Captain Picard is back. Really, I didn’t see that coming. Patrick Stewart reprising his iconic role as captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise—that was something to be excited about. And excited I was when I saw first the trailer showing Picard and his loyal new dog companion wandering through the vineyards of Château Picard near La Barre, France. The images also brought back fond memories of the time five years ago, when I myself had the honor of letting Picard wander through these very vineyards. It was an adventure no man—well, okay, at least no German author—had experienced before…
Before I go on, I have to confess that in fact I didn’t write the Picard scene. It was part of the book I penned as a co-author, but this special scene was created by my longtime friend and colleague Christian Humberg. I just read it later and added some words and sentences to round it out. But for the Great Bird of the Galaxy’s sake what am I talking about anyway? I’m talking about project Star Trek Prometheus, written in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the first officially licensed Star Trek novel—or to be more exact: trilogy—ever conceived by foreign authors outside the US market.
The trilogy was originally published by Cross Cult in 2016 and subsequently licensed by Titan Books UK for publication on the English-speaking markets worldwide—which is quite funny, because normally Cross Cult translated English Star Trek novels for the German market, not the other way around. Fun Fact II: While my fantasy novel Black Leviathan (which is coming to your favorite bookstore on February 25th—three days before my birthday, yay!) is indeed the first novel that was translated for the US, as advertised by Macmillian, Prometheus was 2017 my debut in the world of English-written speculative fiction.
Engaged—Or: How We Were Allowed To Do Star Trek
Sometimes you are lucky, the Force is with you (and I dearly hope it will be with me in the future, since I’m very interested in penning the first German Star Wars novel, too). In the case of Star Trek Prometheus however, there was a lot of hard work, knowing the right people and “bugging” involved—in addition to being lucky.
I have to go far afield here. I learned about Star Trek in 1990 when Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) came to the small screens in Germany. I have always been fascinated by starships, aliens and strange worlds and Star Trek offered all this plus a galaxy in which science and diplomacy were more important than the daily laser fight. I mean I was thirteen years old back then, of course I liked the occasional laser fight. But I was also very much into science, so Star Trek really appealed to me. And Captain Jean-Luc Picard became like a role model to look up to. (Yes, I was a nerd long before it was cool to be one.)
Fast forward to my early twenties. I came to write about Star Trek during my time at the university when I did an internship with HEEL, a publisher of genre magazines. For those, namely the magazine Space View, I began writing articles about movies and TV shows like Star Wars, Farscape and, well, Star Trek. A short time later I also started translating non-fiction and fiction books. When Markus Rohde, editor-in-chief of Space View back then, changed to the publishing house Cross Cult to bring “Star Trek” novels after a hiatus back to Germany he invited me to translate some novels for him. At the same time I tried myself as a literary author—and not without success, if I may say so. All this—being a fan, working as a translator and as an author—laid the groundwork for getting the job of creating Star Trek Prometheus.
Christian’s story reads quite similar. He had been a Trekkie since his early childhood. He often tells an anecdote about s hiding behind his father’s seat whenever the Klingons appeared on screen during a rerun of The Original Series (TOS) in the early ’80s. When TNG started, he was finally hooked for good. He began writing for fanzines and even had his own Star Trek column in the local school paper. Later he turned his fan career into a professional one, writing for genre magazines and websites, including the official Star Trek Magazine and StarTrek.com. All of this led to him quitting his day job back in 2006 and becoming a full-time freelance author. He translated Star Trek novels for Cross Cult, penned his original fiction—and shared my dream of writing a Star Trek novel of our own someday.
For years and years that had been an impossible dream, since the license to do Star Trek novels was firmly held by US publishing houses. But then something changed. When J.J. Abrams’ film Star Trek Into Darkness was approaching, Cross Cult was invited to a business meeting with other German franchise licensors. Since Cross Cult had been thinking about doing something special for upcoming the 50th anniversary of the franchise and also shared our dream of original German Star Trek novels, they used this meeting to try and ask the license owners for permission. Most surprisingly they didn’t get a “no” as an answer, but a tentative “let’s talk”—which we celebrated as a big success. And after almost eighteen months of transatlantic deliberations Hollywood—that is CBS—finally agreed to the deal of a German book trilogy. We were officially given the green light and started writing.
