Saturday, April 27, 2013

MY LIFE IN STAR TREK PART III – The First Ever Con Preview of the Original Star Trek in 1966

Exclusive for Futures-Past Editions.

I am mostly relying upon treacherous memory here.

Having heard for a year, about the forthcoming and much-heralded "adult" science fiction series Star Trek, which was set to start running in two months on CBS, I was very excited to learn that an episode  would be premiered at the 1966 Westercon in July of that year, which I was already planning on attending. Though my mind was, as ever, on amour throughout the convention, I looked forward with anticipation to the Star Trek screening, particularly as such events were a rarity in those days. (Little dreaming that one day I would be working for the show's producer.)

Came the fateful day and hour. We were ushered into a very wide, brightly lit hotel auditorium, about thirty rows deep and, it felt like, sixty wide. Bjo and John Trimble, Gene Roddenberry, cast member Majel Barrett, and the show's star, who played the captain of the spaceship, William Shatner, were offstage in the wings.

Someone had decided fans would be impressed (and that person was right!) if the star of a television show were to come on  stage and say a few words. Bill panicked. "What should I say?" he blurted. "I'm an actor. I need lines. I'm not a writer!" Bjo Trimble, with the instant presence of mind that characterized her, responded. "Just run out there. Pause in the middle of the stage. Flash them the V for victory sign, ay, 'Frodo lives!' And come back. They'll love it." "Frodo lives?" Shatner said wonderingly. "What does that mean?" "Never mind," Bjo replied. "Just go out and say it and back. You'll be a big hit."

All we knew in the audience was that with a few words of introduction from Bjo, a Hollywood star dashed out before us, held his fingers up in a V and said one of the secret code words of fandom (at a time when  The Lord of the  Rings had yet to sell its first fifty thousand copies), "Frodo lives."

We went wild. Even before seeing one frame of film, we went wild! Applause thundered out in a wave, people stood up. A huge, surprised smile lit Shatner's face. (These people loved him!) And he ran back off stage with the applause still ringing. It was Bill's first taste of the heady nectar of fannish adulation. A taste, like single malt, once discovered, oft imbibed.

Came the big moment. Lights were dimmed and windows curtained. A screen lowered over the stage and a 35mm sound projector began to whir.

Some people say that it was the premier episode of Star Trek, George Clayton Johnson's "Man Trap," that was shown. I remember it as Samuel A. Peeples' "Where No Man Has Gone Before." I am positive it involved a crew member who developed extra sensory abilities, went mad with power and had to be put down by the rest of the crew before he destroyed them all.

Whichever it was, I remember being very enthused and thinking that it was actually like good science fiction stories, not about giant monsters and kid oriented juvenile adventures.Nothing like the silliness of Lost in Space. Instead, the episode raised actual human issues. It was very much in the mode of the action-adventure-with-an-idea kind of stories one would have found many of the science fiction magazines of a decade earlier, a sure sign that Hollywood was catching up with real science fiction at last. I thought that if the rest of the series could hold up to this, I would want to watch it.

From the applause around me, I was certain most of the other fans there felt the same.
I liked Shatner, too. He was an emotive actor, who seemed to sincerely want to portray the range of feelings the captain of a starship would experience when confronted with the strange and unfamiliar. Not at all in the rather boringly, to me, stoic mode of many male actors of the era.

Two months later, I was sitting in a living room with half a dozen other fans, watching the premier episode, which certainly was Johnson's "Man Trap." We were not disappointed.

(More about my life with Star Trek in the next installment.)

Jean Marie Stine
Page-Turner Editions
author, Herstory & Other Science Fictions, ebook an paperback.

Friday, April 26, 2013


Exclusive for Futures-Past Editions.

