Tied Up With Tie-Ins: V!

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. I know I said it would be an irregularly recurring series of self-indulgent babbling, but it’s been a little more irregular than I originally planned or would’ve preferred. So, let me try to get back on the horse here and see what happens.

V-SeriesLogoA short while back on Facebook, I made a post mentioning the 1983 miniseries V. This four-hour “limited” or “event series” (as it’d likely be called today) depicted the arrival of aliens on Earth with seemingly benign motives. They show up in massive, saucer-like spaceships that hover over every major city around the world and proceed to make all sorts of awesome, too-good-to-be-true promises while asking for a comparatively minor favor in return: help with engineering a special compound for use fighting environmental contamination on their home planet.

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

Today is National Film Score Day!

Who knew?

Not me. At least, not until I read about it thanks to one of my Facebook friends. As odd days of observance go, this one isn’t too shabby at all.

What are we talking about? According to the National Day Calendar website, National Film Score Day “recognizes the musical masterpieces called “Film Scores” and, more specifically, the very talented composers who create them.”

Sweet!

Though it’s been a while since I’ve written on the subject, those of you who spend any time here likely know that I’m a huge fan of film and TV music and love listening to it apart from the production for which it was created. It’s also my habit to listen to such music when I’m writing, as it always helps to set the “right mood” for the project-in-progress.

A well-crafted film score is a thing of beauty. The first album I ever bought with my own money was the vinyl 2-record LP score for the original Star Wars in 1977.

Since then, my library has continued to grow not just with music from newer film television and productions but also “expanded” or “complete” editions of scores from days gone by which were only made available in truncated form due to the limitations of the medium (LP records, cassette tapes, 8-track tapes, and even CDs once they took over). Thanks to companies like La-La Land Records and Intrada I’ve been able to enjoy updated, expanded, and remastered versions of scores of older films, and in some cases it’s like hearing the music for the first time EVEN THOUGH I know every note by heart.

STTMP-SoundtrackCoverWhat are some of my favorites? Well, some obvious suspects are the various Star Trek films, in particular Jerry Goldsmith’s The Motion Picture, The Final Frontier, and First Contact, James Horner’s The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, and Michael Giacchino’s music for all three of the reboot films. Everything John Williams has ever done for the Star Wars saga goes on the list, too, but I also must give props to Michael Giacchino for Rogue One and John Powell for Solo. 

Superman-ScoreJerry Goldsmith is well represented in my library, including personal favorites Planet of the Apes (1968), Rambo: First Blood, Part II (yes, really), Alien, Total Recall, L.A. Confidential, Outland, and 1999’s The Mummy. James Horner also had a lot going on beyond his Star Trek work, and I especially dig Aliens, Apollo 13, Sneakers, Glory, The RocketeerCommando, and Titanic (that’s right; I said it). And you can’t have a film score collection without stuff by John Williams, including stuff by John Williams that’s not Star Wars, which is good because I absolutely love the music he created for Jaws, the Indiana Jones films, Saving Private Ryan, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and…of course…Superman.

My taste in film music runs the gamut from Pirates of the Caribbean to The American President, Die Hard, or The Incredibles, or from The Shawshank Redemption to Gladiator, The Martian, or Black Hawk Down. Bill Conti’s The Right Stuff is wondrous. Old-school offerings like The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven or The Day the Earth Stood Still are in there, too. The truth is that I’m all over the map with this kind of thing. I hear it while watching the film and know I just have to have it without everybody yakking over it or everything blowing up around it.

TV’s the same way. Yes, Star Trek gets a lot of play around here (occupational hazard, you know), but what about Lost In Space or Mission: Impossible or Alien Nation? Battlestar Galactica? Hell, even seaQuest is in there.

I could do this all day, people.

So, Happy “National Film Score Day.” I think it’s time to stick a little of that action in my ears while I continue to write.

Happy 55th anniverary to The Last Man On Earth!

“Another day to live through. Better get started.”


