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Julian Wangler (jw)29.12.09

The Writing of History

TZN Exclusive Interview with Novelist Michael A. Martin

The English original version of our interview with Trek novelist Michael A. Martin. Topics included the Enterprise relaunch, its perceived friction with canon, and its continuation. Beyond Trek, Martin shared a few words about his career, hobbys and his thoughts on the future of mankind with us.

TrekZone Network: When did you start writing as a professional and for how long have you been an author?

Michael A. Martin: I began composing terrible little short s-f stories way back in junior high, then got sidetracked and drifted out of the habit of fiction writing during college. In the early 90s I got back into it and the stuff started selling in 1995, beginning with a short story called "Spelunking at the Cavern" (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 1996). In 1996, my comics-industry colleague Andy Mangels discovered an opportunity to write Star Trek comics for Tim Tuohy at Marvel; he called me for assistance (his primary media space-opera expertise at the time was in the Star Wars universe), and our writing partnership took off from there, starting with a very strange tribble story that ended up in issue #14, near the finish of our half-year run on Marvel's Deep Space 9 title. That story - which featured most of the principal characters' inebriated speculations about the origins of the Michael Westmore-era Klingon foreheads as well as the long-standing Klingon-tribble mutual antipathy - made it through the studio's approval process within twenty-four hours, which I'm told set a record at the time. That sale and the next several DS9 comics scripts augured well for the future - at least until Marvel canceled the entire Trek comics line a few months into our run.

The fist Enterprise relaunch novel - written by Martin & Magels
TZN: Who is Michael A. Martin? Is there anything you can tell our readers about yourself and your hobbies and interests? What do your family and friends think of your work - and, of course, of Star Trek?

Martin: I have a pretty eclectic slate of interests beyond Star Trek. I'm also a musician, and I'm something of a junkie for news and progressive politics (most of my readers have probably figured this out from the contents of some of my book dedications). Music, film, and books in general loom very large in my life. Whenever I get the chance (which is infrequently these days, since I am a married father of two boys who need a great deal of attention), I compose and record my own music on the Mac using the GarageBand software. My son James (10) is developing a keen interest in Star Trek, and is working his way through the entire Star Trek DVD collection with me, though he hasn't read anything I've written yet. My younger boy, William (7), isn't keen on Trek at the moment (likewise anything I've written), but that may be just his way of distinguishing himself from his big brother. Or maybe he's just trying to encourage me to focus more on my original fiction. My wife, Jenny, has been very supportive of this writing business from the start, and often acts as a springboard for ideas.

TZN: Which genres and novels do you prefer beyond sci-fi?

Martin: I enjoy a lot of fiction genres, especially mysteries, crime fiction, horror, fantasy, and westerns. I've been an avid Robert B. Parker fan forever, and I love James Lee Burke and Neil Gaiman. One of my few regrets is that I don't have more time to just read aimlessly, purely for pleasure.

TZN: What does appeal to you about writing the Enterprise relaunch? Is it the incompleteness after only four seasons on air or is it the fact that Enterprise has shown several inconsistencies regarding canon (for example the cloaking device problem). Is it more difficult to continue this show compared to previous Star Trek series?

Martin: One of the challenges in writing for any long-lived franchise is finding ways to eliminate the apparent inconsistencies from the canon. An example of this is allowing the Romulans to create a cloaking device prototype which blows up in their faces (I think we alluded to that in The Good That Men Do), sending them back to the drawing board. The incompleteness is an attraction: it makes you want to fill in the gaps, and draw lines that connect Enterprise's dots to those of Captain Pike, sometimes following circuitous routes that the reader might not have expected.

I wouldn't say that continuing Enterprise beyond the televised series finale is any more or less difficult than any of the other flavors of Trek (such as DS9's post-series relaunch, in which Andy and participated more than once). For one thing, the fact that a series (such as Enterprise or DS9) is no longer in production makes things easier in that your carefully crafted noncanonical continuities aren't likely to be kicked over by some new canonical development on the screen. Doing post-series Enterprise novels is especially challenging in one respect, however, in that I have to balance the demands of covering the complexities of the entire Earth-Romulan War with the practicalities of keeping the story within the confines of Enterprise, at least as much as possible. It isn't believable to place Enterprise at every significant battle, so I have to cut away to other characters and locales - only not so much so as to change this series into something other than Star Trek: Enterprise.

