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Henning Koonert (hk), Jörn Podehl (jp)03.10.11

David Mack Loves Playing God

The novelist on Vanguard,Destiny and future Trek novels

Fans may know Trek novelist David Mack first and foremost as author of the Destiny trilogy and co-author as well as co-creator of the Vanguard series. Next to a slate of additional novels by his hand Mack, together with John J Ordover, also received a screenplay credit for the DS9 episode Starship Down and story recognition for the episode It's Only A Paper Moon. On the fringes of FedCon XX in Düsseldorf, Germany the TrekZone Network talked exclusively to David Mack about works past, present and future.

TrekZone Network: David Mack, what's your impression of FedCon? Do you see a difference between conventions in Germany and the USA?

TZN David Mack interview at FedCon XX
David Mack: FedCon seems to be a very efficiently run convention. It runs like a well-oiled machine. But it still is the actual experience of the convention itself, it's remarkably similar to American conventions. It just proves to me that a geek is a geek is a geek not matter what country you're in, language you speak or creed you believe in. At every convention you find the same mix of cosplayers, and also just people who are casual fans, people who maybe aren’t even fans themselves but are with someone who is. You also tend to find the same mix of shell-shocked hotel employees who didn't know what they were getting into when they signed up to work that weekend, which is always amusing.

One of the more surprising moments of the convention was the opening ceremony. That I will say is unlike anything I've participated in at any convention. I've just never seen a convention where they bring out all the guests at the same time on the main stage like that. And I also wasn't briefed for the opening ceremony. All I was told was that my name would be called, I would walk out on stage, I would get some applause and I would stand there like a trained monkey. So my name is called, the stage manager sends me through the door, I step through the Stargate, I get my round of polite applause from the audience and now I realize that we're being handed microphones. No one told me I was going to be handed a microphone! Had I known I might have prepared something to say. So I follow out a German author named Claudia [Kern] and she speaks before I do and she takes the microphone, and she starts talking rapid fire-stream of German, which I don't understand at all. Then she hands me the microphone...

The only thing I could think of was, I looked at the audience and said: "I don’t know how to follow that ... because I have no idea of what she just said." I get a good laugh out of that, I say: "Hi, I'm David Mack, it's lovely to be here, thanks for having me." And then I hand off the microphone to Garrett Wang who says, "Short and sweet," which is a polite way of saying "He clearly had nothing to say!" I'm trying to think of something better to say at closing ceremony. Probably with my luck, this time I will have prepared something really brilliant and this time I'll be told to shut up and stand there, which would of course be ironic.

Mack has also written for Voyager and DS9 on TV.
TZN: Before your career as an author of Trek novels you, together with John J Ordover, wrote for Star Trek on television. Next to contributing to two DS9 episodes, you also penned a script for Voyager that they rejected...

Mack: It was not rejected! It was actually purchased. It wasn't a script, it was just a story proposal. At the same time that my partner John Ordover and I were pitching the stories to DS9 in season four, we were also pitching to Voyager. And we were told that we had made the sale to Deep Space Nine for Starship Down and about a week later we got a call from Jeri Taylor saying we'd made a sale to Voyager. So we sent a copy of our spec script, our writing sample to Jeri Taylor... Actually, now that I think of it I think we made the sale for Voyager first, then to Deep Space Nine second, because we had sent Jeri Taylor the spec script called Crown of Iron and she really liked it and then when she heard through the grapevine in the office that we had also just sold a story to DS9, she took our spec script downstairs to Ira Steven Behr and said: "I heard you bought a story from Mack and Ordover." and Ira said, "Yeah." and she said, "Well, I think you should read their spec script, it's really good. You might want to consider letting them have a script assignment." And she gave him our spec and he and the writing team at DS9 agreed. That's how we got that first assignment.

Our story that we sold to Voyager was called Sickbay and it was structured like an episode of M*A*S*H. There was specifically an episode of M*A*S*H, where the entire episode took place in the operating theatre while the M*A*S*H unit is being hit with artillery fire. And the team of surgeons in the operating room doesn't know what’s going on outside. They don't know why they're being shelled or by whom. The only information they're getting is from the people who pass in and out of sickbay, some of whom are their own people who are getting hit. So we thought this would be perfect story to do for Voyager: a tense episode that takes place entirely on one set. The ultimate bottle show. There's nothing cheaper than doing a whole show on one set without big visual effects. Well, very few.