I am reasonably certain, which after the passage of so many years and so much living is not so easy to be, that the first time I heard of  a new science fiction tv show, to be called Star Trek, was from Harlan Ellison at his palatial, more or less, Studio Hills home, Ellison Wonderland. Outside, as one entered, there was a sign that read, Never Look Down, Always Look Up. When You Look Down, All You See  Is The Pennies People Drop. This bit of homey wisdom stuck with me until the day I looked down and found $73 someone had dropped. After it remained unclaimed for three weeks at the store outside which I had found it, I got to keep it.  Since then I have been careful to look down a bit more often.

I am also pretty sure that give a few words or more, what Harlan said was that he had been hired (he supported himself mainly by writing tv scripts in those days),  by some producer I had never heard of named Gene Roddenberry, to write a script for a new sf tv show that was to be aimed at adults and not kiddies, titled Star Trek. It was about a starship and its crew exploring new and unknown worlds and regions of the galaxy, and Roddenberry had, Ellison bragged, sold it the studio programming executives by telling them it would be like the then hit Western-themed television series about a wagon train crossing the U.S., which focused each week on a different passenger’s story or on some encounter by the train’s leaders with a threatening problem. “He told them it would be ‘Wagon Train to the Stars’,” Harlan chortled. “But he was kidding them. He intends it to be a lot better.”

Harlan himself had just finished his initial script for the series, a little thing called “City on the Edge of Forever.” Roddenberry and his associate producer, Gene Coon, were so excited about it, Harlan told me, that they thought it was one of the best scripts they had ever seen and where showing it around to other potential ST writers as an example of the kind of story they were looking for. Harlan had a copy of the script, of course, and I read at least the first few pages, which had a strong antidrug message, and possibly the whole script, with mounting wonder at the quality of the science fictional thinking that had gone into it and at the sophistication, for the era, of its writing.

All this proved very ironic in terms of what happened later. First the network standards and practices people, or maybe it was the two Genes, insisted the antidrug message embodied in the opening teaser of Harlan’s script had to go. No member of the crew, they decreed, could be shown as a crook, a drug addict, or otherwise engaged in any form of illicit activity. In Ellison’s first version  a futuristic drug dealer who had been peddling his wares to various crew members escaped the clutches of security and beamed down through a timewarp to Earth in the past, where he threatened to change history for the worse.  Kirk, Spock and Yeoman Rand (who Harlan dated briefly) go after him.  With drugs and a drug dealer ruled out, Harlan was told he must substitute one of ST’s three stars (namely Dr. McCoy to cut down on expenses) for the drug dealer role and come up with an alternate way go get him down to the planet. Someone at ST suggested that a subspace disturbance could cause the camera (er-I mean ship) to lurch causing the good doctor (a reference that actually relates to Samuel Johnson and not Isaac Asimov, although I revere both equally)  to accidentally inject himself with a toxic substance which would drive him mad, causing him to jump into the transporter. Harlan foamed at the mouth over this, as well he might, screaming at the producers that a doctor “accidentally” injecting himself was an idea somewhere below stupid. He offered to dream up a more plausible explanation and rewrite the scene in a somewhat more believable fashion.  In his final draft, McCoy gets bit by an infected alien creature he is researching, goes crazy, beams down, etc. But the two Genes apparently liked their idea better and had the script rewritten so that McCoy injects himself accidentally when the ship lurches – and the artificial gravity glitches somehow. But the indignities, for a script the Genes themselves had proclaimed an exemplar of the kind of script they wanted for the show, were only beginning.
Then came the matter of the ending. In Harlan’s original draft, the drug dealer, bad as he is, instinctively saves a woman he sees about to be run over and killed by a truck. Her death, Kirk and Spock have learned, results in positive social changes that lead to the future being more peaceful and the birth of the Federation and the universe from which they, their crew, and everyone they know and love comes. If she lives, their future world will never come into existence and the stars will be constantly at war and trillions will perish.

Spock, ever logical, tackles the drug dealer to prevent him from rescuing the woman, thus preserving the more or less peaceful future of the Federation by allowing her die. Kirk, who has fallen in love with her, stands frozen, unable to bring himself to tackle her rescuer, and thus through inaction allowing her to live and prevent his entire future universe from coming into being. Spock later consoles him that no one ever loved a woman so much they were willing to give up a universe for her. (Note the breathtaking originality of the idea that passes by so quickly here. For in Ellison’s epic it is the bad guy who is trying to save the heroine and the hero who must cooperate in her death taking place.)