Follow-up novel The Good That Men Do
TZN: In The Good That Men Do – the first Enterprise relaunch novel – you decided to reinterpret the occurrences as shown in These Are The Voyages... This gimmick enabled you to resurrect Trip Tucker. In The Good That Men Do we find out that the story of These Are The Voyages... actually takes places in 2155 (before the foundation of the Coalition) and not, as assumed, in 2161 (before the foundation of the Federation). These modifications are far-reaching. How do you cope with the allegation of having violated canon?

Martin: I say stuff and nonsense to those who accuse us of violating canon. I look at it this way: Everything we know about the events presented in These Are the Voyages… came from a 24th-century holodeck program. That program could have been written as late as the very year Commander Riker was using it in the episode's 24th-century framing sequence, more than two centuries after the time frame of Enterprise's fourth season. That's about the same span of time that separates modern Americans from the time of their Founding Fathers and the American Revolution.

Think about that. Consider how little most Americans really know about the actual history of that period. Consider how much Romantic mythology has taken the place of real, hardheaded history. My contention is that the Federation will be no different than other cultures in this respect; its popular accounts of history are just as liable to be as larded with myth and error as are ours. Add to that the machinations of people such as the Section 31 operatives who have manipulated Trip Tucker since 2155, and it becomes completely understandable why the "real" historical record could be at odds with common wisdom.

TZN: Many Star Trek fans believe that a distinguishing element of Enterprise was the sense of community between Archer and his crew. Trip Tucker especially was part of that during four the seasons. Some people consider him the central character for the alteration of the series. In your sequel the chief engineer leaves the ship in order to serve as an intelligence agent. Doesn't that put the sense of community at risk?

Martin: Like the man said, you ain't seen nothin' yet. I plan to put the "Enterprise family" through so much strain that it threatens to reach the breaking point. It's only through adversity that the strength of a character - or a family of characters - can really be tested. And war (particularly a huge, sweeping, all-or-nothing conflict like the Earth-Romulan War) is an ideal crucible for that sort of conflict, burning away everything nonessential and enabling the characters to see themselves and their relationships to one another in new and surprising ways (including in ways that sometimes surprise the author).

TZN: From earlier series and movies we already know a lot about the Romulans. As a result the Enterprise relaunch is faced with a dilemma: You have to work with an enemy that has lost a lot of its mystery. How do you deal with that?

Martin: You have to remember that I'm dealing with the Romulans during a period when they are still mysterious to nearly everyone on Earth, and even to most of Vulcan. The fact that the readers know a lot more about the Romulans than do most of the principle characters actually provides a writer with a lot of opportunities for dramatic irony (plunging the characters into situations that freak out the readers because they know more about the dangers that await than do the lead characters). Also, we still know very little about the Romulan side of the Earth-Romulan War; this is something I intend to delve into as much as possible.

The third relaunch novel is the last one to date that was written jointly by Martin and his writing partner Andy Magels.
TZN: Not only the title 'Earth-Romulan War' implies that the conflict originally started between the forces of United Earth and the Romulans. Also TNG episodes and Memoy Alpha comment similarly on the topic. It seems that in the course of the war a military alliance came about between Earth, Tellar, Andoria and Vulcan that later on was able to defeat the Romulans at Cheron. But the Enterprise finale on TV shows the foundation of the coalition as a result from the Romulan threat - long before the war. In the last part of Kobayashi Maru we see the whole coalition declaring war on the Star Empire. Has the Enterprise relaunch - and perhaps even Enterprise - violated canon?

Martin: I don't see any of that necessarily as a violation of canon; the specific historical references to the Romulan War era made by TNG characters could have been somewhat in error, or might suffer from oversimplification. As far as Enterprise's treatment of the proto-Federation alliance, we still aren't talking about the Federation yet, but rather its immediate precursor, the Coalition of Planets. Think of it as the short-lived League of Nations that preceded the emergence of the more viable United Nations.

You also have to bear in mind that a lot of time can pass between a formal declaration of war (as occurred in 2155 in Kobayashi Maru) and the actual large-scale commencement of hostilities (which doesn't really get under way until Beneath the Raptor's Wing), at least in a milieu that involves huge interstellar distances that have to be crossed by relatively slow ships; therefore dates on the historical record can be somewhat vague (do we date the war's start based on the declaration of war, or on the date of the first major battle?). And alliances can form, split up, and come back together quickly and unexpectedly. As with the warp and weave of real history, the actual events on the ground in the Earth-Romulan War are going to prove more complicated than some of the assumptions that have been made over the years regarding Earth's (and her allies') 22nd-century back story vis-à-vis the Romulans.