LastManOnEarth-Poster.jpg

At least some of you know that I rank Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend among my very favorite books. I read it for the first time when I was 11 or 12 after a chance discovery at a neighborhood library and was immediately hooked.

The story of Robert Neville, who believes he’s the lone survivor after a plague sweeps over humanity in the novel’s “far off” future of 1976 and turns most if not all people into “vampires,” is considered by many to be the first “modern vampire novel.” Additionally, there are those who’ll tell you it’s also a forerunner to the modern genre of “zombie” books, comics, films, and TV series. I long ago lost count of the number of times I reread this book just during my teenage years, and to this day it’s a story I still revisit on occasion when the mood strikes.

In addition to serving as inspiration or just flat out being ripped off for other books, comics, films, and whatnot in the decades since its publication, I Am Legend has itself been “officially” adapted for film three times: 1964’s The Last Man On Earth starring Vincent Price, 1971’s The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston, and 2007’s I Am Legend starring Will Smith. Also in 2007, The Asylum, the direct-to-home video powerhouse, released an “unauthorized” version they dubbed I Am Omega which they hoped would cash in on the hype surrounding the Will Smith movie.

But hey! Only one of those flicks is celebrating its 55th birthday today, and that’s why we’re here.

Released on this date in 1964, The Last Man On Earth is, so far as I’m concerned, the most faithful adaptation of Matheson’s novel. This, despite Matheson himself not being satisfied with the finished product even though he helped with the screenplay. Produced on a very low budget and filmed in Italy, the film does deviate from the book in several respects, such as Neville being named “Robert Morgan,” and his occupation being changed to that of a scientist. Fans of the novel know that Neville begins the book as a worker at some kind of plant, largely ignorant of things like biology or viruses and related subjects, and much of the story involves him teaching himself these things so he can understand how the plague came to be and (later) to see whether a cure can be found.

Morgan’s encounter with a seemingly uninfected woman, Ruth, is the same in the broad strokes, including her real reason for crossing his path and that she’s been sent as a spy by a group of vampires who’ve learned to live with the plague and control its effects so that they can attempt rebuilding society. The movie’s ending also amps up action of the final confrontation with Morgan/Neville and the vampires as well as how said fight ends up playing out.

These differences work well enough for the film’s version of the story, though the production’s limited budget definitely shows around the edges so far as casting and production design. What does work is thanks largely to the presence of Vincent Price, one of the great genre actors of his generation. He seems miscast here, despite providing a solid if generally subdued performance. Regardless, The Last Man On Earth still feels right at home with other favorite 1950s science fiction and horror movies.

When I was a kid, the film was one of those which would pop up on Saturday afternoons on the local UHF TV channel, which is how I discovered and came to love so many great science fiction and monster movies of the 1950s and 60s. It’s conceivable I’m the only person I know who cared enough to even buy the movie on DVD when it was released by MGM in 2006. I guess it’s because I found it during that “golden age” of childhood fandom that I’m more forgiving of it than I am The Omega Man and the 2007 I Am Legend. Maybe one of these days we’ll get a proper, honest to goodness adaptation but until then? The Last Man On Earth will have to do.

Or, we could all just go and read the book again.

Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Planet of the Apes!

Yep, it’s time for another walk down Nostalgia Lane that you didn’t ask for and probably don’t need. Since that’s the running theme of this entire blog thing of mine, we can at least agree I’m consistent.

Back at the beginning of the year, I decided that I would offer up an irregularly-recurring feature that I’d use to revisit favorite movie and TV tie-in books. After taking a fond look back at novels based on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman and knowing that I wanted to avoid talking too much about Star Trek novels (at least right away), it seems obvious to me that the next old-timey series deserving of some love is Planet of the Apes!

As is true of Star Trek and the “Bionic shows,” Planet of the Apes was another series (of movies and television shows, in this case) that I came to love very early on. Though I never saw any of the original five films in theaters, I did watch both of the subsequent television series as best I could during their original broadcasts in 1974-75. Just as I was learning about books based on the other two franchises around this time, so too did I discover the same was true of Apes.

