In the early 2000s, Star Trek’s future was beginning to look uncertain. New television spinoff Enterprise was already struggling in the ratings, and when the cast of the more successful The Next Generation reunited for a fourth feature film together – Star Trek Nemesis, released in December 2002 – it met with lukewarm responses and poor box office takings.
But in print, the future seemed brighter. “The writers and editors of the Star Trek novels had begun collaborating and thinking about more long-term story arcs,” recalls writer David Mack. “Back in 2001, Marco Palmieri, at that time an editor working on the Star Trek novels, masterminded the ‘relaunch’ of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He and the authors he hired reconceived DS9 as a long-arc serial narrative that would explore many worlds and perspectives, and he introduced new characters into the DS9 setting to replace those the show had scattered to the ends of the galaxy. In many ways, Marco’s editorial vision for the DS9 novels was one that we emulated, to varying degrees, when we set the new direction of TNG fiction.”
It was in response to Nemesis that TNG’s new direction in print started to take shape, as the A Time to… series – one of, if not the most ambitious Star Trek literary events up to that point – came to life. Spanning nine books, released throughout 2004, a stable of six writers (John Vornholt, Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore, Robert Greenberger, David Mack, and Keith R.A. DeCandido) assembled to contextualise the film, framing events that it couldn’t or didn’t explain in a longer, richer narrative – and setting the direction for much of the Trek literature that has followed.
Late last year, a decade after the series concluded, we gathered five of A Time to…’s writers to look back at one of the most important Star Trek miniseries ever…
“I wasn’t too happy with Nemesis as a whole, though there are a few scenes and other bits I like about it,” says Dayton Ward (co-writer, with Kevin Dilmore, of A Time to Sow and A Time to Harvest). “I thought the ending was a bit ‘off’. But in truth I just had a gut feeling while watching it that the whole thing was off, somehow. I had heard rumours about friction on the set between the actors and the director, and I think at least some of that came through on screen. Having watched it recently for research, I can’t say my opinion’s changed all that much.”
“John Logan wrote Gladiator and Brent Spiner lived TNG for seven years, so I thought between them they’d come up with a killer story,” Robert Greenberger (A Time to Love and A Time to Hate) points out. “Instead they came up with a story that challenged the patience of diehard fans, and I sat in the audience squirming at watching Picard flaunt the Prime Directive and the studio hedge their bets with B-4. The film was a series of flaws and missed opportunities. I honestly haven’t had the desire to go back and watch the film again.”
“I saw the movie in a free screening and I felt like I was overcharged,” adds Keith R.A. DeCandido (A Time for War, a Time for Peace). “My reaction hasn’t really changed much, although subsequent viewings made me realise just how many doofy one-liners and exaggerated reaction shots there were, so much so that I was expecting a trombone to go ‘wah wah’ every time someone spoke.”
Nemesis would end up being the last film to feature the Next Generation characters.
“I don’t recall there was any definite word about Nemesis being the last TNG film at the time we were writing our books,” says Dayton. “At least, no more than there was after every film. We were aware of the movie’s disappointing performance at the box office, but that hadn’t necessarily been a deal-breaker in the past.”
David inferred from the film’s performance that Nemesis might not get a sequel. “By the time I was hired to write A Time to Kill and A Time to Heal, the box office returns and critical response to Star Trek Nemesis had made it seem likely there would be no more films or TV series featuring the TNG characters,” he explains. “This realisation started the editors and authors talking about whether future Star Trek novels in the TNG setting would be limited to the gaps between the episodes and the movies, with the characters’ final status quo trapped in amber at the end of Nemesis, or if the licensor might be willing to let the books carry on the characters’ stories in print form, now that there was far less risk of our tales being contradicted by future continuity.
“Those conversations didn’t have much direct impact on the A Time to… miniseries, however. Because it was designed from the outset to mesh as seamlessly as possible with the established continuity of Star Trek Nemesis, we had to remain consistent with the canon as it existed at that time.”
“I can’t say that had any real impact on how we approached writing our books,” Dayton concurs. “We still had to write the characters to be consistent with what was known about them from Insurrection, and how we pick them up at the start of Nemesis.”
Keith, on the other hand, remembers being more certain that Nemesis was the end. “Yup, we knew that from jump,” he says. “It was always possible that there’d be another film if Nemesis did well, but it seemed pretty likely that it would be the last, and the film being released and doing poorly was the final nail in the coffin. So we always treated it that way, so it was part of the conception of the series.”
The A Time to… series was conceived and orchestrated by John Ordover, then an editor at Pocket Books.
“After having received the script for Star Trek Nemesis in 2002, he wanted to do a big one-year storyline where all 12 books in the calendar year would chronicle the year leading up to the movie, setting up the status quo from the film,” recalls Keith. “It mutated a lot over the ensuing months, but my one and only request was that I be the one to establish how and why Worf came back to Starfleet. I’d done quite a bit of work with Ambassador Worf in several novels, and if he was going to be back in Starfleet, I wanted to be the one to chronicle it.”
There was plenty of potential in the gap between Insurrection and Nemesis because, as Dayton explains, “the latter film shows us that several significant changes have taken place with the Enterprise crew since the previous movie.”
“Because that movie introduced several changes to those characters’ shared status quo,” David elaborates, “it raised several questions for long-time fans (as well as the editors and authors of the tie-in fiction): Why were Riker and Troi finally tying the knot? Why was Worf back in a Starfleet uniform when we had last been told he was becoming an ambassador to Qo’noS? Why did Riker finally accept an offer of starship command after having declined it something like five times over the course of the TV series?”
