conducted by Tim Farley and Randall Landers
originally published in Orion 24, March 1987
interview conducted on September 19th 1985
The event was DraftTrek 85, a Star Trek mini-convention, held at the North Druid Hills Cinema and Drafthouse in Atlanta, Georgia, on September 19th 1985. The guest of honor, David Gerrold, was the only bright spot in what would later be termed as a financial disaster by its sponsors.
Question: Right now, David, youve become somewhat of a controversial figure among certain factions of Star Trek fandom. How do you feel about that?
Answer: Well, I cant understand why Im controversial. I always tell the truth. Theres the old saying, the truth will set you free. Well, first its going to piss you off. I tell the truth, and some people get upset by it. One of the truths that Ive been telling lately is that Kirk and Spock are not only lovers, theyre not even boyfriends. Theyre just good friends. This has offended a whole subculture that is convinced they are.
Its bizarre! I was at a convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a few weeks ago. This lady comes up to me with this stuff, and, after a thirty minute discussion, I finally said, "Stop! Were arguing over whether or not two fictitious characters are getting their hands in each others pants!"
I honestly dont care! I honestly dont!! If you want to imagine that Kirk and Spock are going off and schtooping each other, thats fine with me; I dont care!!
But the fact of the matter is that people are dying of this disease called AIDS. Theres a blood donor shortage in this country. People are starving to death in Ethiopia (and we havent begun to address the problem of food distribution there). We still have poverty in this country. Theres an illiteracy problem where one out of twenty people in this country cant even read. And this woman wants to argue about whether or not Kirk and Spock are schtooping each other? Its insane!
Look at the paper. We have this problem with acid rain. We have acid fog. The Statue of Liberty has to be re-plated because the atmosphere is eating it away. We have things that need to be done in this country. There is work to do here. And we have these people literally wasting their lives arguing over whether or not Kirk is right-handed or left-handed, whether he dresses to the right or the left, whether or not he french-kissed Spock on the first date. Well, who the fuck cares?
The truth of the matter is that your life can either about doing something that makes a difference on this planet. Or your life can be about playing patty-cake with your own bullshit.
I got a letter from a lady about this K/S thing. I decided to write back to her. I said, "Look, I judge my actions on this planet on whether or not theyre going to make a difference here. I breathe and use up air, food, and other resources. I choose to use my talents in the right way. I have some skill with communications so I try to wake up some people and say do something. So I wrote to her, "My goal is to make a difference on this planet. My mother used to tell me as a kid, Leave this planet a better place than when you found it."
Well, I got a letter back from this...well, I can best describe this person as a, well, lets say its something you cant say on A.M. radio. [He makes a face.] I got a tape back from this...thing that called itself a Human being that said, "Well, that is the lost pompous attitude I have ever heard."
Okay, so Im pompous! I believe that one person can make a difference. I believe I can make a difference. I dont even believe it, I know it! We did something on Star Trek that made a difference. This guy from NASA came up to me one time, and he said, "If you guys had been on the air for another year, we wouldnt have had our budget but. We couldve gone to the moon another five times because of the relationship that Star Trek had with peoples perception of what space was all about." What we did on Star Trek was that we raised peoples consciousness so that space wasnt this weird fantasy; it was the future of the Human race. We as Human beings can be better than we are now...we can make a better world than what weve got. By finding injustices and doing something about them. And we would do this on Star Trek and people would get it.
Star Trek fans, the good ones that I consider my friends, went out to this small little convention and raised some 250 pints of blood. It was a tiny little convention timed each year before a long weekend so that there would be enough blood on hand for the Labor Day Weekend. And thats not the only convention that has sponsored a blood drive; this thing has spread so that a lot of them now have blood drives. And some of them raise money for charities; I went to one in England and they raised something like $3000.00 for Muscular Dystrophy. When they told me what they were doing, I passed over my speakers fee. Ive been lucky, and I dont want to deprive someone. So I told them to give it to the kids. And there have been other cons, Equicon 1 for one, gave $3000.00 to the cancer fund of the Motion Picture Home and Hospital ... and there are these people who want to argue whether or not Kirk and Spock are schtooping each other?!
In the end, where do you want to have stood? When these so-called Star Trek fans (and I dont consider them Star Trek fans--I think they are fat ladies with a sexual dysfunction), when they come forth and want to prove their moral position, let them do something that makes a difference on the planet. As far as Im concerned, the real Star Trek fans have demonstrated what theyre up to over and over and over again. Star Trek fans made the stars on the Hollywood Walk possible; theyve given money so that children with terminal diseases can fulfill their fantasies (the Make-A-Wish Foundation).