When the producers had finished with the script and had it rewritten to their heart’s content, it is McCoy, the humanist, who  instinctively tries to rescue the woman when he sees her about to be hit by a truck.  This time it is Kirk, the show’s hero and star, rising selflessly to put the greater good of the people of his universe above love (as a good WWII Naval captain should) who tackles the man about to save her, dragging the good doctor back, as he watches the woman he loves perish before his eyes.

On one visit to Ellison Wonderland, not long before the episode aired, he told the several of us there that when he had read the final shooting script they had changed everything (even moving the locale from Chicago to New York, despite the fact that the whole thing was shot on the back lot) and every bit of dialogue in what the two Genes had once deemed the model Star Trek script. The producers did keep one thing though, he remarked somewhat disconsolately. “At one point I described a planet as ’silvery’. They kept the word ’silvery’. ”

It was a sad commentary on a business well known for its dementia.
And, yet, when the show did air, knowing all I knew, I still had to admit that even the bones of what Ellison had conceived, broken and rearranged, made one of the best television episodes of any show I had seen all year.

It has of course been ranked since as one of the Best 100 Television Episodes of All Time, and was voted a Hugo Award by the assembled attendees of the World Science Fiction Convention the next Year.  Harlan got his revenge, though, when his original script for the show was voted Best Hour-Long Script by his fellow television writers at Writers Guild of America annual awards dinner. Beating out, it should be noted for those who do not believe in karma, a script by Gene Coon, who had done a good deal of the rewriting on Harlan’s Script.

It was not long after hearing Harlan’s glowing endorsement of the show, and I think before things started to go really bad with his script and the show’s producers, that at the July 1966 Westercon I learned  an episode of Star Trek would be screened at the con to see what fans thought, several months in advance of the program’s television debut. So you can imagination with what keen anticipation I looked forward to that screening. (I believe this marked the first time any television producer had taken cognizance of the science fiction world and sought its reaction. Anyone who has ever been to ComicCon or DragonCon knows things have changed a bit since then.)

In the next instalment of these memoirs, I will talk about that screening, my personal reaction to it, and what I remember of fan reaction in general.

Jean Marie Stine
Page-Turner Editions
author, Herstory & Other Science Fictions, ebook an paperback


Exclusive for Futures-Past Editions.

The first time I met Gene Roddenberry, back in 1967, I thought, “He’s a Shark.”

Then I thought, with great satisfaction, “Our shark. In an industry filled with sharks and bottom feeders, we need a shark if we want to get good science fiction on television.” He had called me in because he had secured the rights to produce a Tarzan movie and he needed an assistant to do research and to write the first draft of the movie’s “bible.” Gene had a unique idea for his Tarzan movie. Up until then, the producers of the Tarzan movies had kept the stories rooted in the contemporary world, with the most recent feature taking place in the 1960s. Gene wanted to go back to the story’s roots and set it around 1915. Although Gene found himself embroiled in studio politics that ultimately derailed the project, his essential no still survived twenty years later at the heart of the next regularly produced Tarzan movie, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan.

But before I tell you about that, I should probably tell you about the first time I worked for him. We never met that time. I just talked to him on the phone. From attending science fiction cons and read the show’s record breaking fan mail, Gene had figured out the marketing potential of the show. ST fans would literally buy anything with the words Star Trek on it or in any way related to the show. (By comparison, it was almost twenty years to the day from when ST went off the air at the end of the third season before Paramount licensed the first pair of Spock ears!) Gene was founding a company with Majel Barrett called Lincoln Enterprises to sell whatever ST merchandise he could lay his hands on free or produce at next to no cost. Based on Bjo Trimble’s recommendation, some samples of my writing and a phone call, I was hired to write Lincoln Enterprises’ first catalog. Thus I wrote the first few thousand lines of the first Star Trek merchandising copy ever.

