||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 1 of 2
Franz Joseph, the creator of the "Star Fleet Technical Manual" and "Booklet of General Plans (U.S.S. Constitution Class Starships; including Enterprise)", is an extremely talented, diverse and intelligent author and designer. As a Technical Artist at General Dynamics, Convair Division, he bases his knowledge and expertise with aeronautical designs and processes on twenty plus years experience.
Franz's greatest technical gift to Star Trek fandom is the technical publications, and more importantly perceptions of Starfleet in a technical fashion. Numerous semi-professional publications followed to help keep these new perceptions afloat. The "Star Fleet Medical Reference Manual," "Klingon Blueprints," "Romulan Bird of Prey," "Bridge," "K-7 Space Station," "Star Fleet Freighter Blueprints," etc. followed--all in the same style set by Franz.
Within the new generation of Trek movies, technical views of Franz's ships still appear on the Enterprise bridge viewscreens. The microgramma type style has been carried through as well as the UFP seal (modified). For example, in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, during the Epsilon 9 sequence a voice-over instructs a Destroyer to rendezvous with NCC-595, U.S.S. Revere, a Scout (actually listed in the Technical Manual) and to meet with a Commodore (Andrew) Probert.
In Wrath of Khan, the "Goose" shield of United Planets (GI Cygni) appears on a mounted plaque behind Kirk in the Travel Pod (approaching Enterprise in dock). Despite Paramount's re-design of the "new" Trek world, it's apparent that Franz's influence and cleverness in thought will always be around.
There are those who like to challenge and/or criticize the Technical Manual for its "mistakes," or extrapolations. Upon talking with Franz Joseph it becomes quite clear why these things were done. Franz claims not to be a fan of Star Trek, but moreover a believer in Star Fleet as an armed forces system of the 23rd century. Years of nitpicking have gone on with the Technical Manual, primarily at the Dreadnought, a 3-nacelle Federation ship capable of up to Warp 10. This ship, as with the others (Scout, Destroyer, Tug) represent a broader engineering sense of Star Fleet. It promotes thought and imagination (i.e. starships based on components proven independently) of a new technology rather than solely a technical log of Star Trek episodes.
Franz Joseph; his designs and thoughts are extremely fascinating for any fan or non-fan. The Smithsonian displays his Starship Blueprints with the 108" miniature. The U.S. Navy has reviewed the Bridge layout, and some universities have used the Tech Manual as a text in particular classes. Plus, in late 1975 the Tech Manual made it to the #1 spot of the New York Times Bestseller list where it remained for 2-3 months, topping all SF bestsellers. (EDITOR'S NOTE: In spite of this, the Tech Manual was not reprinted for either ST--TMP or ST II. Word has it that Paramount, which has laid firm hold of the "new" Star Trek, wants to render the original version of Star Trek as obsolete as possible and not blur them together in the slightest bit, thus excluding Gene Roddenberry one more step from the revival. In fact, in 1979 when Marvel Comics did the magazine comic book adaptation of ST:TMP, they had a backup feature slated for the issue which was to include stills from the TV series, but Paramount demanded that such photos and references to the TV show be removed!)
This interview with Franz explains the concepts as well as the man behind these vital literary (technical) works of Star Trek and Star Fleet. I hope you find him as enlightening and fascinating as I did.
---Paul Newitt/Oct. 1982
[Explain] the background of the origin of the Tech Manual and how you went about...
It started in 1973. A group of fans had formed S.T.A.R. San Diego and they were meeting at Jeannie Graham's house. They finally decided to go over SDSU and open it up as a campus activity. Karen asked me to go with her that inaugural night, April 14, 1973, because I guess she was a little nervous about going there alone. When I got there I discovered a lot of the young people were children of friends of mine, people I'd worked with at Convair. Well, they had made models of the Star Trek memorabilia.
I don't know whether or not you were aware of it at the time, but they were made out of cardboard, balsa wood, tape, wiring, glue, and paint and, for college kids (anyone who is 3 or more years younger than me is a "kid") the workmanship was pretty bad any way you looked at it. (I helped to initiate the Cub Scout Program. In 1932 we ran a Scout Leader's training course in the West Suburban Council, and one of the things we had the leaders do was to take a Cub Scout project, a nine-year-old craft project, and do it as part of the course. We gave them two days to come up with something and then we set it up as an exhibit. Well, we set the leaders' projects up on one side of the hall; meantime, we'd collected the same kind of work from the various Cub Packs and put it up on the other side of the hall. When you saw the adults' work compared to the children's' work, the Cubs' work looked like Einstein had made it, I mean, it was professional work. While the adult leaders' work looked pretty bad). Well, that's what this Star Trek memorabilia looked like. I told them I thought they could do better. And they said, "Show us."
