Because it’s been a minute since the last time I babbled incoherently into a microphone and someone recorded it, I sat down a couple of weeks ago with Darrell Taylor and J.K. Woodward, hosts of the Go Trek Yourself podcast. I’ve been a guest on their show a couple of times already, and it’s always fun to catch up with Darrell and J.K. as our conversations bounce from topic to topic.
Such was this case this time. Things started off well enough, with the guys asking me about my “secret origin story” and how being a childhood Star Trek fan eventually put me on the path to being someone who gets to write Star Trek novels and other fun stuff for something resembling a living. We also spent some time talking about my most recent Star Trek novel, Agents of Influence (available at fine brick-n-mortar and online booksellers everywhere, you know), as well as a little bit of teasing about Star Trek: Coda, the trilogy on which I’m working with friends and fellow word pushers James Swallow and David Mack. Our discussion focused on how the project came about as an outgrowth of the “Star Trek novel continuity” that’s been a real thing for the last 15-20 years. Don’t worry, though! No spoilers lay within. Additionally, I’m a big fan of J.K.’s comic work including his numerous contributions to Star Trek via IDW Publishing, so of course we have to chat a little about that. It’s easy to get lost in these sorts of discussions when there’s a great shared affection for this thing from which we’ve derived such immense enjoyment and which has been responsible for so much of our individual successes.
And if that’s not enough? We even manage to talk about sports a little. Because of course we did.
So, if that sounds like something you’d want to stick in your ears for an hour or so, just go right ahead and click on the handy link I’ve provided:
Many thanks to Darrell and J.K. for having me on yet again to shoot the breeze and have some fun talking about our shared nerd love. I’m sure we’ll find a reason (excuse?) to do it again sometime down the road!
Okay, so at least this time it’s been less than a month since the previous installment of this “irregularly recurring” blog feature. Not too bad, when considering all the other things on my various plates. I originally thought “monthly” might be a good schedule for this sort of thing, but if I’m feeling froggy and I’m unexpectedly inundated with free time*, who knows?
(* = Yeah, that’s not really a thing, is it?)
For those joining the program already in progress, “Tuesday Trekkin'” is pretty much just an excuse for me to wax nostalgic about some facet of old-school Star Trek fandom, be it a fondly remembered bit of funky merchandise, “milestones” or convention memories or whatever else tickles my fancy on any given day. For this latest entry, I’m digging into my archives and pulling out some truly 1970s pop culture goodness: the Star Trek “Giant Poster Books.”
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 andStrangers 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 along 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 I along with my colleagues strive to emulate. It’s an honor to be in her company, and she will truly be missed.
April 5th, 2063: We’re only 42 years from this most excellent of events, yo.
While we wait, we continue to look to the future with hope and excitement. After all, we know that this monumental meeting between humanity and intelligent beings from a world beyond our own will usher in a new era of peace, optimism, prosperity and collaborative spirit as the people of Earth take their first tentative steps into a larger universe.
So, grab yourself the first Vulcan (or other non-terrestrial biological entity) you meet, wriggle to the left, wriggle to the right, and do the Ooby Dooby with all of your might. Let’s get this party started, all while living long and prospering in forthright, logical fashion, of course.
To the surprise of perhaps no one, my most recent attempt at an “irregularly recurring” blog feature has unfolded pretty much in keeping with my master plan. It’s been four months since the last installment of “Tuesday Trekkin’,” which at the time I was thinking could be a monthly thing. Sounds like government, amirite?
So, what’s the point of “Tuesday Trekkin’?” It’s basically an excuse for me to wax nostalgic about some facet of old-school Star Trek fandom, merchandise, fond memories of various “milestones” or convention memories or whatever else tickles my fancy on any given day. For this latest entry, I’m reaching up to the top shelf of older books and focusing on twelve little jewels; ambassadors for Star Trek from a truly bygone era.