So, yeah, Im controversial! When creating Star Trek, from 1966 through 1969, we were not writing masturbatory fantasies for fat ladies with sexual dysfunctions, and those of you reading this can stick it. I think Human beings should not wallow. I tell people to stop peeing in the swimming pool and get out, especially when its not your pool in the first place. So yeah, Im controversial...sue me. [Reconsiders.] No, no, dont sue me!
Im not a nice man; Ive said this over and over. And Ill tell you this much: ten or fifteen years ago when fandom was first getting started, I couldnt understand why some people were saying such mean things about me. Theyd say, "Youre not a nice person." And Id say, "Yes, I am." And theyd say, "No, youre not!" After a few years, it began to sink in. You know, maybe they know something I dont. I really am not a nice person. And since Ive begun telling everyone, "Im not a nice person," my life has been a lot easier.
What is your opinion of the current Pocketbooks Star Trek novel series?
Let me give you some facts instead of opinions; "opinion" is just a fancy word for "bullshit." I did a Star Trek novel for Bantam Books. And they are good and kind and honorable people at Bantam. When they were buying Star Trek books, they paid $7500.00 and a 4% royalty (this isnt the greatest royalty, you know, but it is acceptable). If you were doing a regular novel, youd get about a 6% royalty, but I only got a 4% royalty for the Star Trek novel. And $7500.00 is a fair price for any novel, and when I did The Galactic Whirlpool all those years ago, that was a pretty good price for any novel.
Now, we have come forward to 1985, and Pocketbooks is paying only $5000.00 and giving only a 2% royalty. Youll notice the advance. No self-respecting professional author will sign a contract to do a novel under those terms. Do you see the progress? When they moved the Star Trek novels from Bantam Books to Pocketbooks (which, like Paramount Pictures, was a division of Gulf+Western, not only have they not advanced the salaries, theyd reduced them. Theyve decided to pay only $5000.00 to the writers. So no professional writer of any real merit is going to do a Star Trek novel. The last professional level Star Trek novelist was Diane Duane, and now she wont go near them either. Its an insult to take that little money when you can do the same amount of work, take $10,000.00 and a 6% to 8% royalty, and get your own name on your own novel, and you wouldnt have to have Shatner and Nimoys picture on the cover; you could have your picture on the cover.So whats left? Whos left to write Star Trek novels? Fans. Fans have this great dream that the greatest thing in the world would be to write their Star Trek novel, take it to Pocketbooks, sell it and have it printed, and that makes them a Star Trek author. The bad news for you is that the readers are getting these amateur works. Some of it is this soft-core K/S stuff (the hint that Kirk and Spock are schtooping each other). I know of at least one book where the author [Editors Note: Della Van Hise] wrote the sex scenes, carefully cut those sex scenes out, and passed them around, saying, "These are the scenes that go here and here and here." This is a scurrilous thing to do. Anyway, the fans that are selling the novels are getting ripped off because theyre not getting a professional level contract. They should be getting more money. If theyre being asked to handle a professional novel, its being handled like a professional novel, they should be getting more money. But they think its an honor to do a Star Trek novel. They dont know better. Theyre getting screwed. They think its an honor to take $5000.00 for the privilege of doing a Star Trek novel. Let me tell you this: it is not an honor to get screwed by Pocketbooks. So what you have is a set of unprofessional novels being produced. Now, for the fans who are buying this book and that book, theyre playing Russian roulette. You pay $3.95 for a book, and maybe its good, professional writing, and maybe its not! Some of these writers are competent; some are not. You decide for yourself which ones are and arent. The policy of bringing the price down so that professional writers wont touch them, so fans will be the only ones writing them, hurts all Star Trek fans. If Pocketbooks would revise their policy, allow authors to get $10,000.00 and 6%-8%, theyd have a lot of professional writers willing, eager, to write Star Trek novels. Theyd come in and be proud to do quality Star Trek.
