Cutting her teeth writing Deep Space Nine fanfic and short stories for Doctor Who Magazine before graduating to licensed Trek novels such as Cardassia: The Lotus Flower, Enigma Tales and Picard: The Last Best Hope, Dr. Una McCormack perhaps best exemplifies the aspirations of every science fiction enthusiast. In her latest book, The Autobiography of Mr. Spock, McCormack sets out on the unenviable task of giving voice to a character that, as she aptly puts it, rivals iconic folk figures of the past such as Robin Hood. The New York Times best-selling author was gracious enough to indulge me with an interview.
AIPT: Crucially important question: what was your introduction to Trek? For me it was TNG and the original cast movies. I know you have a specific affinity for DS9.
Una McCormack: I suppose I’ve had three introductions, really: the original cast movies in the early ’80s when I was [in my] pre-teens, then TNG in 1988 when I was a teenager and then DS9 in the mid-’90s when I was in my twenties. Each of these hit me at a different age, when I was interested in watching something slightly different. Now I’m enjoying Lower Decks and can’t wait to show my 7 year-old Prodigy!
AIPT: How has working on The Autobiography of Mr. Spock differed from other Trek-related projects you’ve been involved with, such as Cardassia: The Lotus Flower or Enigma Tales?
UM: It’s been great to work with an artist! Russell Walks has done incredible art for both the Spock and the Janeway biographies. Along with the editor, Cat Camacho, the three of us have had a great deal of fun discussing the images for inclusion. That’s been a particularly fun and collaborative part of the process.
AIPT: Appearing in the original series, the original cast films, a Next Gen two-parter, the Abrams films, and Star Trek Discovery, Spock is arguably the most prolific character the franchise has ever had to offer. Does tackling such a massive figure come with any added pressure?
UM: Oh, absolutely! This is such a beloved character and one who feels almost as legendary these days as folk figures like Robin Hood. It was hugely important that we got Spock right in this book.
AIPT: What measures do you take in inhabiting the persona of Spock? A feat you achieve rather well. His stoic matter-of-factness, his subtle undercurrent of wry humor, his humanity for lack of a better word — do you go back and absorb the original series and films? Do you watch interviews and footage of Leonard Nimoy?
UM: I watched everything. Some key episodes and moments several times. TOS, the films, Discovery. Even the relevant Short Treks! I watched Adam Nimoy’s documentary a couple of times too, and also read Leonard Nimoy’s memoirs. Most of all, I wanted to get the ‘voice’ right. When you get the voice, everything else falls into place.
AIPT: With such a rich pre-established history, was it a challenge to interject fresh backstory of which long-time fans of the character may not readily be aware?
UM: Weaving together the complex threads of the multiple shows really was one of the biggest challenges of the book. Not just making sure we had all the pieces lined up, but making sure that the narrative didn’t become too expositional. It helped that Spock was explaining events to Picard about which Picard would know nothing, but there’s always a risk in a book like this that it can get very descriptive. I hope moving back and forth in the chronology helps with this to some extent, too, without getting too confusing.”
AIPT: You aptly draw a number of comparisons between Spock and Picard. Much of the book, and not merely the chapter entitled ‘Picard,’ is written to Jean-Luc specifically with him in mind as the biography’s chief recipient. What prompted this unique decision?
UM: A book written in first person like this benefits from having an audience in mind. In the case of the Janeway book, the idea was that her memoir was for the public, learning about the captain of the famous Voyager. But for this book, we wanted something more personal — Spock writing for someone he considered a close personal friend, someone with whom he would feel able to be completely honest about his life. Because Kirk and McCoy were no longer alive, we settled on Picard as the ideal confidante. As I was writing, more and more connections between the two men became apparent; both temperate and moderate, both wise, both reserved and outwardly unemotional. I hope it adds another layer to the book.
AIPT: Spock appears to be writing this biography right before the events of the 2009 film, before traveling back in time into the Kelvin timeline. Right before Romulus is consumed by a supernova. What was the impetus behind using this as a starting point? Were other periods in Spock’s twilight years considered?
UM: For the book to work, there needs to be a moment ‘in frame’ where Spock is sitting and writing this account. This seemed a natural break point in his story, one where he could look back over his life and also explain his reasoning for the mission he’s about to embark upon. He’s setting his affairs in order, in case he doesn’t come back.
AIPT: Nimoy aside, do you have a favourite Spock actor? Zachary Quinto? Ethan Peck?
UM: I’m very fond of the little boy who plays Spock in Disco! And I like Ethan Peck’s performance very [much]. He really gets Spock’s dry humor. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this in Strange New Worlds.
AIPT: Will you or the fine people at Titan Books be working on any future Trek biographies? I’ve heard some good word of mouth regarding the Kirk, Picard and Janeway bios. Any non-captain characters to tackle going forward?
UM: Kira’s biography would be very interesting to write, I think. She’s a character who lives through huge historical changes and personal growth while remaining her courageous and authentic self.
AIPT: Have you yourself attempted Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy’s bean stew or mint julep recipes?
UM: “The beans are soaking as I type! My good friend and excellent chef, Mark Poynton, came up with the recipe for the book. I hope people give it a try because Mark’s food is fantastic!
AIPT: Dr. McCormack, I thank you for your time. Live long and prosper.
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