Back in the day I was a huge Trekkie. Who am I kidding? I still am – I just don’t have a weekly feed of new Star Trek coming in from my television. I watched Star Trek on TV, I saw the movies when they premiered in theaters, and I checked out the latest novels from the public library (even if they didn’t count in the official cannon of Star Trek). I was, and still am, a nerd. As if living Star Trek weren’t enough, I also had to breath it. I started at a young age, probably around ten or eleven, attempting to write Star Trek.
My first attempts, like anybody’s first attempts at serious creative writing, were clumsy. I wasn’t a good writer, and my ideas weren’t exactly great either. Eventually I’d hit a wall of “where now?” in my only partially-formed story idea, and have no clue where to go from there. I vaguely recall one attempt from the sixth grade: it was the story of undefined alien Starfleet Captain Sharaan Attentha (or something like), and he was leading a mission to explore the Andromeda Galaxy, via a quantum slipstream (that’s the only way I can accurately date the story; I tended to seize onto a cool idea from a recent episode, and the quantum slipstream was debuted in the 1998 episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, “Hope and Fear” and “Timeless“). There are sixth-grade social studies text books with my Star Trek margin doodles in them somewhere.
After numerous fits and starts, including a handful of not-good short stories and numerous doodles and some more serious drawings of Star Trek starships, by my junior year in high school I’d managed to conjure up a more organized process for fiction writing. While I had numerous ideas spinning through my head for stories, I finally knew better than to just dive in. In the first story or even the first few stories the characters are never fully revealed to the reader. But the writer should know them inside and out, should understand their motivations, hear their voice, and see their mannerisms. So I began drafting character outlines and bios, creating a new cast of characters and a new ship for them to crew.
Why not write a story featuring Captain Picard, Sisko, or Janeway, you ask? What about Archer or Kirk? Put simply, those stories can’t be as interesting. Unless I wanted to split off into an alternate timeline, nothing permanently bad or good can happen to the characters – they and the ship all have to be good and ready for the next story as if this one never happened when all is said and done. It’s the magic reset button. It got a good workout during Voyager, and it was liberally exercised after the end of every Star Trek novel at that time. I didn’t want that.
So by creating my own ship and crew, I could do my own things. There could be lasting damage and enduring triumph. And unlike the happy-go-lucky Next Generation-era Star Trek series, I could create characters that were more flawed. When creating Star Trek: The Next Generation, Gene Roddenberry said that he didn’t want interpersonal conflict amongst the crew, that humanity had grown beyond that. I always found that to be a naively optimistic view of some utopian future where everybody’s happy and has no reason to be upset with their peers. We, the human species, have enough trouble getting along due to purely self-imposed geographic borders, religious and political differences, and – the silliest of all – the color of our skin.
While I am hopeful that we as a society will move past those differences in time (Roddenberry was very forward-thinking in putting a African American woman in Nichelle Nichols on the Enterprise bridge in 1966, even if her ground-breaking role on the original Star Trek was primarily that of glorified telephone operator for all the powerful white men of the Enterprise), it’s silly to think that there wouldn’t still be personality conflicts between members of the crew, especially when you start mixing in other species.
And so, Star Trek: Aldrin was born. I was surprised by how long the first draft turned out to be: ninety two thousand words. That’s very solidly in novel territory (which is an admittedly vague range, but seems to start at around fifty thousand words; ninety thousand words formatted at the size of a paperback novel equals four hundred pages, on normal 8.5×11 it was one hundred twenty pages). I printed it out ten or twenty pages at a time using the library printers at the high school (my apologies to Mount Vernon High School for burning through all that paper).
I thought it was good. Nay, I thought it was awesome. Star Trek: Aldrin, book one: The Enemy Within. Despite my being an avid Trekkie, at the turn of the century it was difficult for a barely-employed high schooler like myself to gain access to Star Trek: The Original Series, so I wasn’t aware that “The Enemy Within” was also the title of the fourth episode of the original Star Trek. Nevermind that I owned the second edition of the Star Trek Encyclopedia, which dedicated a hundred words to the episode where the transporter splits Kirk into naively good and exceedingly evil halves.
I shared that paper copy of Star Trek: Aldrin with my friends, who were mostly unanimous in their praise, though they may have been impressed by the accomplishment of writing such a lengthy work while still in high school. Fun fact: a good portion of that first draft was written using DocumentsToGo on my Palm Tungsten T3 PDA.