Published in 1977 and 1978, each of these “Fotonovels” takes an episode of the original Star Trek series and retells it in a neat little hybrid of paperback book, comic book, and film strips (anybody remember film strips from school?). Each installment boasted “300 Full Color Action Scenes” from the selected episode, with dialogue and exposition presented in “comic book style,” with word and thought balloons and so on.
The selection of episodes to adapt into Fotonovel form – as well as the order in which each book was released – appears to have been largely random. The 12 installments include six episodes from Star Trek‘s first season, four from its second year, and two from the final season. While most of these rank among my favorite episodes from across the series, prominent installments such as “Arena,” “The Doomsday Machine,” “Mirror, Mirror,” and “The Tholian Web” among others are conspicous in their absence. I mean…an “Arena” Fotonovel? Shut up and take my money.
Perhaps the selected episodes represented favorites of writer Thomas Warkentin, who was tasked with crafting scripts adapting the episodes for the books’ format. Fans of Star Trek comics may recognize Warkentin as one of the writers who later worked on the Star Trek comic strip which appeared in newspapers via the Los Angeles Times Syndicate between 1979 and 1983. For his work on the Fotonovels, he chose the images from each episode and also added captions, thought balloons, and other bits which weren’t present in the episodes themselves or even their original scripts.
The first one of these I remember buying was #4, “A Taste of Armageddon,” sometime in 1978 or 79, when I happened across it in a local department store’s book section. I don’t remember, but I’m sure at least one or two of the Bantam Star Trek novels were also occupying space somewhere on those shelves, along with other popular science fiction and fantasy novels of the day. So, for $1.95 I was able to revisit this particular episode over and over, and of course the hunt began to find the other books in the series…a quest which would not be completed for several years, as I recall. Over the years, the Fotonovel copies I had as a kid deteriorated to the point that a few of them were coming apart, but being an adult generally means having more disposable income, so as circumstances presented themselves I eventually replaced all twelve books with pristine copies lovingly sealed in mylar bags.
“Photo novels,” from what I’ve learned over the years, were fairly popular in other countries as far back as the 1950s (including editions of American TV shows and films), but it seems as though no one attempted the concept in the U.S. until the 1970s. So far as Star Trek is concerned, the Fotonovel was indeed a neat concept, particularly for me as a kid, in the days before home video let alone on-demand streaming.
Other shows and films got the Fotonovel treatment during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Among the “cooler” ones I own are Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, the first telemovie for The Incredible Hulk, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as well as large trade paperback versions for the original Alien film and the movie Outland. However, as VCRs became more common in the 1980s and the costs of printing entire books of slick, glossy, full-color pictures became increasingly ginormous, the concept faded into near-obsolescence.
With the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, Pocket Books revisited the concept with a “Photostory” book, adapting the film in much the same manner as the original Fotonovels. A similar tome was released in conjunction with the second movie, 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but this time black and white photos on regular paper replaced the glorious full-color glossy pages of Fotonovels past, and the comic-style dialogue and thought balloons were swapped out for captions beneath each photo. As one might imagine, this edition wasn’t quite as well received as its predecessors, but it remains a collector’s item to this day. Both “Photostory” editions were written by Richard J. Anobile, who also was behind several of the other film and TV Fotonovel/”Video Novels” of the time.
I know of a few attempts to resurrect the format in recent years (the Charlie’s Angels film, The Blair Witch Project, and the first Fantastic Four movie), but they didn’t catch on. Why bother with something like this, when the movie’s available for home viewing a few months after it leaves theaters. That’s even more true now, as we’ve moved into the realm of simultaneous releases of films to theaters as well as on-demand streaming.
That said, Star Trek wasn’t quite done with the idea.
In late 2013, IDW Publishing – who currently holds the license to create Star Trek comics – tried an experiment. Legendary comics writer and artist John Byrne, a self-professed fan of the original series, employed photo manipulation and other techniques as he selected images from various episodes of the show to create “Strange New Worlds,” an all-new Star Trek story using these edited and enhanced photos instead of comics. Images from the show, so familiar to so many fans, were inserted into all-new backgrounds and environments generated by Mr. Byrne’s imagination and computer. The story, a sequel to the serie’s second pilot episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (and which was – coincedentally – adapted as one of the original Fotonovels), was popular enough and sold enough copies that it spawned its own series of follow-ups.
