Dorothy “D.C.” Fontana, RIP.

The Star Trek world has suffered another heartbreak with the loss of Dorothy Fontana, who passed away on December 2nd after a brief illness.

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Already an accomplished television writer by the time she met Gene Roddenberry in 1963 while he was producing a new series called The Lieutenant, Fontana stayed with him when he began pitching Star Trek to different studios the following year. Hired by Roddenberry as his production secretary when he landed at Desilu Studios in 1964, Fontana was there from the very beginning with the first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage.”

WrittenByFontanaWhen the series was finally greenlit after the production of a second, better received pilot episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” Fontana served as the show’s story editor. Roddenberry asked her to write an episode from one of the story ideas included in his series “writer’s bible.” The idea she chose would become “Charlie X,” the first of eight teleplays she would contribute to the original series. One of those, “Journey to Babel,” along with her own “This Side of Paradise” and Theodore Sturgeon’s “Amok Time” provided us with vital backstory key to understanding not just the character of Mr. Spock but also the Vulcan people and their civilization.

And this is really just the tip of the iceberg. Following her tenure on the original show, she wrote scripts for numerous television series throughout the ensuing thirty years, including genre shows like Logan’s Run, Land of the Lost, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Babylon 5. In 1973, she returned to Star Trek as script editor for the animated series, where she also contributed a script for one of that show’s most popular episodes, “Yesteryear,” which offered even more insight into Spock, his family, and the planet Vulcan.

Along with fellow Star Trek alumni David Gerrold, Robert H. Justman, and Edward K. (“Eddie”) Milkis, Fontana joined Gene Roddenberry in the fall of 1986 to develop Star Trek: The Next Generation. Fontana co-wrote with Roddenberry that series’ first episode, “Encounter At Farpoint,” for which she received a Hugo award nomination. She wrote or co-wrote three additional scripts and provided another story while serving as associate producer for the new show’s first thirteen episodes. Her final contribution to televised Star Trek was a collaboration with writer Peter Allan Fields for “Dax,” a first season episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Beyond television, Fontana wrote a well-received and fan-favorite Star Trek novel, 1989’s Vulcan’s Glory. She also collaborated with writer Derek Chester on the storylines for several Star Trek video games as well as the 2008 comic book miniseries Star Trek: Year Four. The comic would be her final contribution to Star Trek. After largely retiring from screenwriting in 2006, she most recently served as a senior lecturer at the American Film Institute.

From my earliest days as a fan watching the original series, I knew the name “D.C. Fontana.” As I grew older and my appreciation for the show expanded in various ways, I became more interested in its production and behind-the-scenes stories, so I learned more about the woman behind the initials. Yes, Star Trek was created by Gene Roddenberry with the able assistance of producers Herb Solow and Bob Justman. However, along with writer-producer Gene Coon I consider Dorothy Fontana to be absolutely instrumental to the shaping and caretaking of the series during its formative years, laying the foundation upon which stands everything that followed. The width and breadth of her impact on Star Trek cannot be understated.

As someone who’s enjoyed the privilege of contributing in some small way to the universe she helped create, I’ve taken much inspiration from her (and other writers of the original series in particular). From her and her colleagues, I learned a great deal about what makes “a Star Trek story,” and I try to keep in mind the lessons they imparted every time I sit down to write my own such tales. So far as I see it, Star Trek as we know it would not exist if not for her efforts. Her influence and indeed her legacy continues to inform and guide even the newest iterations of the franchise to this day.

Rest in peace, Ms. Fontana, and thank you.

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Dorothy Catherine (“D.C.”) Fontana
March 25, 1939 – December 2, 2019

November writing wrap-up.

Anybody seen November? I could’ve sworn it was here a minute ago.

So, what’s been going on? As has been the case these past several months, a good portion of my time continues to be devoted to my various consulting duties with CBS. November included reviewing and weighing in on projects in various stages of gestation at Simon & Schuster and IDW Publishing, as well as helping with a few things currently underway at CBS Global Franchise Management. I even managed to write another couple of articles for StarTrek.com which will be posted in the coming weeks (see below).

And of course there are always a few other balls in the air. You know…the usual sorts of chaos.

So, here’s what was what during November:

Continue reading “November writing wrap-up.”

Your Moment of TrekZen* – Classic Thanksgiving edition!

We shall all sing songs of the Great Turkey Leg, on our way to the Stove O’ Kor.

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Here’s hoping you enjoy a restful holiday in the company of family and friends. For those unable to do so – servicemembers, first responders, doctors and nurses, and lots of other fine people answering a higher calling or simply having to work a job that precludes them from taking the day off – we thank you for your service and commitments and wish you a safe return home. And let’s not forget those who for whatever reason might be alone today, or who might need a helping hand.

(* = inspired by the “Your Moment of Zen” segments from The Daily Show)

Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Space: 1999!

