In July (2015), Peter David (PAD) will celebrate the 17-year anniversary of Star Trek: New Frontier, with a 3-eBook series called ‘The Returned’; marking his own return to writing, as well, after the stroke he suffered over two years ago, temporarily silenced the world of Captain Mackenzie Calhoun and his ship, the U.S.S. Excalibur. (I have a question, already… Why is there an Ambassador Class ship on the cover of Part 1?)
Having met PAD at Salt Lake Comic Con‘s FanXperience in April of 2014, I knew he had a New Frontier outline in the works. I know, too, that I speak for millions of fans in welcoming Peter David back, and in saying, we can’t wait to read these continuing adventures in the New Frontier saga. Peter David is a true ‘master of the game’ and we have missed his stories immensely. In light of this highly anticipated return, I’m going back to where it all began…
In 1996, ‘dyed-in-wool Trek fan, from kidhood,’ John J. Ordover (then, Sr. Editor of Pocket Books’ Star Trek line) had the idea for a new book series: New Frontier. He wanted the series to be ‘lightly connected to the shows on TV’; he wanted ‘a new crew, whose fates were to be determined in the books’; and John wanted it to be ‘set in an area of space that had been tightly controlled by a hard-assed empire, that had just collapsed, leaving the area choatic.’ (Thus, mirroring the politics of the day, in grand Star Trek tradition.)
Enter the captain, and his ship and crew. “I wanted it to have a captain who was the opposite of the sophisticated, contemplated captains we had gotten in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine – [at first] and Voyager,” Ordover told me. “I wanted him to be a rogue; a loose-canon.” When I asked him whom Captain Mackenzie ‘M’k’n’zy’ Calhoun was based-upon, he told me to ask Peter David; as it happens, I had, at FanX, last April. “I based Mackenzie on William Wallace (Braveheart) who led his people in an uprising against Edward I,” Peter told me, during our brief interview in Artists’ Alley. (Hence, the purple-eyed, teen-aged warlord’s leading his people in the uprising against Xenex’s oppressors, the Danteri.)
A captain needs a ship; (in Calhoun’s case, make that two…) John Ordover had one more request: “I wanted a ship called Excalibur.” So begins the legacy of Captain Mackenzie Calhoun, assigned to the newly-refit, Ambassador Class U.S.S. Excalibur, patrolling Sector 221-G in a humanitarian aid and support mission, after the collapse of the Thallonian Empire. John had no doubts [at the time] that New Frontier would be popular (which it is) and that it would sell a lot of books (which it has).
Calhoun’s unorthodox crew… Enter Paula Block (former Senior Director of Licensing at Paramount, Nickelodeon and CBS), who asked John Ordover and PAD not to make up all of the characters, but to incorporate some of the characters from televised Star Trek into Calhoun’s crew – that’s how Selar and Shelby and Robin Lefler wound up in there,” Block said. “And of course Calhoun and company had interactions with Picard and Jellico and many others. Arex and M’Ress wound up in the series after our department gave Pocket Books the green light to start using characters from The Animated Series.”
An interesting bit of trivia: When giving Commander Shelby her full name, Ordover and PAD paid a ‘lil’ tribute’ to Paula Block, by naming Calhoun’s first officer (and, former fiancé) Elizabeth Paula; which, becomes ‘Eppy’, when he wants to get under her skin; (which, is often). Elizabeth, comes from the actress who portrayed Shelby in TNG’s ‘The Best of Both Worlds.’
Besides Shelby, Dr. Selar and Robin Lefler (whose backstories are extensively drawn out), there’s Soleta (the half-Vulcan, half-Romulan science officer); Mark McHenry, (the eccentric navigator); Zak Kebron, (the unflappable, mountainous Brikar security head); Burgoyne 172, (the flirtatious, no-nonsense Hermat chief engineer) and Si Cwan, (the ‘unofficial’ Thallonian Ambassador and guide to Sector 221-G). Plus, there are loads of others thrown in, throughout the series, as well.
With the guidelines in place and the characters established, it was now up to Peter David to flesh-out the story – and, did he ever! In July 1997, the first book (in a four-book series), launched the unprecedented New Frontier saga, quickly making it a New York Times Bestseller; ‘House of Cards’, ‘Into the Void’, ‘The Two-Front War’ and ‘End Game’ were then, incorporated into a special hardcover, which released in February 1998 – (my copy is signed by Peter David; as is the one-shot comic book ‘Double Time’ and the hardcover of ‘Restoration’ – when Calhoun comes back from the dead…)
So popular is Peter David’s writing, that New Frontier has spawned 21 novels, 6 comic books, 5 short stories and an anthology of short stories (written by PAD, and some of Star Trek’s bestselling authors). Because Peter David has made New Frontier his own, Calhoun’s crew have seen their own stand-alone adventures; but they’ve also been included in other crossovers: The Captain’s Table, Double Helix, Gateways, Tales From the Dominion War, the Destiny series; not to mention other fan fiction and online games. That’s a high honor, in and of itself, as to how beloved New Frontier has become.
Captain Calhoun even got his own action figure (through a special, limited-time offer from Star Trek Communicator magazine)! That’s pretty-damn impressive, for a starship captain who has never even had his own television series!
I’ve read a lot of Star Trek fiction over the past 25 years, but New Frontier is some of the BEST Star Trek out there. Why? Because, it’s not your daddy’s Star Trek! It’s irreverent, it’s in your face, it’s hilariously funny and it goes against the grain of everything we’ve ever seen. Ordover gives all of the credit to Peter David, for New Frontier’s continued success: “Let me say that ideas are a dime-a-dozen; but what counts is the hard work of pounding out word after word after word,” he said, of PAD’s writing of the series. I agree; besides DS9 and Benjamin Sisko, New Frontier and Captain Calhoun remain my all-time favorite Star Trek series.
Captain Calhoun is not your typical, run-of-the-mill, cookie-cutter captain; he’s hard, brash, surly and sarcastic; he uses rules and regulations only as guidelines, making up his own order, as he goes from mission to mission. At times, he’s almost a superhero – what with his uncanny sixth-sense to danger and his gut instincts on any given situation; his formidable strength and cunning on the battlefield are just beneath the surface, giving him a confidence that is unmatched; his unwavering ability to beat a no-win scenario has been tested time and time, again… Yet, Calhoun is tempered by his idiosyncratic crew, who keeps his savagery at bay, keeping his moral compass in check, while remaining loyal to him to a fault. Now that you know some of the behind-the-scenes ‘birthing pains’ (as Paula Block referred to them) that New Frontier went through; now…that you know who the players are; now…that Peter David’s New Frontier series ‘The Returned’ is only three months away… NOW – is the time, for you to go back to the beginning and see what New Frontier has to offer.
‘Til, next time, see ya ‘out there…’
Lt. Eric Cone