Published under the umbrella title Star Trek: New Visions, 22 all-new stories were presented by Mr. Byrne in this format between May 2014 and June 2018, along with a special issue adapting the original pilot, “The Cage” released in 2016 as part of celebrating Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary. While several of the issues were sequels to episodes from the series, there also were wholly original tales, each one lovingly constructed using what had to be an intense process of image selection and manipulation to achieve the desired effect. As this usually meant selecting a character with a pose appropriate for the new scene and inserting them into a new panel of Byrne’s creation, part of the fun for readers was trying to guess from which episode a particular character or pose was drawn.
(Okay, maybe it was only fun for me.)
EDIT: Friend and comics guru Rich Handley reminded me that in addition to the 24 “Photonovel” comics, Mr. Byrne also created three special shorter stories. One of these, “Eye of the Beholder,” was included as bonus content to the second Star Trek: New Visions trade paperback collection. The second story, “More of the Serpent Than the Dove,” supported a special online sale of Star Trek digital comics a few years ago. It was later included in the fifth New Visions trade paperback collection. The final short, “Dream A Little Dream,” was included as a bonus in the eighth collection.
There’s no denying the “Fotonovel” is well and truly a relic of Yesteryear, likely appealing only to the older or hardcore collector, but those 12 little gems carry with them many fond memories from my childhood.
That said, if anyone wants to make that “Arena” one…..I’m still here and I’ve still got cash, all right?
Today we’re celebrating the 90th birthday of the Man himself: Captain Kirk, T.J. Hooker, Rescue 911 Guy, Denny Crane, Priceline Negotiator, and CAPTAIN JAMES TIBERIUS BY GOD KIRK.
:: ahem. ::
We’re talking about a guy who’s been in front of a camera over a span of eight decades. Seriously, go look at his IMDB entry. I get tired just reading it, and that’s not even counting writing, producing, and directing credits. It’s even money you can find him somewhere on your TV right now. He’s currently serving as the host for The UnXplained on the History Channel. That’s just one of the various things he’s got going on, and he shows no signs of slowing down. If the stars align in just the right way, I may even be able to hand him a copy of Kirk Fu later this year, and hopefully he won’t go full Jimmy Wall Banger on me.
The one and only William Shatner: 90 years old, and still running circles around people half his age. I’ll have what he’s having.
I’m gonna need a minute to ponder the significance of the moment.
Not so much the moment itself, you understand. I mean, sure. It’s pretty impressive at least so far as it matters to the people who care about such things. For me, it’s not so much that it’s a moment unto itself. Instead, I prefer to ponder that it was the first of many such moments.
February 28th, 2001: Twenty years ago today, Interphase, Part One, the fourth installment of the still minty-fresh Star Trek: S.C.E. novella series, was published in what we now call “digital first format.’ Back then, we were just calling plain and simple “eBooks.” Call it what you want, but what’s really important to me is that this story marked the first professional fiction collaboration between and me and the dude who’s become my best friend in addition to my frequent writing partner, Kevin Dilmore.
How’d it happen? For that we have to set the Wayback Machine to just a bit farther into the past: late summer 2000. Back then, Microsoft was developing their version of an eBook reader, and they approached various publishers about providing exclusive content for this new platform. This included Pocket Books and John Ordover, who was one of the in-house editors overseeing Star Trek fiction. John and author/editor Keith R.A. DeCandido developed Star Trek: S.C.E. (“Starfleet Corps of Engineers”).
Taking place around the same time as the 24th century Star Trek TV series and associated novel lines from Pocket, S.C.E. features a team of specialists who get sent to deal with all sorts of odd tasks. Recover and study alien technology? Yep. Assist with any number of construction or repair projects wherever there’s a need for such hardcore engineer voodoo? Of course. Clean up the sorts of messes which might come when starship captains turn off world-running supercomputers and plunge an entire civilization into chaos before zooming off to their next mission? You know it.
