Exclusive Interview: Star Trek Discovery Desperate Hours Author David Mack
To coincide with the launch of a new Star Trek series, Star Trek Discovery, the good people at Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster who oversee the literary adventures of Kirk, Picard, and the rest have commissioned longtime Star Trek novelist David Mack to pen the non-canonical prequel novel Star Trek Discovery Desperate Hours (paperback, digital). But while Mack has written a number of Star Trek novels over the years — including 2004’s Star Trek: The Next Generation: A Time To Kill, 2012’s Star Trek: Vanguard: Storming Heaven, and the upcoming Star Trek: Titan: Fortune Of War — as he admitted in the following email interview, writing a book based on a show that’s still on the air made this experience rather unique.
Photo Credit: David Cross
To start, what is Star Trek Discovery Desperate Hours about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the TV show and the Star Trek canon at large?
First, let’s be clear: Star Trek: Discovery is set in the same canon timeline as The Original Series and all the other Star Trek television series. Consequently, my novel is set in that same continuity.
The two-part pilot of Star Trek: Discovery takes place on May 11, 2256, approximately ten years before the events of the first season of Star Trek: The Original Series, and two years after the events of the original series pilot, “The Cage.”
My novel Desperate Hours is set one year before the events of the series’ pilot, on May 11 and 12, 2255.
The narrative links between Discovery and The Original Series are grounded in the relationship between its main character, Michael Burnham [who’s played on the show by The Walking Dead‘s Sonequa Martin-Green], and Ambassador Sarek, the father of Spock [James Frain from Gotham]. My novel builds on those relationships and the history behind them.
The story of Desperate Hours is that a mining colony with tenuous connections to The Federation disturbs an alien leviathan that has been lying dormant beneath the sea bed. The colonists are reluctant to call Starfleet for help for fear that some of their less-than-legal shenanigans will be exposed, but the danger posed by the attacking alien ship leaves them no choice.
The first ship to respond is the USS Shenzhou, commanded by Captain Philippa Georgiou [Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘s Michelle Yeoh]. She and her crew do all they can to help the colonists, even as they begin to suspect the colonists are hiding something from them. Meanwhile, another vessel, the USS Enterprise, is sent in by Starfleet Command with very different orders: to contain the alien threat by any means necessary, even if that entails destroying the planet and everyone on it.
Where did the original idea for Star Trek Discovery Desperate Hours come from, and how different is the finished novel from that original idea?
The genesis of the novel was a request made by Star Trek: Discovery co-creator Bryan Fuller [who previously wrote episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager before creating the shows Hannibal and Pushing Daisies], and relayed to me by staff writer and media tie-in coordinator Kirsten Beyer. Bryan asked that I concoct a crossover story that would feature the crews of the Shenzhou and the Enterprise of Captain Christopher Pike. It was also fairly clear that Bryan wanted this story to serve as an opportunity to explore the relationship between Spock and Michael Burnham.
Before he made that request, however, the first few story ideas that I kicked around with Kirsten were set up as tales from Burnham’s childhood or adolescence, and would have connected to “The Incident,” the bombing of a Vulcan Learning Center facility — which is a separate event from the deaths of Burnham’s parents in a Klingon raid — that is shown in the series’ pilot. These plans were derailed by subsequent changes to the series’ backstory.
It was only after I had been forced to abandon two such story ideas that the decision was made to steer me toward the crossover story, which I was invited to explore in whatever way I deemed best.
Star Trek Discovery Desperate Hours is, of course, not your first Star Trek novel. But it is the first you’ve written for a Star Trek series that was in production at the time. How, if at all, did that make the experience of writing Star Trek Discovery Desperate Hours different?
It was certainly more anxiety-making. As you correctly point out, all of my previous Star Trek novels had enjoyed the advantage of having been developed based upon a locked body of canon episodes and movies. Since the finale of Star Trek: Enterprise, the static nature of the canon had enabled the media tie-in program at Simon & Schuster to take on some adventurous long-form story arcs and shifts in the status quo that we would never have tried while there were new series on the air or movies in theaters.
That state of affairs continued even after the Kelvin-timeline films started [the timeline of the three most-recent films], because a firewall of sorts had been erected between the events of that universe and the one in which we continued to work.
That luxury was no longer available to me as I wrote Desperate Hours. Even after the outline had been approved by everyone from the showrunners on down, changing premises and new details being concocted inside the writers’ room of Discovery had me constantly either revising my outline, my manuscript, or both. In some cases I would send Kirsten emails asking if the show could tweak certain lines of dialogue in order to avoid torpedoing my story’s continuity. Most of the time, the show’s writers were gracious enough to make such minor adjustments.
That said, the overall experience of trying to write the first original tie-in novel based upon a show that one has never seen or heard, using only scripts and set photos for reference, while the show is being written and revised three thousand miles away, is like trying to fix a jet engine on a plane while it’s flying at 40,000 feet.
Was there anything different about writing Star Trek Discovery Desperate Hours that comes just from it being tied to Star Trek Discovery as opposed to Deep Space Nine or Voyager?