Close Up: The Setting
The time is 2385, six years after the movie Star Trek: Nemesis. The United Federation of Planets has been through rough years. It has seen the Dominion War as depicted in the TV show DS9 (2373-2375), it has fought against the Borg multiple times (during the movie First Contact and afterwards leading up to David Mack’s Borg invasion in his bestselling trilogy “Destiny”), then the Typhon Pact—an alliance of the enemies of the Federation—was formed in the attempt to undermine the Federation. All this forced the Federation and Starfleet to become more militant and abandon great endeavors like the deep space exploration missions. Now it seems as if things could be getting better. A new president of the UFP has been elected and ships like the Enterprise-E are resuming their mission of peaceful exploration. This is where our story sets in.
Beaming Up—Or: Finding A Ship and Crew
Suddenly we had an enormous challenge before us. Not only we had to find a good story that would carry enough weight for a trilogy without creating conflict with the novels our American colleagues were writing at the time. We also had to find an interesting ship and a memorable crew. Since we did not know what US authors like David Mack or Dayton Ward were doing with ships like the Enterprise-E or the Titan, we couldn’t use them. Therefore we needed our own ship. It had to be recognizable for fans, but at the same time a blank page we could fill with our imagination. While researching we realized that the U.S.S. Prometheus (the prototype Starfleet ship featured in the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Message In A Bottle”) had never been in great use by US authors. Despite being a fan favorite due to its cool feature of splitting the ship into three smaller warships, the Prometheus had only been namedropped in US novels so far. So we had a winner.
We kept in mind that we were doing a 50th Anniversary story, so we wanted a mix of new characters and supporting characters from the several TV shows for our crew. We tried to come up with some new ideas like a Caitian first officer and an Andorian chief of security, and we transferred personnel from the various “Star Trek” incarnations aboard the ship, like Sarita Carson (DS9), Chell (VOY) and T’Shanik (TNG). They only have very minor roles on the shows. Now we could flesh them out and give them more to do (that is by the way a very fine tradition among US authors since decades: use minor characters and give them a second and meaningful life in the Trek lit-verse).
We also decided to have a Kirk aboard! Jenna Winona Kirk. She is not a direct descendant of James T. Kirk, of course. We all know Kirk’s only son David was killed by the Klingons in Star Trek III (don’t we?). Yet she is part of the Kirk family tree, a descendant of Kirk’s brother George Samuel Kirk. As the TOS episode “Operation—Annihilate!” tells us, George had a son called Peter James Kirk. We speculated that he might have had a family—and that Jenna is his granddaughter. Even a hundred years after James T. Kirk she suffers from the enormous shadow this hero of the Federation casts on anyone bearing the name Kirk.
And then there was our captain, Richard Adams. We imagined him as a man tired of war. He originally joined Starfleet to see what’s out there, to learn, to help, to grow. Yet for the past couple of years he has been forced to fight. Against the Dominion, the Borg, the Typhon Pact … there is a lot of conflict in the Trek novels of the last two decades which take place between the Dominion war and 2385. That’s not what Adams signed up for. Instead of helping others, he kept losing himself—and his wife, who fell victim to one of the conflicts. When we meet him in “Fire with Fire”, the first book of the trilogy, he is a tired old man who just wants to get back to his old ideals.
Close Up: The Story
A mysterious terrorist organization has carried out several attacks against the Federation and Klingon Empire. Tensions are running high in a region already crippled by conflict. The perpetrators are tracked to the Lembatta Cluster, a mysterious region of space whose inhabitants, the Renao, regard the Alpha Quadrant’s powers as little more than conquering tyrants. The Federation is desperate to prevent more bloodshed, and has sent their most powerful ship, the U.S.S. Prometheus, into the Cluster to investigate the threat before the Klingons handle the crisis their way and an all-consuming war breaks out.
