Michael A. Martin On The Romulan War And More, Part 1
Michael A. Martin is one of Star Trek's most prolific authors, having penned more than two dozen Trek-centric comic books and novels, ranging from Deep Space Nine #10 -- Lwaxana Troi and the Wedding of Doom to Section 31: Rogue, Titan: Taking Wing to Kobayashi Maru, and from The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor's Wing to Typhon Pact: Seize the Fire. For many years, he collaborated with partner Andy Mangels, but he's been flying solo of late and his currrent effort, The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm, will be released today by Simon and Schuster as a 352-page mass-market paperback and eBook. StarTrek.com caught up with Martin for an extensive and exclusive interview in which he discussed, well, pretty much everything. Below is part one and check back tomorrow for part two.
The Romulan War books kicked off your first solo stint as a Star Trek writer. What’s that been like for you, both launching a series of your own and also actually penning it without a collaborator?
Martin: For me, working on the two Romulan War novels felt like a more of a continuation of what had gone before than the launch of something brand new. After all, Andy and I had already covered the period between “Terra Prime” and the opening salvoes of the Earth-Romulan War in The Good That Men Do and Kobayashi Maru. A lot of the story beats for Beneath the Raptor’s Wing and To Brave the Storm were already floating around in some nascent form, either in my head or in Margaret Clark’s. My second solo Star Trek book, Star Trek Online: The Needs of the Many, felt much more like a change of course for me, mainly because the “interview” format I used there was so different from the norm.
I’d say that the main difference between working on Beneath the Raptor’s Wing and the Enterprise novels that preceded it was the sheer intensity of the labor. Not only was BtRW the first piece of long-form Star Trek fiction I wasn’t splitting down the middle with a collaborator, the manuscript was the longest one I’ve ever turned in, and by a pretty hefty margin. That might not have been immediately apparent because the book was initially released as a trade paperback, which is a relatively “roomy” format. But when the time came to put out the mass-market paperback version, the production department really had to jump up and down on it to cram it into the format. That’s the edition that I consider definitive, by the way, since in that version I was able to fix certain things in the text. I like to think of the mass-market edition as my “director’s cut.”
How pleased were you by the fan reaction to Beneath the Raptor’s Wing?
Martin: I learned years ago not to waste my time and emotional energy haunting Amazon and the various other opinion boards looking for reviews of my work, so I’m not really aware of any of that. I call it “ego-surfing.” But really, who needs that kind of distraction when you’re facing yet another looming deadline? Sometimes I think of the Internet as a giant electronic men’s-room wall, a place where you can find the most appalling things scrawled. Haters who thrive on the “drive-by” anonymity of cyberspace are usually incoherent or dishonest, or both, so they don't contribute anything of value to the conversation. And although unalloyed praise feels good—and I have to confess to liking it as much as the next guy does—it isn’t really any more useful than a recommendation from my own mother would be.
That said, I’m pleased to say that I’ve received a lot of very positive email feedback from the fans who have taken the time to track me down, particularly those who have been paying careful attention to the ongoing Trip Tucker-T’Pol relationship. This subset of the readership has definite expectations, so striking a healthy balance between keeping them guessing and keeping them over-the-moon happy has become very important to me as the post-series Enterprise saga has unfolded over the past several years. When most of the Trip/T’Pol folk seem perched on the metaphorical edges of their seats is when I feel I’ve done some of my best work in getting the “voices” of the characters right. I’ve already started hearing from some of the Trip-and-T’Polsters about To Brave the Storm, and so far the response has all been positive, though they clearly still want more. That makes me feel that I’ve done my job well, because “always leave ’em wanting more” is one of the central axioms of show business.
What intrigues you most about Archer as a character?
Martin: The contradictions that Archer embodies are what fascinate me most. He’s defined by the gap between the shine and sparkle of idealism and the dents and rust of reality. He wants to reach out into the universe with an open hand, but he’s often disappointed by circumstances that force him to extend a closed fist instead. He’s an explorer by both nature and preference, but necessity has made him a warrior. He’s the idealist who believes in peace and cooperation, but he’s also the pragmatist who lets the Kobayashi Maru’s passengers and crew die because a rescue attempt would have left Enterprise wrecked along with the Maru. And even though he knows he had no better alternative, and would make the same decision again under the same circumstances, an angry chorus of Earth’s news-media pundits have taken him to the woodshed because of the Kobayashi Maru affair. And his conscience can’t let the incident go, either, even though he understands intellectually that it couldn’t have been avoided.