But before I tell you how my involvement with Star Trek first began, at a West Coast science fiction convention circa 1964, when Gene preview the “Charlie X” episode (it was a first time ever TV preview to a science fiction audience at a convention).

But I see I have run out of time. So I will begin with the latter story in the next edition of this column.

Jean Marie Stine
Page-Turner Editions
author, Herstory & Other Science Fictions, ebook an paperback

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Apocalypse in Science Fiction by Joe Vadalma

Joe Vadalma is the author of 38 science fiction, fantasy and horror novels, in moods from the profoundly serious to the wildly comic. He is best known for his multi-volume Morgaine the Witch series.
Joe seeks inspiration for this blog.
One of the reoccurring themes in science fiction is the end of the world, or at least the end of civilization. It is not surprising since there are many ways that this could actually come about. Also, prophets have been predicting catastrophic disasters from the time men learned to speak to each other. Two popular ones lately are global warming and an asteroid strike. So we have a choice of drowning when the ice caps melt or being smashed to atoms by a big rock.

For a while, when a few people caught bird flu in Asia, pandemics were all the rage. In the latter half of the twentieth century, everyone was betting on an all-out atomic war, but that fizzled when the cold war ended. Recently, I read article about a scientist who said we could all die from a burst of gamma ray radiation from a nearby supernova explosion. As the clock struck midnight ushering in the year 2000, all the computers were supposed go mad because they only had the last two digits of the year and could not distinguish between the twentieth and twenty-first century (which to some people did not start until 2001 anyway.)

Anyway, science fiction authors love to write about Armageddon of one sort or other. Here are some of my  personal favorites. There are two by John Brunner. The first is Stand on Zanzibar where civilization is brought to an end  because of overpopulation. Overpopulation as threat seems to be no longer in vogue. I guess because there are so many ways of dealing with overpopulation. For example, nuke the excess or give everybody a gun and give them leave to hunt and kill everybody they hate.

The second book by Brunner is The Sheep Look Up which is about pollution. We are pretty certain that is the most likely end that we face.

There are many atomic war novels. These were especially popular during the cold war years. The funniest was the movie Doctor Strangelove, where a deranged general starts world war three because of his erectile dysfunction. I also like the novel On the Beach by Nevil Schute, which was also made into a good movie. In this novel, the last people on earth after an atomic war are living in Australia waiting to die from the radioactivity produced by all those hydrogen bombs going off. Probably my all time favorite about a post apocalyptic world is Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller where a monk finds an artifact from our civilization after civilization has gone back to the dark ages.

One of the more interesting ways that the human race comes to an end is a little known book called The Black Corridor by Michael Moorcock. In this short novel, bigotry runs wild so that everyone kills everyone else that is different from himself or herself. It's a real chiller. I got goose bumps reading it.

Invasions by aliens is another possibility that could end the human race. My favorite is Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, where the invaders look like elephants.

An old movie that's fun is When  Worlds Collide where a group of scientists and a chosen few race to build a spaceship to escape from a collusion between earth and another planet. The one thing I never quite understood was where the planet they were headed for was located

I liked the TV miniseries The Stand by Stephen King as the survivors of a pandemic meet up at the cabin of an old woman and go fight the devil in Las Vegas.

Of course there are many more great science fiction novels and stories about the Apocalypse, but those were some of my personal favorites, because they each have a slightly odd slant to the end of the world.

