TOO MANY UNIVERSES:
An Interview with Keith R.A. DeCandido
by Michelle Erica Green
Keith DeCandido, co-creator of the Star Trek: S.C.E. series of e-books, has played in many popular genre universes. The co-author of Spider-Man: Venom's Wrath, Star Trek: The Next Generation comic Perchance to Dream, a Xena story and the bestselling Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Xander Years Volume 1, Keith recently published the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel Diplomatic Implausibility, and has a Farscape novel, House of Cards, arriving shortly.
Give us the short version of your education, career as a writer and life as a science fiction fan.
I've been a genre fan fan since birth. When I was too young to know better, my parents gave me J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert A. Heinlein, Ursula K. Le Guin, and P.G. Wodehouse to read -- and sometimes we'd read stuff aloud to each other. This corrupted me for life, not only giving me a love of science fiction/fantasy/horror and silly British humor, but also my pretentious insistence on using my two middle initials all the time.
I got a B.A. in English literature, focusing on the 19th century, with a minor in Women's Studies from Fordham University. From there, I worked as an editor for eight years -- first for Library Journal magazine, later for Byron Preiss. I edited the Marvel novels for Preiss that were published by Berkley Boulevard, not to mention the reissues of Alfred Bester's work that Vintage published. In 1998, I left Preiss to devote myself to writing full time. Thus far, my output includes almost a dozen short stories in a variety of anthologies, with at least three more due in 2001: a Buffy the Vampire Slayer novelization, a Buffy guidebook, a Spider-Man novel, two Young Hercules novels, and a Star Trek: The Next Generation comic book.
Do you have a favorite science fiction/comic series or movie franchise? What's your dream tie-in project?
I don't know if I can narrow down to any one favorite anything. I love lots of things, ranging from Blackadder to Blakes 7, Farscape to the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man to Star Trek. My favorite movie in the world is Rashomon -- my favorite novel is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The list of authors I love and admire is huge, ranging from Romantic poets to 19th-century realist writers to numerous modern SF, fantasy, horror, and mystery writers. Who my favorite is changes on a weekly basis.
As for a "dream" tie-in project -- well, I have an idea for a Babylon 5 novel that I hope to be able to do something with some day. And there are other franchises I wouldn't mind getting my fingers into. On the other hand, I've already done four of my absolute favorites: Buffy, Spider-Man, Star Trek, and Farscape. So how could I possibly complain?
How fluent in Klingon are you? What's your favorite Klingon episode, and do you prefer the unreformed original series Klingons or the Next Gen/DS9 variety?
I'm not in the least bit fluent in Klingon -- that's what research is for. I mean hey, I'm not fluent in Greek, either, but that didn't stop me from writing two Young Hercules novels. Whenever I had a question about Klingon linguistics, I e-mailed Marc Okrand and Dr. Lawrence Schoen. They were both tremendously helpful.
Honestly, I don't see a significant difference between the Klingons of "Errand of Mercy" and "Day of the Dove" and the 24th century Klingons -- it was in the first six movies and in their other TOS appearances that they were more generic nasties. What I mainly like is the variety of types of Klingons -- they're not a monolithic group. I tried to reflect that diversity in my writing.
My favorite Klingon episodes are "Reunion" on TNG and "Tacking Into the Wind" on DS9, though "Birthright Part 2" and "Rightful Heir" on TNG are close behind. I particularly like "Birthright" because it showed how important storytelling is to Klingon culture -- and, indeed, to any culture. Actually, there was a pretty impressive arc of Klingon political stories that started in "Sins of the Father" on TNG and came to a magnificent climax in "Tacking..." and I found most of it to be utterly fascinating. I like the way the culture was built up and explored.
Do you have a favorite among the Treks? Are you a bigger fan of one crew when it comes to writing about them?
I think that DS9 was the strongest of the four shows, but I like all of them save Voyager, which is a teeming mass of unfulfilled potential. Thus far, I've only written the DS9 and TNG crews, and I enjoy both of them. We'll see when I actually do the others.
What was the genesis of Diplomatic Implausibility? I'm curious about the decision to market it as a TNG rather than a DS9 novel, since it seems that arguably it could be either, and it's helpful to be familiar with Martok and the events toward the end of DS9 while reading it.
Diplomatic Implausibility happened when John Ordover and I were batting around ideas for a Trek novel for me to write. When he got the script in for "What You Leave Behind" and saw what was in store for Worf, we realized that the perfect thing for me -- as a big Worf fan -- to do was his first mission as Federation Ambassador to the Klingon Empire. The plot itself came out the very first Klingon episode, actually. In "Errand of Mercy" we got an idea of what Klingons did when they conquered worlds. I wanted to show the other end of that -- something happening on a world that the empire conquered centuries ago. With Marc and Lawrence's help, I coined a Klingon word to describe what people on conquered worlds are called: jeghpu'wI'. Less than citizens, more than slaves, it basically means "conquered people."
