If you haven't read a Star Trek book in a while — or ever — I'm going to let you in on a little secret: Tie-in Trek fiction right now is perhaps the best it's been since the halcyon days of the '80s.
Back then, authors like Vonda N. McIntyre or A.C. Crispin wrote convincing Trek novels squeezed in between canonical events, but those stories were mostly self-contained. But these days, Trek fiction doesn't just tell stand-alone stories completely insulated from canon; the vast majority of stories in the Star Trek: Discovery book series have connected directly to canon rather than avoided the complex lore. Out this week from Simon & Schuster, the latest book — Star Trek: Discovery: The Enterprise War — reads like an alternate version of the TV show's first season, and a brilliant prequel to its second. Written by longtime genre novelist John Jackson Miller, the book reveals what happened to Pike's USS Enterprise during the year the famous starship was absent for the Klingon War in Discovery Season 1.
SYFY WIRE caught up with Miller just before the publication of the book to discuss the challenges of writing in Trek canon, why this book is a great starting point even if you're behind on Discovery, and why writing Pike and Spock from Star Trek was a lot like writing Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars.
Mild spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 2. No spoilers for The Enterprise War.
"The duration of The Enterprise War is specifically keyed to the first season of Discovery," Miller explains. "It spans Pike's activities in this nebula, and you know when it starts because he misses the first shots fired during the first declaration of [the Klingon] war. From there, the book goes right up to the moment when you first see Pike in Season 2. So it's a very specific amount of time."
Miller is very familiar with writing in comics or novels in shared universes beginning with the word "star." His association with Star Wars tie-in fiction goes back in further than his work on Star Trek fiction. Miller is the guy who introduced the characters from Star Wars Rebels into canon with the book Star Wars: A New Dawn, published in September 2014, a full month before the TV series aired. That novel also was the very first book that redefined which Star Wars books were canon and which ones weren't. And despite being very good at making these canon connections in complicated sci-fi franchises, Miller says complicated Star Trek canon shouldn't prevent anyone from reading The Enterprise War. In fact, he thinks the opposite is true.
"This is the perfect book for somebody who hasn't seen a Star Trek episode since 1966," he says. "If you're new to Star Trek: Discovery, [then] The Enterprise War is is an on-ramp into this period that is before the original series. We have some familiar characters like Spock and Captain Pike. But all you really need to know is that they've got the Federation, they have starships, they go exploring, and sometimes those starships work and sometimes they don't."
Because the USS Enterprise is in a nebula in a part of the galaxy undefined by onscreen canon, Miller's story has a certain amount of leeway in terms of what happens to Pike, Spock, and Number One in this book. But, in terms of the characters themselves, Miller's book specifically had to show how Jeffrey Hunter's Captain Pike we saw in the Original Series pilot, "The Cage," becomes Anson Mount's Captain Pike from Discovery. Specifically, "The Cage" shows Pike as a restless captain, ready to quit Starfleet, which is very different from the man we meet in Discovery.
"Jeffrey Hunter's Pike in 'The Cage' is really just about to hang it up. He's lost, I think, three people in an incident before the episode and he's not sure he's doing the right thing and he's riddled with doubt," Miller says. "But the character of Pike we see in Discovery , as played by Anson Mount, is certainly a guy who has flaws, but one of those flaws is not questioning his devotion to sticking with Starfleet."
For Miller, this meant that part of the challenge of writing the Enterprise War was to show how retro Captain Pike become the contemporary Captain Pike of Discovery. A reader who is familiar with both performances might hear Jeffrey Hunter's voice in their head in the early pages of the book but certainly will feel Anson Mount's warmth by the end. And in order to make this transition work, Miller mined his previous experience in linking together the performances of two actors who played the same character into one book, specifically, how to make Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi become Alec Guinness' Obi-Wan Kenobi in the same novel. In 2013, Miller's Star Wars book Kenobi did for Obi-Wan what The Enterprise War is doing for Captain Pike. And Miller points out that his Obi-Wan fusing skills were useful in merging old Pike with new Pike but that some of the techniques also applied to how this book depicts Spock's interior life.
"The two versions of Pike were a lot like the two Obi-Wans: Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness," Miller says. "There's a similar element in this book as the Kenobi book insofar as that book had sections from the point of view of other characters, but we would get to see the internal parts of Obi-Wan Kenobi through his personal meditations. In the Kenobi book it was Obi-Wan meditating in certain sections, and here I thought it was perfect for Spock to meditate, too. Which basically brings us up to where we are at the beginning of Season 2 of Discovery."
There's never been a real crossover between Star Trek and Star Wars, and John Jackson Miller didn't suggest one. But if the writing of John Jackson Miller is any indication, on a philosophical level, the difference between a Starfleet captain and Republic general or a Vulcan and Jedi Knight might get beautifully blurry. Obi-Wan said, "from a certain point of view." Spock called it "infinite diversity in infinite combinations." Either way, thanks to Miller's writing, your favorite adventure continues on the pages of his books, regardless of whether it's a galaxy far, far away or boldly going where no one has gone before. Again.
The Enterprise War is out in bookstores and online book retailers now.