Warp Factor Trek

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With Star Trek: Picard having stunned its highly engaged audience, a series of tie-in novels related to the Secret Hideout-produced TV series continues to be published, portraying events prior to it but important to the show’s main characters. Author David Mack’s new novel, Firewall, is one of these books, pulling back the curtain on Seven of Nine between her return to Earth aboard the USS Voyager in the Star Trek: Voyager series finale “Endgame” and her reintroduction in the first season of Star Trek: Picard. Mack recently joined me for a chat about the novel, which aims to have universal appeal. “Part of what I wanted to do with Seven’s story in Firewall,” Mack explains, “is to demystify the nature of her identity, to find the universality of it, the vulnerability, the intrinsic humanity of love regardless of how one feels it.” What sparked the birth of this novel?

The Book’s Genesis

Seven of Nine with a weapon at the ready in “Stardust City Rag”

The idea for Firewall came about because David Mack found the show’s fifth episode, “Stardust City Rag”, highly influential. It gave viewers an initial sense of what Seven of Nine had been up to since returning to the Alpha Quadrant and provided a greater impression of the Fenris Rangers, who had been vaguely referred to in the fourth episode, “Absolute Candor”. “The first inkling I had of the book was back in 2020,” Mack reflects. “I was watching ‘Stardust City Rag’ on the day the episode dropped, and the moment they establish that Seven of Nine belongs to some sort of renegade law enforcement do-gooder organization out on the frontier called the ‘Fenris Rangers’ — even though there’s almost no information to work with — I found the notion so intriguing, so captivating, that, in the middle of watching the episode for the first time, I hit pause, picked up my phone, emailed my editor, and made a request, right then and there, saying, ‘I would like to write a novel about the Fenris Rangers, please.’ And within about five or ten minutes, my editor wrote back and said, ‘We already asked, and we’ve been told we can’t do them yet. They don’t know if they’re going to want to do stories about Fenris Rangers or a series about Fenris Rangers or whatever. So, you can’t do it, but keep it in mind for the future.’

While Mack proceeded to wait, the Fenris Rangers were occasionally hinted at in the TV series. “We got a little bit of that,” he acknowledges, “in terms of some throwaway lines.” One such line was in the Season 2 episode “Hide and Seek”, where Seven recalls that she tried to join Starfleet after Voyager returned to Earth but was rejected by them and, despite Janeway trying to intervene, ultimately gave up on the organisation, instead going “full Ranger.” Says Mack, “That was a pretty informative bit of dialogue that was ultimately essential to the plotting of the book. It grounded the assumptions on which the book is based.

Seven in the Season 2 episode “Hide and Seek”, recalling when she went “full Ranger”

About two years after Mack’s initial request to write a novel about the Fenris Rangers, the idea came up again. “As Picard Season 3 is wrapping up and I’m pitching ideas and basically sitting down to a lunch with my editors, I said, ‘So, I’m ready to go back to work. What do you have? What do you need? What do you want?’ And they said, ‘Well, would you be willing to do a Star Trek: Picard novel about how, where, when, and why Seven of Nine joins the Fenris Rangers?’ I said, ‘Would I?! Of course I would!’ So, I signed on for that immediately. It was sort of a rush job, is what I was told, and then it turned out it took forever to get contracts and story approvals.

Meanwhile, Mack began drafting the narrative. “I drafted the basic idea of the story, my first pass, probably in about two or three weeks, wrote up a document about thirty-to-forty pages long, detailing the whole narrative, the character arcs, and whatnot.

Exploring the Book’s Themes

The cover of the audio release No Man’s Land

Because the Star Trek: Picard audio drama No Man’s Land is an officially licensed and produced story from the Secret Hideout office — co-written by one of the show’s co-creators, Kirsten Beyer — Mack was asked to incorporate it into his research for his Picard novel. “My editors acquired a copy of the script from CBS Studios, and they passed it along to me. I read the whole thing and took notes as it applied to either Seven or the Fenris Rangers.” In the audio drama, Seven says that she, relationship-wise, has never been enough for anyone, but Mack didn’t concern himself with this line. “It doesn’t mean she didn’t have relationships. Sometimes, people just want to go in two different directions. One wants to move away and buy a house and start a quiet life, growing seapods or whatever, and the other one says, ‘No, I want to continue being a Fenris Ranger, but well, have a nice life and I’ll always remember you fondly. Bye-bye.’ There’s lots of ways for relationships to end, so I wasn’t really worried about that.