I have written one novel about Armageddon myself. It is called Morgaine and Armageddon and has a lot of stuff in it based loosely on The Book of Revelations of the Christian Bible.  If you are interested in reading it in eBook format, the book can be obtained from Amazon or Barnes and Noble

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Jean Marie Stine on Fritz Leiber - Three Slices of Memories

This is a true story. Around 2 a.m. one night in the late nineteen sixties, my friend Ken Hedberg, known in the Sacramento fandom of the area as "Bear," was walking down the deserted Venus Beach boardwalk, when he suddenly decided it was time to go home, and cut between two apartment buildings toward Pacific Ave. where he could catch a bus or hitch a ride. As he passed between the buildings, he heard soft chanting and strange music played softly and a weird flickering bluish light coming from a ground floor window on his left. This totally stopped him dead, and he stood listening for a few minutes. Then driven by insatiable curiosity - was it a magic school, a coven of witches, some musicians, or what? - he went around to the front of the apartment house and looked at the name cards under the buzzers. Well, you could have knocked him over with a feather, and yet he wasn't surprised. The name of the occupant of the apartment was, of course, Fritz Leiber. I know the part about Fritz's apartment window being on the left if you cut through from the beach going east is true, because several years later I lived around the corner on Horizon. I mentioned the incident to Fritz, leaving him room to respond to the part about the eerie music and chanting, but he didn't say anything. Fritz just smiled. Fritz's smile could hide a multitude of meanings - and secrets.

A few years earlier on a Wednesday night, the late Ed Baker and I were having diner at Cal's Diner, which on Thursday nights was the after meeting habitat of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. We were in the midst of fannish conversation, when I looked up and looming over Ed's head, I saw Fritz. Since he lived on the far side of town, we were surprised to see him. "Hey, Fritz!" I waved, "Join us?" He did and we asked why he was there. Fritz stared around a bit bewildered and asked where everyone else was! Somehow in the midst of late night writing bouts, and other bouts, he had gotten his days mixed up and thought it was Thursday. Our good fortune. We had a couple hours with the great Fritz Leiber all to ourselves. We asked him if he was writing anything. He said he was writing the first ever non-Burroughs Tarzan novel authorized by the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate, a novelization of the script for a new movie about the fabled apeman, Tarzan and the Valley of Gold. (It is an amazing job of writing, and both Leiber and Burroughs fans should rush to read a copy.) Fritz then turned to us, struck himself on the chest, and said, "You know, Tarzan Jad-Guru and all that stuff." Since the book in which Lord Clayton is called Tarzan Jad-Guru was one of the earliest Tarzan novels I read in Middle School, and it was Fritz Leiber declaiming it, I nearly swooned. After dinner, the three of us walked down the street a ways, and suddenly Fritz began declaiming Shakespeare to us in his majestic sonorous voice. Magic night of nights!

Come to think of it, at the first LASFS meeting I attended (the heaven of being in a place surrounded only by science fiction fans), I bought a raffle ticket on a new science fiction paperback. It was The Silver Eggheads, the novel J. D. Crayne describes him as writing at a friends house in the preceding blog. I won it, and Fritz was there to autograph it. It was the first time I met the author of the Fafard-Mouser stories, The Green Millennium (a favorite), the unforgettable Gather, Darkness, "Lean Times in Lankhmar" (which the aforementioned Bear brought over to my house one summer in high school, and held three of us spellbound while he read everyone of it's delicious 10,000 words), Conjure Wife, and so much more. His candle burned bright and illuminated the world for the rest of us.

Fritz Leiber -- Master of the Incomprehensible

Some memories by J. D. Crayne

One of the first professional writers that I met, as a nineteen-year-old science fiction fan, was Fritz Leiber, and he remains one of the few writers that  I have known who looked like a character out of his own books. Well over six feet tall, with broad shoulders, a rather gaunt face, and a shock of iron-gray hair, Fritz was the perfect model of an action hero, fitting for a man who is best known for his sword and sorcery novels.  

I met Fritz in 1961 at a party hosted by Forrest J Ackerman, who was then living in a pistachio-green stucco house on Sherbourne Drive in Los Angeles.  Forry frequently held parties for out-of-town writers and actors, and many of the local writers and some fans were also invited, to meet the guest of honor.

I don't remember who the guest of honor was on that occasion, but I still remember meeting Fritz Leiber.  I had recently read his science fiction novel, The Green Millenium, which impressed me greatly and, somewhat wide-eyed and flustered over actually meeting the author, I told him how much I enjoyed it.  He thanked me gravely and courteously, in a wonderfully deep, resonate voice that thrilled me to the tips of my neo-fan toes.  

