Research for that weekend getaway to ShiKahr just got a whole lot easier.
“It’s one of the coolest things I have ever been a part of,” Dayton Ward said of his work on Hidden Universe: Star Trek – A Travel Guide to Vulcan.
Author or co-author of 34 stories set in the Star Trek universe, one might find Ward’s joy over his work on the Vulcan Travel Guide to be a fascinating response. However, the more one knows about the project itself and Ward’s experience as a writer, the more one understands his delight in getting to explore a new frontier in Gene Roddenberry’s sandbox.
“Words. I push ’em.” Words are usually Ward’s contribution to Star Trek lore, with stories set in The Original Series, The Next Generation, crossover events, or tales set in the expanded universe of Seekers, Vanguard or S.C.E., with frequent collaborator Kevin Dilmore. So when Insight Editions called and asked him to produce a travel guide to Vulcan, Ward was all in.
“All they had was the idea to do this travel guide to Vulcan. What could I do with that?” Ward explained. “After I got the greenlight, I had to come up with everything. I took some cues from real travel guides and came up with an outline.”
Experienced authors might find writing a travel guide set in a fictional world that they are acquainted to be a cakewalk of a task. Not so, states Ward, who described the fun process of coming up with ideas to place in the guide, only to have to fill in all the blanks himself without a plot or story guiding his way.
Less experienced fans in Star Trek canon and mythology might have found the task at hand a daunting one. However, in the savvy and well-versed hands of Ward, the question was just how much to include from the secondary materials.
I watched like the five episodes that had something on Vulcan. Then included stuff from the novels, comics or the role-playing games, even if it’s an oblique reference. Hardcore fans will pick up on those references that the casual fan won’t, but if I did my job right, everyone will like it. I was encouraged to be irreverent, to have some word play with the names of places or references of things that happened. I did a few sidebars, like ‘What to do if you’re given a dying Vulcan’s Katra’ or ‘If you find yourself participating in a Vulcan marriage ritual.’ The trick is to have fun with it, but not poke fun at it.
Amusing sidebars aside, this is not even the part of the project that makes Ward squeal with glee. For the first time in his publication career, Ward was brought in on the other side of an assignment – art. Generally, a writer writes the novel and the publisher hires an artist to produce the cover art.
I never did the art process on a book before. I would introduce a section of the city, the capital or Vulcan’s Forge and would have to draw maps to show where everything in the city is in relation to each other, how to get around, restaurants, hotels, what’s interesting to look at, etc. I drew these maps on chart paper, scanned them and sent them over to the artists illustrating the book, who worked off my maps. They were asking me all the time of what they could do in regards to including photos. In the beginning, we were thinking of taking HD screen caps, but it became apparent there was not enough material. We did not realize how much was unusable as the resolution was not high enough. So, we ended up just doing illustrations of cityscapes, locations, maps. It was a better call, giving it its own identity.”
Research was not only done in the furthest corners of the Alpha Quadrant – Ward also took a look at popular travel guides on bookshelves today to present an experience as close as possible to one a reader might find in a Frommer’s Guide. He also scoured the internet for sites that translated common English phrases into Vulcan so visitors would know how to ask “where is the bathroom?”.
Hidden Universe is a much larger series that will also see travel guides produced for the Marvel Cosmos and more. Is there a possibility of another Star Trek Travel Guide if the Vulcan book resonates with fans? Possibly, but Ward admitted once you get past Vulcan and the Klingon homeworld, casual fans might get lost.
I think the popularity of Spock helped this one get published. Vulcan is one of the few planets we have a lot of background information on. Once you get past Vulcan, there’s the Klingon homeworld and Romulus. It might become too much of a niche.
However, if Insight Editions does decide to return to the Final Frontier, Ward will be ready.
The trick is to have some fun with the Universe, but not allow it go into parody. It is different than writing a novel, but it was a lot of fun.
UPDATED: TREKMOVIE REVIEW OF VULCAN TRAVEL GUIDE
One of the more unique Star Trek merchandising releases since CBS has made its mark with the license, Hidden Universes: Star Trek – A Travel Guide to Vulcan will leave fascinated by the finished results. Cleverly, Ward instantly hooks readers with page one, as certain familiar Vulcan Ambassador to the Federation writes the Introduction, which is one of only several awesome guest appearances which open each city section in the guide; one of the more terrific introductions is to Vulcan’s Forge, written by a well-known member of the Enterprise crew.
Canonically speaking, there has never been a ton of background information about the planet Vulcan, besides some of the expanded non-canon references, such as the novels and role playing games. However, Ward’s Vulcan Travel Guide instantly becomes a terrific source for all things Vulcan, including a compilation of significant historical events and its relevance from the Prime Timeline that fans should appreciate.
Visually, the Vulcan Travel Guide has its own distinct appearance, as Insight Editions chose to use illustrations by artists Livio Ramondelli and Peter Markowski. The artwork includes maps, portraits of the guest writers as well as pictures of cityscapes, mountains and more. Fans should be warned however, as there is a merging sometimes between the Prime and Kelvin Timelines when it comes to images, especially in the early pages on “What to Wear.” Hopefully, readers will not allow this issues to stop from enjoying what is the most informative, and fun, look ever on the planet Vulcan.
Hardcore Star Trek fans may have a tendency to get in their own way when it comes to the enjoyment of the off-beat when it comes to the franchise. However, this would be a shame in the case for the Vulcan Travel Guide, where even the most hard-to-please fan should be pleasantly surprised by giving this unique publication a chance to entertain. Just be sure to leave any hangups on the differences between the Prime and Kelvin Timelines in the Gamma Quadrant.
Hidden Universe: Star Trek – A Travel Guide to Vulcan is on sale now.