While Star Trek Discovery will soon be going into its fifth and final season, the adventures of Captain Burnham and her crew in the 32nd century are far from over. Assuming, of course, you like to read. Which brings me to Star Trek: Discovery: Somewhere To Belong (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), the latest Star Trek novel by Dayton Ward. In the following email interview, Ward discusses what inspired and influenced this sci-fi space opera novel, as well as how it fits in with the show and his previous Discovery novel, Drastic Measures.
To start, what is Star Trek: Discovery: Somewhere To Belong about, and when does it take place in relation to both the show and the other Discovery books, especially yours, Drastic Measures?
At its most basic, Somewhere To Belong is a bit of bridging between the events of Discovery‘s third and fourth seasons. At this point, not long after Season 3, Captain Burnham and her crew finally get a break, and an actual chance to settle into their new lives in the 32nd century. Of course, Admiral Vance and Starfleet still need them thanks to Discovery‘s spore-drive capabilities, but he and others are conscious of the need to make sure Burnham and her people have a chance to properly acclimate. But, as happens on Star Trek, it’s while the crew’s undertaking what begins as a low-key, routine mission takes an unexpected turn, offering them an opportunity to reunite with an interesting aspect of their lives 900 years in the past.
Where did you get the initial idea for Somewhere To Belong?
When I was approached by my editor about this novel, Discovery had only just started streaming episodes of its fourth season and the request from Secret Hideout [the production company that makes Discovery] was that they wanted a largely stand-alone story which could slot in between the third and fourth seasons. One of the first things I keyed on while rewatching season 3 and those first few season 4 episodes was where the characters seemed to be, emotionally speaking, with respect to their new status quo.
Season 3 saw Discovery‘s crew having almost no time to acclimate to their transit to the 32nd century before being plunged into the all the craziness they dealt with soon after their arrival. When Season 4 starts, Burnham and her crew seem fairly settled into their new lives and roles 900 years from home. So, my big question off the bat was, “What happened after Season 3 when they finally had a chance to catch their breath?” How was their period of adjustment? Did they have second thoughts? Get homesick? Paul Stamets was visibly still angry with Burnham at the end of the season, after her decision to get him off the ship and away from Osyraa and the Emerald Chain, but by the time season 4 starts, everything’s back to “normal” with them. How’d that happen? And so on.
I had a number of character questions I wanted to explore. I took these ideas to Kirsten Beyer at Secret Hideout, and she and I had a few conversations on what kind of mission might let us explore how the crew came to terms with their new reality while at the same time helping the “guest aliens” (NO SPOILERS!) find their own way. With the basic pieces now on the table, I went to work on the story which would also let me play with all of these juicy character bits and perhaps address questions the show just never had a chance to answer. There’s much more room for that sort of thing in a 400-page novel than a 45-minute script, and Secret Hideout gave me a lot of room in which to work.
In the interview we did about Drastic Measures, we discussed the challenges in writing a Star Trek novel about a show that’s still in production, as opposed to one that’s done. Star Trek: Discovery is going into its final season. Did that have any bearing on Somewhere To Belong?
I finished writing the novel around this time last year, but supply chain and printing issues that still linger thanks to the pandemic caused it to be pushed from its originally planned late 2022 released date. My work on it was long done by the time it was decided to wrap the Discovery TV series after season five.
In that case, did it make a big difference that Somewhere To Belong is set in the time after the Discovery went 900 years into the future, a time previously unexplored in Star Trek history, as opposed to the timeframe Drastic Measures took place in, which was a few years before the original Star Trek?
It made a difference so far as the “state of things” with respect to Starfleet, the Federation, and the status of Burnham and her crew, their relationships with each other, and the new reality in which they find themselves. Season 3 also introduced all manner of new technology, for example, so I had to sort of be on guard so far as not allowing myself to get tripped up by “Star Trek muscle memory.” How phasers and tricorders work and how I might describe them, for example, or the ability to transport almost at will without going to the transporter room. Then there was Zora, the A.I. that’s now embedded in Discovery‘s main computer who’s like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey…albeit far more versatile and (thankfully) a lot less prone to homicide.
