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Ordained By ‘Star Trek’

In 2001, Westview Press published a book written by Ross S. Kraemer, William Cassidy and Susan L. Schwartz called RELIGIONS OF STAR TREK.

I was captivated by that title. I have always thought that what made “Star Trek” in all its incarnations so popular, and what separated it so distinctly from so much televised, derivative pabulum, was its – yes – sense of spirituality.

I thought it amazing that the more series creator Gene Roddenberry tried to steer the premise of “Star Trek” away from the “illogic” of religion, the more religious themes became central to many episodes.

Think of all its best episodes. From the original series, “Bread and Circuses” to the “Inner Light” episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (I would include “Who Watches the Watchers?” from that series as well), viewers have come to expect, and have received a lot more, than the standard buttons and tropes of science fiction. There was always something transcendent about the best of “Star Trek.” It took us to another realm, out of known space, to vistas we had never seen or experienced before. It continues to border on something spiritual, even religious, for a lot of fans.

Why? It promised a future that was better than the one we are in now. It promised that technology will deliver us from the evils of disease, wars and natural disasters. It proved there was a future for a kinder, gentler humanity.

I soon realized that no episode really tackled the nature of religious belief head-on. I spent many a dream-filled night thinking about that, early on, while producers were developing “The Next Generation.”(Even some of the original soundtrack of “Star Trek: The Original Series” has a poetry, grandeur and spirituality that ensures it may well live forever in the hearts of fans. Witness the haunting opening score by Alexander Courage to the episode, “Tomorrow is Yesterday.”)

There is an interesting history to my ”Star Trek: The Next Generation” novel, WE’LL GATHER AT RUAPEHU.

The story précis dates back to 1983, before I submitted it to the producers of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” It wasn’t until September 1988 that I pitched the idea, through my agent in Lancaster, Pa., to Maurice Hurley of Paramount Studios. Late in September 1988, I received a phone call from creative consultant (then) and soon-to-be story editor Tracy Torme (singer Mel Torme’s son and, eventually, executive producer of TV’s “Sliders”) about visiting with Paramount and possibly serving as a creative consultant.

My story précis was rejected officially by Paramount on March 13, 1989, via a letter by Melinda Snodgrass, script editor at the time.

However, Tracy called me and liked the fact that I was a lifelong fan of “Star Trek.” Tracy asked if I could work with them, if I visited Los Angeles.

Amazing, huh? I could have been a contributing writer to “Star Trek: The Next Generation” if only the circumstances were better. Which they weren’t. But that’s another story.

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WE’LL GATHER AT RUAPEHU is set approximately six earth-months after the final Next Generation episode, “All Good Things” (Stardate 47988.1) By the way, one year is 917.35 stardates. A half year is 458.67.

Just for the record, the “Star Trek: Generations” movie is Stardate 48632.4.

WE’LL GATHER AT RUAPEHU had its origins in many episodes. Frankly, there is something even spiritual about the episode of Next Generation’s “Dark Page,” production number 259, which aired on Nov. 3, 1993, or Stardate 47254.1.

I was even inspired by the scene where Data stops the Borg- Captain Picard by arresting Captain Picard-Locutus’s arm, breaking off Locutus’s artificial appendage, as Data penetrates the Borg Collective on “The Best of Both Worlds: Part 2.” I used a similar scene for my novel and script, where the ringworld engineer maintenance being, Honore, stops Data’s arm from grabbing a weapon.

The many, many scenes where Data tries to educate others about his status as an android, to little effect, infused the dialog between him and Kesha, Alhamisi Uhura and Benefactor Ali Onyango in my novel.

The scene in this novel where Data appears to sport a “halo” as a result of the ringworld curvature is original to the “Star Trek” universe.

***

How did WE’LL GATHER AT RUAPEHU eventually arrive as a novel?

Disgusted with the lousy “Star Trek” films and discouraged since “Star Trek” ended its TV appearances in 2005, I rented some “Next Generation” DVDs from the library while this was being written. I really missed the show. I also streamed CBS for many of those episodes and rewatched all of them, mesmerized by how good they were.

So in writing this, it was great to create an episode I’d never seen.

It took some time to write the novel from its beginning on Oct. 13, 2012 until its completion on March 8, 2018. So it came to fruition in less than six years. I finished the plot outline on Father’s Day, June 15, 2014. But it took about another four years to complete.

What an ordeal.

But I think it is a beauty, and I am very proud of WE’LL GATHER AT RUAPEHU.

***

If this is ever made into a movie, here is my preferable cast of characters and the actors who could easily portray them:

CAST

Bright One, also known as Honore: Sting

His Eminence Alhamisi Uhura: James Earl Jones

Captain Nyota Uhura: Nichelle Nichols

Benefactor Ali Onyango: Ben Kingsley

Isaac Asimov (hologram): Paul Giamatti

Kesha: T.J. McGibbon

A’isha: Carolina Bartczak

Kemal ibn Ishaq: Tom Mison

Benefactor Morsi Gomaa: Rufus Sewell

Chaba Fetama: Cornell John

The rest of the cast (of course): Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Sir Patrick Stewart

Machine-Man, or Lieutenant Commander Data: Brent Spiner

Commander William T. Riker: Jonathan Frakes

Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge: LeVar Burton

Lt. Commander Worf: Michael Dorn

Guinan: Whoopi Goldberg

Counselor Deanna Troi: Marina Sirtis

Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher: Gates McFadden

Lieutenant Reginald Endicott Barclay III: Dwight Schultz

The story of Data and the artificial world of Ruapehu were inspired by this poem:

I died as mineral and became a plant,

I died as plant and rose to animal.

I died as animal and I was human.

Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?

Yet once more I shall die human,

To soar with angels blessed above.

And when I sacrifice my angel soul

I shall become what no mind ever conceived.

– “A Stone I Died” Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi Persian Poet (1207-1273)

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