Alan Dean Foster is one of America's most prolific science fiction authors, with over 100 novels published, many of which are bestsellers. He not only writes his own work, but is also regarded as one of the greatest writers of novelisations ever known. These include books in the Alien, Star Trek and Star Wars universes. He also has written book adaptations of The Black Hole, the original Clash of the Titans, the Transformers films, The Thing, in which he re-instated Carpenter's original ending, and even wrote novels based on computer games, such as The Dig.
His success also encompasses short stories, screenplays, audio works and non-fiction. He has even presented television documentaries. He has received several literary awards, including the Galaxy Award in 1979 for Splinter of the Mind's Eye, his second book set in the Star Wars Universe.
One Researcher described his work with the words:
He's undoubtedly written some of the best novelisations ever ('The Last Starfighter' being one of those amazing examples where the novelisation is far better than the movie); plus there is considerable diversity between his short fiction, series fiction, and standalone fiction, with 'Quozl' being one of my all-time favourite books.
Alan Dean Foster was born in New York City in 1946, though he and his sister grew up in Los Angeles. In 1969, he received a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and a Master of Fine Arts in Cinema from the University of California at Los Angeles.
Foster then spent two years as a copywriter for a small advertising and public relations firm in Studio City, California. Studio City was one of many small communities that grew up in Greater Los Angeles and is so named because it is a neighbour to major film studios such as Universal, Disney and Warner Brothers.
Foster first had work published in 1968, when August Derleth1 bought a Lovecraftian2 letter he had written and used it as a story in The Arkham Collector, a bi-annual magazine. Realising he had a talent, sales to other short-story magazines followed quickly. Foster still enjoys writing short stories today.
Foster's first attempt at a novel, The Tar-Aiym Krang, was bought and published by Ballantine Books in 1972, and was the start of a successful writing career. This would be the first in his Humanx Commonwealth books. Foster's other published works include the Spellsinger series of eight novels, although he is such a prolific author there really are too many other stories to mention.
A novelisation is an adaptation into a novel of a story that first appeared in a different form, typically a film or television episode. Novelisations have existed since the early, pre-sound days of cinema. Since the 1960s they have become increasingly popular and were often released to promote television programmes and films.
Before the invention of home videos, the only way to enjoy a film after it was no longer shown in cinemas, other than to wait for it to appear on television now and then, was to purchase a novelisation. Similarly, television programmes were rarely repeated.
Unlike a film shown in the cinema for a few weeks or television episode broadcast once, a novelisation could be enjoyed time and time again whenever the reader so chose. Consequently, for many people, novelisations of famous films are the ones they remember most closely, and often their memories are tricked, believing that events that happened only in the novelisations actually occurred in the films.
Foster's novelisations frequently include changes to the original story, often with improvements over the original screened stories as background characters have bigger roles and their motivations are explored, no 'dodgy effects' date the story and when a film or episode has suffered from severe studio editing or financial limitations, his novelisations recapture, or even improve on, the original idea.
The very first Star Trek: The Original Series adaptations were short stories written by James Blish, who died in 1975. The success of these prompted a similar approach to adapting Star Trek: The Animated Television Series, with the publishers looking for an accomplished short story author. Alan Dean Foster immediately stood out as the author to approach, and ten anthologies of adventures were published between 1974 and 1978. Foster also wrote connecting segments to link the adventures together. These were published under the titles Star Trek Logs, numbered one to ten.
In June 1977 it was announced that a new Star Trek series would be made. As Foster had been involved in the Star Trek Logs, he was contacted by Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek's creator, and asked to develop a story idea originally titled 'Robot's Return'. By early August he had written this into a treatment for a potential double-length opening episode, now titled In Thy Image. He later described what happened next with the words:
When they were thinking of reviving 'Star Trek' a number of writers were called in to submit treatments... Roddenberry had gotten in touch with me because of the 'Star Trek Log' series. He felt I was comfortable with the Star Trek Universe and familiar with the characters, so I submitted... story ideas [and]... Roddenberry gave me a page and a half outline for 'Robot's Return'... Anyway Roddenberry told me to develop the story for 'In Thy Image' into a full-scale treatment. After my treatment was turned in based on Roddenberry's page, it was decided to open the series with a two hour movie for TV, which is fairly standard procedure... it was decided that of the treatments they had at hand, mine was the best suited to carry two hours, so I went home and developed a 37-page outline.
The overwhelming success of Star Wars followed swiftly by Close Encounters of the Third Kind ensured that the proposed Star Trek television series was abandoned in favour of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Although his ideas heavily contributed towards the screenplay of Star Trek: The Motion Picture Foster was not involved in the final screenplay nor the novelisation, which was written by Gene Roddenberry instead.
Foster did produce the film's Fotonovel. This was a novel-sized photographic comic book showing colour stills from the film in chronological order, with speech bubbles and narrative descriptions added to tell the story. Foster produced a range of Star Trek Fotonovels, most based on episodes from the Original Series.