Macks episodes would have featured Kes and the Doctor.
And the premise was basically gonna be: the ship is getting pummeled by attacks, we don't know by who, the only reports we're getting are these sketchy, conflicting details from the people coming in as wounded and sent back out after triage or whatever. And by the end of the episode, what's happened is - and this was back when Kes was still acting as nurse-assistant to the holographic doctor - what happens is, near the end of the episode at some point Neelix comes in mortally wounded and as the doctor is getting ready to operate to save Neelix's life, the ship takes a critical hit from the enemy and the doctor's holographic program goes away, leaving Kes holding the surgical instruments with nothing to guide her and Neelix cut open on the table. Then they manage to get the doctor's program back but only the voice and the doctor basically just as a disembodied voice talks her through the surgery. And Kes has to perform surgery on the man she loves while the ship is getting torpedoed.

So we were very excited about this, we thought for sure this was gonna sail through production. What happened was, there was an executive producer on Voyager named Michael Piller who has since passed away. He had left the show at some point during its first season or maybe just after its first season to produce a show I believe with his son. And that show did not work out, it got cancelled. He exercised a clause in his contract and came back to Voyager as the senior executive producer. He had seniority over Jeri Taylor because he had worked with Rick Berman on DS9.

The first thing he did upon coming back was, he looked at the first ten episodes Jeri had bought for season two and any of them that weren't by a staff writer, anything that was from a freelancer, he just killed it, just spiked it. No explanation given. We got a very apologetic phone call from Jeri Taylor, saying it wasn't the quality of our work, had nothing to do with us, was strictly an internal thing but there was nothing she could do about it. That's what happened. The story wasn't rejected, the story was bought and we got paid. It just never got produced. Very rare in television.

TZN: That comes as a surprise as Michael Piller had been the person who on TNG opened up the writers' room and actively pursued scripts by freelancers.

Mack: We don't know what the rationale was, we don't know what happened, if it was just a matter of creative differences but from what we were told - and of course this is all second-hand information at this point - but all I know is we were getting smoke blown up our ass. Maybe Jeri just wanted to shift the blame, who knows? But basically she told us that it was Michael Piller who'd made the judgment call and that it was his decision and our episode got the axe. Nothing we could do about it.

TZN: Let's talk about your Trek novels. You have written DS9 and TNG entries, and Destiny, mostly for established characters, whereas for Vanguard you could dream up your own set of personalities. Which to your mind is more joyful and which is easier to do?

Among Macks favorites: "Destiny"
Mack: They're both equally difficult. Each has different challenges. When you're writing for established characters, the challenge is to stay true not only to the personality of the person, thinking what would this person do in a situation but also to the specific voice of the character, their way of speaking, the type of words they use in dialogue. And fans are very particular about that. I often hear from them if they don't think that your interpretation of a character is true to the way the character was portrayed in the episodes or the movies.

Writing the original characters, the challenge is to bring to life on the page a character who the reader has never seen and to make each of those characters distinctive so that the reader feels that each one is unique, has their own way of speaking. Even though they haven't heard it with their ear, they've only read it on the page, you still need to create that sense of a person who has their own style. And that's a completely different challenge, which is basically very similar to just writing an original novel from scratch, simply using the Star Trek universe as a backdrop.

As far as enjoyment, there is a different kind of enjoyment to be taken from either one. I mean I loved writing the Destiny trilogy because it's always fun to write stories in the lives of characters whom you watched, whose adventures you enjoyed as a fan. And then be able to craft new stories for them and direct the cause of events in their lives. But at the same time, with something like Vanguard, where I plotted out the series bible, I planned the story arc, and I'm sort of helping guide the story development process as we go forward into the next three books, I just love playing God and there's nothing quite like playing God than plotting out your own book series. Even when you share it, as I do with Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore who, I hasten to add, have added many creative ideas that I feel have elevated the series into something better than what I could have made on my own.

TZN: What can you tell us about the development process of Destiny? How long did you write on the books? With whom did you have to coordinate?

Mack has worked for 21 months on the trilogy.
Mack: All in all, from the point where I first met with the editors to discuss taking on the project to the point when we signed off on the last set of proofreading changes and approved the book to go to press, that was about 21 months, just under two years. So yeah, those three books consumed roughly two years of my life.