TZN: Your upcoming novel The Romulan War will continue the Enterprise relaunch. It is rumored that it will deal with the beginning of the long war. Will the novel consider what is said in the TOS episode Balance of Terror – that the war between Romulans and humans has been carried out by nuclear weapons?

Martin: Please don't get the idea that I'm throwing out continuity. I am being extremely cognizant of the continuity as revealed in Balance of Terror, right down to the conduct of the war using nukes and sublight spacecraft. I don't want to get more specific than that at the moment, but I have to say that I'm definitely trying to play the continuity game "with the net up."

TZN: What can be expected from Vulcan? Will the Kir'Shara reformation be relevant in The Romulan War? And how does this political and philosophical change of Vulcan affect the whole coalition?

Martin: It's difficult to do justice to the Romulans on a canvas as broad as the one I have to work with (namely a giant trade paperback) without exploring the Vulcan-Romulan relationship, at least to some extent. Again, I don't want to get overly specific at this point, other than to say that Vulcan society is in the midst of some fundamental changes, which we saw begin in season four of the television series. These changes can't help but have an effect on Vulcan's allies in the Coalition of Planets, including the unfolding of the events of the war.

TZN: Will the disappereance of Erika Hernandez (as seen in Destiny) be an issue in The Romulan War? In what ways will it affect Archer?

Martin: The wrenching reality of war is that it kills lots of people. War forces human beings to deal with loss in the most brutal possible way. No human could experience the losses that accompany war and not be fundamentally and permanently affected. Losing Erika Hernandez - Destiny readers know she isn't dead, of course, but Archer doesn't know that - will definitely put a new scar on Archer's psyche, right beside the one inflicted by his failure to find a satisfactory resolution to the Kobayashi Maru crisis. But as you might expect, Archer is going to do his best to rise above those scars as long as the Romulans remain a threat.

TZN: The Enterprise series neglected the secondary characters next to Archer, T'Pol and Trip. Will we see any development regarding Phlox, Hoshi, Reed and Travis in The Romulan War?

Martin: I hope to find the space in future volumes to deal with all of the principle characters. The one I explore most deeply (other than Archer, T'Pol, and Trip) in the first part of The Romulan War is Travis Mayweather, who begins resenting Captain Archer because of his failure to rescue the Kobayashi Maru. The resolution of the Maru incident disturbs Mayweather a great deal, because he relates the Maru to his own family's freighter, the Horizon, which has gone missing (and was, in fact, destroyed by the Romulans in Kobayashi Maru, though he doesn't know that). Mayweather finds Archer's decision to leave the Maru behind to be a callous one, and it makes him wonder if his captain would have treated the Horizon with similar callousness.

The first novel of The Romulan War trilogy was written solely by Martin.
TZN: It is rumored that in the future the Enterprise relaunch will establish even closer relationships to TOS (as done in the fourth season of Enterprise). What can you tells us about that?

Martin: I don't want to spoil anything specific here, but I will say that you will gradually begin to see the path that leads from Archer's era to that of Pike and Kirk more clearly as the book series continues. For example, the dots that connect the relatively high-tech look of Enterprise to the "retro" appearance of TOS-era technology and design will come into increasingly sharp focus, thanks in part to technological spin-offs from the Earth-Romulan War.

TZN:The final question: Where do you see mankind a 100 years from now?

Martin: Our species stands at a crossroads. We're facing the serious prospect of apocalypse on numerous fronts, not least of which stems from what we've done to the environment. We humans have depleted most of the world's nonrenewable energy resources and are involved in wars of aggression all across the planet. But there's a long arc to human history, which I believe moves in a drunkard's walk — three steps forward and two steps back — toward progress. It moves forward in fits and starts, but it does move. The next century represents a gauntlet of dangers, any one of which could either wipe us out as a species or catapult civilization backward into a new Dark Age.

But the human race has threaded such narrow needles before and come out the other side intact. I have confidence that we will do it again during the course of the next century. If we can survive that long, then we'll have a real shot at realizing something approximating the Star Trek ideal, both in terms of social justice and technology (new technology, after all, may be the only thing capable of undoing the environmental problems created by earlier technology). We are capable of tremendous destruction, but we are equally capable of creation, and we'll not only survive but prosper in an unprecedented golden age if we yield to the latter impulse rather than the former. If I didn't believe that, it would be damned difficult to write Star Trek.

TZN: Thank you very much for taking the time for this interesting interview!

(jw - 03.01.10)

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