His involvement in the Star Trek universe continues into the 21st Century. In 2009 he wrote the novelisation for the rebooted Star Trek film named simply Star Trek, as well as for Star Trek Into Darkness (2013).
Star Wars Novelisations and Novels
Before the release of Star Wars3 in May 1977 came the first Star Wars novelisation, originally titled Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker. Although the book's cover claims authorship by Star Wars creator George Lucas, in fact it was ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster.
The novelisation was written before the screenplay was finished and contains many differences from the final film, including deleted scenes (some of which have since been restored in the Special Edition). One major difference in the novelisation is the role of Emperor Palpatine, who is mentioned as being merely a figurehead puppet, rather than the all-powerful Sith we later see. Jabba the Hutt is described as 'shaggy' and Foster corrected the error about the Millennium Falcon making the Kessel run in 'less than 12 parsecs' by writing 'twelve standard timeparts', changing a measurement of distance to time.
When asked if he had any bad feelings about George Lucas taking sole credit for his novel, Foster said:
Not at all. It was George's story. I was merely expanding upon it. Not having my name on the cover didn't bother me in the least.
Following this novel, Foster wrote the story of what would become Splinter of the Mind's Eye. The initial idea was that if Star Wars were a modest success, but did not make enough money to fund George Lucas' intended sequel that later became The Empire Strikes Back, a cheaper film could be made as a stepping stone to raise the required amount. As the film was a major success, the story instead became the first Star Wars expanded universe spin-off. The story concentrates on Luke and Leia, with C-3PO and R2-D2 accompanying them, and Darth Vader turning up at the end. It has become notorious not only for the scene in which Luke and Leia are killed, only to come back to life, but also the passionate scenes between the two siblings. Chapter II has the following passages:
He lowered himself in next to her... pressed up against him, the Princess seemed to take no notice of their proximity. In the dampness, though, her body heat was near palpable to Luke, and he had to force himself to keep his attention on what he was doing.
The Princess pressed close against Luke. He tried to comfort her... his arm went instinctively around her shoulders. She didn't object... Moistly parted in sleep, her lips seemed to beckon to him. He leaned closer...
This was written long before George Lucas revealed that Luke and Leia were twins.
In 2003 Foster wrote a new Star Wars novel set between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, entitled The Approaching Storm. Concentrating on the relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker, he described this as being fun to write.
The Alien Trilogy
Among his earliest novelisations was an adaptation of Alien. This novelisation stays fairly close to the film's story and contains scenes not in the original theatrical release of the film. It does make a number of minor changes, especially regarding the description of the alien and the ship the eggs were found on. It also provides more detail about the characters, making them more rounded individuals than seen in the film. His description of Ash in particular provides clues as to his true identity for those in the know, without spoiling the surprise for those who do not.
Naturally he was approached to novelise Aliens, a script which he again tackles with his consummate skill4. He describes in detail the disturbing life cycle of the alien, from egg to facehugger, implanted chestburster to fully-grown warrior as well as the terrifying alien queen. Yet when it comes to the film's most famous quote, Ripley's defiant 'Get away from her, you bitch!', this is reworded so Ripley politely requests 'Get away from her, you!'
When it came to writing the novelisation of Alien3, Foster again intended to follow the film where possible, but to add to the story as well. His main aim was to save the character of Newt, who is casually killed off in the film. In his Aliens novelisation Newt had been a pivotal part of Ellen Ripley's emotional journey from detached depression, having lost her friends and daughter, to once again being a mother and whole human being. Foster would describe his experience when interviewed by Empire magazine with the words:
I'm especially proud of the Alien Trilogy, which I had tried to weave together as seamlessly as possible... But after trying to fix many of the contradictions and problems in Alien3, I got a letter from [co-screenwriter] Walter Hill declaring that no changes would be permitted, that I had to follow the script exactly, and that if I did so 'It would make for a much better book'. So out went my carefully constructed motivations for all of the principal prisoners, my preserving the life of Newt (her killing in the film is an obscenity) and much else. Embittered by this experience, that's why I turned down Resurrection. I was only sorry I never had the chance to write a screenplay for the one Alien story every fan of that series wanted to see - the backstory to the crashed alien ship with its cargo of eggs.
That story, Ridley Scott's Prometheus, like Alien Resurrection, was novelised by someone else.
Approach to Life
Alan Dean Foster now lives in Prescott Arizona in a brick house reclaimed from what he describes as 'a turn-of-the-century miners' brothel'. Foster once said:
If I wasn't writing then I'd like to be a tour guide, or in the import-export business... but I'd probably be a lawyer, or a college instructor. What I'd really like to do (but don't have the time to try) right now is to write classical music... symphonies, cantatas, concertos, etc.
When asked if there was one thing he wanted to say to his fans, he replied:
It's a small planet... see as much of it as you can, and appreciate what a tiny, tiny ship we're all adrift on together.
For more information on Alan Dean Foster, a list of all his works and up to the minute news on what the author is doing now, visit his website, AlanDeanFoster.com.