While the Star Trek movies, video games, and comic books are exploring the new timeline where that guy from Heroes is Spock and Gamora from Guardians Of The Galaxy is Uhura, fans of the original Trek universe can sleep soundly knowing the original timeline continues in the novels. But in talking to writer John Jackson Miller, who wrote the new novel Star Trek The Next Generation Takedown (paperback, digital), it’s not just the fans that are interested in keeping this saga going.
So I always like to start with the basics: What is Star Trek The Next Generation Takedown about, and where does it fit in, chronologically, in terms of the movies and the show?
Takedown is an interstellar chase pitting Admiral Jean-Luc Picard against his friend and protégé, William Riker. Riker was named admiral, advancing ahead of Picard, in a recent series of Pocket Books novels. This created a new dynamic in their relationship, and I wanted to confront them with a specific situation that put them on different sides of a crisis. I figured it would be interesting to see how they responded.
The story is a fun one, but not only that, it should be a very good starting point for anyone who has not read much Star Trek fiction. You only have to have watched the TV show a few times, really. And at the same time, there is a lot there for the veteran readers as well.
As to where it comes in a chronologically: this book takes place in the year 2385, several years after the movie Star Trek: Nemesis. Riker is still associated with the Titan, his flagship, and Picard is still captain of Enterprise.
Is it based on an idea you had, or something that the Trek book overlords came up with?
It was my idea. I had always wanted to tell a naval adventure story in a Star Trek setting, and I was delighted that Pocket Books and editor Margaret Clark gave me the opportunity. I’m very happy with the way it came out; it feels very much like what I had intended.
I realized after the book was completed that the characters never set foot on a planet. It’s all starship action.
So what inspired this idea?
The inspirations, beyond Star Trek, would be in all the naval stories I’ve read, from Horatio Hornblower to the Master And Commander novels. This is a story in that tradition, I should hope. And certainly more modern naval dramas like Run Silent, Run Deep and The Hunt For Red October also added inspiration.
One of the interesting turns in Star Trek The Next Generation Takedown is that the bad guys are Will Riker and Ezri Dax. When it came to deciding who the antagonist would be in the story, again, was that your idea or someone else’s?
“Bad guys” is probably overstating it; everyone has a reason for what they’re doing. But yes, this was my idea. Though in the very early going, I had considered having it be Riker chasing Picard, instead of the other way around. But then I realized that there were some very interesting opportunities that could be found by playing on the new dynamic that exists between Picard and Riker, and after discussions with Margaret Clark, I submitted the version you see in the book as my plot.
Besides, we had seen the story of Riker chasing Picard in “The Best Of Both Worlds” episodes of The Next Generation, and it would be difficult to tell a story better than that. I would not want to try.
Was there any resistance from the powers-that-be to having Ezri and Riker as the antagonists?
There was no pushback at all. It was clear from the beginning the kind of story that I had in mind, and that it fit with in with other similar stories that became Star Trek episodes.
A major contribution, though, came from John Van Citters at CBS, who suggested something that led the development of the framing sequence I wrote for the book. Without giving anything away, since there had been some similar situations in the TV shows, he suggested writing about “what’s next”: the part of the story we never see. I thought that was a terrific idea and added it to my plans, developing something that the addressed this question.
I know that’s very vague, but I don’t want to give away any of the book’s surprises. People who’ve read the book will know what I’m talking about.
When you’re writing a novel like Star Trek The Next Generation Takedown, which is not only set in the same time as three Star Trek shows, four movies, and countless books and comics, is it up to you to make sure everything lines up with what’s been done before, and is now canon, or is there someone you can turn to for fact checking?
I have a large amount of Star Trek reference material that I have built up over the years as a fan. I consulted the Star Trek Encyclopedia and the Star Trek: Star Charts book by Geoffrey Mandel, which was enormously helpful, and I also studied information on Memory Alpha and Memory Beta. I also went through lots of the previous books looking for story hooks. Then I further had the backing of the editorial crew and licensor to go to for questions.
Star Trek The Next Generation Takedown is the second thing you’ve written in the Star Trek universe; you previously penned the novella Star Trek: Titan: Absent Enemies. What is it about the Trek universe that made you want to write stories about it?
I’ve always wanted to write for the Star Trek universe, and in fact, the first prose proposal I ever submitted to a space franchise was for Star Trek. I had gotten a Star Trek: Starfleet Corps Of Engineers story approved years earlier, but the line was canceled before it went to contract.
There is a definite difference between writing Star Trek and for other franchises. Star Trek is inspired by hard science fiction, and there are many of types of storylines that are simply easier to do there than in a space fantasy setting. Star Trek also has a rich tapestry of characters and races and concepts to draw upon that make for some interesting story opportunities.
And I have to say that I really enjoyed getting to add a transporter beam to my bag of writing tricks. One of the most difficult things in science fiction storytelling is getting characters from space to the ground and vice versa without spending a lot of time in transit. One of the genius ideas of Star Trek is that it eliminates those sequences altogether in a logical fashion.