First I found a copy of Pierre Boulle‘s original 1963 novel at the library, after which I found a paperback of Jerry Pournelle’s novelization of Escape from the Planet of the Apes occupying space on a department store book rack. Unlike the Star Trek novels and episode adaptations which seemed to be everywhere, tracking down the books tying into the other Apes films would prove to be much more challenging.

PotA-OriginalNovelCover1

(Left: the cover that seemed to dominate re-issues of the original novel throughout the 1970s and into the early 80s. Right: The cover on the edition I own.)

Continue reading “Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Planet of the Apes!”

Tied Up With Tie-Ins: The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman!

A while back, I mentioned that I might be doing an irregularly-recurring feature here in the blogspace, in which I’ll revisit favorite movie and TV tie-in books. As I mentioned in that introductory post, I’ll probably avoid talking about Star Trek novels and such to a large degree, as they already get a lot of attention in these parts (occupational hazard, you know).

This means I’ve got more room for other books and series, from childhood favorites to newer offerings. The former category is likely to get more play early on because the tie-in books of my youth filled a void that nowadays is largely addressed by the easy access to favorite TV shows and movies which did not exist in those days. With that in mind, I knew from the jump that I’d likely start with one of two other fondly remembered “franchises,” and after a coin toss I decided to go with the novelized adventures of Steve Austin, astronaut; a man barely alive and how they rebuilt him and made him better stronger, faster, etc.

For those who don’t know, the television series The Six Million Dollar Man began life as a 1973 TV movie which was broadly adapted from the author Martin Caidin’s novel Cyborg, which was published the previous year. The movie hits most of the wickets laid out in the book, but Steve Austin – the test pilot who suffers ghastly injuries during a flight accident and later “rebuilt” using cybernetic components – is presented as a rather more likable character than his prose counterpart. For this first TV outing, there are also a few changes to Austin’s abilities and the depictions of his bionics, many of which would be tweaked by the time the television series came along.

Continue reading “Tied Up With Tie-Ins: The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman!”

Happy 52nd Birthday, “Arena!”

On January 19th, 1967, Captain James T. Kirk faced off against a formidable foe. Trapped on a barren planetoid, he has no choice but to find some way to defeat his enemy in a battle for the ages.

I have many favorite episodes of the original Star Trek series, but “Arena,” the 18th episode of the show’s first season, is at the top of my list. When I was a kid, the draw was Captain Kirk being a badass, facing off against a scary enemy that’s as cunning as he is while outmatching him in strength and ferocity. As I grew older and started to see the different layers baked into various episodes, I gained a new appreciation for this particular story.

Written by Gene L. Coon, one of the original series’ tragically underappreciated contributors, “Arena” is also based on a short story written by Frederic Brown. It’s a prime example of what’s become a classic Star Trek trope, with our heroes encountering something mysterious, misunderstood, and perhaps dangerous only to learn something new about themselves while discovering the truth. The episode opens with a terrific action sequence and proceeds from there as Kirk turns almost obsessive in his desire to hunt down the alien ship which has just destroyed a Federation colony. The pursuit runs the Enterprise afoul of a previously unknown and very powerful alien race, the Metrons, who don’t like this confrontation that’s now on their doorstep. In response, they deposit Kirk and the captain of the alien ship, a reptilian Gorn, on the surface of a small planet and force them to fight one another to the death:

METRON: We are the Metrons. You are one of two crafts which have come into our space on a mission of violence. This is not permissible. Yet we have analyzed you and have learned that your violent tendencies are inherent. So be it. We will control them. We will resolve your conflict in the way most suited to your limited mentalities. Captain James Kirk.

KIRK: This is Kirk. 

METRON: We have prepared a planet with a suitable atmosphere. You will be taken there, as will the Captain of the Gorn ship which you have been pursuing. There you will settle your dispute.

