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Resurfacing at last

Hello, everyone — sorry I haven’t been posting lately, but I’ve been really wrapped up in trying to finish Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference. This was kind of a rough one, since there were delays getting the contract and approvals through, so I was late getting started and I had to work fast. Which proved difficult, since I was suffering from a vitamin D deficiency that I think was causing me some mild depression and making it hard to focus. So I’ve spent the last month striving to finish the book, which left little mental attention for other writing such as blogging (though I still posted on my bulletin boards regularly because I’m addicted to those). I’m afraid I’ve really been neglecting this blog, and I need to try to refocus on it.

So anyway, PoI is finally done, and we’re expediting the editing process to make up for lost time. It helps that it came out relatively short, about 83,000 words. I figured that, after the big epic 2-part saga of Uncertain Logic and Live by the Code, it was good to do a story that was a bit more intimate in scope. I was influenced by The Next Generation‘s “Family” and Enterprise‘s “Home.” Although that’s only part of the novel’s story. Basically, there’s one really big adventure plotline at the heart of the novel, and a number of more character-driven subplots around it. But there are some major events and changes to the status quo on both scales. So it’s a smaller story, but with big consequences.

Another thing that helped with the tight writing schedule was that I’ve once again managed to recycle a concept from one of my old, unsold original stories as a subplot in PoI. It’s actually a double-recycle of sorts, because I was going to use the premise as the basis for a second Star Trek: Corps of Engineers novella, but that series was cancelled before I got a contract for it. For this version, I kept some of the new worldbuilding ideas I was going to add in the CoE tale, but I’ve actually been able to incorporate a lot more of the original story’s plot and dialogue in this version than I would’ve been able to do there, albeit revised to fit the new characters and relationships. So that saved me some time — although not as much as it could have, since there was a pair of supporting characters that were originally just names spouting dialogue in the material I copied, and I didn’t really work out who they should be and what motivated them until the revision phase, so parts of that sequence got rewritten several times.

I even got to the point where I was afraid that the book would run short, so I was looking through my old unsold fiction (just about all writers have a ton of early stuff they never sold, while they were learning the trade), trying to find some short story or subplot that I could adapt as a story arc for some supporting character to meet my word count. But I couldn’t find anything that was both adaptable to the 22nd-century Trek universe and well enough written to be usable — at least, not from the stuff I could remember, and taking the time to re-read a bunch of old stuff to refresh my memory would’ve defeated the purpose of trying to speed up the process. Fortunately, I managed to come up with enough new material to do the job, and it naturally worked better to add material that grew from the story and characters I had, rather than trying to shoehorn in some unrelated story. As a matter of fact, when I finally reached the end of the novel in the first draft, I was still a little bit short of 80,000 words, and I’d already decided there was one more scene I needed to go back and put in earlier. I did that later the same day, and it put me over the limit, and it wasn’t until I finished it that I finally felt the rush of euphoria and satisfaction that came from finally being finished. Although it didn’t last long, since I still needed to clean up and tighten the draft before I turned it in.

So now I’m finally done with PoI, and I’m free to resume work on some original projects that I’ve had to put off. Currently, I’m starting to explore the possibility of putting together a collection of my original stories, though it’s too early to say whether that will happen. Once that’s done, I need to get back to work on some new stories I have on the back burner, one of which is unfinished. Hopefully I can make some real progress on those and one or two other things before my next Trek project comes along — although I hope that next Trek project comes fairly soon, because I still need to make a living. That’s the paradox — my Trek work is what lets me make enough of a living to pursue the other stuff, but it tends to take up a lot of time that I could be spending on the other stuff instead. Well, I shouldn’t complain — I actually got a lot of original writing done in 2016 while waiting for the go-ahead on PoI. But there was some of it that I didn’t quite get to finish before I had to throw myself fully into Trek writing. Of course, it wouldn’t be as much of a problem if I were better at time management and self-discipline. But I’ve been telling myself that for ages and it hasn’t helped much.

