DTI: Watching the Clock

DTItentativeStar Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock

There’s likely no more of a thankless job in the Federation than temporal investigation. While starship explorers get to live the human adventure of traveling to other times and realities, it’s up to the dedicated agents of the Federation Department of Temporal Investigations to deal with the consequences to the timestream that the rest of the Galaxy has to live with day by day. But when history as we know it could be wiped out at any moment by time warriors from the future, misused relics of ancient races, or accident-prone starships, only the most disciplined, obsessive, and unimaginative government employees have what it takes to face the existential uncertainty of it all on a daily basis . . . and still stay sane enough to complete their assignments.

That’s where Agents Lucsly and Dulmur come in—stalwart and unflappable, these men are the Federation’s unsung anchors in a chaotic universe. Together with their colleagues in the DTI—and with the help and sometimes hindrance of Starfleet’s finest—they do what they can to keep the timestream, or at least the paperwork, as neat and orderly as they are. But when a series of escalating temporal incursions threatens to open a new front of the history-spanning Temporal Cold War in the twenty-fourth century, Agents Lucsly and Dulmur will need all their investigative skill and unbending determination to stop those who wish to rewrite the past for their own advantage, and to keep the present and the future from devolving into the kind of chaos they really, really hate.

  • “Bennett thankfully avoided all the potential pitfalls of writing such a time travel-inspired tale.  While there are moments where his own careful research into the latest chronal theories helps drive this adventure forward, he always strives to ensure his explanations make some kind of sense…. Watching the Clock.. also develops some great characters… All in all, an action-packed adventure with some great moments of humor.” — John Freeman, Star Trek Magazine #34
  • “Bennett takes characters who had only a few minutes of screen time and makes them believable characters… He’s clearly done a lot of thinking, and he shows some of his homework, but keeps the book flowing well enough that it never devolves into a series of expository lumps.” — Steve Roby, Starfleet Library
  • “[A] novel whose ambition is only surpassed in its accomplishments… borderline epic.” — Ian Coomber, Whatculture!

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The idea for this book came to me because I hate time-travel stories.  There are so many cliches and implausibilities in the genre, so much that just doesn’t make sense if you really try to analyze it, which I generally do.  On the one hand, I’ve spent many years trying to figure out how to make sense of time travel in science fiction, and I was tempted to develop a definitive Star Trek time-travel novel that would let me present the rough model I’d developed to rationalize the particularly convoluted temporal conceits of the Trek universe.  But on the other hand, I had no interest in doing any of the conventional formula stories about people going back and changing history or trying to repair history or what-have-you.  So I had the thought of telling a story about the Department of Temporal Investigations, an organization introduced in Deep Space Nine — first alluded to in passing in “Past Tense,” then represented by the redoubtable agents Lucsly and Dulmur in “Trials and Tribble-ations.”  I would approach it in a manner akin to a crime procedural, focusing on DTI agents who didn’t travel in time themselves, but who investigated temporal incidents when they did occur.  Lucsly and Dulmur would be the stars, along with a cast of new characters to fill out the agency.  There might be a few other familiar faces here and there; maybe Clare Raymond, the cryonically-preserved housewife from TNG’s “The Neutral Zone,” could have a job counseling the time-displaced as they adjusted to their new lives.  Maybe the crew of the Bozeman from TNG: “Cause and Effect” could be attached to the DTI for time-related missions.

When I pitched the idea to my editor Marco Palmieri, he wasn’t enthusiastic about it.  For that matter, neither was I at the time.  It wasn’t something I’d given a great deal of thought to or even written anything down about.  I figured if he showed interest, I’d develop it further.  But he didn’t, so there it sat.

Unfortunately, Marco fell victim to a round of layoffs at Simon & Schuster during the economic crash of 2008 (though don’t worry — since then, he’s worked as a contributor and editor for Star Trek Magazine, opened his own editorial consulting business, and has now become an in-house editor at Tor Books).  Then his successor Margaret Clark fell victim to another round of layoffs (though she’s bounced back too).  In 2010, the new incoming editor, Jaime Costas, asked me to pitch what story ideas I had for Trek.  I sent her everything: pitches to Marco and Margaret left over when they departed, ideas I’d been developing as possible Trek comic pitches, the works.  As an afterthought, I decided to toss in a paragraph about my DTI idea, the first time I’d ever actually written anything down about it.  Imagine my surprise when it was the one that got picked.  Most everything else I’d pitched was already partially outlined, needing only completion or revision.  But this was a bare-bones idea, something where I was virtually starting from scratch.  And it was the most complicated project they could’ve chosen, since I had to develop two barely-glimpsed characters as my leads, create a whole new supporting cast, and do tons of research — not just Trek time travel stories from canon and prose, but real quantum theory about time and parallel histories (since I was determined to make it as plausible as I could) and a lot of classic science fiction pertaining to time travel (for inspiration).  In fact, it’s the most complicated Star Trek writing project I’ve ever had.

