||Uncharted Content from the Final Frontier - Since 1999
An Interview with
Written by Paul Newitt
(Copyright 1982 by Paul Newitt. Reprinted with permission. This
interview was originally published in James van Hise's Enterprise Incidents
magazine, a June 1984 special edition Spotlight on the Technical Side. The
interview was conducted face-to-face, and was transcribed from an audio
recording. HTML conversion by Greg Tyler.)
Page 2 of 2
Was there anything to the reported contention from everybody that suddenly Gene Roddenberry didn't like the military aspects of the Manual?
If there was, no one brought it to my attention directly. I used the identification of "Star Fleet Armed Forces" on the very first T.O.'s that were sent to him, and I also sent him a Xerox copy of the final Manual before the masters were sent to Ballantine. He could have object at any time but he never did. After all, I'm an engineer and I've dealt with technical manuals all of my career. I simply extrapolated our present thinking to the time period, and drew upon the format which had already been developed in the TV series. In all cases, my basic assumptions were predicated on the format Gene had created. The ST fan grapevine has also said there was a resentment because of the "credit line" in the Manual. In the real world you don't normally give credit lines in a technical manual; yet, in this case, it was almost unavoidable. I tried to figure out a way to make a compromise somewhere in-between, and did the best I could with it. The grapevine said Gene was unhappy with the "credits" given him, but he never mentioned it to me personally. And it wasn't that I didn't want to do it, but the typical credit line would have destroyed the credibility as to the reality of the Manual.
But my works aren't the only technical books that have been written on the Star Trek theme. Gene has a book written by a man and wife team, for their master's thesis, which discusses the societies of Star Trek, the development of those societies, interplanetary communities, and so on. It's quite a thick book and a very learned discussion. Its credit line wasn't anything more than those you typically find in academic papers. And there are many more of these things because I found people in the universities are just as interested in the potential existence of interplanetary societies, their capabilities, their technical excellence, and so on, as implied in the background of the Star Trek TV series, as I am. This is an area which really wasn't explored in the series, but it's the principal reason the Plans and the Manual have become so popular with the universities. This is the stuff dreams are made of, and because they seemed to be the real thing, it convinced most people that we could meet this interplanetary association if we could only get out there.
There may have been another problem which was totally unforeseen. At the time Gene and Paramount were trying to get the script for the movie going, and the fans were telling me this had run into all kinds of problems. At the same time I was getting a flood of fan letters, and I imagine thousands of them were misdirected and sent to Gene. That could easily have occurred. I was only a name on the Plans and the Manual to the fans. The only way they could contact me was through Ballantine, and I periodically answered batches of letters as Ballantine sent them to me. All of my letters are answered on "official" Star Fleet stationery, in my capacity there (as given in the Manual), and the envelope carries my return address as Star Fleet Headquarters in the galaxy. Hundreds of fans, and other people, have tried to send a letter directly to me at this address, which probably wind up in the dead letter office. But anyway, you know how the fans talk and write letters, and the comments they make in them. It's possible these fan letters might have upset Gene, but again, he never mentioned it to me.
What I did could have been done just as easily with another time period and another basis in space. I could have used another set of spaceship designs (after all, that is my field of work), and something different for everything else. And I could have called it the "Boy Scout Manual of Space" for instance. But Star Trek was the theme the fans and everyone else wanted, and the TV series was dead, and Gene himself had told me he wanted to see the work: I didn't feel what I did would be detrimental to anything Gene had done. Besides, the Plans and the Manual were published fact, the fan interest in them was a reality, and these were something I could no longer control. I have to believe that everything I did was a credit to the Star Trek theme as Gene Roddenberry developed it.
I've had numerous discussion groups with the ST fans after Gene agreed to do the movie. I wrote to him whenever there was a consensus of opinion in one of these sessions. For instance, the series had been dead for ten years, and the fans are realists. It's not possible to take a man who was thirty then, and forty now, and rely on makeup to cover up the aging. A forty-year-old man doesn't act like a thirty-year-old man. In that intervening ten years, Kirk would probably have been promoted to Star Fleet Command, and Dr. McCoy, Scotty, and Mr. Spock would have been similarly promoted. The junior officers in the days of the TV series would now be in command of the starships, and so on. If you did not introduce these changes, it just wouldn't be the same. That would be like taking our modern navy and going back to the days of Lord Nelson, and you know that people won't buy that. The fans thought these promotions would have taken place. So the new script should be based on a new crew, and employ the old stars in an introductory capacity to get the viewers interested in the crew. They could also be used in stories which centered around the activities of Star Fleet Command, etc. I wrote to Gene and told him what the fans were thinking.