Instead, Mack concentrated on writing Seven as someone who is rejected and even feared by Federation society, which classes her as a non-citizen permanent resident. “In a lot of ways, it’s a metaphor and allegory for basically being queer in today’s world,” Mack notes. He also draws a parallel between the Federation citizens who insist on calling her “Annika Hansen” rather than “Seven of Nine” and people who deadname trans people. Mack phrases the objections to Seven as an institutional problem that Starfleet and the Federation have. “It’s sort of like a line in Men in Black, when Will Smith’s character says to Tommy Lee Jones’ character, ‘Why the big secret? People are smart; they can handle it,’ and he has to say, ‘A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals. You know it,’ and they are — they are dumb, panicky animals… and that’s what she’s dealing with.

Seven therefore goes on an “arduous, dangerous, potentially life-threatening process of self-discovery and self-recreation to become the person she knows she wants to be,” Mack explains. He adds, “The most important thing for me was that, in the end, what this is about is her becoming self-empowered, her realizing that what she needed — the Fenris Rangers — and what she wanted were not necessarily the same thing.” Mack pinpoints Seven’s search for independence away from Janeway as an allegory for the typical teen quest for independence away from parents. “It’s a take on the classic Bildungsroman, or coming-of-age tale,” he says.

Seven of Nine with Janeway (from “Imperfection”, an installment of Voyager’s seventh and final season)

Seven initially finds being independent is a lonely, boring experience that necessites her finding a job. “Maybe I’m drawing a little bit on my own twenties there,” Mack laughs. The Voyager relaunch novels also slightly inspired this plot element.

Mack felt it important to maintain the potential of the Federation and Starfleet. “I mean, it’s important to me to remember that there’s a certain hopefulness to Star Trek,” he remarks, “and even when it has moments when its characters or society are shown to fail to live up to those values, you still have to indicate that the hope is there.” This is why, in Firewall, Mack has Seven tell people who criticise the Federation’s treatment of her that the USS Voyager’s crew accepted her unconditionally and that she regards them as family, whose precedent inspires her to still have faith that the Federation and Starfleet will ultimately do the right thing.

Seven having intimate moments with Chakotay… and Raffi

Since Seven had a relationship with Chakotay in Star Trek: Voyager — a romantic connection that Mack thinks “always felt a little awkward on screen” — and with Raffi in Star Trek: Picard, Mack took the initiative by assuming that Seven is probably bisexual. In writing her as a queer character, he took inspiration from multiple sources. “The book addresses issues of both queer and trans identity through a science fiction filter, much as The Matrix did,” he observes. “As someone who has lived my entire adult life in New York City, I have a very diverse community of friends and colleagues. Many of them self-identify as queer, some as trans. There are members of my family who also identify as one or more of those. So, as I watch reactionaries try to impose dangerous, possibly violent restrictions on the queer and trans communities here in the United States (as well as abroad), I find myself furious on behalf of people I know, respect, and love.

Mack decided to write the story about “Seven finding the first great love of her life,” a Trill woman and Fenris Ranger called “Ellory Kayd”. He recalls, “The idea was simply to try to write it honestly and without being exploitative. I wanted to really ground it in the fact that these are two people who feel an immediate spark to each other and are going to basically take a chance on each other. So, in that respect, it’s basically like writing about any two lovers who are nervous but willing to take a chance.

As for why Mack decided to make Ellory Kayd a Trill, he says he “mostly just wanted a little diversity in terms of species.” He adds, “I didn’t want everybody to be Human. We’re told that the Fenris Rangers were sort of a multi-species group, open to everybody. I tried to have a blend of people — you know, a half-Caitian, a half-Cardassian or a Cardassian woman in the mix, a Human, a Trill, maybe a Tellarite or two, some Andorians, a Kaferian, maybe a Saurian in there. There might even be a Klingon or two, or a half-Klingon. So, there’s just this sense of a broader universe, full of non-Human characters that you normally couldn’t afford to do on a TV budget. But with a novel, you can have all the aliens you want!

Continuing the Writing Process

Mack sent his story outline to his editors. “They had their notes, and they said, ‘Well, tweak this, tweak that, and we kind of have some ideas about this and that. Can you work this in?’ So, I rewrote.

The revised story document was then sent to Kirsten Beyer, who is responsible for coordinating the series’ spin-off media products. “She had a lot of notes, mostly about characterization,” Mack recalls. “She had a lot of thoughts about the character of Seven. It wasn’t that Kirsten wanted to change the story. It was that she just wanted to make certain that I put the developments of the story and how they emotionally affected Seven in the correct emotional context and that I was representing the character of Seven faithfully to what she would have been in the book’s timeframe. It was very important that Kirsten pointed out that you remember we’re dealing with a very different Seven, and you gotta stay true to this version of who she is. We had to sort of explain how she went from coming home with the Voyager crew to setting out on her own and enlisting with the Rangers. How does that happen?

