Writing Star Trek Novels, or, Why don’t you get a morally acceptable job?

The Entropy EffectBack in the 1980s, I wrote a bunch of Star Trek novels. I thoroughly enjoyed writing them. Pretty much the only drawback was that some of my colleagues took exception to my polluting my precious bodily fluids with evil tie-in novels. You’d’ve thought they believed they had to save my soul, blathering about the improvement in my moral character that would result if instead I took an honest job as a waitress. (A job that to be done well requires character traits that I both admire and am well aware I don’t possess.)

The tie-in novels subsidized one heck of a lot of my original fiction.

I’d been a big fan of the original Star Trek when I was in college (class of 1970); I wrote a teleplay that (I was told) got all the way to Gene Roddenberry’s desk before he left the show and the series changed in the third season to something I didn’t recognize. (To this day I haven’t seen most of the third season episodes.)

My teleplay, The Entropy Effect, was rejected soon thereafter.

Years later, the opportunity to write a Star Trek novel came along The folks who invited me to write it knew I’d been fond of the series and they trusted me to treat the characters with some respect.

The deadline was very tight and I never would have been able to manage it except that I’d just bought, with my two housemates, a computer: A tan-case Osborne I with a four-digit serial number. It had 64K of memory and you could fit a whole chapter on a 5.25″ floppy disk — nearly thirty pages! And the disks only cost $10 each!

Thanks to my housemates, who not only didn’t kill me for monopolizing the new machine during all my waking hours for six weeks, but also occasionally took me away and fed me and sent me to bed, I hit the deadline for The Entropy Effect. (It was very interesting to collaborate with myself between the age of 18 and the age of 30.)

My editor happened to be coming to a convention in Seattle just before the book was due, and asked me to give him the manuscript there, so I did.

(It was on paper; writers might have begun creeping into the computer age, but publishers hadn’t yet, very few people had email, and once rudimentary email did come along, sending anything but plain ASCII that way was a triumph of binhex and encoding and I forget what-all.)

To my surprise (and not a little discomfort), my editor sat himself down in the middle of a small party and started reading. After he’d read fifty pages or so, he said, “Paramount will either love this, or they’ll really, really hate it.”

Fortunately, the former.

I’m quite fond of the book. I’m displaying the original cover rather than the more dramatic new edition because the original has Mr. Sulu in piratical mode, with long hair and a mustache. (He gets laid, too, which a lot of readers don’t notice, to my astonishment.)

The Wrath of KhanAfter Entropy, I wrote three of the movie tie-in novels. Wrath of Khan was the first of these, though it wasn’t called that to begin with. Considerable discussion went into the subject of the title. (I had a great idea for the title, so great that I can’t remember it now.)

Somebody in the licensing department at Paramount called me and said, “What do you think of The Revenge Vengeance of Khan?”§

This was just about the time The Return of the Jedi was scheduled to debut, though the title hadn’t been released yet and the gossip was that it would be called Revenge of the Jedi.

“Gosh,” sez I, “I guess it’s OK as long as you don’t mind if somebody from Lucasfilm comes to LA and chases you around the desk with a baseball bat.”

“Oh, no, no, no problem, we’re all good friends.”

They sent me a copy of the cover. It was quite handsome, with The Revenge of Khan in gold embossing (which is expensive and takes longer).

About 1.001 days later they called me again. “We’re changing the title.”


(as they say in the movies)

“Nothing to do with the Jedi movie title! Nothing at all!”

“OK,” sez I. I didn’t actually care what they called it since they weren’t going to use Demon Warrior (I knew I’d remember that eventually).

A few weeks later I saw an article about The Return of the Jedi, with a quote to the effect that it had never been going to be called “Revenge,” nuh-uh, because Jedi knights don’t indulge in revenge.

I fell on the floor laughing.

But I was kind of disappointed that the title on the new cover for Wrath was neither embossed nor gold.

Enterprise: The first adventureWhen I had barely finished the manuscript of The Voyage Home, which I researched by going on a pretty darn cool whale-watching trip, my new editor came up with the idea of a 20th anniversary Giant Novel.*

“What do you think of the idea?” he asked.

“Sounds like a plan,” I said, or words to that effect.

“Great! What’s the plot?”

“Um. Call me tomorrow?”

So he did.

“What’s the plot?”

“Jim Kirk gets his first command and expects to be sent out to save the universe and instead gets sent out on a USO tour.”

“Sold,” he said, or words to that effect.

Of course Jim Kirk still saves the universe and introduces the Klingons to Shakespeare as well, but that wasn’t in the original proposal. The funniest thing about the proposal was that everybody was in a big screaming hurry to get the book out in time for the 20th Anniversary Star Trek book. So I dutifully started writing before I received a contract, which anybody with any sense would tell you never to do; but my editor is a trustworthy guy and if I didn’t start writing till they got around to sending the contract, I would have had thirty-seven seconds to write the book.

