Tag: Star Trek

A.E. van Vogt (1912-2000)

“…others write about the future…van Vogt writes from the future…”

Unknown, Mid-Twentieth century

 

A. E. van Vogt

Ah, it’s the missed opportunities that bug me most. Here’s another one.

I pitched the following to my friend and colleague Bill Lane, master dramatist, who joined forces with me to pitch it to the radio drama department. In this age of podcasting, I believe it remains a solid, valid pitch:


It’s hard to make a living writing fiction in this country.  It’s even harder to do it writing science fiction. Manitoba native Alfred Etan van Vogt did so and became one of the most respected SF writers of his day, on a par with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. His work remains enormously popular in the U.K., France, Brazil and Sweden, and yet few Canadians have ever heard of him.  We are lousy at celebrating our own.

And this is a Canadian whose work should be celebrated.  His work profoundly influenced the entire field of speculative fiction.  He once successfully sued the makers of the movie Alien for $50,000 US for ripping off his work. And without Van Vogt and his tales of the Space Beagle, there would have been no Star Trek. 

With typical Canadian modesty, he once described himself as “a bright but simple fellow from Canada.”  Others hold him in higher esteem.  He possesses, according to Charles Platt: “…a compelling presence, an intensity, a slightly mad gleam in his eye, and when he writes he comes up with eerie powerful journeys into symbolic depths of the psyche. When you open one of his novel you open the subconscious. He writes dreams.”

van Vogt… was not hard and cold and unemotional, in the manner of Clement, Asimov and Heinlein. He could balance his cubic light years and the paraphernalia of super science with moments of tenderness and pure loony joy.

Brian W. Aldiss

…van Vogt had…nothing less than the ability to deliver (a) total alienness within (b) a hugely panoramic background that (c) seemingly lacked reason and yet came together to (d) end by making total if terrifying sense.

Barry N. malzberg

Let’s wield what influence we possess to increase the Canadian public’s awareness of one of our own, a giant in his field, whose work deserves to be celebrated.


Slan

After many years of creating well regarded but relatively unlucrative short fiction, van Vogt turned his attention to the full-length novel.  His first, and by some accounts his most famous, was Slan.  Written while Vogt was living in Ottawa, Slan recounts the maturation of a mutant with telepathic powers and enhanced intelligence in a world hostile to his kind.

(It) was a paralleling of Ernest Thomson Seton‘s The Biography of a Grizzly: the pattern of Grizzly was: his mother is killed at the beginning, and the cub is on his own. He doesn’t find an old lady to help him, but he manages to find a place where he can hide for his first year or so. By then he is the equivalent of Jommy at nine — stronger than all the lesser animals of the forest; but he’d better stay away from full-grown black bears, etc. Finally, he comes to what Seton called in his heading: “The Days of His Strength.” He is a full-grown grizzly bear, king of the forest and mountains. For the most part I didn’t need parallels like that, but that one struck me as being interesting, and I used it automatically.

A.E. Van Vogt on his work Slan

Although a fun story with plenty of action, Slan is permeated with themes of fear, discrimination and alienation.  Eminently suitable for adaptation to radio, the opportunities for creative, exciting sound design abound.   

“Yes, I said ´mob´. That´s all people are these days. A mob, a beast we´ve helped build up with our propaganda. They´re afraid, mortally afraid for their babies, and we haven´t got a scientist who can think objectively on the matter. In fact, we haven´t got a scientist worthy of the name. What incentive is there for a human being to spend a lifetime in research when in his mind is the deadening knowledge that all the discoveries he can hope to make have long since been perfected by the slans? That they´re waiting out there somewhere in secret caves or written out on paper, ready for the day when the slans make their next attempt to take over the world?”

Excerpt from A.E. Van Vogt’s Slan

City on the Edge of Forever

Photo from Memory Alpha

Once upon a time I tried to make a radio play version of the Star Trek episode City on the Edge of Forever, by science fiction writer Harlan Ellison. The Powers That Be at CBC Radio at the time were in favour of the idea. The Business Rights people contacted Harlan and attempted to negotiate with him. I can’t quite recall how it came about, but I wound up calling him.

I’d been a big fan of his work ever since reading his short story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, which blew my mind (I actually wrote a version it for radio, since lost to time). I don’t think I even knew then that he’d written City on the Edge of Forever. Much later I discovered that he is considered by many to be, shall we say, problematic. Anyway, being a fan at the time, I was tickled at the opportunity to talk to him. We had a short conversation which focussed mostly on how much the rights to City on the Edge of Forever would cost. I informed him that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was a public broadcaster and we’d pay what we could. Needless to say, it wasn’t enough for Harlan, so the project never happened.

If you’re wondering how we could ever even have conceived such a thing, here’s my original pitch, which lays it all out. The thing is, as far as I know, it all stills hold true today. You could not produce a version of Gene Roddenberry’s City on the Edge of Forever, but you COULD produce a version of Harlan Ellison’s. If you really wanted to, and if you had enough money to purchase the rights. And maybe changed the characters’ names.

The City on the Edge of Forever Pitch

There was a time when if you were a Star Trek fan then you were a member of a relatively small club.  This is no longer the case.  Now, just about everyone is familiar with Star Trek – it’s a cultural phenomenon. 

Arguably the best Star Trek episode ever made – in any of the ubiquitous franchise’s many incarnations – is City on the Edge of Forever.  City on the Edge of Forever features the original and most beloved characters in the Star Trek pantheon: Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, “Bones” McCoy, and so on.  The story is simple and poignant: Kirk travels back in time to 1930’s New York to prevent a shipmate from altering time.  There, he falls in love, but to fulfill his mission, he must allow the woman he has fallen in love with to die.

