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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Volume 3
Editor Dean Wesley Smith on selecting fan fiction for the new anthology.
By Frank Garcia
March 08, 2000
The paperback two-volume set of STAR TREKSTRANGE NEW WORLDS now on sale at bookstores everywhere is just a preview of things to come. Last November, John Ordover, Pocket Books' Executive Editor for STAR TREK books announced the winning authors of the third volume of this short story writing contest on America Online and STAR TREK newsgroups. A very select group of 20 lucky and creative authors are quite probably the happiest TREK fans on the planet. Their creative work will be seen by devout fans in May 2000 when the book will be released in trade paperback format.
STRANGE NEW WORLDS is Pocket Books' compilation of STAR TREK short stories written by previously unpublished fan authors. The winning entries were chosen by series editor Dean Wesley Smith with assistance from John J. Ordover and Paula M. Block. The book will present 19 new short fiction tales, including three grand prize winning stories: first place, Sarah A. Hoyt & Rebecca Lickiss for their STAR TREK (The Original Series) story, 'If I Lose Thee;' second place, Kim Sheard for the DEEP SPACE NINE story, 'Ninety-Three Hours'; and third place, Robert T. Jeschonek for THE NEXT GENERATION story, 'Whatever You Do, Don't Read This Story.' There's also an additional entry in the book that is not part of the writer's contest. Ordover has solicited from Dr. Lawrence Schoen, head of the Klingon Language Institute, a story titled 'jubH'a' which is written entirely in the Klingon language.
It's notable to recognize that four authors delivered contributions to previous SNW volumes: Dayton Ward (TOS: 'The Aliens Are Coming') wrote TOS 'Reflections' in the first volume and VOY 'Almost... But Not Quite' in the second; Jerry Wolfe (TNG: 'Out of the Box, Thinking') wrote TNG 'The Naked Truth' in the first volume; Kim Sheard (DS9: 'Ninety-Three Hours') wrote VOY 'Touched' in the second volume; and Jackee Crowell (VOY: 'Gift of the Mourners') wrote VOY 'I, Voyager' in the first volume.
Since the birth of STAR TREK there has been fan fiction. The franchise's popularity has spawned not only a loyal, worldwide fan base, but also dedicated individuals who enjoy going deeper into that universe by writing their own adventures. For the past 30 years there has been fanzines written, illustrated, published and distributed at conventions, by mail order or just between friends at fan clubs. In fact, Gene Roddenberry's creation is not the only TV series that produces fanzines. Name any favorite cult television show and there's quite probably a fanzine devoted to it, whether it is MAN FROM UNCLE or Roddenberry's 1974 TV Movie THE QUESTOR TAPES. Paramount Pictures, STAR TREK'S copyright owner, has always frowned upon this activity, with other people are profiting from their property. Consequently, fanzines have always been made and distributed in small quantities.
All that changed two years ago. John Ordover came up with the idea of a contest for which ordinary, unpublished fans in the United States and Canada were invited to write STAR TREK short stories in a professional volume. Of course, it took legal wrangling (two years worth) between Pocket Books and Paramount's parent company, Viacom, to make the contest possible.
Once all the moorings were detached, Ordover tapped veteran science fiction and STAR TREK writer, Dean Wesley Smith to command and launch the volume they called STRANGE NEW WORLDS. It was released in July 1998 and contained 18 fresh and original adventures covering all flavors of Star Trek. The book proved to be so successful that volume two was published last May. In this compilation, 20 more imaginative tales were crafted by fans.
To get the ball rolling on volume one, advertisements for contest participants were announced on America Online in a discussion group titled Strange New Writers. 'We sent a lot of flyers to conventions,' explains Dean Wesley Smith. ' We got 3,000 submissions in the first year. That was really good.' Smith, formerly co-publisher of Pulphouse magazine, has written over 60 short stories and has been nominated four times for a Hugo as Best Editor. Smith's love for Gene Roddenberry's creation is evident, having authoring almost a dozen TREK titles including the just-published CAPTAIN PROTON, a STAR TREK VOYAGER tale. 'It surprised me. I didn't think we could get the word out fast enough. Last year we got over 4,000 submissions. That didn't surprise me. And this year it's at least that number, and it's really good again. This year it surprised me because a lot of them came in right at the end. Everyone is getting used to the deadline and the contest. I didn't count them exactly but it's probably that. And it looks like we're going to do number four.'
