The Typhon Pact saga continues with The Struggle Within, penned by Christopher L. Bennett and set for release today -- as a 100-page e-novella -- by Simon & Schuster. The story follows the Enterprise-E and her crew as they seek to secure an alliance with the Talarians in response to the emergence of the Typhon Pact. Only it won't be easy, given the tense relations between the Federation and Talarians, as well as the brewing, violent actions of dissidents. StarTrek.com recently caught up with Bennett for an exclusive interview in which he discussed his affection for Star Trek, talked in depth about The Struggle Within and previewed his upcoming projects.
It says on your personal site that you were five when you saw your first episode of Star Trek. What episode of what series did you see, and what was the impact it had on you?
Bennett: You flatter me with the "what series" part. I'm old enough that there are only two possibilities, TOS and TAS. My first was a rerun of "The Corbomite Maneuver," coincidentally the first regular episode filmed. It introduced me to space for the first time, and it was a while before I understood what I was seeing, but my parents showed me books on astronomy and I was hooked. Star Trek introduced me to science and science fiction.
You also note in your site intro that you made up Trek-universe stories set in the future. Have those ever made it into print? And, if not, in what ways did some of those stories bleed -- consciously or subconsciously -- into the Trek novels you later did author?
Bennett: I didn't write them; they were play scenarios I created with a set of "Star City" building blocks and aliens I made from pipe cleaners, starting when I was 11. It was a couple of years later, when I imagined a whole story, start to finish, about the people inside the buildings without actually physically playing with anything, that I realized what I was doing was writing, and that I had a talent for it.
But by that point, I'd already decided the Trek milieu was too limiting and switched to creating my own universe, and that got further and further away from its Trek-inspired origins over time, until it was changed beyond recognition. It was the ancestral form of the universe where my first two stories in Analog magazine and my upcoming novel Only Superhuman are set. So by the time I finally started writing professional Trek fiction over 20 years later, there wasn't any real connection to those old play scenarios.
You've written a lot of Star Trek fiction. Which are some of the titles that you're most personally satisfied with/proud of, and why?
Bennett: On rereading Ex Machina lately, I was impressed by how well it held up; I was able to work in a lot of rich worldbuilding, perhaps because I had so much time to develop it. I'm pleased with the epic worldbuilding and character work I got to do in Orion's Hounds and The Buried Age. I'm proud of the work I did developing Tamarian language and culture in "Friends With the Sparrows," and the way fluidic space -- and the Doctor's reactions to it -- turned out in Places of Exile. And I'm proud of Over a Torrent Sea because, as far as I know, it's the first full-length science fiction novel ever built around the concept of a Leger-type ocean planet, something that was theorized only four years before I wrote the book. I'm proud of that more on behalf of Trek literature than on my own behalf, since tie-in literature is rarely perceived as being on the cutting edge of science fiction.
Do you think you're better at sweeping epics or intimate character stories -- and which do you actually prefer?
Bennett: I don't really see that as a dichotomy. I wouldn't want to do a sweeping epic that didn't have intimate character stories going on in it. But I don't go out of my way to do epics. It just sort of keeps happening when I try to do interesting character stories and worldbuilding exercises and sense-of-wonder adventure stories. I think on both levels I approach it kind of scientifically. I try to develop theories, in the scientific sense of systematic models that explain the underlying rules behind observed facts. With characters, I try to figure out what makes them tick and what unifies their behavior; for instance, what Spock's journey was from his emotional epiphany inside V'Ger to the serene character he's been from The Wrath of Khan onward, or how Picard got from the impetuous, gregarious man he was in his youth to the reserved, detached man he was at the start of TNG. And with the Trek universe, I try to figure out the underlying patterns that tie things together, whether it's spacegoing life forms or galactic prehistory or time travel. So I don't really draw a distinction. They're both about solving problems and gaining a deeper understanding of things in a way that's hopefully entertaining to write and read.
Let's get to the latest Typhon Pact story, The Struggle Within. Give us the set up.
Bennett: The Struggle Within is a Next Generation story set shortly after Paths of Disharmony, the fourth Typhon Pact novel. Picard and Worf are handling final negotiations for bringing the Talarian Republic into the expanded Khitomer Accords, but they run afoul of an internal rebellion against the patriarchal government, one that ends up putting Beverly Crusher in harm's way. Meanwhile, two of the characters created for the TNG novels, security chief Jasminder Choudhury and contact specialist T'Ryssa Chen, go on an undercover mission among the Kinshaya, the one Typhon Pact member that didn't get a novel about them, and get involved with a nonviolent resistance movement standing up against a brutal regime. I was inspired to do this story by the nonviolent protests in Egypt, and I wanted to pay tribute to the power and courage of such movements.
In what ways does it build on what's come before and in what ways does it set up what's to come?
Bennett: It's mostly a standalone story like the previous Typhon Pact volumes, but I did try to treat it as sort of a capper on the whole thing by following up on elements from several of the others at least a little. Naturally it follows most directly on Paths of Disharmony, at least from a character standpoint. It doesn't specifically set up anything to come, since I wasn't privy to future plans. It's up to other authors to decide how to follow up on it. But I've talked briefly with David R. George III, who's continuing the Typhon Pact story, and we seem to have compatible ideas about where it's heading from here.
What, for you, are the benefits and challenges of working in the novella format, with only 100 pages to put across everything you need to?
Bennett: Actually it's a pretty comfortable length for me to work at, a good length for a more compact and focused story than a novel but still enough to go into some depth. It's actually easier for me to work at novella or novelette length than short-story length, which has made it harder to sell original short fiction. One of the strengths of the e-book format is that it accommodates novella-length fiction better than print does these days.
You're currently wrapping up the next DTI novel, Forgotten History, which will be out in May. Tease it a little. What are readers in store for?
Bennett: Forgotten History begins with Lucsly, Dulmur, and other characters from Watching the Clock confronting a temporal mystery that requires digging into the origins of the Department of Temporal Investigations and the integral role that James T. Kirk and the Enterprise played therein. It plays on the way the DTI has mythologized Kirk as their personal demon, and as they study the actual record, it challenges their preconceptions. The story is told largely through flashbacks that span the five-year mission and beyond, extending into the post-Motion Picture era. So it's both a sequel and a prequel to Ex Machina as well as a sequel and a prequel to Watching the Clock.
What else do you have in the works on the Star Trek front? And is Seek a Newer World not happening or just delayed?
Bennett: It generally goes one project at a time for me, and I've just now wrapped up Forgotten History. I don't know what will come next where Trek is concerned; for now, I'm looking forward to refocusing on my original writing. As for Seek a Newer World, there are always possibilities, but I wouldn't hold my breath.
Beyond the Star Trek realm, what else are you working on?
Bennett: I'm hoping to regain some momentum on a couple of stalled works in progress, including a followup to my two "Hub" stories in Analog and a second original novel.
How excited are you to be deep into your first original novel, Only Superhuman, and how is it coming together?
Bennett: Actually it came together years ago. Unlike tie-in fiction, in original fiction you write the book first and then you sell it. I've been working on this incarnation of the novel since 2003, and developing its main character and her world since 1988. So it's very exciting to finally see it sell, particularly to a major publisher like Tor. The revisions requested by my editor have already been done, and now we're in the process of sending it out to prominent authors for publicity quotes. We're about a year away from publication, and I wish it could be sooner.
To learn more about and/or purchase The Struggle Within, click HERE. And to check out Bennett's site, click HERE.