A few weeks later my editor called and said, “Paramount approved your proposal.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” sez I, “considering I’m halfway through the book.”

“Um,” he said, with the good sense to be embarrassed, “they want a detailed outline.”


…as they say in the movies.

“A detailed proposal, huh? Here’s the thing. Please tell them they can have a detailed proposal or they can have the book in on time, but they can’t have both and they have to pay me the same either way.”

He cracked up and I never heard another word about the detailed proposal — I have no idea what heroic measures he had to take to accomplish that — and the Klingons got Shakespeare, and George Takei got to read the audiotape including the completely baffling “translation” of Hamlet’s soliloquy.

And the next time I saw George he said, “You should be ashamed of yourself,” and laughed his great laugh.

— Vonda


§ Email correspondent asks if title might have been “vengeance” rather than “revenge” and is quite correct — VNM.

*Enterprise was the first Giant Novel, the only one that came out only in paperback because they were testing the waters — it sold a whole lot of copies but the folks who came in my wake with hardcovers made one heck of a lot more money. (Correction note: Correspondents inform me that some years later the giant novels began appearing as original paperbacks only.)




Writing Star Trek Novels, or, Why don’t you get a morally acceptable job? — 97 Comments

  1. Hey Vonda,
    Nice little insight into your Star Trek background, damn I am sooooo envious ? And you managed to stamp Hikaru forever into annals of Star Trek history too!

    Wrath of Khan, Search for Spock and Voyage Home are all excellent films and I thank you for the enjoyment they gave me.

    I wonder how Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman will handle Star Trek 2009. You weren’t tempted to have a go? As it seems to be the beginning of a new era of ST I think it will make or break any future attempt at reviving the franchise, I hope they treat it sympathetically and don’t ruin it.

    Willam Shatner was on the Jonathon Ross show a couple of weeks ago and Ross mentioned that he was upset that Shatner hadn’t been offered a cameo in the film, he replied ‘You think you’re upset’ It’s a pity, they had Leonard Nimoy and Majel Barrett-Roddenberry (so sad another Trekker has passed) that they couldn’t have put any differences of opinion aside and have done that one little thing.
    Here is the interview on youtube:


    I thought Shatner’s (Judith Reeves-Stevens and Garfield Reeves-Stevens) The Ashes of Eden trilogy a very good continuation of the original Star Trek film – The Undiscovered Country – however, to bring him back as the original Kirk would have been bizarre I have to admit. Nevertheless the trilogy I found to be a great concept.

    Anyway, I’ll stop rambling on and repeat my thanks for your Star Trek contributions, all thoroughly enjoyable.

  2. I both understand and don’t get the “polluting your talent” argument that people make about tie-in books. The one I did (not Star Trek–the Marvel Comics charcter Daredevil) was not only fun, it required speed, a thorough understanding of the characters, and the willingness to find ways to make the oddest of motivations seem reasonable and logical (let me get this straight: you’re blind, and you’re fighting crime. Kay.)

    And I loved The Entropy Effect. Wonder if I can find it and read it again…

  3. Envy is a terrible thing.

    And the tie-ins (let alone “Entropy”) got me to read your later fiction, so i’d say “it’s all good.”

    My best friend is a very skilled field and lab archaeologist, who has committed the sin of writing books that are accessible to everyday mildly educated readers. Among archaeologists in general, he’d take less flak if he was known to have molested collies than having written a popular, widely selling (and still in print) book . . . one with [spit out this word in your mind’s ear] pictures. Interesting, attractive pictures, including artist’s reconstructions.

    Collies, i’m tellin’ you.

  4. Those who can – do; those who don’t get asked to do, bitch about the one’s who do. I’m glad you ignored them. Waitressing is a lousy way to earn a living.

  5. Hi all —

    Thanks for the comments.

    Bob, I hasten to mention that I didn’t have anything to do with the movies. A lot of movies begin with books but as far as I know none of the Star Trek movies has ever been based on a plot from one of the novels. What happened was, they sent me the screenplay and I turned it into the novel it would have been made from if it had been made from a novel, which it wasn’t.

    In fact, because of the differences in the way books and movies are physically produced (especially 20 years ago, when it took longer to get a book from manuscript to printed book, as most of the stages were in hard copy), the manuscript of a novelization had to be finished before the movie was done. So the writer is working from a screenplay that may not be the same as the screenplay the director is working from. The movie folks have other things to worry about than whether the movie and the novelization are completely in sync, so while that may have changed, at the time I was working there was little if any communication between me and anybody in Hollywood.

    So inevitably there were differences. Once in a while I would get irate notes from readers annoyed by what I’d added to the movie plot, but more often than not it was about something that had been in the screenplay but was left on the cutting-room floor or never filmed for reasons of time or whatever. (And at that the irate notes were few and far between, a very tiny percentage of the response I got. Generally speaking, Star Trek fans are articulate, literate, pleasant, and less obsessed with Star Trek than the average sports fan is with the home team.)

