On my very first day at Starlog in October 1982, I had to make some daunting phone calls. Editor Howard Zimmerman delegated to me, the magazine’s new Managing Editor, the task of dealing with Starlog’s formidable trio of California-based columnists.

I had to call and introduce myself. I rang Ed Naha (an ex-Starlog editorial staffer relocated from NYC to write screenplays in Hollywood like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Dolls). Then, I chatted with Bjo Trimble (famously “the woman who saved Star Trek” with a letter-writing campaign to NBC; also, decades later, a guest blogger here at StarTrek.com). And, finally, most intimidating of all, I talked to David Gerrold (who scripted “The Trouble with Tribbles,” the most beloved of all TOS episodes; he later wrote a book of the same name on its making, and a pioneering reference work, The World of Star Trek, as well as two TAS adventures). By the way, Gerrold will be one of the Guests of Honor at next month's Sasquan the 2015 Worldcon (the 73rd Annual World Science Fiction Convention), to be held August 19-23 in Seattle, WA.


All three writers couldn’t have been friendlier to a newbie. As part of my job, I phoned at least twice monthly, reporting our ever-shifting deadlines and (eventually) artistic choices re: layouts, discussing upcoming column topics as well as sending them stuff (checks, magazines, forwarded fan mail). I grew especially close to Gerrold, an SF novelist who even contributed to the “Get McDonnell a Home Phone” fund spearheaded by my colleagues Zimmerman and Cinemagic Editor David Hutchison (I didn’t have a phone by choice; they sprang for one of those trouble-making infernal devices I loathe nonetheless).

Gerrold’s column was the oldest, debuting in 1977 in Starlog #4 (I joined with #66) and running, over the years, under several titles (“State of the Art,” “Rumblings,” “Soaring” and, finally, “David Gerrold”). It was often illustrated by Barefootz cartoonist Howard Cruse (a former Starlog Art Director) or Hugo-winning artist Phil (Buck Godot) Foglio, although they weren’t always available. Gerrold’s subject matter was extensive: SF, fantasy, pop culture, genre movies & TV shows, the writing game, fellow authors (like Psycho’s Robert Bloch and Dragonriders of Pern’s Anne McCaffrey), future life and Trekkian topics of all types. It made for a lively column.

I particularly remember Gerrold’s response to a Starlog #39 interview with Fred Freiberger (who took over as TOS producer in its third year). Freiberger remains a polarizing figure among Trek fans and TV pros with a controversial reputation as a “series killer” because he was hired to come in and produce (what turned out to be) the last seasons of several beloved shows. Freiberger’s thoughts on “The Cloud Minders” (an episode filmed that final year, teleplay by Margaret Armen, story by Gerrold and Oliver Crawford), triggered Gerrold’s ire. I wasn’t on staff at that point, just a reader mesmerized by an unusually public tiff: Starlog columnist vs. interviewee and two Starlog writers, all printed within the same magazine pages.

In 1983, we published as column installments several chapters of A Matter for Men, the first volume in David Gerrold’s epic SF saga The War Against the Chtorr. That’s where war and artistic choices clashed. Zimmerman consulted with Starlog’s new Art Director W.R. Mohalley, who had spent his entire previous career at Warren Publications overseeing the horror-fantasies of Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella magazines. Zimmerman wanted an acclaimed comics artist (one that Starlog could afford) to illustrate these novel excerpts (published in issues #72-#75, samplings intended to prompt readers to buy Gerrold’s book). Mohalley suggested Alex Nino (a Warren veteran who had also drawn some great stories for DC Comics’ horror anthologies). Nino provided nifty black & white illoes and (for the #75 finale) an amazing, full-page, all-color rendition of a grotesque alien attacking. Wow! It blew my mind (and Zimmerman and Mohalley loved it, too), but, I recall, Gerrold was cool to that colorful image. It didn’t quite match the nightmarish monster he had always imagined in his head. But probably nothing could.
I was the conduit for such complaints from our writers. At another time, Gerrold pointed out that we seemed to ignore his column; after all, we seldom mentioned it on Starlog covers (where coverline clutter otherwise hyped most of an issue’s contents). Gerrold had a valid point. Shortly thereafter, he turned in an entry with a “commercial” slant and a specific quote that could be reused as provocative sell copy (and a prime example of “be careful what you wish for”). So, for Starlog #82, the one with the portrait of Star Trek III’s Klingon Captain Kruge (Christopher Lloyd), here’s the line we put on the cover: “David Gerrold: ‘Why I Can’t Write’ ”

