Q&A with David Mack, author of Star Trek Picard – Firewall

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David Mack’s latest novel, Star Trek Picard – “Firewall”, is a fast-paced adventure that tells the story of Seven of Nine after Voyager’s return to earth and how she became a notorious Fenris Ranger. I was thrilled to ask some key questions about Mack’s latest novel on behalf of The CloneStar Podcast. Enjoy!

What inspired you to write Firewall?

A request from my editors that came with a dollar amount attached. Seriously. I was asked to write this story, and I agreed.

As for what inspired my specific choices in executing the story, I worked backward from what I wanted the story to be about and what I wanted it to accomplish. I started by studying and analyzing every relevant line of dialogue in Star Trek: Picard about Seven’s association with the Fenris Rangers.

After I researched Seven’s personal history, I realized that what this story was really going to be was a coming-of-age tale: Seven needs to “leave home” to find her own path in life and achieve true independence.

How important is research when writing a Star Trek novel like Firewall? What resources do you utilize to create a new Star Trek story?

Good research is very important, for both large-scale ideas and for small details. Fans are keenly attuned to the details of the lives of the characters they love, especially in Star Trek. For that reason, it’s important to make sure when writing a Star Trek story that I have my facts straight.

One example of the kind of information I examined were specific details about Seven’s age. In an early draft of the book, I had trusted some online reference sites’ reporting of Seven’s age, only to have it pointed out to me by the experts at CBS Studios that the reference sites were very wrong, as well as how and why the reference sites had made those mistakes.

Another example of my research for Firewall was the effort I went through to determine the correct placement of Freecloud in relation to other star systems in Star Trek: Star Charts by Geoffrey Mandel. I had to employ real-life star charts, celestial position data obtained from the European Space Agency, some simple calculations, and some graphical charting to confirm the position shown for Freecloud on the star charts included in the front of the book.

Yet another example: I had to read up on all the many different capabilities and limitations of the Borg nanoprobes that infuse Seven’s blood, so that I could either use those abilities when they served the story or explain why she couldn’t use them when the story required that she not do so.

What is the significance of the epigraph drawn from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations?

It’s a famous quotation: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” As I understand it, it means that when the path we want to take is obstructed, sometimes the obstacle itself is what spurs us to a better path, a more creative solution, or a fresh perspective.

In the context of Firewall, it speaks to the fact that all of the hardships and adversaries that seem to hold Seven back from her destiny are, in the end, used by her to achieve her goals and serve the cause of justice. Everything and everyone who stood in her way ended up becoming part of her strategy in the story’s climax.

You introduce several new characters in the book, but one familiar character has a strong presence in the story. Did you find it difficult to evolve the relationship between Seven and Janeway?

Not at all. Their bond of friendship, and Janeway’s mentorlike role in Seven’s life, both were well established on Star Trek: Voyager. I relied on the dynamic that already existed between them, and then I put it under stress by having Seven and Janeway taking radically divergent paths in life despite still caring about each other and holding each other in high regard.

In earlier drafts of the story, their arc was more adversarial than the one settled on in the final version. This was thanks to the excellent advice of Star Trek: Picard series co-creator and fellow Star Trek author Kirsten Beyer. She helped me see that the conflict between Seven and Janeway would feel more realistic if it was less melodramatic and rooted in an honest disagreement about the merits and faults of the Fenris Rangers as an organization.

There are several on-planet and in-space action sequences in the book that highlight Seven’s strengths and weaknesses, and which make for great reading. Was it difficult creating this balance for Seven while also showcasing her growth as events progress?

I didn’t find it difficult, at all. One of the things I love about writing novels, whether for Star Trek, another licensed property, or my own original stories, is concocting exciting action set pieces that test my characters’ courage and durability, and that also thrill my readers by letting them vicariously experience extremely high-risk scenarios.

Seven views the crew on Voyager as her family. How important was it to have Seven experience life independent of the security of Voyager and to begin forming new relationships?

It was vitally important. In a real sense, it’s what a story like this is all about: Seven has to leave behind the life she knows and risk going alone into the unknown to make a new life. She has to learn how to find a job and a place to live; she needs to form new friendships unless she wants to live in isolation.