    A novel is inherently longer than a movie so I had to add some subplots and characterization and so forth — another choice I’ve occasionally been criticized for. I don’t know what the critics would have wanted me to do instead, as the alternative is to pad relentlessly with repetition and overwrought description. Yuk.

    I gave Mr. Sulu a first name in Entropy, but it was one of the other Star Trek novelists who suggested that it be used in one of the movies, thus rendering it legitimate. I think it was Peter David who made the suggestion while visiting one of the movie sets (glyph of mild envy) but I won’t swear to it, as I mostly get this sort of information 47th-hand. I am so not on any really connected information loops.

    I wish the new movie nothing but the best. I haven’t written a Star Trek novel since the mid-1980s and the chances of my being asked to do one again are somewhere in the imaginary numbers. I’m not sure I’d want to, anyway. When I was involved, there was a good bit of trust and freedom. Later, it sounds like the oversight by non-writers got to be quite a chore. The story that the “notes” on one ST novel were longer than the novel manuscript might be apocryphal… and then again it might not.

    Also, I was in my 30s when I was hitting those relentless deadlines one after another. I’m not so interested in pulling six weeks of all-nighters anymore.

    Madeleine, thanks for the kind words on Entropy. I probably should have made a new section of Basement Full of Books with Star Trek novels in it since I do have extra copies of them all, but it feels like such a rip-off to sell one paperback at a time because the postage ends up being half the cost of the book.

    I’m a bit envious myself of your getting to write in the Marvel universe. My first rejection slip (I was about 14) was from Fantastic Four. I followed the title till Sue Storm didn’t have any dialogue except “Oh! Reed! What does it MEAN!?” and I even kind of liked the first movie. (The second was beyond awful.)

    Martha, I think the criticism of my doing ST novels has nothing to do with envy. The folks who hammered me hardest are far better known and more successful than I am. I did rather resent the one who criticized my method of supporting myself and my original fiction by saying I should get a morally acceptable job (waitressing is a tough and honorable profession and I would be completely awful at it), considering that family money gave that person a leg up in publishing; one of the more rancid attacks was from someone who had written for the original series, so I guess it’s OK if you debase your precious bodily writing talents by writing screenplays in somebody else’s universe (for a good bit more money), but morally indefensible if you do the same with prose. Or something. Who knows.

    Jeff, thanks, and thanks for reading my other fiction. It’s actually a little unusual for people to read both the tie-in stuff and the original stuff; there’s not too much overlap between the groups.

    I don’t think envy is all that awful. I mean, it would be great if we were all perfectly magnanimous, but we’re not; we’re all perfectly human. Jealousy is a lot more damaging. (If you envy somebody something, you just wish you had it too. If you’re jealous, you wish you had it and they didn’t.)

    So, tell us about your friend’s archaeology book. It sounds great. At least tell us the title!



  6. I always thought jealousy involved not wanting the other person to get, or even want, the thing you already had. I love the English language so much.

    I probably read Entropy because I’d read your other fiction, and felt very happy to read anything else you’d done, tie in, strict invention, laundry list…

  7. Hi Madeleine — Interesting point! I hadn’t actually read the definition as specifically meaning that, but it’s a good question: Which direction does jealousy run?


  8. You describe the kind of PITA oversight and also fun I thought might come from writing a tie-in. I pitched for Babylon 5 and also the original Battlestar Galactia (There, I date myself) but nothing came of it — just long, silly stories that told me more than I wanted to know about Hollywood workings. Someone told me once my writing was too highbrow for a tie-in. Not sure it was a compliment, since one strives to write whatever one wants to write! I can’t remember how to use periods with parentheses — how could it be high-brow?

    Glad you had fun and the money was decent. I was an okay waitress but nothing near the pros — and could not do it now, so even more important to get something rolling!

  9. Hi Kathi,

    I was lucky — most of my tie-in work happened before anybody in Hollywood realized it could be a big money-maker. When I was writing Star Trek books, the oversight came from the t-shirt department, and the t shirts had much higher status.

    Or that was the impression I got, anyway.


  10. Oh, and i’m surprised to hear that there’s usually not overlap between tie-in readers and gen’l fiction; i’ll make sure to ask him, but i think Brad said he read your “Khan” and went on to read the “Starfarers” series right through. I just assumed that if you like an author’s stuff anywhere, you follow it everywhere — or is that idealized thinking on my part? So i wondered if you heard that from the marketing dept., or if there was data/info somewhere, or just some publisher’s conventional wisdom.

  11. It sounds like you had fun, and were reasonably rewarded for your time. My brush with novelizations brought me neither, although it left me with an interesting – if somewhat unsettling – story to tell.

    My former agent called me up back in the late 90s to ask if I would be interested in novelizing a screenplay for a thriller. She had been handling my nonfiction, and knew I wrote fiction as well. It sounded interesting and potentially lucrative, so I agreed to talk about it, and had her send me a copy of the screenplay to read while arranging a trip to meet the public health scientist behind the screenplay.