Imagine the sheer labor required to sift through that many envelopes. Also imagine how much space it takes up in an office. Smith believes that one U.S. Postal box holds about 125 entries; with 4,000 envelopes flooding into his workspace, that's about 32 U.S. Postal boxes that have to be managed. It takes weeks to sort and digest. 'I give every manuscript exactly the same chance,' he says. 'Whether it's going to end up being in the book or not, I give them all the same chance and I never look at names. I just read the manuscript. I read until it's clear that this is not something I can buy and then I stop reading. Sometimes it's defective. It's so poorly written the writers don't have the skill yet. I can tell immediately if this is going to be a professional level manuscript. Sometimes they do something that's against Trek, like a sex story or something. Those are the ones I can reject the fastest. '
Smith's job as an editor gets really tough once the reject pile begins to grow into a mountain. He's left with a set of manuscripts that still have to be whittled down to the top 20 winners. 'There were about 500 of them out of the thousands that I have to actually spend a lot of time considering,' says Smith. 'They're not immediately rejectable because of the quality or something good enough. I call that my second read pile. Those are the ones that made the first cut. Then I cut it down to about 50. Then it's really hard. I have 50 stories that I think are pretty good enough to be in this anthology. Now, I'll pick the top 20. And that's what has happened every year.'
To help aspiring writers gain a better understanding of what makes a successful story, Smith defined his criteria. 'It has to be a STAR TREK story. It may not have, necessarily, STAR TREK characters immediately in them. It has to feel like a STAR TREK story. It has to be coherently part of the STAR TREK world. It can be part of the TV series or the movies [but] you can't change the STAR TREK universe. Probably the most important thing for the winners, is that it has to be an original approach. It has to be something cool.'
One of the good uses of publishing short stories is that it gives fans an opportunity to create sequels to their favorite episodes or characters, as Smith explains. 'A lot are stories are where the author said, 'Boy, that didn't get answered! And I'm going to answer this in my short story.' That qualifies! There's a lot of that. They write a good short story answering that question. It's interesting. If it feels like STAR TREK, and if they don't kill off the main characters or violate the STAR TREK worlds yeah!'
Several stories in the first volume were good examples of 'sequels we'd like to see.' In 'The Last Tribble,' Keith L. Davis wondered whatever happened to the crafty Cyrano Jones from 'The Trouble with Tribbles.' In 'The Lights in the Sky,' Phaedra M. Weldron showed us what became of Shahna from 'The Gamesters of Triskelion.' In the second volume's second prize-winning story, 'Triptych,' Melissa Dickinson revised the ending of 'City on the Edge of Forever.'
Beyond sequels, STRANGE NEW WORLDS is also an opportunity for innovative storytelling. In the first volume we had stories that were told from the point of view of the Enterprise's computers and another story was told from the Captain's or Officer's logs. Even Data's prized pet cat, Spot, shared the limelight in a story. Paula Block, from Viacom's Licensing department, stepped into the pages with her own whimsical tale of a lonely Yeoman, 'The Girl Who Controlled Gene Kelly's Feet.'
By nature fan fiction are written by amateurs; consequently, the quality can run the gamut from really bad to very good and, occasionally, excellent. Smith estimates that out of the thousands of entries he received in this project, the residual 500 made his 'second read' pile. 'Those are all pro or near-pro level writing,' says Smith. 'Somewhere along the way they've learned enough writing skills to write a STAR TREK story on a professional level. Now, that's still fan fiction. My job becomes very difficult because I have to read them and push 20 that I think are the best that will fit into the anthology. They're the best written, but that doesn't mean they're the niftiest idea. They're the best that come together to make a book. That's why they hired a professional editor.
'I'm a hardcore STAR TREK fan from the 1960s. I'd come home from high school and, instead of going out on a date or something, watch STAR TREK on Friday night. The fact that I get to write STAR TREK books makes me a fan writer. I just get paid for it!'