This irregular blog feature I proposed back at the start of the year has become more infrequent and irregular than I originally envisioned, but I guess I have decent excuses for at least some of those lags. You know, work, deadlines, etc. It’s been a busy year on a number of fronts, but I still try to squeeze in some fun, nostalgic stuff like this as opportunities present themselves.

“Shush, blog monkey,” I can hear someone shouting from the cheap seats. “Give us the bookie bookie talk!”

For those wondering what you’ve stumbled into, back at the beginning of the year I announced I’d offer an occasional look at a favorite series of movie or TV tie-in books. So far, we’ve revisited novels based on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Planet of the Apes, and V.

Next up? We turn our attention to the men and women of Moonbase Alpha and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day they had on September 13th, 1999.

Space: 1999 TV series title card.

Continue reading “Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Space: 1999!”

Happy 25th anniversary, Star Trek Generations!

Captain of the Enterprise, huh?

That’s right.

Close to retirement?

I’m not planning on it.

Let me tell you something: Don’t. Don’t let them promote you. Don’t let them transfer you. Don’t let them do anything that takes you off the bridge of that ship, because while you’re there, you can make a difference.

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Released on November 18th, 1994, just six months after Star Trek: The Next Generation completed its seven-year television run and proved to naysayers lightning could be captured twice–albeit in a slicker and shinier bottle–Star Trek Generations launched Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of his starship Enterprise to the silver screen. With the cast of the original series having taken their final bow three years earlier in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the time had come to pass the baton so another crew might boldly go on to successful cinematic adventures.

However, and perhaps due to concerns Picard and company might not entice enough viewers to follow them from their televisions to theaters and while also hoping to attract that larger mainstream audience films need to thrive, the decision was made to stack the deck, so to speak. Therefore, this “next generation” of Star Trek films (see what I did there?) would be given a sendoff by none other than the legendary James T. Kirk himself.

It actually wasn’t a bad idea, in and of itself. Besides, the idea of a character from a previous series helping to launch a new one had already been done twice before (McCoy appears in the TNG pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint,” and Picard himself appears in the first episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Emissary”) and had become something of a Star Trek tradition that would later be observed in the first episodes of Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise, to say nothing of “original Spock” being on hand for the 2009 reboot film.

Generations opens in the 23rd century, nearly 80 years prior to the events of TNG, with Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov on hand to celebrate the launch of the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-B, the successor to the starship said to be retired after the events of Star Trek VI. When “Stuff Happens” as it always does, the trusty trio is on hand to help save the day and the lives of a number of refugees from a disabled spaceship that’s been caught in a mysterious “energy ribbon.” However, that comes at a steep price: the death of Captain Kirk…or so we’re led to believe.

Flash forward 78 years to Picard’s Enterprise (NCC-1701-D on your scorecards), where they encounter Dr. Tolian Soran, a dude who’s hellbent on finding his way back to that aforementioned energy ribbon. Oh, and did we mention he was one of those refugees Kirk and the gang saved all those years ago? Oh, and did we also mention Guinan, the Enterprise‘s enigmatic bartender, is also a refugee? Remember this…it’ll be on the test later.

Hijinks ensue, eventually leading to a confrontation between Picard and Soran on the surface of an uninhabited planet, where Soran has developed a means of changing the ribbon’s course through space. This is done by blowing up key stars and sending gravimetric shockwaves that alter its trajectory, and he’s been hop-scotching through the quadrant in order to move the ribbon close enough for him to get into it. Why? Because when he and Guinan and the others were transported from their doomed ship decades earlier, they were in the ribbon’s grip; phasing in and out of our space-time continuum, and part of each of them is still in there, somewhere, so they feel a constant yearning to return to “that place.” It’s sort of like longing for Taco Bell even though you get there too late for FourthMeal.

Of course, this whole “blowing up stars” bit also has the effect of destroying any nearby planets, including inhabited ones. As that’s pretty much a huge buzzkill for anyone living on said worlds, Picard has to stop Soran before he can blow up this planet’s sun and wipe out the civilization living on an adjacent world. That doesn’t work out so well for Picard, who’s helpless to watch as Soran launches a rocket into the star, destroying it and bringing the ribbon to him. As the Enterprise, in orbit above the planet and getting its ass kicked by a Klingon ship, crashes on the surface, the planet is destroyed by the shock wave from the exploding star just as Soran and Picard are swept up in the ribbon’s effects.

And that’s when shit gets weird. Why? Well, let’s just say once he’s in the ribbon, Picard should probably have a sit down with astronauts Bowman and Cooper and discuss bizarre trips through spatial phenomena, amirite? And that’s before he runs into the aforementioned James T. Kirk chopping wood outside a remote mountain cabin.


1994 was a fantastic time for Star Trek. Two successful television series were in first-run syndication and the original series cast had bid their fond farewells. Star Trek: The Next Generation had wrapped, but Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had just started its third season and Star Trek: Voyager was waiting in the wings, and the TNG crew of course was now transitioning to the big screen. Merchandising was cooking with gas, and Star Trek was even embracing the still-minty fresh World Wide Web. Did you know that Star Trek Generations was the first film to get its own promotional website?

