Created 1997 | Last updated January 27, 2010 | Complete Starfleet Library | Steve Roby
This is the story of Gene Roddenberry's lost Star Trek novel. More than thirty years ago, Star Trek creator Roddenberry wrote a screenplay that he hoped would be the basis for the first Star Trek motion picture. Paramount rejected it. Believing he had a story worth telling, Roddenberry decided to use it as the basis of his first Star Trek novel. He called it The God Thing. It would be published by Bantam in 1977. But that didn't happen, and it disappeared into limbo for years. Then Pocket announced it would be published in 1992. Or in 1993, expanded by Michael Jan Friedman. Again, it didn't happen. Roddenberry's official biographer David Alexander announced in 1993 that he, not Friedman, was rewriting and expanding Roddenberry's manuscript. And again nothing happened.
Although I'm not a great fan of Gene Roddenberry's writing, I've been waiting a long time for The God Thing. Maybe it's because I was only 13 when I first heard about it, in an era when new Star Trek material was all too rare. Or maybe it's because I'm curious about the roads not taken. Although some elements of The God Thing were reworked and included in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, there was, apparently, much that was different, and I can only wonder how the last thirty years of Star Trek might have developed if The God Thing had been used as the basis for the first movie, or if the Phase II series had been made. Whether anything could live up to so long and frustrating a wait is a question that may well go unanswered.
More than a decade ago, frustrated by a twenty-year wait, I went through a number of old magazines and books to see how much information I had about The God Thing. I also had some notes from a discussion with Friedman at Toronto Trek. I pulled the material together and created the first version of this page in 1997. I've been adding new material to it as I come across it ever since. The main thing that seems to have changed, though, is that publication of The God Thing seems a lot more remote in 2008 than it did in 1997, a mere two years after the last time the book was scheduled to be published.
2010 update: a collector who bought a copy of the Koenig-revised manuscript through eBay contacted me recently to provide some more information. See below.
Starlog #2, November 1976
The Star Trek Movie by Jim Burns
A few months before the title The God Thing was first used, a Starlog article provided a quote from Gene Roddenberry describing the rejected screenplay on which the novel was based. David Alexander mentioned this quote in his 1994 Roddenberry biography (see below).
"The first script," Roddenberry recently explained, "was a story that dealt with the meaning of God. What I think bothered Paramount was that I had a little sequence on Vulcan in which the Vulcan masters, the people Spock studied under, were saying: 'We have never really understood your Earth legends of gods. Particularly in that so many of your gods have said, "You have to bow down on your bellies every seven days and worship me." This seems to us like they are very insecure gods.'" [p.13]
Starlog #3, January, 1977
The New Roddenberry Star Trek Novel
Gene Roddenberry is presently adapting his first script written for the Star Trek film (which was rejected by Paramount), into a novel for Bantam Books. When asked what the novel will deal with, Roddenberry answered:
"Generally, the situation is that the five year mission is over and that it has been for some time. Most of the regular crew have been promoted and, for the most part, are pretty unhappy with shuffling papers and other administrative jobs. Scotty has become an alcoholic, and McCoy has given up treating human patients to become a veterinarian, loudly proclaiming animals as the only sensible patients he has ever had. It gives us kind of a fun look at these people's strengths and weaknesses. In the story, there is a story that brings them all together again."
Gene said that the main thrust of the story deals with the meaning of God and whether or not God is much more and further beyond merely some entity that visited the Garden of Eden. Though confident of publication in the near future, Roddenberry wasn't exactly sure when he would complete the book. [p.60]
In retrospect, that last line strikes me as somewhat ironic.
Starlog #7, August, 1977
Star Trek Report by Susan Sackett
"And, as if all these projects weren't enough, Gene is now completing his novelization of the original movie script (the one Paramount rejected) tentatively titled "The God Thing." It's due to be published by Bantam Books late this year." [p. 31]
Starlog #12, March, 1978
The Making of Star Trek II - A Conversation With Gene Roddenberry
"The novelization of the first movie script is half done. Bantam has said to me, 'It's more important to us that you go ahead and put full energy on the new Star Trek television series, and we'll be glad to wait until you have a chance to finish up the novel,' so I'm holding it off until I get some free time. I have a first draft of it that I've rewritten, and I have to rewrite the other half." [p. 29]
Starlog #16, September, 1978
Star Trek Report by Susan Sackett
"The book The God Thing is to be based on Gene Roddenberry's original script for the Star Trek movie which was written back in 1975. Bantam Books has given him an extension in completing this because of the production of the film, which is a full-time effort."
