By: Endo Morgan On September 30th, 2010
We spoke to Timothy Zahn the author behind the Star Wars “Thrawn Trilogy” novels and the Terminator Salvation novelizations “From the Ashes” and “Trial by Fire”, we asked him a few questions about the franchise, the movies and the future of Terminator, find out what he had to say to TheTerminatorFans.com in our interview…
We thought that Hope Preston and her father were rather intriguing additions to the Terminator series, do you think that there is any possibility of them making a re-appearance in a future Terminator novel?
If I were offered another Terminator novel, I would definitely consider putting both characters into it.
Of course, the big question wouldn’t be what I wanted but what the franchise owner wanted. My original idea for the book had a similar plot, but involved Sergeant Orozco and the children from the end of From the Ashes instead of Hope and the others. Halcyon instead wanted a story centered around Blair and Barnes and featuring more Marcus-style hybrids, so that’s what I did.
Which is your favourite Terminator movie?
It’s a toss-up between T1 and T2, with probably a slight edge going to T1. T2 had better special effects, some of my favorite scenes, and the interesting (and well-done) added dynamic of adding John Connor into the mix.
But having just plain mere humans going up against a Terminator gave T1 more nail-biting tension.
Is it hard re-imagining and furthering a story originally created by someone else?
It hasn’t been for me. But then, I’ve always been careful to only pick franchises where I already have a good gut-level feel for the universe.
Is there anyone who has had an influence on your writing career?
Oh, there have been hundreds – basically every science fiction and fantasy author I’ve ever read has had some influence on my writing. If I had to limit it to four, I would probably cite Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon, Keith Laumer, and Alistair MacLean.
How did you arrive at the idea of the “Theta Project”?
Halcyon wanted hybrids included in the book, and they also told me that there was no designation already set for that class of Terminators. Using the already established formula, a la T-800 or TX, the TH – Terminator Hybrid – just naturally fell out. At that point, Theta was pretty much obvious.
Were you presented with any knowledge of the original plot line that was meant for Salvation (hybrid story line) but was cut out?
Once I was on board with From the Ashes, I was sent the shooting script for the movie, along with various rewrites over the months it took me to write the book. Most of the changes involved the ending, but there were a few tweaks along the way that I was able to incorporate into the book. None of the deleted sections had any real bearing on my plotting for Trial By Fire, though. I basically just jumped off of what had been seen in the movie.
Some people might find the idea of disabling Terminators with the traditional hunting weapons of a bow and arrow a little hard to believe (firepower has always been the accepted method of dispatch) we think it’s a rather quirky and credible form of immobilization,- what would you say to those Terminator Fans who aren’t convinced?
From Terminator Salvation we know that Thetas have flesh and blood, and that unlike the future T-800s a Theta’s flesh and blood is part of its operating system and not simply a form of camouflage. Once a Terminator is reliant on blood, it’s susceptible to bleeding to death, and at that point arrows should work just fine. We also know from the movie that Marcus’s control chip was at the base of his skull and accessible from the outside, facts that Blair would have known. At that point, Hope’s gambit should again be effective.
Has there ever been anything you haven’t enjoyed writing or haven’t connected with?
Not so far. Generally speaking, if the idea of a particular project doesn’t excite me, I don’t take it on in the first place.
Describe the Terminator in three words… ?
Hmm. “Apocalyptic killing machine” “Judgment Day personified” “Oh, hell. Look!”
What kind of future do you think the Terminator franchise has?
At the moment, unfortunately, the whole franchise seems to be in limbo, with the current owners apparently just sitting on it. But I hope it all gets sorted out and a filmmaker gets hold of the license. There are definitely some good stories yet to be told in the saga, and I really want the chance to see them.
What is your favourite genre to write for?
Most of what I write is science fiction, though some of my stuff has edged a little into fantasy.
Who are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading a non-fiction book called Ring of Ice, a compilation of some of the records of arctic exploration (and arctic life in general) ranging from the 1700s up to the present.
What has been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
Probably writing the Thrawn Trilogy, my very first Star Wars books. The shoes George Lucas left behind after his movie trilogy were VERY big shoes for me to try to fill.
Have you ever written anything which you later thought was ridiculous?
Not really. Some of the readers, of course, may have other opinions.
Have you had the chance to watch Terminator Salvation and if so,- what was your overall opinion of it?
I think it was a decent movie, but that it could have been much better. From what I was seeing in the script changes, the ending was being bounced back and forth between three or four different possibilities, and there were some very cool plot twists that were eventually dropped. There were also some basic logic issues, some of which I tried to address in Trial By Fire. Despite its weaknesses, though, the basic premise was a good one, and could easily be carried on for another two movies. I hope that someone gets a chance to do that.