The focus on a Seven of Nine who is younger than in Star Trek: Picard meant that Star Trek: Voyager turned out to be more inspirational in one particular way. Mack specifies that this was “in terms of its importance to who she is at that time.” He goes on to say, “I had to keep in mind who she was going to become. For instance, I had to make sure I didn’t establish personality traits or facts about her life that would contradict statements she makes about her life in hindsight, twenty years later. So, I had to make certain that the life we see her lead is not completely inconsistent or at least can be explained.

Seven in the Voyager series finale “Endgame”… and in her first Picard episode, “Absolute Candor”

The process of receiving the notes and revising the story document took a few weeks, before it was time to write the full-length manuscript for the book. “Once I had approval from licensing and I was allowed to actually start work, I wrote the novel itself probably in about twelve weeks.

The procedure of writing the book was derailed by several factors. “I was about to start work on it and that was when my wife’s father died. That basically disrupted the whole month of May. There was just so much to deal with,” Mack laments. “I started really digging into the book in June/July, and then I was closing in on finishing it in August, and I got Covid, right as I was about to finish the manuscript for the novel. I was maybe four or five days’ work away from the end. First day of Covid, I ended up in an emergency room in the hospital. My wife also got Covid at the same time. I had a rough ten or twelve days coming back from Covid, and then there were a few other issues I had to deal with. Life kept getting in the way to slow me down, so it looks like it took a lot longer than it really did. I finished the book barely on deadline; I think I finished it about thirty-six hours ahead of the actual scheduled must-have-manuscript-in-editors’-hands date.

The editing of the manuscript was a relatively easy undertaking. “Editing went very quickly,” Mack reflects. “Editors didn’t really have many notes. The copy editor didn’t have a lot of queries. Notes from Secret Hideout were very thin, few on the ground, just a few continuity things that we fixed, mostly regarding Seven’s age. So, it went very quickly, in terms of the turnaround.

Having Fun with Characters

Keon Harper… and Ellory Kayd

On social media, Mack has revealed that there’s some fantasy casting he’s had in mind for a couple of the main Fenris Ranger characters in Firewall — namely Jeff Bridges as Seven’s mentor Keon Harper, and Jessica Henwick as Seven’s love interest Ellory Kayd. What inspired him to link those actors with those particular characters? “Well, it helps that I particularly love those actors,” he enthuses. Specifically, Mack is a big fan of Bridges’ “gravelly way of speaking” and Henwick’s “quirky, effervescent charm” and her physical contrast to Seven of Nine actress Jeri Ryan. Bearing Bridges and Henwick in mind while writing the characters of Harper and Kayd respectively enabled Mack to give those two characters consistent personalities and vocalisations throughout the story. “I didn’t really go to that sort of deep level of casting for any of the other characters,” he admits. “I sort of had a shorthand; I knew who they were and had a pretty good idea of what they represented.

Addressing an Easter egg character in Firewall, Mack states, “Sharp-eyed readers may note that one of the officers on the Dauntless is Lieutenant Shawna Benson, who is named for one of the writers on Star Trek: Prodigy — one of the two Benson sisters. I put Shawna in this book because I already put Julie Benson into my Original Series/Vanguard book Harm’s Way, which came out last year. Having already put one sister in a book, I had to put the other sister in a book, because, you know, when you got sisters, you gotta put them both in. That was just me having fun, Tuckerizing a friend.

In Conclusion

When asked what he hopes readers will take away from his novel, Mack says, “I hope they’ll come away feeling like they’ve had a cathartic victory. But as I say on the dedication page at the beginning, I dedicate this book to anybody who was ever made to feel like an outcast or unwelcome, and as a result became stronger and a better person for it. The book is dedicated to basically everybody who’s ever been made to feel like an outsider. And I say in the acknowledgements that, for all of the LGBTQIA, queer-community Star Trek fans out there, this book is for them. This one is a salute for them, ’cause it’s very much about Seven, as an icon of both queer identity and trans identity, standing up and saying, ‘I deserve love and respect. I will not be labeled, and I won’t be made to be afraid or to be ashamed of who I am, and I will never be told that I don’t know my own name,’ so it’s very much in that respect. It’s sort of a stand-and-fight piece.

David Mack’s upcoming Star Trek: Picard novel, Firewall, is available now from all good book stores.

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