Having a completed manuscript in my hands, I looked into getting it published, though the only way to do that was through the official licensed Star Trek fiction partner of Paramount Pictures: Pocket Books. And Pocket Books had rules, oh did they have rules. Those rules are still largely in place today (though no longer online, here’s a copy), and boil down as such: the magic reset button must be pressed by the end of every novel, and only experienced Star Trek authors are permitted to write stories about new crews (like Peter David’s Star Trek: New Frontier series). Not one to be deterred, I reached out to a few publishing houses, or at least those that I could find through a search on Yahoo, but was rebuffed by them all once they understood what I was pitching them. Thankfully it never got to the point of a phone call – all discussion was held over email – or else they probably would have laughed my naive seventeen-year-old ass off the line.
It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I was able offer Star Trek: Aldrin to a wider audience. At that time, Star Trek: Enterprise was in its fourth season and its chances of renewal on UPN were looking slim. I got involved in an organization called TrekUnited, a successor the Save Enterprise movement that helped motivate Paramount to produce the fourth season in the first place. While Save Enterprise was a pure fan-driven movement, relying on tried-and-true tactics like an extensive letter writing campaign, TrekUnited aimed to try something unique and very very different: raising funds to help co-finance the production of a fifth season of Enterprise. To a degree, the campaign was successful to a degree, as TrekUnited was able to raise $143,000 from fans and supposedly secured a pledge for $3 million from an anonymous source in the aerospace industry (I was only involved in the forums at that point, so I can’t personally verify anything, but my money’s always been on Richard Branson as the pledge source – he’s enough of a Star Trek fan that the first ship in his suborbital Virgin Galactic fleet is named the V.S.S. Enterprise).
I’d been an occasional visitor to some StarTrek.com chat rooms through high school, but TrekUnited opened me up to a much wider community of Star Trek. I made a lot of good friends, many of which I regret having fallen out of communication with in recent years. But I also got a new audience for Aldrin and was introduced to the concept of “fan fiction”. It’s what I’d been writing all along, my own stories playing in the universe of somebody else’s creation. I’d long accepted that Aldrin was never going to be formally published, and it made no sense to me to sit on the full novel that I’d written. Some suggested that I get around Pocket Books’ restrictions by rewriting Aldrin in a non-Star Trek setting, but that ignored the fact that the story was heavily reliant upon the existing mythos of Star Trek, and that I wanted to write Star Trek. If that meant that was something I was going to do as a labor of love with no chance of ever making money off of it, then so be it.
So I published Star Trek: Aldrin, book one, The Enemy Within on the TrekUnited Forums, starting in April 2005, uploading one chapter a day. The process of formatting The Enemy Within for BBcode allowed me to make some edits, but I only tweaked things and fixed errors. I never really re-read it. It hadn’t been that long since I’d written it in the first place, so I didn’t have the separation needed to approach it as a more mature writer. The Enemy Within was published onto the TrekUnited Forums pretty much as I wrote it two years prior.
To my surprise, Aldrin gained a quick and excited following amongst the TrekUnited community. To this day it still ranks as the second-most-viewed thread in the TrekUnited Fan Fiction forum with more than fourteen thousand, topped only by the thread for the second Aldrin novel – Diplomatic Protocol – with fifteen thousand views. I dove even deeper into my little Aldrin subset of the Star Trek universe, making new drawings, modeling the starship U.S.S. Aldrin in 3D with Cinema 4D, and Photoshopping images of the crew. And, of course, I also worked on the second and third Star Trek: Aldrin books, Diplomatic Protocol and Shadows in the Darkness. That third novel was where I really started to push the boundaries of that magic reset button – not everything was okay at the end, and there would be repercussions in the coming novels.
Then life got in the way before I could finish the fourth Aldrin novel, titled The Other Shoe (as in ‘drops’). By that time I had risen to be the chief forum administrator for TrekUnited and was also in charge of managing the site’s news page. And by in charge, I mean I was the only one, and the well-connected newcomer TrekMovie.com was eating ours and all the other established Trek sites’ combined lunch. I was also still a full time college student and not doing well at that, and had just started writing for PreCentral.net.
Something had to give, and that something was Star Trek. While I remained a fan, I severely scaled back my Trekking. I didn’t have the time to be running TrekUnited almost single-handedly (at that time the forum was still incredibly busy, and purely a community of fans), and I kept running into roadblock after roadblock in my stuttering attempts to resume writing The Other Shoe. So Star Trek: Aldrin got shuffled away into a folder in the Documents folder on my Mac, sitting there staring back at me every time I went to work on something else. I still went back to the U.S.S. Aldrin, at least mentally, every now and then, entertaining the idea of getting back into writing it and finishing out the several novels I had planned, but nothing ever came of those meandering thoughts.
For several years now, November has been marked by two things: Movember for growing mustaches in support of mens health awareness, and National Novel Writing Month to challenge amateur and professional writers alike to put fifty thousand words of a new novel to the paper. Both are fun and worthy causes, but thanks to my job in the military funeral honors program requiring that I be out in the public as a representative of the United States Army at funerals, growing a mustaches has been out of the question. Plus, my father has had a mustache for forever, and as much as I respect and admire the man, we don’t need people drawing even more comparisons.
