With Picard hitting in January 2020 Trekkies everywhere went into overdrive. The legendary Patrick Stewart said he was done with the character, and that there would be no more on-screen (films or series) appearances of Starfleet’s Captain Jean Luc Picard. Fortunately, things changed! As the first few episodes sunk in fans had a lot of questions, about the backstory to the show. Some was explained in the three edition tie in comic Picard: Countdown. There was more to be filled in, much more.
Una McCormack wrote the wonderful Picard: The Last Best Hope, which delves deep into the events that led to Starfleet imposing their complete ban on all synthetic life. The book, which Sci-fi pulse reviewed also gives a real sense of the severity of Picard’s mental state, following his efforts to save millions of lives, as well as providing key information about other supporting characters that appear is season one of the show. Una has had and continues to have an exciting journey of her own, as an author and lecturer (Picard would surely approve of anyone passing on their skills and expertise — as we know, he is, after all, a great lover of literature). She was kind enough to chat to us, and give us some insight into the book straight from the writer, as well as tell us more about herself . . .
Ben Cassidy at Sci-fi Pulse: Una, now the first season is all done, what did you make of Picard? Surprised, shocked, swept away?
Una McCormack: I was in the fortunate position of seeing scripts as the show was in production, so there were few surprises in store for me in terms of plot. However, it’s always tricky to see from a script just how something will appear on the screen, so there were plenty of visual surprises for me from start to finish – things like the costume, or ship design, etc.
I loved the show. I loved its melancholy tone and the way that it was a story about finding hope and optimism all over again.
Ben: You had the task of creating the back story, in your book, Picard: Best Last Hope. How did being such a massive fan of the franchise help, or, make the writing process harder? Was there pressure as much as pleasure?
Una McCormack: Being a fan helps because you really do care about these characters and this setting. At the same time, you do worry that your interpretations of these beloved characters might not chime with the readers. Ultimately, you can’t let yourself worry about that too much, or you’ll get blocked. You just try to write the best book you possibly can, and hope you carry people with you.
Ben: How did writing your last book compare with your others?
Una: My last book, The Way to the Stars, was for Star Trek: Discovery, and it was a coming of age story. So the two books were very different – one about a young woman at the start of her career, the other about an older man after his career has ended.
Ben: Did you get to know what was going to happen, in the finale? If not, that must have been hard to write the book, whilst in the dark about events and outcome?
Una: Yes, as I say, I was reading scripts throughout the writing process. They kept me in the loop to be able to write the book.
Ben: Tell us about your experiences of Star Trek, growing up. Early encounters you remember, and why you fell in love with the show.
Una: Like many Brits growing up during the 70s and 80s, I didn’t find it easy to watch Star Trek: it wasn’t on very often. So my first encounter was with the movies – and I loved them! After that, when I was in my teens, I got hooked on The Next Generation. Again, it wasn’t very easy to watch in the UK: I had to borrow a video cassette with 2 episodes from Blockbuster every couple of weeks! I turned to the books to fill in the time between new episodes.
I love Star Trek for the same reason that I love all space opera: there’s nothing more exciting than a starship zooming across a starscape. It just promises adventure and something new and different.
Ben: Do you have a favourite series, favourite overall character, or stand out episode or movie?
Una: This is an obvious answer, but it is of course Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, more specifically Garak, and in particular ‘In the Pale Moonlight’! But I’ll also add how much I love Kira, who has such an interesting and sophisticated story arc.
As for movie – the one with the whales, of course!
Ben: Why do you think Star Trek is still relevant, loved by so many and continues to grow as a franchise?
Una: It is definitely still loved, as the interest in Picard proves, and I certainly think it’s relevant. It would have been very easy for the people making Picard to have done a retread of TNG, but they saw that times had changed. (And, anyway, The Orville is doing it.) I think Picard is about what happens to utopia when it falls on hard times; when it’s more difficult to live up to your ideals, and how you come back from that.
A franchise like this has to grow and change otherwise it’s nothing more than an exercise in nostalgia, and that’s where stories go to die.
Ben: Did you write fanfiction because you liked it before you were commissioned to?
Una: Yes, I have written fanfiction from when I was a girl. It grew out of playground games of Blake’s 7, via daydreams, to wanting to write down the stories I was imagining. I was writing DS9 fanfiction before I was commissioned; in fact, my fanfiction was recommended to the editor of the Star Trek books at Simon and Schuster, so it was what got me my writing break!
Ben: When did you know you wanted to be a writer and how tough has the journey been?
Una: I think I knew from when I was very young. I didn’t write much fiction as a teenager but came back to it in my twenties. I didn’t particularly have ambitions for this to be my full-time job – I was just doing it all the time because I wanted to. And then, when I’d practiced enough and got good enough, people were prepared to pay me, and now I realise it was always what I was going to end up doing.
Ben: Any sneak peeks going forward? Have you got any sequels lined up, a deal for more than one book?
Una: The Autobiography of Kathryn Janeway is coming out from Titan publishing in July – I think people might enjoy that!
There it is, the lowdown from the author, clearly a huge fan of the show and Star Trek, overall. A massive thanks to Una, for writing the book (and her previous works), and for talking with us. As is evident, Star Trek means so much to those who love it and has a way to stir the imagination and evoke powerful responses from its fans. So much so, that some can forge careers from it, as Una has. She’s proven once again that the characters are what really make the franchise special. Her work adds to the growing canonical volumes that help to keep us up to date with things that are so important to the show, but can’t be squeezed in. What’s apparent is that these additions aren’t merely cash-ins, but an important part of proceedings, and the chance for those of us who love the show as much as we do to tell their story, and show us why it’s so special for them, too.
‘Picard: The Last Best Hope’ is available now, published by Simon&Schuster (in all good book shops. You don’t need to wait until they re-open, you can order it online. With extra time on your hands, read it and then re-watch the series!). There’s already a downloadable audio-book edition, as well an audio CD, it’s on Kindle, and for those of us who reject the replicator or other technology, it is of course in print.
You can keep up to date with all the latest goings-on with regards to the writings of Una McCormack at unamccormack.co.uk