Exploring "Strange New Worlds"

by Michelle Erica Green

Pocket Books Takes New Writers To The Stars

Finally, fans can buy a short story collection which spans all four Star Trek series...with all the stories written by new talents. Strange New Worlds, a trade paperback from Pocket Books, contains eighteen Trek stories written by amateur writers, selected out of thousands of submissions to a contest of the same name.

"The book was created out of love," writes editor Dean Wesley Smith, explaining the desire on the part of Pocket Books Senior Editor John J. Ordover to create a way for fans to write for other fans. Of course, such stories have existed for years in zines and on the net, but the writers in Strange New Worlds were paid for their stories and several won significant bonus prizes. In addition, the professional sale makes several of them eligible for membership in the SFWA association, and could lead them to agents, book contracts, and further success in their writing careers.

"When I saw the post John Ordover made about the contest, I knew I had to submit to it - the opportunity to possibly get actual Trek fiction published was too good to pass up," says Alara Rogers, a well-known Internet fan writer and former psychobiology grad student who's hoping to raise enough money to go back to school. Her Next Generation story "Civil Disobedience," in which Q must weigh his own sense of right and wrong against the Continuum's orders, emerged from "trying to justify Q's non-involvement in humanity's war with the Borg in the light of my belief that he introduced humanity to the Borg mostly to let humans know the Borg were coming."

Rogers notes that she didn't write the story specifically for the contest - she wrote it sometime earlier. "Q is my favorite character, and the Q and Borg episodes of TNG are among my all-time favorite Trek eps of any series," she adds. This is her second professional publication.

Strange New Worlds is also the second professional publication for Jerry M. Wolfe, author of "The Naked Truth," in which Reginald Barclay and Ro Laren must sift through their troubled histories in order to save an injured shuttle crew. "I like them both for their quirkiness and felt I understood them both fairly well," he explains. They do not fit the usual Starfleet "mold." And yet, beneath it all, they have the essential qualities necessary for their jobs. I also picked them because I felt there would be fewer stories submitted that centered on them, while there would be dozens and dozens of Picard stories, Kirk stories, Data stories, etc."

A mathematics professor at the University of Oregon, Wolfe is a member of the Eugene Professional Writer's Workshop and a "long-time and avid reader of both science fiction and fantasy." He says the Strange New Worlds contest presented him with an excellent opportunity to enter the market without competition from established writers. "Even better, I am a long-time Trek fan, so this was a labor of love," he points out, adding that the contest also held out the possibility of "opening doors" at Pocket Books for a Star Trek novel proposal.

Editor Ordover isn't promising the contest winners special treatment, and actually recommends in his afterword to Strange New Worlds that writers consider submitting to magazines like Analog and Fantasy and Science Fiction instead of working on Trek stories. "It's a very limited market," he noted in an interview with Mania earlier this year. Still, he has high praise for the caliber of the writing by the Strange New Worlds authors, and has been promoting them online and assisting them with contacts in the industry.

Phaedra M. Weldon, third-prize winner for "The Lights in the Sky," says she considers herself a writer already "because when attending the 1996 Southwest Writers Conference I heard Dean Wesley Smith say, 'A writer is someone who writes.'" Her story is about Shahna, the former Thrall from "The Gamesters of Triskelion," decades after Kirk's wager freed her people from the Providers.

"I love Trek! It was a wonderful, unbelieveable opportunity," she says of the contest, noting that she has written Star Trek fiction for herself, but never for a fanzine - "I've read them though." A lifelong Trekker from a family of Trekkers, she plans to follow Smith's advice for writers: "Write everyday, regardless, and submit one story a week to a professional market while working on a novel."

Peg Robinson, a legendary fan fiction writer on the alt.startrek.creative newsgroup on the internet, has a story upcoming in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine in addition to the one in Strange New Worlds, and is currently working on a novel. "John Ordover and Dean Wesley Smith have been very friendly and supportive; the chance to learn a bit first-hand about how a book comes together has been just fantastic," she notes of the experience. "I now know a little about editing galleys - and getting them in late. My success in the contest has increased my confidence, and the reaction of other fans has been incredible."

While Robinson's story in Strange New Worlds concerns Captain Picard taking a serious look at the ways the Prime Directive can become an exclusionary law, she is best known among fans for co-writing the Voyager "Talking Stick-Circle" series, and for her prolific posts on a.s.c. about the parameters of fan fiction and writing criticism. "I was trying to think up something for the contest [but] the ideas that I was coming up with for other series were too long, by far -- they all wanted to turn into novels," she admits. "So I asked myself what one topic I really would like to take on, came up with the Prime Directive, and immediately found myself dealing with Picard."

