue after the Borg invasion.”
The Typhon Pact miniseries takes a break from the heavily-serialised approach of the last decade-worth of stories set in the late twenty-fourth century, and instead features four relatively standalone stories, which influenced the communication between the participating writers somewhat. “We had a lot of up-front communication when the storylines were still being figured out,” Dayton reveals, “and there were occasional emails between the authors. All of our stories being largely standalone meant that there wasn’t as much constant back-n-forth chatter as I’ve experienced on other projects.”
The growing unrest on Andor leads to the planet’s secession from the Federation at the end of the novel, rocking the Federation at its core. “It was one of a few scenarios tossed about as a means of demonstrating the sort of influence the Typhon Pact could have,” Dayton reveals. “They’ve been nipping around the edges for quite some time by this point, and the editor was looking for something ‘big’ that could fuel further stories as the Federation continues its recovery and the Pact keeps getting bolder.”
There have been voices in the Trek literature community criticising the novels for becoming too dark in the last few years. What’s Dayton’s stance on that argument? “Well, Destiny was a game-changer, and dealing with the fallout of those events will take a while to sort through,” he muses. “One of the core tenets of Star Trek is that at some point in the not-so-distant future, we’ll emerge victorious from one of the darkest, most trying times in our history, and eventually become part of something greater and grander than our little planet here.
“That said, the post-Destiny timeframe represents a situation we’ve never really seen in Star Trek, that of the characters we know and love dealing with the aftermath of an all-but overwhelming disaster,” he points out, and emphasises that “if Star Trek’s about anything, it’s about resilience, but resilience is only interesting from a storytelling standpoint if it’s being challenged by someone or something. There will be ups and downs, of course, but in the end it’s Star Trek, and I’m confident that our heroes ultimately will triumph. In this case… it just might take a little while. Still, I’d like to think that the books set in this time frame are starting to show rays of hope even in the face of everything that’s going on. Even though we have this big political upheaval taking place at the end of Paths of Disharmony, there’s still time taken to show that various characters are growing, forming new friendships and relationships, taking stock of their lives and careers, and so on.”
Despite the fact that the Star Trek Online tie-in novel The Needs of the Many is regarded as being a separate, parallel entity from the regular novel line, Paths of Disharmony uses the same name for the child of Jean-Luc Picard and Beverly Crusher. Was that something Dayton chose to do himself? “The name was something that already was decided even before I was tapped to write a Typhon Pact novel,” he explains. “Mike Martin used it in The Needs of the Many, and it didn’t make much sense to have different names for the same character, even if Mike’s book is intended to stand as part of the Star Trek Online continuity rather than that of the Pocket novels.”
While the Star Trek Online novel’s influence on Paths of Disharmony is very slim, another series plays a vital part in the novel: Star Trek: Vanguard. Was it the plan all along to have the events in the Taurus Reach impact upon later generations, or did it just fit so well that Dayton just couldn’t pass up the chance? “Originally, I was asked to write ‘the Tholian’ part of the Typhon Pact because of my involvement with Star Trek: Vanguard, where it was figured that I could parlay what had been established for the Tholians so far as their culture and politics were concerned,” Dayton discloses. “As our editor at the time, Margaret Clark, put it, she dragged me kicking and screaming out of the twenty-third century into the ‘present day’. It wasn’t until all of the authors were on a conference call with the editor very early in the planning process that I hit on the notion of using the Taurus Meta-Genome as a plot point. This required some rethinking of my original story ideas, as now I was going to involve the Vanguard storyline to a larger degree than I’d been planning. Making this a bit more challenging was the fact that the Vanguard series is still ongoing, and I didn’t want to give away too much information about anything which might come in books that are in development. I also didn’t want to hamstring the Vanguard series with any ‘revelations’ I might have made here. It was an interesting tightrope to walk, but Dave Mack helped me steer clear of anything too juicy so far as spoilers might be concerned, and I think I managed to keep the veil of secrecy draped over Vanguard… at least, until we yank it off in the next books for that series.”
Speaking of which, Dayton is involved with both of this year’s Vanguard offerings – June’s Declassified, an anthology of four novellas written by David Mack, Marco Palmieri, Kevin Dilmore, and Dayton, and What Judgments Come, a full novel scheduled for October, which for a long time was known only by the working title The Taurus Key: A Crystalline Fairy Tale, Founded Upon The Mysteries of the Shedai and the Oppression of Their Servants. It Was Written for Kollotuul, But Others Should Read It. Was there ever a chance for that title to stick? “Only if our editor was Steve Mollmann,” Dayton laughs, giving a shout out to his fellow Star Trek writer, who inspired it.
Dayton’s contribution to Declassified is titled Almost Tomorrow. He reveals that he “really wanted to do something set before the events of the series’ first novel, Harbinger. I borrowed an idea from a television series I really like, The Shield. During that show’s second season, they aired an episode called Co-Pilot, which took several steps back to the timeframe just before the series’ first episode and showed us how various key characters came to be where they are at the point we are introduced to them in the pilot. It’s not a ‘big story’ in and of itself, and absolutely doesn’t work if you hadn’t been following the show from the beginning, but it added some nice context to certain characters and ongoing storylines from the show’s first two seasons.