When we got home, I had Karen get out some of her slides from the Star Trek TV series and I reduced one of them -- I think the first was the communicator -- back into its three-view drawing. Let me digress for a moment. There is a simple procedure in architectural drawing, or orthographic drafting, in which you place the face view of the building to the left of your drawing, the side view of the building to the right of your drawing, and the plan view at the top of your drawing. You turn the plan view to the angle at which you want to view the building. Your drawing then becomes the contact face plane of that plan. Then, by simply erecting all the lines of the building against the face plane and the horizon, using the three views, you draw, create, the building as it will appear in three dimensions and it is correctly reduced for perspective. Well I discovered this procedure can be reversed (from picture to plan) which I did upon occasion during the war.
I could take a picture of an enemy airplane and, as long as there was something on the airplane, or in the picture, that permitted me to determine the scale or make a fairly good judgment of the scale, then I would simply reverse the procedure and draw the plans of the airplane in that picture. This is what I was doing with the Star Trek slides. I drew the plans of the communicator, and then the plans of the hand phaser and the pistol phaser. About a week later I had a number of ST fans come over to the house. There was Greg Weir and his dad, Steve Stockbarger, Karen, and...I don't remember all of them now and, as a matter of fact, I don't think I made a list of those who where there. There were about nine of them.
We sat in the dining room and I showed them the drawings I'd made. They went wild over them and then began to write lists of all the things they wanted to see and wanted me to convert to plans. In other words, everyone had a sheet of paper and was busy writing a list of what they wanted. When I saw the lists it suddenly dawned on me that what they were asking for was a "technical" manual. And so I decided right then that I'd try to do it.
The first thing I did was to sit down and draw up a master outline. I have a master outline for the Technical Orders that will allow me to classify as many as 150,000. I didn't want to fall into the trap the TV series had gotten into. You know, where nobody knew what they'd done the week before, or two weeks before, and so on. I also didn't want to get mixed up in assigning T.O. numbers or anything else, and the master outline was the answer for this.
Then Karen got a set of the...they're called the "Enterprise drawing set" at Lincoln Enterprises...you know, the famous three-view and the cutaway, and other things from Stephen Whitfield's book; and the drawing of the hangar deck...and I think there was also a drawing of the shuttlecraft. From these sketches and those in Whitfield's book, I then laid out...those drawings were bad, they're out of scale...but I laid the drawing out, scaled and sized it, and made a drawing of the Enterprise. Next I devised the Dreadnought, made a drawing of one of the uniforms, and about twelve drawings in all. They were drawn on the format I'd already devised for the Technical Orders. I sent a copy of the T.O.'s for the Dreadnought and the Enterprise to Gene Roddenberry on June 3rd, told him what I was doing, and inquired about proprietary rights.
I got a letter in reply immediately, stating there was no problem with the proprietary rights, that he liked what I was doing, and wanted me to proceed...So I sent him copies of some fourteen T.O.'s I'd made to date and I got a very enthusiastic letter back. He said he'd never seen anything like that before and he wanted to see more of it. So I started collecting Star Trek material in order to be able to make the T.O.'s. In the lists ST fans had made, they wanted to see things that were on the Enterprise but never appeared in the series. I had already decided that if I was going to do the work, at least it would be technically and scientifically correct.
Karen had been attending ST conventions since about 1971, and she was bringing home those cheap mimeographed copies of the scripts, and things like that, and paying six dollars for each item. I thought, "Gee, the kids are getting an awful shake for the money they're spending." So, in the Technical Manual, I decided I'd try to teach them what all the ST fans seemed to be looking for every time I got around a group. They wanted the real thing, or at least something that could be real when we got around to making it. I decided that I would keep the Manual as accurate as possible an extension of our knowledge of science and engineering technology. I was pretty confident everything could be worked out or extrapolated on that basis.