Archer’s reach often exceeds his grasp, but he’s aware of that. He knows he’s flawed, but he also knows that everybody is flawed—especially those who seem most reluctant to admit to having faults, like the Vulcans. Like the rest of his species, which is coping with the growing pains that will one day make Earth the center of a great interstellar civilization, he is a work in progress. In a way, Jonathan Archer is all of humanity in microcosm, taking stumbling steps in the direction of Gene Roddenberry’s vision.
Given that Enterprise only ran four years, that there weren’t many other Enterprise novels until you and Andy Mangels started to work on them, and the fact that Enterprise was a prequel anyway, how much room has that given you to play?
Martin: Actually, several other Enterprise novels came out prior to the Andy and I taking the helm aboard the NX-01. Dave Stern’s Daedalus books spring immediately to mind. But we were the first to focus on events that were to occur after the conclusion of the fourth and final season of Enterprise. We did that in our very first Enterprise novel, Last Full Measure. Even though the story was set during the early phases of the Xindi crisis, we created a “frame” around the main story that was set in the 2230s and hinted that Trip Tucker would live to a ripe old age, the events of season four’s “These Are the Voyages...” notwithstanding. Since all but one of the Enterprise novels I either wrote or co-wrote covered Enterprise’s post-television time frame—and since the show had such a relatively short run—there never seemed to be any shortage of story material to mine, especially with the calendar leading me inexorably toward the Earth-Romulan War.
Does the word “canon” make you shudder and rip your hair out or do you just accept that it’s part of the game when writing Trek novels and, subsequently, when putting your stories in front of readers/fans?
Martin: I don’t think any writer likes having to observe canon at the expense of good storytelling. But I’ve never had a lot of trouble working within the limitations set by official, on-screen continuity. Crafting a story so that it squares with canon is really just the equivalent of playing tennis with the net up. In fact, canon is something a writer can exploit to generate stories. A good for-instance is the melding of the continuities of DS9 and movie-era TOS that Andy and I created, with the guidance of Pocket editorial maestro Marco Palmieri, to cross Hikaru Sulu’s path with those of Curzon Dax, Kang, Koloth, and Kor for Forged in Fire, our second Excelsior novel.
Canon can also give a writer canonical “loopholes,” like the one that allowed me to posit that Zefram Cochrane developed his first warp-ship in conjunction with orbital manufacturing facilities and particle accelerators located in captured, hollowed-out asteroids. That one detail enabled Andy and me to create a storyline for our Lost Era novel, an Excelsior tale titled The Sundered, that involved a long-isolated offshoot race descended from Earth humans. The orbital facilities also made Zefram Cochrane’s invention of the warp drive seem more believable—at least to me—since the audience wasn’t being asked to believe that Cochrane had just cooked up all the antimatter he needed in his garage.
The really major canon alteration you were involved with was the resurrection of Trip Tucker. To your thinking, how necessary was that, and what storytelling opportunities were opened up by having him back in action?
Martin: I really don’t consider Trip’s so-called resurrection to be an alteration of canon. Remember, canon is supposed to be the official history of what happens to the characters, either in the movies or on television. Tie-in writers aren’t allowed to reverse canon just because they don’t like the outcome of a particular plot thread or character arc. And believe me, I didn’t like the outcome of “These Are the Voyages. . .”, particularly with regard to Trip Tucker. Andy felt the same way, as did our editor, Margaret Clark. So when the opportunity to take on The Good That Men Do came along, we asked CBS for permission to change the circumstances surrounding Trip’s death as we integrated the script for “These Are the Voyages. . .” into the narrative.
I know it sounds like I just contradicted myself. Canon is what’s been shown on screen, and we were lobbying to get it changed—or at least it looked that way. The thing is, another one of those “canon loopholes” was coming into play here. The fact that each and every Enterprise character seen in “These Are the Voyages. . .” was a merely a hologram created aboard the Enterprise-D more than two centuries later meant that Trip’s death wasn’t necessarily canon. In fact, we don’t know what really became of any of the Enterprise characters depicted in “TAtV” because we never actually saw any of them—we only saw their holographic avatars. All this episode established was what late 24th-century Starfleet officers believe happened to Trip. It occurred to me that about as much time had passed since the Enterprise era and the time of TNG as separates our time from that of the Founding Fathers. Since our historical understanding of the American Revolution has been badly distorted over the centuries by legend, hero-worship, and historical revisionism, couldn’t something similar have happened between the 2150s and the 2370s? Once we started thinking along these lines, then added a dash of Section 31 along with some justifiable uncertainty about the timeline itself, we were off to the races, chronicling Trip Tucker’s faked death and his “afterlife” as a spy working behind the Romulan lines. Trip Tucker’s so-called resurrection opened a whole raft of storytelling opportunities, particularly on the espionage front. It also presented a special challenge, since knowledge of the kinship between the Vulcans and the Romulans has to remain a secret to nearly all of humanity prior to the “big reveal” shown in the TOS episode “Balance of Terror.”