“I thought that a similar setup would work for a Vanguard story, let me flesh out a few bits of backstory for some of the series’ characters, and show you the motivations and circumstances that put them where they are when we’re introduced to them in the first Vanguard novel. Savvy readers who’ve been following the stories Kevin and I have written for other Star Trek projects over the years also will recognise elements from one of our earliest works, which fate has now conspired to let us revisit as a very natural outgrowth of the Vanguard series. It’s weird yet very fun how that sort of thing works from time to time. This allowed me to plant a few more seeds that Kevin and I in turn will be utilising in our next full novel for the series.
“Kevin Dilmore’s story, Hard News, is set just a week or so after the events of the third novel, Reap the Whirlwind,” Dayton adds. “It’s a first-person story, told from Tim Pennington’s point of view, with our redeemed journalist on the hunt for a hot new story. Both Marco Palmieri’s and David Mack’s stories, The Ruins of Noble Men and The Stars Look Down, are set after Precipice. Marco’s story focusses on Diego Reyes, and Dave gives us another thrilling adventure with Cervantes Quinn.”
So, the stories will cover the entire history of Vanguard, from before Harbinger until after Precipice. Will they directly tie in to the main storyline, or are they independent stories? “Yes. How’s that for being irritatingly vague?” Dayton smiles.
David Mack mentioned in an interview with Unreality SF that Dayton and Kevin have sometimes surprised him with things they did in their instalments of Vanguard, and in doing so forced him to rethink his own stories. Did the reverse happen when Dayton wrote Almost Tomorrow in light of David’s Precipice? “Nothing in Precipice affected what I decided to do with Almost Tomorrow,” Dayton explains, “as we didn’t develop the Declassified anthology until well after Precipice was published, and by then I was well aware of what was going to happen in the book, anyway.”
The multi-novella format of Declassified is new for the Vanguard series, begging the question of whether it could become a regular feature. “I suppose there’s always a chance,” says Dayton, “but a lot of that will of course be dictated by how well this book is received and how well it sells.”
While Marco Palmieri’s story in Declassified marks his debut as a writer within the Vanguard series, as its co-creator he was involved from the start, along with David Mack; and Dayton and Kevin came on board very early on, too. Where there ever discussions about inviting a Vanguard-newbie to participate in Declassified? “Yes, we did originally consider bringing in some other writers,” Dayton nods. “We were tossing around different ideas as to what format we’d use for the stories, such as a short story anthology, and even a pair of mass-market paperbacks with two short novels each, mimicking the approach used for the Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine collections.
“Once our editor locked in the number of stories and the format, and with Kevin deciding he wanted to write a story on his own, it seemed only natural that the fourth slot be offered to Marco,” he explains. “I’d argue that aside from Dave, he has a better grasp of the series and characters than anyone, and it just felt right to have ‘the Vanguard brain trust’ all together for a turn on the dance floor.”
The Kansas City branch of that brain trust – Kevin Dilmore and Dayton – will also be responsible for the aforementioned What Judgments Come, about which Dayton can tell us “frustratingly little, as it turns out”. But he teases that the “novel will pick up the action at a point after Marco and Dave’s Declassified novellas, which are both set after Precipice”, and that the “the story will unfold in parallel to the events as chronicled in the original Star Trek’s third season. One episode in particular, which just happens to feature as antagonists a certain crystalline alien race around which Vanguard has been revolving since the beginning, will play at least some role in the events of the book. Remember what I said about elements from our earlier work showing up in my Declassified novella? Well, those come into play here, too. Oh, what a tangled web we weave…”
Now that Admiral Nogura has been the commander of Starbase 47 for a while, and Dayton has had the chance to write him repeatedly, what are the major differences between him and his predecessor Diego Reyes in Dayton’s eyes? “Nogura is a little bit country, whereas Reyes is a little bit rock-n-roll,” he jokes. “In all seriousness, Nogura is much more experienced than Reyes, both in diplomacy as well as the Starfleet/military side of things. In other novels, he’s been described – yet seldom, if ever, seen – as one of Starfleet’s senior advisors. I see him as very deliberate in his decision-making, considering all the angles and not always letting on what he’s thinking when he sets into motion various courses of action.
“I think he’d be more laid-back than Reyes, because he outranks pretty much everybody and can afford to be relaxed.” he muses and reveals that “[i]t actually wasn’t our intention to use him as a replacement for Reyes; the outline for what became the fourth Vanguard novel, Open Secrets, featured an entirely new character taking over as the station’s commander. However, after talking with Marco about it, he suggested we use Nogura since so little has actually ever been done with him. With that in mind, I did take steps to make his portrayal consistent with what was said about him in Kevin Ryan’s various Errand of… novels.”
