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David Gerrold: Tribble-ations of Star Trek and Science Fiction

by Jesse Shanks

On April 24, Paramount DVD is releasing of one of the most beloved episodes of the original Star Trek series, The Trouble With Tribbles.

The writer of that episode, David Gerrold, became the youngest member of the Writers Guild of America when he sold the script for Tribbles to Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the series. The episode has gone on to be a fan favorite and was nominated for the prestigious science fiction Hugo Award as best dramatic presentation of 1968.

dOc was able to connect with Gerrold and convince him to take time off from writing his latest book to answer a few questions about tribbles, Star Trek and science fiction.

In 1996, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine celebrated the 30th Anniversary of Star Trek in an episode entitled Trials and Tribble-ations. Footage from the original tribble show were combined with new footage by special effects that made it appear as if characters from both shows were interacting. In his introduction to the novelization of that episode, Gerrold wrote: "I have now spent more years on this planet known as "the guy who created the tribbles" than I had spent wondering what I would be when I grew up; if I had known I was going to be 'the guy who created the tribbles' for the rest of my life, I might have thought twice about it. When I wrote it, I just wanted to write one good Star Trek episode, just to prove I could do it."

Besides work in television, Gerrold has authored several successful science fiction novels: Yesterday's Children, When Harlie was One (1972 Hugo and Nebula award nominee), and The Man Who Folded Himself (1973 Hugo and Nebula award nominee). Gerrold has also written two non-fiction books about Star Trek and is continuing his epic novels in The War Against the Chtorr series. His semi-autobiographical story, A Martian Child, was another Nebula Award winner for novelette of the year in 1994.

dOc: What do you think it is about Star Trek that endures?

Gerrold: To be blunt, I don't think Star Trek "endures" at all. Not the original Star Trek. Paramount has turned it into a franchise. As a franchise, it is very profitable‹and you can't fault the studio for wanting to make money for the stockholders‹but it isn't Star Trek anymore. The original was about human beings challenging their souls, testing what it means to be a human being. It told stories that were dangerous, that pushed the limits of what was safe for American television. As a money-making franchise, Star Trek cannot take the same kind of chances. There is nothing as timid as a billion dollars. But if you ask me why the *original* Star Trek endures, it's because it inspired people with the possibility of humanity rising beyond the limits of our own horizons and becoming something much more noble and intelligent and compassionate than what we are today.

dOc: What is your most vivid memory of Gene Roddenberry?

Gerrold: My most vivid memory of Gene is that he was the original silver-tongued devil. Time after time he could stand up in front of an audience and tell them exactly what they wanted to hear. He had that same skill talking to people one-on-one. He could inspire you to be better than you believed you were. He once admitted that he knew he was faking it and he was afraid that one day everybody else would figure it out. That was sad. I don't think he ever realized just how much other people were truly inspired by Star Trek.

dOc: Do you have a favorite fan question about the episode?

Gerrold: My favorite fan question? "Was it as much fun to make the tribble show as it looked?" And my answer is, "No, it was even more fun than that."

dOc: What is your most treasured memory of the Trouble with Tribbles experience?

Gerrold: My favorite memory of The Trouble With Tribbles is actually seven memories. Meeting the cast of the show was the best part of the job. I particularly remember the fun of meeting Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Lieut. Uhura, and Mr. Chekhov‹but the most special of all of them was Dr. McCoy. De Forrest Kelly was the sweetest, kindest man I've ever met. When he spoke to you, he made you feel as if you were the most important person in the world and he had nothing else to do except be with you.

dOc: Are there any odd little tidbits about the show fans might look for when watching it?

Gerrold: When the Klingon (Korax) is taunting Scotty in the bar, if you pay close attention, he also imitates Scotty's accent. I didn't catch that the first time I saw the show, I only caught it on the rerun.

dOc: Were there any aspects of Tribbles that were left out that you wished had been kept in?

Gerrold: I wanted to be an extra in the show, one of the crew members in the lineup after the fight. But it didn't happen. I think I was too skinny and too young looking.

dOc: When was the last time you watched The Trouble with Tribbles and what were your feelings?

Gerrold: I watched it with my son when he was 12. That was about five years ago. We had been visiting the set of Deep Space Nine, when they were filming the sequel. When we got home he asked if he could see the episode, so I ran it for him. He enjoyed it a lot, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the episode had held up over time.

dOc: Do you have a DVD player?

