TOS: The Face of the Unknown

ST Face of Unknown cover

Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown

 Continuing the milestone 50th anniversary celebration of Star Trek—a brand-new novel of The Original Series featuring James T. Kirk, Spock, and the crew of the USS Enterprise!

Investigating a series of violent raids by a mysterious predatory species, Captain James T. Kirk discovers that these events share a startling connection with the First Federation, a friendly but secretive civilization contacted early in the USS Enterprise’s five-year mission. Traveling to the First Federation in search of answers, the Enterprise suddenly comes under attack from these strange marauders. Seeking refuge, the starship finds its way to the true home of the First Federation, an astonishing collection of worlds hidden from the galaxy beyond. The inhabitants of this isolated realm are wary of outsiders, and some accuse Kirk and his crew for bringing the wrath of their ancient enemy down upon them. When an attempt to stave off disaster goes tragically wrong, Kirk is held fully accountable, and Commander Spock learns there are even deeper forces that threaten this civilization. If Kirk and Spock cannot convince the First Federation’s leaders to overcome their fears, the resulting catastrophe could doom them all!

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     I’ve gotten to achieve a number of my dream projects as a Star Trek novelist, including a direct sequel to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the story of Picard’s missing years, and the version of Voyager I always wanted to see. But one of my biggest dreams has always been to write the definitive First Federation novel. When I was five and a half years old, I was intrigued by the promos I’d seen for this show called Star Trek, which as far as I could tell was about a funny-looking airplane flying around at night. So my parents let me stay up to watch it with them when it came on. The episode was “The Corbomite Maneuver,” and I was utterly hooked. That episode was my introduction to Star Trek, to space, to science, and to science fiction, and it therefore set the course of my entire life. It’s one of my clearest childhood memories, and once, while in college, I actually went through the university library’s microfilm newspaper archives to figure out the exact date. As nearly as I can determine, it was Wednesday, January 9, 1974 at 8 PM on WXIX-TV Channel 19 (then an independent station), and the Cincinnati Enquirer listed it as: “STAR TREK: Unidentified spaceship lures Enterprise to near disaster. (Repeat)”.
     As it happens, “Corbomite” was the first TOS episode filmed after the two pilots, and it was a much better introduction to the premise and themes of the show than the broadcast premiere, “The Man Trap.” It was a story of exploration, of the willingness to risk danger for the sake of knowledge, and of the courage to take a chance on peaceful contact rather than giving in to fear of the unknown and alien. Of all the early episodes, it was the one that best defined the themes and spirit of the show, at least for me.
     Yet the First Federation has been oddly untouched by the literature. A few tie-ins have featured “Corbomite”‘s main guest character Dave Bailey in supporting roles, but just about the only references to Balok and the FF have been in the TNG novel Gulliver’s Fugitives by Keith Sharee (featuring a pair of FF ambassadors aboard the Enterprise-D), the Voyager novel Ragnarok by Nathan Archer (in which the ruins of a Fesarius-class ship were found in the Delta Quadrant), the “Shatnerverse” novels Dark Victory and Preserver by William Shatner with Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens (in which we get glimpses of the FF in both the Prime and Mirror universes), and the short story “Ambassador at Large” by J.A. Rosales in the first Strange New Worlds anthology, in which the Voyager crew encounters an intact Fesarius, an aged Bailey, an ageless Balok, and, for some reason, the Cybermen from Doctor Who (aka “Mondasians”). Gulliver’s Fugitives was the only book that ever showed members of Balok’s unnamed species aside from Balok himself.
     Thus, it’s always been one of my ambitions to flesh out the First Federation for myself. My first attempt was back in 2008, when I pitched the idea to my editor at the time, Marco Palmieri. He suggested doing it as a second Titan novel, but when I submitted my proposal, Marco was more interested in the B story I’d added. So he convinced me to expand that B story into a full novel, which became Over a Torrent Sea. But he signed me to a two-book contract with the expectation that the second book would be the First Federation tale.
     Plans changed, though. The other editor, Margaret Clark, picked me to do another project as the second book in my contract, with the FF novel put on hold until later. But that project quickly fell by the wayside when Margaret instead decided I should write one of the planned tie-in novels to the 2009 Star Trek movie reboot. So that novel, Seek a Newer World, became the second book in my contract instead, and I wrote it and got paid for it in full — but then it was decided not to proceed with the novels after all, so the book was cancelled. (Fans have been puzzled by this decision for years, but it’s just one of those things that happen in business sometimes. It had nothing to do with the content of the books, since they could’ve been easily enough rewritten; this just turned out not to be the direction that Bad Robot, the producers of the new movies, wanted to go with their tie-ins.) As for the First Federation novel, that fell through the cracks when the 2008 economic crash required Simon & Schuster to downsize, costing Marco his job. He’s ended up doing quite well at Tor Books, but his departure left my FF book in limbo.
     Cut to 2015. Pocket tends to plan things out a year or more in advance, so this was the time to pitch something to tie into the upcoming celebration of Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary in 2016. I actually put it off a little late, just barely getting in under the wire, which is why this book ended up coming out at the very end of the year and is technically the January 2017 book. (Books typically come out near the end of the month before their official dates, so a publication year is considered to run from February to January.) Anyway, I felt this was the time to do my First Federation story at last — reworked from a Titan story with TOS flashbacks into a full TOS story. And while I was at it, I realized that there was a way I could salvage some of the best ideas and moments from Seek a Newer World by folding them into my FF proposal. (Nothing specific to the Kelvin Timeline, of course — just some of the original elements I devised for the novel.)  Since the same sequence of events had led to two of my projects being orphaned, I might as well try to get new life out of them both. And some of their elements meshed surprisingly well from a conceptual and thematic standpoint.
     I pitched this as a movie-era story, since that’s the part of the TOS timeline where I usually prefer to work, but Margaret felt that a 50th-anniversary story needed to be in the 5-year mission. That made this my first full novel set in that time frame, although I’ve visited it previously in one novelette (“As Others See Us” in the Constellations anthology) and in the flashbacks in the first half of DTI: Forgotten History. And that gave me an opportunity to turn this into another kind of wish-fulfillment project. Specifically, I’d been thinking for a while about how 5-year-mission novels rarely dove deep into ideas from The Animated Series, and what a missed opportunity that was. So I decided to treat this book as a transitional work between TOS and TAS, suggesting how some of the changes between them occurred. As it happened, James Swallow’s The Latter Fire beat me to the punch in one respect, showing the change of navigators from Chekov to Arex. Swallow’s approach contradicted a line from Ex Machina (about Arex already being the night-shift navigator before Chekov left), but even though 5YM novels are not editorially required to be in continuity with each other, I liked The Latter Fire enough that I chose to revise the ending of The Face of the Unknown to be consistent with it.
     The title is from Kirk’s line to Bailey in “The Corbomite Maneuver” upon inviting him to beam over to Balok’s pilot vessel — “The face of the unknown. I think I owe you a look at it.” I wasn’t sure about the title at first — it was just the only “Corbomite” quote I could find that was even remotely suitable — but in the course of writing the book, I came to feel that it was a good fit for the story after all. TFotU is, like the episode that inspired it, a story about fear of the alien and whether we succumb to it and let it bring out the worst in us, or rise above it and strive to achieve our best. And, sadly, that story has turned out to be far more relevant to our times than I ever thought it would be.
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