How to Write a 'Star Trek' Book About a Show Nobody Has Watched

David Mack explains how "Desperate Hours' fits into canon.

For David Mack, being a hardcore Star Trek fan isn’t just hobby, it’s a professional responsibility. As the latest series in the franchise — Star Trek: Discovery — approaches viewers at warp speed, the longtime Trek novelist reveals to Inverse how he connected the first Discovery novel to the original canon without actually having seen the new show.

“I had a curious tightrope to walk in writing a tie-in novel that is intended to ground the Discovery characters and all of their visual elements in the familiar Star Trek universe,” Mack explains. “I had to be faithful to the aesthetics of the new series, but I didn’t want to be dismissive of the original Star Trek series and all that it had established. My job was to balance and marry those two visions, favoring neither while respecting both.”

After having written books and stories set nearly every single era of the Trek universe, Mack was selected by publisher Simon and Schuster to write the first Discovery-era novel, titled Desperate Hours. The story itself will focus on Michael Burnham aboard the USS Shenzhou a year before the events of the first episode of the new series. But, according to Mack, the book will also make it clear that this book also takes place: “one year after the Starship Enterprise’s first mission to Talos IV in ‘The Cage’.”

Spock and Captain Pike in the "The Cage' set roughly a year before the new 'Discovery' book.

“The Cage,” is, of course, the pilot episode of the original Star Trek, which chronologically, takes place about 12 years before the start of Captain Kirk’s five-year mission on the Enterprise. In those days, the Captain of the Enterprise was Captain Pike, who was assisted by a younger version of Mr. Spock. So, for purists, Mack’s new book will clearly reference the Captain Pike/young Spock era and contain “more than a few” Easter Eggs for how those events connect to Discovery. “For fans who adore the Pike era of Star Trek, and especially those who enjoyed last year’s 50th-anniversary Star Trek Legacies trilogy, there will be lots to love in the pages of Desperate Hours,” Mack says.

And yet, as longtime Trekkie, how does Mack reconcile some of the obvious aesthetic differences between the uniforms seen in the Discovery trailers and the uniforms of both “The Cage” and the rest of the original Star Trek? “ At first, the new look made me scratch my head,” Mack admits. “But then I realized that it represents an evolution of the uniforms from the Star Trek: Enterprise time period and its aesthetic. A similar argument could be made concerning the unexpected look and feel of the Starfleet ships, as well as those of the Klingons’ vessels. As far as I know, the show never addresses these differences, because there is no real need for it to do so.”

LEFT: The 22nd century crew of 'Enterprise.' RIGHT: The 23rd century crew of 'Discovery.'

The biggest feat Mack accomplished with Desperate Hours probably has nothing to do with old-school uniforms or hardcore Trek knowledge. Instead, the creation of this book relied almost exclusively on his inherent talents as a writer. And that’s because, like so many writers of tie-in novels, Mack had to base his characterizations exclusively on what was in the script. He explains that fellow Trek novelist and now Discovery staff writer Kirsten Beyer recruited him specifically for this project because she knew he’d have to write a ton of the book without having actually seen any footage of the show.

“Because this job would have the additional challenge of channeling the voices of characters who I would encounter only through script pages, Kirsten knew that she needed someone who would be able to read between the lines and find the hidden layers of the characters and bring them to life in prose,” Mack says. “I was tapped for the gig because my work on every other iteration of Star Trek has demonstrated my ability to internalize and channel the “voices” of characters and the tone of a series.”

All though the events of this novel will reconcile aspects of the entire Trek canon with the new show, Mack wants to be clear that his new book isn’t dictating what happens on the new show.

“I don’t want to oversell the “integrated with canon” aspect of this project. While it is true that I was given unprecedented access to behind-the-scenes concept materials, scripts, and set photography, and it’s also true that I was allowed to contribute notes and minor supplemental creative material via Kirsten, my book is no more canon than any other — which is to say, it’s not canon. However, my hope is that it will feel like a well-integrated element in the Discovery universe,” Mack says.” One of the key principles in Star Trek publishing is that the tail never wags the dog, and that remains true here.”

Sonequa Martin-Green as Micahel Burnham in 'Star Trek: Discovery.'


Still, because of the close working relationship Star Trek novels now have with Star Trek television, the publication of Desperate Hours signals a shift in the solar wind of the Final Frontier. While it may not be 100 percent canon, Star Trek is moving closer to an integrated world across various media, in a way they’ve never boldly done before. And Mack believes it’s all down to the fact that a former Trek novelist — Kirsten Beyer— is not only a writer on Discovery but also has the title of Tie-in Media Coordinator.

“That latter role is one that hasn’t existed on previous Star Trek series,” Mack says. “And it’s a testament to the new team’s willingness to embrace new ideas that they were willing to create this opportunity.”

Star Trek: Discovery: Desperate Hours will be published on September 25 and is available for pre-order now. Star Trek: Discovery airs on CBS All-Access starting on September 24.

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