    Turned out it was a biowarfare thriller, in which Saddam Hussein’s bad guys launched a smallpox attack on the US. The hero pinned down the source after assorted thrilling action, walked into the Oval Office, and told the President we needed to nuke Baghdad. Without further ado, the President agreed and essentially the story ended.

    So did my interest. I’d been growing uneasy about the project, but such easy agreement to kill millions of otherwise innocent people was way too much. I pulled the plug on the deal immediately, although it was a while before I finally dropped the agent (largely because of other problems). As far as I know, the movie was never produced.

    I’d almost forgotten the whole thing when I recognized a familiar name in the debate over the non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. It was the public health scientist, who had been pushing the idea of Iraqi biowarfare, and had become a government advisor on the idea. The movie plan has been part of the build-up of “evidence” for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, going back to the Clinton years.

  12. Oh, feh on anyone who has an issue with writing media tie-in novels. Yours are bloody marvelous and create welcome texture and depth in the ST universe. Crafting a well-written story requires the same skill set, whether you do it in your own universe or one owned by Paramount/CBS/et al (speaking as the person who would kill or die to write a media tie-in for CSI).

  13. Jeff (1) — thanks for the link; looks interesting! And, what most writers including me think will happen after they write a tie-in novel is that the numbers on their original fiction will go up because eager readers will seek out our bylines. My own experience is that this doesn’t happen. Of course some readers, bless their hearts, do go on to read my other fiction, but the overlap is small enough not to be noticeable in the royalty reports. (Tie-in books tend to sell about 10x as many copies as a midlist sf novel.)

    Jeff (H) — wow, what a terrifying and creepy story. Good on you. And seriously No Fun.

    Melanie — Thanks for the kind words. CSI is fun, isn’t it? Do they do tie-in novels? Couldn’t hurt for you to look into what they might be looking for.


  14. Hi Vonda,
    Ahh! My bad, I got it the other way around, thought the movies were from your books… doh (senior moment)
    One thing I for got to ask though was with tie-in stories or stories that follow a particular theme, say Star Trek/Star Wars etc etc., does the author have to get permission first to use those themes as a basis for their story? And if so who gives their permission for such use, the original inventor of that theme or novelist that first wrote about that particular storyline? And what about restrictions on what you are allowed to write, for example on Star Trek, could you say, invent a character and call him Kirk’s long-lost brother?

  15. Hi Bob,

    No problem — it’s a common assumption, and perfectly reasonable since mostly what you hear about is movies made from books.

    The entity that controls a particular title’s licensing is the copyright holder — practically speaking for Star Trek, that’s Paramount. It licenses the right to publish Star Trek books to one publisher at a time, currently Pocket Books. (Not surprisingly, as they’re part of the same corporate megalith.)

    If you poke around at Pocket Books’ website you’ll likely find some useful information. Last I heard, they had an anthology series of Star Trek stories.

    Tie-in work is almost exclusively work-made-for-hire which means the writer doesn’t own the copyright. You have to go into this sort of work with your eyes open. When I was doing it, the advances and royalties were pretty decent. The royalty rate was low but the books sold a lot of copies. Some tie-in work (again, last I heard, and my tendril of the grapevine is a little wilted shoot) only pays an advance and no royalties, which strikes me as the worst sort of binding the mouths of the kine that thresh thy grain.

    If you just want to write in somebody else’s universe, nobody can stop you. It’s when you want to publish in somebody else’s universe that you have to follow the rules, and the rules go all the way from “No fan fiction allowed” to “tra la la can’t hear you don’t know about fan fiction don’t want to know” to “everybody jump in, the water’s fine.” If you want to professionally publish in somebody else’s universe, such as Star Trek, you have to find out what they’ll look at and what they’ll send back unread, what credits they want a writer to have before they’ll consider a proposal, etc.

    I can’t speak knowledgeably about fan fiction because I never did any of it (supposedly mistake-free sf resource books to the contrary).

    I generally don’t recommend that anybody write a tie-in book as a first novel because chances are they won’t be able to get anybody to look at it, and then the writer has spent a lot of time on something that has one chance only at being sold.

    Better to put your talent to work creating your own original stories.


  16. Thanks Vonda,
    Yet more interesting information, thanks, especially on the trials and tribulations of trying to get something published in the worlds of tie-ins.
    Don’t worry, I have no intention of attempting that.
    It looks far too difficult and I don’t consider myself a good enough writer anyway to carve my way through someone’s finely written universe with my blunt prose.

    I’ll stick to my own little parallel-world and try and get my sequel done (which is turning out harder than I thought!) at least it will only be my own ideas, characters and places that will suffer!

  17. one of the more rancid attacks was from someone who had written for the original series, so I guess it’s OK if you debase your precious bodily writing talents by writing screenplays in somebody else’s universe (for a good bit more money)
    So, Harlan Ellison…

    Very interesting article!