Early in Firewall, Seven’s not very good at making new friends. She is cagey and suspicious, full of anger and distrust. What she doesn’t realize is that she is yearning for a new “found family” that will echo the dynamic she came to appreciate on Voyager. This is what she finds in the Fenris Rangers. The first Ranger she meets, Keon Harper, becomes a surrogate father figure to her, in much the same way Janeway was a surrogate mother figure, and the other Rangers all become her new “brothers and sisters” much as the crew of Voyager once were for her.

How important was it to have Seven identify as queer in this novel?

It was absolutely essential. I felt it was crucial to document her shift from the cis-hetero-normative social reintegration she experienced during her time aboard Voyager to the comfortably demonstrative bisexual woman we were re-introduced to in Picard.

It felt right to me that Seven would want and need to explore this newly acknowledged aspect of herself during her journey of self-discovery. Having been robbed by the Borg of her childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood — all the years during which most people have the time to figure out who they are, what they want to be, and to whom they are attracted — Seven figuratively throws herself into the deep end of the pool and learns to swim.

Another reason why I wanted to acknowledge this aspect of Seven’s identity is that she, as a character, has become an important icon to the queer and trans communities. Many aspects of her nature and existence serve as powerful allegories for queer and trans identity, and I feel like a strong, positive role model for those groups is more important now than ever, because of the increasingly hostile social and political climate emerging in the United States and elsewhere.

Raffi and Seven’s relationship is unique. Maybe one of a kind. How does the Seven in this book build a foundation for the one who struggles with committing to Raffi in Picard?

I’m not sure how “unique” Seven and Raffi’s relationship is. I think part of what rings true about it is the fact that it wasn’t ideal.

Seven and Raffi shared a sense of connection, but they also had problems communicating with each other, and Seven’s ability to invest herself in their relationship was hindered by the nihilism and cynicism that came to define her worldview by the end of the 24th century.

My guess is that much of what prevented Seven from trusting Raffi (or anyone else) enough to make a relationship last is the guilt she harbored for many years about her unwitting role in the murder of Icheb. I dramatize that tragic mistake in the framing sequence of Firewall, when Seven meets Bjayzl. Despite being careful enough to lie about the extent of her own residual Borg technology, Seven is less circumspect when she discusses Icheb — a verbal misstep that soon afterward leads to the gruesome death of the young ex-Borg she loves like her own son.

Even after purging her guilt and fury over Icheb at the end of the Picard episode “Stardust City Rag,” Seven isn’t magically healed, because that’s not how emotional trauma works. Honestly, I think it would be a wonder if Seven ever really trusted anyone ever again after losing Icheb.

In your acknowledgments you make a point of thanking the LGBTQIA+ readers… “who have found hope and inspiration in Star Trek over the years. This one is for you with love and respect.” Why was it important to you to acknowledge this segment of the Trek fandom?

As I mentioned before, the social and political climate in many parts of the United States is becoming hostile to the queer and trans communities, to a degree I find genuinely frightening.

I have many colleagues, friends, and family members who identify as queer and/or trans, and it terrifies and enrages me to think of bigots denying them their civil rights and questioning their very humanity. As much as the right-wing zealots want to dehumanize queer and trans persons, I want to do the opposite: I want to hold up characters like Seven and others in Firewall, like Yivv, to showcase the truth of their humanity.

To whatever degree I might be a role model to someone, or an influencer of the perspectives and behavior of others, I want to encourage a culture of acceptance, unity, and mutual respect for all human beings. Because I know full well the power that stories can have to shape readers’ understanding of the world we live in, I think it’s important that I take a clear stand, make my intentions unambiguous, and tell the persecuted, the marginalized, and the oppressed that I am on their side, and that I want to build a better world not just for myself, but for them, too.

What do you hope readers take away from reading Firewall?

I hope every one of them comes away from the end of the book with an overwhelming desire to buy new copies for ten of their closest friends and family members.

Just kidding. Sort of.

Seriously, though, I hope that by living vicariously through Seven while she goes on this journey, readers will come away from Firewall feeling a sense of kinship and empathy with those who are misunderstood, persecuted, feared, or forced to live in hiding, huddled in the liminal spaces on the outskirts of society. I also hope that this book might help someone who feels like one of those outcasts to know they aren’t alone, and that they, like everyone else, deserve to be able to see themselves represented as equal partners in Star Trek’s hopeful future.

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Fueled by coffee and willing to charge into a nebula for more. I’m a lifelong musician and creative with a love for all things sci-fi. In a universe where you can be anyone, be a Trekkie.

Go Boldly & LLAP

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