Bring Them On Screen—Or: Inviting Old Friends
Star Trek Prometheus was conceived from the very beginning as a 50th Anniversary trilogy, a birthday present from Cross Cult to all the German fans (and later all fans around the globe). Therefore we did not only want to tell the adventure of the Prometheus. We also wanted to invite as many “old friends” as feasible to be part of the story. We decided to start the first novel at the beginning of Star Trek. Our first stardate is 1966.9—that is the year 2266 but of course it is also September 1966, when The Original Series aired for the first time. Moreover we decided to feature important characters and locations from throughout the franchise as well, starting with James T. Kirk himself, sending a congratulatory message via subspace to our recently promoted captain (not Adams, the TOS captain, who kicks off the events that send its ripples through time up until 2385).
We also invited Spock to join the Prometheus’ crew for their adventure inside the Lembatta Cluster. Yes! The one and only Spock. Why? Because we just had to! He is the only member of the original Enterprise crew still alive during the 2380s. And he is the only Star Trek character who not only shaped the fate of the galaxy from the very first TOS pilot up to the Kelvin timeline movies but also the fate of the franchise from 1966 to 2016. We couldn’t write an anniversary trilogy without Spock. His presence in the novels has meaning, of course. His struggle during his early years being half human and half Vulcan mirrors the problems our young Renao protagonist Jassat ak Namur is experiencing aboard the Prometheus, because he doesn’t know how to reconcile his upbringing with his vocation as a Starfleet officer. Beyond that Spock is quite important in solving the Lembatta Cluster mystery. It was an honor and a delight for us to send the famous Vulcan on one of his last adventures before he leaves the Prime Universe.
Other known characters with more or less impact on the story are for example Quark, Ezri Dax, Chief O’Brien, Lwaxana Troi, Martok, Worf, Alexander Rozhenko and—last but certainly not least—Jean-Luc Picard. The man in the vineyard, ready to embark on his next adventurous journey.
All in all, writing for Star Trek has been a blast! It was arduous sometimes and intimidating, but at the same time it was perhaps the most rewarding experience for two longtime Star Trek fans like Christian and me. Moreover the Prometheus project set a precedence in letting two German authors contribute to this inherent global (if not galactic) franchise. So perhaps for the 60th Anniversary we will see a French, a Russian or a South African Star Trek novel. I would like that very much.
Close Up: Very Special Cameos
Being part of the Star Trek franchise, not only as contributor but as a character inside the story, is something a lot of fans dream about—and most authors are more than happy to make some of them immortal in their novels. I for instance became part of the universe as an Ensign killed on the U.S.S. Lovell when an alien attacked the ship in 2268 (Star Trek Vanguard: What Judgments Come)—so much for immortality, but thanks, Dayton Ward! Naturally we also granted some friends from the Star Trek community in Germany cameos in Prometheus. There is for instance Admiral Markus Rohde from Starfleet intelligence (you know his name from above). Then we have Captain Hillenbrand from Starbase 91. Mike Hillenbrand is one of the old hands of Star Trek fandom in Germany—his book Star Trek in Deutschland was the quintessential book about, well, Star Trek in Germany. There is an Ensign Tobias Richter, some of you might know as creator of spectacular Star Trek CGI ships. He did all the covers for the Prometheus trilogy, too, for which he created a brand new high-res model of the U.S.S. Prometheus. Also we have an Ensign named Robert Vogel aboard, who is—in reality—famous for his convention panels, telling stories about all the movie sets he has been to. Alex Meyer, Dominic Cenia, Gordon Schnieder, Andrea Bottlinger and last but not least Keith DeCandido … we really made use of having an entire ship with more than 140 crew members.
Disclaimer: Parts of this article have already been published in condensed form as answers in an interview Star Trek Magazine conducted with Christian Humberg and me in 2017.
Bernd Perplies has a great reputation in Germany for a very wide variety of writing in several genres. He has written the first Star Trek tie-in trilogy allowed by CBS outside the U.S. Black Leviathan (Drachenjäger in Germany) was a finalist for Seraph Award, RPC Fantasy Award, and Deutscher Phantastik Preis, which it won in 2018. Black Leviathan is his first novel translated for the U. S.