Well, the first thing we ran into were the "errors," and every ST fan knows there were enough errors to fill a volume library. Some of them I could work around, but some were too glaring; they would have to be corrected. Each time one of the "glaring" errors appeared on the list, we'd have a bull session of ST fans and discuss it. If the consensus of opinion was that, regardless of the error, they wanted it that way because that was the way it appeared in the series, I discarded that item. In other cases, where they decided the correction was proper, and it didn't affect the theme of the ST series, then I made the changes and used the item.
Oh, they were endless. A typical example: in the first two years of production, the bridge was changed four times...that is, it went through four major changes...but they went unnoticed until you started to analyze the slides. I imagine, during that period, we looked at something like 100,000 film clips. Eventually you caught on, you could catch the error once you started to examine the slides in detail. They're supposed to have...I think you call it a continuity producer...or something like that. The idea is, whenever you finish filming the day before and pick up the next sequence, someone is there to be sure the actors were wearing the same clothes they wore the last time you shot, that they're wearing the same ring on the same finger, and their hair is combed the same way, and all this stuff. I assumed the TV series had it. And I assumed that whatever the format was as they were writing the scripts, and shooting the scenes, that someone was watching for continuity. If the script said the door opened in a certain room last week, it opened on the same room this week. It turns out the TV series had no such person.
If you ignored the story as you were watching an episode, and looked for detail as you were watching it, you suddenly discovered these errors and mistakes went on endlessly. Now there were many mistakes that were due to production necessities. In other words, the camera and the producer had to be in a certain place shooting with a particular camera angle, and that caused errors. I mean, those...there are mistakes that you can ignore because they're reality...it's either that or you don't shoot the scene. But take another type of error which is a major mistake. There are not military vehicles, to my knowledge, that are designed with the commanding officer positioned so he sits with his back to an exposed entry. Yet the captain of the Enterprise sat with his back to the elevator. The reason being, that was where the action of the episode was coming from, and that was the camera angle the producer wanted.
In order to do this, he was shooting at a 36-degree angle to the captain's station and the bridge, so he could include the screen over to the right and the elevator over to the left. When you come to the layout of the bridge, because the elevator is on the centerline of the Enterprise in its external views, you discover the bridge is skewed off 36 degrees from the centerline. But no ST fan ever put these two things together, you don't see it until you try to make an actual layout of the starship. As I said, you just go from one error to another. However, I'm digressing; we were talking about the things the ST fans wanted to see that never appeared in the TV series.
I started to make a layout of the ship but since the three-views didn't jibe with each other, the first thing I had to go was to generate an accurate set of loft lines. With these completed, I now had a set of line drawings in which I could make a cut at any plane, any deck level, and any cross-section. I now began the actual layout drawings of the ship and did this in the same manner it would be done in an aerospace design environment. But now I had another problem. In the TV series, and in Whitfield's book, they had stated certain (unseen) things were on certain decks as "throw away" lines for the actors. The set that had been constructed for the TV series also had a central hall with a certain degree of curvature, a specific relationship between the rooms and the corridor, rooms to the doors, and the arrangement of rooms such as the medical center, and Kirk's room. For economy, the captain's room was redressed by switching door panels, etc., to make Spock's room, and redressed again to make Yeoman Rand's room and so on. I had the plan of the stage layout from Whitfield's book so that I was able to recreate the size of the set. They gave me the basic positions and also the basic views and arrangement of the engineering section. From here, I had to work it into the spaceship they had drawn.
Now, I'll digress for another minute. When the Enterprise was first sketched in the design as it now appears, but not the arrangement used in the TV series, it was originally intended to be a vehicle about 180 feet long, with an eight-man crew riding in the cab on top. The cab was a long cab, like an Aerocommander airplane, with the pilot and co-pilot sitting in front, and the rest of the crew sitting behind with viewscreens in front of them, like in an airplane cockpit. In the course of getting from there to the basic design for the TV pilot, they talked with academic people who decided that when man ventured into space he would still be a gregarious animal, as has been proven by our astronaut program. On any extended voyage like this, of months or years, the survival potential of a few number of persons is very poor. The survival potential, of an interacting colony, like you had in the TV series, is much better. So, without changing the proportions and external arrangement of the design, they increased the length to 947 feet, raised the number of the crew to 430, and took off on shooting the TV pilot. You can figure it out from there.
What else did you design?
