Star Trek: “Make-Believe”

In 2003 Pocket Books began a series of short-story anthologies commemorating the anniversaries of the various Star Trek series: Deep Space Nine‘s tenth anniversary in 2003, Voyager‘s tenth anniversary in 2005. The fall of 2006 would see the publication of an anthology celebrating the 40th-anniversary of the debut of the original Star Trek, and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

I approached Pocket editor Marco Palmieri in May 2005 in an unusual manner. I sent him a birthday card, a story pitch, and a note: “If you’re taking pitches for the 40th-anniversary anthology would you consider this?” The story pitch was offbeat, a Captain’s Table story, actually. As something that would tie together the entirety of Star Trek‘s history, I thought the kernel of an idea had potential.

It did have potential, just not in the way I’d planned.

Marco’s e-mail back said, “This isn’t what I’m looking for. But if you want to put together some ideas under these guidelines” — and he attached the his pitch document for the anthology — “take a couple of weeks and put something together.”

And that’s the story of how “Make-Believe,” my contribution to the 40th-anniversary Star Trek anthology, Constellations, began.

“Make-Believe” is, in the words of Marco Palmieri, an “altogether different sort of Star Trek story.” When an Enterprise shuttle crashes on a mysterious planet, to what lengths will Captain Kirk go to find the answers? And more importantly, what of those left behind?

I have found it to be an incredibly difficult story to describe, because no description can do the story justice. I saw an opportunity to tell a story that Star Trek has never really told before — after forty years, why does Star Trek still matter, and what are these stories trying to tell us?

Keith DeCandido said recently at Farpoint, “Your story made my brain explode. In a good way.” Which, in some ways, is what I wanted to do with “Make-Believe.” I wanted to write a challenging story, one that would engage the reader and force him to think and rethink the story when it was done. “Make-Believe” is not conventional. It’s not even linear. And no, it’s not autobiographical (though people keep asking me that).

It is, rather, a look at what Star Trek means and why, forty years on, it has continued to resonnate with people.

I’m sometimes asked what influenced “Make-Believe.”

Neil Gaiman was an influence; his Elric of Melnibone short story “One Life, Furnished With Early Moorcock” (and the comics adaptation P. Craig Russell did for Topps Comics in 1996) has some clear parallels, as does his Narnia story, “The Problem of Susan.” Robert Shearman’s Doctor Who audio play, Deadline, was another story that influenced my thinking. Also influential was Lawrence Miles’ Doctor Who novel, The Adventuress of Henrietta Street. For me, these four stories all showed how far a familiar modern mythology could be pushed. And finally, C.S. Lewis — The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe had an effect upon the writing of the story, though that was due more to the release of the film, then current in theaters as I was drafting the story.

Music, also, played a role. In my mind, I had a kind of “soundtrack” for the story assembled, but mixtapery isn’t something I have any faculty with; it’s more a case of “This song would sound right here, would evoke the right emotional passage here,” without any connection to the songs or scenes around them.

Some authors write to soundtracks, and I did for a time in writing “Make-Believe” for certain parts of the story. Howard Shore’s The Lord of the Rings soundtracks, John Williams’ Attack of the Clones soundtrack (terrible film, but it has a majestic love theme), Harry Gregson-Williams’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe soundtrack (though more for Imogen Heap’s “Can’t Take It In” which appeared on the soundtrack). I did not, strangely, listen to any Star Trek soundtracks; none hit the right “buttons.”

Five albums saw heavy rotation in my CD player during the composition of the story.

  • Carbon Leaf, Indian Summer
  • Coldplay, X&Y
  • Dido, Life for Rent
  • Green Day, American Idiot
  • Radiohead, Hail to the Thief

Dido’s album was simply easy to write to, while the others evoked specific emotional movements.

Radiohead’s “Sail to the Moon” and “Where I End and You Begin” would be on the “soundtrack” album for specific scenes, along with Coldplay’s “Fix You,” Embrace’s “Gravity,” Carbon Leaf’s “When I’m Alone” and “November (Makebelieve)” (from Shadows in the Banquet Hall), Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” Oasis’ “Let’s All Make-Believe” (from Standing on the Shoulder of Giants), Evanescence’s “My Immortal” (or possibly “Going Under,” both from Fallen). I would also recommend Carbon Leaf’s “The War Was In Color,” which the band began performing live in late 2005; skip the polished version on 2006’s Love Loss Hope Repeat and look for the acoustic demo version available on iTunes. Sequencing these tracks, however, I leave as an exercise to the reader, especially as that list is not complete.

Writers never work in a vacuum. Put those influences in a blender, add a dash of Star Trek, and see what comes out. It may surprise you.

When does “Make-Believe” take place?

Here’s what I tell people.

It takes place after “The Slaver Weapon” and before “City on the Edge of Forever.”

Any questions?

“Make-Believe” was awarded the 2006 Psi Phi Award for Best Short Story. Winning a Psi Phi is really about bragging rights more than anything. The Psi Phi Awards are voted on by Star Trek readers, and given the quality of competition this year (and the number of Star Trek short stories published in 2006) I was touched that Star Trek readers felt my story stood out above the pack.

One warning — If you’ve not read the story I recommend tissues.

ETA (02-21-2009): In November 2008, when the trailer for J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek film released and fandom went ga-ga over what it was and what it meant — because some things looked right and some things didn’t and what did it all mean — I smiled.

The passage of time gives one different perspectives, and the two years since the story’s publication, the three years since its writing, had given me a new look at “Make-Believe,” one born by the reaction of readers to the story, but also one born of the direction my life had taken.

One Star Trek novelist, Chris Bennett, took to referring to the film as the “Abramsverse,” in no small part due to vastly different look of certain elements; actor Chris Pine’s Enterprise looks nothing like William Shatner’s, for instance. To me, details like this were incidental. Star Trek is more about the idea than the incident. What mattered was what the story said, not how the story said it.

In my mind, “Make-Believe” is “the archetypal Star Trek story.” I’ve even gone so far as to say that it’s the first “Abramsverse” Star Trek story, to use Chris’ parlance.

What matters is the story that is told. And whether the story matters. Not how the story is told. Not how the story fits.

Writing “Make-Believe,” two years earlier, was like taking a leap into the unknown, into a place where concepts like “canon” and “continuity,” terms that Star Trek fandom tosses around like grenades in an armory, no longer apply. I feel as though Abrams is following in my footsteps, only he’s bringing more people along for the ride than I ever could.

That’s not such a bad place to be.

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Check out these references on “Make-Believe” and Star Trek: Constellations:


Check out other things I’ve written on “Make-Believe” and Star Trek: Constellations:

Allyn Gibson
27 May 2007

One thought on “Star Trek: “Make-Believe”

  1. I read “Make Believe” while backstage of a play I was performing in, while waiting for my scene. I probably shouldn’t’ve done that, as I was nearly too emotional to get into character afterward.

    For awhile there, I was dating a lovely woman who had never had any experience with any Star Trek in any medium. Now, the totality of her exposure to the franchise is “Make Believe”. I can’t think of a better exemplar.

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