All of these cool toys to play with! And yet, the temptation to dig into the years Burnham and her people “skipped over” and to flesh out more than tantalizing bits of unwritten history was almost overwhelming at times. I knew I had to tread carefully in case the show writers decided to do that. Still, Kirsten Beyer gave me a few things I could play with or reference, and her ideas about the alien race the crew encounters provided a nice throughline for Tilly. Kirsten worked with me to figure out how all of this might fit into the larger Star Trek history after Discovery and its crew jumped to the far future.
Obviously, everything Star Trek is a space opera story, but are there any other genres at work in Somewhere To Belong?
I’m not sure how I’d categorize it. In a lot of ways, it’s very much a classic Star Trek “alien / planet of the week” story, even though the “guest aliens” are somewhat familiar to anyone who’s seen the show. There’s also a bit of obvious utopian fantasy going on, what with the “world” the aliens have created for themselves.
Somewhere To Belong is obviously not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a particularly big influence on Belong, but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not Drastic Measures or one of your other Star Trek novels?
I leaned quite a bit on Una McCormack’s Discovery novel Wonderlands, as it was the first novel set in the 32nd century, taking place during that year Burnham spends alone before Discovery and the rest of the crew arrive. I knew I wanted to spend a lot of time with this book in the heads of these people as they’re coming to terms with their new lot in life, and Una has her finger on how best to portray Burnham on the page, so I was happy to let her be my guide in this “new era” for the Discovery crew. She’s also just such a masterful writer when it comes to imbuing these familiar characters with life and emotion.
As for the basic premise of the “world” the aliens have fashioned for themselves, it’s definitely inspired by a few different works, notably James Blish’s Cities In Flight novels, Richard Paul Russo’s Ship Of Fools, and Gerald O’Neill’s The High Frontier.
How about non-literary influences; was Somewhere To Belong influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Aside from Star Trek of course.
Well, aside from an obvious nod to Starbase Yorktown from Star Trek Beyond (which I actually allude to in the book, at least in very oblique fashion), the basic idea of the alien sanctuary is inspired by films like Tides and Elysium, along with stories set aboard generation ships such as those scenes in the film Passengers or the SyFy miniseries Ascension.
And then, on the flipside of that, do you think Somewhere To Belong could’ve worked as an episode or two of Star Trek: Discovery? Why or why not?
The biggest obstacle I’d see with adapting this story for the screen is the alien sanctuary. There was a time when I might’ve said the cost of realizing this or some of the visuals we come up with for the novels would be prohibitive on a TV series budget, but is that really the case, anymore? So, I think with that sort of thing no longer such a major concern this could be adapted for TV as an episode or two.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Star Trek: Discovery: Somewhere To Belong?
It’s obviously more of a personal thing for me, but it was my first time writing for Captain Burnham and the Discovery crew [Desperate Measures was set 9 years before Discovery‘s first episode, and is centered around Lieutenant Commander Lorca and Commander Philippa Georgiou]. One of the biggest challenges of writing any Star Trek story is nailing the characterizations, and while I’d like to think I hit the right notes so far as how these characters talk and act on their show, that’s ultimately for readers to decide.
That said, I had a great deal of fun just putting the gang through the paces of a “traditional” Star Trek story, albeit it with several of the unique qualities that Discovery brings to the table.
Finally, if someone enjoys Star Trek: Discovery: Somewhere To Belong, they’ll probably read Drastic Measures, if they haven’t already. But once they’ve done that, which of your other Star Trek novels would you suggest they check out next?
You’re making me choose between my children. If you like this sort of Star Trek story where you’re not necessarily required to invest time in an entire miniseries or longer running series, I’d offer my original series novel Agents Of Influence or my Next Generation novel Armageddon’s Arrow. I think both of these make decent enough “ambassadors” for the vast library of Star Trek novels, especially for someone who’s watched the show but who’s coming to the books for the first time.