The saucer section, as sketched externally, turned out to be not quite two decks high. That created a problem. I had to work out a moving path for twelve-passenger turbo-cars, so they could go from one point in the ship to any other point in thirty seconds, with a clear path. I had to make certain I had blocked no access ways, and so on. I had to get the required number of rooms in the required section of the ship, including all the storage closets and other features they would have to have. But as the design began to work out, things began to fall into place, and the design of the ship began to evolve. You begin to see it, and think of it, in that technology in that time period. What you suddenly realize is that it would be a far more efficient machine than the Earth is. For instance: you eat meat from a cow. A cow is a living organism that ate natural food and obtained energy from the sun that was stored in that food. You killed that cow, ate the meat, which gave you that stored energy. You excrete the residue, the fiber and the other discardable material, and it goes back into the ground where it reacts with other chemicals, and bacteria, in the natural biosphere. It now becomes a natural fertilizer to produce more plant food for more cows to eat, and continues the cycle. Except that the way we do it on Earth, naturally, is very wasteful. In that time period (of the TV series), with the knowledge of chemistry we'll have then, we'll operate a closed cycle. For example: you drink the water and excrete urine. It would be collected, foreign matter would be removed and sanitized, it would be converted back into water and stored. It's that simple in theory. Everything else taken out of the water would be stored in God knows what - bottles? - lockers? - or other special containers? Now, when you want more meat you just take the proper chemical combination for beef, put them together, and you have it. Or turkey, or anything else you want. And you go through the same cycle again; of use, reclamation, conversion to basic elements, and storage.
Now you, and everyone else, lose about 1000 atoms of yourself every hour. You rub them off on everything you touch, they brush off onto things, or they breathe off into the atmosphere, and so on. Even the astronauts, when they were on the moon, were breathing, leaking if you will, atoms of themselves out through the environmental suits. In the normal lifetime of a man you won't lose enough atoms to make any difference. It turns out that the spaceship is the same way. While in its space, the ship is breathing atoms of itself into space all the time. But it can have a built-in system to restore that loss from elements stored onboard. The total food and water supply used by the human crew will also be recycled, and recycled and recycled. All you take out of it is the energy you need to function. That energy can be restored from the energy the ship is taking in from the surrounding environment, in the universe, to propel itself. You could take a fraction of that energy to restore what you've consumed. So, in essence, what I'm describing is almost a perpetual motion machine. There would be a point in time, when that machine will have lost enough atoms of itself, and everything else that it contains within it, that it will no longer be able to function without recycling and it will begin to cease to function. What's that time period? A billion years? Two billion years? Who knows? On my thumbnail, alone, there are 30 billion atoms. So you can imagine the incomprehensible amount of atoms in a complex like the Enterprise. That's what this spaceship turns out to be.
Now if you look at the manufacturing facilities (and I don't know what they'll look like except I know we'll have them), you'll see machinery in there of various sizes, what those machines do is, you put in a computer deck (card) like those they used on the bridge,...in other words, someone wants a bed, or a desk, or something else for his room. You put the deck in the machine, it takes atoms from the various storage sections for basic elements, and creates the piece of furniture and gives it to you. When you have another piece of furniture that's in the way and won't be needed immediately, you put it into the machine and reverse the cycle. The machine takes it apart into its basic elemental form, and returns those atoms to their storage chambers. It's that simple in theory. That's how the whole spaceship works.
One of the other features that came about, in working out the design, was the damage control. This is something found in any facility of any size which houses a number of people, and is subject to external or internal damage. Damage control lockers (which contain the equipment necessary to repair the damage), are always located outside the areas which they are required to protect. This had to be worked out in the design of the ship. The long stretches of corridors had to be capable of isolation with damage control doors, to block off groups of rooms where damage may have occurred. You have to have environmental and hazard protection suits, and damage control equipment, to enter the damaged section, make the repairs, and restore the integrity of the ship. You do the same thing now on a battleship, or an aircraft carrier, or other facilities. It turns out, in developing the design, that the saucer shape of the primary hull is a very efficient shape from the standpoint of floor area versus enclosed volume, total external wetted volume, and the necessity to be structurally sound as a pressure vessel. Like Gerard O'Neill's space colony designs. He approaches his design on the basis of simplicity in enclosing a large volume and recreating an Earthlike environment. He needs a large atmospheric volume to give a sense of sky and ground. On a spaceship, like the Enterprise, we'll try to create a natural environment like you'd see in a house, or a building. It doesn't need a sky because you don't expect to see sky in this kind of an environment.
