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David Gerrold

Profiled by Galen Strickland

Born Jerrold David Friedman, raised and educated in Southern California, and currently residing in Northridge with his adopted son, Sean. He attained a degree in theatre arts, but he made his first professional sale while still in college, a script for the original Star Trek series ("The Trouble With Tribbles"). At the time he was also the youngest member ever of the Writers Guild of America. The Tribbles episode has proved to be one of the favorites of Trek fans over the years, and it was also the basis for episodes of the animated series ("More Tribbles, More Troubles") and Deep Space Nine ("Trials and Tribble-ations").

Gerrold has written for or consulted on several other series, including Saturday morning kiddie fare like Land of the Lost and The Real Ghostbusters, along with The Adventures of Superboy, Nickelodeon's series Space Cases, the '80s revivial of The Twilight Zone, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Babylon 5 and Sliders, among many others. He also had small cameo appearances, and/or lent his voice talents to some of these shows as well.

He is one of my favorite authors, although I do not think he is held in as high esteem as he deserves, perhaps mainly for his frequent work in television, for which many readers and critics feel is a waste of his talents. One criticism that I definitely do not agree with is from John Clute's article on him in the The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

 

"There is a growing sense that DG might never write the major novel he once seemed capable of –
not because he has lost the knack, but because he refuses to."

 

Not only do I think he has already written several major novels, I have a feeling his best work is yet to come. He was very prolific in his early career, his first novel coming in 1971 - The Flying Sorcerers (in collaboration with Larry Niven). 1972 and '73 saw the release of nine books, two being Trek related (The Trouble With Tribbles and the non-fiction The World of Star Trek), one anthology, a short story collection (With a Finger in My I), and five novels. Two of the novels, When Harlie Was One and The Man Who Folded Himself, were nominated for both a Hugo and Nebula in sucessive years. Both were subsequently revised and republished later, but even in their early forms they showed a writer who seemed to be very sure of his craft and of his intentions. "Harlie" is still one of the best explorations of artificial intelligence, and "TMWFH" is also considered to be one of the best time travel tales ever. Of the other novels, Space Skimmer and Yesterday's Children were not as successful, being more straight-forward adventure stories, and thus tended to be more derivative of other works. The main problem with Yesterday's Children in my view is it's too-close similarity to the Star Trek milieu. Space Skimmer saw the first mention of a theme that would show up in quite a few other Gerrold stories, that of genetically-altered humans in conflict with their progenitors. Then there was the novelization of the sequel movie, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, in which the author also had a role as an extra, one of the ape warriors.

As Raedom pointed out in his review of When Harlie Was One, there have been a significant number of SF authors who have made a habit of revising and/or expanding their stories, and there is probably no better example of this than David Gerrold. The Flying Sorcerers was expanded from an earlier short story, "The Misspelled Magician," printed in IF magazine a year before the novel version. Even before it was revised, "Harlie" also started out as a series of shorter works grouped together for the original novel version. And in addition to the changes in it and The Man Who Folded Himself, he also gave the same treatment to Yesterday's Children. Originally published in 1972, the revised version was released in 1980, then in 1987 it was printed again, with no further changes, but the title was changed to Starhunt. One of the major changes came in replacing the chapters' opening quotes with those by Solomon Short, later made famous in the Chtorr series.

LATEST UPDATE: My review of The Man Who Folded Himself.

Gerrold did much work in television in the mid-70s, and did not release another novel until Moonstar Odyssey in '77. He has always shown a predilection for sexual themes in his work, never more evident than in this exploration of an extraterrestrial society of hermaphroditic individuals who are not compelled to choose their eventual gender until after puberty. Regardless of his penchant for such risque (and at the same time romantic) scenarios, the majority of his characters also exhibit a strong moral sense, and his work can be viewed as investigations into what it is to be human. There is another reference to his future book series here as well, with a mention of Chtorran plants.

He rounded out the decade with two relatively minor books, 1978's Deathbeast (concerning time-traveling dinosaur hunters), and another Trek tie-in, The Galactic Whirlpool in 1980. It is possible this story predated even his Tribbles teleplay, and to my mind it shows the influence of one of Gerrold's literary idols, Robert A. Heinlein. Set in the time of the original series, it tells the tale of Kirk and company encountering an old, slower-than-light generational starship, the inhabitants of which have lost the knowledge of the outside universe. Of course I thought of RAH's Vanguard, the first interstellar ship in his Future History, as depicted in the novel Orphans of the Sky.

