Thursday, May 7, 2009

TREK WEEK - Novelist VONDA N. McINTYRE interview!

Winner of both the Nebula and Hugo Awards, writer Vonda N. McIntyre has been writing both short stories and novels for almost four decades. In addition to her original novels The Exile Waiting, Dreamsnake, Superluminal, Barbary and The Moon and the Sun, McIntyre has also created the Starfarers series.

In 1981, she wrote her first Star Trek novel, The Entropy Effect, which is regarded as a favorite among Trekkies.

She was kind enough to chat with Forces of Geek and reflect about her career in Starfleet.

FOG!:You had written several novels before writing Star Trek. Were you a fan prior and how did you get involved with the franchise?

VMcI: I started writing a teleplay for the series during the first commercial break of the first televised episode. When I went off to my freshman year in college a couple of weeks later, I dragged along a tiny little black-and-white portable tv set so I could watch the show.

It took me a couple of years to find out how to submit teleplays – for one thing, I had to learn how to write teleplays – and one got as far as a producer’s desk, apparently.

Then the series got cancelled.

In the meantime, I also started writing sf short stories and sending them out.

I was 20 when I sold the first one.

Some years later, when Pocket Books took over the license to publish Star Trek novels, the editor, David Hartwell, knew that I held the series in considerable regard and affection, so he asked if I’d like to write an original Star Trek novel.

I accepted.

The Entropy Effect was an expansion of one of my teleplays – it was like collaborating with my younger self. Aside from the ridiculously tight deadline, it was fun. (I never would have been able to do it if not for my first computer, a tan case Osborne I. The Osborne was the first portable computer, for values of “portable” equivalent to “size, shape, and weight of a portable sewing machine.”)

In addition to writing the novelizations of Treks 2, 3, and 4, you also wrote the novel Enterprise: The First Adventure, which in many ways can be seen as a precursor to the new film. How did that novel come about and what challenges did you have in creating the “origin” story of these iconic characters?

I think the novels and the series and the movies exist in different alternate universes, so I doubt Enterprise had any influence on the current movie (which I haven’t seen, of course). It seems to me that most of the backstories of the main characters are pretty clearly outlined in the series, and only needed to be fleshed out. The secondary characters I had more of a free hand with. Gene Roddenberry enjoyed the book,

I’m glad to say, and on the rare occasion that I’ve crossed paths with a couple of the actors, they’ve said they enjoyed the extra backstory, too.

Is there a specific Trek character that you identified with?

My dorm room at college had a little sign on it that said “Science Officer.” Being a girl science geek in the 1960s was not an easy role so the sense of alienation appealed to me. But these days people don’t raise their eyebrows quite so high when they find out you’re a science geek or even a science fiction writer. The result is that I identify more with a character who’s more comfortable in his own skin, and that would be Sulu.

You also named Sulu, giving him the first name Hikaru, which means “To Shine.” How did you decide on that name for the character?

I don’t speak Japanese except for a few words used in martial arts such as “throw that person on the floor in this particular way,” so your translation may well be correct. I always thought it meant The Shining One. Possibly we read different translations of The Tale of Genji? That’s where I swiped it from. I liked the book, which, according to the professor of the class in which I first read it, was the first novel ever written, and I liked the character, and I couldn’t quite envision the characters’ calling each other by their surnames in a love scene.

So I gave him a first name. There was some hoo-hah over it at the licensing office (“How dare she!” sort of thing) until my editor had the brilliant idea of asking Gene Roddenberry and George Takei what they thought.

I don’t know if either of them said “Make it so,” but they could have.

Now as Trek prepares for its re-imagining, what do you think makes the voyages of the U.S.S. Enterprise still pertinent 40 years since its initial launch?

Optimism, which is in kind of short supply after the last eight years. Better since election day, though.

What are you currently working on?

Life is complicated, but I’ve had a couple of short stories in the science journal Nature. As a science geek, I’m ridiculously pleased to be in Nature. (“A Modest Proposal for the Perfection of Nature” and “Misprint” are both on my website, along with quite a lot of other fiction; “LADeDeDa,” a collaboration with Ursula K. Le Guin, was published in the 12 March issue.
I’m also part of Book View CafĂ©, an authors’ co-op publishing our backlists, and some new work as well, as ebooks. BVC just reprinted my novel Dreamsnake in ebook form.

What do you currently geek over?

The Institute for Figuring’s hyperbolic coral reef project, which has some of my artwork in it. I posted some pictures at the MathCrafts link of my website. I read a good bit, though I’m 4,867 years behind on SF. I enjoy the mysteries of Laurie R. King and Steven F. Havill. Nonfiction has a big place on my reading shelf, as well, and I recommend to you Adrienne Mayor’s The First Fossil Hunters, and Charles C. Mann’s 1491.

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