KIRK: I don’t understand.

METRON: You will be provided with a recording-translating device, in hopes that a chronicle of this contest will serve to dissuade others of your kind from entering our system, but you will not be permitted to communicate with your ship. You will each be totally alone.

KIRK: What makes you think you can interfere with–

METRON: It is you who are interfering. We are simply putting a stop to it. The place we have prepared for you contains sufficient elements for either of you to construct weapons lethal enough to destroy the other, which seems to be your intention. The winner of the contest will be permitted to go his way unharmed. The loser, along with his ship, shall be destroyed in the interests of peace. The contest will be one of ingenuity against ingenuity, brute strength against brute strength. The results will be final. 

Oh, it’s on now.

Pretty much everyone knows how this story ends, with Kirk figuring out how to rig a crude bamboo cannon while fashioning gunpowder from the “sufficient elements” provided by the Metrons. He blasts the Gorn but doesn’t kill him, and at the last moment decides to spare the alien captain’s life. This is enough to impress the Metron and spare the crews of both ships:

METRON: By sparing your helpless enemy who surely would have destroyed you, you demonstrated the advanced trait of mercy, something we hardly expected. We feel there may be hope for your kind. Therefore, you will not be destroyed. It would not be civilized.

KIRK: What happened to the Gorn? 

GORN: I sent him back to his ship. If you like, I shall destroy him for you.

KIRK: No. That won’t be necessary. We can talk. Maybe reach an agreement.

METRON: Very good, Captain. There is hope for you. Perhaps in several thousand years, your people and mine shall meet to reach an agreement. You are still half savage, but there is hope. We will contact you when we are ready.

So, Kirk has that going for him, which is nice.

Yes, you can tell me that by modern production standards, “Arena” – like much of the series itself – looks hopelessly dated, but I don’t care. The strength of the story carries the day, here, triumphing over skimpy budgets and the limitations in costuming, prosthetic make-up, and physical and visual effects of the era in which it was made. I still love this episode, and it’s one of the those I list off whenever somebody is new to the show and wants to see what makes it tick. In so many ways, it is quintessentially Star Trek.

KIRK: We’re a most promising species, Mister Spock, as predators go. Did you know that?

SPOCK: I’ve frequently had my doubts. 

KIRK: I don’t. Not anymore. And maybe in a thousand years or so, we’ll be able to prove it. Never mind, Mister Spock. It doesn’t make much sense to me either. Take us back to where we’re supposed to be, Mister Sulu. Warp factor one.

SULU: Warp factor one.

SPOCK: A thousand years, Captain?

KIRK: Well, that gives us a little time.

Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Introductory post!

For those of you who are tuning in late or just passing by because you’ve heard the rumors, I have a confession to make: I write tie-in novels. To help folks who don’t know what that means, we’re talking about books springing from an existing entertainment property, such as a movie, television series, video game, and so on.

Specifically, I’ve written a cartload of Star Trek novels. It wasn’t a career aspiration or anything like that. I just sort of fell into it after following what is admittedly a very unlikely path to regular, paid publication. I’ll be the first to tell you what ended up happening is damned screwy. Why do this kind of writing? Because it’s damned fun, for one thing, but also because they pay me, which when you say it out loud is definitely kind of weird.

In addition to Star Trek, I’ve also dabbled in a few other properties: The 4400, 24, Mars Attacks, Planet of the Apes, and Predator. Given the opportunity, there are other franchises I’d love to play around in. Every so often, a movie comes along and I wish I was the guy they’d called to write the novelization – adapting the film’s script for novel form. That sort of thing is a bit of a dying art these days, but when I was a kid and young(er) adult? Such books were everywhere. Now when I look back at older tie-ins – be they adaptations or spin-off novels based on a particular property – I start to wonder if I was born a decade or two too late and missed the heyday of this often overlooked, misunderstood, and underappreciated corner of the publishing world.