The Making of Star Trek-The Motion Picture, by Susan Sackett and Gene Roddenberry, Pocket/Wallaby, 1980
More than just a making-of-the-movie book, The Making of Star Trek-The Motion Picture has a few interesting chapters on what happened between the cancellation of the original series in 1969 and the filming of the movie a decade later, including some information on the story of The God Thing as proposed movie script.
Though it's credited to both Susan Sackett and Gene Roddenberry, Sackett was the actual writer of the book. Her more recent book Inside Trek (see below) tells more about the story behind the story.
It seemed simple enough. With a $3 to $5 million budget allocated, Gene Roddenberry could write the kind of Star Trek script he has always wanted to do. He arrived on the Paramount lot in May of 1975, ordered up a stack of fresh white typing paper from studio supplies and began to write Star Trek II. By June 30 he had turned out what he felt was a good first draft of the script. The studio executives disagreed.
The story begins with Spock on Vulcan, emaciated, bedraggled, meditating with the Vulcan Masters. His thoughts are disrupted by something about to happen to Earth and his old friend Jim Kirk. He has not become truly Vulcan. Pai-ad, one of the nine Masters, speaks with him:
Did you think to cast out the human within yourself? You have not.
Then, I am nothing, Pai-ad. I cannot exist in two halves.
Your halves are needed, Spock. Move your thoughts with me to Earth.
The story then moves directly from Vulcan to Earth orbit and the drydocks over the San Francisco Naval Yards, where the Enterprise is being refitted. On the planet below, people are beginning to receive mental impressions of a returning God. At the same time a huge Object, one thousand times larger than a starship, is moving toward Earth, knocking off the U.S.S. Potemkin and hurtling a cluster of asteroids toward Earth. Kirk, now a grounded admiral, assembles his old crew (all of whom have risen higher in rank), and they take the newly refitted Enterprise on a mission of interception with the alien claiming to be God. The Object turns out to be more than just a vessel--it is a computer form so advanced it is a living entity itself. However, we discover that this God they've worshipped is actually the Deceiver, the computer-programmed remains of a race who were "cast out" from their dimension and into this one. At the end, Kirk wins out, the entity returns to its other dimension, and the Enterprise crew is left with a gift-- they return to Earth and discover that the "deceiver-God" entity had made them a gift of time in which they are suddenly younger and are now returning from their first five-year mission. Interestingly enough, many of these same story elements ended up in the ST-TMP script three years later.
Gene had been iconoclastically asking what if the God of the Old Testament, full of tirades and demands to be worshipped, actually turned out to be Lucifer. If so, was the serpent's offer of the Fruit of Knowledge actually a gift from the real God? Captain Kirk versus God. This was not the story Paramount had expected! The movie was postponed from fall 1975 until the following spring so that a new script could be found. [p. 23-24]
On November 10, 1991, Alan Ravitch posted a list of upcoming Trek books on CompuServe, based on information provided by Robert Greenberger. The God Thing was scheduled for July, 1992 hardcover release. Ravitch pointed out that Roddenberry's recent death might affect publication.
Trek: The Lost Years, by Edward Gross, Pioneer, 1988
Lost Voyages of Trek and the Next Generation, by Bill Planer, Cinemaker Press, 1992
The material in this section has seen print in two or three formats. Most of the material is in both of the above books, word for word, and the last few paragraphs appear only in the first, but the reference to a forthcoming edition of the novel appears only in the second. Ed Gross wrote for Cinemaker after writing for Hal Schuster's Pioneer imprint, so "Bill Planer" is not a plagiarist but a pseudonym. The Pioneer book appears to be a second edition. The first was published by Hal Schuster's previous company, Schuster & Schuster.
The first attempt at reviving Star Trek came with Gene Roddenberry's 1975 script for The God Thing.
"They turned me down a couple of times," said Roddenberry regarding a film version of the series, "then they finally said, 'Write a script and we'll give you an office on the lot and think about it.' They were not that serious about [it] when we first started. I think they had in mind a $2-$3 million picture."
[William Shatner, working on the series Barbary Coast, finds GR typing away in an office, working on the script.]
