Taylor's Trek From Fan To Author
To commemorate 20 years of Star Trek novels, Pocket Books decided to commission a collection of excerpts and essays on the printed fiction's contributions to the franchise. Yet when selecting an editor for this tribute volume, senior editor John Ordover chose a well-known fan rather than one of his famous writers. The result, Star Trek: Adventures in Time and Space by Chicago attorney Mary P. Taylor, presents a Trekker's view of the best Star Trek literary voyages.
Like any anthology, it highlights the editor's preferences - in this case, an admitted bias in favor of books based on the original series. Yet because it was put together by a fan, the book reflects a passion for characters and themes popular with many viewers, as opposed to more esoteric elements that have achieved critical attention. You won't find chapters on 24th-century feminism or on homoerotic subtext in Kirk/Spock stories, but you will find almost 600 pages of excerpts and annotation, plus a timeline placing all the novels within the Star Trek chronology.
"The whole idea was a sort of clip show for the Pocket books, to present the ones I thought were the best," recalled Taylor, who had never before written a book. "There were some topics that were pretty obvious, like 'James T. Kirk,' but a lot that were not so obvious. My assignment was to put the categories together, select the books for the categories, and explain why I thought the particular excerpts fit the topics. John gave me a lot of independence and leeway on this."
"It's not exactly true that Mary Taylor wasn't a publisher author - she doesn't write fiction, but you'll recall that she 'published' lots and lots of reviews, commentary, and straight-out complaints about the Trek novels on Compuserve a few years back," Ordover noted. "While I didn't always agree with what she was saying about the books, I always thought her writing was excellent. For a book like this, I needed someone who could write well and had passionate feelings about the Trek novels. Mary came instantly to mind."
Always a Fan
Before going any further, I had better admit that I know Mary Taylor personally; Mary is familiar to many readers of the Star Trek forum on America Online, of Simon and Schuster's Star Trek Books web site, and of various fan club newsletters under various screen names (you, too, can write to MaryT2054@aol.com if you have a question or comment about Adventures in Time and Space).
"I've known John for a number of years because we're both active participants in Compuserve's Star Trek forum - after many discussions about the books, about the show, about politics, we started exchanging e-mails and occasionally talking live, and I guess over time he became somewhat acquainted with my writing," said Taylor. "He also knew that, being a lawyer, I was comfortable with writing and making deadlines. He came to me with the project, and I thought it sure sounded interesting to reread a lot of the Star Trek books, I did not reread all of them. Originally we had thought about including the back cover blurbs for the books that were not in my excerpts and commentary, but it turned out that the book was quite large without them, and it worked without them."
Taylor's commentary introduces the excerpts, but does not summarize the books in most cases. She does explain crossover collections which involve multiple television series, as well as the New Frontier line, which creates a new ship and captain who voyage only in the Pocket Books. Thematic chapters such as "We Are Family - A Study In Our Humanity," "Heroes Under Fire," and "Humor in Starfleet Uniform" complement such topics as "Most Logical - Spock of Vulcan" and "The Shakespearian Captain - Jean-Luc Picard."
"I think I'm more interested in character than in anything else, and in reasonable and logical developments of character and exploration of characters' backgrounds," observed Taylor, who added that she didn't cry when the Enterprise blew up but she did cry when Spock died - "It was devastating, and I wasn't connected enough to fandom at the time to realize he was going to come back." She also likes solid plot-driven stories. "I pretty much like anything that's a good story, whether it tells us more about Spock and his background or has a rousing action-adventure with Kirk at the helm."
If she sounds prejudiced in favor of the big two, she pleads guilty, but notes that there are more than twice as many original series books as any other. "The whole idea of the book is that it's in celebration of Pocket's 20th anniversary of publishing Star Trek novels, so it's the whole history," she said, adding that she got very little input from Paramount. "Paula Block at Paramount licensing sent back a couple of comments saying this or that book she did or did not enjoy, but she did not tell me that I had to exclude anything that I wanted to include, and she only had two suggestions for books that I had forgotten - and I ended up including them not because she told me to but because they worked and I liked them."
Would Paramount have said no if she had wanted to include the controversial novel Killing Time - written by Della Van Hise, a famous K/S author, and edited to excise homoerotic subtext after an initial printing which included a pseudo-rape scene? "Yes, probably," laughed Taylor, joking that she wanted her book to be PG-13, and adding that she never considered Killing Time because she thought other books were much better.
"One book that I would have loved to include, but could not for legal reasons, was the Barbara Hambly book Ishmael, which wanders into another universe that does not belong to Paramount," added Taylor. Ishmael features characters and situations from the 1968 television series Here Come the Brides starring Mark Lenard, who also played Spock's father. "That was a fun read, but I think they had to work out a deal just to publish it in the first place."