Worf is as much a TNG as DS9 character, and DI is really a Worf solo novel, so yes, it could go either way. Ultimately, I went with it being a TNG novel for several reasons -- not the least of which was that Pocket had very specific plans for the DS9 novels set after the finale, and I didn't want to step on them. It was much easier to make it a stand-alone TNG novel. Besides, TNG novels tend to sell better, and I'm greedy.
Were there specific contemporary situations you were thinking about when you created the rebel al'Hmatti?
I have to admit, I wasn't thinking of any particular contemporary situations when I devised the al'Hmatti-rebel-against-the-Klingons plot -- I mainly just wanted to show a conquered Klingon world.
I loved what you did with Kurn/Rodek, so I'm curious how you felt about "Sons of Mogh." There was a period on Deep Space Nine when it seemed like all the "alien" characters lost their families, their homeworlds and their species affiliations, and by default considered themselves human -- Worf no longer had a Klingon House, Quark renounced all links to Ferenginar to avoid being cut into pieces by Brunt, Odo was changed into a human by the Founders. Did that bother you?
I thought they were overdoing it -- besides the ones you mentioned, Dukat was also estranged from Cardassian society at that point. I thought they were dipping into that well a bit too much and it got irritating.
I was unhappy with the ending of "Sons of Mogh." I thought the decision to mind-wipe Kurn was out of character for Worf, and a bad solution to the problem -- though I did like the fact that Sisko wouldn't let Worf, in essence, commit murder. But to my mind the essence of Worf's character is that he is a pure Klingon, more so than any Klingon living in the day-to-day reality of the empire possibly could be -- he grew up with the ideals of Klingon society without any of the compromises to those ideals that he'd get in "true" Klingon life. So his thoughts about being more "human" in "Sons..." never really rang right with me. And one of the things I wanted to address was the fact that Worf has gotten a new House, is back in good graces with the empire -- but Kurn is still living another identity in order to shield a dishonor that no longer exists. That is a background theme in DI, and one I hope to go back to some day in a future story.
Do you envision a sequel about Worf, Drex, and/or Rodek, or do you need to wait and see what the tenth Trek film does with the character and the Klingons?
I'm currently under contract to do a duology called The Brave and the Bold -- like the Badlands duology, it will have four novellas, each involving one of the four TV series. The theme is "starship team-up" -- each crew will work with the crew of another ship that we've seen before. The Enterprise-E will team up with the Gorkon, so we will see Klag and the gang again. The other team-ups are Kirk's Enterprise and Commodore Decker's Constellation (TOS's "The Doomsday Machine"); Sisko's DS9 and Captain Keogh's Odyssey (DS9's "The Jem'Hadar"); Janeway's newly commissioned Voyager with Captain DeSoto's Hood, and Chakotay's Maquis cell with Cal Hudson's Maquis cell (DS9's "The Maquis," this will also tell the story of how and why Tuvok infiltrated the Maquis); and then Picard and Klag. Worf will be in there as well.
I also have a story in mind for Rodek, but that won't be in B&tB. If it ever sees print, I'll be a happy boy, but it hasn't been approved for anything yet.
Have you read J.G. Hertzler's upcoming books about Martok and the future of the Klingons? How do they fit in with your own ideas?
I've read J.G. Hertzler's outlines for The Left Hand of Destiny, which will, just to confuse people, take place before DI, even though it'll be out almost a year later. The two novels won't contradict each other, but they won't go out of their way to refer to each other, either. We're each telling different stories, but I think they're compatible.
Can you talk at all about the DS9 relaunch and your book Gateways: Demons of Air and Darkness? Give us a short overview of the Gateways series and how your book fits in both with that and with the new DS9 characters.
The Gateways crossover will pick up on the Iconian Gateways introduced in TNG's "Contagion," and also seen in DS9's "To the Death." The first two books will be TOS and Challenger -- the latter picking up from the last book in the New Earth series from summer 2000. These will be prequels, one of which will tie the Iconians in to a TOS episode. Then the four 24th-century books -- TNG, DS9, New Frontier, and Voyager -- will all happen simultaneously, as Gateways open all over the galaxy, and serious chaos ensues. All of Starfleet will be awash in this crisis, and we'll get to see how some of them deal with it in these books.
In particular, the TNG, DS9, and NF books will be very closely coordinated. The other authors are Susan Wright (TOS), Diane Carey (CHA), Robert Greenberger (TNG), Peter David (NF), and Christie Golden (VOY). All six of us have been e-mailing things back and forth to each other, and it's been a lot of fun. My book will focus on the crew's efforts to aid a planet that is being threatened by theta radiation pouring in from a Gateway in orbit. It will include a couple of alien races you wouldn't expect to see in a DS9 novel.
Do you get to introduce any new characters or aliens? Do you like the direction in which the publishers are moving Deep Space Nine following "What You Leave Behind"?
I won't get to introduce any of the four new characters that are part of the DS9 relaunch -- they all get their debut in the DS9 world in S.D. Perry's Avatar. I do, however, get to introduce one running subplot, as well as an important family member of one of the new characters. Does that count?
