Monday, July 19, 2010

Space: 1970 Super-Scribe: ALAN DEAN FOSTER

If you go by sheer volume, then Alan Dean Foster was probably my favorite author when I was growing up (from say, ages 11 to 17). Sure, I read the works of Heinlein, Clarke, Bradbury, Burroughs (Edgar Rice, not William) and dozens of other science fiction scribes, but it was Foster - and his novelizations of the movies and television shows that I loved - that I probably read the most. In those ancient, pre-cable, pre-home video days, novelizations were the only way to re-experience those adventures, and Foster was the novelization man.

Oh, I had all the James Blish Star Trek adaptations, and dug 'em, but Foster's volumes based on the animated version of the show were more rewarding. Instead of taking hour-long scripts and turning them into short stories, as Blish was doing, Foster took half-hour scripts and expanded them into novellas... and eventually, full-length novels. And he nailed those characters and their voices, too, bringing them to life on the printed page more vividly than the talented but workmanlike (at least on Trek) Blish.

And then there was Star Wars. The book was credited to George Lucas, but we all know now that Foster also penned the Star Wars novelization, and maybe that's why it was so compulsively re-readable.

I wore out at least three paperback copies of that thing (the photo section in the middle kept falling out), and when Foster's original Star Wars novel, Splinter of the Mind's Eye - the first authorized continuation outside of the Marvel comics - was released, it was a huge deal. I bought that book as soon as it was available, and friggin' devoured it. I don't know how many times I read that story as a kid, marveling at the very existence of a new Luke Skywalker adventure (remember when the franchise was "The Adventures of Luke Skywalker?").

I was too young for the R-rated movie, but his novel of Alien gripped my teenage mind and squeezed it in a sharp-clawed grip. I didn't actually see Ridley Scott's film until a few years later on VHS, and I thought then that the book was scarier - though I've come to appreciate the movie since. I remember when Aliens was released in '86 how college-aged me - and several of my geekier friends - were actually almost more excited about getting Foster's tie-in novel than we were about seeing the movie!

The Black Hole, Dark Star, Outland... great adaptations all, and these books eventually led me to his original science fiction works, like the Humanx Commonwealth stories and the Icerigger trilogy. I haven't read everything he's written in the past thirty years (the man's been too damned prolific), but I do take some pride in the fact that I introduced my nephew to Foster's Flinx & Pip series several years ago, and he's still a rabid fan of the author.

Hmmm... I think I need to dig through some boxes and pull out some of these books. I'm thinking it'll be a lot of fun to re-read some of those old classics on these hot Summer weekend afternoons....

(By the way, this is Space: 1970's 100th post.)


  1. Too, too good! I swear there is something in the air these days... or in the bitstream or whatever. Becauuuusseee....

    I *JUST* snagged another old copy of Splinter, and the next day found the 1st printing (PB) of SW by Foster. Not the cover image above, but the one with the original concept art by McQuarrie (I think).

    Anyway, I got the hankering to reread these too, as I dug up my old Han Solo (Daley) books, and have been tracking down any of the books I had/read as a kiddo, if for some reason I got rid of any of them.

    Great post, Christopher! You hit the mark with exactly what I am digging on these days... well, *one* of the many things. ;^]

  2. CM:
    Time for some nerd one-upmanship: Somewhere in my mom's house is my original Star Wars paperback, released in like January or February of 1977, with Ralph McQuarrie's cover art.
    Okay, maybe I'm only impressing myself, but I do think you're absolutely right about Foster's adaptations leading to more "serious" sci-fi reading.
    Thanks for reviving some memories,

  3. Actually, guys, I have that Ralph McQuarrie cover first edition too, although I found it at a church book sale years later. I just didn't take the time to dig it out to scan it, choosing instead to snag a pic of the more familiar edition - and the one I had as a kid - off the web to illustrate the article.

    Yoyo - I'm currently re-reading the Daley Han Solo novels now for a future post.

  4. Thanks for reminding me of the ADF books that I enjoyed as a teenager. I also had similar feelings about "Splinter" - new Star Wars = WOW!. And at a time when Star Trek reruns were hard to catch, reading Blish's work made me feel like I had seen every episode (despite network TV running the same 10 episodes over and over in syndication).

    I think I'll try to track down these vintage treasures. i hope that they're still in print in some form...

    Oh, and congratulations on 100 posts!

  5. The only other author of the 70s-80s as prolific in doing novelizations and adaptations (as well as his own material) was Ron Goulart!
    If either of them got more than three hours of sleep a night, I don't know how they did it!

  6. ADF ghost-wrote the Star Wars novelization on my bookshelf? Never knew that!

    I remember when "Splinter" came out, and I recall it was THE BIGGEST EVENT of the year among my friends and I. God, it's sad how lame and rote the franchise has become over the years. At least I still have my Marvel comics and the OT (original theatrical release versions b/w revised editions) on DVD.

  7. I remEmber being driven to school as a kid cracking open SOTMEye and loving the idea that a new star wars adventure was unfolding befor my eyes. I can't recommend enough the Terry Austin/Chris Sprouse Darkhorse comic adaptation, it perfectly illustrates the images we all had in our heads as kids. I also wanted to comment how much I enjoyed ADF's Icerigger books from back in the day, I always thought they'd make for a fun film. It would probably be alot easier to realize the Tran Kee Kee creatures today and the neccesity of film
    ing in the actual snowy environment could be acheived through generous helping of cg, I think it would have been an almost impossibilty to have tried something like Icerigger utilizing practical effects and location shooting. Great post, heck I'm really enjoying them all today, and big ups for the Bionic Woman DVD announcement, hadn't heard about that yet Dusty Abell

  8. Yeah, remember the part in "Splinter" when Luke and Leia are trapped in that cave hiding from some monster and they start making out? Sure they were always meant to be brother and sister, George.

    Also, off-topic, but I picked up the "Star Wars: A Long Time Ago Omnibus vol. 1" from Dark Horse that collects the first 27 issues of the old Marvel series. It is so much fun and absolutely no attempt is made to fit the "Star Warriors" adventures into any George Lucas Grand Plan. They are just great, goofy fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants space adventure stories.

  9. When I was a kid seeing Alan Dean Fosters name on a tie-in book for a movie always got my money. But I am a bigger fan of all the Humanx stuff. Loved Skua September.

  10. Another fun ADF fact: he wrote six of the seven scripts for Power Records' Star Trek adventures, and they are awesome. The only one he didn't write was "The Time stealer", which was written by comics vets Cary Bates and Neal Adams.

    You can download the mp3s and color comics at

  11. Great post. I too loved his Star Wars, Alien and Aliens adaptions. As for my two cents, ADF also wrote a fantastic adaption of John Carpenter's The Thing, which I am fortunate to have in my library, and recommend to all.

  12. For me the biggest ADF books were the animated adaptations. Actually adding to the stories and fleshing them out to the point where there were "only" three episodes per book, whereas James Blish had condensed full hour-long episodes to fit in 7 or 8 stories per book. I lived for the release of each one and enjoyed them much more than the actual animated shows, because in my mind, the adventures were live action when I read them, but the cartoon was limited. Good memories of good times!