The '80s also saw Gerrold do considerable television work, but he still found time to begin what has to be considered his most ambitious sequence of novels. A Matter For Men, originally released in 1983, was the first in the series known as The War Against the Chtorr (take that link to my expanded thoughts on these books). This series has expanded so far to three other books, with at least three others projected. Gerrold claims he began work on this story as early as 1972, and at this time it seems possible he will continue working on it the remainder of his career. The first two books were edited severely by the original publishers, Timescape Books, but Gerrold was lucky that firm was dissolved shortly thereafter and he was given the opportunity to restore them to his intended form for republication by Bantam just prior to the release of the third book in 1989. Due to the complexity and difficulty of writing this story, Gerrold has taken frequent breaks from it to complete other works. These include another movie novelization, Enemy Mine (written in collaboration with Barry Longyear, the author of the original novelette), and another Trek tie-in, this time of The Next Generation's pilot episode, Encounter at Farpoint. Another space opera completed this decade's work, with Chess With a Dragon set in the far future with humanity joining the galactic community and reaping the knowledge of many other advanced races. Full of wry humor and satire, it details Earth's dilemma when it is realized that a huge "Information Debt" has been accrued, and the creditors are demanding payment.

In 1990, Gerrold sequeled the early Yesterday's Children/Starhunt with Voyage of the Star Wolf, based on work he had done in a (so far) unsuccessful attempt to adapt it for television. It continues the adventures of starship officer, Commander Jonathan Korie, although changes had been made to his character to make him more hero-like. The race of Morthan Warriors is introduced here, another example of humans genetically altered for various reasons who separate themselves from the rest of humanity, then later become a most formidable foe. They are so named because they claim to be "More Than" human. Two other books have been added to this series so far, 1995's The Middle of Nowhere (to be reprinted soon by BenBella Books) and the new Blood and Fire (due out January 1 of next year). I would assume that Blood and Fire is at least partly based on Gerrold's unproduced teleplay of the same name originally intended for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The early '90s saw the release of another series, just two books this time (and apparently that is all there will be), but again based on another unsuccessful television project to have been titled Trackers. Under the Eye of God (1993) and A Covenant of Justice (1994) follow the exploits of a pair of interplanetary bounty hunters up against The Regency, a race made up of humans genetically altered into vampiric creatures and dragons. There are more Chtorran references here, but also several other SF "in jokes," such as a mention of Sherman's Planet (the disputed world in the Tribbles episode) and the race of Metalunans (from the film "This Island Earth").

Gerrold finally became an award winner with his 1994 novella "The Martian Child." This story, billed as "semi-autobiographical," recounts the ordeal of a writer who adopts a son who just happens to claim that he is a Martian. It won not only the Hugo and Nebula, but was also first in the Locus Reader's Poll, as well as winning a Homer Award and being nominated for the Sturgeon Award. Last year, Gerrold completed a revised and expanded novel-length version of The Martian Child, and it has recently been issued in paperback as well as a special hardcover edition from the Science Fiction Book Club. [And since this was written the story was adapted into the movie of the same name that starred John Cusack.]

It would be five more years before the release of his next novel, Jumping off the Planet, which began as a short story printed in Science Fiction Age magazine in 1997. It would later be sequeled by two others, Bouncing off the Moon and Leaping to the Stars, now known collectively as The Dingilliad (Gerrold's designation), or alternately as the Dingillian series or The Starsiders Trilogy by others. This is a very entertaining story reminiscent of Heinlein's juvenile's, and with the exception of a couple of them I consider it superior to those classics. As much as I am looking forward to the continuation of the Chtorr series, I am equally anticipating any further additions to this sequence.

Other than a handful of anthologies he edited (only one of which contained one of his stories), and his non-fiction Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, this pretty much takes care of Gerrold's literary output. Not a great number of books in comparison to some, but in terms of the ideas and concepts explored, his body of work can be favorably compared to any other classic or contemporary author you care to name. When considered in conjunction with his work in the televison medium it is a very impressive resume indeed. And as I said earlier, it is my belief we have not seen the best of his work. Regardless of the number of titles we can expect from Gerrold in the future, I am confident they will be full of interesting characters faced with complex, and at times frightening scenarios, and that along with Gerrold we will learn a great deal more about what it means to be human.

 

"Real drama is about the human condition; it's about angst, anguish, suicide, incest.
It's about people failing to put their lives together. Science-fiction is about 'what do
we build next?' (It) gets into what is the nature of reality, what does it mean to be
a human being. Those are answers you don't get in an ordinary story."

