Sunday, 24 April 2016

Alan Dean Foster, Star Wars and Star Trek

I sent this email this morning:

   I wanted to tell you about how I became a lifelong Star Wars and Star Trek junkie and your key role in it all.  I was raised in the 70s and 80s in a small town outside of Ottawa, Canada, in a very strict fundamentalist Christian group called the Plymouth Brethren.  Some Brethren families were stricter than others, and mine was one of those that, as it "got serious" about status, reputation and success in the group, clamped down with more and more rules.  I was never allowed to go to movies, and at age 6, the television was removed from our home as well. 

In 1977 when I was 7 years old, the movie Star Wars came out.  I was fascinated.  It was showing up on cereal boxes and posters and places like that.  It was all the other kids at school were talking about.  I had no idea what it was all about, and knew I'd never see it at the movies or on TV.  But then, in July of that year, our local paper The Ottawa Journal started printing daily installments from a novelization of the movie, purportedly by George Lucas himself.  I was really starting to read independently that year, and I devoured these adventures.  I know that the main thing that fired my learning to read was being able to read the newspaper strips and novelizations of things other kids were enjoying on TV and at the movies. 

Then I got a couple of the Star Wars figures, until my father forbade me buying them, because of the "occult" element of The Force.  So I started making my own compressed tin foil sculpture action figures, making spaceships and sets out of old boxes and plastic containers and styrofoam. 

Eventually the novel Star Wars (by "George Lucas") came to our school library, and I read that.  The plot of Star Wars:The Empire Strikes Back I learned mostly from the spoof in Cracked Magazine, which our school library again had. I had to read the Empire novelization when that eventually arrived, to sort it all out.

I don't know why books were ok and movies were not, but one summer my father, a gym teacher, came home with a small novel in his hand. It had been abandoned in a change room at his school and he was going to throw it out unless I wanted it.  It was called Star Trek: Log Seven.  By Alan Dean Foster.  My dad thought it was a Star Wars book and wanted to encourage my reading habit. 

I knew it wasn't a Star Wars book, but read it anyway.  It was surreal and fascinating and had a head-to-head Federation/Klingon space battle.  It had weird "inside the characters' heads" sequences and was utterly riveting.  Star Trek had been cancelled ten years previous, but many kids liked it, and eventually a movie came out for that too. 

But before it came out and I could read the novelization for it, I pillaged the school and town libraries and read every single Star Trek: Log __ and also James Blish's Star Trek #__ books.  I read Splinter of the Mind's Eye.  I read Brian Daley's Han Solo adventures.  I read everything even close to Star Trek and Star Wars.  Eventually I was reading a book or two every evening.  (No TV, remember. And my father was my gym teacher, which made sports not much fun for either of us)  And as I read my way through Krull, and Alien, The Black Hole and The Last Starfighter, Starman and Alien Nation, that same name kept cropping up: Alan Dean Foster.
Many years later, as a young adult, I rented all of the Star Wars and Star Trek movies.  I videotaped every episode of the original Star Trek at the house of a friend of had both cable and a VCR. 

Eventually, it became possible to pirate TV shows from the Internet.  I'd always assumed the stories in the Star Trek: Log __ were entirely the invention of the author, as none of them had showed up in my complete VHS taping of the original series.   Then I got Star Trek: The Animated Series.  And it was for kids.  It was barely twenty minutes long.  And I simply could not believe how much more there was to the novelizations than had existed in the original cartoons.   Missing from the cartoons was all of my favourite stuff. 

By this time, I'd found out that the first Star Wars novelization had actually, like Splinter of the Mind's Eye, been written by Alan Dean Foster, the same guy who'd written the books that introduced me to Star Trek as well.  He'd written it for $5, 000 up front, and they'd put "George Lucas" as the author.

And I'd learned how to read mainly in order to devour these books.  And having rented all three Star Wars movies, and the Star Trek movies as well,  I went back reread the novelizations for these movies over again.  Almost everything was by the same few names.  Alan Dean Foster.  Vonda McIntyre.  A.C. Crispin.  And I found that all manner of insight into the inner thoughts of the characters, where they were coming from and going to, what they were thinking and feeling and doing between scenes and why, was so much more richly developed in the books.  Amazing.

Today, a middle-aged high school English teacher who has written a book about leaving my birth culture, instead of going to church I sit down to read the novelization of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster, author's name prominently on the cover.  And I think about how, nowadays, high school libraries have a whole lot more screens and actually very, very few books.

So I decided to find an email online for you, and tell you all of this.  And to thank you for being truly important in the life of a child whose imagination was his only escape from an oft-times empty, grim, oppressive upbringing.

Thank you. You have no idea.
Electronically signed,
Mike Moore

I got this email an hour later:

Subject:  Re: Star Wars and Star Trek
Date:     Sun, 24 Apr 2016 09:26:41 -0700
From:     Foster Alan Dean
To:       mike_moore

Hi Mike;
 Quite a tale.  I’m happy to have played some small part in it.  Thanks for the kind words.
 When I was young, books were always my best friends.

And then I sent an email saying that, although I knew he'd written the novelization of Star Trek: Into Darkness, that I hadn't liked the new movie itself.  Too much blowing up and stuff flying around.  Not enough ethical dilemmas and interpersonal stuff.  Just making Spock act like Kirk half the time didn't make it fresh and new.  Not like the stuff he'd written about and brought to life in the 70s.  He said:


Movies today gotta blow things up.


...and here's William Shatner interviewing Alan Dean Foster on YouTube.

But this is more interesting, as he talks about how he came to meet George Lucas while Star Wars was being made, and how he came to write two books about it, starting with the novelization of the first film.