Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
The Connection to Star Trek Lives!
(back to the Trek
Star Trek: The Original Series, or Kirktrek as I sometimes call it, was one of the first TV shows to have serious commercial success with TV spinoff novels.
It started with James Blish's Spock Must Die! which was read by almost all the ST fen I knew at that time. And not one person I knew had any respect for that novel.
I too found it ludicrous beyond belief and lost respect for Bantam because of it. But then I found out the story behind that novel, and the subsequent Blish ST titles.
The SF writer community is small -- was even smaller in the 1970's. People knew who needed money and why -- and when they could, editors gave work to those who needed it so that they would still be there when the editor needed a book written. Because James Blish needed money at the time the first ST book's contract came up, he got the job.
Everyone knew his work. He was just one terrific writer/artist/craftsman and a dynamite wordsmith who had written some of my own favorite novels. And he could work to deadline. So he got the job even though he'd never seen a Star Trek episode!
At that time, publishers thought it didn't matter if a work-for-hire writing job for any kind of series was done by someone who didn't know and love the series.
That assumption, in and of itself, is what triggered my indignation. I thought the assumption was wrong, and I wanted to prove it.
I had a pre-existing Star Trek fanzine universe, Kraith, sketched out and good response from the fanzine readership on the first few stories I'd written in that universe. So I set out to write a novel that was structurally just like Spock Must Die! but had the total encyclopedic knowledge of ST:ToS incorporated into its background invisibly, along with the essence of the reason why people wrote and read ST fanfic.
Of course, Bantam did not buy that novel. They believed the audience and readership for ST was teenage boys and I was writing for women 20-45. That novel, Federation Centennial, is now posted online for free reading.
But the reader feedback I got from Kraith, and the process of managing the 50 or so Kraith Creators who were publishing in a large number of fanzines, became one basis for the research behind my non-fiction Bantam book, Star Trek Lives!
It happened like this:
To figure out where to place all the Kraith stories by others after I worked with the authors to conform all the details to the Kraith universe premise, I started circulating a list of all the publishing ST fanzines.
I would send the list (on paper, by snailmail) to one editor and ask her to list any other fanzines she knew and send it back to me. Then I'd send each of them a list of all the 'zines I knew about and ask what others they knew about. I'd compile the results and send out new lists again, and again -- every time I thought I had them all, new ones would appear.
Finally, I realized I had a news story here -- Star Trek fandom was a very different and new thing. It was genuine news. So I set out to write an article for our local newspaper.
"Who, What, When, Where and How Many" -- I had no idea. So I started snailmailing a questionnaire to every ST fan I knew of and enclosed an extra copy and asked them to pass it around. It got published and passed around, and I got back hundreds of questionnaires filled in. I compiled that information and searched through the statistics for the story. (My original degree is in Chemistry with minors in Physics and Math, so that's how I thought of this research project.)
I found the story among the fanzine contributors (writers, artists, editors, mimeograph runners). I came to a theory of why this diverse, well educated, adult audience loved Star Trek so much, and I realized this job was far larger than one person could handle.
Meanwhile, I had met Sondra Marshak and through correspondence and phone calls and reading her own Star Trek fanfic, I decided she had the skills needed to organize this vast amount of material.
Together, we decided that the point of this book was quite simply that Bantam didn't understand "who" this readership is, and Paramount didn't quite have a grip on it either. They were playing to the teenage boys but the majority of enthusiastic and creative 'zine editors, writers, readers, and convention holders were adults, and overall at least 50% adult women like us. The vast majority of 'zine editors, writers and readers were women, mostly married women.
SF fandom at that time was indeed predominantly male, but ST fandom was not.
Sondra brought Joan Winston into the Star Trek Lives! project, and together we decided the only really viable way to make our point was to include a section in the middle of the book (as some nonfiction books have photos in the middle) that would showcase typical examples of Star Trek fan fiction.
And we decided that to fully present my theory of why people loved Star Trek so much, we had to do interviews with Gene Roddenberry and some of the actors and others involved in creating the show.
When we had it all compiled, and edited down, and condensed, and squeezed as small as we could make it, we marketed it. We had a hard time but eventually we had two publishers bidding at once, and it sold to Bantam as a July 1975 release, but without the center fiction section because that made it too long.
The story of that sale to Fred Pohl at Bantam is told in greater detail in the article IF MAGAZINE CONNECTION TO STAR TREK -- which tells how it happened that Fred Pohl bought Star Trek Lives! after having bought my first sale story, the Sime~Gen short story "Operation High Time." And it tells how this book got its title.