Each of the four new characters does get to play a good-sized role in the novel, too. Honestly, the only ones of the main cast who get comparatively short shrift are Bashir and Ezri -- and I've even managed to give at least Ezri a good scene. Bashir isn't in the book much, but since he's the focal point of the previous book -- Abyss, the Section 31 novel by David Weddle & Jeffrey Lang -- I don't feel too bad about that. It's not that I don't like Bashir, I love him, this story just didn't call for him to be used much.
The person I'm having the most fun with is Kira. One of the purposes of these first four books will be to establish Kira as a "captain" (colonel, whatever) on the same level as Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, and Calhoun. I've always loved Kira as a character, and I'm enjoying the chance to have her shine in the starring role. In general, the new direction that Marco Palmieri is taking DS9 is a very good one, and one that I think fans of Star Trek in general and DS9 in particular will enjoy.
How did you and John Ordover come up with the S.C.E. concept, and which came first -- the proposal to do ebooks or the desire to create a corps of engineers? How many of those characters -- the Jewish captain, the isolated Bynar, the tough female security officer -- were your own creation?
The idea of doing eBooks came first -- Pocket wanted to get in on the ground floor of this emergent form of publishing, and tasked John with coming up with an eBook-only sub-franchise. He figured the S.C.E. was the best bet, and he and I then sat down and came up with a mission statement and a cast of characters.
As to who created whom... Heh. Some of it's a little fuzzy. The security chief, Lt. Commander Corsi, was all mine. Captain Gold was a collaborative effort, as were some of the others. I honestly don't remember whose idea it was to use Bynars, but I do know that P8 Blue was John's idea -- she's from the same alien race as M3 Green from the animated series episode "Jihad," whom we've dubbed Nasats. All the characters who've appeared on TV before -- Gomez, Duffy, Lense, and Stevens -- were my idea. The funny thing about that is, John's the one who co-created Stevens for the DS9 episode "Starship Down" (which he co-wrote with David Mack), but it was my idea to use him in S.C.E. We toyed with the idea of having Barclay in there, but Voyager had him busy with other stuff, so we kept him out.
Where would you like to see the series go? Will there be print novels as well as e-books?
What's on tap for the future is a new story per month, starting in February. La Forge has gone back to the Enterprise, but he was there mainly as a nod to the tradition of a person from the previous series in the premiere of a new one. McCoy was in the first TNG episode, Picard in the first DS9, Quark in the first Voyager, Picard and Spock in the first NF. So, if you're going to do the Starfleet Corps of Engineers, have La Forge there (as well as Scotty, but he will continue to be a recurring character -- the "M" or 7-Zark-7 or Basil Exposition for the S.C.E., as it were).
The only story that's fully approved is "Interphase," a two-book story by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, which will be out in February and March. There are several other plans, including a possible crossover with another series, a story that tells what the S.C.E. crew was doing during the Dominion War, a Gomez solo story, and a bunch more, but nothing I can talk about in detail yet. I can tell you that I'll be writing several, but not all, of them.
Farscape seems to have a very definite arc, like Babylon 5, which must make planning novels difficult. Tell us about yours -- who are the major characters, whether 'shippers will bow at your feet, and whether you think Aeryn or Chiana is hotter...
The show is nowhere near as meticulously plotted out as B5 -- nothing is -- but they have continued to move forward. What I wound up doing was having the novel take place as late in the second season as possible and not be affected by major arc changes -- which meant, in real terms, that it had to be before Stark showed up in "The Locket" to set them on their quest to find D'Argo's son. I wanted my novel to be as accessible as possible, so I put it right before "The Locket." They didn't tell me a damn thing about the end of last season, which is another reason why I wrote it as taking place when it did.
The funny thing is, the other two contracted books take place farther back. Andrew Dymond's Dark Side of the Sun (which was released first in England; mine will be released first in the U.S.) is also second season, but somewhat earlier, and David Bischoff's Ship of Ghosts (which will be released third on both sides of the Atlantic) takes place in the first season before Chiana joined the cast.
The basic plot of my book is this: The gang go to a gambling planet, Las Vegas in space. Rygel loses Moya in a card game, and much wackiness ensues. In order to work off the debt in a way that doesn't cost them their transportation, the crew has to perform a variety of tasks. However, there's a lot more at stake than a simple gambling debt, and Crichton et al find themselves awash in intrigue and danger.
I don't think the 'shippers will bow at my feet, exactly, but I guarantee that they'll like certain scenes. Particularly the one where Aeryn gets drunk. As to who's hotter, no question: it's Aeryn. But then, I really like Aeryn. (Given my statements on Kira above, this should surprise no one. For that matter, that B5 novel idea I mentioned above focuses on Ivanova. And I've got a Xena short story coming out later this year. Noticing the pattern yet?)
Tell us about your hobbies (particularly music).
My primary hobbies are baseball and music. I am a die-hard Yankee fan (THREE IN A ROW! YES!), and I'm a professional musician -- the percussionist for the Don't Quit Your Day Job Players, though the band's on a hiatus right now. Most of my other hobbies conveniently relate to what I do for a living -- write science fiction. Handy, no?
You can write to Keith at email@example.com or learn more about him at his official web site, DeCandido.net.