I’ve finally been cleared to announce the new Star Trek project I’ve been working on for the past few months, which is something entirely new for me and for just about everyone else. It’s called Star Trek Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures. The Romulan War saga of the previous Enterprise novels concluded with the founding of the United Federation of Planets in 2161. I’ve been chosen to tell the next phase of the story. How did an alliance forged in wartime become the peaceful union we know? How did its founding members balance their differing views of what the Federation should become? What did they each contribute to the UFP government and Starfleet? How did that Starfleet end up being so similar to the United Earth Starfleet, and what familiar elements owe more to the Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites than we might have realized? What challenges did this fledgling union face in dealing with neighboring powers unsure of its intentions or threatened by its unity? What new enemies arose in the wake of the Romulans?
This is a followup to the Star Trek Enterprise — The Romulan War duology, but it’s also a fresh beginning, picking up about a year after the Federation’s founding. The war is over, Enterprise herself is in mothballs, and Admiral Jonathan Archer, his former crew, and his allies including Shran and Soval have moved on to new phases in their lives, playing new roles in the Federation and its combined Starfleet. The novel will feature many familiar characters from the era, a few new crewmates for the familiar cast, and some unexpected names as well. It’s called Enterprise for branding/marketing reasons, but I see it more as a sequel to Enterprise — and a prequel to the original series.
I was intrigued when my editor at Pocket offered me this opportunity, since the early Federation era is virtually untouched. We have very limited information about this period from canon, and only one book, Starfleet: Year One, has ever been set in this era. But that novel was soon superseded by Enterprise, and its focus was principally on Starfleet and not the wider Federation. (The only other novel that’s even come close was Killing Time by Della van Hise back in the ’80s. It gave us a brief glimpse of a version of the Federation’s founding ceremony, but that was it.) So the period is very nearly a blank slate, which is both a great opportunity and a great challenge for me. Worldbuilding in Trek fiction is usually relatively easy since there’s so much backstory and continuity to build on, but in this case it was a lot more challenging to strain out the tiny fragments of information we have about people, events, and institutions from this period. I’ve had to do a lot of extrapolation. But I’m picking up some threads from ENT, the series, that I felt were worth expanding on, and I’m building toward the Trek universe as we know it in the original series, so at least I know my starting and ending points. The worldbuilding has been a lot of fun — figuring out how the early UFP government was organized, how the member races cooperated in the joint government and combined fleet, and what the various member races contributed to Starfleet and how it evolved toward the form we know, in terms of design and technology. I’ve even come up with a design for the original Federation Starfleet uniform. Plus, of course, there’s the challenge of moving the ENT characters (regular and recurring) forward in their lives and careers. There are a few whose futures we have some foreknowledge of, but the rest are blank slates.
Another cool thing about this is that it completes my grand slam: I will now have written tie-ins for every onscreen Trek series, as well as several book-only ones. At first, admittedly, I was a little wary about taking on Enterprise, which I was lukewarm about in its first run. But upon rewatching the series as research for this book, I’ve gained a much greater appreciation for it. When I watched ENT in its original run, my perceptions were filtered through “Oh, that’s not what I expected” or “That’s not how I would’ve done it,” and that colored my reactions, as I think it did for a lot of us. But on revisiting the series, I was able to accept that this was how it was and evaluate it on its own terms. And I think it held up pretty well overall. It certainly has its share of duds and mediocre episodes, but overall I like how it turned out. The first season does a great job at conveying a flavor of exploration and discovery, a sense of wonder and novelty and fascination with the unknown. Sometimes the characters were a little too naive and reckless, but I liked the sense of experimentation, of pioneers trying everything for the first time and figuring stuff out as they went. Few Trek series have ever done as well at capturing that feeling of exploring the strange and unknown. And I appreciate the first-season producers’ attempt to take the storytelling in a smaller, more intimate and character-driven direction, going for an “everyday shipboard life” flavor in much the same way the early first season of TOS often did. (It often felt they were emulating M*A*S*H, with things like movie night and Dr. Phlox’s letters to Dr. Lucas.) There’s also a nice sense of an arc in the first season, a number of evolving plot and character threads that tie it together; the relationship of Archer and T’Pol and how it evolves from mutual hostility into deep trust and friendship is really quite engaging. The second season was weaker overall, maybe because the producers gave into pressure to do more actiony and high-concept episodes, and didn’t have as much of a sense of direction or focus, but it still had its share of satisfying episodes.
I have mixed feelings about the Xindi/Expanse arc of season 3, since it brought in a lot of implausible and fanciful ideas, but it was an admirably ambitious undertaking to tell one grand season-long epic, and the overall story it told was complex and compelling. In particular, I think it handled death more maturely than any other Trek series. In previous shows, captains would sulk over the deaths of redshirts for a few moments and then be laughing and joking by the end of the hour — or at least we wouldn’t see the effects of the crew losses in any later episodes. But when crewmembers died in ENT’s third season, it was always a big deal, something that stayed with the other characters and whose impact was really felt. The first two seasons were implausibly devoid of crew deaths, but that was because the writers didn’t want to trivialize it, didn’t want it to happen unless they could really face its consequences and give it the solemnity it deserved — which they did very successfully in season 3. They really are entitled to high marks for that.
As for season 4, it was impressive as well, though like every other season it had a few duds. I loved its innovative mix of 1, 2-, and 3-parters, allowing a lot more flexibility with the storytelling and letting them do novelistic mini-sagas that were as long as they needed to be. And it did a good job with the continuity porn, showing the beginnings of the Trek universe we know. My main problem with it is that there was hardly any exploring in it; nearly the whole thing was about NX-01′s crew dealing with diplomatic or political crises or battling criminals and terrorists. What I’m hoping to do in Rise of the Federation is to continue season 4′s emphasis on worldbuilding and laying the foundations of the TOS era while also bringing back season 1′s focus on exploration and the pioneer spirit, as well as its focus on character development.
Naturally I’m hoping Rise of the Federation will be a multi-book series, hence the subtitle A Choice of Futures for this volume. But for now it’s just the one book, which does tell a complete story within itself, yet also sets the direction for potential sequels. The book is scheduled for July 2013, so it’ll be out in time for next year’s Shore Leave convention.
Now I just need to finish writing the darn thing…