  18. Please do not try to read my mind. If I’d wanted to specify the writer of the rancid attack or the lecturer upon morally-acceptable jobs, I would have. They know who they are.

    Harlan and I had a discussion on the subject many years ago and came to an understanding; the conversation was pleasant and civil and our longstanding friendship is one of mutual affection and admiration.


  19. Hello Vonda,

    I read Entropy Effect when I was 12 or so, and for the record, I *definitely* noticed that Mr. Sulu got laid! I remember that you used a somewhat oblique method to get it across, but I caught it and was astounded and gleeful. My parents were careful not to let me read anything they considered too adult, and they considered Star Trek novels to be “safe,” but here I was slipping one past them! So thank you very much, twenty-odd years later, for a great childhood moment.

  20. Hi Helene,

    So as not to shock anybody I wrote it so if you didn’t know what was going on, you wouldn’t know what was going on; but it did surprise me how many people who did know what was going on didn’t know what was going on…

    It troubles me that as far as many people are concerned, any amount (however large) of senseless violence is OK, but any amount (however small) of sexuality in the context of affection is considered unacceptable.


  21. Just wanted to say thank you for Entropy Effect. I too first read it in my pre-teens. I re-read it again recently and found it just as warm, thrilling and satisfying as I remember. One of the very best pieces of art the Trek mythos has given the world, IMO. It’s a classic.

    Thank you.

  22. Vonda —

    First of all, allow me to say that “The Entropy Effect” was and remains my favorite Star Trek novel. The characterizations are finely wrought and fleshed out in fascinating and unpredictable ways, and the story itself was a splendid mix of high concept and intimate character study (of Spock in particular, of course).

    I also loved the continuity you slipped into your adaptation of Star Trek III, in which Mandala Flynn (was that the character’s name? The years are catching up with me) was commanding an expedition to Andromeda. How on earth did you slip that little call-back past Paramount? I guess it was a different era, of course.

    A number of years ago I e-mailed you to ask about the concept of “Rickoverian Paradoxes” as discussed at the beginning of your adaptation of TWOK. My specific interest in that issue arises from my work as an advocacy journalist of a small-l libertarian persuasion who has become alarmed over the militarization of many of our social institutions. You replied that you didn’t recall where you’d come across that concept.

    I know that the passage of time has done nothing to replenish our memories, and that I’m being a severe pest by bringing this up again, but nonetheless…do you happen to recall where this idea comes from?

    In any case, please accept my sincere thanks for the many, many hours of pleasure your work has provided to me, and my wish that you enjoy creative fulfillment, peace, and prosperity.

  23. Ian, William,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    William, I’m sorry, I know I wouldn’t have used that reference if I hadn’t come across it somewhere, but to this day I don’t remember where. Coincidentally, I was thinking about your question the other day, but I still don’t recall the source. Keep in mind that I had to write the book in six weeks and spent most of the time in a state of extreme exhaustion.

    When I was writing Star Trek novels it wasn’t forbidden to refer back to characters from one’s other books or to characters from other people’s books. I never understood why anybody thought the restriction was a good idea, but by then I was long gone.

    I note that in another venue somebody is claiming that Mandala is a physical and emotional duplicate of me. I thought it would be snarky to reply “Hello, visitor from another universe in which I am an Irish-Indian Judoka with red hair down to her knees!”

    But the comment was pretty funny.



  24. Very interesting to read about your books. Do you know, was it _your_ books that were translated into other language Star Trek stories, or were ‘original’ stories written in each language? I ask because I am an acquaintance of the man who illustrated the Japanese versions, and there is a page about him and those books here:

  25. Vonda,

    You will not recall this, but back during the 80s–probably ’86 or ’87–you kindly submitted to be interviewed by me for my Trek fanzine. We completed the interview by means of me sending you my silly, fannish, teenage questions to which you promptly replied in writing and in some detail. It’s one of the memories of my couple of years in Trek fan publishing that stands out for me because I was always trying to get comments from the Great Ones of the Trek world, and you were one of the few who even bothered to reply to me much less actually cooperate with an interview (David Gerrold was another one who was really nice about it).

    I still have my copies of all of your Trek tie-ins. I don’t read Trek books often anymore and long ago got out of the habit of collecting them, but occasionally I will get in the mood to re-visit them, and yours are the ones I have picked up for another look the most frequently.

  26. Re: “When I was involved, there was a good bit of trust and freedom. Later, it sounds like the oversight by non-writers got to be quite a chore. The story that the “notes” on one ST novel were longer than the novel manuscript might be apocryphal… and then again it might not.”

    I can’t really compare the early 80s to today, but the time of the extreme notes and rejections where in the late 80s and early 90s under Richard Arnold. A time that is sometimes called the “Dark Age” by fans of the novels. However, Arnold was immediately fired after Roddenberry’s death. Unfortunately his edicts had aftershocks for some time, but the novels gradually grew more daring again in the late 90s and especially the early 00s.

