Sci-fi fans are familiar with John Jackson Miller's many Star Wars novels as well as for his original tale, Overdraft: The Orion Offensive. But he's actually a lifelong Star Trek fan. He was born, in fact, the very night “A Piece of the Action” first aired on NBC. He jokes that he's been looking for his own little piece of the action ever since, but now he's gone and found it. After dipping his toes in the Trek waters a couple of times, including with the Star Trek: Titan - Absent Enemies eNovella, Miller is represented now on bookshelves everywhere by Star Trek: The Next Generation -- Takedown, published last month by Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books. StarTrek.com recently engaged Miller in a detailed—and spoiler-free—interview, and here's what he had to say...
Beyond being born the same night "A Piece of the Action" premiered, give us a sense of your appreciation for all things Trek and how you got into writing...
John Jackson Miller: I watched the series as a kid and bought the Pocket Books and the games from FASA and West End. The Next Generation was huge, as it gave me the chance to get into the series from the ground floor as a viewer. All that time, I wrote my own comics and stories — a lot of science fiction. I got a journalism degree and a masters’ degree in Soviet Studies. My interest in international conflict was at least in part inspired by Trek’s allegorical stories.
I set my fiction aside for years while I edited for magazines including Comics Buyer’s Guide and Scrye, where Trek products were among the things we covered. CBG’s flagship columnist was Trek lit writer Peter David. During this time, Harlan Ellison, a regular CBG reader and good friend of the magazine’s editor, Maggie Thompson, read one of my articles and called me encouraging me to write prose fiction; with that kind of encouragement, I started to dabble in writing again. Takedown is dedicated to Maggie, incidentally.
My first licensed fiction attempt was for Trek’s Strange New Worlds — didn’t make it in, but good experience. After I had begun a career writing comics, I had a Starfleet Corps of Engineers story accepted, but the line was canceled. Finally, in 2013, the third time was the charm. Margaret Clark approached me to write the Star Trek: Titan – Absent Enemies novella, and Takedown followed.
As a writer, you've spent most of your time in the Star Wars universe. How different are the Star Trek and Star Wars universes to play in?
John Jackson Miller: The sorts of stories you can tell differ. Star Wars is space opera; a world with technology and physics, surely, but also magical elements. Hard SF is more integral to Star Trek: story possibilities come from how things work. The toolbox is just different. The power relationships that form the backdrop also differ. I’ve written in many Star Wars eras but there’s always one very big kid on the block that people are either fighting for or against. Now, you can tell very different kinds of stories given that — my Kenobi novel is a western! — but on the global level, there’s a certain order. It’s a different balance of forces in Trek: the Federation, as big as it is, is one of many players in a mostly unexplored realm. Exploration is the intent. There are different influences each milieu brings into play, but at heart, all good series focus on characters first, and both certainly fit that bill. Also, I love the transporter as a story device. It’s handy.
You'd tested the Trek waters with Titan: Absent Enemies, but what was it like for you to craft a full 353-page novel?
John Jackson Miller: Absent Enemies I’d treated as more of a lighthearted TV episode. Takedown had more the feel of a movie or a TV two-parter to me: a more ambitious story with a more serious feeling to it. The novel required more planning because I had multiple ships and crews. I broke out my Star Trek: Star Charts book to make sure every place I was writing about was in the same neighborhood. But it’s a fun naval story: we never set foot on a planet.
John Jackson Miller: I watched TV episodes carefully, making sure my ideas fit. I looked for story opportunities that were never elaborated upon. Springboards are everywhere. I reviewed the literature and reference books and sites, searching for anything that might add a helpful hook. Margaret Clark provided invaluable guidance on where to take things, especially when it came to tying in to unreleased books. James Swallow and I spoke about his upcoming Titan novel, making sure our plans meshed. And John Van Citters at CBS made a suggestion that led to an important part of the novel, the framing sequence. I won’t get into detail, but readers of the book will recognize the value of going where we did.
For you, what are the emotional and thematic cores of your story?
John Jackson Miller: Riker and Picard are dealing with a new dynamic now that Riker has been promoted to admiral. They’ve been through hell together and back: and while they are set on opposite sides here, they’re constantly looking for ways to overcome the difference that’s arisen here. There are also significant themes of trust in the chain of command that come into play; Dax in particular has her own conundrum to deal with.
Was there one character or ship you personally were most excited to write for?
John Jackson Miller: Picard I’d shown briefly in Absent Enemies, more of a lighthearted tale; it was good to get to write him in his element. Especially as he’s playing detective—though not in his Dixon Hill garb—trying to figure out what Riker’s doing. Riker was a blast to write. But the fun surprise was Aventine, Ezri Dax’s ship. It’s cool to work with a ship we didn’t see on screen and feel it coming to life. And I got a real kick out of the Romulan sections.
John Jackson Miller: Very. I wanted to write a taut thriller, and it laced up nicely. The response has been gratifying, and I appreciate that most readers are careful to preserve the secrets of the book. It’s a mystery novel, really; discovery’s half the joy.
Are there plans for you to do more Trek books?
John Jackson Miller: I enjoyed the trip and a return trip would be fun. But I try not to speak much about what I’m looking at doing in the future; whenever I speculate out loud, I tend to get visits from the Department of Temporal Investigations!
What else are you working on at the moment?
John Jackson Miller: Apart from the unannounced stuff, I have a story from my Overdraft series in the upcoming Apollo’s Daughters anthology, and Knights of the Old Republic gets reprinted by Marvel this summer. Folks can learn more at http://www.farawaypress.com website, where I post essays about all my works; I haven’t posted the Takedown notes yet, but the Absent Enemies note are HERE. And I’m on on Twitter at @jjmfaraway.
Purchase Star Trek: The Next Generation -- Takedown at Amazon.com.