Join us for another in a series of interviews with winners of Duty Post awards from our recent 2018 Awards Ceremony. Our goal is to give you insight into how our fleet’s best simmers write, and imagine their characters.
This month we’re interviewing the writer behind Ensign Sotak playing a Vulcan female science officer assigned to the USS Atlantis. She won the Cochrane Award: “Awarded to those science officers who have contributed greatly to the advance of science in the midst of their Starfleet career, by staying knowledgeable about their field, participating in the community of science, but most importantly, by placing their knowledge at the service of their ship and its mission.”
GALVEN: First off, It’s an honor and a privilege that we could sit down together for an interview and answering a few questions. Could you tell us a little about yourself for our readers out there?
SOTAK: Hello! Thank you for inviting me for this opportunity, I’m greatly honoured as well. I’m from Mexico, and I have a deep love of science and its community, so just like Sotak and other science officers in the fleet, I hope to one day contribute something to the world (or the Federation in our scientists’ case). I began simming in this group back in March of this year, and it is my first simming experience, one which I believe to be unmatchable. It is a wonderful and irreplaceable community, and I have deep appreciation and respect for it.
Winning such a distinguished award in our community must be a great feeling! Congratulations by the way! What have you done since then regarding where you’re at now within the science field?
Thanks! I was really surprised when I read I had won the award, because I am still just an ensign, so I was quite shocked though deeply moved, especially by Captain Brell’s words in the announcement. Regarding science, while Sotak herself has done what she has always done — continue her language and culture studies and present exams to credit her — she has also been working at the science labs in the Atlantis for different reasons, such as determining whether or not an underwater species was sentient going by the sounds they emit to communicate, analysing shield pulses from the Jenatris Cloud, where the Atlantis is currently headed and which has a gas that can mutate continuously for some as yet undiscovered reason, and saciating her own wish to learn more from her fellow scientists. About that, I really like your “Starfleet Intellectually Minded Scientists Convention”, I think it will prove to be meaningful for each of the scientists participating, and Sotak is no exception by any means.
Out of character though, recently I had the pleasure of meeting a new science officer on the Atlantis, Ensign Jhotta, and he asked me IC what my Academy thesis had been, basically, and I found that I had not thought about that until that moment, so I had to focus on that a bit to add to Sotak’s science backstory. It was really interesting. And obviously, if I ever want to become Chief Science Officer, Sotak has to possess a greater knowledge of each of the general sciences, so I am planning on focusing on that for a bit as well. Sotak is a learner and observer at heart, and I think that it legitimately reflects that.
Captain Brell mentioned in his presentation that you’ve shown a lot of attention to detail even since your first mission. Do you take any inspiration from films, television, or books when writing your character and her actions?
This is a very interesting question, and I am glad you asked it. I think that — especially with an overrepresented species such as Vulcans — not doing so would be humanising my character, which is not my point at all. I want aliens to be alien, and I try to eliminate all human aspects to my writing to make Sotak be, in this case, more Vulcan. And funnily enough, when people think of Vulcans, they would probably compare them all to Spock and base them from him, as even in Star Trek television that’s what used to happen a lot, and I can’t blame them because he truly is a popular image and a starting point for the creation of the species. But personally, whenever I stumble upon an action that I wrote Sotak doing which I find is more human than Vulcan, I try to think back to a book I read some time back where Sarek was narrating. I found a close look at his internal struggles to be quite enlightening concerning the Vulcan mind. Of course, he’s not representative of all Vulcans — in fact there’s quite a diversity in Vulcan culture — but he’s the one I have in mind the most when I write for Sotak. If she does something I think is too human, I think back on that book and ask myself “Is this something I see Sarek doing?” If the answer is yes, then I do it. If it is a no, then I think over if the reason for that is Sotak’s own different life and mind or if it is just something too human for either to do. One difference between the two I am very careful to keep in mind is her age; when we see Sarek the most, he has already lived quite some years and experienced very different contexts from what Sotak has; he’s even more disciplined emotionally speaking than Sotak is at the moment. And in contrast, something they have in common is how they approach other species: Sarek as a diplomat, and Sotak as a xenologist, so they both share some understanding of other species and how to treat them. For Vulcans, I think they are both quite open-minded.
The Cochrane Award is awarded to those who show great knowledge and participation within the community of science. Your character majored in Xenology and Linguistics at the academy. What have you expanded on IC in those chosen degrees?
My first mission was a great opportunity to show how Sotak handled her majors. Sotak’s mission was to go down to a planet and explore the natives’ community, since they were in an equivalent of a Bronze Age era. I remember writing how she sat down to mentally prepare herself for the mission, and basically her thinking “This is it, this is the reason I came up to space”. Of course the mission ended in disaster with an outside intervention and the Prime Directive broken, but she learned all she could from her visit, and once she was done with the mission, she spent her shore leave analysing all the data she had obtained. And even off-mission, that’s just what she does. When we were stationed in DS26 just before my first mission, she wandered around to observe the locals. I mentioned in a recent sim that she’d worked on a programme for the holodeck where she can interact with different historical versions of a culture to understand them better than with simple words. A feature of the programme is that the simulations can only registers their own language, so she is forced to practise the language as well. She didn’t get the chance to try it during shore leave, but maybe I will write a sim of her using her programme in the future.
Captain Brell said that Sotak’s stoic demeanor is treated to the readers with her internal thoughts and they’re anything, but dull. Could you elaborate more on what he means by that and is there room for more character development?
Of course there’s room for more character development! Loads of it, and it could come in so many different ways. An example of that is where she had to jump into the sea during the darkness of night, but once she was there she suffered through an old trauma she didn’t even remember having which affected her actions, and filled her of self-doubts as a result. A friend of hers in the Atlantis, Ensign Termine (now in the USS Apollo-A), helped her through this confusing period, and while she still clashed with certain aspects of his way of thinking, she was able to move on from this conflict, though she told herself to never forget it, if only as future reference. Another typical way to push for character development is though pon farr and the conflicts it can create, but I do not feel it is the time to use that resource yet, and I will not until I know perfectly clear how I want to use it. But mostly, in her day to day actions and thoughts, Sotak can seem to be an average Vulcan with more curiosity than one would expect, but only from the outside. In her mind, however, she is not an ice figure; that’s just who she strives to be, compliments of her Vulcan philosophy. It is always interesting to me to write her internal reactions to what she encounters that can clash against her way of thinking and have her barely display it, but more than that, she has many internal conflicts concerning her own person, and she constantly has to meditate on her actions and thoughts to remind herself who she is and why she does what she does. Sometimes she may not even have an answer, but as anyone, her conflicts will change as she grows, and she will gain a different perspective to things in time. What that is exactly is unknown to me, because it is only through her experiences that I can figure out who she will become in the future.
And finally, the science duty post is a particularly interesting one to write for given the many possibilities. What advice can you give the readers that choose the duty post?
I personally chose the post because science is something I am very passionate about, and science fiction is just my cup of tea. If everything you write comes out of an actual passion for knowledge, then you’ll do great. It’s not just about technobabble — though if done correctly that can be a useful tool to master — it’s about learning and imagining. And another thing: the science field is not just about physics and chemistry. You’re not a lesser scientist just because you decide to focus on meteorology. Whatever you choose to specialise in, make sure it is something you are passionate about (don’t let Sotak tell you any different). You may find that just by being yourself you can unearth the scientist that has been with you all along.
Thanks for your time, Ensign Sotak!
You can read more about Ensign Sotak on the wiki.