“John was always looking for sales hooks, stealing concepts from comic book marketing such as crossovers and line-wide events,” remembers Robert. “They’d been steady sales producers for Pocket Books so this was the latest in a series. In his mind, that year was a perfect place for continuity filler. I recall John, Keith DeCandido, Dave Mack and others instant messaging and emailing back and forth parsing comments from Star Trek Nemesis in order to create a list of things we needed to set up.”
How was it decided which bits of Nemesis would be tackled, by whom, and in which books? “Part of it was volunteer work, part of it was folks being assigned, and so on,” Keith explains. “The author roster changed more than once, which didn’t help. But it was a pretty chaotic process.
“The initial planning for the series happened in a dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn that included me, John Ordover, Carol Greenburg, Robert Greenberger, and John Vornholt,” Keith continues. “I can tell you that at that dinner we came up with the basic framework of the series, and it was there that John V. claimed doing the Wesley-focussed story, Bob requested the story that leads to Riker and Troi’s decision to marry, and I claimed Worf coming back to Starfleet.”
“The fact that I was an approved advance reader of the Nemesis script, because I wrote the YA novel[isation], [meant] John Ordover and I could talk candidly about Nemesis long before he could talk to the other writers in the Time To series,” recalls John Vornholt (A Time to be Born and A Time to Die). “That was a help in planning.”
The initial idea was for A Time to… to span 12 books, released monthly throughout 2004, forming six duologies. “With six duologies, different highlights were doled out with the writers challenged to come up with Enterprise-worthy mission that didn’t duplicate one another,” explains Robert. “Over time, the schedule and writing challenges led J. Steven [York] and Christina [F.] York to bow out, and as the outlines were coming together, marketing weighed in and asked that the line be trimmed from 12 to no more than nine books, so Keith was asked to tidy it all up [in a single volume].”
Like the Yorks, writers Dafydd ab Hugh and Dave Galanter were at one point attached to duologies that did not materialise. “I honestly don’t know how this affected the overall plan, other than if they’d stuck to it then Kevin and I wouldn’t have been invited to write a couple of the books,” says Dayton. “I’ve never seen what Dave or Dafydd had planned for their books, or even if they got far enough along in the process to have developed outlines or other story notes.”
“Honestly, I don’t even remember talking to Dafydd, so he may have come and gone very early in the process,” says Robert. “I know Dayton and Kevin came in when the Yorks bowed out and honestly, I can’t recall at what point Dave Galanter was out of the mix. Most of their work was at the very beginning of the process so the changes had a minimal impact once the outlines began coming in and being sent around for collective comment. Once we were nine books with the teams in place, things ran really smoothly.”
“I can tell you that if Dave Galanter had gone forward with his duology, I very likely would not have been hired to write one,” David admits. “As a consequence, my career might be very different today.”
“Dave G’s proposal focused on Wesley,” Keith reveals, “and when the movie was changed so that Wesley was only a silent cameo and we no longer had to have him back in Starfleet (because we all thought that was spectacularly stupid), that plot was dropped. I have no idea what Dafydd had in mind.”
Even with the series cut by a quarter, planning was difficult. David describes keeping the character arcs and storylines aligned as “a long and difficult process of give-and-take. Because there were six authors and so much ground to cover, it fell to the editors to coordinate our efforts. I also had a hard row to hoe because I came late to the project, and the other authors all had staked out their narrative territories to some extent before I was able to begin plotting my two novels.”
“It needs to be stressed that this series would not have worked had most of us not already been friendly and used to collaboration,” Robert emphasises. “We refined one another’s ideas and built off each other’s threads at the outline stage.
“At the time, John, Keith, Dave and I were part of a weekly lunch crowd and as 2002 progressed into 2003, we would wind up seating near one another to chat up the books and our progress. Much of the latter half’s tightness of storylines, character bits, and themes arose from these weekly sessions.”
“Eventually, we all traded a ton of emails and phone calls to work out the overall arc of the miniseries,” adds David, “and to plan how all the major characters’ personal stories would play out from start to finish, so that they all would end up where we found them at the start of Nemesis.
“Some of the books ended up being driven more by personal stories — such as Wesley Crusher’s tale in the first two novels, A Time to be Born and A Time to Die, by John Vornholt,” David continues, “or William Riker’s story in Robert Greenberger’s duology, A Time to Love and A Time to Hate. My instalments, and the series’ second duology, A Time to Sow and A Time to Harvest by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore, were more plot-driven. Keith’s finale volume struck a perfect balance between action and character.”
A Time to… was an enormous project, taking close to half the available slots for original paperback Star Trek novels in 2004. Was there ever any concern about reader fatigue?
“At the time, Pocket was publishing two Star Trek paperback novels a month, along with a handful of hardcovers, the odd short story anthology, and a monthly eBook novella series,” points out Dayton. “One could argue that we’d been courting ‘reader fatigue’ for quite a while, at that point. However, John was confident the monthly approach would work for rolling out the ‘mini’ series, and the sales on all of the books – as far as I know – were strong. So, what do I know?”
“Readers of Star Trek books seemed to respond at the time much as comics fans did to Big Events,” Robert observes. “They queued up and bought the books, making it a commercially worthwhile event. I always bowed to John’s instinctive knowledge of the audience and he was right more often than not.”
“‘Reader fatigue’ is code for ‘these stories aren’t good’,” Keith opines. “Everyone talked about ‘Star Trek fatigue’ around the turn of the millennium when there was less Trek being produced than there was ten years earlier, when Trek was at the height of its popularity. Nobody’s suffering ‘NCIS fatigue’ right now. The point being, the only way there would be ‘reader fatigue’ is if the books sucked. If we told good stories, we could’ve taken up all 24 slots!”
Continue reading… • In Part 2, we revisit each of the nine books in turn.
The nine A Time to… books were released between January and September 2004 by Pocket Books, and are available now.