Over the last couple of days (catch up with Part 1 and Part 2), we’ve looked back at the nine-book Star Trek: A Time to… series, which bridged the gap between the movies Insurrection and Nemesis, chronicling a time of enormous change for the crew of the Enterprise-E.
But the books also introduced change in the real world, marking the start a new direction for the Star Trek novel line – and changing the type of story Star Trek: The Next Generation could tell. As our epic retrospective concludes, four of the series’ authors tell us how…
TNG, both as a TV show and a film series, was episodic rather than serialised; its episodes and movies almost always stood alone. In contrast, A Time to… formed a single continuous arc, making big changes to the characters and the universe around them. How easy was it to start telling those kinds of stories in a TNG setting? Was it as simple as one writer leaving something unresolved for the next to pick up, or was a more fundamental change required to ‘build’ the potential for serialisation into a world which hadn’t previously accommodated it?
“I personally didn’t have a problem with the ‘transition’,” says Dayton Ward (who, with Kevin Dilmore, wrote A Time to Sow and A Time to Harvest). “The characters are there, just waiting to be pushed and pulled and stretched in whatever way we can come up with.”
“Changing the storytelling style of TNG from episodic to serialised didn’t require anything more than the decision to do it,” David Mack (who wrote A Time to Kill and A Time to Heal) agrees. “Nothing about the setting or the characters was ever less than conducive to threaded story arcs. It was a matter of style, a preference by its creators.
“At the time TNG was produced, most series were episodic in nature,” he observes. “Serialised dramas were fairly rare on American television at that time, though the few that existed – such as Hill Street Blues, for instance – were often critically acclaimed. Episodic narratives, with story arcs that extended over seasons or across the entire run of a series, didn’t come into vogue until after TNG was off the air. And such arcs were even rarer in feature films.”
“It wasn’t that hard, as the nice thing about Star Trek is that it’s designed to handle either mode of storytelling,” adds Keith R.A. DeCandido (A Time for War, a Time for Peace). “And the stories weren’t particularly serialised, it was more the character arcs that were, and we accomplished it mostly by just talking to each other as we were going. In particular, Bob [Greenberger], Dave, and I talked a lot during the writing of the final five books (we all lived in New York City at the time and saw each other on a weekly basis). I also kept a spreadsheet of the Enterprise crew to make sure that we kept the ‘lower decks’ characters consistent.”
Serialisation is now the norm for Star Trek books. “For all the fun I’ve had helping to push Picard and the gang forward from book to book, I still get the itch every so often to tell a good, ‘old-fashioned’ story set during the television series,” admits Dayton. “I think there’s room to tell both types of stories, whether we’re talking about TNG or any of the series.”
In retrospect, A Time to… feels like the starting point of the novels’ current continuity. “We had indeed been evolving into a linewide consistent continuity and yes, by the time we got to this series, we were setting the major franchise on a singular course, letting the DS9 and Voyager books (along with the S.C.E. series of eBooks) join in and eventually catch up,” Robert Greenberger (A Time to Love and A Time to Hate) observes. “It was an entirely organic process and not dictated by Paramount or John.”
Was it planned from the start that the series would make a lasting change? “Hell, no, we had no idea,” Keith laughs. “We figured we’d tell this one miniseries and then move on. Mind you, I’m thrilled that is has had the influence it had, and that the books are still in print a decade later.”
“I don’t think that was the plan from the beginning,” Dayton concurs, “but once we realised there were not going to be any more TNG movies, we obviously started to see the possibilities for taking the TNG characters in directions that could never happen while there still were films in production. Things were about to open up for the TNG books, and by extension all of the novels set in the twenty-fourth century. We’d now have more freedom to interlock storylines and characters from all three series (five, if you count Titan and S.C.E., which was still being published at that time) without having to worry about a new movie coming along to overwrite us. Here we are, a decade later, and threads from those books are still playing out in one form or another. It definitely heightens the fun factor for writing new stories.”
“I don’t think any of us expected the miniseries to have so profound an impact on the future direction of the TNG novels,” acknowledges David, “as well as the rest of the Star Trek literary continuity. Once it was done, however, other writers started to reference our work. We returned the favour in our future novels. I’ve worked subtle callbacks to tiny details from my duology into several of my subsequent Star Trek novels over the years. Never in a way that calls attention to it, but as Easter eggs for those who happen to remember and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, that sounds familiar…’.”
The final three A Time to… novels also influenced some of the content of the serialised stories that followed, introducing the wider Federation political landscape which has remained a focus of the twenty-fourth century novels ever since.
“I don’t know that either Keith or I had any idea just how big a can of gagh we were opening with our books in the A Time to… miniseries,” David boggles. “The storyline of my two novels required a heavy political component because they were meant to function as a Star Trek allegory for the 2003 US invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. Because I wanted to make a statement about the consequences of errors in national leadership, it was imperative to spend some time fleshing out the Federation’s leaders.
“Because the tale was crafted to have a dark and unsettling ending, I left behind a narrative mess for Keith to mop up, which I guess forced him to spend more time dealing with politics than perhaps he had intended. But I can’t feel too bad about that, because that focus helped inspire one of his most popular Star Trek novels to date, Articles of the Federation.”
