Having twice explored the Alien universe, and created one of their own in their Salvagers trilogy, writer Alex White is going where they’ve never gone before with their new Star Trek novel, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Revenant (paperback, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview, White explains how this novel came together, when in the show’s chronology it takes place, and what non-Trek stuff influenced this noir-flavored sci-fi space opera story.
To start, what is Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Revenant about, and when in relation to the show is it set?
Revenant is set in the fourth season of the show, shortly after the episode “Way Of The Warrior,” which starts a lot of my favorite Dax stories. It’s about Jadzia Dax’s time in the Initiate Program, and the damage that carelessly pushing people to achieve can do. In it, she’s visited by an old friend who tells her his granddaughter, Nemi, has run off with his starship to a casino. Nemi was like a sister to Dax, the person who’d pushed her to reapply after Curzon washed her out, so Dax feels obliged to go check it out. Things take a dark turn when the ghosts of her past come calling — including the murderer, Joran Belar.
How did you come to write Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Revenant?
I was always terrified of the sheer size of Star Trek. I loved Jadzia Dax and Deep Space Nine, but I felt like that was most of my knowledge. That’s why I never threw my name in the hat. When my agent called and said they wanted me to write a Dax book, I was floored. It was tailor-made for me! It immediately triggered a re-watch, and I got to researching.
And then where did you get the idea for the specific plot of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Revenant?
If you’re going to have a creature with multiple lives inside it, then you need to have a lifetime-spanning plot. I like mysteries over that sort of span — the idea that something little could mean something big in another context. The things that people do — good and evil — have ramifications that span generations. In Dax’s case, every one of those precursors becomes personal. They’re things that happened to the being at her very core.
On top of that, not every Dax has been a nice person. Joran and Verad (temp Dax) were kind of monsters. Both were willing to kill for their ambitions.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine got rather intricate and political as it went on, especially when The Dominion got involved. Does Revenant tie into the larger saga of DS9?
It doesn’t. As much as I love a good war story, I just got done writing Alien: Into Charybdis. I’d had enough of the movements of empires and states to last me awhile. I wanted Revenant to be a close, tense noir, with a sweet, beating heart about the bonds of friendship and the way things break down. The Dominion can wait.
I assume Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Revenant — like all things Star Trek — is a sci-fi space opera story. But are there any other genres at work in this story?
The aforementioned noir genre is a favorite of mine. You can’t read one of my books without catching some cinematic action and warp-speed thrills — but I actually tried to write like I had a show budget instead of a movie budget. In my original pitch, there was some chase scene with a remote-piloted shuttlecraft or something, but that didn’t feel like an episode of Deep Space Nine. They winced at it, and I scrapped it.
While I love the way prose enables me to write “without financial constraints,” I feel like some of those constraints are integral to the show experience. I want Revenant to feel like your favorite episode they never filmed, not a movie barnacled onto the series that no character ever talks about. Other authors have masterfully tackled their unlimited budgets with unlimited knowledge of Trek, and I don’t think I can deliver a unique experience in that template. My big budget-breaker? Most of the episode would take place on Trill. Not trivial, but not impossible.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Revenant is your sixth novel after your Salvagers trilogy and your Aliens novels, Cold Forge and Into Charybdis. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Revenant but not on any of your other novels?
I get to write this with several other Trek series in my rear view, and those all played their parts in my perception of what Star Trek “means.” Despite decades of different writers and directors, it endures through a vision of inclusion and curiosity, so I’d say that colored my plot.
I would also say that this book has a very Raymond Chandler / The Long Goodbye vibe to it. I really go out for that sort of stuff. It’s just raining constantly.
How about non-literary influences; was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Revenant influenced by any movies, TV show, or games? Besides Star Trek, that is.
Lots of soundtracks. Bullitt and I, Origins were two regulars.
And within Trek, do you think Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Revenant was influenced by any of the other shows or movies?
Yes. I am happy to consume other series in my amoeba-like quest for the best possible DS9 novel. I started watching again as I wrote, and I’m glad I came back. Except for the Pakled jokes. Those strike me as mean-spirited on a nice day, and don’t really mesh with Trek‘s message of compassion.