The other point the fans raised was this. Star Fleet was obviously a lot more than just the Enterprise. Instead of tying the new theme down to the same group of actors and one format, it could have been opened up to a wide variety of plots and episodes by changing the introduction to "These are the voyages of Star Fleet." Now one episode could be about the commander of a Star Fleet starship who had to take care of a planetary disturbance. Another could be about the Interplanetary World Spaceways on a trip between planets and it runs into trouble. And so on. The variety of story plots could be endless with a variety of crews, starships, situations, etc. It could be interesting enough to rate prime-time viewing and also introduce real science and technology in little batches. Isn't that what every SF writer has been trying to do? Well, anyway, I also wrote and told Gene about these ideas of the fans. I've found out, from fans in different parts of the country, that they were also discussing these same ideas.
This concept for?
From the ST fans, and their fan magazines. I learned that the Star Trek movie was having problems getting a script to shoot. In 1977, I think it was, after they'd gone through six or seven teams of writers, I got a call from Lou Mindling, in January as I remember. He explained the difficulties they were having and asked, "Would you like to write the movie?" I said, "You've got to be kidding. I'm not a writer. I don't know anything about writing a movie script, or a book for that matter." Then he asked, "Would you like to act in the movie?" After I'd stopped laughing, I said, "You've got to be desperate. I'm not an actor, and I don't know anything about that trade." Then Lou asked, "Would you like to be technical advisor?" I said, "That won't work either. It makes no sense to pay me for my time, and I sit on the set and tell the producer, 'Now in this scene, this, this, and this are the technically correct way the things will occur or happen.' And the producer tells me, 'Fine, but forget it. I've got to shoot it this way because it's the only way I can do it.' Why deliberately set up a condition that would lead to dissension? It doesn't make any sense." But I got a feeling at the time, I don't know why, because I can't believe I'd acquired that much of a national reputation, that Paramount felt it would be some kind of an advantage to have my name associated with the new movie. I'm more inclined to think they were getting desperate. Let's see, 73 plus 7, I guess it was...when did the new movie come out?
Okay, then it was in '78 that Lou Mindling retired, so he's no longer there. I've got to try and get in touch with him again. I'd like to meet him because it turns out he's a pretty nice guy. We've only talked by telephone, but we developed a pleasurable relationship once we got to know each other. He told me about his family, his interests, his nieces and nephews, and things like that; he's a year younger than I am. He was very interested in Karen, how she was progressing, and so on. He even sent her memorabilia gifts from time to time.
Something also seems to have happened to the people who were with Gene after they went to Paramount for the movie. I first met them in 1974, there was Ralph Naveda, Matt Jefferies, Cassidy, Bob Justman, a Chinese fellow whose name I'm sorry to say I've forgotten, and several ladies. I discovered Matt Jefferies was a pilot and was the fellow who really put together the design of the Enterprise. He was also intensely interested in antique airplanes. Since my brother also has the same interest, I put them in touch with each other. Anyway, I noticed that about eighteen months after Gene and his people went to Paramount, I no longer saw the names of the other people appearing in anything regarding the new ST movie. I've wondered if something happened and they are no longer together; but actually, it's really none of my business. But I'd like to meet those people again because we had a very pleasant time when I first met them at Burbank Studios in 1974. The last time Lou called me, he also said they were having trouble, but they still respected Gene's ideas and his theme for Star Trek, but they'd have to get on with the movie one way or another whether he liked it or not.