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Though not a perfect film and not my favorite of the bunch, I still have a soft spot for Generations. In many ways, it really was the “passing of the torch” so far as Star Trek in the mainstream went. After saying goodbye (so we thought) to Kirk and his crew in the previous film, the events in Generations serve to cement the transition, figuratively and literally, and tell old-school Trekkies our Star Trek, the one we’d grown up with, was over. All good things, and all that, right?

Meanwhile, the TNG cast does get a bit of a short-shrift here, with so much time given over to Picard’s “Brave and the Bold”-esque team-up with Kirk. It wouldn’t be until their next outing, Star Trek: First Contact in 1996, that they’d get the screen all to themselves…sorta.

The story takes a bit of heat for a few logic problems, and the more vocal critics maintain that screenwriters Ronald Moore and Brannon Braga actually did a better job with their script for the TNG series finale episode, written in two weeks, than the film, which was the result of months of work. I tend to forgive Moore and Braga on this point, as the story they were asked to write was saddled with various studio requests and directives in order for the film to be the “baton pass” from Kirk’s era to Picard’s.

The scene where Kirk tells Picard not to retire is perhaps my favorite of the film. Until that point, Picard had largely been portrayed as the leader who manages situations while sending others to the front, which of course was a completely different (and arguably more proper) approach than what we’d seen Captain Kirk do every week on the original show, when he beams down and gets into trouble episode after episode. For me, this scene is a turning point for the character not just for actor Patrick Stewart, who would see Picard’s action quotient increase in the subsequent films, but also those of us who ended up writing the character in different media. I always look to this moment between Kirk and Picard to explain or justify why Picard continues to eschew retirement or promotion in the novels set after the TNG movies.

That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

Generations also has special meaning for me because I used the film’s climax as a point of departure for “Reflections,” the story I submitted to the very first Star Trek: Strange New Worlds writing contest back in 1997. You know how things went down after that.

So, Happy 25th Anniversary, Star Trek Generations. That predator time seems to have been pretty good to you.

Veterans Day.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

– Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, 1915

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(Artwork: Erin Ward)

Happy 244th Birthday, Marines!

On November 1st, 1921, John A. Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, directed that a reminder of the honorable service of the Corps be published by every command, to all Marines throughout the globe, on the birthday of the Corps. Since that day, Marines have continued to distinguish themselves on many battlefields and foreign shores, in war and peace. On this birthday of the Corps, therefore, in compliance with the will of the 13th Commandant, Article 38, United States Marine Corps Manual, Edition of 1921, is republished as follows:

On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name Marine. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our Corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

The record of our Corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long era of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres, and in every corner of the seven seas that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our Corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the Corps. With it we also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our Corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish, Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as ‘Soldiers of the Sea’ since the founding of the Corps.

— from The Marine Officer’s Guide

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Happy Birthday, Marines! 244 years old today. Semper Fi!

October writing wrap-up.

Holy crap, 2019 is a blur.

A good portion of my month was devoted to various aspects of my consulting duties with CBS, which continues to be a source of much fun. A lot of reading, reviewing, commenting, and such is the usual order of things, but then every so often I get asked to actually write something from scratch or contribute to something already in motion. Such was the case during the latter half of the month. One of those you’ll read about below, whereas other things you’ll never even know I was there. 🙂

With all that said, here’s the October rundown:

Continue reading “October writing wrap-up.”

Talking NaNoWriMo and Trek over at StarTrek.com!

Ah, November.

It’s the month writers of every stripe anticipate or loathe; that period of thirty days where many take the challenge of casting aside anything and everything as they attempt to write 50,000 words as either a short novel or a pretty decent chunk of a longer one.

That’s right. National Novel Writing Month is once again upon us.

While I’ve participated in this exercise a few times, myself, this year I don’t find myself in the position of writing a novel during this time of year, and for that I say HUZZAH! Yes, I do have other writing projects on my plate, but they’re smaller efforts which all told will I don’t believe will add up to a 50k, so I can’t even fudge a bit by combining them for NaNoWriMo purposes.

For those of who you are taking the challenge and especially those of you who may be doing so for the first time EVAH, I’ve taken the liberty of pulling together some nuggets of unsolicited writing advice for a new piece posted on StarTrek.com. With that in mind, I’ve included emphasis on how I’ve previously used the NaNoWriMo challenge as a way of logging some serious progress for a few different Star Trek novel projects over the years. The result is a new piece now available for your reading, dining, and dancing pleasure

StarTrek.com: Trekking Through National Novel Writing Month

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The fine folks over at the website also posted a companion piece, written from the point of view of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Jake Sisko, the resident writer within the Star Trek universe, who also offers a few tips for achieving NaNoWriMo success:

StarTrek.com: Jake Sisko’s Do’s and Don’ts for #NaNoWriMo

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Many thanks to the good folks over at StarTrek.com for inviting me to come play in their sandbox for a bit. It’s entirely possible I may be showing up there again in the near future. Muwah-ah-ah.