He was always courteous, kind, and gently-spoken, and had a deep appreciation and regard for his readers.  He also had remarkable presence, perhaps an inheritance from his father, who was an actor on the stage and was noted for his Shakespearean portrayals, especial of King Lear.  Fritz owned a plaster bust from a sculpture of his father in that role, and I remember an artist of our acquaintance tinting the while plaster for him with judicious applications of paint and brown shoe polish. The same artist and her husband provided him with a quiet working space when his home life became a little too hectic. One of his best-loved fantasy novels was written at their dining room table.

Besides being tall and imposing, he was also remarkably strong in the wrist.  My father, an amateur metal worker, made an iron sword as a prop for a friend's Fafhrd costume. It was about three feet long, with a 4" ball pommel  and wire-wrapped grip. Seeing it at a local masquerade, Fritz remarked that it was a "hand and a half" sword, lifted it in one hand, and swung it around in arcs as easily as if it had been a light-weight fencing foil.

As a writer, he was remarkably versatile. Besides his fantasy stories about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, for which he is probably best known , he also wrote science fiction and horror.  His Conjure Wife is a remarkably chilling tale of what happens when a college professor discovers that his wife is using magic to protect him – and forces her to abandon the practice – while The Green Millennium is a cheerfully eccentric tale centered on a green cat-like alien that makes people happy.  The Wanderer is more of a traditional science fiction story about a new planet in the solar system, similar in some ways to Ehrlich's The Big Eye and Wylie's and Balmer's When Worlds Collide.

 The attraction in his fantasy tales is that he created protagonists which real people can identify with.  Prior to his innovations, fantasy heroes were unbelievably brave, bold, and bloodthirsty.  Robert E. Howard's Conan and Bran Mak Morn are muscular hunks with little in their minds beyond knowing how to swing a sword.  (and Howard describes their sword play in scenes that go on for pages). Fritz's  Fafhrd, although a massive barbarian, has the angst of any average man up against situations and antagonists that he does not understand.  His partner, the Gray Mouser, is an undersized confidence trickster, not precisely amoral, but definitely looking for the main chance and the best benefit to himself.  These are people that the armchair adventurer can identify and sympathize with.  When the Mouser is shrunk to rat size in one novel and forced to walk on the balls of his feet to avoid leaving human footprints, we applaud his ingenuity.  Fafhrd hopes that his patron, the non-human sorcerer Ningauble, will come to his aid, and in his prayers we recognize the pleas of someone who has hope, but knows that the gods follow their own whims.  Although sword and sorcery novels were primarily written for men, Fritz Leiber created characters that won the sympathy and understanding of women as well. 

His genius was in knowing how much to say and how much to keep hidden from the reader. There is a sense of mystery in his stories that leaves us wondering what is real, in the story's context, and what is illusion.  In one of the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser  tales his two protagonists are taken to an undersea palace by two water nymphs, for amorous purposes.  But on their return to the surface, neither man is willing to reveal to the other exactly what his nymph was like.  Certainly not out of gentlemanly reticence; perhaps from experiences each would rather the other did not know about.  Ningauble and Sheelba of the Eyeless Face (the mysterious patrons of Fafhrd and the Mouser) are never fully described. It is up to the reader to imagine them.

One year I went to a science fiction convention on the east coast and wore a costume depicting Ningauble of the Seven Eyes to the masquerade.  I was rather free-wheeling with my interpretation, wearing a belly-dancer's skirt and a full head mask with six stalk-eyes made from latex over papier-mâché.  The seventh "eye" was a large imitation diamond glued in my navel.   Fritz was delighted.  He was accompanying a blind friend, and asked me to kneel down next to her chair so that she could run her fingers over the mask and "see" it.  "Wouldn't it be wonderful if that was the reality?" he murmured to me, a moment I shall always treasure.
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