In numerology — which Wikipedia defines as “any belief in the divine, mystical relationship between a number ad one or more coinciding events” — the number 4 is supposed to reflect stability. Well, someone might want to tell that to writer Christopher L Bennett, the author of Star Trek Enterprise Rise Of The Federation Live By The Code (paperback, digital). Because while it’s the fourth book in his Rise Of The Federation series, and is set four years after The Federation was founded, an event depicted in the last episode of the fourth and final season of the TV show Star Trek: Enterprise, in talking about Bennett about Live By The Code, I don’t get the sense that he was going for stability.
To start, what is Star Trek Enterprise Rise Of The Federation Live By The Code about, and where does it fit in, both chronologically and narratively, with the TV show?
Live By The Code is set in 2165, three years into Rise Of The Federation and four years after the founding of the United Federation Of Planets. It’s the conclusion of a two-book arc — which started with Uncertain Logic — dealing with The Ware, the technology behind the automated repair station in the Enterprise episode “Dead Stop,” and the deployment of a Starfleet task force to investigate and address The Ware threat. Admiral Jonathan Archer, at the beginning of his tenure as Starfleet Chief Of Staff, finds himself confronting a possible war with the Klingon Empire, provoked in part by The Ware crisis. Meanwhile, Doctor Phlox returns home for his daughter’s wedding, giving readers what I believe will be their first direct look at Denobula and its society.
Where did the idea for this book come from? Was it yours, did it come from the powers-that-be…
The “powers-that-be” do not come up with the story ideas; that’s what they hire us to do. Or rather, they commission Pocket’s editors, who in turn hire authors to conceive and write the stories. Sometimes an editor will ask an author for a certain broad type of story — for instance, editor Margaret Clark suggested I take over writing Enterprise — but deciding what those stories will be about is our job, subject to the approval of the editor and the CBS licensing people. The licensing department is mainly concerned with ensuring that our work remains consistent with Star Trek‘s continuity and character.
My goal in Rise Of The Federation has been to explore the evolution of the United Federation Of Planets from the seeds planted in Enterprise to the institution we see in The Original Series and afterward. I’ve wanted to explore the formative challenges that The Federation faced and how they tested its values and shaped its policies. I’ve also sought to develop promising story threads left over from Enterprise, such as the “Dead Stop” repair station.
How different is the final book from the original idea?
Much of The Ware storyline in this book was conceived as part of Uncertain Logic, but that book’s other main plot became so long that I needed to postpone much of The Ware plot for the fourth volume. This improved both halves of The Ware arc, because it let the first half be more focused and gave me room to explore the latter part of the arc in more depth. The resolution also turned out to push a long-term story thread into advancing sooner than I’d expected, but it’d be a spoiler to say more. I also hadn’t initially planned to do as much with the Klingons in this volume, but when my friend Keith R.A. DeCandido’s book The Klingon Art Of War came out, it established certain things about Klingon history in this period that I wanted to incorporate into my narrative. Keith’s input was of great help on this novel.
As you mentioned, when you write a Star Trek novel, the stories have to be approved. But is that also true for when you’re naming things, like a planet or a ship or a character?
I don’t believe I’ve ever been required to change a suggested proper name. The only time I can see that becoming an issue is if it conflicts with a pre-existing name in Star Trek or some other franchise, but I’m pretty careful with my own research on that front. Generally, the only times I’ve had an issue with names were when my editors didn’t like my proposed book or story titles, but that’s more a matter of editorial taste than anything to do with the licensing, approval process. The licensors are don’t micromanage as much as people assume. At least not during the time I’ve worked on Star Trek literature.
Have you ever tried to sneak anything in, like maybe an alien named after your dog?
In fact, this happened in Star Trek: Titan: Over A Torrent Sea, in which I depicted the birth of Will Riker and Deanna Troi’s daughter, whom I named Natasha. In-story, that was in honor of Tasha Yar, but in fact it was a tribute to my cat Natasha, who had passed away while I was writing the book, and whose demise influenced the themes of grief and recovery in that tale. I’ve also included a few names that were personal in-jokes. For instance, Trip Tucker’s alias in the past two Rise Of The Federation novels, Philip Collier, is a nod to two engineer characters from Mission: Impossible: Barney Collier from the original series, and his son Grant Collier from the 1988 revival series.
Really, when you have to come up with new proper names constantly, it’s impossible to avoid drawing on things from your life. In my next Trek book, there’s a minor character that I named after the brand name on my backpack because it happened to be in sight when I was writing the scene. If I’m writing in the library, I may swipe a name from the spine of a book or a ship registry number from the book’s call sign.