Gerrold: Yes, I'm an enormous DVD fan. I think that the DVD is the greatest home entertainment medium invented yet. It has everything: high-quality picture, high-quality sound, random access, all kinds of extras and goodies, and best of all, it's easy and convenient. But you already knew all that.

More important, however, is that the DVD represents another paradigm shift in how we transmit and receive information; because it represents a significant increase in the amount and type of information that human beings can communicate to each other; it also represents a further opportunity for us to create community.

In the not-too-distant future, we'll have recordable DVDs on every computer, and folks will be able to make digital videos and edit and distribute them. This means that the financial stranglehold on creativity will be broken; that artists in all genres will finally have access to their own opportunities at filmmaking. And this means that we'll see a lot of special interest production.

We're going to be living in interesting times....

dOc: Have you seen any of the original ST series re-masters on DVD?

Gerrold: Not yet.

dOc: How do you remember your role as story editor in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation?

Gerrold: Parts of the job were a lot of fun.

dOc: How was the experience of having the episode "remade" on Deep Space Nine?

Gerrold: It was a marvelous honor. I thought that everyone did a terrific job. I was especially impressed with the quality of the script; I thought it was brilliant. I was very proud that they chose my episode for the 30th anniversary episode.

dOc: How did you end up as an extra in the remake of Tribbles on Deep Space Nine?

Gerrold: I asked them. And they said yes.

dOc: What are your impressions of the difference in the making-of process between the original series and Deep Space Nine?

Gerrold: We worked a lot faster on the original series, and that we had to make do with a much, much smaller budget. But we also had a much closer family. We had a smaller production crew‹much smaller‹so it was easier to know everybody, it was easier to talk to the people you needed to talk to, and there was a much greater sense of everybody being on the same team.

But don't take this as a criticism of Deep Space Nine, because it isn't intended that way. The folks on Deep Space Nine were very high-minded; they recognized that they were doing something special, and they were very committed and very professional about the job they were doing.

The difference between the original series and all of the new series is that when we were making the original series, we did not know we were making a hit show, so we were making the best show we could to please ourselves, because we knew that we could be canceled at any moment. We didn't have the total support of the studio, because at that time the studio did not understand what they had in Star Trek, and neither did the network. So we did not have the same kind of job security that folks have on the current Star Trek franchise.

dOc: What is your opinion of popular science fiction television and cinema today?

Gerrold: I wish they would spend as much money on the story and the script as they are spending on special effects. If you look at the classic films of the 1950s, such as Forbidden Planet, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, The Day The Earth Stood Still, and all of the George Pal pictures, what you find is a marvelous attention to your storytelling. Too many pictures today are sloppy. Because their budgets allow them to put anything they want on the screen, the writers and the directors are putting anything they want on the screen, regardless of the logic.

Yes, I like spectacular special effects as much as anyone else. I liked the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. I liked the visuals in Independence Day. I liked the intricacies of The Matrix. But I kept waiting for the mental explosion that we call "a sense of wonder." To me, science fiction is about the sense of wonder. And all the special effects in the world are not an acceptable substitute for one good old-fashioned, mind-boggling idea.

dOc: What movies do you recommend as great science fiction?

Gerrold: Forbidden Planet, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, The Shape Of Things To Come.

dOc: What is the science fiction market like for writers these days?

Gerrold: There's a market for science fiction writers? How much are they selling them for? I'll take two.

dOc: What is your main goal in writing a piece of science fiction?

Gerrold: What is my main goal? To take myself someplace I've never been before. To challenge myself.

dOc: Do you still contemplate television/movie scripts?

Gerrold: If by contemplate, you mean, do I think about [writing] television and movie scripts? Not as much as I used to. My novels are more fun, I have more control over the finished product.

dOc: What is the best and worst of writing novelizations of movies?

Gerrold: The best part of writing a novelization is that it's easy work, and the money is good. The worst part is that no matter how good a job you do, it's still someone else's project, not your own.

dOc: What projects are you working on?

Gerrold: I'm doing a novel version of The Martian Child‹about how I adopted my son and discovered that he's not from this planet. I'm also working on the fifth book in The War Against The Chtorr series: A Method For Madness.

dOc: What web sites are you involved in?


dOc: How do you approach your web site efforts?

Gerrold:A website is like a yacht. It's a hole in the water into which you pour time and money.

dOc: How do you approach our web site efforts?

Gerrold: The same way I approach all web sites. With a biohazard suit.