"So I said, 'There's gonna be a movie? What's it gonna be about?' He said, 'First of all, we have to explain how you guys got older. So what we have to do is move everybody up a rank. You become an Admiral, and the rest of the cast become Starfleet Commanders. One day a force comes toward Earth--might be God, might be the Devil--breaking everything in its path, except the minds of the starship commanders. So we gotta find all the original crewmen for the starship Enterprise, but first--where is Spock? He's back on Vulcan doing R&R five year mission--seven years of R&R. He swam back upstream. So we gotta go get him.' I call that show, 'What Makes Salmon Run?' So we get Spock, do battle and it was a great story, but the studio turned it down."
Although little is known about the resulting script, reports have stated that the premise questioned the very nature of God and the universe around us. Paramount was apparently not interested in a script which, essentially, pit Captain Kirk against God.
Director Richard Colla, who had helmed Roddenberry's The Questor Tapes, was very familiar with that particular screenplay and recalls it fondly.
"That script was much more daring," he reflects. "They went off in search of that thing from outer space that was affecting everything. By the time they got to the spaceship and got into its [the alien's] presence, it manifested itself and said, 'Do you know me?' Kirk said, 'No, I don't know who you are.' It said, 'Strange, how could you not know who I am?' So it shift-changed and became another image and said, 'Do you know me?' Kirk said, 'No, who are you?' It replied, 'The time has passed and you should know me by now.' It shifts shape again and comes up in the form of Christ the Carpenter, and says, 'Do you know me?' and Kirk said, 'Oh, now I know who you are.' And he says, 'How strange you didn't know these other forms of me.' Really, what Gene had written was that this 'thing' was sent forth to lay down the law; to communicate the law of the universe, and that as time goes on the law needs to be reinterpreted. And at that time 2,000 years ago, the law was interpreted by this Carpenter image. As time went on, the law was meant to be reinterpreted, and the Christ figure was meant to reappear in different forms. But this machine malfunctioned, and it was like a phonograph record that got caught in a groove and kept grooving back, grooving back, grooving back. It's important to understand the essence of all this and reinterpret it as time goes on. This was a little heavy for Paramount. It was meant to be strong and moving, and I'm sorry it never got made."
"I handed them a script and they turned it down," Roddenberry stated. "It was too controversial. It talked about concepts like, 'Who is God?' [In it] the Enterprise meets God in space; God is a life form, and I wanted to suggest that there may have been, at one time in the human beginning, an alien entity that early man believed was God, and kept those legends. But I also wanted to suggest that it might have been as much the Devil as it was God. After all, what kind of god would throw humans out of Paradise for eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. One of the Vulcans on board, in a very logical way, says, 'If this is your God, he's not very impressive. He's got so many psychological problems; he's so insecure. He demands worship every seven days. He goes out and creates faulty humans and then blames them for his own mistakes. He's a pretty poor excuse for a supreme being.' Not surprisingly, that didn't sent [sic] the Paramount executives off crying with glee. But I think good science fiction, historically, has been used that way--to question everything."
Back in the '70s, Roddenberry claimed that he was adapting this screenplay into novel form. It will finally see print in the fall of 1992 as a special hardcover edition from Pocket Books. [Gross pp.23-25, Planer p.9-10]
Jon Povill, who would eventually go on to be story editor of the proposed Star Trek II television series and associate producer of the first film, had worked with Gene Roddenberry on what was then planned to be a novelization of "The God Thing."
"Gene went to work on that script in May of 1975," details Povill, and it was his first attempt at a Star Trek feature. By August it was discarded by [Paramount President] Barry Diller...." [Gross p.26]
The Man Who Created Star Trek: Gene Roddenberry, by James Van Hise, Pioneer Books, 1992
"It was felt by some higher ups that my script might offend religious people," Gene recounted. "Perhaps it had just offended them. I had had the script read by a couple of Jesuit priest friends, a rabbi and a number of others, and they were not offended." [p.74]
Personal notes, from Michael Jan Friedman's reading at Toronto Trek, 1992
Due to a conference scheduling mix-up, almost nobody showed up for the reading, so I was able to ask Friedman a few questions. His work on The God Thing was obviously on my mind, so I asked him about it. (No, he didn't do a reading from it.) From my notes scribbled shortly thereafter:
GR's manuscript was very lean, about half the length of a novel, almost more like a screenplay. There were also continuity problems, suggesting he was making it up as he went along. MJF is padding it out and straightening out the internal consistency of the novel, but, I was glad to hear, he is not "fixing" it so it will fit into the movie-enhanced Star Trek universe. Although there are some plot elements similar to Star Trek - The Motion Picture, GR's characterization was extremely different. Spock and Sulu are apparently a lot different from the characters as we now know them, and the others have changed to a lesser extent. It's going to be marketed as a what if, alternate universe kind of story. It's also taking a very long time. It probably will be out in August of next year, rather than this fall, as previously scheduled. The problem is not so much Paramount Licensing as the estate of Gene Roddenberry, which has a completely different set of concerns. And their main priority is litigation concerning GR's estate. It's not certain whether the book will be credited to GR with MJF or vice versa; the estate apparently has reasons for doing it either way.