Another feature is drawn from the experience with nuclear submarines. That's isolation. When those submarines go to sea they're submerged for six months at a time. Each submarine has two crews, two men for each duty station. When the submarine returns from its cruise to be resupplied, the Blue crew leaves for R & R, and the Gold crew takes it back to sea immediately. However, during a six-month cruise the submarine remains submerged for the duration of the cruise. They've found from actual experience that regardless of their size...the breadth of the existing class of nuclear submarines is something like 33 feet (and I think the breadth of a new Trident submarine is something like 50 feet)...there are still limitations. I mean they're roomy inside and not cramped quarters like the old WWII subs. Crewmen are assigned two to a room which is comparatively roomy, and they have dummy windows with curtains. The crewmen have the prerogative to choose the type and color of the curtains, bedspreads, the colors for the walls and the ceiling, floor coverings, etc. The submarine service is trying to make it as comfortable and natural as possible, but they still have problems. You know the number of times you've gotten attitude, "to hell with this, I'm sick and tired of this and I want to get off somewhere by myself." Well, they also have little rooms built into corners here and there where a crewman can do this, where can go and be by himself in private. You'll also find there PR rooms located at various places in the Enterprise. Only in that time period, with their technology, you'll be able to recreate any personal image of your choice: the planetary home you left, your own room back home, or your farm if you came from a farm. You'll be able to change the virtual image of your PR room to any image to please and relax your mind. Once your mind has sorted out the frustration and boredom and is at ease with itself, you feel relaxed and rested and you return to your regular duty and quarters. There undoubtedly will be a directive that whenever a crewman is in a PR room he will be taken off the duty roster, and is not to be disturbed except for what would be an imminent disaster alert. You can't excuse any personnel under those circumstances. With the normal variety of different rooms and facilities in a spaceship, and the PR rooms, as far as I can see you would be able to keep its crew reasonably happy.
To make a long story short, by the time I'd gotten the design worked out to the things the ST fans wanted to see, the plans of the Enterprise were about 3/4's completed. While I was designing the interior arrangement of the ship, whenever there was a problem I'd have a number of fans over and we'd sit around and discuss the realities of the thing. They'd been watching the TV series and studying it, they knew all the details by heart. While all I knew was the details in the slides that someone gave me to look at. We'd kid around and kick ideas back and forth, and so on. Well, enough people had seen the drawings, and they were wild about them, that I decided to complete them as a separate project. I made six check prints of the completed drawings on the 14th of December and sent a set to Gene Roddenberry. I told him he'd used all kinds of "throw-away" names for various items and functions on the ship, that I knew nothing about. I told him if there was anything I'd missed, and he knew the name they'd used, to write it on the copy and I would add it to the original drawing. Gene called me New Year's Eve to convey his delight with the plans. He said no one up there could believe such work was possible...they'd never seen anything like it before. He told me they were ready to shoot the pilot for a new series, Planet Earth, which was to be a revised script from the original pilot of Genesis II, and asked if I'd come up and discuss it with him. He knew the problems they'd had with the Star Trek TV series, that the fans had recognized that the props were phony, and said this time they wanted to do it right the first time. He said I obviously had the expertise to do it, and would I come up and discuss it with him.
I flew up to Burbank on January 4th, 1974. This new series was a time period halfway between the present and Star Trek's time. They wanted rudimentary equipment like the medical kit, the tricorder, the communicator, and other things like that. Gene had about nine people left with him from the production days at Paramount for the Star Trek TV series. He called his group Norway Productions. We sat around and discussed the new script, kicked ideas around back and forth, and I began to make some crude sketches of the various items to get ideas and forms. After we had some agreement as to the direction to go, I told him I'd return home, give it some serious thought, and give him a call as soon as I had something. He told me there wasn't much time because they were scheduled to start shooting around the 19th, I think it was. After I got home, I found that if I made the changes they'd suggested they were back to Star Trek's time. So I made a series of sketches to demonstrate this, and also some ideas of my own, and went back up to Burbank. When I explained my reasoning and what I'd done they could easily see what I was driving at. So we reworked those sketches then and there with ideas from other props that were in the conference room, and settled on the principal props for the pilot. The communicator became an item like a small flashlight, about 5-1/2 inches long and an inch in diameter, called a "transceiver." The "Multiceiver" was a rudimentary forerunner to the tricorder with a viewscreen that unfolded to a 4" x 8" display, and stored a removable "multi-sensor" and "image orthicon." The "Medi-pak" was a medical kit forerunner of the Dr. McCoy's medical kit. It was something I had already given a lot of thought to as an improvement for our 20th-century medicine.