David Gerrold

 

The following are a few responses Gerrold gave to some questions I emailed to him recently. I had hoped his answers would give more details, but I suppose I should be happy that he responded at all. I had intended to supplement these responses with links to some other pages that have similar information, but on a recent check most all of them are not available at this time. Perhaps that is due to a minor server problem, and if that is the case I will return to this later and give you those links. For now, here's the limited interview I was able to obtain.

Q - Your college degree was in theatrical arts. Was it your original intention to work in that profession, or was that just a side interest to your writing?

A - I considered it an important adjunct. Knowing the nature of great plays and how to act in them is an asset if you want to write great scripts.

Q - Your first commercial sale was "The Trouble With Tribbles" episode for the original Star Trek. Was that story original with you or was it commissioned by Gene Roddenberry? Was it rewritten to any degree by Roddenberry or Gene Coon?

A - The full story has been told many times, particularly in my own book, THE TROUBLE WITH TRIBBLES. Essentially, this was an “over-the-transom” submission, which they liked enough to buy. There was no serious rewriting, though Gene L. Coon applied some minor touch-ups and added two small scenes.

Q - How about the similarity between the Tribbles and Heinlein's Martian flat cats? Was that a conscious parody or unintended?

A - Accidental. I was thinking of rabbits in Australia, and then had to figure out how to do the creatures with a minimum of expense, so I settled on furballs, the kind you see on key chains. In fact, the original conception of the tribbles was a lot smaller and a lot furrier.

Q - Speaking of Heinlein, would you say he was a significant influence on your work?

A - Yes.

Q - Did you have a personal relationship of any kind with RAH?

A - Heinlein and I were friends for nearly twenty years. I visited him several times, and we often talked on the phone. He was a very joyous man, in addition to being remarkably rational.

Q - What other authors do you enjoy reading, and which have influenced your style the most?

A - Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Vance, Samuel R. Delany.

Q - Starting with Yesterday's Children, you have revised and expanded quite a few of your novels. Can you explain the reasons for the various versions of that one and also When Harlie Was One, The Man Who Folded Himself, and the first two books in the Chtorr series?

A - I wanted to make them better. In every case, I wanted to put in material that wasn’t available the first time around.

Q - I have seen reference to a book called When Harlie Was Two, but have never seen a copy. Was it an even more revised version of the "Release 2.0" publication, an addendum, or what?

A - It hasn’t been written yet.

Q - An expanded version of your award-winning novella "The Martian Child" has also been released. Are there similar reasons behind that revision as well?

A - Tor Books originally thought to publish the novelette as a very slim book, then they asked for it to be expanded to novel length, and they wanted the whole story of my son’s adoption, so in the expansion I was able to add a great deal of material that could never have fit in the original story.

Q - The computer system known by the acronym HARLIE was created for the novel When Harlie Was One, but has also been used in several other novels. Does this mean all of them are set in a common timeline?

A - Perhaps.

Q - What happened to the proposed Star Wolf television series?

A - Everybody loved it, but nobody loved it enough to open their checkbook. We’re not done yet.

Q - Any plans to revisit the Dingillian clan?

A - Possibly. But not in the immediate future.

Q - When can we expect to read A Method For Madness (the fifth Chtorr book)?

A - When it’s done. Possibly late this year.
NOTE: his newly revised website now says 2004 is the target date.

Q - Will the Chtorr series really go to seven titles, or is it possible you can end it sooner?

A - If I could end it sooner, I would. I love the series, but I’m already exhausted, because there’s so much detail.

Q - Your website has a link to a proposed film production of the Chtorr series. Do you have any direct involvement with that project? Any idea on the status of the production?

A - It’s a proposed film, and those folks are developing a proof-of-concept CGI alien.

Q - If you were producing it, would you think the story would best be served by a series of films, a television mini-series, or could it possibly be reduced in scope to a single film?

A - I would prefer either a series of films or a television series.

Q - Have you ever visualized any particular actors in the roles of Jim McCarthy and Lizard Tirelli?

A - There are a lot of very good actors, but there’s nobody who quite matches my internal pictures. I think it would require a major talent search.

Q - Many of your books are out-of-print, including all of the Chtorr series. How do you feel about this situation?

A - A recent deal with BenBella Books will have many of my titles re-released over the next few years, and there are plans for new editions of the Chtorr books at the appropriate time.

 

Related Links:
My reviews of The Dingilliad, the War Against the Chtorr, and The Man Who Folded Himself.
Raedom's review of
When Harlie Was One
Gerrold's bibliography at fantasticfiction.com
Widipedia

 

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Born
January 24, 1944
Chicago, Illinois

Official Website

Awards
1 Hugo
1 Nebula
Hal Clement YA Fiction