    Today you’d enjoy as much freedom as in the beginning. Maybe even more so. There are books and entire book-only series about characters that never appeared on screen, who get just as much time and growth as TV characters. There have been major changes to TV characters, planets and the entire ST universe. People moving on to different things or even dying. Cultures changed forever. Or simply being fleshed out far beyond what was shown on television (for example the Andorians, Cardassians or Tholians).

    Some of it that is a natural extension of what went on the 80s, particularly with novels like Diane Duane’s Rihannsu series which featured both original supporting characters and a rich novel-only backstory to the Romulans. But some goes a lot farther than that.
    At the same time, novels in a more “traditional” or conventional style are still being written as well.

  27. I read “The Entropy Effect” when I was six. Sulu getting laid was the part of the book that stuck in my mind the most–I definitely filed that one away for future comprehension. It was my first contact with Star Trek, and ever since I’ve always been disappointed the TV/Movie versions of the franchise don’t live up to the promise of the novels. It also was my first exposure to your writing and got me to read your other books, which I probably wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. A lot of good was done for nerds my age with those franchise tie-in novels.

  28. Thanks for all the great books, which I used to carry everywhere as a kid too. I clearly remember Sulu getting it on and reading to some spaceship captain from the Book of Genji, what a smooth M.F.!

    But I also remember David Marcus getting laid in Star Trek III. Was that subplot originally going to be in the movie?

  29. Ms. McIntyre.

    I just wanted to drop in and say thanks for your Trek work. Over the years I have gone through three copies of the WRATH OF KHAN in particular and find it to be superior to the film (which I think is the best of the Trek films to date). It’s a good slice of sci-fantasy (or soft scifi if you prefer) and shouldn’t be discounted for one second due to its tie-in status.

    I’m glad to add you to the list of writers who think writing is writing and doing tie-in work need not be some sort of smudge on ones morals or reputation. Greg Bear. Steven Barnes. Vonda McIntyre. Margaret Bonanno. Not bad company.

    As much fun as WoK is, It never occurred to me to say thanks for the hours of fun and inspiration so, in that, I’ve been remiss.

    So, again, thanks, lady. You’re made of awesome.

  30. Hi Vonda,
    I’ve always considered The Entropy Effect to be the best Star Trek novel of them all. I first read the novel in 1983 when I was still in college. Thanks so much for that inspiration.

    I gotta say that your comments about your colleague’s reaction to writing tie-in novels really made me laugh. When I was publishing New Pathways I had the pleasure of meeting several of my favorite authors such as Brian Aldiss and KW Jeter, the latter of whom was a good friend of the late Phillip K. Dick, and who has written novels in both the Star Wars and Star Trek universe…so you’re in good company.

    The Entropy Effect had an early influence on my own writing (I wrote Entropy Comix) and publishing venture. I would constantly trot this book out to others as proof that the Star Trek franchise was capable of publishing intelligent, literary books. But don’t think I didn’t have my own critics! With Forrest J. Ackerman on the one hand and Brian W. Aldiss on the other, I had my supporters on both sides of the aisle and walked a fine line between commerce and art.

    Although New Pathways is history, like you I walked tall (actually I’m short) and proud in those days, embracing science fiction in all its manifestations. Thanks for The Entropy Effect!


  31. Enjoyed reading this. Very insightful stuff. If I was writing a new Star Trek I think I’d have to take the Wrath of khan approach, that was a great film and I remember reading the book because I was too young / poor to buy the VHS- I remember all the background stuff about Saavik and Khan really clearly to this day too.

    Must annoy you that the generally pretty flawed Enterprise series and this… iffy looking new movie (I do hope I’m wrong) have totally contradicted The First Adventure though?

  32. I used to have a low opinion of media tie-in novels, partly from reading a Trek novel that I didn’t like much and partly inherited bias, I think.

    Anyway, I was in a bookstore in my 20s, looking for something to read over lunch, and a copy of “First Voyage” fell on my head from the overstock shelves. I took it as a sign, bought the book, and liked it a lot. Of course, I already knew and liked your other work, but you are responsible for raising my opinion of tie-in novels generally.

  33. Vonda, it was thanks to The Entropy Effect that I learned what the word “entropy” means. I also learned that you’re a damned good writer and that if your name was on a Star Trek book, it was bound to be a good one (along with the names of John M. Ford and Diane Duane). Thanks for the enjoyment!