I consisted of a DNA reader-analyzer, a computer, a renewable medicine tray, and a storage compartment for its accessories. I believe we'll have crude laboratory DNA readers by 1990 and possibly a working model out in the field by the year 2010. The theory is simple. The doctor will take a sample of your DNA, a few hundred cells of your skin (you'll never notice or feel it). He'll place this sample in his analyzer to determine your DNA blueprint and what aberration needs to be corrected. His computer will tell him what chemicals he needs to give you to correct the aberration and he'll get these from that medicine tray. You get the chemicals to correct your DNA, it in turn corrects what ails you, only you'll be healing yourself at the basic level of chemical elements. By the mid-21st century, or 22nd century, manipulation of human DNA will be standard medical practice, and it will largely be preventive medicine. Doctors will eventually be able to regrow lost fingers, and such things. Dentists will remove a cavity by restoring the tooth from the inside out. How far and at what pace we will proceed in this direction I don't know at this time. It could be very rapid because we're aimed in that direction now. Work in this is now taking place in our laboratories. How fast it will occur depends upon its acceptance by the established medical profession.
Well, getting back to Planet Earth, we settled on the designs and I started to make the drawings. They needed two things, a studio dummy they could build in their craft shops immediately, and I had to have those drawings back to them because the shooting schedule was breathing down our necks. And drawings for a "working" model that would be used in the scenes to convey reality. I got the drawings to them as fast as I could and also prepared sheets of instructions as to how each piece of equipment would be operated under true-to-life conditions. I had devised the "working" models so that they could also be made in the studio craft shops. We didn't have time to go to a computer firm and have them gin up a board or anything like that. The easy way is to use a battery-driven electric motor to pull chart slides that makes it look like a working computer, and so on. It turned out the studio craft shop didn't have the time or the ability to make the working models and the pilot was shot with dummies. But since they were models of the potentially real equipment, and I'd given them instructions on how they'd be operated in reality, the dummies were quite effective. The actors responded to the equipment naturally and never made any false hand movements.
The best example of this type of error I can think of is the Star Trek episode where a crewman has locked himself in the engineering section...you know the story better than I do. The ship is in a decaying orbit and will burn up in atmospheric re-entry in 20 minutes or so. Spock and Scotty are in the corridor outside the locked door, and Scotty is cutting through the wall to get at the door operating mechanism, with a phaser. Have you ever looked at that slide? Scotty is holding the phaser with both hands but his fingers are touching nothing. What they had done was to rig up an electric torch from the other side of the wall to the gun, and its arc was doing the cutting. Scotty was apparently afraid of getting his fingers too close to that arc, so they were spread out in the air away from the phaser. He was holding the grip with his palms. Because Scotty didn't have a real phaser he had no idea of what to do or how to do it. When you saw the episode on TV, and all the fans have seen it many times, no one ever noticed what Scotty was actually doing. But when you look at the slide, which is a single picture, without all the dramatic action that's taking place, the goof stands out immediately. But we're getting away from the story.
The fans who saw the plans said, "These are beautiful, all the fans will like them." I've learned from working with the youngsters all my life that when a kid says "all" the ST fans will like it he means himself and his friends, which may be five or ten people. To find out for myself I printed 500 copies of the plans to sell at Equicon '74 in Los Angeles. I got a one-time agreement from Paramount, and there was no advertising. I bought S.T.A.R.'s table because I figured they would be sold in a few hours and I'd have no further need of the table. I told the S.T.A.R. members to keep track of their time when they sold the plans and I'd pay them for it, everyone who was involved: "When my plans are sold out you can continue on with your own sales on the same table." Their table was stuck in a back corner of the sales room. I had one uncut print (all the individual sheets were together on one sheet), which they hung on the wall behind the table. I had signed it, and they got Gene Roddenberry to sign it, and it was later auctioned off at the end of the Con. Now no one knew about the existence of the plans until a fan bought a set and walked out on the Con floor with it. It turned out there wasn't enough time in the Con for all the fans who wanted a set of the plans to get into the dealer's room to get one. At the end of the Con I think there were still something like 90 left. But I'd also had a strip chart of 14 sample T.O.'s from the proposed Technical Manual which they also put up on the wall as a display. And I had preprinted cards available for fans to indicate their interest in the plans and the manual and return them to me. The S.T.A.R. people brought back hundreds of signed cards with them, and more began arriving in the mail everyday. Everyone was asking for a set of then plans and indicated they also wanted to get a copy of the manual when it was completed. Now most of the dealers at a Con, excepting for a few of the professionals, maybe send Paramount an extra five or ten dollars to settle up their sales. I sent Paramount a check for $400, and asked what I could do with the unsold sets of plans and all the fan requests I had for them.