I first became aware of both Movember and NaNoWriMo in 2010, and I didn’t do much with either that year. In 2011, I decided that I was going to participate in NaNoWriMo. At first my inclination was that I could finish The Other Shoe (it was about half-way done, with some forty or fifty thousand words to be written), but then I went back and started rereading the previous Aldrin novels to reacquaint myself with the details of my own work.
At that point it had been seven years since I’d first started writing Star Trek: Aldrin. In that time I had grown to be a much more competent writer, thanks in large part to being employed as a writer for TrekUnited (on a volunteer basis, that is), PreCentral/webOS Nation, and the Army, plus the veritable reams of paper that you’re required to fill with words as a college student. And rereading The Enemy Within, I realized it needed to be heavily and severely edited. The concept was good, and the story was good, but the writing was not up to my apparently heightened standards.
The edits wouldn’t just be to make it ‘better’, but also to better set up future stories, even those much further down the line. And like when I decided that I was going to tweak and refine my 3D model of the Excelsior refit, all pretenses of editing were quickly abandoned as I dove in and began a complete and utter rewrite. As I went I gained a great appreciation for how far I’ve come as a writer over these past several years. I’ve put down millions of words for Star Trek, webOS, and Mother Army, and I have no desire to stop writing any time soon. It’s an awesome creative outlet for me, I can be much more precise, specific, deliberate, and descriptive when writing than I can when speaking. Plus I can edit things, which is much harder to do when speaking.
As with nearly all of my plans, rewriting The Enemy Within didn’t go as well as I’d planned. There was the matter of webOS, which at the time was severely in limbo following HP’s cancellation of webOS hardware a few months prior. And I was also still in the process of renovating my house at the time, and working full time for the honor guard (thankfully being a student was no longer on my plate, turns out I’m not good at that, though that’s a discussion for another time). And so I probably got fifteen or twenty percent of the way through my rewrite before it fell to the wayside, sitting in the bottom right corner of my desktop (an almost always visible corner on my screen) as ‘Star Trek Aldrin 1 – The Enemy Within REV.doc’. And it sat there untouched for months before I opened it back up in the spring and made some progress, and then again in the summer when I made some more progress, getting to about the halfway point in July.
It wasn’t until September of 2012 that I really buckled down and powered through the rewrite process, finishing in early November with a hundred-thousand-word draft. In the process several extraneous scenes had met their end, and many plot points were massaged to be more, well, better. The dialogue is more natural and the exposition more explanatory. I tried to gear it such that you wouldn’t have to know Star Trek to be able to understand and follow Aldrin, though that’s clouded through my lens of already having an intimate relationship with Star Trek, so what do I know?
The end result is a Star Trek: Aldrin that is more mature and flows far better. It’s a novel, that if not for Pocket Books’ rules about what they’ll accept for first time submissions, I like to think would rank highly among Star Trek novels. Alas, my vision of the continuing twenty-fourth century narrative varies radically from the course that Pocket Books has steered with their raft of veteran Star Trek authors. I’m not going to spoil any details of what happens in the official unofficial novels, but I will say that I am not at all a fan of the destructive direction in which they’ve taken the Star Trek universe.
While Aldrin never was, and certainly isn’t now, a happy-go-lucky Star Trek story, I’ve always tried to maintain an air of hopefulness amongst the despair. Pocket Books, meanwhile, saw fit to practically obliterate the Star Trek we came to know and love. I have no interest in making Aldrin fit into that universe. Thankfully, as Aldrin is classified as fan fiction and the Pocket Books novels, though officially licensed, do not factor into the official Star Trek cannon, I don’t have to fit with that universe.
Eight years after I first started putting together the story of the crew of the U.S.S. Aldrin, I’m thrilled to be able to release the completely rewritten first book in the series, the completely rewritten Sic Semper Tyrannis. As with all fan fiction, this is purely a labor of love, with no expectation of making any money off of it. I offer Star Trek: Aldrin, book one, Sic Semper Tyrannis to Star Trek fans, free of charge, for their own enjoyment. Sic Semper Tyrannis is available in multiple formats at the new Star Trek: Aldrin website, though I ask that you please do not redistribute them yourself (even if they are DRM-free).
I’d like to recognize my friend and fellow tech-editor Rene Ritchie for heroically serving as my volunteer editor and sounding board for Sic Semper Tyrannis.
Whether or not you enjoy Star Trek: Aldrin, or even bothered reading it, to please consider making a donation to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum to help preserve our world’s space exploration heritage so that it may inspire the next generation of explorers for the final frontier.
Live long and prosper, friends.