The episode spawned a famous feud between the episode’s original writer, Harlan Ellison, and Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry.  Citing cost overruns and other difficulties, Roddenberry and his staff (Gene L. Coon and D.C. Fontana, mainly) completely rewrote Ellison’s version of the episode before shooting it.  The two versions are quite a bit different, yet both have demonstrable merit.  Roddenberry’s went on to win a Hugo; Ellison’s won the Writer’s Guild of America’s Award for Most Outstanding Teleplay.  Just about everyone has seen Roddenberry’s version of City on the Edge of Forever — Ellison’s version has never been produced for film, televison or radio.

Harlan Ellison owns the rights to his original, award-winning version of the most famous Star Trek episode ever to air.  Paramount Studios owns the rights to the Star Trek franchise; they do not own the rights to Harlan’s script. What this means is that CBC Radio can produce a radio play version of City on the Edge of Forever simply by changing the names of the characters. 

The free publicity for CBC Radio likely to be generated by mounting a radio version of Ellison’s City on the Edge of Forever, coupled with the intrinsic entertainment value of the piece itself, is probably reason enough to produce the property.  Couching the production within the context of the issue of creative ownership (conversations with Harlan Ellison and other artists who perceive their work to have been mishandled by others) might justify the production further.

I believe this to be quite an opportunity.  Given Star Trek’s place in popular culture, it is possible – perhaps even likely – that a CBC Radio production of Harlan Ellison’s City on the Edge of Forever could be nothing less than a cultural event.

Ten Most Influential People Who Never Lived

So there’s this book called  The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived.

Who are the ten most influential people who never lived in your opinion?

Here’s mine:

1. Captain James Tiberius Kirk

Not to be confused with the man who played him.  My childhood was suffused with Kirk and Star Trek, well before the Star Trek phenomenon took over the world (to my eternal dismay).

Kirk was a hero, a leader of men and women, and a champion of limitless human potential.  My first real introduction to Star Trek was through books, not television.  Science fiction writer James Blish turned each episode into a short story in a series of books in the seventies.  I devoured them. I still own every one.  And one cannot talk of Captain Kirk in the context of inspirational imaginary characters without pointing out that Kirk himself was allegedly inspired by yet another imaginary character: Horatio Hornblower.

2. Johnny Sokko

My favourite TV show when I was six

I grew up in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.  When I was six years old we had access to all of three television channels.  Saturday mornings at eight one of those channels played a show called “Johnny Sokko and his Giant Robot,” about a boy who discovers a wristband that allows him to control a giant robot with which to fight evil.  Can you imagine?  Your very own giant robot with which to fight evil!  I can honestly say that were it not for this show I would never have been inspired later in life to build my own giant robot with which to, um, fight evil and, ah… never mind.

3. Hawkeye Pierce

“Let’s go join the nurses,” suggests MASH surgeon Trapper John to fellow surgeon Hawkeye, who  replies: “Yeah… make them into one big nurse.”

No one ever laughed at Hawkeye’s jokes, but that didn’t stop him from cracking them.  Humour allowed Hawkeye to cope amid the insanity of war.  He got away with a lot because he was the best at what he did, and he had the coolest nickname on this list.

4. The Man With No Name

Clint Eastwood’s cooler than thou cowboy in Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti western trilogy may in fact have had a name: an undertaker in a Fistful of Dollars calls him Joe, and he is referred to in the credits by that name.  It has been suggested that the appeal of The Man With No Name is that he can do things that none of the rest of us can.  I know I certainly wouldn’t mind a piece of the poise that “Joe” exhibits on screen .  (Although as cool as The Man With No Name is in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, it’s really Eli Wallach’s character Tuco who steals the show.)

5. Merlin

Merlin advised Kings, shaping world events from the shadows.  Though he appeared to age normally, he experienced life backwards, from death to birth instead of the other way around (try wrapping your head around that one).  My knowledge of Merlin is mostly gleaned from the novels of Mary Stewart and T.H. White, as well as the brilliant portrayal of Merlin by actor Nicol Williamson in John Boorman’s superlative film Excalibur.

6. Bugs Bunny

Rivaled only by Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name for sheer, unadulterated cool, but arguably more human, and infinitely funnier.  To an adversary who happens to be a bull: “What a nin-cow-poop!  What a gulli-bull!”  But the real appeal of Bugs Bunny to me is the meta-cartooning genius so often displayed by his creators: Bugs Bunny as cartoonist/God messing with a thoroughly irritated Daffy Duck, just to cite one classic example.

7. Gully Foyle

In Alfred Bester’s seminal science fiction classic The Stars My Destination (or perhaps more properly Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright, the original title of the novel) Gully Foyle illustrates the heights any of us might achieve if only we were properly motivated.  There’s a lot of great science fiction being written today, but damn I miss the sheer frenetic vitality of books like this.

8. Hobbes

The tiger, not the philosopher. Hobbes is Calvin’s best friend, there when Calvin needs him and more than willing to go along with Calvin’s every crazy scheme.  Who doesn’t need a Hobbes in their life?  Words fail me.

A certain wizard

9. Gandalf

I hung on just about every word in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring’s chiefly to find out more about Gandalf.  Who was he, really?  What was he?  Where did he come from?  We never really find out, though I suppose there might have been more information on him in the Silmarillion… alas, I never could wade my way through that one.

10. Hoopoe

In my teens and twenties I read just about everything written by James Michener.  His book The Drifters inspired me to spend the better part of a year in France and Europe.  Another book of Michener’s, The Source, prompted me to question my every assumption concerning religion.  And in that book it was The Psalm of the Hoopoe Bird, the story of Hoopoe, the ancient Israeli engineer who so resembled the Hoopoe Bird , that touched me the most.

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