I did one novel, The Galactic Whirlpool, and for me it was a chance to tell one more Star Trek story, the Star Trek that I grew up with, that I knew and loved, based on the television series, based on the characters that Gene Roddenberry told me about, based on the characters that Nimoy and Shatner explained to me ("Theyll do this; they wont do that."), based on the Enterprises capabilities, based upon what it was we all cared about in that original series. I would be proud to do a Star Trek novel under those conditions, but to do Star Trek as what its been turned into, well, I have my reservations. And so do the fans. A lot of Star Trek fans are becoming a little uneasy about what the people in charge are doing to Star Trek. Now maybe Im treading on some dangerous ground here, but a lot of people in charge dont care about Star Trek; they care about making a buck. Now I dont care; Ive got a lot of other things going so that if I never do another Star Trek again, I wont starve to death. Id love to do one, because I love Star Trek, but I have real high standards. I want to do a Star Trek that I can be proud of having done. I dont want to do crap. Okay, so Im no friend to some Star Trek fans who write novels for Pocketbooks.
What do you think of the current Star Trek movies?
The movies...Harve Bennett is a man who knows production; he knows television; he knows movies. Im impressed with him. Harve is a nice man; he did a dynamite thing with A Woman Called Golda. Hes a good producer. I have personal disagreements with some of his story elements. I mean, after all, I had disagreements with Gene Roddenberry, and I pointed them out to Gene, too, so I would certainly argue with Harve Bennett. And I did. But hes the producer; its his job; and its clear that hes exploring areas of Star Trek that we could not do in the television series. Im being really tactful here because Harve invites me in to see the movies before theyre released.
I liked the second one, directed by Nick Meyer, really well. I was impressed by what Leonard did with the third film, and any quibbles I lay have, with the plot and story, are personal quibbles and Ill keep them to myself. I do think, though, they should have left Spock dead; I dont think they shouldve blown up the Enterprise. I mean, once Spock was dead, he should have stayed dead. If they wanted to keep him around, they never shouldve killed him off in the first place. But thats been already decided; hes back.
Getting back to the novels for a minute, what ever happened to your Star Trek novel, To Shroud the Stars?
I was going to do a Star Trek novel for Pocketbooks. That was before David Hartwell was fired. It was going to be a quickie. I was going to write a bunch of fans into it, and we were going to have some fun with it. It was going to be a fun book for the fans.
And then Pocketbooks got...crazy. I mean it, crazy.
Let me tell you this: Pocketbooks almost forced me to retire as a writer. Not because of the weird things they were doing to writers, and not because they were disheartening me, but because all the things they were doing cumulatively were more terrifying than any thing I could ever write.
Are all the tribbles manufactured these days licensed by you?
No. I have made a decision somewhere along the line not to. I had a company way back when that made them and sold them. And there were two reasons for this: a lot of fans were writing me saying, "Where can I find this? and that?" So we printed up four flyers. One of them was a listing of books they might be interested in, one of them was a list of companies that were selling Star Trek stuff, and on the reverse side, the fourth flyer was an order blank for tribbles, bumper stickers and buttons. We sold these tribbles, and all, to pay for the cost of printing up the flyers. We didnt earn a lot of money; it wasnt enough to let us live a lavish lifestyle. We had five employees, three people making tribbles and two selling them. One person, a learning impaired person, made a sizable income to go to conventions. Another person paid her way through college by making tribbles. Another woman also paid her way to cons with it. The fourth woman was salaried; she was underpaid, and we made up for it by taking her to cons, too. I was the fifth person...
But I started getting trashed at conventions by science fiction fans and writers. Nowadays, everyone is doing it. But it caused a moral dilemma in me . I was called a phony, greedy, scuzball. Well, Im not phony. And not really all that greedy. But I kept getting referred to as the guy who sells tribbles. And this was stupid. We werent making enough to justify continuing to do it, so I just stopped...
Im proud of the fact that we put out 30,000 pieces of mail in two years, letting everyone know what was going on. Out of that, a whole grapevine was born. I know that since weve stopped, a lot of people are making tribbles. I didnt have it copyrighted because I know theres more where they came from. And whatever comes from the same place is mine, not Star Treks...and with tribbles, you get into the question of who owns what, with Paramount and all...
If I had known what we were doing then would last twenty years, I mightve done something differently.
Is Star Trek dying?
In one sense, I think it is already dead, and in another, I dont think it is possible to kill. In the sense of "Is there anything new happening in Star Trek?" I dont think so; I think were in a state of rehashing. Right now, Star Trek IV hasnt even had its draft, so we dont even know where its going. But it looks as though theres not a lot that hasnt been done. Were now to the point where Kirk loses Spock, Kirk builds Spock, Kirk gets Spock, and this only feeds into the other thing we were talking about earlier. And that doesnt have anything to do with Star Trek; it has everything to do with the fact that these actors have contracts that, well, not to tell tales out of school, there are more zeros in their contracts than the Human mind can conceive of. Theyre both getting these incredibly good deals from the studio (they might not say its a good deal, but to me, if the rumors Ive heard are true, the actors are finally being well taken care of). This means that the picture has to be about Shatners character or Nimoys character, no one else because theyre not...paid that kind of money; theyre not important. So out of this negotiation process, were stuck with stories about Kirk and Spock. This feeds into this vicious cycle of Star Trek not being what it set out to be.