The process started with the editors wanting to do an epic trilogy event. But they didn't know what. They had an image from a book called Ships of the Line, of the starship Columbia crashed in the desert, and it was a painting by an artist named Pierre Drolet and somebody, I think it was maybe an editor and maybe [Doug] Drexler, I don't know for sure who, somebody wrote a caption for this photo, stating that the wreckage of the Columbia had been found in the 24th century in the Gamma quadrant - with no explanation. And the editors got a lot of fan responses to that image and that caption saying, "That's a really intriguing idea. Are you gonna follow up on that?" and the editors realized, "Hey, that is an intriguing idea, we should follow up on that." So they brought it to me and said, "Can you follow up on this and get an epic trilogy out of it?" and despite the fact that it seemed a pretty thin idea from which to draw an epic trilogy, I've been trained that if an editor asks you if you can do a job that pays a lot of money, the answer is always: "Yes, I can."

So I took it on and basically the pressure was on me. It was my responsibility to think up a story that fulfilled the requirements that my editors wanted this trilogy to achieve. And the first story proposals that we got together just didn't get approved and my editors just didn't agree. First of all, there was the additional problem that I've never had before on any book, before this or after this, in that I had two editors for this trilogy, Marco Palmieri and Margaret Clark. It's hard enough as a writer pleasing the aesthetic sensibilities of one editor. But when you have to please two editors with a proposal for three books, that's hell! It becomes exponentially more difficult.

I would come up for instance with something that would work for Margaret but would leave Marco cold. I would come up with something that would be more to Marco's liking but Margaret would shoot it down without a moment's hesitation. Finally I began to get a sense of where I was going wrong and I realized that what they were really looking for was a story that would be consequential. That would alter the status quo of the Star Trek literary universe and I realized that that was actually necessary because to be an epic trilogy when they hadn't done one in several years, it had to be big. There was no point in doing a trilogy if it wasn't going to matter in the long run to the rest of the book line. So I set down, I said, "What would matter?" and I looked at the books that had been done and I realized that what they had done whether they meant to or not, they had reintroduced the Borg into the literary continuity after the Borg had been absent from the books for several years and I realized they had - metaphorically speaking - unleashed the 800-pound gorilla. And they had no plan to put it back into the cage and they didn't know what they intended to do with it now it was out.

Mack eventually found his theme in the Borg.
I said: "That's the problem you've got to deal with. Now that you have brought the Borg back into play, you need to resolve this. You had J.M. Dillard doing this story in Resistance with this enormous cube or whatever or this rogue cube and then Peter David makes it grow exponentially and it eats Pluto and kills Janeway. And now what? What do you do now? Clearly the Borg are back in the picture. You can't just leave that hanging. It's basically gonna be a shadow over your entire literary program until you resolve it," and they said, "Are you proposing to resolve it?" and I said, "Yes, I am," and Margaret said, "Okay, well, then here's your new marching orders for your next outline. I'm gonna put out a hit on the Borg. I want you to get rid of them." I said, "Okay, I can do it."

So I went back, I thought about what that would mean and from that point we were pretty much going into the right direction. There were still some tangents, there were still some disagreements about how to execute things and the biggest problem of course was which Deep Space Nine characters I could use. Because at that time, late 2006, early 2007, the Deep Space Nine books were still going, and Marco was still in charge of that and he had a very clear picture in his head for where he wanted that series to go, for where he wanted certain characters to wind up and he didn't want me in this story, which was set several years ahead in the continuity, to be spoiling all the surprises of these Deep Space Nine post-finale books. But at the same time, we couldn't not have Deep Space Nine be part of the trilogy. The whole point was to have an epic, multi-series crossover. We wanted DS9 to be there.

But he was saying: "You can't use Sisko." - "Alright." - "You can't use Kira." I'm like... Finally I got fed up, I said: "Who the fuck can I use, man? Who’s left?" He goes: "You can use Dax." I go: "I can use Dax... alright." And he goes: "You can use Sam Bowers and Doctor Simon Tarses..." - "Oh, you're too generous. You spoil me, Sir. You spoil me." But then I hit upon the starship and said, you know, Dax has been moving into the command track in the DS9 books and she's got some big action stuff coming up in that role, in that capacity. He says, "You can build on that." He says, "There's some passing references you can make to stuff that we have in upcoming books."

