181. Star Trek on Sale

In my favorite used books store, overstocked Star Trek novels went on sale recently, so I bought a sackful – mostly those that appeared to feature Spock.

I hated Star Trek when it aired in the sixties. I was about eighteen, and just coming off of five or six years or reading the best of “real” science fiction. I’ve mellowed since. Reruns today have a nostalgic glow, and besides, the Star Trek movies did a lot to wash the bad taste of the Littlies and the Will of Landru out of my mouth.

I’ve even come to appreciate Shatner. When Star Trek was in its original run, I thought Shatner epitomized everything that was wrong with the series. Now I’m a writer, so now I know better. It wasn’t Shatner, the actor, or Kirk, the character that made me wince. It was the words the writers sometimes put in his mouth.

Some of the stories were excellent, some were acceptable, and almost all had some leavening of humor. But there were clunkers – oh, my, were there clunkers. Looking back, I have to credit Shatner with extreme professionalism for keeping a straight face while saying some of the lines the writers fed him.

Best Star Trek episode — Balance of Terror

Worst Star Trek episode — The Omega Glory

There, how’s that for starting a controversy.

The novels I bought yesterday were as mixed as the original series. I sat down with _______ by _______ and found it so overwritten that I couldn’t get past page ten. Then I picked up The Vulcan Academy Murders by Jean Lorrah, and found it to be a pleasant read despite the title. (There will be a review tomorrow.)

About a year ago, I spent a few hours in another used bookstore, picking out a selection of thirty and forty year old books that I had read as a young man. I was struck by how many authors were there who had written one or two good – sometimes excellent – books and then disappeared. 

It’s hard to get published, and even harder to make a living at writing. Most writers also do something else. Many teach college English; many science fiction writers are actually scientists. I had some early success, followed by a career teaching middle school, so I know the drill.

Actually, this all has a long history. Mark Twain and Charles Dickens did not make their fortunes as writers, despite their success. Mark Twain was a raconteur, a humorist, a sparkling speaker who filled halls across America. He made a bundle as a speaker, which helped sell his books, which in turn helped fill the halls whenever he spoke. Charles Dickens was looking at poverty, half way through his career, when he wrote A Christmas Carol. He spent the rest of his life doing readings of that wonderful tale, and making the money his printed works were not providing.

I think that writing Star Trek novels must be keeping a lot of writers fed. The original TV series certainly did. As I was reading the wiki list of episodes to remind myself of the title of that excrecable tale of the Yangs and Comms, I saw Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Theodore Sturgeon, Fredric Brown, Harlan Ellison, Norman Spinrad, David Gerrold, Nathan Butler, and Jerry Sohl, all names I had known from science fiction novels outside Star Trek.

FYI, Nathan Butler is a pen name of Jerry Sohl. I read several of his novels in the local library in my early teens, but he never became a household name in the science fiction universe, despite an admirable list of publications. It appears that he wrote widely, but made his living in television.

Doesn’t that sound familiar?


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