INTERVIEW: Author David Mack On How Surveillance State Inspired ‘Star Trek: Section 31: Control’

Yesterday Pocket Books released  Star Trek: Section 31: Control, written by New York Times bestselling author David Mack. The book centers on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Doctor Julian Bashir as he continues his personal quest to take down the illegal spy organization Section 31. This is Mack’s second novel in this series, following 2014’s StarTrek: Section 31: Disavowed. TrekMovie talked to the author about Control and its modern parallels, how Section 31 fits into the Star Trek universe and what Bashir has been up to in the novels following the DS9 finale.

Author David Mack

Mack On Section 31 And Julian Bashir’s Quest To Take It Down

TrekMovie.com: As noted on the back cover description for Control, Section 31 is as an “amoral” organization working on behalf of the Federation. It was yet another dark and controversial introduction into Trek lore from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a show which you worked on as a writer. What do you say to those who feel Section 31 doesn’t fit into the more utopian Roddenberry vision of the 24th century as seen on Next Generation and Voyager?

David Mack: I can’t speak to what Gene Roddenberry would have thought of Section 31. What I do know is that while humanity has often aspired to live in utopias, in fiction they tend to be deadly dull. Even one of the most famous utopias, the Garden of Eden, wasn’t terribly interesting until the Serpent arrived to bring temptation and crash the whole thing down.

That said, I can certainly understand the objections of Star Trek fans who feel that the mere existence of Section 31 undermines all that the Federation stands for — and that’s a view shared by many of the principal characters of the various series, particularly Doctor Julian Bashir.

One thing I’ve never understood is why even a small subset of Star Trek fandom would want a Star Trek: Section 31 television or film series. If there’s one thing the show and novels have always been clear about, it’s that Section 31 are not the heroes, and they do not deserve to be presented as people for whom we should desire success.

TM: DS9 introduced the notion of Dr. Julian’s Bashir’s interest in espionage, literally making it into a joke with “Our Man Bashir.” Section 31 and their dealings with Bashir was introduced two seasons later. What is it about Bashir that most motivates you to write about him and what is it that motivates him so mush to want to take down Section 31?

DM: I’ve long been drawn to Bashir because I felt a kinship with the character. When I was young I ended up enrolled in the “talented and gifted” programs offered by my schools, and I tended to test a few grade levels ahead of most of my peers. As such, I always felt out of step with my classmates, academically speaking, and as I entered adolescence I sometimes felt the urge to conceal these talents and abilities in order to fit in more easily. In that regard, I sympathized with Bashir’s lifelong struggle to hide his true nature as a genetically enhanced human with superior senses, reflexes, and intellectual talents.

As far as Bashir’s near-fanatical devotion to opposing Section 31, it goes to the heart of his nature. He is a romantic and an idealist. He believes fervently in the public image of the Federation, and as both a citizen and as a Starfleet officer, he considers it his duty to defend those ideals against subversion or betrayal. He was deeply offended by Section 31’s invitation to him during the episode “Inquisition,” and was appalled by their boast that they are accountable only to themselves. Section 31 represents a fascistic, autocratic subculture within the Federation, one that is antithetical to that society’s core values. To Bashir, they are a cancer to be excised.

Sloan and his fellow Section 31 operatives in “Inquisition”

Julian Bashir Has Been Busy Since DS9

TM: If a fan of Deep Space Nine hasn’t been reading the novels, but decided to pick up Control, how much of Bashir would they recognize so many years on? And what are the biggest changes youve brought to the character since “What You Leave Behind?”

DM: Bashir has undergone some serious life changes since the events of the DS9 series finale. And I’m not just talking about the fact that he grew a beard.

He was drawn into intelligence work by his former love Sarina Douglas (of the Jack Pack, which was introduced in the DS9 episode “Statistical Probabilities,” and whom Bashir cured of her “locked-in” state in the episode “Chrysalis”), with whom he reunited romantically during their covert mission to the Breen homeworld (novel Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game).