As we’ve been discussing, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Revenant is about Jadzia Dax. Actors can be very possessive of the characters they play. In writing Revenant, especially the parts where you had to decide what Jadzia would do and say, did you consult with Terry Farrell, who played her on the show?
HAHAHA Holy s@#$ was that an option?! If so, I need to go back in time and inform myself that I need to be consulting with Terry Farrell. I didn’t even ask. As a novelist, you don’t get any kind of special access to celebrities, directors, series bibles, or any of that. You get an editor to hold your hand, and frankly, that’s usually enough to do the job well.
How cool would that have been, though?
They also didn’t get Farrell to narrate the audiobook version. But it seems like that’s probably okay, like it would break the space-time continuum if she had, especially if she did it as Terry and not Jadzia. Or am I wrong about the temporal mechanics of this?
You know, I kept thinking about how fun that’d be, and how I’d love to hear her voice reading my lines. Her performances are a huge part of why I love that character. However, I bet the person they got to read loves the character, too, and brought some of their own excellence to the role.
My understanding of things is that Star Trek novels have to follow the cannon established by the movies and TV shows, but they’re not considered cannon. But are the Star Trek books cannon to each other?
Okay, I was told “no” on this, but I believe that if you’re writing after the series, you need to be in-canon with those novels. I did conflict with some stuff in the short stories, but I hope I can be forgiven for that.
As I mentioned earlier, you’ve written two novels connected to the Alien franchise, Alien: Cold Forge and Alien: Into Charybdis. Does Fox have the same cannon rules about Alien that Paramount / CBS have about Star Trek?
No. The modern novels are all technically in-canon until a director decides to blow it all away like so much dust.
But then, I won’t care, because we’ll still have enjoyed our story together and that’s canon enough for me.
Alien: Into Charybdis came out earlier this year. Did you end up writing it and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Revenant either at the same time or back-to-back?
How do you think writing Revenant influenced Charybdis, and vice versa?
After writing the dark and cynical Into Charybdis, I was ready for some familial tenderness and affection. Dax isn’t the sort of character who thrives on simple vengeance. She’s incredibly complex, and brings a nuanced approach to justice. I wanted her story to have a lot of contrast with Into Charybdis, even though there are dark moments there.
While we’re on the subject, people can learn more about Alien: Into Charybdis in the interview we did about it, but for people allergic to hyperlinks, what is that book about and when in relation to the Alien movies is it set?
It’s about a group of American contractors headed to an Iranian installation to bring the lights, cameras and temperature sensors onto the network. They’re basically an HVAC repair crew. When they get there, the local population is cagey, and rightfully distrusting. When xenomorph-related stuff happens, both sides start pointing fingers, and someone calls the Colonial Marines.
The book takes place in 2184, five years after Aliens, Alien 3, and The Cold Forge, and kicks off a series of events referenced in the recent video game Aliens: Fireteam Elite.
So, are you going to write any more Alien novels?
Aw, I could never comment on that, because I’m never truly done with that series, am I?
I don’t know, that’s why I asked. But if you’re not writing more about Aliens, what are you doing?
My next book trilogy is coming from Orbit, and the title has yet to be announced. Rest assured, it’s going to be wild; like “David Bowie meets Evangelion” wild.
Speaking of your own writing, you have fans who may not be into Star Trek. Do you think they will enjoy Revenant, and, more importantly, understand it?
Absolutely. I know how daunting Star Trek can be. As a writer, its magnitude is absolutely terrifying. That’s why I try to explain as many of the Trek-specific concepts as I can. And if you don’t know from context, you can always check [the Star Trek website] Memory Alpha.
Finally, if someone enjoys Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Revenant, what Star Trek-ish or Trek-inspired sci-fi space opera novel of someone else’s that isn’t a Star Trek novel would you recommend they check out?
That’s kind of a hard one, because there really is nothing like Trek out there. Go read Laura Lam’s Goldilocks. It’s full of intrepid explorers dealing with science problems against a socially-conscious backdrop.