Federation politics was interesting to Keith “precisely because it was previously ignored,” he says. “We know tons about Klingon politics, Cardassian politics, Bajoran politics, Romulan politics – the head of the Klingon Empire and the Bajoran First Minister were recurring characters – but almost nothing about Federation politics. It was long overdue.”
Keith’s book was the debut of Nanietta Bacco, the new Federation President, who went on to become a key player in many subsequent books. “I was absolutely thrilled,” Keith enthuses. “I honestly never expected the character ever to appear again after Articles of the Federation, and to see her appear in over a dozen novels after that has been very heartwarming. The character was partly based on (and a tribute to) my late great-grandmother, who died in 2003 at the age of 98. The fact that so many writers wanted to get a shot at her (and all of whom enjoyed writing her) is one of the great joys of my tie-in writing career.”
Looking back, is there anything from Nemesis which the writers would have liked to have addressed in A Time to…, but didn’t? “I really didn’t like the way Nemesis ended, with the Enterprise in drydock and being repaired,” observes Dayton. “That just seemed ‘off’ to me somehow, like a total misfire so far as closing out the film. I would’ve preferred to see the ship heading out toward its next mission, which would’ve gone hand in hand with the way Picard is smiling as he walks the corridors right before we cut to that last shot.”
“One detail from Nemesis that never gets addressed in the A Time to… miniseries was: How did Shinzon acquire Data’s predecessor, B-4?” David points out. “It was an intriguing query, but not one that needed to be dealt with in the larger context of the miniseries. Fortunately, I was able to tie off that dangling story thread in my short story Twilight’s Wrath, in the anthology Tales of the Dominion War, edited by Keith R.A. DeCandido. But that, as they say, is another story. Literally, in this case.”
“The things in Nemesis that I wanted explained weren’t really solvable in a prequel book series,” Keith acknowledges, “like what would Shinzon have done if Starfleet Command sent a different ship to the Romulan border, since his entire plan hinged on the Enterprise being the ship they sent? So no, I think we covered all the important parts.”
And out of all the things in Nemesis which the A Time to… books were retroactively able to ‘set up’, which are the writers’ favourites?
“I think I like the general theme of people moving forward with their lives, whether personally, professionally, or both,” says Keith. “In particular I liked two things, one I did, one Dave Mack did. The latter is Riker coming to the realisation that his continued refusal to accept a promotion was actually stifling Data’s advancement, something he realises after he’s imprisoned for most of a book and Data kicked ass and took names as first officer in his stead. It’s one of the things that leads to him accepting the captaincy of Titan.”
“I’m especially proud of the one-two punch that Robert Greenberger and I pulled off to explain why Riker finally felt ready for command,” David agrees. “Bob hit Riker where it hurt most by taking his father from him, and then I threw salt in the wound by having Riker survive torture as a POW and come out of it with a new appreciation for his friend Data.”
“The thing I did was Worf finally doing something for selfish reasons,” Keith continues. “Most of Worf’s decisions have been because they were done for the greater good, even if it hurt him personally, or as a favour to someone he respected, whether it was being kicked out of the empire twice or taking on the ambassadorial post (which was a request of Martok). It was past time he did something because it was what he wanted.”
“Though the books didn’t actually set this up, my favorite of the threads that the series worked back to is Riker’s promotion and he and Deanna preparing to head off to the Titan,” Dayton offers. “For me, that represented a turning point for the novels, because – and we really didn’t even realise this at the time – we were about to have the leash loosened for the Next Generation characters the same way things had been relaxed for the Deep Space Nine and Voyager novels.”
We wrap up by asking each of the writers what they think the legacy of A Time to… is.
“I’d say it opened the door for darker, edgier, and more political stories involving the TNG characters,” sums up David. “I know that hasn’t always been to all readers’ liking, but overall I think it’s been a good thing, because it has added depth and complexity to our storytelling palette.”
“As we discussed, I think of it as a definite turning point for TNG books in particular,” Dayton reiterates, “in that it was with these books that we began to realise we would enjoy greater creative latitude with the characters than we’d previously enjoyed. This in turn impacted all of the twenty-fourth century novels going forward, and we’re still seeing the effects of that increased freedom.”
Robert concurs, but disagrees with fan consensus about the importance of the earliest instalments. “I’m sorry the fans divide the books into halves, considering the first four or six to be superfluous,” he admits. “Each contributed to the greater whole and without them, Dave and Keith could not have successfully reached the crescendo they did. I think it’s a good, solid series of yarns that proved to be the beginning of a new era for the publishing programme.”
“I think it set the tone for the twenty-fourth century fiction moving forward,” Keith concludes. “The mix of politics and adventure, and also of telling bigger stories that affect the entirely of the Alpha Quadrant, not just little planet-of-the-week adventures.”
The nine A Time to… books were released between January and September 2004 by Pocket Books, and are available now.
John Vornholt’s latest novel is Cupidity, released by Simon & Schuster in September 2014 (under the pseudonym Caroline Goode).
Keith R.A. DeCandido’s short story Back in El Paso My Life Will Be Worthless appeared in The X-Files: Trust No One, released by IDW in July, and his Heroes Reborn tie-in Save the Cheerleader, Destroy the World is released by Bastei Entertainment later this month.