In the DS9 post-finale novels, it was revealed that the Andorian people had been suffering a centuries-long fertility crisis that was threatening the continuation of their species. Doctor Bashir led a team of researchers that discovered the Federation had long suppressed information that could have cured the Andorians. Defying a reactionary Federation president pro tem, Bashir employed his Section 31 contacts to steal the information and then used it to cure the Andorian people, making him a folk hero to some and a pariah to others. It got him court-martialed and drummed out of Starfleet — but when an Andorian won the next presidential election, it also earned him a pardon. (The Fall, Book III: A Ceremony of Losses).

When we see him in my two Section 31 novels (Disavowed and Control), he is a civilian doctor living and working on Andor, the only Federation world that will issue him a medical license. He is living with Sarina Douglas, who has left Starfleet and now serves in the Federation Security Agency (a civilian intelligence service) as a covert operative. By now Bashir is older, wiser, a bit jaded, but still committed to taking down Section 31, which he has infiltrated as a double agent.

Mack’s 2010 novel is one of many that have been telling the tale of Bashir’s life after Deep Space Nine

Control’s Modern Parallels

TM: The issue of espionage is quite topical. For you, do you see this as a classic Star Trek-as-allegory story and how does Control explore the issues of the modern surveillance state?

DM: A big part of my inspiration for Control has been my growing frustration with, and apprehension of, the burgeoning U.S. surveillance state.

Between the marked increase in CBP harassment of international travelers (including U.S. citizens), the increasingly lax oversight of the FISA Court, the spread of the NSA’s Echelon data dragnet, and, just today, the passing of a law by Congress to strip the American people of legal privacy protections online, all in the name of commerce and power, we live in terrifying times.

Extrapolate from our present circumstances and ask, “What would happen if we built a system to monitor all this and analyze it with predictive algorithms for the sake of law enforcement and national security? And what if that system slipped its subtle bonds of command and control and started doing things its own way? What would we do then?”

David Mack drew inspiration for Control from his “frustration” with “the burgeoning U.S. surveillance state”

New Star Trek Novels Are Free To Get ‘Bloody’

TM: They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but this one stands out and you yourself described it as “blood-soaked.” You have obviously written novels all over the different Star Trek eras and properties. Do you see it as either expected, or possibly even an opportunity, to up the level conflict and violence when dealing with DS9 books and characters?

DM: Since shortly after the feature film Star Trek: Nemesis marked the apparent end of the prime timeline in Star Trek (at least until the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery), the novels and other narrative tie-ins to Star Trek have been granted a lot more freedom to alter the status quo in our fiction, and to tell the kinds of stories that might not have been approved in the past.

While the novels have, for the most part, tried to steer clear of excessive gore or explicit sexual content, and we’ve tried to be sparing with the use of mild profanity, we have taken advantage of the greater freedom afforded us since roughly 2003 to tell bolder, bigger, more consequential tales. In my case, many of those stories have been action-packed and violent. I think someone once described my second full-length Star Trek novel, a TNG adventure titled A Time to Heal, as “the most graphically violent Star Trek novel ever written.” I may have topped it since then.

As far as Control, I wanted a blood-red cover to fit the story, which is brutal, tense, violent, and — by the end — genuinely bloody. It probably won’t surprise anyone to learn that I was in a rather angry state of mind when I wrote the outline.

Cover for Mack’s Section 31: Control

David Mack’s  Star Trek Section 31: Control  was released on Tuesday, March 28 and retails for $7.99. It is available discounted at Amazon in paperback and ebook. You can also purchase a signed copy at David Mack’s website.

You can find David Mack online at davidmack.pro or on Twitter @DavidAlanMack.

Part 2 of David Mack interview coming soon

TrekMovie has more with David Mack, where he talks about writing the first novel tie in to the upcoming CBS All Access series Star Trek Discovery, his next Titan novel, thoughts on the book he wrote in 2010 tied into the Kelvin universe and more. Keep an eye out for that later this week.

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