I realized there was a potential to tell a story about young Ezri being forced into the command role when her captain and her XO were killed. She basically moves into command, she gets a transfer to starship duty and it's not unreasonable for a 28-year old Lieutenant Commander in Star Trek to be made third in command, second officer, sort of on-deck circle, being trained, being readied for the next level of her career. Unfortunately the next level of her career comes like that when the Borg attack and take out her captain and her first officer and everyone looks at her and says: "And now we do what, Sir?" And because Starfleet is getting its ass kicked and the Borg are everywhere, Starfleet says: "Alright, ah, well, congratulations, that's your ship now. We're gonna battlefield-promote you because really, we just don't have time to send you somebody else. Resupply your crew at DS9 and get your gear."

Due to the still ongoing DS9 relaunch Dax remained the stations sole representative.
That's how all that pretty much started to come together and that's pretty much how we wound up with Ezri as our sort of sole representative of Deep Space Nine, and then time travel comes up because obviously we wanted to involve the Columbia and I had to bridge the gap between a 22nd century storyline and a 24th century storyline. And I had to avoid the 23rd century because we knew that the new movie was gonna be working in that era but at the time we didn't know that we were talking about a parallel universe. That was not known. So the decision was made to simply avoid any elements of the 23rd century to avoid treading on any of the same ground that the new film might be exploring.

I had to work out these time travel elements and when I combined that and the Columbia and the Borg and these other crazy ideas I had about claytronic atoms and programmable matter being the basis for a new species, civilization - that's when it all sort of came together and that's when I saw the potential to do a story that's not only about the final showdown with the Borg but also the origin of the Borg and the fact that these two things are both springing from the same set of events and an unlikely character, Erika Hernandez, is actually the prime mover in all this.

It's funny when you work out a book and you don't see the theme of it until you're so deep into it, it reveals stuff to you and I discovered only late in the writing process that what the trilogy is really about is that there are things in life that you don't have control over. Some you do and some you don't and for instance for Picard, the Borg is the thing he has no control over. That's his weakness, that's where he's not rational, it's the part of his life that he can't control, it's the force of nature to which he is going to ever be vulnerable.

I got a lot of flak from fans over this because they were like: "You totally betrayed Picard, he winds up weeping on the bridge of the Enterprise." I'm like: "Well, yeah, but the point is, he was not actually the hero. You only assumed he was the hero. Erika is the hero. She's actually the one with agency in the story. The others are witnesses to history." They go: "Well, that's not heroic." - "Not for them. But it's heroic for her." It's really her story and the others are swept up in it because sometimes in life you are swept up in events. And sometimes the people you expect to be the heroes or the ones who are going to change the shape of things aren't. For me that was sort of a fun inversion of expectations. Some readers really enjoyed it and some got along with it and some really hated it. I also got a lot of flak for the clearly religious imagery in the book. I mean, there's nothing subtle about the description of Erika rising up, arms spread, the light ... it's pretty easy to parse where I'm going with that.

TZN: After all the events you depict in this trilogy, at the end you leave a lot of the Federation in ruins...

Mack: A good chunk. I mean not a lot, I mean it's technically not as much as you think. It's a hit. It's not an inconsequential hit. It would be the equivalent of a strike that wipes out maybe one or two major cities in the United States.

TZN: Still, it's a blow that has seldom been dealt in the Star Trek universe and its aftermath leaves the Federation changed and maybe more desperate than before. Earlier today in your panel you said that what made you a Star Trek fan, what intrigued you about the Star Trek universe was its optimism. Does this strike you as ironic considering the state you left it in with Destiny?

Mack: Destiny ends on a note of hope. Read the final scene. Just because the Federation has been damaged doesn't mean that they don't remain optimistic, it doesn't mean that they lost hope. If anything, for Picard the experience that he goes through in the cause of the trilogy restores his hope where he had lost it. Just because the Federation is weakened and now has to deal with economics of scarcity as opposed to the economics of abundance it had enjoyed before, it doesn't mean that they don't believe in the future. It just means they have to work a little bit harder. It means that now things aren't going to come just as easily, whereas before they never had to worry about: will there be enough energy? Will there be enough food? Will there be enough space? Now there are hundreds of billions of displaced refugees, there are 63 billion dead, 40 percent of Starfleet is gone.