I also met some of the actors from the TV series at the ST conventions, and I also met Gene at one or two of these conventions. At Equicon '75 in San Diego, my wife and I were delighted to meet and talk with Gene Roddenberry's mother. But from time to time the fans have told me there is some kind of a resentment...I've been told that Dorothy Fontana, in particular, is very angry with me. Why, I haven't the slightest idea. I've never seen her or talked to her, and I don't think I've ever said anything that could possibly be offensive to her. I know there's been some kind of dissatisfaction with the residuals they were supposed to receive, but I had nothing to do with this. And besides, the royalties and residuals were contract matters between them and Paramount which was none of my business. But since I've heard of this resentment, and with the new movie bringing the Star Trek theme to life again, I've left it alone and just sat back to see how things developed.
I've had thousands of requests to produce the Plans of the other starships, more T.O.'s for the Manual, and so on. But I've just put this on the shelf for the time being. I know the fans haven't helped; I don't know how many thousands have written letters to state the Manual is now the "Bible." That certainly doesn't help matters. And the universities have been just as enthusiastic about the Plans and the Manual. I was told I was number one at the Universities of Michigan, Tennessee, Utah, and Mississippi. There's probably others I've forgotten. But no matter. In the intervening time I've been active in local civic affairs, and have written articles on numerous maters of national importance. Remember, I've told you, as I've told everyone, I'm not really an SF fan.
Is the Manual out of print?
It isn't out of print as far as I know. There should be about 40,000 copies of the Manual still available from the first printing. I'm still getting calls from people who are looking for both the Plans and the Manual. The Plans, as far as I know, are not out of print. The last printing I saw was the seventh. Ballantine Books can always print more if they're needed to satisfy the demand. But, like everything else in this country, bookstores are no exception. They have so much space in the store for so many different titles. Each title must sell so many copies per month to warrant using space for it. As soon as they don't produce this quota, they go off the shelves and another title takes their place. As long as the Plans and the Manual were selling like hotcakes without any advertising, they were maintained on the shelves. As the demand lessened, some bookstore chains cut them back to one store...However, they're still available and can be ordered by any bookstore. At least as far as I know this can be done.
Oh, there's another interesting upshot of this popularity of the Plans and the Manual. When I first got in touch with Ballantine, Judy Lynn del Rey was the SF editor, and Ballantine Books was just one of the 18 paperback publishing houses, the regular publishing houses looked down their noses at them. Well, it seems the financial success of the Plans and the Manual turned Ballantine into a first-class publisher, and Judy was promoted to editor, the top position. Later, in 1977 I think, she and her husband, Lester, created del Rey Books as a subsidiary of Ballantine, to publish SF paperbacks. I had an invitation to go to New York for the kick-off celebration, but I had to decline because of my wife's medical condition. I guess Ballantine wanted to show me off as their new author. It might have been fun for one time, but those fancy parties make me uncomfortable.
I've also had numerous invitations to attend SF conventions, fan affairs, and to go on the university lecture circuit. I would have enjoyed talking to the fans and the other people, but the celebrity treatment makes me feel uncomfortable. I had to decline most of the invitations because of my wife's medical condition at the time. I have accepted local invitations which I could reach and still stay in touch with my home. And I have really enjoyed talking to the SF fans at these meetings. I tell them about the real things that are occurring in science and technology, and they seem to love it.
I've also had some unusual things happen. In 1977, I think it was, I got a letter through Ballantine which was addressed to me in my official position in Star Fleet Command. It was from the International Association for Psychometric Research. This association was established by a number of distinguished European scientists as an "umbrella" science for all the various studies under the heading of parapsychology. They had recognized it as a science in order to begin collecting data associated with the phenomena. It was recognized by the National Science Foundation in 1974. Well, in this year, they were holding their third international convention in Tokyo. The letter was from the Secretary General of the Organization, who was a distinguished Canadian scientist. But it was an unusual letter.
I was invited to attend the convention in Tokyo as their guest, if I wished; to become a member of one of the discussion panels if I wished; or to have any papers read by some other person at the convention if I wished. Since it was addressed to the United Federation Representative, they could only have gotten this information from the Technical Manual, which had been simultaneously published in Canada. But I couldn't tell from the tone of the letter if he thought I was really who I purported to be in the Manual, or whether he thought I was somebody here in extrasensory communication with this 24th-century interplanetary community, or what. I had to write a very carefully worded reply on my official stationery, to decline, and to try to get some idea as to whether that letter was tongue-in-cheek or for real, without ruffling the man's feathers. I heard no more from them for about six months.
