“It was a massive puzzle to put together, but I’m really proud of them.” Those are the words of Paul Simpson, editor of Titan’s official Star Trek Magazine and also their upcoming Ultimate Guides. A tremendous resource for fans new and old, the Ultimate Guides will be released on August 8 and September 29, issues #36 and #37, respectively, covering nearly everything Trek-centric from 1966-1993 and 1993-2011. Among the highlights: detailed episode synopses, reviews, Top 10 lists, new photos, essays and more, penned by 30 contributors from around the world. StarTrek.com recently caught up with the UK-based Simpson, who discussed his Trek cred and previewed the Ultimate Guides.
How long have you been involved with Titan and the Star Trek magazines, and what is it that you personally love most about Star Trek?
I’ve worked on and off for Titan since the late 1990s, contributing to various licensed magazines (Star Trek, Star Wars, The X-Files, Buffy, Xena, etc.) and also writing the official guides to Farscape and the first three Smallville Companions for the books department. Because I edited Dreamwatch magazine from 1995 to 2000 (which Titan bought a year later), then-managing editor Brian J. Robb invited me to come in to oversee a compilation issue that they were creating in summer 2006, which was initially going to be reprint material from my period in charge, suitably updated. That morphed during the creation into a completely new magazine. I really enjoyed getting back to editing again – I’d been freelance writing for various magazines since leaving Dreamwatch – and it turned out that Titan needed someone to take on Trek, now that they had the US and UK licenses. John Freeman had done a great job kick starting the US issues, and I built on what he began. We arranged a deal whereby I worked freelance, rather than going on staff, and that’s carried on ever since.
As far as Trek itself goes, it’s been part of my DNA since I first saw episodes when they began over here in 1969. Yes, sadly, I am that old. “The Return of the Archons” and especially “The Doomsday Machine” stuck in my mind in the years when we didn’t get repeats – the UK in those pre-cable and satellite days got a program once. If we were lucky. And then The Animated Series came along, which I caught most of.
But it was the books that inspired my real love of the show: James Blish and Alan Dean Foster’s novelizations, and the Bantam -- Corgi over here -- original novels. I haunted shops like Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed, the forerunner to Forbidden Planet, for the new releases. And it’s stuck with me ever since: I watched the movies as soon as they came out, and usually had read the novels before the release, given the difference in dates between US and UK. I caught TNG when it started here, and then DS9, Voyager and Enterprise – all of which I was lucky enough to visit in my job as Dreamwatch editor or as a freelancer.
Star Trek has just got such a marvelously wide canvas to tell stories on, with a great group of characters in each show. Of course, there are duff episodes, bad novels and comic books that should never have got past the one-line pitch, but that’s part of the texture. And I have a sneaking love for stories told within the universe -- Vanguard, The Lost Era, etc.
What's it meant to you to be the editor-in-chief of Star Trek Magazine, and what have you seen as your mission in that role?
It’s allowed me to make something that’s been a hobby and an interest into a paying job, put simply. I have always worked by the mantra of producing a magazine that reflects what I, as a fan, would want to read. I think the biggest difference between me and my honored predecessors is that I’ve regarded all Star Trek as one holistic whole, so everything is linked. I was talking about this at a panel at Shore Leave in Baltimore a few weeks back, and it seems as if that approach has really resonated with the readers.
I think that also helps not alienate the “casual” Trek fan – if we focused too heavily on one series, or one aspect of that… for the sake of argument, the pro and anti-Kathryn Janeway lobby, say… then casual fans would be bored. Something thematic – honor, justice, love – appeals generally, and it’s clear from the reaction to issue 35, the spaceships special, that that has really struck a chord. When people like Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer (the guy behind FlashForward) starts pushing the mag online, then we’re obviously doing something right.
If we've got our facts right, the Ultimate Guides are something you've wanted to do for a long time. Take us through how the idea came about, how you got Titan on board for it and how it all came together.
