X-POSITION: Burnham, Culver, Villalobos Spell Out "E Is For Extinction"
Not comics this week, just comics-adjacent. But I think it’s a story you’ll enjoy, and also a chance to help out with something really cool.
Here’s how it started. Long ago, in 1966, there was a theater arts student at USC who wanted to write science fiction TV and movies. Good stuff, that is, like Forbidden Planet.
As it happened, there was this promising new show on NBC that looked like it might be a good venue for that. So the kid submitted a story pitch. Several of them, in fact.
And one of them got made. The kid was David Gerrold, the show was Star Trek, and the story was “The Trouble With Tribbles.”
But “Tribbles” wasn’t actually the first Trek pitch Mr. Gerrold submitted. That one was a story called “Tomorrow Was Yesterday,” and it was about the Enterprise stumbling across a lost “generation” ship; a giant space ark, designed to serve as a sort of temporary world-home until the colonists arrive at their destination. However, this worldship has fallen into disrepair and gone off course, and the Enterprise must fix it before it plunges into a star and kills everyone on board. What makes it complicated is that the inhabitants have all forgotten they are on a ship at all– they think their odd enclosed environment is the whole world. Even worse, the Klingons have also taken an interest and are playing cat-and-mouse with the Enterprise just at the edge of sensor range, trying to lure the Federation ship away.
Gerrold pitched it as a two-parter, knowing the idea was too big for a single episode. However, producer Gene Coon ruled that it was really just too big for Star Trek, period.
Interestingly, though, the ideas would surface in other Trek episodes. The dueling starships cat-and-mouse idea was done in “Balance of Terror,” introducing the Romulans. And the idea of ships making generations-long voyages came up in “Space Seed,” the episode introducing Khan Noonien Singh, and also in “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky.”
Each episode had its good points, but to be honest I think I’d have rather had the two-part “Tomorrow Was Yesterday.”
In any case, though, the idea stayed with Gerrold. First he tried to turn it into a feature film, and when that didn’t happen, finally he did it as a novel. Yesterday’s Children.
Now, you’d think that would have been the end of it. And for a long time it WAS the end of it.
But there were a couple of interesting things that happened in the course of turning the outline of the Star Trek episode “Tomorrow Was Yesterday” into the novel Yesterday’s Children.
For one thing, the whole worldship/ark idea is thrown away. Instead, the novel is much more akin to a World War II submarine duel, but set in outer space. Yesterday’s Children is the story of the liberty ship Roger Burlingame and its driven first officer, Jon Korie, and their effort to find and destroy an enemy starship. It’s a dark story and it ends on a note of despairing futility with Korie having an apparent breakdown. Completely appropriate for a science-fiction war allegory published in 1972, when we were hip-deep in the swamp of the Vietnam War.
But David Gerrold is not really wired that way. He is a forward-thinking, generally positive guy, and the downer ending of the book must have stuck in his craw. He ended up doing a rewrite — really, more of an addition to the book, extending the ending out another twelve chapters and showing that Jon Korie eventually did redeem himself. This version was released as the new edition of Yesterday’s Children, and then eventually also published under the name Starhunt.
So you’d think that would REALLY be it.
But it wasn’t. Gerrold apparently has a soft spot for Jon Korie, because he appeared again in the author’s Star Wolf series. This was originally going to be a TV series– a spacegoing show like Star Trek, except this was going to be tough and gritty. “World War II in space,” was the tagline. This was in 1988. David Gerrold was just coming off a bad experience trying to get Star Trek The Next Generation off the ground, and you may recall what a limp and miserable first season that show had. By contrast, the Star Wolf books are almost vibrating with Gerrold’s sheer joy in the freedom of not having to rein in his imagination in order to play by Gene Roddenberry’s rules. It’s tempting to imagine straight-across character transpositions– Captain Picard becomes Captain Hardesty, First Officer Riker becomes First Officer Korie, the Klingon savage Worf becomes the Morthan savage Brik, and so on. And their roles on their respective ships do roughly correspond.
But that’s only a superficial resemblance. Really, when you look more closely at it, the characters seem reverse-engineered out of Star Trek: the Next Generation, much like, say, the characters of Watchmen were derived from the Charlton action heroes. It’s that same feeling of, okay, if this were real, it wouldn’t be the BS portrayal we got on STAR TREK, it would look like THIS instead.
The show didn’t sell, though, and so again Gerrold turned the unused scripts into novels: Voyage of the Star Wolf and The Middle of Nowhere.