(See below for Friedman's 2003 comments.)
In the fall of 1993, Locus, the pre-eminent news magazine of the science fiction world, noted that David Alexander, Roddenberry's official biographer, had sold an expansion of The God Thing to Pocket. On CompuServe, I asked Pocket Books editor John Ordover for confirmation, and he said that Pocket had not yet seen Alexander's manuscript, though he understood that Friedman's material would not be included.
Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek by Joel Engel, Hyperion, 1994
In May 1975, Gene Roddenberry accepted an offer from Paramount to develop Star Trek into a feature film, and moved back into his old office on the Paramount lot. His proposed story told of a flying saucer, hovering above Earth, that was programmed to send down people who looked like prophets, including Jesus Christ. Who or what had programmed the craft was not addressed. 'Basically,' Jon Povill says, 'God was a malfunctioning spaceship.' By July, Paramount had rejected the treatment. Roddenberry blamed the religious backgrounds of Paramount executives, including Barry Diller, a practicing Catholic, for the rejection of his story. [p.165]
Star Trek Creator by David Alexander, Roc, 1994
In early November 1976, Starlog reported that the feature originally set to begin filming July 15 was not ready to begin production because there was no script. Part of a Roddenberry story that had been submitted to and rejected by Paramount was quoted. The reporter characterized the story as dealing with the meaning of God and wrote that "Roddenberry thinks Paramount executives were bothered by a 'little sequence on Vulcan in which the Vulcan masters, the people Spock studied under, were saying 'We have never really understood your Earth legends of gods. Particularly in that so many of your gods have said, "You have to bow down on your bellies every seven days and worship me." This seems to us like they are very insecure gods.'"" [Alexander's footnote: Presumably this came from The God Thing, a novelette by Gene, submitted to Paramount as the story for the first film. Paramount rejected Gene's effort as too anti-religious, yet this writer can find no such line by Vulcans in his copy of the manuscript.] [p.431]
Alexander is quoting an article by Jim Burns from Starlog 2 (see above).
In the summer of 1994 I emailed David Alexander about the book. He replied on July 27, saying that he didn't yet know when The God Thing would be published. (Around that time Alexander was embroiled in a flamewar on CompuServe involving another CompuServe user mentioned in Alexander's Roddenberry biography, and eventually Alexander dropped off the service. In 2008, having finally found a new email address for Alexander, I asked him about The God Thing, but he declined to comment.)
Star Trek Movie Memories by William Shatner with Chris Kreski, HarperCollins, 1994
"Somewhere out there," [Gene] starts off, his eyes widening as he continues, "there's this massive ... entity, this abstract, unknown life force that seems mechanical in nature, although it actually possesses its own highly advanced consciousness. It's a force thousands of times greater than anything intergalactic civilization has ever witnessed. It could be God, it could be Satan, and it's heading toward earth. It demands worship and assistance, and it's also in a highly volatile state of disrepair."
He goes on to tell me that the original crew of the Enterprise are now being embraced as heroes all over the galaxy. Spock has gone back to Vulcan to become head of their Science Academy. McCoy's married and living on a farm in the Midwest (although his wife, following in the time-honored tradition of women dumb enough to fall for an Enterprise crewman, is promptly killed off.) Everyone else has been given hefty promotions, and continues to serve on active duty. Additionally, Starfleet has offered Kirk a prestigious but deskbound admiralcy, but he's passed, preferring to retain his rank as captain while acting as a sort of consultant/ troubleshooter aboard Federation spacecraft. As we find him, he's visiting the recently overhauled Enterprise, supervising her new captain, Pavel Chekov.
