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How Star Trek's canon expert helps Picard revive characters and find the future
In Star Trek, the captains of the various series are celebrated, but sometimes that means overshadowing the folks who tirelessly keep the starships running. Whether its Scotty in the original series, or O'Brien in Deep Space Nine, or B'Elanna Torres in Voyager, somebody has to make sure that when the Captain says "engage," something actually happens.
If you want to think of it in terms of contemporary Star Trek crews, Kirsten Beyer is a bit like one of the scrappy Starfleet engineers, such as Torres. Behind the scenes, she's keeping all the complicated canon in order, while helping craft some of the most memorable Star Trek stories in recent memory. A staff writer on Star Trek: Discovery, Beyer is one of the co-creators of Star Trek: Picard. But her journey began as a fan.
Before the 21st century, and the relaunch of Trek with Discovery on CBS All-Access, Beyer was a Trekkie who loved Star Trek: Voyager so much that she decided to try and write for the series. Eventually, she succeeded, but not until after Voyager was off the air. Starting in 2005, Beyer made a huge mark on Trek fandom with her numerous novels set in the Voyager canon. She's best known for her Voyager continuation series which began with the 2009 book, Full Circle. And like the long road that the USS Voyager takes from the Delta Quadrant, back home to Earth, Beyer's journey to from fan to professional Trek novelist to becoming a TV writer on both Discovery and Picard has been a long one.
SYFY WIRE got in touch with Kirsten Beyer ahead of the launch of Picard to get her feelings on the recent big Voyager anniversary, how Picard was conceived, and what's next for fans of all the various versions of Star Trek.
Voyager debuted 25 years ago this month. How did you feel about it in 1995?
Doing the math, that means that it was about 25 years ago, plus a few weeks, that watching Voyager made me decide that I wanted to write for television, specifically that I wanted to write for Star Trek: Voyager. My journey as a writer was inspired by this amazing show that has become nearest and dearest to my heart. I remember loving the premise and the characters and after watching for a few weeks, out of the blue I had my very first idea for an episode. I told my husband about my idea and his response was, "Well, what are you going to do, write it?"
Until that moment I hadn't seriously imagined that this was something I could do. At that moment I decided it was, so I got busy learning how to write Star Trek and how to write for television. It took ten years of hard work from that moment until I was invited to write Star Trek stories for Pocket Books and another eleven years before I was invited to write for Star Trek: Discovery. So, you know, your typical Hollywood overnight success story.
What did you learn from writing in the Voyager timeline that informed your work on the newer TV series like Discovery and now, Picard?
The most important thing I learned from writing Voyager novels was what Star Trek is and what a Star Trek story is. Until I started writing it, I loved all of the various series as a fan. Once I began to study it, I started to understand why I loved it so much — the ideas and values of the universe, as well as a metric ton of facts and data about characters and technology. More than anything, it gave me a sense of the Trek Universe as a "real" place, with history and traditions and a vast tapestry of interconnected and sometimes contradictory story points from which to imagine the future of the characters I was writing. This became the foundation from which I always draw when I am developing new stories, both for Discovery and Picard.
Did the idea of bringing back Seven of Nine back to Picard originate with you?
Possibly. Probably. Developing a story in a writers' room means I am sitting with several other very talented and capable writers with varying degrees of knowledge about Trek and its characters. It is hard now to remember the exact moment when we decided to bring Seven into our story. But as with all of our choices, it began as a way to illuminate Picard's character and the specific journey he needed to take at that point in the overall story. It was quickly settled that she would be the best possible choice to help us tell that story and then became a matter of waiting to see if Jeri [Ryan] could be convinced to come back aboard and join us. I could not be more thrilled that she agreed.
Why is Seven of Nine such a popular character?
Seven is one of our great "mirror" characters. No — not the Mirror Universe — but characters that hold up a mirror to humanity because in an essential way they stand outside of it. Seven was born human but when we meet her had spent most of her life as a Borg drone. Once her humanity was restored, she began a journey of discovering what it means to be human. As she learns, the audience gets to explore the question with her and giving us a better understanding of ourselves is one of the most important and satisfying things Star Trek stories do for us.
She is part of a great tradition of these characters in Trek, beginning with Spock, and continuing with Data and Voyager's Emergency Medical Hologram [the Doctor], among others. Her enduring popularity is also a testament to the brilliance with which Jeri first embodied her and getting to explore what she has become twenty years later continues an arc that began long ago.