These are just terrific books. Reading the Star Wolf novels, especially if you know the history behind them, really makes you ache for what Star Trek: the Next Generation could have been, and so rarely really was.
A few years later David Gerrold turned his unused script for the Next Generation episode “Blood and Fire” into a Star Wolf novel, again reverse-engineering the characters out to make it a tougher, grittier story, as well as doing some major restructuring to account for the fact that the Star Wolf doesn’t have transporters and other similar technical things. And he added a long author’s afterword detailing most of the history I’ve laid out here.
Not too long afterward the SF Book Club did a nice hardcover omnibus collecting all three of the Star Wolf novels in a single edition, Tales of the Star Wolf. (That’s the edition I have here, and it’s the one I recommmend.)
Gerrold even got to do a Star Trek version of the stories– the original Star Trek outline of “Tomorrow was Yesterday” eventually became the Bantam Trek novel The Galactic Whirlpool, and “Blood and Fire” became the Star Trek Phase II episode “Blood and Fire.”
(Amazingly, in its odd journey bouncing from ST:TNG to the Star Wolf and then to Phase II, and being massively rewritten each time, the title of this particular story has always stayed “Blood and Fire.”)
So. you’d think THAT would REALLY be it, now, wouldn’t you? Done and done and done.
Except that now we live in a world that has digital camera technology. And CGI. And internet-original TV.
So far Julie and I have backed three Kickstarts– Travis Hanson’s The Bean, now up to three volumes…
…Batton Lash’s latest Supernatural Law collection The Monsters Meet on Court Street…
…and, of course, CSBG’s own Kelly Thompson’s The Girl Who Would be King.
We love Kickstarter around here. I think it’s a great end-run around traditional distribution channels– especially for comics, where Diamond is such a horribly bottlenecked choke point between small-press publishers and retail customers.
But beyond books and comics, now we are beginning to see some very cool possibilities with Kickstarting film and TV projects that have basically niche markets– projects with too narrow of an audience to interest a television network exec trained to think about trying to attract millions of people by appealing to the lowest common denominator, but more than enough appeal to cultivate a sizable computer-savvy audience used to quirky and challenging material. Veronica Mars was the mainstream wake-up call, but quite a few of us have been thinking about the TV series possibilities for a while now– Husbands from Jane Espenson and Brad Bell got its second season through Kickstarter almost a year ago, long before everyone was all aflutter over Veronica Mars.
All of which leads me to my main point. The Star Wolf TV series has a Kickstarter and Julie and I were in as of day one. Of the various projects we’ve bought into over the last couple of years, this is far and away the one I want most to see happen.
Understand this– this isn’t something being done from scratch. The development’s DONE. Scripts are WRITTEN. At this point it’s just a question of making the thing. The goal is $650,000, very reasonable for a TV budget, and the last time I checked it was edging up towards $29,000, with a month to go.
I’ve loved space shows since the original Star Trek was on. Space:1999, Buck Rogers, the original Galactica on up through the new Galactica. I have been the route with this stuff. And I really believe The Star Wolf could be one of the best ever made. For all of us who loved Firefly and were enraged at its cancellation, for all of us who’ve watched Star Trek its various forms and wished the stories were a little better and the people a little less perfect… I’ve read the books and I’m telling you, The Star Wolf is the one we have been waiting for. Even more than the revival of Battlestar Galactica, this is really the story of war as it plays out in space.
If every one of you reading this decides to kick in ten bucks– hell, five bucks– you’d probably put them over the top. The minimum pledge is a dollar. Best of all for the people who pledge, if a Kickstarter project doesn’t make its overall pledge goal, you’re not out anything. There’s no risk to you.
Take a look at the pitch and see if you think it’s worth ten bucks to get something really good AND give a black eye to those TV studio knobs that cancel all the good shows. Hell, if just those of us that are still irritated about Firefly donated ten bucks each, the thing would probably hit its goal with a week to spare.
I think it’s worth it. I want to see this new media revolution benefit some old pros as well as some young turks. I want to see the TV industry wake up and smell the future. But most of all, I want to see the rest of the Star Wolf stories, the ones that didn’t get turned into novels.
I have no personal affiliation with Mr. Gerrold or his colleagues at all. I just would love to see a really great spacefaring TV show, the one that Star Trek almost was. I bet a lot of you would like to see that show too. Let’s make it happen.
See you next week.
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.