Throughout the bulk of the next two hours Kirk rounds up the old crew, while studying and ultimately battling this "God thing." As the drama builds and we finally approach the craft, the alien presence manifests itself on board the Enterprise in the form of a humanoid probe, which quickly begins shape-shifting while preaching about having traveled to earth many times, always in a noble effort to lay down the law of the cosmos. Its final image is that of Jesus Christ.
"You must help me!" the probe repeats, now bleeding from hands, feet and forehead. Kirk refuses, at which point the probe begins exhausting the last of its energy in a last-ditch violent rampage, commanding the Enterprise crew to provide the assistance it needs in order to survive.
Without warning, the force summons up the last of its remaining strength to blast Sulu, severing the crewman's legs in the process. When Spock attempts to comfort the mortally wounded Sulu he, too, is blasted and left for dead. With that expenditure of energy, the vessel is weakened to the point of vulnerability, and the Enterprise unleashes a barrage of firepower that destroys the craft.
"With that," says Gene, "we begin pondering the notion that perhaps mankind has finally evolved to the point where it's outgrown its need for gods, competent to account for its own behavior without the religiously imposed concepts of fear, guilt or divine intervention." [p. 37-38]
Locus #410, March 1995
In the magazine's quarterly list of Forthcoming Books, p.44, Pocket lists Star Trek: The God Thing by Gene Roddenberry as a planned November, 1995 hardcover release. It didn't happen.
Ask John Ordover (Pocket Star Trek books website), September 22, 1996
In response to a fan's question about the status of the book, Pocket Books Editor John Ordover stated, "The God Thing has gotten tied up in the legal wrangling over Roddenberry's estate. It won't be happening any time soon."
Warped Factors: A Neurotic's Guide to the Universe by Walter Koenig, Taylor Publishing, 1998
Koenig writes that he was Roddenberry's first writing partner on the project:
I was working on another novel in 1976 and I was paying Susan Sackett, Roddenberry's executive secretary, to do a professional typing job on it. (To this day I can't spell.) She showed it to Gene, who then asked me to collaborate on a novel he was writing. He was calling it Star Trek II. It was, in part, a story about an entity that believed itself to be God. Roddenberry had previously submitted it as a screenplay to Barry Diller, the Paramount Pictures chairman, as the basis for a feature film. Diller didn't like the religious overtones and declined to go forward with it.
Gene had been writing on it for a month and had sixty-eight pages done when he handed it over to me. I did another eighty-three pages in the two months that followed and handed in the finished manuscript in December. His initial reaction was very enthusiastic. He was delighted with what I had done and although it was more like a novella than a novel he was looking forward to its publication.
A few weeks went by and Susan called to say that he was abandoning the project. I assumed that he had re-evaluated my work, found it wanting, and decided not to have it published after all. I've only recently learned that my efforts were not a mitigating factor. It all had to do with Gene's relationship with Paramount Pictures and the fact that a deal to produce a new Star Trek TV series rendered publishing the book superfluous.
I still have the material. It's not a bad story. Anyone listening? [p. 217]
Inside Trek: My Secret Life With Star Trek Creator Gene Roddenberry by Susan Sackett, Hawk Publishing, 2002
As Gene Roddenberry's personal assistant (and, she reveals in this memoir, lover), Susan Sackett had an inside look at developments in Star Trek from the mid-1970s to 1991. She wrote or co-wrote a few books and episodes. This book (consisting of material first made available on her website through paid subscriptions back in 2000) has some material on The God Thing.
In his script and partially completed novelization of The God Thing, there was a scene in which several female sirens tantalized Captain Kirk while they engaged in a weightless free-for-all, rolling in oil, their bodies glistening in what began as a sensual gymnastic event for Kirk and turned into a deadly contest for his life. [p.67]
[Gene Roddenberry's] spiritual beliefs were extant, although they were revised frequently. When I first discussed this with him, he believed in what he called the "All," the life force of the universe. Occasionally he referred to this concept as "God," although it was clear that his was not the Judeo-Christian god concept in any shape or form.
It was this fascination with religion that had formed the basis of Gene's rejected sequel script for Paramount. In that story, Captain Kirk and company encounter a seemingly omnipotent being who claims to be the God of the Old Testament. After a few parlor tricks, such as restoring Lt. Sulu's amputated legs, many of the crew begin to believe that this being may indeed be a deity. In actuality, it is a powerful machine with confused programming (a favorite plot device Gene would use many times), arriving at Earth thinking it is a messiah. Only Kirk remains steadfast in his disbelief.