About the end of February I got a call from Lou Mindling, a vice-president of Paramount, who told me it would be all right to sell the remaining copies under the existing agreement. He also said, "You apparently have something the fans like, and we would like to put it on the market." Ballantine Books was their publishing outlet for fan memorabilia, and so we began negotiations by telephone. I know nothing about the publishing business or anything else in this marketing business, and I had to feel my way. I didn't like the deal I was offered at the beginning and our phone conversations would come to an impasse. Paramount kept insisting they were trying to do me a favor, but they also insisted on certain rights which I didn't like. One day I finally said, "Look, we're not getting anywhere; I don't feel comfortable with the proposed arrangements, and you don't want to make any changes. Rather than go ahead, I'd just as soon drop the whole thing right now and forget about it."
Lou Mindling called Judy Lynn del Rey, at Ballantine Books, and said, "It's awfully hard to talk to someone you don't know. You don't know how they talk, or how to judge the tone of their voice, or anything else over a telephone. So you (Ballantine) try to make a deal with him (me) and we'll accept any arrangement you can negotiate." Judy called me and we had several conversations in which I told her my fears, and we finally began to see eye to eye. Well, we finally negotiated an agreement and I had signed the contract in November.
The first printing of the plans was 50,000 copies which went into the bookstores in March 1975, without any fanfare or preadvertising. They were sold out in two hours. This was followed with a printing of 100,000 copies and then another printing of 60,000 copies and both of these sold out in transit. They didn't catch up with the demand with further printings until I think it was September. One bookstore said it was easy: "all you do is put the cash register just inside the door with the plans stacked up in front of it. That saves your store from being trampled into pieces." Because of the volume of the sales, the plans made quite a stir in the news media. They should have been on the bestseller lists but they couldn't, because those lists are for hardcovers or paperbacks, and the plans are classified as a production in the publishing business. So the editors of the newspapers were writing editorials about why the plans should be on the bestseller list but couldn't be put there.
In the meantime, both Paramount and Ballantine knew I was working on the Manual because I'd sent them the strip chart I had at Equicon '74. And the ST fans knew about it because they'd filled out the cards I had provided. Before I started seriously on the Manual I had talked to Gene, Paramount, NBC, and Ballantine Books, and they all assured me the Star Trek TV series was dead, it would not go back into production. Of course the reruns were maintaining continued fan interest, and gaining new fans every year. So I felt it was all right if I made the Manual. It was something the original series never had, Gene wanted me to go ahead and finish it, and Ballantine was interested in publishing it.
I had told Gene I didn't feel comfortable trading on someone else's original idea, but he insisted the Manual would be a real asset to the memorabilia. I told him I'd stay with the theme he'd developed, explained the errors and what I'd planned to do about them, and also offered to send any major changes to him for approval before using them. This way, since the subject was dead, I didn't think I'd be hurting anything he'd accomplished. I wasn't interested in science fiction, or the Star Trek TV series. My interest was in the interplanetary community, how much we actually knew about its potentiality, and the true science and technology as it would exist in that time period. I wasn't interested in watching the TV reruns although I saw every episode maybe 50 times or so, just to confirm a single detail of something I was going to put in the Manual.
It took almost two years to complete all the Technical Orders. I was nearly done with the drawings, I think there was only two or three unimportant T.O.'s still left to do, when Gene signed the contract to do the Star Trek movie on March 12th, 1975. Star Trek wasn't a dead issue anymore, but the Manual was too far along and too much had gone into it to drop it. I also had a commitment to Paramount and Ballantine. I signed the contract for the Manual with Ballantine on August 14th, 1975, and Ballantine immediately put their whole organization to work on producing it. (Normally, when you sell a manuscript to a publisher, it will be two years from that date to the time it appears in the bookstores. They have to retype the manuscript into book format, choose the size of the book, the type style, the number of pages, and a lot of other details. Most publishers...at least from what little I know...normally carry about 20 to 50 different titles each year, and this requires all the effort of their staff to keep this number of books on the market.) On the Manual, Ballantine put their whole organization to work on producing a set of "blues," the photo-ready copies for the printing presses. The "blues" were done early in September, and Ballantine then rented about twelve presses in the New York area...they apparently don't have enough presses in house...and began printing to get the quantity of copies ready for the bookstores.