OK, let’s get to To Brave the Storm. Set it up for us.
Martin: Things are looking pretty grim. Earth is in the worst shape it’s been in since the war began. Because of T’Pau’s commitment to Syrrannite pacifism, Vulcan is still sitting out the conflict. The rest of the Coalition has essentially crumbled because Vulcan’s pullout has spooked Andoria and Tellar. Starfleet has fallen back, making the Sol system’s defense its number-one priority. Jonathan Archer is forced to seek help elsewhere, hat in hand, and isn’t having much luck despite his concerted effort to rehabilitate Enterprise’s reputation, which the Kobayashi Maru disaster has tarnished pretty badly. Meanwhile, the Romulans are wrapping up a distracting conflict out on the Empire’s far Beta-quadrant frontier, and this allows them to mobilize more ships than ever before against a resource-starved Earth and her ever-dwindling list of friends, allies, and colonies. Did I mention that things are looking pretty grim?
Without giving too much away, what elements were you most eager to explore, in terms of the characters and their relationships, and in terms of the Earth-Romulan War?
Martin: I like putting characters into situations that test them severely. It’s the only way to show what they’re really made of. Since Archer was the inadvertent author of what would one day become Starfleet’s Kobayashi Maru test, I wanted him to start thinking that the war might be turning into a no-win scenario for Earth. And I hoped he would find the inner strength to face death with some dignity and grace, ready to die with his boots on, as it were. It was also important to me to give Hoshi Sato some stage time, showing how the war had matured her. I needed to provide some closure to Travis Mayweather’s relationship with Archer, showing him coming full circle in working out the resentment he has felt toward the captain ever since the Kobayashi Maru incident. And most importantly, I wanted to bring a resolution to Trip’s fate, as well as to his relationship with T’Pol. Enough said on that for now, I think.
To Brave the Storm is also the second and concluding book in the series. How does it affect your writing process to know that “The End” really means “The End”?
Martin: I don’t think knowing that TBtS was “The End” had any real effect on my scene-by-scene, line-by-line writing process. I wasn’t really nervous or wistful about the story’s apparent finality, even though TBtS takes our heroes all the way through the end of the Earth-Romulan War, the signing of the Federation Charter, and beyond. I was too busy with the writing at the time to get all that “meta”’ about it. Also, “The End” isn’t necessarily written in stone. Will there be a third Romulan War book? This is it for the moment, but you should never say “never.”
If you had a third book in which to tell the same story you’re telling in two books, what arcs and threads might you have gone into in more depth?
Martin: I would have like to show more of the developing relationship between Hoshi Sato and MACO Major Takashi Kimura, since she’s destined to marry him and at some point with him retire to Tarsus IV, according to the biographical files Mike Sussman created for “In a Mirror Darkly.” As part of a deepening of the Trip-and-T’Pol relationship, I also would also have liked to take a closer look at the Vulcan take on religion, since it’s established canon that even modern-day Vulcans maintain a tradition of venerating certain ancient gods. It seems to me that to a people as committed to pure reason as the Vulcans, worship probably isn’t a subjective thing, or purely a matter of faith. I would have liked to reveal that Vulcan’s gods are at least as objectively “real” as Bajor’s Prophets. If I’d had a third Romulan War book—ideally a middle volume between BtRW and TBtS—I probably would have tried to work in a plot thread in which T’Pol suffered an injury that left her near death, forcing Trip and Koss to team up to storm Vulcan’s equivalent of the gates of hell in order to force Shariel, Vulcan’s god of death, to relinquish his gradually increasing hold over T’Pol’s katra. Imagine the classical Greek myth of Persephone with a dusting of Faust and Dante’s Inferno thrown in. Or Trip and Koss’s Bogus Journey. Or I might have settled for just blowing up thirty-three percent more planets and spaceships than I did in the other two books.