Robinson deems her entry in the contest "sort of a loving and ritual farewell to fanfic," which she labels "sort of a surprising and pleasant scenic detour for me." She credits her writing partner and the friendly fan community with getting and keeping her involved, "and a huge store of things I wanted to deal with in the Trek universe. It seemed the logical thing to do at the time." Still, given her decision to devote herself to completing and submitting projects to magazines and working on her novel, she doesn't foresee writing more Trek stories in the future, though she also doesn't rule it out.

Rogers, however, who has been involved in setting up and maintaining the alt.startrek.creative archives and has been a judge of its annual contests for fan writers (in which Robinson has won awards), says, "I will continue to write fan fiction for the same reasons I always wrote fan fiction. It is true that writing fan fiction does not build your skills for pro fic, and it also takes time away from writing pro fic. I write fan fiction as a social activity and because it is a completely different kind of fiction to pro fiction - I would no more quit doing it because it impairs my ability to write pro than I would quit writing SF because it impairs my ability to write The Great American Novel."

Unlike Wolfe, Robinson and Rogers, Bobbie Benton Hull, who wrote "Together Again For The First Time" for Strange New Worlds, had never submitted a piece of writing to anyone before the contest. A full-time mother with a degree in soil science who was raised in rural Washington, she has trouble finding time to write because her two daughters and herself are heavily involved in 4-H, taking care of eight sheep, six lambs, about 25 rabbits, a dozen chickens, four ducks, a turkey, and a pig. Strange New Worlds was the first writing project she completed, but not the first award she has won in fandom, having gotten costuming prizes at conventions for her Kai Winn outfit.

Hull's story concerns Picard and Guinan's first meeting in San Francisco in the 1890's - a sequel of sorts to the episode "Time's Arrow." Hull credits several high school teachers with cultivating her love of writing, but admits she really didn't think about working at it professionally. She'd started but never finished a novel, and thought writing for the Pocket Books contest would give her "a kick in the backside."

Now, she laughs, "I have never received a rejection notice! I'm one for one, which seems to really put the pressure on for my next project!" She hopes that the anthology publication will make it easier for her to get an agent now that she is working on stories for submission elsewhere. Since Strange New Worlds was her first professional publication, she is also eligible to enter the contest again, which she intends to do.

Craig D.B. Patton, who describes his entry as "a ghost-type horror story done in the Voyager context, also plans to enter the context again next time out. In "Monthuglu," Voyager and its crew encouter a starship graveyard and only one survivor, an alien captain who tells them the anomaly is inhabited by a supernatural force. Though Voyager is not Patton's favorite Trek series, it seemed the best setting for his story.

Though he wrote creatively in college, Patton, the marketing director of a software company, had mostly done business writing for the past several years. He decided he wanted to flex his creative muscles again, and says the contest format gave him "the things I needed: a deadline to work against and the ability to use characters and settings I was already familiar with."

"The result is my first published story," he smiles. "If I can do this after not having written a story in 6 years and holding down a full time job, what might happen if I actually work at it for a bit?"

Jackee Crowell also submitted a Voyager story, about an alien's encounter with the crew and is affected by their influence. "The idea for the story didn't come all at once - it was actually something I began writing because I was blocked on the story I wanted to write for the contest," admits the North Carolina-born customer service technician for a small technical firm.

Crowell is a member of JetC, the large internet Janeway/Chakotay fan organization which currently has over fifteen chapters. "I like the fanfic reading community because it has given me the courage to do some things I would never have had the nerve to do otherwise," she writes. "It directly led me to enter this contest, which has allowed me to realize the beginning of a dream. I can say that I am trying to go pro, and I can also say that I'm happy that if there is a story I really want to tell that fits no place else, newsgroups are there."

If Strange New Worlds sounds like a labor of love for the contributors, the editors say it was for them as well. Editor Smith was a long-time Trek fan who has written several novels with his wife and writing partner, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, while Paula M. Block of Paramount licensing used to work on zines and Ordover has a long history of Trek fandom. In fact, in a section called "Because We Can," Ordover and Block included some of their own Trek fiction (which I am tempted to label "Mary Sue").

At the end of the volume, readers can find information for entering the contest for the second anthology, and get a piece of the action themselves.

Click here to order Book One, Book Two, Book Three and Book Four from amazon.com.

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