The relationships, obviously. Although the various Star Trek series share the same basic universe, technologies, and tropes, the most important unique characteristics of each series are the dynamics between its characters.
For my novel, I started by showing the relationships between Burnham, Georgiou, and Saru [The Strain‘s Doug Jones], and establishing the professional “sibling rivalry” between Saru and Burnham over the Shenzhou’s first officer billet. Then, to give each character a chance to show more aspects of their nature in relation to other characters who longtime fans might already know, I split them up and paired them with characters from Pike’s Enterprise.
Specifically, I showed what kind of captain Philippa Georgiou is by contrasting her with Christopher Pike; I showed a different perspective on Saru by letting him interact with Number One — a.k.a. Commander Una — an officer with whom he feels an instant rapport; and Burnham, of course, must carry out a high-stakes mission in isolation with Spock, bringing all of their complicated quasi-familial issues to the fore.
Aside from Star Trek, are there any other movies, TV shows, or video games that had an influence on Star Trek Discovery Desperate Hours?
No, but for the sequence inside the leviathan, during which the alien vessel subjects Spock and Burnham to a series of increasingly difficult and dangerous tests, I took inspiration from the fad of “escape rooms,” and I based all of the various obstacles on esoteric areas of knowledge. This was done in part to honor a request from Kirsten Beyer that the solution to the story’s dramatic crises be rooted in “science and working the problem,” rather than in politics or military force. We wanted this to be a book in which knowledge and cooperation win the day.
What about more literary influences? Are there any writers or specific works of fiction that had an impact on Star Trek Discovery Desperate Hours but were not an influence on your other Star Trek books?
None from outside of Star Trek. The biggest influences on this novel were moments from the canon, particularly those from Spock’s childhood. His being bullied by other children. His strained relationship with his mother. The death of I-Chaya from The Animated Series episode “Yesteryear.” I also continue to employ a technique for writing mind-melds that I learned from fellow Star Trek author Keith R.A. DeCandido. The idea of Spock and Burnham inhabiting each other’s memories was inspired by a similar sequence that Keith wrote for Spock and Worf in his Star Trek novel The Brave And The Bold, Book Two.
Your pal and fellow Star Trek author Dayton Ward [Star Trek: The Next Generation: Headlong Flight] told me that you both like to make Rush references in your writing. What influence did the band’s work have on Star Trek Discovery Desperate Hours? More importantly, did you get to see them on their final tour?
Desperate Hours might be one of the few Star Trek novels that I’ve written that contains no overt references to Rush, either in its title or its contents.
As for the band’s final tour, of course I was there. I attended at least one show in every Rush concert tour since the Signals Tour. There was no way I was going to miss their last outing.
As we discussed, Star Trek: Discovery is still in production. I think they’re already planning for season two. Without spoiling anything, do you know if there’s any references to what happens in Star Trek Discovery Desperate Hours in the show?
As far as I know, the series itself contains no overt references to the events of Desperate Hours. Because my book is not canon — that’s just Star Trek policy, always has been — it might also be contradicted by the events or dialogue of some future episode, if the producers decide that is in the best interest of the story they’re trying to tell.
Finally, if someone enjoys Star Trek Discovery Desperate Hours, which of your other Star Trek novels would you suggest they read next, and why that one?
I would say that depends upon which iterations of Star Trek they like best. For fans who are new to Star Trek and have seen only Discovery, I’d suggest they check out the Star Trek Vanguard saga, an eight-book series set in the same time period as The Original Series, but featuring original characters and situations. It’s got a similar dark and gritty tone to that of Discovery, and it touches upon similar themes. [Included in this series are Mack’s Harbinger, Summon The Thunder by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore, Reap The Whirlwind by Mack, Open Secrets by Ward with Dilmore, Mack’s Precipice, What Judgments Come by Ward and Dilmore, Storming Heaven by Mack, the ebook In Tempest’s Wake by Ward, and the novella collection Declassified by Ward, Dilmore, Mack, and Marco Palmieri.]
For fans of 24th-century Star Trek — The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager — I would suggest they try my multi-series crossover trilogy Star Trek Destiny [Gods Of Night, Mere Mortals, Lost Souls] or my Star Trek: The Next Generation trilogy Cold Equations [Book I: The Persistence Of Memory, Book II: Silent Weapons, and Book III: The Body Electric].
But most importantly, if readers have enjoyed my work for Star Trek through the years, I hope they’ll follow me on an all-new narrative adventure. In January 2018, I’ll be kicking off a new original modern-fantasy secret-history series from Tor Books called Dark Arts. The first novel, The Midnight Front, is an epic tale of war, black magick, and revenge set during the Second World War in Europe. I’m already writing the series’ second book, The Iron Codex, and have a deal in place with Tor for its third volume, The Shadow Commission. This has been my passion project for several years, and this January it comes to booksellers everywhere in hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, and digital audiobook. I hope all of my readers will check it out.
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