In His Own Words: Christopher L. Bennett
By Christopher L. Bennett - April 24, 2012
Christopher L. Bennett's latest Trek novel, Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History, will be available today from Simon and Schuster. To commemmorate the occasion, StarTrek.com invited Bennett to preview the book and write about his experience bringing it to fruition. He took us up on that offer, and did so a most unique way... by having his Present self interview his Past self.
The folks at StarTrek.com have invited me to contribute a piece about the experience of writing Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History. How did this book come about? What was it like writing it?
Well, here’s the thing... I forgot.
Sorry, I’ve been focusing on newer writing projects. Not to worry, though: I managed to borrow a Wayback Machine so I could interview my past self about the book.
Present Me: So tell me, Me, what’s the story behind Forgotten History?
Past Me: This is a put-on, right? If you’re who you say you are, tell me something about the future.
Present Me: How will you know if it’s true? Just answer the question.
Past Me: Okay, I’ll play along... After writing the first DTI novel, Watching the Clock, I’d never expected to revisit the Department of Temporal Investigations so soon, let alone to do a prequel. But back in March—
Present Me: You mean March 2011?
Past Me: Yeah, that. In trying to work out what my 2012 book would be, my Star Trek editor suggested out of the blue, “How about a TOS/DTI book?” We knew from Deep Space Nine: “Trials and Tribble-ations” that James T. Kirk had seventeen separate temporal violations listed in the DTI’s files, so surely there must be an unchronicled one worth writing about.
The suggestion sparked a bigger idea in me, though. Watching the Clock and earlier stories had established the DTI’s founding date as 2270, right around the end of the famous five-year mission. So why not tell the origin story of the DTI itself? I could have Lucsly and Dulmur—the DTI agents featured in “Trials and Tribble-ations” and the lead characters of Watching the Clock—encounter a temporal mystery tying into the origins of their own department, a mystery suggesting that Kirk and the Enterprise played an even more integral role in the DTI’s formative years than history recorded, and use their investigation as a framing sequence for that story. Not only could I do for the original series’ time travel episodes what I did for various twenty-fourth-century ones in Watching the Clock—tell the stories behind the stories and explore their background, connections, and consequences—but I could extend the tale forward into the DTI’s early years and finally get to write that follow-up to Star Trek: Ex Machina that I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
The idea fell into place very quickly. I had the basic structure of the story, including the ending, worked out within 90 minutes of getting the suggestion, and I had the title within two hours after that. Working out the details of the outline took about a month, though. I had to review a lot of material, including Watching the Clock, Ex Machina, and most of the time-travel episodes of TOS, as well as assorted material relating to the Star Trek: The Motion Picture era to help me get my mind back into that timeframe. When I finally turned in the outline to my editor, I included the following note: “I'm glad you suggested this. It's shaping up to be a fun story. Lucsly & Dulmur confronting the myth and reality of James T. Kirk head-on? It's priceless.”
Present Me: I’m starting to remember this now. There was more to the story than that, wasn’t there?
Past Me: That’s right. I’m getting to address a lot of things I’ve often wondered about Kirk’s time travel adventures: how did Starfleet react upon learning time travel was possible? How to explain the coincidence that the same starship made two accidental time journeys and discovered the Guardian of Forever within a single year? What led Starfleet to risk sending the Enterprise back to 1968 for historical research in “Assignment: Earth,” or using the Guardian for research in “Yesteryear”?
But that’s just part of it. The timeframe of the book lets me fulfill some long-standing wishes: telling a story employing characters and concepts from Star Trek: The Animated Series (and not the characters one would expect); exploring the internal layout of the Enterprise based on what was revealed in Star Trek: Enterprise’s “In a Mirror, Darkly” as well as the original and animated series; elaborating on the end of the five-year mission and the process of the Enterprise refit; and most of all, carrying forward the post-TMP adventures of the Enterprise and advancing some of the major character arcs that Ex Machina set in motion. All of this is secondary to the saga of the DTI’s formative years, of course, but it’s all in there, and then some.
Present Me: It sounds like this is more an Original Series novel than a DTI novel.
Past Me: I was told going in that the book would probably be marketed under the TOS banner. But my contract listed it as DTI, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out. I gather it did end up as DTI?
Present Me: Yes, though Kirk and the Enterprise are on the cover. I’m not sure why it ended up that way, except that the cover makes for a nice companion piece with Watching the Clock.
Past Me: That’s good to hear. Still, I stuck with the original plan to approach it primarily as a Kirk-era novel. Although its frame sequence does feature the DTI characters from Watching the Clock and takes place after it, I’ve tried to treat them the same way I’d handle brand-new characters, so that TOS fans picking up this book can learn all they need to know about the DTI team without needing to read anything else. I’ve even tried to make the 2383 portions understandable for TOS fans unfamiliar with the later shows, for instance pointing out that relations with the Klingons are better in Lucsly’s time than in Kirk’s. Although Forgotten History is the second DTI book, it’s my hope that it can work equally well if you read it first—appropriately, for it is the origin story of the department. Present Me: You could say that the two books form sort of a time loop.
Past Me: Hmm, maybe. Anyway, I hope it will be just as satisfying to fans of TOS—and of The Animated Series, TMP, and Ex Machina—as it is to fans of Watching the Clock.
Present Me: Well, that should do it, Past Me. Thank you for your... time.
Past Me: (Groan) You had to go there, didn’t you? I guess you really are me.
Present Me: Afraid so.
Past Me: So what do the next six months have in store for me?
Present Me: Well, I really shouldn’t... but you’re gonna love the cover to Only Superhuman. Oh, and the weather’s going to be terrible when you drive to Cousin Barb’s for Thanksgiving, so maybe you should...
Agent Lucsly: This interview is over. Sir, if you would just stare into this device for a moment...
Past Me: Huh? What happened? What a strange dream...
Agent Dulmur: We’re very disappointed in you, Mr. Bennett.
Present Me: I’m sorry! I only had a few days to finish a piece for StarTrek.com and I was desperate!
Agent Dulmur: It’s not that, sir.
Agent Lucsly: It’s those time jokes you made. You know we hate those...
Christopher L. Bennett is the author of nearly a dozen novels and over a dozen shorter works, mostly in the Star Trek universe but including novels based on Spider-Man and X-Men and six original novelettes, most of them published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact. He has also contributed multiple articles to Star Trek Magazine and maintains a blog at http://christopherlbennett.wordpress.com/. His first original novel, the hard-SF superhero space adventure Only Superhuman, will be released on October 16, 2012 by Tor Books.
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