Canon can sometimes be a tricky thing, especially when it crosses multiple forms of media, numerous decades, and a wide variety of contributors. Unless, of course, you’re an expert like Star Trek author and show consultant David Mack. In the following email interview about his newest Trek novel, Star Trek: The Original Series: Harm’s Way (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), Mack not only explains what inspired and influenced this story, but also how it does and does not connect to the Vanguard series he co-created in 2005.
Photo Credit: David Cross
I’d like to start with some background: What is the Vanguard series about, and when is it set in relation to Star Trek: The Original Series?
The Star Trek: Vanguard saga is a self-contained literary-original series set during the time period of Star Trek: The Original Series (roughly 2263–2270). It takes place primarily aboard a Starfleet frontier space station — Starbase 47, a.k.a. Starbase Vanguard — located in an unclaimed sector of space known as the Taurus Reach, situated between the Klingon Empire and the Tholian Assembly. Starfleet discovers clues to an ancient alien mystery hidden on various worlds throughout the Taurus Reach, and it races to piece them together before the Klingons do.
Thematically, the Vanguard saga is about the lies people tell and why they tell them, and the struggle to balance the security of a state with the rights of its people. On a character level, it is about personal journeys of atonement and redemption.
And then what is Star Trek: The Original Series: Harm’s Way about, and when does it take place in relation to Star Trek: The Original Series and the Vanguard novels?
Harm’s Way is a classic-style Star Trek adventure, featuring a crisis for a landing party on a planet’s surface and a parallel crisis for their shipmates in space. Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise are sent to conduct a search-and-rescue for a missing Federation scientist, on a planet inside the Klingon Neutral Zone. Once engaged, however, Kirk and his crew find themselves caught between the secretive machinations of Operation Vanguard and the cunning designs of Klingon starship commander Captain Kang, who fans might remember from the TOS episode “Day Of The Dove” or the Deep Space Nine episode “Blood Oath.”
Harm’s Way is set in July 2266, near the start of the second season of Star Trek: The Original Series. Its main narrative occurs roughly one week after the events of the Original Series episode “The Doomsday Machine.” In relation to the Star Trek: Vanguard saga, it takes place roughly around the middle of book five, Precipice.
So is Star Trek: The Original Series: Harm’s Way a continuation of the Vanguard series, or the beginning of its own series?
Neither. Officially, it is a novel of Star Trek: The Original Series, starring Captain Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise, and guest-starring selected characters from the Star Trek: Vanguard saga. As an unofficial addition to the Star Trek: Vanguard saga, it would be considered book 5.5, as it takes place concurrently with the middle chapters of book five, Precipice (whose narrative spans an entire year), and precedes the events of “The Stars Look Down,” a novella I wrote for the anthology Declassified, and the events of book seven, What Judgments Come, which was written by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore.
Every Star Trek novel is a sci-fi space opera story, but they’ve also occasionally incorporated other genres as well. Are there any other genres at work in Star Trek: The Original Series: Harm’s Way?
As with many of the Star Trek: Vanguard novels, Harm’s Way incorporates elements of Lovecraftian horror in its depictions of the Shedai: ancient alien hegemons that can exist in multiple bodies at once, some of them colossal and monstrous, even on different worlds or in parallel universes, and remain aware of all of them at the same time.
Star Trek: The Original Series: Harm’s Way is not your first novel, let alone your first Star Trek novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Harm’s Way but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not any of your previous Star Trek novels?
Yes, in fact. Both the plot and the tone of Harm’s Way were directly inspired by Joseph Conrad’s seminal 1899 novella Heart Of Darkness. Many readers will recall that Heart Of Darkness also inspired Francis Ford Coppola’s surrealistic 1979 Vietnam-war film Apocalypse Now. As much as I admired that movie, I knew its tone and form were not quite right for adaptation into a Star Trek story, so I went back to Conrad’s original tale and found great inspiration there.
As an additional bit of homage, the notion that the tropical region of the alien planet visited in Harm’s Way is in the midst of a centuries-long rainstorm was inspired by Ray Bradbury’s 1950 short story “The Long Rain” (originally published as “Death-By-Rain”). I did this partly because it just felt like a fun element for the setting, but also because Bradbury was my favorite science-fiction author when I was young.
And what about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Aside from Star Trek of course.
Thanks to my lifelong love of cinema, and also my film-school education, it was inevitable that my work would contain influences from the silver screen, and Harm’s Way is no exception.
One exciting set piece in the novel was inspired by a similar sequence in James Cameron’s 1994 action thriller True Lies. When I think about scenes set aboard the tiny Starfleet scout ship USS Sagittarius, I think of the claustrophobic ambience inside the submarine in Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 film Das Boot. Lastly, the battle sequences in the jungle were undoubtedly informed by my love of Cameron’s combat sequences in the 1986 science-fiction thriller Aliens.
Now, you’ve worked as a consultant on both Star Trek: Prodigy and Star Trek: Lower Decks. Do you think working on those shows may have influenced how you wrote Star Trek: The Original Series: Harm’s Way?
Not especially, no. My role on both series was solely advisory, and tended to focus on the inclusion and depiction of canon information. Harm’s Way is my thirtieth novel for Star Trek. At this point, I feel fairly comfortable in saying I have found my own voice when it comes to how I tell Star Trek stories.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Star Trek: The Original Series: Harm’s Way?
Even though it’s connected to the larger story of Star Trek: Vanguard, you don’t need to have read any of that in order to appreciate Harm’s Way. Anything you need to know about Vanguard or the elements of that series depicted in this novel are explained in-story. As long as the reader is passingly familiar with Star Trek: The Original Series, this is a fun stand-alone adventure.
Also, Harm’s Way doesn’t spoil too much about the Vanguard saga, so if a reader who enjoys this book decides to follow up by reading the Vanguard novels, that experience won’t (I think) be negatively affected by having already read this story.
Finally, if someone enjoys Star Trek: The Original Series: Harm’s Way, what Star Trek novels that you didn’t write, and aren’t connected to the Vanguard series would you recommend they read next?
If a reader enjoys Harm’s Way, but we’re excluding books with any links to Vanguard, that would suggest the reader enjoys novels about The Original Series version of Star Trek. In that case, I would heartily recommend the various Original Series novels written by veteran Star Trek scribe and fellow New York Times bestselling author Greg Cox.
Greg’s many excellent novels for Star Trek: The Original Series — almost all of them fun, stand-alone adventures — include such titles as A Contest Of Principles, The Antares Maelstrom, Child Of Two Worlds, The Rings Of Time, and Assignment: Eternity.
If those aren’t enough to get our hypothetical Star Trek: The Original Series reader through a long winter, I’d also recommend New York Times bestselling author Dayton Ward’s superb Original Series novels That Which Divides, Agents Of Influence, From History’s Shadow, and In The Name Of Honor.