While the most recent Star Trek movies kind of, sort of, but not really rebooted the saga, the Trek novels have continued the timeline of the original series, the other shows, and the previous movies. Which is how we get to Dayton Ward’s Star Trek The Next Generation Headlong Flight (paperback, digital), a new adventure for Captain Picard and crew. Though in talking to Ward about the novel, it turns out we also get there by going through a certain Canadian rock band…
So, let’s start with the obvious question: What is Star Trek The Next Generation Headlong Flight about, and where does it fit into the chronology of the movies and the TV show?
Star Trek The Next Generation Headlong Flight is set about seven years after the events of the last Next Generation film, Star Trek Nemesis. In the “world” of the novels, a lot has transpired. The Borg have invaded, and been defeated for good. Riker’s been promoted to admiral, and he and Deanna Troi have a child. Picard and Beverly Crusher are also married, and they have a son. After a string of stories where interstellar politics and intrigue were the primary focus, the U.S.S. Enterprise-E is once again pursuing an extended mission of exploration. They’ve been surveying a little-known area of space called The Odyssean Pass, and in this story, they come across what at first appears to be a rogue planet. They soon learn that the planet is shifting in and out of this dimension at irregular intervals, and that there are people down there, seemingly trapped by the dimensional shifting. So, they start to investigate, and hilarity ensues.
What was the inspiration for the book’s plot, and was it your idea or someone else’s?
The idea is one I developed and pitched to my editors at Pocket Books. I was basically asked to provide a “traditional” standalone Star Trek story for Captain Picard and his merry band, and came back with this. My editors are very tolerant and indulgent of most of my shenanigans.
It’s actually an idea is actually one I pulled from a previous TNG novel, Armageddon’s Arrow. In my original notes for what became that book’s outline, I had started to work in some of the elements that now appear in Headlong Flight, but decided that it was a bit unwieldy when combined with everything else going on in that book, so I pulled it. However, I still thought the basic idea would work so long as I could find the right way to go about it. So, I filed it away until such time as I had reason to revisit it. And then my editor called….
Gotcha. How different is the final version of Star Trek The Next Generation Headlong Flight from that original idea?
The basic idea is there, but I ended up developing an entirely different and unrelated story around the initial premise.
Star Trek The Next Generation Headlong Flight deals with multiple dimensions. Given that we’ve seen this trope in Star Trek before, did you have to stick to dimensions that have already been seen in the shows, or could you create your own?
Please note that we’re starting to get into spoiler territory from this point forward.
I wasn’t restricted just to timelines or dimensions we’ve seen on screen. That said, one of the “alternate takes” seen in the book is something of a nod to at least a couple of those other realities hinted at in such episodes as “Parallels.” The Romulan ship and crew depicted here is actually a different take on a set of characters we created several years ago for an entirely different book and series. That wasn’t even my intention going in; it was just an idea I had late one night as I was deciding how I wanted to depict the Romulan crew, and then it hit me. BAM! “Why not use those Romulans?” So, I was able to have a bit of fun with that.
Did you conceive of any alternate versions of the universe that were interesting, but didn’t really work for the book?
I went back and forth on how far to push the “differences” in the way the characters from different dimensions are played. It was tempting to spend more time in the heads of the “alternate” characters, but I also had to be conscious of not bogging down this story too much. I’ve even given thought to developing a new story in that setting, just so I’d have more opportunities to continue exploring that crew dynamic and so on. I don’t know if that’ll ever happen, but I’ve learned to never say never with this job.
So who came up with the title of the book? And how long after it was suggested did someone say, “Hey, isn’t that the name of a Rush song“?
It’s been something of a running joke for several years, with fellow author David Mack and I — or me and my writing partner, Kevin Dilmore, if we’re collaborating — to use Rush song titles as story titles. I forget who’s done it more, but I think we’re running pretty much neck and neck.
As is the case with so many other things, my editors have long ago given up their attempts to dissuade me from this practice.
Did you also include a Rush reference in the book? Maybe name one of the aliens Lerxst or something?
Nothing so overt, though in other stories I’ve made mention of such things as the Temples of Syrinx, or naming a ship Bacchus Plateau. I think Dave has named a security officer “Peart” in one of his books.
The thing is, no one in Star Trek would ever mention Rush. Or even Star Wars. Obviously, not all of our pop culture will still be remembered in 300 years, but some might. As a writer of Star Trek novels, are you told not to make those kinds of references, or is it just that, for some reason, no one’s ever written a scene where Riker and Worf go for drinks in the holodeck version of the Mos Eisley Cantina?
They typically don’t allow such overt references. You’d never see anyone running a Star Wars holodeck program, for example. The urge to drop in a veiled reference to something from another favorite film or TV show is pretty common, and we’re not outright banned from making such references, but our editors or the licensing department will rein us in if we get too carried away with it. I’ll admit to the occasional attempt to slide something sly or funny past them, but I’ve failed at that far more often than I’ve succeeded. Those folks are pretty sharp.
So, do you think Star Trek The Next Generation Headlong Flight would work as either a movie or an episode of the show?
I wanted the story to feel like something you could’ve seen as an episode. On the other hand, realizing something like this on screen would prove challenging, because of the need to convincingly portray certain characters at different ages and so on. Yes, CGI can do wonders, but it’s also an expensive, labor-intensive process. You don’t have that problem in a comic or a novel.
Finally, if someone really likes Star Trek The Next Generation Headlong Flight, which of your Star Trek novels would you suggest they read next, and why, and which of your non-Star Trek novels would you suggest they read next, and why?
If they like Next Generation, I’d offer up Armageddon’s Arrow as a possible suggestion because, like Headlong Flight, it’s a standalone adventure that hopefully provides all that’s needed to bring a reader up to speed about what’s happened in past books.
As for my non-Trek works? Buy everything. I’ve got kids to feed. I’ve written a few novels that have elements of military science fiction, but are set here on “present day” Earth. If you like Marines fighting aliens, there’s The Last World War and its sequel, Counterstrike, and if you like Marines fighting genetically-engineered killer lizards, then I offer up The Genesis Protocol.