But all my research into quantum theory revealed that, surprisingly, a lot of the stuff in Trek time travel that seemed absurd could actually be explained with legitimate (if unproven) theoretical physics.  As stated above, I’d already had a broad theory in mind for how time travel worked in the Trek universe, but I was able to ground it much more solidly and with more detail.  It was a fascinating exercise.  More importantly, creating an almost wholly new family of characters was very satisfying, and I became very fond of them.  Watching the Clock was the most challenging Trek novel to write, but also one of the most fulfilling.

If you’re more interested in the established Trek characters and storylines, don’t worry — Watching the Clock features guest appearances by a number of prominent characters and revisits a number of familiar time-travel stories from the DTI’s perspective.  What’s more, I’ve already been commissioned to write a TOS novel which will deal with the beginnings of the DTI.

Due to the complexity of this book, the annotations are rather extensive this time:

Character Notes  Discussion of character development, background, and “casting” ideas (spoiler-heavy!)

Annotations Page 1 (Ch. I-VIII) and Page 2 (Ch. IX-Epilogue)  Explanations of references and science/tech (spoiler-heavy!)

Alien Calendar Notes  Background on many of the alien calendars used in chapter headings

NDB Media audio interview about DTI:WTC  April 11, 2011

  1. Alex Thompson
    August 21, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    I’ve enjoyed this book and its sequels thoroughly, as well as your Rise of the Federation novels. One thing that bothered me, though, was the Sponsor using Romulans for a 24th century version of the Cabal. It seems to me the reason he used the Suliban was because they were spread widely around in the first place and relatively primitive compared to most 22nd century civilizations, making the allure of future technology and genetic augmentation all the more enticing. The Romulans live under too monolithic a government and culture for them to make an easy equivalent. It occurred to me that the perfect species for a 24th century version of the Cabal were the Pakleds. Throughout ‘The Next Generation’ and ‘Deep Space Nine’ you heard about their ships scavenging, stealing and smuggling all over the known Alpha and Beta Quadrants, while they also seek instant gratification in seeking the power that the other civilizations around them have. Seems to me that a Pakled Cabal would have been perfect for the Sponsor to control without immediately bringing the likes of the Tal Shiar down on them.

    Anyway, just my thoughts. I look forward to more of your novels in the future.

    • August 22, 2016 at 8:05 am

      I’m not convinced by T’Pol’s dismissal of the Suliban as “primitive” just because they were nomadic. I think that just reflects the condescension of the Vulcan High Command, the same regime that considered humanity too “primitive” to be unleashed on the galaxy. Historically, urban/agrarian civilizations have tended to dismiss nomadic civilizations as primitive out of prejudice, but nomadism is simply an alternative adaptation that arises from a particular set of environmental opportunities or survival needs. For instance, the horse nomads of both Central Asia and the American Plains started out as agrarian communities on the fringes of environments that were difficult to thrive in agriculturally, then took advantage of the acquisition of domesticated horses to adopt a nomadic lifestyle that let them take better advantage of the plain or steppe environment than they could have done as sedentary farmers.

      In the specific case of the Suliban, they became nomads because their homeworld became uninhabitable. It’s not hard to understand why a species whose home planet failed them would be reluctant to trust in any other planet to support them and would thus see nomadism as a better way for ensuring their species’ long-term survival. The Betelgeusians in my novels are much the same way. And a “primitive” race couldn’t evacuate its homeworld to space in the first place. If the fate of their world happened swiftly enough, it’s possible that only a portion of their population survived and lost most of their civilization’s wealth and knowledge, having to live as refugees. Refugees often have to live in primitive conditions because of their circumstances, but that doesn’t reflect on what their home civilizations were like in their prime.

      In WTC, the reason the Sponsor chose both the Suliban and the Romulans is because they were already involved in conflicts that the Sponsor wanted to manipulate in order to adjust history to his advantage. Specifically, he was trying to alter Tandaran history, and the Suliban had a lengthy conflict with the Tandarans. The Romulan Augments filled a similarly strategic role in that particular time and place. (Plus it was a nod to the fan theory that Future Guy was a Romulan — and maybe something of a red herring to play off that expectation.)

      As for the Pakleds, I have no interest in using them. “Samaritan Snare” is one of my most hated TNG episodes, partly because it’s just not very good, and largely because it’s basically making fun of people with cognitive disabilities, and that’s beneath Star Trek.

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