  34. First of all, great article. Second of all, I still have all your Trek fiction and I still re-read them on a regular basis because they’re really *great* books that tell wonderful stories and do everything right by those terrific characters. Third of all, as a writer of both mainstream and tie-in fiction, let me say how much I dislike the folk who want to sneer. Seriously, seriously dislike the pretentious condescending arrogant snobbery that this sneering implies. Finally of all? Thank you, thank you, thank you, for pointing out the one thing that gets me frothing at the mouth hysterical about the sneering at tie-ins. Why is that scriptwriters who are or have been staff writers on other people’s shows (let’s see, hmm, Ronald D Moore, Tim Minear, Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson, David Fury, Marti Noxon, Damon Lindelof, Bryan Fuller etc etc etc) are treated like demi-gods or full blown gods in the pantheon of writing greatness — and those of us who do the prose equivalent are spat upon? The hypocrisy, it takes my breath away.

    Anyway. You rock.

  35. Vonda,

    Add me to the list of people who did discover and buy your other books because of the Star Trek novels. It’s been a long time since I was a teenager in the 80’s, but I think the sequence was that I saw Entropy Effect in the library and read it, and then sometime later I was browsing in a bookstore and saw Dreamsnake and knew I had to have it because it was by the same author.

    Likewise, I would not have discovered Diane Duane’s work if not for “My Enemy, My Ally.”

    Anyway, thank your for blogging — I’ve enjoyed reading your posts, and look forward to your next novel, whenever it comes out.

  36. Hey, Vonda, sorry I’m late to the party. I just wanted to tell you I’m one of those ‘rare’ crossover readers. I think I’ve read every single one of your novels, original and tie-in. They all rock.

    Also, I know what you mean about the lip-curling of fellow writers. When I wrote some Warhammer fiction in the late ’80s and used my own name my colleagues were incredulous. But I had a blast, learnt a lot, and got very well paid.

  37. Hi folks,

    Thanks for the kind words on the Star Trek novels and my other work.

    Dave: A number of my Star Trek novels were translated into other languages, including some in Japanese. There may have been original Japanese Star Trek novels — I just don’t have any information about that.

    Christopher: I’m glad your request reached me. The thing about street mail to writers via publishers is, sometimes it never arrives, or takes months and months. So the folks who didn’t reply to you may simply never have received your note.

    Steve: Thanks for the history, much of which I was unaware of. Surprised as I am to notice I’m now 60, I have to realize that I just don’t want to face ever-more-intense deadlines of the sort that turn up in tie-in novel publishing.

    Jordan: Yikes. Join the club. I don’t remember learning to read, but the first thing I remember reading is a Heinlein novel. I must have been about the same age, five or six.

    John G: I had completely spaced out that Sulu quotes from the Tale of Genji but I do remember I had him quoting Homer. I had to get permission to use the quotation, and the first attempt resulted in a letter from the academic press permitting me to use it in an edition of 10,000 copies or fewer. (I forget the exact number but that’s the general order of magnitide.) I had to frantically call them — remember about those deadlines? — and say, in effect, “Let me ‘splain something to you…” And they rewrote the permissions letter, bless their hearts.

    At this remove, I forget exactly how far the David Marcus/Saavik circling each other went in the original screenplay, and how much was my extrapolation, but there was a good bit of interested circling in the screenplay. If I remember right almost all of it hit the cutting-room floor, or maybe was never even filmed; I have no clue about that.

    Michael: Pleasure to meet you (not to mention that you can spell Entropy). As for being short, me too.

    George: Naturally I’d like to see my pegasoi brought to the silver screen, among other things, but I’m not attached to what they do in the new movie. Life’s too short to get annoyed about something they probably don’t even know about. I wish them all the best.

    Peter: I hadn’t seen that. Thanks for the link. Scalzi is right; as I said above, tie-in novels sell at least an order of magnitude more copies than a midlist sf novel, and with original fiction I’m a midlist writer. The folks who like my work like it a lot, and I’m glad to have them, but there aren’t millions of them. And as I mentioned although some tie-in readers cross over to reading original fiction, and vice-versa, the overlap is fairly small.

    Hugh: I’m glad it only came out in paperback, then! Ouch.

    Carol: Thanks. The books were fun to write.

    Karen: Thanks. And, I have no idea what created the dichotomy between “screenwriters good, tie-in writers bad.” But then I have no idea what created the dichotony between “literature good, science fiction bad,” and my response to it is Talking Squids in Outer Space (where the natural history of the cephalopod is often more science-fictiony than the science fiction, and, yes, I did have to do a good bit of tentacle-twisting to shoehorn the Flying Spaghetti Monster into the mix).

    Maybe it’s just money. Screenwriters make a lot more per project than most novelists do. Some years back a screenwriter friend asked me how to break into novel writing because she figured she’d make a lot more money. After I picked myself up off the floor from rolling about laughing, I told her a little bit about how the publishing business works. She stuck with screenwriting. I think she had been reading too many bestseller lists, or People profiles of bestselling writers, or something.

    Glaurung_quena: thanks for the kind words. There are a couple of novels in progress but they’re both really complicated. In the meantime I have a story coming out soon in the science journal Nature’s “Futures” column, and my first two Nature stories are on my website.