The script contained elements which would eventually be incorporated years later into the story for Star Trek: The Motion Picture -- things like Spock spending time as a novitiate with the Vulcan Masters; a transporter accident in which people beam up with scrambled body parts; a disgruntled McCoy beaming aboard after finding happiness in a back-to-nature existence, and a visit to Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco. In the end, Kirk inevitable goes one-on-one with the Entity, whose Christlike image dissolves into patterns resembling "The Great Deceiver," as Gene put it.
Following the studio's rejection of this script, Gene began writing it as a novel, calling it The God Thing. It was set aside when other projects demanded his attention, and the book was incomplete at the time of his death. [p.68-69]
From a chapter covering early 1991:
During my research for the anniversary book, I had dusted off Gene's partially completed manuscript for The God Thing, the novelization of his rejected movie script. I remembered how much work Gene had put into it, and asked him if he would allow me to bring it to the attention of David Stern, our editor at Pocket Books. Although it was originally contracted with Bantam, nearly fourteen years had passed since that time and perhaps a new publisher would be interested. At first, Gene wasn't wild about this new idea.
... I shipped the rough copy off to New York. David Stern seemed quite taken with the manuscript, agreeing, however, that it needed expanding and updating. Would Fred Bronson and I (by now our names were interlinked as a team) be interested in completing this project for Gene? I gave Gene the good news, and he was enthusiastic about giving us the opportunity to do this for him. "You certainly know my style better than anyone," he admitted.
Everyone was enthusiastic about the potential of this book. That spring I had my assistant, Jana, prepare a retyping of the manuscript, since it had last been worked on in 1977 by Gene's secretary in England while shooting Spectre. The type was barely legible and it needed to be put on computer disk. As she progressed, I began working on pages, changing typos, editing awkward sentences, finding areas I wanted to expand. David, too, began making a series of notes and was eager for our deal to be formalized so that work could begin in earnest.
The delay in getting our contracts for this book seemed endless. Negotiations had begun in April, 1991; in July, Fred and I met with Gene and [Roddenberry lawyer Leonard] Maizlish to discuss how much money would be involved and how the cover credits would appear. We had a verbal agreement for months, but still no contract. Maizlish blamed the delay on Paramount, which needed to reach an agreement with Pocket Books. I could never understand why these two entities -- one of which (Paramount Communications) owned the other (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster) -- had so much trouble communicating. Weren't they all one big happy family?
Despite these meetings and the pressure from our editor in New York, the deal was still not nailed down, and Fred and I continued to play the waiting game. [p.192-193]
From a chapter set shortly after Roddenberry's death, a few months later:
Fred Bronson and I had been faithfully pursuing The God Thing. I had had it retyped, had begun a detailed pencil edit, and had noted several places where we were planning on expanding the manuscript. It had been Gene's fervent wish that we complete this project for him, and we had had lengthy talks about it with editor David Stern at Pocket Books. We had waited patiently for six months for our contracts, which Leonard Maizlish had been negotiating with Paramount and their licensee, Pocket Books. Two days after Gene died, Leonard telephoned me to say that Fred and I would no longer be working on the project. It wasn't hard to guess why. [p.212]
("It wasn't hard to guess why" probably refers to the events of a previous chapter, in which Sackett lost her job on Star Trek: The Next Generation after Roddenberry's death, and was, as she puts it, "excommunicated" from Trek.)
(See below for Sackett's 2008 comments.)
Walter Koenig, March, 2003
Leif Whitmore attended a recent convention and posted about it on the TrekBBS. In an email, he expanded upon his report:
I was in line at the microphone while Koenig was on-stage taking questions from audience members at the Grand Slam convention in Pasadena put on by Creation. I asked Koenig about his involvement with The God Thing, inquiring about what he had specifically done with/to the story.
If I recall correctly, Koenig replied by saying that he had completed Roddenberry's script/novel (whatever it was) back in the '70s, and that Susan Sackett had liked Koenig's work in that regard.
Beyond that, I don't remember too many more details. Plus, Koenig didn't say much more about it anyway. Koenig said that he was "working with" Roddenberry, Jr. to get it onto his website, and if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that Koenig means he's trying have some kind of God Thing manuscript available for the public to purchase via Roddenberry.com.