When you write a book like this, one that’s based on a TV show, do you prepare by watching a bunch of episodes so you can get a sense of how the actors, and thus the characters, talked?
When I was first assigned to carry the Enterprise novels forward beyond the Romulan War, I rewatched Enterprise twice. Well, I skipped a few episodes the second time around. I also rewatched “Dead Stop” one more time when I began The Ware narrative in Uncertain Logic. By now, though, I know the characters and environments well enough that it isn’t so necessary to keep going back.
Along the same lines, when you write a book based on a TV show, do you try to make it feel like an episode of the show, or maybe an episode of the show if the show had an unlimited budget?
I think that the purpose of an adaptation is to adapt, a word that means changing to fit new circumstances or needs. Adapting a story to a new medium is best done by fitting it to that medium, not trying to copy a different medium. After all, books have different strengths and weaknesses than television or film. They’re not as visual, they have more room for in-depth discussion and exploration of ideas, they can get inside characters’ heads, they have three or four times as much story as a single episode, they don’t have to take a commercial break every five or six minutes, and so on. Writing a book by pretending it’s a TV show is a contrived and pointless exercise, arbitrarily straitjacketing yourself rather than embracing the potentials of the new medium. We already have Star Trek in TV form. Trek novels are a chance to create Trek in book form, thereby adding something that TV can’t provide. Yes, the whole “unlimited budget” thing is part of that, but only part.
In terms of the Star Trek novels, is there an era of them that you like writing about more than the others? Or is it more that you like to mix it up?
I’ve always been most drawn to the unexplored gaps in Star Trek history, periods like the years following Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which I depicted in Ex Machina, Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again, and Department Of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History. And the missing nine years between Picard’s commands of the Stargazer and the Enterprise, as seen in The Buried Age, or the adventures of the Titan following Nemesis, as seen in Orion’s Hounds and Over A Torrent Sea. Lately, I’m more partial to the 22nd and 23rd centuries, since the post-Nemesis 24th century is pretty crowded with books exploring a rather tight continuity, and I’m more interested in the empty areas where I can color freely without a lot of lines to hem me in.
What impact has writing Star Trek novels had on your original books?
I think it’s more the other way around. I’ve always tried to write my tie-in fiction in a manner consistent with the way I approach my original fiction: allowing for the looser laws of physics and tighter limits on adult content in the tie-in universes. I’ve heard of writers, though nobody I know, who see tie-ins as something just to be done for the paycheck and who therefore lower their standards for tie-in work, but I find that self-defeating, since a good tie-in can hopefully attract readers to your original work.
The way in which my tie-in writing has influenced my original work is that sometimes I’ve cannibalized concepts from my original plans for tie-in stories — though not plots so much as aliens, historical background, and themes — which has required me to go back to the drawing board and come up with new, hopefully better ideas for the original stuff.
Have you ever taken an idea that was rejected for a Star Trek book and used it in one of your own novels? Or is that now allowed?
I don’t think it would be forbidden to recycle a plot idea, as long as you don’t use a trademarked proper name, and as long as you modify it enough that it’s not just a Star Trek story with the serial numbers filed off. Sci-fi editors get those all the time and reject them summarily, not for legal reasons, but just because they’re cliche and unoriginal. But I don’t think it’s something I’ve ever done. I tend to deliberately focus my original work on non-Trek-like situations, which is something I decided to do long before I became a Trek author. My earliest attempts at original creativity in my teens were heavily derivative of Trek, but over time, I increasingly rebelled against that in favor of more distinctive ideas, so that by the time I started selling my work, it was very different from anything you’d see in a Trek episode.
Finally, if someone really enjoyed Star Trek Enterprise Rise Of The Federation Live By The Code, which of your other Star Trek novels would you recommend they read next, and after that, which of your non-Trek books would you suggest?
Live By The Code is the fourth book of the Rise Of The Federation series, and the second part of The Ware arc, so it would make sense to read the previous three books first: A Choice Of Futures, Tower Of Babel, and Uncertain Logic. Other books of mine that fill in Trek “history” include The Buried Age, which gets into deep galactic prehistory as well as fleshing out a major gap in Captain Picard’s personal history, and my Department of Temporal Investigations novels, Watching The Clock and Forgotten History.
As for my original work, at this point my only books are Only Superhuman, which is a hard-sci-fi superhero adventure in the Asteroid Belt, and Hub Space: Tales Of The Greater Galaxy, an e-book collection of my comedy-sci-fi “Hub” stories from Analog Science Fiction And Fact.