The center fiction section for Star Trek Lives! -- composed of stories we chose carefully to show how "fan fiction" isn't of a lower standard than professional fiction -- that the fans write as well as any of the pros -- and that the fans are interested in issues, themes, and characters that Bantam and Paramount could simply not
imagine being of concern to an sf audience.
Our thesis was simply that there exists a viable sized readership for a type of TV spinoff fiction that is totally different from what Paramount wanted to allow in the spinoff novels because the actual audience interested in sf/f was not the teenage boys at all.
That center fiction section of Star Trek Lives! eventually was published as a stand-alone anthology titled STAR TREK: THE NEW VOYAGES edited by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath and containing a story co-authored by Jean Lorrah -- the second early contact between us. (by the time the New Voyages went to market, I was too busy with my own sf novel contracts to participate in the final editing.) That anthology changed the perception of fan readers about pro ST publications.
Decades later, after deep analysis of the ST fanzines of the 1980's, I identified the distinguishing characteristic of aired Trek and these fanzine stories. Today that distinguishing characteristic is called
Here is a short
pdf file containing an extremely brief explanation of the concept, Intimate
Sondra and Myrna went on to write a couple of Star Trek pro-novels themselves, and later so did Jean Lorrah whose Vulcan Academy Murders was perhaps the first ST novel to reach NY Times Bestseller status.
As the the publisher drew more and more on sf/f writers who were also fans, the quality of the
pro novels increased to where the readership expanded. Fans no longer scoffed at the pro novels, though many compared them to fanfic
unfavorably and recommended them to friends who didn't watch the show -- just
because they were good novels. This drove the pro published books to best seller status.
Many writing careers were launched by that essential difference between the fan and pro ST novels. Some writers attempted to sell novels to Pocket Books and failed, only to vent their frustration by going on to establish a solid writing career in other genres.
Because of the explosion of the Trekzine market triggered by Star Trek Lives!, Della Van Hise became vastly famous for her tightly plotted and smoothly written trekzine novels under a pen name, and then sold a ST novel under her own name, Della Van Hise titled Killing Time. Shortly after that, Sharon Jarvis became Della's agent.
For a time, Bantam allowed fans to submit ST novels, and though many were successful, for some reason they abandoned that policy and went to allowing only established professional writers to supply novels. Many widely read sf/f authors contributed to the body of work.
Paramount wanted to keep control of the content of the published ST novels. They even issued strict guidelines to be used by authors before they wrote a word. I believe the reason was the intense popularity of these novels and the deep seated urge by fans of the show to add in their own vision of where the ST story should go.
Roddenberry and Paramount wanted to direct the story-line so that what was published in the books didn't contradict or steal the thunder from what they planned to do next on screen, for example developing the Vulcan background in just a certain way and not other ways.
This "write-to-formula" method of producing TV spinoff books demotes them to the level of Nancy Drew -- children's books written by many authors all using the same byline. Fans generally find this disatisfying when compared to fanfic.
During this period of strict adherence to guidelines, I was approached by a fan at a convention in Virginia one summer. She was married, pregnant with her first child, and she had written a ST novel she desperately wanted to submit. But she'd never written anything and had no agent. I didn't think that novel could be any good, but I took the manuscript home.
It was absolutely dynamite!
Alas, in the MS state, there was no way it would get past the slush readers because it violated the guidelines then in force. The ending was a particular problem because it changed the ST universe permanently.
I agonized, but finally I wrote to her that she had to change the ending and adjust several points in the MS to make that ending "work" in order to conform to the formula imposed by Paramount. I told her that if she could do that I would personally agent the book for her. I knew that what I was asking would "ruin" the book -- blunt the emotional impact, distort the artistic integrity. But I also knew it would never be read if these changes weren't made.
Without argument, she sent me back a perfectly re-constructed manuscript and we signed an agenting contract as a one-shot deal so I could present the book. On one of my own trips into Manhattan to see my editors, I stopped off and hand-delivered her MS, had a nice chat with the editor about how special this novel was -- and left, certain the book would be bought.
The title is Yesterday's Son by A. C. Crispin who has gone on to found an entire career on writing TV and film spinoffs, none of which I've agented. Yesterday's Son was a NYTimes Bestseller.
Jean Lorrah is another unique author able to work within such strictures and still produce works of art and thematic masterpieces. Her Trek novel, Metamorphosis comes instantly to mind as the very best ST novel of all time. I had no involvement in her ST pro novels, but to this day they are among my top favorites. However, those novels wouldn't exist if Jean hadn't picked up a copy of Star Trek Lives!, seen that fandom wasn't dead, and started writing her own ST fanfic until she finally defined some story ideas that would fit Paramount's strictures.
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