(Just like you know who I’m talking about.)
While still working as a freelance writer for the Star Trek Communicator magazine, my bud Kevin interviewed John about various Star Trek fiction topics including S.C.E., which was set to be officially announced via the magazine. As they talked about the types of stories this new series might have, Kevin pitched an off-the-cuff idea that John liked. At that time, I was in the midst of finalizing In the Name of Honor, my first Star Trek novel for Pocket, but Kevin asked me to help him flesh out his original idea, and that became Interphase, a two-part entry for the S.C.E. series and our first fiction collaboration.
In Pocket launched S.C.E. in October of 2000 with the series’ first installment, Dean Wesley Smith’s The Belly of the Beast. Once things got up to speed, it published a new novella every month until November 2007. Over the course of the series, Kevin and I contributed ten of what ultimately became 74 stories. It was a fun project, owing in very large part to Keith’s editorial machinations but also the overall spirit of collaboration which was one of the series’ hallmarks. We all contributed a variety of bits and pieces to the series as we wrote our respective stories, and other writers would take those nuggets and run off in different directions.
One of the very odd quirks we learned about later was when the PalmPilot came along: there was a version one could buy in stores that featured four or five eBooks as added content, provided free with a purchase of the device. One of the offered titles was — yep — Interphase, Part One. As a consequence, Part Two was a “best seller” on the PalmPilot site for something like two years.
The series also proved to be something of a testbed for “auditioning” new writers without the pressure of an entire novel, and several of the writers who got their start with Star Trek fiction on S.C.E. later wrote full-length novels for the various series. Indeed, though I had written In the Name of Honor and it was published to mostly favorable reviews, I think it was our contributions to S.C.E. that played a much larger part in Kevin and I eventually being “called up” to the starting lineup for the novels.
While my first collaboration with Kevin was actually an article for the aforementioned Star Trek Communicator, it was this project that really got us going. In addition to the ten S.C.E. stories we wrote together, we also contributed two other novellas, eight novels, and a handful of short stories for the various Star Trek lines, along with a Star Trek comic story and a few dozen Trek-themed magazine articles. And of course we’ve done quite a bit of non-Star Trek stuff, as well.
Now, about that “bromance” thing.
“Chemistry is that one intangible that either exists in a situation or doesn’t, and has contributed to form some of the greatest partnerships of all-time, including Lennon/McCartney, Kirk/Spock, and Star Trek writing partners Kevin Dilmore and Dayton Ward. In fact, the duo is perhaps the greatest off-screen bromance seen in the franchise’s history.”
Well, there you go. Sounds pretty official and legit to me, amirite?
Obviously we’re still going strong. I mean, sure…there was that whole business where we broke up and then we got back together again, but these things happen. Though we’re not writing Star Trek together with the same frequency we did in years past, Kevin and I are still collaborating. We’re set to write a short story for an upcoming anthology project which hasn’t yet been announced, and we have a couple of ideas we threw around just yesterday that we’re both excited about. Stay tuned to see what happens.
Meanwhile…holy crap. Twenty years since Interphase? I’m going to go lie down, now.
Wow. New year. New me. New attitude. And yet, I keep forgetting I have this blog thing here, huh?
Nah, not really. It’s definitely more me than the machine.
I promise it’s not due to a lack of interest. It’s more that I’ve just been busy juggling various work things, and I’ve still got about a month to go before the craziness dials back to any significant degree. By the end of the day, I’m generally too fried to come up with something to write about here. When I do get an idea for a topic, I end up tabling it, then forgetting about it until it seems to lose its freshness. Rinse. Repeat.
Then there are times when a weird topic just sort of pops in, knocks crap off the table, and decides it wants attention. You know, like this one.
It began the other night, when I innocently answered a question posed by someone on Facebook: “Does anybody know what the best-selling Star Trek paperback novel of all time is?” They weren’t posing a trivia question. They really wanted to know.