Several years ago whilst doing some freelance work for a magazine I had the honour of speaking with science fiction legend Vonda N McIntyre. When she passed away last year I remembered our chat and how giving she was of her time, she was warm, informative and very humble. Then I forgot about it until listening to the Entropy Effect podcast by Claytemple Media triggered a memory that I had my original interview notes with her lying around on a hard drive somewhere. I had a quick dig about and to my delight found my notes. Due to the requirements of the publication I was working
for I could use very little of what she had told me or it was edited in a way that meant it lost some of her voice from the final piece. So in tribute to her I have edited my original notes and transcribed her answers verbatim and bring you this lost interview from the vaults.
I think you will agree it highlights her great intelligence and the obvious passion she had for science fiction writing and the world of Star Trek. The interview also captures a lost era and is a fascinating glimpse into a Trek of yesteryear and a movie industry that is in many ways unrecognisable to what we have today. It was a smaller world back then where it felt possible to really connect with our heroes, a strange thing to reflect on in our current hyper-connected world.
Hi Vonda, thank you very much for speaking with me. I'm interested in the history of Star Trek movie tie-in novels and expanded universe literature and how they sometimes differ from the screen. For example you came up with Mr Sulu's first name, so I hoped you could give me a few words about that and what it felt like when it became part of canon?
I couldn't imagine writing a love scene in which the characters called each other by their family names. It would be silly. So for Mr. Sulu's given name I snurtched the name of the hero of one of the first novels ever written, The Tale of Genji, by the Lady Murasaki. 12th-century Japan, if I remember right. Years later I found that the scene had caused quite a stir between Paramount and Pocket Books, because Mr. Sulu didn't have a first name in the original series. The person vetting the manuscript at Paramount balked. My editor had the good idea of asking Gene Roddenberry and George Takei what they thought, and they both liked it, so the book, and the love scene, and Mr. Sulu's given name, went ahead. I knew nothing about this till years after the book was published. Years after that, another SF and tie-in writer (Peter David, if I remember right) was on the set of one of the movies and mentioned Mr. Sulu's given name in the book, and apparently the director added it to the movie on the spot. This story is second- or third-hand so you might want to check it with someone closer to the event than wikipedia.
Tell me about your process of adapting, did you work just from the script or see the film as well and how much freedom did you have to expand?
I worked from the script. This was not necessarily the script that accurately represented what ended up on screen. Once in a while (mainly for Wrath of Khan) I had a few production stills. Usually if I asked for information, I would get sent a publicity picture of William Shatner as Captain Kirk. This was less than useful because, as you might imagine, I know what William Shatner as Captain Kirk looks like. Remember that we're talking about a time before most publishers had digitized their book-producing process and everything was still done on paper galleys and page proofs. Getting galleys and page proofs back and forth took more time than it does now with email. Because of differences in the way books were produced and movies are produced, the manuscript had to be finished well before the movie was done. I never saw any of the movies before the manuscript had to be turned in. (Or indeed until the movies came out in the theater.) I've never been to a Star Trek movie set. The producer, screenwriter, and director have many more things on their minds than talking to the tie-in writer. If you transcribe a movie screenplay, you get at best a novella, which is about half the length of a modern novel. To create a novel from a screenplay, you have the choice of padding mercilessly or adding subplots and backstory. I was fortunate in being trusted to add subplots and backstory and to treat the characters and the universe with respect. (Merciless padding tends to be boring, both for the writer and the reader.) The difference in inherent length between a movie and a novel is why many movies made from novels are unsatisfying to fans of the original novel.
I learned this firsthand when I wrote a screenplay, "The Moon and the Sun", at the Chesterfield Writers Workshop at Universal and Amblin. The whole time I was writing the screenplay, I had to leave out all sorts of wonderful information, so I promised myself a novel when the workshop ended. The novel is about 120,000 words long (three times the length of a novella). It won the Nebula Award, and has been optioned by Bill Mechanic (The New World and Coraline). (Here is its e-book: http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/the-moon-and-the-sun/ and its
So thinking about being trusted with backstory tell me about Peter Preston, the idea originally was that he would be Scotty's nephew in Wrath of Khan, and he plays a prominent role in your novel and these are great scenes and make his death very emotive, what led to this expanded storyline for Peter?
Peter Preston had more screen time in the screenplay I was working from, if I remember right. I believe I added the graveyard scene. So I expanded that character's arc somewhat, but not as much as it would seem if you compared the movie and the novel rather than the screenplay and the novel.
Are there other instances, you can remember, that stand out where the scenes in the book differ from the scenes on the screen?
I made up most of Saavik's backstory. Does the movie even mention that she's Romulan and Vulcan? I blush to admit I can't remember. That was in the screenplay. Her flirtation with David Marcus ended up mostly on the cutting-room floor, but it was also in the screenplay I worked from. I expanded it a little.
Vonda Neel McIntyre (August 28, 1948 – April 1, 2019)