How far ahead is the future of Vanguard planned out at the moment? “David Mack’s next book, which will follow ours sometime in 2012, has been plotted from a general, high-level standpoint,” Dayton tells us. “In the past, Kevin and I largely did our own thing, working with the editor to plot our own books, while Dave did the same for his books. We shared info back and forth, of course, just to make sure we weren’t stepping on any toes. With the sixth and seventh novels, there’s been a lot more communication and shared brainstorming as we helped each other to develop the overall plots for both books. Based on the conversations Dave and Kevin and I have been having over the past year or so, we know most of the major beats and how his book will end. What hasn’t yet been determined is how he’ll navigate all the wickets from beginning to end. Knowing Dave, I expect it will be quite the ride. As for what might happen after that? That’s another discussion to be had down the road.”
There’s currently a bit of confusion regarding the Star Trek line’s editorial office, after the third editor in two years has left the job – Marco Palmieri and Margaret Clark were laid off, and now Jaime Costas has left voluntarily. Did her decision to leave Simon & Schuster have any influence on Dayton’s recent, current or upcoming projects? “Not really,” he ponders. “When she left, I was already hip-deep in my Declassified novella, and trying to write up the detailed outline for the sixth Vanguard novel. There was the momentary disorientation that comes from learning you’ve changed bosses yet again, but I’ve been working in Corporate America long enough to be used to that kind of thing by now. That said, I enjoyed working with her and would gladly do so again, and I completely respect and support her reasons for leaving.”
Despite the upheaval in the Star Trek editorial office, Dayton has more Star Trek projects in the pipeline, but he’s “not currently at liberty to discuss them”. Luckily, he’s also very active outside the Trek universe, so there’s more than enough to talk about, including Counterstrike, the 2010 sequel to his first original novel The Last World War.
“I suppose the closest genre tag you could give it would be ‘military science-fiction’, though I think that’s a pretty loose association,” Dayton says. “The stories are set on Earth in the present day, where humans find themselves in the middle of a civil war being fought by two factions from another planet. Through an accident of science, one side has developed a sort of teleportation technology, but instead of transporting people and equipment from one point to another on their own planet, they end up here. Leaders on both sides quickly realise that this planet offers a host of resources which might help them rebuild their own civilisation after generations of war; it’s just a matter of dealing with the people who already live here. We partner up with the people on one side of the conflict, much to the chagrin of the people on the other side, and things go downhill from there.”
There were almost seven years between the releases of the two books. What were the reasons for the long delay? “The first book was commissioned as part of a programme Pocket was running to publish original science-fiction and fantasy as written by authors already working for them in some capacity, such as media tie-ins,” Dayton explains. “Peter David, Susan Wright, Keith DeCandido, and myself all were among this initial group, with our books being edited by John Ordover. As I was finishing writing The Last World War, a decision was made to scrap the programme and just concentrate on media tie-in SF and fantasy. So, here’s a bunch of books hitting shelves, all of which were written with the intent of possibly launching their own multi-book series, with nothing coming after them. Then John left, and my book and its potential sequel(s) essentially became ‘orphaned’ at Pocket.
“Marco Palmieri took up my cause and repeatedly tried to get his bosses to green-light a Last World War sequel, but this or that set of circumstances would always derail it,” he remembers. “This, despite the fact that the book was and continues to sell quite well. Then, as you know, Marco left Pocket as a casualty of downsizing, and I was pretty sure that would be it for any sequels to that book. After all, what publisher is going to buy a sequel to a book they don’t already have in their catalogue, especially if it’s from a mid-list writer like me? Answer: Nobody.
“Enter Jaime Costas in early 2009, who by now was working as an acquiring editor at Pocket. She contacted me and told me she wanted to commission the sequel, and we were off and running. The rest, as they say, is history,” he smiles.
But Dayton hasn’t limited himself to writing: in May 2009, Full Throttle Space Tales: Space Grunts, the first anthology he edited, saw print. Can he see himself doing more editing in the future, maybe even for the Star Trek line? “Anything’s possible,” he muses. “I took the editing job with Flying Pen Press for Space Grunts because I wanted to see what was involved in pulling together an anthology. I thought this would be a good way to learn at least some of the ropes, and if I did okay with it I’d have another skill I could offer to other publishers. I’ve been approached about another possible editing job with another publisher, and I think it would be great fun to edit a Star Trek anthology, but I don’t know if it will happen.”
At the moment, there are several other projects taking up his time. “I’ve had preliminary discussions about a couple of projects with different people, but those aren’t anything I can talk about just yet. They might not even happen, so I don’t want to jinx anything! David Mack and I are wrapping up our duties over at Tor.com with our weekly ‘Star Trek Re-Watch’ blog feature, and I – or Kevin and I, as the case may be – continue to benefit from being asked to provide content for Star Trek Magazine. In addition to all of that plus the novel work currently in my queue, I keep wanting to revisit an idea or two I’ve had on the back burner for a while now. Perhaps this spring when I’ve got a little bit of downtime, I’ll pull out an outline I’ve been playing with off and on when time permits, and see about pitching it to publishers. It’s a near-future SF/noir/thriller hybrid of sorts, and I really don’t know what to do with it at this point.”
And since Dayton would like, “somewhere in and around all of that, my regular full-time job, and my family… to sleep for a few hours, too”, it’s thank you and goodnight.
Paths of Disharmony was released by Pocket Books in February 2011. Declassified and What Judgments Come will be released by Pocket Books in June and October 2011 respectively.