So now we're stretched thin, we're pushed a little bit harder and now our enemies are getting organized. No, enemies is the wrong word, our rivals are getting organized and putting political pressure and economic pressure on us as well. These are challenges. The question is: how does the Federation respond? Does the Federation respond by sacrificing its values and giving up its ideals and choosing to become something that is a perversion of itself in the name of expediency? Or does it work to rebuild itself and maintain its identity despite what has happened? And I think the whole point of Star Trek is that, what we're trying to do in the books is to show that there are gonna be fateful challenges and sometimes they will have to make hard decisions and maybe less than ideal decisions but what they're striving for is to retain who they are as a people, as a civilization, as a culture while addressing these very real problems that have thrown a monkey-wrench into paradise. They remain optimistic... It's sort of like the black knight in Monty Python who gets his arm chopped off and goes: "Just a flesh wound!" Okay, maybe he's a little bit in denial but if he'd stopped there, he might have been alright.

TZN: Who is your favorite Star Trek character and why?

The author retains a weak spot for Worf.
Mack: I couldn't possibly answer that. There are too many who I like for too many different reasons. The shortlist would probably include at least two from the Vanguard series: T'Prynn who although I did not invent her, I've certainly developed her more than just about anybody else. Her first appearance I believe was in the book Lesser Evil. It was one of the DS9 books, it was a story involving Vaughn, it was a flashback and actually, her first appearance was her evil. She also dies. Not a very auspicious beginning to a character. So I didn't invent her but I did develop her.

My other favorite from Vanguard is Cervantes Quinn, a strange, complex, bizarre little man, soldier of fortune, drunk, obsessive, die-hard romantic, but also heart-bitten cynic. He's got a pretty interesting arc that's gonna run through the whole length of the Vanguard series. He's got some interesting time ahead. And that's never a good sign when you're one of my characters. (laughs)

As far as among the established characters, I've always liked Worf, I've always been a fan of Kira, I've always had a thing for Ezri.

TZN: The next Vanguard novel may be published more or less at the same time here in Germany as in the States. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Mack: The anthology Declassified is scheduled to come out in June/July in the US. Probably, if we're lucky it will come out around the same time here. I don't want to give too much away. I'll just say my story takes place after the events of the last Vanguard novel Precipice and it features one of my favorite characters Cervantes Quinn. So he's back in action and causing mayhem once more. And the events of that story are going to carry forward and have lasting consequences into the next two novels.

The latest Vanguard novel Declassified
The other story that's set after Precipice is Marco Palmieri's story The Ruins of Noble Men. The other two stories, Hard News by Kevin Dilmore that takes place just after Reap the Whirlwind and Dayton Ward's story Almost Tomorrow takes place I think just before the first book. I'd have to double-check that but I'm sure it's almost like a prequel story. And then mine, The Stars Look Down, is the last story in the book. We arranged them chronologically, so the order is Almost Tomorrow, Hard News, The Ruins of Noble Men, and Stars Look Down. And mine is set at the furthest forward point of Vanguard continuity. Then the next two novels will follow from there.

TZN: Obviously, you don't own the series but you have played a part in developing it. Do you have a kind of endgame for it in mind?

Mack: We had one from the very start. I wrote the series bible with Marco Palmieri. A series bible not only describes the major characters and settings of the series, it often describes the overall story arc of the series and that's what this one has. It was about 40-somewhat pages long and it detailed all the major characters, it detailed the nature of the political struggle that was going to ensue between the Klingons, the Tholians, the Federation and the Romulans. It detailed what the Shedai were, what their connections were to the other species in the story, it detailed sort of the deep history of the Taurus reach. It also talked about where this was going to lead in terms of how these events were going to affect later Star Trek history. What we're setting the stage for, we're basically showing almost a secret history of the Federation's technological leap forward between The Original Series and The Next Generation era.

What was also part of that series bible, I wrote an arc for about six or seven books, saying: these are the six or seven major steps in the series that we're gonna have to hit to tell a complete saga, beginning, middle and end. But there was room enough between them so that we could tell certain stand-alone stories or we could take tangents and go off in other unplanned directions as the opportunities arose. So there was flexibility in it, if we wanted to change plan or temporarily explore something else. But from the very beginning we knew: it's gonna start here because of these events and it's gonna lead to these events and this building crisis and then it's going to eventually lead to this resolution.