When did you realise that writing was your true calling in life?
I’m not sure I ever recognized it as a “calling” per se. It all just started as a hobby in 1975, with my first story sale in 1978. I guess the closest I came to that was when I decided to try writing full-time in 1980. But even then it was mostly a trial run, with a hope but no assurance that I would still be at it thirty years later. It was simply that I found writing then (and now) to be the most enjoyable job I’d ever done. My hope now is that I’ll be able to continue making a career of it for the next thirty years.
How does it feel to become a New York Times Best Seller?
At the time it was both exciting and a little unreal. Now, I don’t really think about it – it’s mostly remembered by the people who write cover blurbs.
The new Terminator books which are great in their own right, are obviously created to fill out the world of Salvation and what the film lacked with plot these books fill the gap for readers. What do you feel is the next step in the saga? Do we stay in 2018 or do you think it’s time we moved onto 2029 and the future technology and phased plasma energy based weaponry?
That’s entirely up to whoever does the next movie(s). I think there are good stories to be told in all the various future eras, right up to the point where Kyle Reese is sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor.
Do you think, if you got to do another Terminator novel, that you would make the secret savior of your book and the movie (Star) talk?
Again, that would be up to the franchise owners. In From the Ashes I wanted to start the story with some of Star’s background, including her first meeting with Kyle. Halcyon said no, since they wanted the two of them to have been together longer than the few months that my book would be covering. Did Star ever talk? Will she ever talk again? Intriguing questions, but finding the answers will be the job of other people.
What was it like being asked to return to do another Terminator novel based on the success of your prequel novel?
It was great. As I said before, I feel that I have a reasonable handle on the sense of the Terminator universe. And any book where I get to throw competent, fiercely loyal people up against terrible odds is right up my street anyway. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t return to Orozco, but getting to create Hope and her village made up for it. And of course, Blair and Barnes are interesting characters, and it was great to be able to flesh them out a bit more.
What was your interaction and briefing from The Halcyon Co, were you given any reference material also?
With From the Ashes I had terrific access to what Halcyon was doing, including the scripts, occasional conversations with producer James Middleton, and access to the private web site where photos and technical info from the set were posted every day. With Trial By Fire, there was much less interaction. There was no movie going, so no photos or other data, and midway through the book Halcyon lost the franchise. In addition, James had left the group, so my main contact with them was gone. Which isn’t to say that Halcyon didn’t oversee the process. They were actively involved in the proposal and original outline, and also vetted the final manuscript for any problems or inconsistencies. Overall, they were terrific people to work with, as were the folks at Titan Books. It would be great to someday work again with any or all of them.
Which did you enjoy writing the most, the prequel “from the ashes” or “trial by Fire?
They were equally enjoyable, and equally challenging.
We think we know but… which is your favourite character you’ve created in your two Terminator stories?
Probably Sergeant Orozco.
Terminator Salvation the movie totally lacked character development, what was it like having the task of developing these characters yourself in “From The Ashes”?
Actually, the movie script did establish the basics of the characters, so it wasn’t just guesswork on my part. All I had to do was take those brief descriptions, plus how the characters spoke and behaved in the movie itself, and expand on them.
Terminator novels so far include the writing talents of yourself, Alan Dean Foster (Official Movie Novelization) and Greg Cox (Cold War), did you manage to read the other novels?
Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to read any of the other novels. But they are on my list.
As far as we are concerned the novels have a lot more depth and story to them, Hollywood really misses the point of stories these days, in your opinion, how difficult would it be to fit the depth of story of a novel into a maximum of 3 hours?
I think there are plenty of movies out there that show you CAN have both action and character development. Unfortunately, movies – unlike novels – are a group effort, and all it takes is one or two people in the mix who decide that all the audience wants is special effects to undo that delicate balance.
Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring artists?
Keep at it. That’s really the bottom line. A lot of talented writers, artists, movie-makers, etc, are never heard from because they give up somewhere along the way. If you really want to do something, just keep at it. Even if you never make a living that way, you’ll have the fun and satisfaction of having done something you love.
Do you have any future projects in the pipeline which you would like the fans to be aware of?
I have a ninth Star Wars book – Choices Of One – which will be published in summer or autumn of next year. I’m also continuing my Cobra War trilogy with Cobra Guardian, due out in January, and the final book of my Quadrail series, Judgment At Proteus, also coming out next year. Hopefully, they’ll all be available in the UK.