    Dreamsnake is close to my heart. I’m hoping to put it on Book View Cafe in the not too distant future, but in the meantime people can read the first chapter (the short story “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand”) at my website.



  38. I have dreams of writing something of my own, but I have so many ideas, and so many areas I create (yes, I’m add, bipolar, etc., among other things), that who knows when I’ll get to it . . . . . but I’ve always been in love with the written word.

    I, too, remember reading The Entropy Effect when I was young, and also grasped the concept from the book by the time I was done . . . . some had been from the tv series, but it was much better treated in the book than in related episodes of the series.

    I came back to this book repeatedly as one of my favorites, and I, too, knew if a ST book had your name on it, it was going to be a good one! At first I had to depend on my elder siblings to collect them, but eventually I could use my allowance to purchase them myself, which I did, and later, learned of used bookstores, where I gathered some back to the earlier numbers, while they were still not that old.

    I also learned to love Diane Duane through My Enemy, My Ally, as someone else did – the very complex themes in that one as well, but very different from your book, fascinated me as well.

    I continued to collect the tie-ins for some years until the quality degenerated as well as the frequency of authors such as yourself decreased as well . . . and the publishing schedule, what with several series at once on air, for books created for me a rate at which I couldn’t keep up anymore anyway . . . .

    I DO also LOVE that Enterprise novel . . . . I eagerly snatched it out of my eldest sister’s hand when she was done (it was her purchase) and devoured it, delighted with the flying horse and everything else. I was in my early teens then. I have my own well-worn copy now.

    I believe I’ve read some of your other fiction as well but it’s been so long since I’ve read the older things that I used to read, I’m afraid I cannot remember! That, and the ridiculous amount of meds I’m on tend to create holes in my memory.

    I CAN say that your books gave me an escape from a childhood and especially teenagerhood, not knowing what was wrong with me, though I knew something was amiss, I knew something was not right, your books provided an escape for me, and I thank you for that. You have no idea how much I needed those worlds and places to escape to (and I have an incredible imagination, so could almost as much as go there).

  39. Hi, Vonda.

    I have that copy of Star Trek: The Entropy Effect. I thoroughly enjoyed your Star Trek novels. Thank you so much for writing them.

  40. Sarebear: Thanks to you, too, for the kind words, and I’m very glad for whatever pleasure the books gave you. It sounds like you’ve gone through some difficult times.


  41. Re: “Thanks for the history, much of which I was unaware of. Surprised as I am to notice I’m now 60, I have to realize that I just don’t want to face ever-more-intense deadlines of the sort that turn up in tie-in novel publishing.”

    No problem and certainly understandable.

    I just wanted to say that the circumstances and rules you referred to were over 15 years ago. More than one writer got fed up then over the nonsense that went on. If you are interested, there should be a horror story about Margaret Wander Bonanno’s “Probe” somewhere on her website. Exaggerated as it may be, some of what you heard was certainly true.

    But none of those rules apply anymore and haven’t for about 10 years now. IF you wanted, you could write a Trek novel that is just set in the Star Trek universe, but features only or mostly original characters. Or a mix between original and established ones, which is what a lot of books do these days (and that’s new main characters, not just supporting ones). And you could really change the lives of established characters. Maybe not in most standalones, but in an ongoing series.

    The ST novels were very bland for some time because the authors were denied even simpler things than that, but many of the best ones have been published in the last decade.

  42. Hello, Vonda.

    I’m another who fondly remembers your ST novels. I remember reading the newly-released ‘Enterprise’ beside the pool at the Bal Harbour hotel in Wildwood, NJ (when my husband and I would go on vacation there, I’d take a book for each day we planned to be there, plus one for the ride down and another for the ride back).

    And I remember the restrictions on the ST novels that were put in place by one specific editor during the 90s. He was very active on the GEnie network (a moment of silence for a wonderful content provider that was butchered by the company that bought it from its original corporate parent), and he and I had numerous run-ins. He tried to rewrite Trek novel history, by saying that no former fan fiction writers had ever written any pro ST novels — that statement would have come as a huge surprise to people like Peter David, Jean Lorrah, and Jacqueline Lichtenberg, to name a few. He’s also the one who put in place the restrictions that turned the Trek novel franchise into a line of books that the core fans stopped buying because they were too bland. He also brought in novelists who had no background in Trek — all that mattered was that they were SFWA members. He didn’t care if they didn’t know a Vulcan from an Andorian. But the fans did, and sales fell off. I’m pretty sure he’s no longer with the line, but the current editors preside over a wonderful line of novels.

    And I remember the brouhaha over the media tie-ins with those SFWA writers, too. Friends who wrote tie-ins were incensed at the elitist attitude those authors displayed. Hey — a book is a book.

  43. I will never be able to tell you how much Dreamsnake has always meant to me….

    And I sincerely hope that Captain Kirk gets the same kind of verbal abuse from his colleagues about doing those utterly stupid commercials that you got from yours for doing the tie-ins…