Alan Dean Foster
Alan Dean Foster
Alan Dean Foster is a legend in Science Fiction. Author of many series and standalone novels, including the Humanx Commonwealth Universe and Spellsinger, he has also written novelisations of some of the most important Science Fiction films ever - including Alien, Star Wars, The Thing, and many, many more. He wrote the story for Star Trek The Motion Picture, and recently the novelisation of no less than Star Wars The Force Awakens. The captain, as they say, is very definitely on the bridge ...
We watched in amazement and some tension it must be said as Tim Peake walked out into space on a recent repair mission on the ISS. Have you ever dreamed of travelling into space, and what do you think the future holds in space exploration?
Well, in my imagination, I have of course traveled into space. Seen quite a bit. Big, beautiful, dangerous. In reality…I’d go tomorrow. I’ve always wanted to see what’s over the next hill, or on the next planet.
As to the future of space exploration, we’re way behind because the local tribes can’t seem to get their act together. We’re on a spaceship right now, and the crew can’t seem to stop fighting among themselves. Until that happens, we’re not going to make any real progress. Our robots might, however.
Why do you feel Science Fiction writing has such an appeal, and which writers and books would you particularly recommend to our readers?
You can write about anything. Absolutely anything. No other genre gives you that kind of freedom. As to writers, I can’t speak properly to contemporary, but some personal classic favorites are Eric Frank Russell, Murray Leinster, and Robert Sheckley. Storyteller, storyteller, brilliant.
Can you tell us about your own current writing projects, and if possible, as you look back over the different series and standalone novels you have written, do you have favourites?
One major novelization just out, one more to be announced later this month. Just out: Oshenerth, an epic fantasy set entirely underwater, and in early February, The Deavys, a YA fantasy set in Pennsylvania and New York City. As to favorites, I’m particularly proud of my short fiction, where I get to play with fewer restrictions. I leave picking favorites to the readers.
You are also incredibly well known for your novelisation work – can you tell us a bit about this work, and how the collaboration between film and book is managed?
If it’s a good screenplay, then writing the novelization is fun. If it’s bad…it’s still fun, because I get to fix a lot of the problems. When they let me. There’s a lot more studio involvement now because everyone is conscious of canon. Years ago, no one cared.
I get a copy of the script, some still shots of characters, props, and sets, and that’s usually about it. Then I’m left alone until I turn in the mss., at which point I’m asked to make changes or if I’m lucky … not.
You’ve just recently written the novelisation of The Force Awakens – and you have very significant and interesting history with Star Wars – how do you view the development of this particular “Galaxy Far Far Away” and the status it now enjoys as something of a cultural phenomenon?
After the Bible was written by a few guys, it became something of a big deal, whereupon everyone felt the need to put their two pence in. The success of both is that everyone hankers for straightforward storytelling. Good guys, bad guys, action and excitement, not a lot of blurring of the lines.
Speaking of cultural phenomena, Star Trek is 50 this year. You have also written the novelisations for the recent JJ Abrams films. Why do you think Star Trek has endured in the way it has, and can you say a bit about your involvement with the world of the Federation over the years and The Motion Picture in particular?
Star Trek endures because it represents something of an ideal future, where the terran tribes have come to the realization that we’re all bozos on the same bus, and we’d better cooperate before we foul up the whole place. People act (mostly) reasonably, there isn’t a lot of general stupidity, and science and reason occasionally take precedence over shooting somebody. It’s a future as many would like it to be.
There’s ample history on line detailing my involvement with ST:TMP. I do wish I’d had the opportunity to work on the final screenplay.
As a final question on novelisations, you have written them for some of the most loved classics of Science Fiction cinema, as well as other genres – the Alien saga, Outland, Terminator, the mystical Pale Rider. Do you have favourites?
I’m very fond of Alien because I had to write it in three weeks, by myself, largely at night. Found myself glancing out the window a lot at the darkness outside. If you can scare yourself while you’re writing, you know that you’re doing your job. And I enjoyed doing Pale Rider because it was a break from F&SF.
To return to your own series, you have explored undersea worlds, in Cachalot, or Oshenerth for instance. Do you see parallels between sea and space exploration? We were greatly struck by this as we saw Tim practicing for his space walk, underwater.
Spending time underwater is the nearest we can get right now to visiting an alien world. Much more so than, say, practising for Mars by trundling around the desert. If you have patience, you can begin to understand the thinking processes of the occasional underwater dweller. Cephalopods, for example, are fascinating to spend time with. They’re serious. Cetaceans, on the other hand, just want to play. Maybe Tim will get a chance to read Oshenerth.
On our websites, we try to offer advice to new writers, and often ask published writers for their view on how to get that difficult first draft of a novel or other project completed. Can you say a bit about your approach to getting a first draft down, and maybe whether that has changed over the years?
If you get stuck on page ten, move on to page eleven and come back later. Write something every day, even if you feel it’s not good. It’s more important to get to “The End” than to spend weeks perfecting a couple of pages. You can always go back and revise. And enjoy what you’re writing. If you don’t, chances are good the reader won’t, either. Write your own tale. Don’t copy Star Wars or Star Trek or whatever. Write what you like to read.