Which brings me to the point of this post: Before I started writing tie-ins, I read them. A lot of them. Heck, I still read them. Of course, these days such reading tends to be divided between different points of focus:

  1. Enjoyment. Such books are still fun, particularly when written by someone I now am able to call friend thanks to my own writing experiences.
  2. “Keeping an eye on the state of the industry.” Seeing what’s working (and not working), and how the business of publishing such works continues to evolve in a world increasingly cluttered with alternative modes of entertainment.
  3. Petty jealousy, as in “Oh maaaannnn! I wish I’d gotten to do this.”

Books based on favorite TV series and movies were a huge chunk of my leisure reading in the 1970s and 80s. Star Trek was there, of course, but also other shows: Planet of the Apes. The Six Million Dollar Man. Space: 1999. Battlestar Galactica. Oh my.

And films? Holy crap, people. That list is huuuuuge. As a collector, I still have a whole bunch of those books, along with a healthy selection of pulp/action-adventure novels published during that same period. You know, stuff like Mack Bolan/The Executioner, Remo Williams/The Destroyer, MIA Hunter, etc. Yeah, that’s another niche of publishing I largely missed out on. As it happens, these qualify as being “tie-ins,” too, because they’re almost always written as work-for-hire projects where the contributing writer doesn’t own the parent brand/series/property/etc.

Where was I? Oh, right. Tie-ins.

Anyway, I decided the other day I want to revisit some of these older books/book series. Not to review them, though I won’t be able to help pointing out charms and flaws here and there, but instead just as a nostalgic jog down Memory Lane. The world of tie-ins has been good to me, both as a reader and a writer, and I figure it’d be fun to go back and take a fresh look at some of these books, many of which have been in my collection for decades.

So, what does this mean for you? Well, it means every so often, you’ll find a new installment of “Tied Up With Tie-Ins,” filled to overflowing with reminiscing and whatnot popping up here. Since tie-ins are still so very prevalent, I don’t plan to confine my musings to tales of old. Nope, I’ll use this space as an excuse to yammer a bit about more current offerings from worlds seen on TV or the silver screen (and maybe the odd video game, here and there), including some odd and even occasionally flat out bizarre selections from my library or elsewhere. After all, many of these books are/were written by friends and professional colleagues, so this is also a way to give proper shout-outs when the situation calls for it.

(So, if there’s something you want to talk about, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.)

Star Trek already gets a lot of love here, so I’ll likely steer clear of those books, most of the time. I don’t have a schedule or a real “plan” about which books I’ll tackle, or in what order. Probably something expected, like Planet of the Apes, but then what? I mean, we could go in several different directions, from the novelization of both Smokey and the Bandit *AND* Smokey and the Bandit, Part II to Lethal Weapon, Midnight Run, or Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (okay, maybe not that last one), and those are just off the top of my head. Then there are the odder selections, like a book of recipes “written” by the cook at the 4077th M*A*S*H. Yep. Not even kidding.

I guess we’ll see what we see.

Let’s tie this on, or up, or in. Whatever.

Happy 40th Anniversary, Superman: The Movie!

Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed, but always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage.

They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all–their capacity for good–I have sent them you, my only son.

December, 1978: I was eleven, and my perception of Superman was as a guy from comic books, Saturday morning cartoons, and reruns of a 25-year old television show.

Then the lights in the theater dimmed, and I got schooled.

Superman-poster

Opening nationwide on December 15th, 1978, Superman (marketed as Superman: The Movie) was the first time a comic book character was given a serious, big-budget treatment for film or television. Until that point and beyond the comics which had featured Superman for four decades, the public’s perception of the Man of Steel largely was limited to Super Friends cartoons and the 1950s Adventures of Superman television show.

