We are about to have a talk with an unrepentant tribble-maker.
Author David Gerrold identifies himself as “a curmudgeon.” You probably know him better as the creator of the prolifically propagating tribbles in the Hugo Award-nominated Star Trek episode, “The Trouble With Tribbles” (1967). You may also be familiar with the 2007 film The Martian Child starring John Cusack, based on David’s 1994 novella about his experiences as a gay man adopting a young son. (For the movie they rewrote David as a heterosexual! Sometimes you’ve got to love Hollywood—not.) What I know of David from being friends with him on social media is that he is a ferociously intelligent and knowledgeable person who cares deeply about the world around him—just like a science fiction writer. Of all his many accomplishments, he’s proudest of the beautiful family that he’s created with his son, his daughter-in-law, and his mesmerizing grandson. If you could only see that little kid, he’d have you calling 911 to report the theft of your heart by a one-year old boy.
I once said of David that he can bring “the logic of a Vulcan with the fire of a Kirk or a Picard.” But don’t take my word for it. Let’s share some bon mots with the tribble-maker himself…
J.A. FLUDD: In your novels and stories, how much have you used gay characters? Can you offer our readers some examples to look for?
DAVID GERROLD: I haven’t written a straight white male character in a long time. Chase, in thirteen o’clock, is gay. Chigger in Jumping Off the Planet is one-quarter black. Kyle in Hella is neuro-divergent and non-binary. Most of the characters in my short stories are atypical in one way or another. I don’t always call attention to it. I think it’s safe to assume that any character in any of my stories is divergent in some way.
J.A. FLUDD: I once spent six weeks inside Star Trek itself as a writing intern at the Voyager series, most of which I spent in Executive Producer Jeri Taylor’s office, which was once the office of Gene Roddenberry himself. Gene has been one of my personal creative heroes for most of my life, which is why I had to pose to David this next question…
What was it like to know and work with Gene Roddenberry?
DAVID GERROLD: Gene Roddenberry was the original silver-tongued devil. He could inspire you to make you want to write better stories than you thought you were capable of. He gave us Star Trek and that will always be his legacy. But he had blind spots and he ended up hurting some of his best friends. I’ll leave it at that.
J.A. FLUDD: Now on to the “gay” stuff. This seemed like the next natural question…
Were you Out to yourself when you sold “The Trouble With Tribbles” and worked on the original Star Trek? What are your memories of George Takei from that time?
DAVID GERROLD: Yes. And I was profoundly aware of the cultural homophobia of the time. Writing The Man Who Folded Himself in 1972 and publishing it in 1973 was a way of coming to terms with my own identity.
I did not meet George while working on the show, but afterward. He’s proven himself to be a major talent as well as a great guy.
J.A. FLUDD: That’s true enough. Today George Takei is one of our most Out and Proud celebrities. There is another bit of Trek history that I really wanted to ask about. I read in Star Trek Creator, the authorized Gene Roddenberry biography, that Gene once either harbored borderline-homophobic sentiments himself or was tolerant of them in others—until he learned better from his friendship with William Ware Theiss, the original Star Trek costumer, a gay man whose life was cut short in the AIDS epidemic. Mr. Theiss was able to put a human face on the gay community for Gene, a man to whom humanity was always the most important thing. So I asked David…
Were you well acquainted with William Ware Theiss? What do you remember about him?
DAVID GERROLD: Bill Theiss was one of the best people who ever worked on Trek. He was honest, he was supportive, he was generous. We had some great talks about a lot of things and I got the sense he genuinely cared about people. He had great stories to share about the various shows and films he’d worked on.
J.A. FLUDD: It is possibly because of the influence of Mr. Theiss that it became important to Gene to show gays as a part of his future in Star Trek – The Next Generation, even as he’d done with people of color (Uhura and Sulu) in the 1960s series. It’s known that during the original Trek, George asked Gene about the possibility of adding some sort of gay presence to the show, but Gene knew better than to try that in those years. Later, when he started Next Generation, Gene expressly stated that he wanted to show gays as being a part of life aboard the Enterprise, but his express wishes were thwarted by people behind the scenes. So my next question to David was…
What do you recall of the efforts behind the scenes to prevent Gene’s wishes to show gay characters on the Enterprise in Next Generation?
DAVID GERROLD: Homophobia, hypocrisy, greed, and ignorance. It was a betrayal of everything Gene had promised the fans. It was also a betrayal of the promise that Next Generation could tell issue stories.
