Today I was shocked and saddened to learn about the passing of author Margaret Wander Bonanno. According to information shared by her family, she died unexpectedly of natural causes. There’s precious little information available at this time, but my thoughts now are for her family and friends.
Though she wrote more than a dozen other novels of fiction and science fiction, I came to know her back in the mid-1980s thanks to her first Star Trek novels, Dwellers In the Crucible and Strangers from the Sky. I greatly enjoyed the latter book when I read it soon after its initial publication, and to this day it remains one of my all-time favorite Star Trek tales. She was one of the great contributors to that era of Star Trek publishing and — though I didn’t know it at the time — an inspiration for me years before the silly notion of becoming a writer entered my head.
While she’s credited with writing five other Trek novels, she’d be the first to tell you one of them really isn’t hers. How one novel, Probe, came to be is a story only she can tell the way it deserves to be told, and you can find that account on her website’s bio page. As for the novel from which Probe is derived, Music of the Spheres, it is just what you’d expect it to be: a wondrous tale told by a master, that just happens to also be a Star Trek story. My copy of the original manuscript is one of the true prizes of my rather disturbingly large library.
She was a gifted writer with a wicked sense of humor, but also a kind soul, warm and welcoming when upstarts like me started showing up on the Star Trek fiction scene. I still remember the first time I met her at the Shore Leave convention, already established as a writer but still smiling like a fanboy as I handed over my copy of Strangers for her to sign. This happened soon after one of the true highlights of my Star Trek writing career, when Margaret joined Kevin Dilmore and I as we teamed up with writers Mike W. Barr, Dave Galanter, Christopher L. Bennett, and Howard Weinstein along with editor Keith R. A. DeCandido for Mere Anarchy, the six-part eBook novella series published to coincide with Star Trek‘s 40th anniversary in 2006. From the beginning of that project’s development, it was a no-brainer that she would write the sixth, concluding piece of our little celebratory saga, and one has but to read her contribution to understand why she was perfect to anchor the series.
Back to Strangers from the Sky for one more bit of reminiscing: For those unfamiliar with the novel, it depicts humanity’s first encounter with Vulcans in the early 21st century, with Kirk and Spock traveling through time and keeping the fugitive Vulcans safe until they can secure transport away from Earth and back to their home planet. Part of the book involves events from a fictional novel Kirk is reading, also called Strangers from the Sky, and it becomes apparent that the supposedly fictional story is chronicling real events in which he and Spock somehow took part.
While Margaret’s story was later superseded by the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact, which depicts the “canonical version” of the first visit by Vulcans to Earth in the mid-21st century, her novel has remained a fan favorite since its initial publication in 1987. Skip ahead to 2003, when I was working with Kevin on our first Star Trek novel collaboration, A Time to Sow. I was writing an early scene in that book when I made an impulsive decision to reference Strangers from the Sky. In this case, it was in the form of Will Riker giving Captain Picard a copy of the fictional novel Kirk was reading. As Riker and Picard were both involved in the film’s events and that version of first contact, it’s a bit of an in-joke on my part.
When I inserted the reference, I had no real idea I might do it again, but a few years later I was in the midst of writing another Star Trek: The Next Generation novel and found a way to drop in another nod to Margaret’s book. Then I did it a couple of more times as circumstances allowed, such as it becoming a book Picard read to his young son. A few months ago while writing Moments Asunder, my latest Trek novel which will be published later this year, I once again found a way to work in a reference. Even though I never call out the book by name in any of these instances, sharp-eyed readers still catch the “Easter egg,” which I once explained as a recurring tip of the hat to Margaret. Like I said earlier: Strangers remains a personal favorite.
At some point, she caught wind of what I was doing and wrote me a private note on Facebook, thanking me for acknowledging her in that way and how much it meant to her. As I told her at the time: “I know it sounds corny, but you and the others writing Trek novels back in those days inspired me to try my hand at writing. I have you all to thank for where I am now.”
It’s true. Along with her contemporaries, Margaret Wander Bonanno helped to set the bar for Star Trek novels, elevating them to something more than simple “tie-in fiction” and establishing a standard my colleagues and I strive to emulate. It’s an honor to be in her company, and she will truly be missed.
Thank you, Margaret. For everything.