While the first two seasons of the George Reeves series attempted to tell stories aimed as much at adults as children, that faded as the show grew more popular with younger kids. Still, there are some who would argue that Superman had it better than his comics colleague, Batman, who also was a fixture of Saturday morning cartoons as well as the classic 1960s campy TV series starring Adam West.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the cartoons and TV shows as a kid, and in some ways George Reeves is still “the” Superman of my youth, but all of that got knocked down a notch with the arrival of this new retelling of his classic origin story, which continues to influence Superman tales in comics, television and film 40 years after its premiere. Further, it remains a benchmark by which most other superhero films are judged.

Directed by Richard Donner (The Omen, and who later would help to refine the whole “renegade cop on the ragged edge” trope with the Lethal Weapon films) and working from a story by the great Mario Puzo (The Godfather) and a screenplay by Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton and Tom Mankiewicz, Superman is a sweeping coming of age tale in the true sense. The film takes its damned sweet time unspooling its version of how baby Kal-El, son of Jor-El and Lara, is launched in a spaceship from the doomed planet Krypton and sent to Earth.

There, he is found and adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent. Growing up in Smallville, Kansas, it is this upbringing which will provide him with his moral and ethical foundation as he learns of his true heritage and the immense power he possesses, until one fateful night in the great city of Metropolis when he reveals himself to the world and becomes known as Superman.

(And yes, if you think you’re noticing any Christ-like parallels, go with that feeling. Dialogue spoken by Jor-El might have you reaching for your Bible. And if you think it’s overt here, try 2006’s Superman Returns or 2013’s Man of Steel. Boy, howdy.)

Superman‘s cast is big and filled to overflowing with all sorts of names you know or should have at least heard of at some point if you’re any sort of movie fan, starting with Marlon Brando as Jor-El and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, and including solid supporting turns from the likes of Glenn Ford, Phyllis Thaxter, Jackie Cooper, Ned Beatty, Valerie Perrine and Marc McClure just to name the first bunch. Margot Kidder is the sassy, self-made reporter Lois Lane, but the whole smash would rest on the shoulders of the man cast to portray Kal-El and his Earth alter-ego, Clark Kent. It was the selection of a relatively unknown actor that would provide future movie and comics fans the Superman against which all others are still measured: Christopher Reeve.

superman-reeve

Simply put, Reeve is Superman. More importantly, he also is Clark Kent, a wholly separate character acting as a counterbalance to the larger than life hero who is his “true identity.” Reeve infuses the perfect blend of humanity, compassion, determination and even anger into his portrayal of the Man of Steel, then offsets it with the gentler, more humble and more than slightly bumbling facade of the “mild-mannered reporter.” It is this dual performance that grounds the entire film and gives it just the right amount of realism to help the viewer “believe a man can fly.”

Costing more than $50 million dollars–an enormous sum in those days–Superman spared little expense when it came to bringing its story to life. Extravagant sets, gorgeous location shooting, all manner of model and miniature effects and, of course, the numerous flying sequences which (for the most part) really do hold up rather well when compared to modern-day CGI-stuffed FX techniques. Legendary film composer John Williams provides a wondrous score, including a main theme which I’m fairly certain just about anyone can name in three notes.

Superman would be followed by three sequels: 1981’s Superman II, Superman III in 1983, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace in 1987. The production of the first sequel is a tale known to many a movie buff, as the film was shot largely in tandem with Superman, and that director Richard Donner was fired before the second film could be completed. A large portion of the sequel was reshot by another director, Richard Lester, who changed the film’s overall tone away from what Donner had intended. A version of the film which attempted to showcase Donner’s original vision, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, was released on home video in 2006.

Elsewhere, Superman also paved the way for other projects tying into at least some aspects of its mythos: 1984’s Supergirl starring Helen Slater, and the syndicated Superboy television series which ran from 1988-1992. Superman Returns, released in 2006, is a sequel as well as something of a tribute to the 1978 film and–to a much lesser degree–Superman II while discarding the events of Superman III and IV. Personally, while I think the “tribute” aspects of the film ended up working against it, there was a lot of potential in this updated version of what Donner gave us. I would’ve liked to see another film (or two) showcasing the best of what the setting had to offer without getting bogged down in sending too many valentines to the original movie. However, the Superman franchise has since been rebooted (again) with the aforementioned Man of Steel. It and the “DC Universe” movies which have followed it have charted a completely different direction for the character while leaving us to wonder what might’ve been.