Let’s see, I don’t have much to talk about beyond writing, because I haven’t had much of a life otherwise lately. One bit of good news — the fancy new Kroger they’ve been building next to the university for the past year and a half is finally opening in just a few days, so I’ll finally be able to get groceries from somewhere within walking distance again (although I doubt I’ll try biking there, since I don’t think the adjacent intersection is very safe for biking). And it’s a much larger, more elaborate superstore than the old one in that location, or than the next-nearest one in Walnut Hills, which I never liked going to, and which is actually closing the night before the new one opens. Makes sense, in a way — the store is twice as big, so it’s taking the place of two adjacent ones. Meanwhile, the local co-op store that replaced the old IGA up by Burnet Woods opened last month — nearly a year later than originally touted — and it’s not bad, though not as suited for my needs as the new Kroger will be. I hope it does well, though, since it’s good to have both options. After a year and a half with no grocery stores in the neighborhood, there are now going to be two. (Well, not really — the co-op is about the same distance from me as the Walnut Hills Kroger, but it feels closer to me, probably because I’m more familiar with its neighborhood.)

Well, that’s about all I have to report for now, and it’s lunchtime. I’ll try not to wait so long before posting again.

New podcast interview on Trek Mate

The Trek Mate Family Network in the UK has just released a podcast of an interview I did for their “Captain’s Table” feature in which they interview Star Trek prose authors. The discussion covers my Trek work, my Marvel novels and their audio adaptations, and Only Superhuman. You can find it here:

http://www.trekmate.org.uk/ten-forward-captains-table-interview-with-christopher-l-bennett/

 

Coming July 2013: STAR TREK ENTERPRISE — RISE OF THE FEDERATION

November 2, 2012 15 comments

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…

Earth: A nice place to visit…?

In my last post, I talked about the interactive Google Maps thingy at the end of “No Dominion” on its DayBreak Magazine page.  It occurred to me that “No Dominion” is the only one of my published original works that could have a Google Maps page, since it’s the only one that’s set even partly on Earth.  And the first draft of it was set on a habitat in Earth orbit!  In fact, of my five published original stories, only the latest two, “The Weight of Silence” and “No Dominion,” are even set in the Sol System.  “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” and “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele” are set within ten parsecs of Earth, respectively en route to and at Gamma Leporis.  “The Hub of the Matter” and its upcoming sequel “Home is Where the Hub Is” are set near the center of the galaxy, 40,000 light years from Earth, and at various other locations within a volume 300,000 light-years in radius around that point.

What can I say?  I like space.  It was Star Trek that introduced me to science fiction, and the original show never went to Earth except in the occasional time-travel story.  And space is just so much roomier than Earth.  The tastes of the prose SF community turned away from “space opera” for a while, though that’s somewhat reversed itself by now, but I never lost my preference for it.

Ironically, my first published Star Trek tale, SCE: “Aftermath,” was set primarily in San Francisco and, I believe, pretty much entirely within the Solar System (other dimensions notwithstanding).  However, I think the only things I’ve written since then that are actually set on Earth (at least from the perspective of the viewpoint characters) are a few pages toward the end of The Buried Age and the briefing in the first chapter of Greater Than the Sum (although the prologue of Over a Torrent Sea opens in orbit of Mars).  My upcoming Star Trek DTI novel will probably spend more time on Earth than any of my other Trek fiction, although it features quite a lot of other locations as well.

I was going to say “than anything I’ve had published to date,” but then I remembered my X-Men and Spider-Man novels, both of which are set entirely on Earth (alternate timelines notwithstanding).  However, my original idea for the Spidey novel had Spidey travelling to another planet; I liked the idea of getting him out of his comfort zone (and, admittedly, more into mine).  It was decided it was too much of a departure for the character, but I’m still hoping I’ll get a chance to tell that tale someday.