The first order for the Manuals was 450,000 copies, which they tell me, at that time, was the largest single order ever placed for an SF book. All I know is what people in the business have told me. Anyway, the Manuals went on sale in the bookstores on November 26th, 1975. It became number one on B. Dalton's list in the first week of sales and, three weeks later, it became number one on the New York Times list of bestsellers, where it remained, I think, for two or three months or something like that. I got a bottle of champagne...everybody got a bottle of champagne...to celebrate becoming the number one bestseller.
Then, the fun started. I got a call from the editor of the New York Times for an interview which would be an editorial on the financial page. I've never seen it, but I was told I made financial history in the book publishing business. Apparently, my works created the largest financial gain in one year that had ever been achieved. I was also told it was the largest single-print order that had ever been placed up to that time. The Manual outsold, and topped, all the SF bestsellers then on the market. I began receiving calls for interviews from magazines and newspapers all over the country. The editor of Publisher's Weekly, the bible of the publishing business, called for an interview. We must have talked for about two hours. He told me it was the first time that two purely technical works (the Plans and the Manual) had ever become popular bestsellers, and that had established a record.
Everyone was going wild over the various flags and insignias. It was fantastic. I think it was in March, or April, 1976 that Susan Seim, the publicity manager for Ballantine, called me at 9am to tell me that she had gotten a call from the Akron Daily Press to do an interview. She told them, "You can't call him now, he's sleeping." So she called me, and I told her it would be all right for them to call, which they did about a half-hour later. In the meantime, after they first called Susan, the Akron Daily Press had an editorial meeting. (This was on Thursday.) They decided instead of trying to make that day's edition, they were going to run it on Saturday...eight columns, front page, with two-inch headlines. I told the editor, "You've got to be crazy. What's going on back there that would cause enough fuss to warrant the front page?" All he would tell me was, "You've caused quite a stir." I never saw the newspaper, although the editor promised to send me a copy.
I was also told a large northeastern college, I don't know which one, purchased 30,000 copies to use in college courses with the Plans and the Manual as course texts. In January 1976 I was invited to attend a two-day meeting in Los Gatos, California, including people from Star Trek Archives in San Francisco, people from NASA, a representative from the University of California, George Takei, Bjo Trimble, and others. Apparently it had been discussed before, and with the success of the Plans and the Manual they were making another attempt. The idea was to wed real technology with science fiction in a "bridge" convention.
A San Francisco Bay area ST convention was chosen as a likely candidate to start. Besides the typical convention activities, it was planned to introduce a number of seminars on space science, vehicles, intelligence, extraterrestrial life, and so on. Each seminar would be hosted by a person from NASA, or the industry, or a university. The seminar would let the SF fans explore the subject with their imaginations, with someone taking notes. The moderator would simply listen and would only interfere in the discussion if it got too far "out in left field," and explain why it wouldn't work for one reason or another, and let them continue in another direction. If this trial convention was successful, they were planning to set up a number of bridge conventions across the country, culminating some 18 months later, in a three-day bridge convention at the United Nations. They had already contacted the Soviet Union and gotten its consent. And at this time, the convention would no longer be science fiction but the real thing. It was a good idea, but it never got off the ground for one reason or another. I guess they ran into a lot of problems that had not been foreseen.
I suddenly found I had become the center of attention, which was a very new and very uncomfortable experience. I always enjoy talking to the SF fans and the youngsters, but the look of awe and adoration was something else. I've gotten every kind of a fan letter from the SF fans, businesses, universities, and government agencies and offices. I've gotten at least a dozen letters from ex-servicemen giving me their complete careers, and asking me to nominate them for the next starting class at the Star Fleet Academy. A fellow from NASA told me there was a meeting in Washington, D.C., in the US Department of Education, which included people from NASA, the National Geographic Society, school administrators, and others, and that I and my works were the subject of that meeting. I guess they were discussing the possible influence on the educational process.
Interview copyright 1982 by Paul Newitt. Reprinted with permission.
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