Meanwhile, the family and I attended a screening of Superman here in Kansas City a couple of weeks ago, and I have to tell you: 40 years after that awesome December afternoon in 1978, I still got goosebumps when John Williams’ music blew through the speakers and that big red “S” warped onto the screen. Movies like this exist to be seen this way. All things considered, the film holds up remarkably well and remains one of my very favorite movies.

40 years old, and still looking good. Happy Anniversary, Superman.

Writing Star Trek? You need Star Trek references.

So, hey, here’s something you might not have known: I write Star Trek stuff.

A casual look over my CV reminds me I’ve written a lot of Star Trek stuff. An alarming amount, really. This might be an incurable disease, at this point.

Prior to conning people into actually paying me to write Star Trek, I was of course a huge fan. The first “reference” work I can remember buying was Franz Joseph’s Star Fleet Technical Manual, along with the set of blueprints for the Constitution-class starship he also created. In the mid 1970s, when there was precious little material aside from the original series reruns and the odd novel or comic book, a young, wide-eyed fan could pore over these publications, along with such books as The Making of Star Trek, David Gerrold’s The World of Star Trek and The Trouble With Tribbles, and Bjo Trimble’s Star Trek Concordance and get their Star Trek fix.

Then 1979 arrived, and with it Star Trek: The Motion Picture along with a slew of new merchandise including Stan and Fred Goldstein’s Star Trek: Spaceflight Chronology, lavishly illustrated by the one and only Rick Sternbach, and we were off to the races.


(I remember begging my mother way back when for the money to buy one of David Gerrold’s books, pictured up top. I don’t remember which one. Hell, it may have been both.)

The years kept passing, we got new Star Trek movies and eventually new spin-off television series, and with all of that came more books! Along with the novels, there were more and more reference works. Blueprints, technical manuals, behind-the-scenes books, episode guides…you name it, it was out there. Holy crap, they were everywhere, and yeah, I bought them.

I’ve long been fascinated by the making of the original series in particular. You’d think at this point, nearly fifty years after the show was cancelled, there’d be little if anything left for me to read or find. The subject’s been pretty well covered in a variety of publications, most of which sit on one of my many overstuffed bookshelves. And yet, later this summer a new book, Star Trek: Lost Scenes, is coming at us.

Of course I’ve already pre-ordered the thing. I mean, duh.

(Don’t worry if you don’t see it pictured anywhere in these photos. Chances are good that whatever title you’re thinking of, I have it. I just had to stop at some point before this became somewhat pathological.)

And then, in an admittedly unlikely sequence of events, I morphed from simply being a Star Trek fan to someone who gets to write about it every so often. Now, I had a justifiable (and, as it happens, tax-deductible) reason to continue acquiring such books. Imagine my wife’s happiness upon hearing this news!

(“At least he wasn’t buying heroin,” she says.)

Now, in the age of the internet, one might think such references are all but obsolete, and in many cases one might be right. As a writer of Star Trek stuff, sites like Memory Alpha and Memory Beta are wonderful starting points when conducting any sort of Trek-related research. However, there are times when you need to dig deep…sometimes way, way deep, and the only way to do that is by pulling some dusty old tome off the shelf.

Of all the various references I’ve collected over the years, if I had to pick a single favorite, it’d have to be the Spaceflight Chronology. It came out at a time when I was always drooling over big, beautiful art books like Beyond Jupiter and other collections of Chesley Bonestell art, or the Terran Trade Authority art series. Man, I loved those books, and this one slotted right in with them, at least in my mind.