Now, I didn’t actually meet David Gerrold in person until April 1984 and the first Starlog Festival (engineered by Creation Entertainment). Zimmerman, Hutchison, Gerrold, Publisher Kerry O’Quinn and I attended that Chicago convention as the magazine’s representatives. And Gerrold in person was just everything you would expect from reading his column or knowing his reputation: funny, articulate, charming, outspoken, generous, knowledgeable, witty, candid, sweet and, yes, irascible. A young curmudgeon.

Occasionally, I irritated David Gerrold. In 1984 (I think), he turned in a column perfect for illustration by a famous cartoonist (whose work I loved and home phone number I happened to have). Let’s call him “Abbott.” With Zimmerman’s OK, I rang Abbott — whom I had never previously (nor subsequently) met, although I’ve encountered 100+ artists — and explained the assignment. He was game, even for the money (our top fee but less than his usual quote, payable on publication per company policy) and short deadline (two weeks), so I sent him the column text. I gleefully told Gerrold that the prolific Abbott was on the draw. And we dutifully waited two weeks. The art never arrived.
I called (“Hey, Abbott!!!”), got his answering machine, asked what happened and gave him another three weeks to do the job. Yes, I did. We bounced that non-timely column to next issue and substituted another, just in, which could be illustrated with photos. I explained this  postponement to Gerrold, who, while not totally sympathetic, accepted the optimistic delay. Strangely, Abbott never called me back. Three weeks went by and the art still didn’t show up! So, I called Abbott’s answering machine anew and gave him another three weeks. Yes, yes, I did.

Well, I really, really wanted Abbott art in Starlog. Once again, we substituted a different column and I called to explain another revoltin’ development to Gerrold, who, while far less sympathetic, acquiesed to one further deferment. Just one. Yes, you can snicker here; I’ll bet you’re ahead of me now! Those extra weeks went by—and nada. Nothing. No art. No callbacks. No explanation. Did Abbott get too busy elsewhere? Was he insulted by the fee or miffed by payment on publication? Did Abbott dislike the column text or not have any illustration ideas for it? Certainly, time couldn’t be a factor—I gave him eight weeks! To this day, three decades later, I don’t know what really happened.

I rang David Gerrold, who, while totally unsympathetic, told me to stop screwing around, get another artist and publish that column. So, we did.

But that wasn’t the last time I annoyed David Gerrold. In 1987 (I think), a famous comic book writer — whom I had never previously (nor subsequently) met, although I’ve encountered 100+ comics scribes— phoned me out of the blue. Let’s call him, natch, “Costello.” Gerrold was an old acquaintance, I was told, but Costello had misplaced his phone number. Now, Gerrold was a Story Editor of Star Trek: The Next Generation, helping develop the syndicated show. Costello wanted to get a series bible and pitch stories. Could I provide a number? Why, sure, famous comics guy!
Yes, friends, my naivete here is breathtaking! How did I even know this was really Costello? I didn’t (though it was). Anyhow, Costello then called Gerrold who, shortly thereafter, rang me. He wasn’t happy that I had given out his home phone (I didn’t have the office number) to someone he had met briefly years ago and barely remembered. Gerrold also pointed out that Costello was a bad boy; if he really had any TV writing cred, he would have been represented by an agent who could contact Next Gen for him. Oops. Didn’t think of that. Sorry. This is one reason why I hate phones.