Mack also wrote the very first Vanguard novel.
I made some recommendations as well for who I thought would be the right authors to accompany me on the series and the first two that I put up for Marco's consideration were Dayton and Kevin. And after they did the second book and I did the third book and Marco saw the dynamic that had developed between us he realized that this was an interesting dynamic to have us alternate books because that had not been done before on the Star Trek books. And the energy it created as we tried to one-up each other or give each other frustrating cliffhangers to see where that would lead to the next story, it created some really interesting developments. It was a lot of fun and gave us a lot of things to laugh about over drinks at conventions.

TZN: How far along are we already on those six or seven points you mentioned?

Mack: We're getting there. We're getting there.

TZN: Do you read Star Trek books by other authors and do you compare your work with them?

Mack: If I do read them, I usually just read them to stay informed of continuity developments. The different authors all have different styles. I love the way Chris Bennett handles the mixing of real, hard science with the rather fanciful Trek technology. I like the way David R. George III explores political machinations and dark decisions by our main characters. I like the way Dayton Ward can keep a whole bunch of action plots in the air, pit people against one another. Peter David of course can write funny banter like just about nobody else. So there's different things to appreciate. It's just a matter of realizing that everyone has their own style, everyone brings their own approach to the material.

Right now up in my room just for pleasure I have got Chris Bennett's The Buried Age, which I've only had the chance to skim before and I've been meaning to really dig into it. Since I've got a five-hour layover in Dublin on my way home from FedCon, I'm planning to have it along as airport reading. Once I get home I need to read very carefully the new manuscript for Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore's new Vanguard book What Judgments Come. Because I've read the outline for it but I really want to read their book and get the feel of it, the texture of it, the dialogue, the descriptions in my head before I start writing the next book after that, which is pending approval from CBS but the outline of which has been approved by the editors and now we're just waiting for CBS to sign off.

TZN: What about More Beautiful Than Death, your novel set in the newly established JJverse? Four novels had been commissioned, written and were pulled before their publishing date.

Mack: Never to be seen.

TZN: No chance, you think?

Macks adventure in the new universe will probably remain unpublished.
Mack: No, It don't think it's ever gonna come out. The folks at Bad Robot, the impression I get is that they just didn't want us mucking about with their characters before they've had a chance to really explore them and explore the continuity. And as a result, the four books that we put together just had to be called back because I guess they didn't want to ruin the illusion of coherent continuity by having the books come out with these four stories because at that point they hadn't even decided what they were gonna do yet in the movie and they don't wanna be hamstrung by us.

They don't want it look like if by chance what they wanna do is similar to something we've just done, they don't want to look like they're copying us. And if they go in a totally different direction that contradicts the books, then it makes everybody look like we're not keeping taps on things, like we're not talking to each other. So I guess they decided that the easiest way to go about this was simply to put the brakes on those four books. The problem is that whatever they do in the next movie is very likely to establish certain bits of continuity that probably will not agree with what we have done in the books. I think it's highly unlikely. I mean, it's not impossible, there is still some remote possibility that these books may someday be released. The impression I get is that they probably will not be.

TZN: When you wrote the book, you wrote for the characters as they were established in the movie, not in The Original Series. Could you highlight a few differences that sprang to your mind?

Mack: Well, it was obvious that the characterizations had changed. The voices were different. Basically when I wrote More Beautiful Than Death, I made a point of hearing the way that Chris Pine delivers the words of Kirk. How does he talk, what is his attitude? I imagined Zachary Quinto as Spock instead of Nimoy, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, and of course taking into account those dynamics. To further put myself in the mindset, I bought the soundtrack to the new movie and I would listen to that while writing that book. Rather than old Star Trek music I listened to the new Star Trek music.

"A punk with potential"
As I believe I described the new Kirk in a TV special I recorded for the Biography Channel in the United States: he's a punk, but he's a punk with potential. He's quick to get into fights and as a captain the way I depicted him is that he's young, this is a Jim Kirk who has been elevated to the rank and position of starship captain but he's not had the years of experience and life experience and hard testing that the original Jim Kirk went through. The original Jim Kirk didn't grow up on Earth with his stepfather, driving Corvettes into canyons, the original Jim Kirk grew up on the Tarsus IV colony where governor Kodos, the executioner had to kill half the population because of a famine. He lived through a genocide. And that kind of an experience no doubt colors the way the original Jim Kirk sees the universe: it's dangerous, it's harsh, it's full of injustice. Somebody's got to stand up to that.