Though most of the “future history” it postulated has since been overwritten and superseded by later Star Trek productions (which later spawned its own “official” chronology book), Spaceflight Chronology is still a book I revisit every so often. I love to drop the occasional Easter egg from it into a story I’m writing, and many of the “historical anecdotes” it features make for great story fodder, themselves. So enamored are Kevin and I with this particular book that we even paid tribute to it several years ago in an issue of Star Trek Magazine, where we created several “update pages” for it. How’s that for nerdy?

But, I’m getting off the rails here, a bit.

Anyway….Star Trek reference books. Yeah, I have a bunch of them, but they’re for work, honey! Honest!

My 20th anniversary as a “professional writer.”

So, it was on or about this day in 1998 – give or take a day here and there, depending on your book retailer of choice – that my first ever professional piece of fiction was published.

Those of you who’ve been following this program for any length of time know how this origin tale goes, but for those of you new to the scene, that story was “Reflections,” published in the first ever snw1Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthology.

Strange New Worlds was what resulted from the first of what would end up being eleven (so far?) contests. Edited by veteran writer and editor Dean Wesley Smith along with John Ordover (at the time one of the Star Trek editors at Pocket Books) and Paula Block (at the time working for CBS Consumer Products), was a way for fans to do something cool: write a Star Trek story, have it published, get paid for it, and feel like they were contributing – even in some small way – to the ever-expanding universe of stories they loved so much.

Prior to the first contest’s announcement in 1997, I never had written anything with an eye toward professional publication. I wrote stories that were included in fanzines, or might still be buried somewhere in an online archive, but then a friend of mine, Deb Simpson, essentially dared me to submit a story to the contest. So, I took a story I’d written before, and reworked it. Then, I printed it, stuck it in an envelope, and mailed it to Pocket Books in New York, because that’s how you did this kind of thing back in those days. Once that was done, I went on with life, because I knew it would be months before any results were announced.

For the first year’s results, contest editor Dean Wesley Smith and Pocket Books Star Trek editor John Ordover revealed the winners in a chat room on America Online, back when America Online was a service to which you connected via your computer modem. Dean and John announced 18 names, and I punched the air when I saw “Dayton Ward, ‘Reflections’” pop up on the chat screen.

In the days to come, I’d receive my first-ever publishing contract in the mail. I’d get my story sent back to me with a few marks and notes intended to tighten up the thing. I still have the cover flat I received in the months before the book’s publication, and even the bound galleys of the entire book, printed up on 8.5″ x 11″ paper, landscape-style, in which we newbies got our first look at what our stories looked like in a “real book.”

Then, finally, the book started showing up in stores, and I just had to go see for myself. Though I still get a thrill from seeing a new title of mine on a store shelf, nothing has quite equaled that first time.

And of course, you know what happened after that.

Since then? What an odd, yet so very rewarding journey it’s been.

First among the many positives which have come in the wake of that first short story sale is my friendship with Kevin Dilmore. We likely never would’ve met if not for the way Fate saw fit to have him interviewing the first batch of SNW winners for the Star Trek Communicator magazine. Fate also had him decide to ask me to meet him for a beer after work so that he could conduct his interview in person because we lived within 45 minutes of each other. He could’ve just as easily eMailed the interview questions to me, as he did with the other 17 winners, and that might well have been that.

(Sometimes, I have to wonder if Kevin regrets that choice 😉 )

Anyway, Fate’s a funny lady, sometimes.

Along the way, I’ve made numerous friends, be they fans, other writers, artists, or other publishing professionals. I’ve enjoyed several very rewarding opportunities, and had more than a few “Holy shit! Did that really just happen?” moments bestowed upon me. It’s been tremendous fun — more than I likely deserve — and every day I do my best to remember and appreciate the good fortune that’s come my way.

Of course, most if not all of that good fortune can be credited to Dean, John, and Paula, who put me on this path. Then there are the people who came after them, expending time and even money to read the stories I’ve written since “Reflections.” Maybe that’s you, reader of this blog posting. To you, and all of the editors, publishers, and readers who at some point have taken a chance on me, I thank you.

Here’s to the next 20.