Gene Roddenberry told me that Star Trek is about the voyages of the starship Enterprise, about going out where no man has gone before, seeking out new lifeforms and making friends with them. Thats what Star Trek is about. Star Trek is not about Kirk and Spock. If Kirk and Spock died, youd still have the Enterprise. And thats what Star Trek is about: the Enterprise. So, I think Star Trek, as it stands now, is not what Gene Roddenberry created. Now that doesnt mean its not good; that doesnt mean its not enjoyable. Its just not what Gene created. Given my choice, Id rather work on the series Gene created since thats what inspired me in the first place.
Now the truth is that so many people have been touched by those reruns of Star Trek that phrases like Beam me up, Scotty! have worked their way into our society. Now, like it or not, its transcended above being a television show; it is now a part of what America is. In that respect, I dont think you can kill Star Trek any more than you can kill King Kong. I mean, you can shoot him down from the Empire State Building, but hell never die. In that regard, I think Star Trek will live on forever. I cant imagine it fading away. I can imagine other things coming along, and I can imagine Star Trek fans letting it go...
I have to come to grips with this. Any fan can walk away from this, look back and say, Yeah, I was a Star Trek fan. I cant do that. Im always going to be known as the guy who created the tribbles. Ive got to accept it. Just as Nimoy is going to have to accept that hes Mister Spock. Guess what? I can either make it work, and use it to promote my other stuff, or I can fight it and resist and have a hell of a lousy time. I mean, theres worse things to be remembered for. I mean Id rather be known for inventing tribbles than for inventing the cottage cheese on rye bread sandwich, which isnt bad by that way, especially if youre trying to lose weight. Im sure my obituary is going to say, David Gerrold who wrote The Trouble With Tribbles. Its not going to talk about the cottage cheese and rye bread sandwich. My goal now is to be remembered for many other things as well. So I work on other stuff...
Why was The World of Star Trek revised, toned-down, as it were?
I wouldnt say that it was toned-down; I made it more accurate. I looked at it and said, Everything that is no longer accurate has to be taken out. And we added a summary of what has happened since the book was originally released. Essentially, what I wanted to do was a book that could stand on the shelf for another fifteen years as a historical document. Things that were too timely were dropped. And while I dont think Im perfect from minute to minute, I made some mistakes in the first version of the book. So it was my feeling that I needed to correct some mistakes, and some of the things I said in the earlier draft werent accurate anymore. I think The World of Star Trek is a good companion to Roddenberrys The Making of Star Trek. But as a general history, I think my book will do a good job. I was there. As opposed to some of the books and articles about Gene Roddenberrys secret plans for Star Trek or The Meaning in Star Trek. Sometimes you want to grab these people and say, It was a TV show! It was a job! We went in there, planned the relationship between Kirk and Spock and McCoy in a certain way, and how to represent it. But we didnt get involved with talking about the psychological significance of what we were saying. We talked about showing Human beings doing and being the best that they could, and that was what we were up to. And, if we were still doing it, thats what we would be doing now. I knoe many people involved in the films, and, although I may not agree with how theyre doing it, that is what they are doing, too...
Im ready for another adventure on the Enterprise...Im ready for it to be an exciting, believable adventure. And so does everyone else.
Will Star Trek IV be a success?
I cant see the picture losing loney. Even the first picture broke even on paper, which is harder to do than youd think. The budget will be around 18 to 20 million. So Im sure $60 million will be easy enough. Theres no question in my mind; itll turn a profit. Will people like it? is another whole issue, though. At what point are people going to say, Ive had enough Star Trek, thank you? I cant say. I thought wed passed that point long ago, and Im continually amazed and delighted that year after year Im invited to conventions. I think that in 1986, during the 20th anniversary, well all whip ourselves into a frenzy about it... God knows Ive made a lot of friends through Star Trek... I only hope that the next movie is a fitting tribute for Star Treks 20th anniversary.It seems that Davids wish came true. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was a critical and financial success. However, while a lot of statements that Mr. Gerrold made seem extremely ironic in light of his position as the creative consultant for the series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, much of what he said is still relevant even today, more than twenty years later.
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