As opposed to the new Kirk who lost his father the day he was born, maybe the moment, moments after he was born. He's grown up on Earth with a very different kind of upbringing, different experiences. And then he gets elevated to starship command before he's technically even graduated from the academy. He hasn't been on the mission with the Farragut where the dikironium cloud creature kills most of the crew and kills Captain Garrovick and he's one of the few if not the lone survivor. He hasn't had the experience aboard other ships as a junior officer. He hasn't had to make the decision about putting Finney on report and ending Finney's career. He hasn't had all these life experiences that informed the judgment and the temperament of original Kirk. This is a young kid, he's quick to fight, he's a bit of a hothead, he's untested, he's gonna be a little bit unsure of himself. He's taken the center seat without ever having proved himself except in this one incident against Nero. So he's always gonna be looking over his shoulder thinking: is somebody saying, "I don't belong here?"

"A radically different Spock"
Of course, now you have Spock. This is a radically different Spock. This is a Spock who has watched his home world be destroyed, who has lost his mother in the most horrendous way possible, who is romantically involved with Uhura who is supposed to be his student. So clearly there're some ethical issues going on with Spock. This is a very different character. He seems to be more in touch with human elements of his personality than old Spock was. He doesn't seem to have quite as tight a grip on his anger as classic Spock did. This is a younger, rasher, slightly more easily provoked Spock than what we're used to. This is more like the Spock in The Cage who was always yelling at everything. "Captain to the bridge!" Spock was yelling in that episode every time he turned the intercom on. He's playing with flowers and smiling in that episode, which was sort of funny.

Now you got Uhura. Uhura is different in that in the classic series she was a model officer but she was not exactly command material but in the new universe she's kind of a tough girl. She can hold her own in a fight, she can if necessary - in one of the scenes I had in this book that will never see the light of day, she has to take the center chair because something happens and everyone realizes, "Wait a minute, Uhura is actually the ranking officer on the bridge." It's not Sulu, it's not Chekov, they're Ensigns. She's a Lieutenant. Uhura is in the center chair, not Sulu, and she belongs there and she is tough enough to pull it off.

And then you've got Scotty who in the old days had his love affair with booze and the engines and now Scotty is sort of a very funny chatterbox. The only character who seems to have come through almost identical in persona is McCoy who remains a sardonic, cynical, slightly embittered country doctor. So McCoy appears to be the consistent element between two universes. That was how I approached those characters.

TZN: To wrap it up, what are you currently working on related to Star Trek?

Mack: I just finished my Mirror Universe novel Rising Like Lions. That'll be out in the United States at the end of the year. And that's basically the long-awaited mirror universe revolution, sort of changing the face of the mirror universe. After that, the first thing I do when I come home from FedCon is, I start working on Vanguard , Storming Heaven.

Macks next novel "Rise Like Lions"
Then after that I have a contract to write a new trilogy, which will be out by the end of 2012. I don't know yet exactly what it's about. I don't have a name for the trilogy itself. I have some ideas for working titles on the three books but I haven't actually put anything on paper yet, nothing is approved yet, so I really can't discuss. I haven't even had time to discuss it with my editors. I just know that they expect me to come up with something brilliant and I hope I do because otherwise I will have to give all that money back. I have one month to come up with the outline for book one of the trilogy. I have one month after that to come up with the outline of book two and one month after that to come up with the outline of book three. So I gotta start sorting this out really quick while I'm also writing the next Vanguard book. Right now it appears that the trilogy is gonna be focused on Next Generation characters and it will be set post-Destiny. I'm thinking I will probably gonna set it a little bit further down the road in terms of continuity, in terms of time.

I want to do something very different than what I did with Destiny. Where Destiny was one story spread over three books, I'm thinking I would probably like the new trilogy to be three separate stories that are linked by a common thread. Maybe a theme, maybe a dramatic element, but I would like to have each one its own, self-contained story but also part of this larger idea and beyond that it has to feel, like I said with Destiny, consequential but at the same time I would like it to for once be something that doesn't have to alter the entire status quo of the Star Trek universe and mess with all the other work being done by all the other writers. I would like them for a change to not have to worry about whether this is going to completely mess up all their plans and story pitches.

We'll see, I may just decide to break the universe again. (laughs)

TZN: Well, good luck in that case! Thank you very much for the interview.

Mack: Thank you. My pleasure.

(hk, jp - 04.10.11)

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