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Writing Science Fiction And Fantasy Television
Titan paperback £14.99
review by Christopher Geary
Like many professions, writing scripts for TV series has its own peculiar jargon that you need to be aware of - before you can talk to industry insiders about their work. Journalist Joe Nazzaro talks the talk and, helpfully, kicks off this collection of detailed interviews with some of the biggest names in genre TV, with a two-page glossary explaining such terms as 'bible' and 'pitch' that have an entirely different meaning here than their usual definitions. Having written coverage of telefantasy shows for a variety of SF magazines, Nazzaro was already an expert on the subject and familiar with some of the people (only one woman is interviewed) that have created series, past and present. This, alone, ensures the book's success on a number of levels.
Rockne S. O'Bannon discusses the 1980s' Twilight Zone revival, and reveals the unusual sci-fi background to Farscape. Chris Carter talks candidly about creating The X-Files, and explores his feelings about the cult-like fandom that surrounds his phenomenal show. Terrence Dicks, who wrote for the likes of Doctor Who and Space 1999, reveals curious differences between British and American TV production methods, and explains his drift into writing novelisations. D.C. Fontana ("Writers never retire!") tells her side of infamous troubles working on the original Star Trek and, later, scripting Babylon 5. Neil Gaiman responds to criticism and praise for his intriguing miniseries, Neverwhere, while Rob Grant and Doug Naylor also answer for the variable success of Red Dwarf.
Unlike Grant and Naylor, David Greenwalt and Joss Whedon are interviewed separately, but their retrospective comments about making Buffy The Vampire Slayer and its spin-off show, Angel, still make fascinating reading. Michael Piller describes how the legacy of Gene Roddenberry created "complete turmoil" among the writing staff of Star Trek: The Next Generation during its early seasons, and explains how aspects of further Trek series' characterisations had to be changed before follow-ups Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager could be launched.
J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5 - the rival space opera to DS9, recalls a sadly depressing time in his early career as a journalist, addresses nagging issues of plagiarism concerning the famous two space-station-based sci-fi dramas, and makes a good case for the necessity of "total creative freedom" on his latest ventures. Robert Tapert clarifies the unexpected and intended developments of sex appeal and SF comedy, in Xena: Warrior Princess and Cleopatra 2525, respectively, while Rupert Hewitt Wolfe recounts the basic changes made to Andromeda that proved counter to the late Roddenberry's outline notes. Other writers interviewed here include Howard (Mutant X) Chaykin, Paul (Lexx) Donovan, Charles (Dark Angel) Eglee, and Jonathan (Stargate SG-1) Glassner.
Overall, then, the book serves as both a snapshot of the current fantastic television scene, and an absorbing discourse on recent trends. It goes without saying that anyone interested in pursuing a career in this potentially rewarding field should read this book attentively, as - along with disclosing their inspirations - the interviewees pass on plenty of free and priceless advice. The index of TV show credits is narrowly focused on programmes relevant to the interviews, but that's a whole other subject, anyway.
The Complete Book Of Scriptwriting by J. Michael Straczynski
Worlds Of Wonder: How To Write Science Fiction And Fantasy by David Gerrold
- both titles published by Titan.
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