J.A. FLUDD: There was one episode in particular in which David wanted to address, in science fiction terms, the greatest crisis and jeopardy that the gay community has ever faced. “Blood and Fire,” written as an episode of Next Generation, was meant as an allegory about the AIDS epidemic. But it wound up unproduced for years until it took a very different path, and I wanted to know a little more about that. So I asked David…
What kinds of notes and responses did you get on “Blood and Fire,” which was intended originally as an episode of Next Generation? What exactly led up to the episode not being produced for that show?
DAVID GERROLD: There were several people who loved the script. There were others who, in my opinion, had no idea what Star Trek was really about. They thought they were doing television. Some of us wanted to do Star Trek. Rick Berman once wrote a memo listing the issues we could address. Number three on his list was the AIDS crisis. “Blood And Fire” was supposed to be about the AIDS crisis, but Rick Berman now said, “We can’t do this episode. We’re going to be on at 4:00 O’clock in some markets. Mommies will write letters.” According to others, Berman declared that “we will never have gay characters on Star Trek.”
Star Trek should have been the first, not the last.
J.A. FLUDD: If you’ve been to conventions or you use YouTube online, you may know that we eventually did get to see “Blood and Fire”—in a very different way than it was first planned to be made. David rewrote it, with Carlos Pedraza, for Star Trek – Phase II, the online series produced by (and starring) another friend of mine, James Cawley. David also directed the episode, which was shot in Ticonderoga, NY, where Cawley’s meticulous Star Trek sets were left standing for a popular tour. If you want to see this great show yourself, go to https://youtu.be/voEkgHIMOMg.
“Blood and Fire” is a remarkable piece of work. It is a professionally produced TV episode with production values and effects that would have impressed Gene Roddenberry, had he lived to see it. The story is a rare example of Star Trek crossing over from science fiction to horror in some scenes. And its depiction of young gay Enterprise officers in love is open and honest—and would have been absolutely impossible to do on NBC Prime Time in 1969! I really wanted to know the following from David…
What was the process of getting “Blood and Fire” adapted and produced for Star Trek – New Voyages (Phase II), the online series? Did you approach James Cawley about that yourself, or how did that get started?
DAVID GERROLD: Dorothy Fontana kept telling me to answer James Cawley’s requests. She’d had a great experience writing for New Voyages. So because Dorothy insisted, I took James’ call. He said he wanted to do “Blood and Fire.” I said, “Only if we keep the gay characters.” He said he wanted to expand their story. So I said, “Okay, let’s do it.”
J.A. FLUDD: Let me just say that I’m extremely impressed and proud to know that about my friend James!
Dorothy “D.C.” Fontana, by the way, was one of the most critical storytelling and production talents in Star Trek. Much of the most important creative detailing of the Trek universe, including stories that were vital to the development of Spock as a character, was her work.
Following up on that last question, I asked…
Any interesting stories you can share with us about the writing and production of “Blood and Fire”?
DAVID GERROLD: Writing and shooting “Blood And Fire” for Star Trek: New Voyages was one of the most fun experiences I have ever had. The cast was marvelous and the entire crew were some of the most ambitious and committed people I’ve ever worked with on a sound stage. Everyone was enthusiastic and excited about the job. I wish we could do more.
J.A. FLUDD: Have you seen the Star Trek shows being produced for streaming media now? What are your opinions about them?
DAVID GERROLD: I haven’t watched any TV in a long time. I have books to finish. We’ve had major remodeling, and most of all, I have to help with my grandson. So as much as I have heard good things about the latest iterations of Trek, I haven’t seen them yet.
J.A. FLUDD: What do you think of the backlash against the gay characters on Discovery?
DAVID GERROLD: Not much.
J.A. FLUDD: Do you believe we’re seeing a glut of Star Trek today? Is it possible to have too much Star Trek?
DAVID GERROLD: This is a very strange question. As Mister Spock once said, “Too much of anything is not necessarily a good thing.”
I think the fans deserve the best Star Trek possible. Because it’s the loyalty of the fans that have made the show something more than a franchise, but an icon of a vision of a future that works for all of us, with no one and nothing left out.
That last remark on David’s part is certainly true enough. Star Trek is most definitely not just something on television. It is a vision of the future that has been an inspiration to generations of artists, writers, scientists, engineers, physicians, astronauts, and simply people who know that humanity, collectively, has it in itself to create its best possible existence, through courage, vision, will, imagination, compassion, and the gifts of science!
On behalf of Comic Watch, I extend my sincerest thanks to my friend David for talking with us. To David and all of you, Live Long and Prosper, and may your tribbles be few!