by Matthew Rushing
We recently talked to David R. George III on Literary Treks and did not have time to talk about his epic Crucible trilogy. He has graciously written up some answers for us on this pivotal series.
Q: Crucible is an epic trilogy that uses a key moment in the trinity of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy to shape each of the three volumes. What was the inspiration and genesis of these books?
A: I was approached by Marco Palmieri, one of the Star Trek editors at Pocket Books at that time, to pen an original series three-book set to help celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the show’s premiere. As I cast about for an idea for the trilogy, I realized that I faced a serious problem. What, I wondered, did I not know about these characters? Although the television show comprised only seventy-nine episodes, plus its first pilot, and only twenty-two animated half-hours, literally hundreds of novels and short stories had been published. I remember actually sitting down with a pad of paper and a pen and being completely stumped about what I could possibly write. I hoped to find a fresh angle from which to approach the characters, and yet also ground the three novels in the original series, since that was what the books were intended to celebrate.
At some point, I started thinking about “The City on the Edge of Forever,” both because it is one of the most popular of all Star Trek episodes, and because it remains my favorite installment of any of the shows. Suddenly, I realized that the episode itself hinted at an obvious story never told, one essentially hiding in plain sight. In “City,” we saw Doctor McCoy go back in time to 1930s Earth, and by one action inadvertently alter history to allow Nazi Germany and the Axis powers to win World War II. Kirk and Spock follow him back to prevent him from doing that. What we never saw was what McCoy’s life was like in that altered timeline. It seemed to me like a story worth telling, but I also needed more than that. It occurred to me, though, that I could devote one each of the three novels to each of the main characters of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, and because “City” included important events for each of them, I could center the trilogy around it.
Q: Your stories are first and foremost about characters. Tell me about each character’s arc.
A: McCoy: As I said, I thought it would be a great idea to follow McCoy through the life he lived in the alternate timeline, where he accidentally delays the United States’ entry into WWII and thereby allows the Axis to capture the world. I also thought I needed more than that, though, and so I watched the original series from beginning to end. As I did, I noticed an aspect of the show that had probably arisen as an artifact of the writing, rather than as something intentional: Doctor McCoy does not seem to have a good romantic life. He dates very little in the show, though he clearly likes women. Reference is also made to an old flame that got away, and in the animated series, a daughter is revealed. What could have caused his lonely adult life, I wondered, and I looked to the films for an answer. There, we saw a difficult relationship with his father, which seemed a good place to start. Slowly, I conceived a backstory for McCoy consistent with everything we’d ever seen on screen, but pointing to a part of the character never really addressed. Once I found that, I had to determine what his life in the alternate timeline had to do with it. Ultimately, I was able to connect the two and come up with a story I thought worth telling.
Spock: When I considered what to write about Spock, I thought about the fact that he is actually an alien character—an alien hybrid—but is often depicted as human. I decided I wanted to explore the alien side of Spock, which necessarily meant taking a look at the control he exercised over his emotions. That led me to wonder what precisely had pushed Spock to abandon Starfleet and his friends after the five-year mission in an attempt to purge himself of all emotion. To that end, I examined some of the decisions the character had made during the series, and I saw that he had not acted consistently. Although he urged Kirk to allow the woman he loved to die, he did not always make such choices for others or himself. I determined that I could connect the events of “City” with his ultimate desire to rid himself of his human nature, which would permit me to take a closer look at his truly alien side.
Kirk: Since the events of “The City on the Edge of Forever” impacted Kirk most personally, his story seemed obvious. I could simply look at how his actions affected him later in his life.
Q: You chose to use only the televised events as a basis for the trilogy. How did this free you to tell a bigger and bolder story?
A: The reasons for basing the Crucible trilogy only on the events of the television series and films were twofold. First, since so many novels had been published, it would require more time than I had available to read all of them — not to mention the fact that some novels contradicted each other, and some even contradicted the show itself. Second, since my three books were intended to celebrate the anniversary of the television series, it made more creative sense to deal only with that continuity. I’m not sure that freed me to tell bigger and bolder stories, but it did allow my editor and me not to deal with the minutia of novels we hadn’t read.
At the same time, it is not the case that the three Crucible novels are not consistent with a large majority of Trek literature. In fact, not only do the three tales avoid contradicting most of the literature, but they also do reference some other books.
Q: Any plans to write more of these standalone series that delve into characters like this?
A: I’m happy to explore the Star Trek characters, and I hope to be offered that possibility. Although on a smaller scale, I did get to examine Hikaru Sulu recently in Allegiance in Exile. At the moment, I have agreed to do another Trek novel, but I can’t discuss any of the details about it just yet.