Despite incidents like Abbott & Costello, we got along fine. And what a smart, sensitive guy. A few months after I took over as Starlog’s Editor in April 1985, Gerrold called me. To reduce his workload, his column had already gone to an every-other-month frequency, spelled by “Other Voices,” one-shot contributions by other genre writers (L. Sprague de Camp, Ben Bova, Lawrence Watt-Evans, etc.). But it was still too much, the Chtorr needed more attention. After eight years, Gerrold was ending his column. He had planned this move earlier, he explained, but delayed it when Zimmerman left and I became Editor. Why? Because, with regime change, Gerrold didn’t want readers to mistakenly conclude that a) he was fleeing as a “no-confidence” vote on me or b) I was responsible for killing his longtime column. That was smart! Naively, I never would have imagined either scenario. Decades later, naturally, I’m well aware that any editorial action can be readily misinterpreted; it’s both troubling and annoying.

In any event, David Gerrold wasn’t gone for long. He soon joined Gene Roddenberry and D.C. Fontana to prepare The Next Generation. Publisher O’Quinn suggested Gerrold revive his Starlog column and offer readers an insider’s view of that series’ creation. So, he did. Gerrold’s (renamed again) “Generations” column was fascinating but short-lived (Starlog #118-#123). The TV series — as has been chronicled elsewhere — was then in creative chaos. Gerrold departed the show, also ending his latest column incarnation. He wrote a novel, Blood and Fire, inspired by his unused Next Gen story material, and, decades later, also scripted and directed a short film variation on it for the Star Trek: New Voyages: Phase II project.
David Gerrold returned to Star Trek in 1996 when Deep Space Nine’s makers crafted a wonderful 30th Anniversary crossover episode blending DS9’s current heroes into classic TOS footage from “The Trouble with Tribbles.” Gerrold had written a 1973 sequel for TAS (“More Tribbles, More Troubles”), but DS9’s follow-up takes place simultaneously with the original adventure (thanks to time travel). It’s “Trials and Tribble-ations” (teleplay by Ronald D. Moore & Rene Echevarria, story by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler & Robert Hewitt Wolfe). Gerrold was invited to visit the “Trials” set and appear as an extra. In turn, he called me and suggested a one-shot column on this newest Tribbles experience. I published his resulting piece in Starlog #234.

Sometime in the late 1990s, David Gerrold stopped by the Starlog offices in NYC. A single father, he brought along his adopted son Sean, whose alien attitude had inspired Gerrold’s semi-autobiographical, Hugo-winning novelette “The Martian Child.” Later, Gerrold expanded it into a novel. And in 2007, the tale became a movie, The Martian Child. John Cusack starred as an author based on Gerrold’s already altered-ego. Lemme tell you: It’s strangely surreal to watch a film featuring a protagonist who, albeit twice-removed from reality and with significant details changed, is based on someone you know.

It has been decades since David Gerrold introduced Tribbles to Star Trek (1967) and began his Starlog column (1977), which involved me beginning in 1982. I’ve followed his career ever since with admiration. Gerrold long ago went public with his life as a gay man and has fought fearlessly, tirelessly for human rights. He remains an advocate of infinite diversity in infinite combinations, gender equality and intellectual freedom, explaining his philosophy (often with snarky quips and stark remarks in social media postings) and crusading for all in which he believes.

He’s just as charming, outspoken, generous, candid, courageous, witty and irascible as he ever was, although maybe slightly crankier. An older curmudgeon now.
______

David McDonnell, "the maitre’d of the science fiction universe," has dished up coverage of pop culture for more than three decades. Beginning his professional career in 1975 with the weekly "Media Report" news column in The Comic Buyers’ Guide, he joined Jim Steranko’s Mediascene Prevue in 1980. After 31 months as Starlog’s Managing Editor (beginning in October 1982), he became that pioneering SF magazine’s longtime Editor (1985-2009). He also served as Editor of its sister publications Comics Scene, Fangoria and Fantasy Worlds. At the same time, he edited numerous licensed movie one-shots (Star Trek and James Bond films, Aliens, Willow, etc.) and three ongoing official magazine series devoted to Trek TV sagas (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager). He apparently still holds this galaxy’s record for editing more magazine pieces about Star Trek in total than any other individual, human or alien.


Copyright 2015 David McDonnell

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