Was she sorry not to get to include excerpts or commentary from any of Bantam Books' Trek novels, which preceded Pocket Books' series? "I frankly do not think the Bantam novels are as good as the Pocket books, that's my personal opinion on them, although I definitely enjoyed them," said the author, who mentioned the James Blish episode adaptations and other Bantam fiction in her introduction. "We couldn't include them in any event because Pocket doesn't have the right to publish excerpts from Bantam. But Adventures in Time and Space was always conceived as a celebration of 20 years of Pocket Books' Star Trek novels."
Likes and Dislikes
Taylor's favorite among the more than 200 novels is Josepha Sherman and Susan Schwartz's Vulcan's Forge, though she also greatly enjoyed the sequel Vulcan's Heart. As for her least favorite, "Let's put it this way: I did not spend a lot of time on books I did not like. I knew that I had limited space to begin with, I knew I was going to be making tough choices among books I liked, so there was really no point in spending my time rereading books I did not like."
Instead she started by looking at a list of all the published Pocket books, which are usually available in the recent paperbacks, making notes and "doing very preliminary rough categorization, what books I remembered were the great Spock books, what were the great Kirk books. Some really stand out - like Best Destiny just leaps out among Kirk books, you can't not include it. Then I started reading nearly all the books again in August last year, and as I read, I kept refining the categories."
Taylor took notes in a Star Trek notebook she had bought at the now-closed Viacom store in Chicago, and kept to a strict reading schedule that reduced her private time to nil. "My life consisted of reading Star Trek books, writing about Star Trek books, and working at the office - we were very busy through that whole period. I slept, I ate, I went swimming, and that's all I did. The only social things, the whole six months, I went to Las Vegas with some friends in a local Star Trek club, and I went to a one-day Star Trek convention in January!"
There were some books that Taylor no longer owned and that Ordover could not find in the warehouse, so Taylor was forced to rely on good used bookstores. "There were books that I scrounged from friends...and I actually gave some of those back!" she laughed. "There was a lot of random selection in the reading order. I read what I felt like reading at the moment. I would finish a book and look at the pile and decide what grabbed me.Some mornings one just doesn't want to get up and read tragedy; those mornings would be good mornings for something like Q In Law."
Yet when she sat down New Years' weekend for her "close-to-final organizing" of the structure, "it all fell into place. I wouldn't say it was easy, but it was easier than I expected it to be."
Relatively few Voyager books warranted inclusion in Adventures in Time and Space, though former executive producer Jeri Taylor's Mosaic and Pathways both made it in. So did one of the stories from Strange New Worlds - the anthologies of fiction written by fans, to whom Ordover has always been friendly. "The lack of Voyager books is not commentary on the quality - I think Christie Golden is the best writer, it's just a matter of their being fewer Voyager books than there are others," said Taylor. "There's not that many DS9 books either, although the DS9 books that I include I think are absolutely stunning books."
She added, "I had completely forgotten just how much TOS there was, even though they're squirreled away all over my house, and even though I read them constantly. So many of them are so good. The hardest thing about this book was deciding what not to include. I don't think that either John or I foresaw that I would end up with the 70-some books that I've got. Some excerpts are only a few pages, and some are 15 pages...whatever I thought worked to illustrate the point I was making. The last weekend I did end up taking out several books because it just went too long. I didn't want to bore anybody."
Though she's not burned out on Trek by any means, Taylor admits that first month after she completed the manuscript, she did not read any Star Trek at all. "I had read nothing else for six months, I don't even think I read the newspaper. I had a lot of reading to catch up on. A friend of mine gave me an Anne Rice book as a birthday present, but my birthday is in January and she didn't give it to me until February when I turned the book in! I was still watching it on TV - I even watched the DS9 finale despite stupid WGN breaking up the episode into two parts."
Though it had never occurred to Taylor that she might publish a book someday, "for all that I read everything under the sun and I have many, many friends who are writers," she said that she had so much fun working on this project that she hopes to do so again. "I don't know what at this point - right now my writing efforts are mostly in the legal realm," she noted ruefully. "I have not seriously thought in terms of writing fiction, I've never really written fiction outside Star Trek adventures when I was twelve. But there's a good chance I would do something like this again. It almost seems obscene that one could actually get paid for doing something that enjoyable. This project has taught me that I can get professionally published; it was an eye-opening experience from that perspective."
Taylor welcomes feedback and hopes Adventures in Time and Space provokes discussion - even dissent, though she hopes people will enjoy the book. "As the book has become more real, the whole experience has become more surreal - when I got my advance copy from John, I just carried it around with me for a few days showing it to everybody," confessed the fan. "I even took it over to the Waldenbooks where I've been buying books for years to show it to the manager. They are probably going to have a book signing for me. I'll go to cons and sign books! It boggles the mind."
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