Prior to writing these Star Trek stories, you wrote a bunch of Star Wars books and comics, including the novels Star Wars: Kenobi, Star Wars: Knight Errant, and Star Wars: A New Dawn, as well as the Knights Of The Old Republic comics collected in Star Wars Omnibus: Knights Of The Old Republic Vol. 1, Vol. 2, and Vol. 3. But there’s long been a rivalry between Star Trek and Star Wars. Have you gotten any grief from Star Wars fans for writing Star Trek books?
No, everyone I’ve spoken with has been cool with it. There are a lot of fans, like me, that like many different franchises. And I really think that the notion of a heated rivalry between the Star Wars and Star Trek fandoms is largely nonexistent, a relic of the 1980s. I was a Star Wars and Star Trek fan at the same time back then, and I’m not even sure it was much of a thing then.
Probably the time when my Trek fandom grew the most was during the late 1980s when Next Generation came out; I had finally gotten a chance to watch a Star Trek series from the beginning. This was a period when Star Wars was in hibernation, between trilogies, and having another universe — or two, with Doctor Who — to delve into was attractive to me.
I think that the best way I can put it is to draw upon the words of two influential gentlemen in each franchise: “Infinite diversity in infinite combinations,” Spock would say. Or Darth Vader might add: “There…is…no…conflict!”
Are you still writing Star Wars comics?
I took a pause from regular series writing a couple of years ago so that I could focus on more novel writing; in that time I’ve written Star Wars: Kenobi and Star Wars: A New Dawn, as well as my own Overdraft: The Orion Offensive. And now Star Trek. I continue to do a number of comics projects now and again when I have the time. My recent Conan story just appeared in Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword Volume 2 from Dark Horse Comics, and my Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series will also be republished by Marvel later this summer as part of its Epic collection line.
I remain obsessed with comics — I run the history site Comichron.com on the side — so I will never stray too far away.
Has there been any thought to writing a Star Trek comic? And if so, which era of Star Trek would you want to write about?
I’ve had conversations with Sarah Gaydos at IDW, and it is certainly something that I would be interested in doing at some point. It’s a matter of finding a project that makes sense for all involved. Joe Corroney, the artist on my first comic book at Marvel, Crimson Dynamo, has done a lot of work for IDW’s Star Trek line, and I would certainly like to get the chance to write Star Trek comics at some point.
As to the era, I am open to many possibilities. I wrote in several different time frames for Star Wars at Dark Horse.
When you were talking to the Star Trek people about Star Trek The Next Generation Takedown, did you ever slip up and say, “And then Vader, I mean Riker….”?
Heh! No, but there was an embarrassing glitch in Takedown when I accidentally referred to the Battle Of Wolf 357 rather than 359, which any Trek fan should be familiar with. I had just finished revising another novel that referred repeatedly to an substance known as Baradium-357, and I think the number was just on my brain. I hope that the families of those at Wolf 359 will accept my most heartfelt apologies. I try to get these things right.
Along with Star Trek and Star Wars, you’ve also written comics based on Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull, the video game Mass Effect, some Marvel Comics, and even The Simpsons. If you could write in another big sci-fi universe, which would you chose and why?
There’s quite a few I can think of. As mentioned, I have also been a lifelong Doctor Who fan and there are some other franchises that I would certainly be interested in looking at.
Unfortunately a lot of the more esoteric franchises probably are not going to happen: I have a soft spot for the 1980s science-fiction series Max Headroom, but I am not expecting that to come around again. Still, if someone gets a notion to publish new Back To The Future stories, I’d be willing to talk about that…
When you’re writing a novel set in an existing universe, how often do you think of an idea that’s really, really good, and you think to yourself, “I’m going to keep this for myself”?
I have tended to focus on whatever it is I’m doing, to make sure that well I’m putting my all into it. There are occasionally ideas that simply do not fit in a particular sandbox and certainly you file those away for possible use some other time.
And how often, when you come up with one of those really, really good ideas, do you present it to the people overseeing the universe, have them reject it, and so you then think to yourself, “I’m going to keep this for myself”?
I think authors always look for ways to use ideas that weren’t able to go anywhere in an earlier context. That Starfleet Corps Of Engineers story that never happened, for example, had an idea for a medieval era Internet system that the that I was later able to use in a different context in a Star Wars: Lost Tribe Of The Sith story. And then Star Trek: Titan: Absent Enemies had as it central premise a notion that I had once pitched to Marvel for a Starjammers comic book that never happened. I think that authors are good environmentalists: we recycle things that we don’t use.
Finally, if someone enjoyed Star Trek The Next Generation Takedown and wanted to read one of your original novels, which would you suggest and why?
The one and only place for them to go for that would be Overdraft: The Orion Offensive, my 2013 serial that was collected into a book by 47 North. It is set in a 22nd century future in which humanity has reached the stars and found them open for business.
It’s the story of a rogue stock trader who, from the comfort of his desk in the Solar System, accidentally bankrupts his interstellar expedition. The security team with the expedition chooses not to go into unemployment, however. Instead, they return and grab him, drafting him to the frontier, in order to act as their trader. He has to get their money back, one planet at a time, by trying to sell to the most dangerous species ever discovered. It’s a lot of fun.