Then I got another letter again addressed to me at Star Fleet Command. This letter was even more unusual. It said, "1. We are receiving intelligent signals that are not terrestrial in origin. 2. Can you tell us if there are any Star Fleet or Federation activities in this area of the galaxy in our time period? 3. Important decisions await your reply." How do you answer a letter like that?
In all my letters, I write on official Star Fleet stationery. I must try to formulate them in that time period and from the perspective of my position in Star Fleet. It's not an easy task, but I have to try whether I'm successful or not. It's very difficult to compose such a letter but not to "write down" to the recipient. I'm not trying to put anyone down. But I use this vehicle to try to make this society realize how far it strayed from the basic realities of its existence and survival, the natural order of things in the universe, and so on. Earth has to give up its constant preoccupation with intersocietal warfare and begin to place a value on those things that really matter. Until it has done this, it isn't civilized and won't be recognized as an intelligent society by any intelligent life elsewhere in our galaxy. I've also tried to encourage an interest in real science and technology rather than SF. I guess I've succeeded in some instances. Many fans have written to tell me that, based on my encouragement, they are taking classes in engineering, design, science, and other technologies. Which is great because Earth needs that interest if it hopes to continue progressing into space.
You mentioned a letter you got from some military thing in reference to that foreword page...a commander or something?
Yes. That was even funnier. It was in the fall of 1976, I think. This man was a person at Cal Tech who is the coordinator between their NASA work and the other sectors of the scientific community. It had to do with the first foreword in the Manual which mentioned a security docket. Because it was supposed to be a copy of an official letter, I had to make a deliberate choice here. If I used the proper designation, all the fans would have bothered the Pentagon with their questions. If I used the designation of one of the military divisions, the others would have felt slighted. So I had to create something that looked like official stationery but was fictitious. The basic idea was to create reality in the minds of the readers, that this was 24th-century technology that had been accidentally transmitted to 20th-century Earth (the second foreword was the clincher). Anyhow, the man at Cal Tech wrote to that fictitious address and requested a copy of that security document. His letter was returned with a notation: "Insufficient information, this letter cannot be delivered as addressed." He found out who, and where, I was from Ballantine, and called me, asking, "How can I get a copy of that security docket?" When I stopped laughing, I said, "You actually didn't believe that was real, did you?" But he's not the only one. Thousands of people believe the Manual is actually a 24th-century document. There have been other letters like this.
The Manuals are in engineering departments all over the country. As a matter of fact, at the 11th Naval District Headquarters, here in San Diego, all the officers on the top floor are Star Trek fans, and they all have Manuals on their desk. Someone was telling me, from Grumman Aircraft I think, that his boss came by and picked up his copy of the Manual, looked through it, and said, "Good. We'll take some of these, and these, and these."
Some other thoughts [of Franz Joseph] that weren't on the tapes:
The all-time classic fan letter was very simple: "At last! Now we know where the bathrooms are!" Another fan letter was equally brief: "OK, I give up! Where did you put the chapel?" And also a typical letter: "Every time I start to read the Plans or the Manual, there's a statement that says you have to be a cadet at the Star Fleet Academy, or have authorized permission. I would like to know if Franz Joseph could send me such authorized papers. Thank you."
There has been an enormous interest in Tridimensional chess all over the country, and even in the universities. Numerous persons wrote to ask for instructions books on how to play it. Finally, a group in Ohio worked out a simple basis to play a form of chess on the board, and since that time, I've referred all the inquiries to this group.
There has also been an enormous interest in building working "communicators." I have the schematic diagrams for a multichannel unit that could have as much as a 600-mile range, which were supplied by the Federal Communications Commission. But I didn't dare put such a diagram in the books, as too many people would have put illegal transceivers on the air. The diagram provided was for a harmless CB walkie-talkie which anyone could make and use without fear of violating federal regulations. I've gotten letters where the communicator has been a project in college electronics classes. When the Manual first appeared, all of the other publishing houses were skeptical that Franz Joseph wasn't a real person. Then they kept calling Ballantine to inquire whether in the world did they find such a person.