One of the things that I’ve felt is missing from the printed Trek universe is a full guide to the shows. Paula [M. Block] and Terry [J. Erdmann]’s Star Trek 101 did finally give us something that covered Enterprise, but what wasn’t there was a complete list, in broadcast order, with writers, directors and date of release… It started from there, and I realized that it needed a personal touch as well to make it interesting for the reader. I therefore came up with the idea of giving 4 pages per season – usually; there’s the odd exception -- which would include all that factual detail, plus a mark per episode… and then the subjective stuff on top. A brief essay about the season; the author’s top 5 episodes, with a reason why; the worst episode; the best guest star… and then, from a brilliant suggestion by Marco Palmieri, the MVP, most valued performer, for each season.
Back in 2009, Brian Robb had asked me to come up with ideas for a special issue of the mag to be published in the fall of 2011, to mark the 45th anniversary of Trek, which is when I pitched this idea and started the preparatory work. I then emailed out to the various writers who had contributed to the mag in recent times, and asked them to pick their favourite season… I wanted each of these to be written by people who weren’t going to complain about re-watching up to 26 hours of TV because it was stuff they enjoyed. We ended up with a few of the usual suspects answering the email within 10 seconds of my sending it and requesting their favorites, but some surprising choices.
When the giant mag fell by the wayside, I felt that we shouldn’t lose the idea altogether, and therefore suggested that we print it in two parts, either side of the 45th anniversary, in the standard slots for the mag. And that’s when it started to really fall into place: our new designer, Philip White, had a crash course in the picture library to get it all together; Brian Robb, now a freelance writer, prepared the loglines. And we added one more element – an overall Top 10, which was derived from all of the contributors, plus a few others from both the world of Star Trek, and more general entertainment, giving me their personal top five Star Trek stories. One gigantic Excel sheet later, and we came out with the results, which Marco then wrote up.
How did you cull together the 30 contributors who penned copy for the Guides?
Culling them sounds like I lined them up ready for a remake of the last scenes of The Great Escape… an idea that might have its merits…? Seriously, they’re all people who have been involved with contributions to the magazine in some shape or form over the past five years.
So, what can readers expect to see in terms of synopses, reviews, production overviews? In other words, how in-depth will the Guides go for each series, episode, etc?
The absolute minimum any episode gets is title, writer, director, airdate and a mark out of 5, but the vast majority get a lot more than that. The production overviews are, deliberately, subjective: what I might have picked out from that season’s history isn’t necessarily at all what the writers have. And it’s very important to note that no one has been asked to change what they said: it means that occasionally we have the same person awarded the MVP in successive seasons, or that what one person suggests in their piece will be a fantastic year of a show is revealed in the next article to be one of the less successful ones, in the next author’s opinion.
Some of the marks will generate debate, I’m sure: between the half-dozen people who read these issues before they go to press -- and yes, all of those half-dozen missed our infamous screw-up over President Harry S Truman… and most of them were Americans! -- many of us disagreed with the marks given, in some cases violently. There were times when I wanted to challenge what was being said, but the beauty of these issues is that it reflects Star Trek fandom: one person’s “Spock’s Brain” is another’s “The City on the Edge of Forever.”
I hope that casual readers picking it up will get a sense of how Star Trek has grown over the last 45 years, how it’s occasionally gone down blind alleyways, but always found its way back. And how, although there are fans who criticize the 2009 movie for the alterations it made, it’s actually reflective of Star Trek as a whole far more than you’d think.
Some people – noticeably those who wrote books which might be eligible! – asked if we were including books and comic strips, etc., in the Ultimate Guide, and the sad answer had to be “no.” We’re already using 168 pages of issues over this – the only regular features in the issues are the news, Trek Life, Treknology and Lost and Found – and if we’d expanded it to the novels, I’m not sure exactly how we could have coped. I want to do something during the 45th anniversary year on both of those elements, but a lot will depend on the coverage of the next movie from J.J. and his team, and what space I’ll have available. We’re looking at Enterprise’s 10th anniversary, the 25th and 20th anniversaries, respectively, of Star Trek IV and VI, and a different take on romance over the next few issues, so there’s a lot of other cool stuff coming… And obligatory plug, please subscribe – with the demise of Borders, and other bookstores going to the wall with a horrible frequency, the best guaranteed way to get the magazine is to subscribe direct from us, either the print version or our new digital edition.
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