Outside of the shows you've worked on, is Voyager still your favorite Star Trek? If so, why?
Definitely. I understand the challenges many fans had with Voyager, but it will always have a very special place in my heart. It is the corner of the universe, apart from the new ones I have helped to create, that I know best. Having the opportunity to take all of her characters on a journey that began once the show ended and watching them continue to grow and learn means that they have, over the years, occupied a great deal of my creative imagination. They are all family to me now. I have spent so much time digging into who they are and what they want and need and finding ways to push them a little further along as people facing extraordinary challenges. First loves always cut uniquely deeply and that is very much the case for me and Voyager.You are a co-creator on Star Trek: Picard. How was that process different from your role on Discovery?
I began on Discovery as a staff writer — so the least experienced voice in the room in terms of television storytelling, but also as someone who was acknowledged as an expert in Star Trek canon. I have continued to play that role even as my title changed from executive story editor to co-producer. It is an incredibly challenging thing to have this vast knowledge base but also realize that the information in my head is best utilized to help the upper-level writers and showrunners tell the stories they want to tell. My job as an expert is not to tell them "no," but to help them find ways to hit the story points they are looking for in a way that can be reconciled with all that we have already established in the Trek universe. Sometimes canon has to take precedence and sometimes it needs to be reimagined a little. But this has always been the case with Trek.
With Picard, I was present from the very first moments the idea of the series began. As always, my Trek knowledge was important, but I was equally involved in the development of the series from day one. And I was blessed with the best possible collaborators in Alex [Kurtzman], Akiva [Goldsman], and Michael[Chabon]. From the beginning, it was a uniquely egalitarian process. No one's voice was more important than anyone else's. And we all work incredibly well together. Once the show was further along and actual production began, duties started getting divided up between us, but I have always felt much more ownership of Picard than was possible with Discovery because of my level of experience when Discovery began. I've had to learn a lot incredibly quickly on both shows, but I'd like to think I have risen to the challenges and am surrounded by very patient and generous teachers.
Are you the "keeper of the Star Trek canon"? Is that accurate?
It is and it isn't accurate. I am the keeper of the canon in the sense that I tend to know off the top of my head a lot of information that others might have to research. This is simply a result of having written for Star Trek for so long in the novels and my sort of freakish memory for Trek minutia. But I have never seen my role in this regard as primarily a source for Easter eggs or fan service. It happens from time to time, yes. But I really think my greatest contribution in this regard has been to understand the Trek universe as a massive, interconnected reality and how even seemingly minor story choices can ripple out and impact pre-existing stories in a way that reinforces what we know, or adds new information to what we think we know.
Sometimes choices also conflict with what we know and it becomes my job to make sure that the other writers are making their story decisions from a place of knowledge and not ignorance. Mine is never the final word. It is more a matter of making good arguments for the impact choices might have and allowing those above me to fold that information into their creative process.
You've written several of the tie-in comic books (which are great!). Will you ever write Star Trek novels again?
Thank you! I have loved working on the comics [Star Trek: Discovery: Aftermath, Star Trek: Picard: Countdown, et al.] with Mike Johnson. He is a genius and a very generous collaborator. As we speak, I am in the process of finishing what will be the final novel in the Voyager re-launch series that began with the book Full Circle. It has taken me much longer than I or my readers would like to do this, but I am also incredibly grateful for the patience of my publishers in allowing me to finish this story arc on my terms and in a way I hope my readers will find satisfying.
After that… it's hard to say. My work on the television series as well as the comics and novels connected to our new series is intense and demanding. That's why it has taken me so long to finish this novel. Once it is done, I will definitely want to take some time to just focus on the series, but as I have told my editors if I ever feel that there is another story I simply must tell in novel form, and it is possible to find the time in my schedule, I would never say never.
Do you think we could see more Voyager characters return in future Star Trek series?
Anything is possible. It is always a matter of what characters can best help us tell the stories we are trying to tell. One of the greatest things about writing Trek right now is the fact that we do have this massive interconnected universe to play with. I think every established character out there, major and minor is fair game and there really are no limits to how we might end up weaving them into the new series.
Star Trek: Picard debuts on CBS All Access on January 23.