I've also been flattered, I think. It seems I established a new format in the publishing business. There was a rush to copy my work with other "Plans" and "Manuals." I think there was something like 150 other versions that eventually appeared on the market.
I will probably never know about, or see, all of the radio, newspaper, and magazine reports and articles that appeared about me and my works: the Plans and the Manual. I'm fairly certain that Susan Seim has fairly comprehensive file that Ballantine has been maintaining. But I've been able to gather it must have been pretty wild for a time from all the comments I've heard from people all over the country. Surprisingly, most of the interest and activity occurred east of the Mississippi River. I would have expected it to be more predominant in the West, at least around Los Angeles, where the Star Trek TV series originated, and where most of the people associated with it live.
One interesting phenomenon occurred with the fan mail. Some fans wrote about things they thought were in error, and felt they were pretty smart with their letter. The first official response from Star Fleet usually drew an immediate reply to the effect: "Aw, come on, you guys, fun's fun but let's knock off this nonsense and answer my questions that I sent." Usually they were converted after receiving a second letter from Star Fleet, but one persistent kid required a third letter to become a believer. I had decided, if that didn't work, I'd hire a private investigator for about an hour or so to dig up all the information about the disbeliever he could find. Then Star Fleet would have written to him describing all these facts from the "historical databanks of Mastercom/SFHQ." I think that would have made a convert out of anyone.
Gene Roddenberry used to delight his admirers at a convention by pointing out "his room" on the Enterprise. I never had the heart to tell him he'd picked the aft port lounge on Deck 6.
Usually, when I have appeared at conventions, I explain that I'm here on official matters, and my ship, the diplomatic courier Cygnus, is in orbit above Earth. When I went to the conference at Los Gatos, I had a Star Fleet Command emblem on the pocket of my suit coat. The crew of the airliner saw it and asked me why I didn't use my ship's transporter to get to my destination. I told them, "Come on, folks. You know we don't operate that way. When in Rome, do as the Romans."
At one convention, I was very surprised to find some of my most avid fans were a number of science-fiction writers. I hadn't expected that; from what I'd been told about how tough a lot the science-fiction writers are.
From the material that's been sent to me, I think every SF fan believes he can design a spaceship. I've gotten every kind of an assembly of shapes that you can imagine. All of them seem to believe it's very easy. All you do is imagine your favorite shape for a spaceship, and then fill it up with corridors and rooms. Then you sit down and dream up a lot of fancy names for the different boxes you've drawn into your "plans." What very few fans realize, the Booklet of General Plans was comparable to the preliminary design drawings an aerospace concern would produce in a competition for a new project. Only in the actual circumstances, there would be a team of between 400 and 450 experts in every phase of engineering and technology. I had to provide all of that expertise myself.
I had to document very step and maintain accurate records of everything, so that I could meet any challenge in the future without knowing exactly what that challenge might be. Wherever possible, in preparing the Manual, I checked my work with the experts at the local universities. I wanted to be certain that anything I used was correct so that the fans would be learning reality -- not some more science fiction. I keep a record of any person or thing that I use in the official Star Fleet replies, so that there will be no flaw in continuity.
The Plans required 252 hours of research and 248 hours to draw. The Manual required 400 hours of research and 1,000 hours to draw. Both, I think, are a rare instance where the publisher got his material photocopy-ready to print. In fact, both of my contracts with Ballantine state that nothing may be altered from the manner in which it was submitted without my consent. On the Manual, I even supplied a chip of the precise shade of read that was to be used for the covers. Since my contracts also state that the name "Star Trek" may not appear on my work, Ballantine had to devise a means to apply it and still adhere to the contract terms. The "throwaway" insert was the answer for the plans, and the "over-jacket" was the answer for the Manual. In all fairness, I must admit that Ballantine did an excellent job on this.
I have a recognized reputation from a successful 30-year career as an aerospace design engineer. When I saw how the typical SF paperback was treated, the cover illustrations, etc., I didn't want my name to appear on the work. So I resorted to the name I'd used for 45 years as a freelance commercial and industrial designer: Franz Joseph.
Interview copyright 1982 by Paul Newitt. Reprinted with permission.
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