I did trust Koenig in what he was saying, mainly because he didn't really seem like he was tooting his own horn about his efforts on The God Thing. In fact, he never even brought it up to the audience before (or after) my question -- he just gave me an answer to my inquiry.
(Thanks to Leif for the info.)
Michael Jan Friedman, April 7, 2003
Friedman, whose expanded rewrite of The God Thing was supposed to be published by Pocket in the early 1990s, won't say too much about it these days. He was willing to answer, on the record, a couple of questions about how he was chosen to do the job and how long he worked on it, though.
Dave Stern was the editor, and I was approved by Paramount because, supposedly, Gene liked my work on the franchise better than he did the work of the other Trek novelists. I can tell you that my books sailed through the approval stage pretty quickly, so maybe there's some truth to that.
How much work? Probably two solid weeks, spread out over a few months. I produced an outline and a sample chapter, then went into revisions on the outline.
So it appears that whatever happened to scuttle this version of the book happened early enough in the process that there isn't a full-length, completed version by Friedman lost in limbo.
Susan Sackett, July 22, 2008
Inspired to update this page following an active thread on the subject of The God Thing at TrekBBS, I emailed Susan Sackett and asked if she'd be willing to answer some questions about her experiences working on the book. She responded quickly, and graciously allowed me to reproduce her answers.
Q: Walter Koenig said in his autobiography that he worked on The God Thing at one point, adding 83 pages to Gene Roddenberry's 69 pages. Did you go back to GR's own work and drop Koenig's work from your version?
A: Yes. I didn't have any copies of Koenig's work, and really don't remember it.
Was there really so little of the story written by GR?
Yes. He had the completed screenplay, of course, but the ms. based on it was a work in progress.
Friedman told me that what he had was about novella-length and needed a lot of expanding to become a full-length novel.
Correct. That was why Fred and I were requested by Gene and Pocket Books to "flesh it out."
Do you still have the work you did on the book?
Probably, but I have no idea. I'm a pack rat and have trouble throwing things away! I might have an old-style floppy disc with it stashed away somewhere. My secretary, Jana, was doing that for us at that time -- typing Gene's original and putting it on floppies for us to work with. But since we didn't have a deal hammered out, we didn't really do much work on it.
Had you gone beyond outlining some planned expansions and begun writing new material?
No, I think Fred and I were still outlining where we wanted to take it.
Did you think GR's work was a good beginning, or did it need a lot of work?
Gene was the genius behind the idea, and he had a good beginning, middle and end. It needed a lot of description added, as I recall, and perhaps more action. It's been such a long time -- hard to recall all this.
Do you think it would have much relevance now, when Star Trek has faded somewhat from the public eye? Or, on the other hand, with the reportedly anti-religious attitude of the story, do you think it could be more relevant and timely now that writers like Richard Dawkins and several others have bestselling books on atheism?
It's not really anti-religious or pro-atheism. Perhaps it is anti-religious dogma. The premise was that the entity who demands worship and praise and all that turns out to be the "great trickster," i.e., the entity commonly called "Satan" in Earthlore -- nothing supernatural at all, just an alien life form who can do things that seem like magic to those who are ignorant of the mechanism (I believe this was something Arthur C. Clarke once stated -- "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.") It was certainly an iconoclastic way of looking at things, and Gene was very much the iconoclast. It would certainly have relevance to today's favorable climate for people who are challenging ancient superstitions -- people like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett et. al.
You're welcome. Hope you liked Inside Trek -- tell your friends!
Anonymous Collector, November, 2009
It had forgotten its name. That had been forgotten those eons ago when it first knew itself to be dying. Stars without number had ignited and faded as it searched this prison galaxy for a way to youth and wholeness again. Although it would be eons more before it would cease to move and think, that end now seemed perilously close.
So begins the manuscript purchased by a collector who prefers to remain anonymous. (He hasn't given me a copy and he probably won't give you one either, so don't ask.)
The collector writes that he saw the manuscript listed on eBay and won the auction. (Frankly, it never would have occurred to me that this manuscript might show up there, so it's no surprise that I missed it.) Here's what he won:
Pages 1 - 68 are photocopies (page 40 is missing). Marked GR and dated between 8/19/1976 and 9/10/1976.
Pages 69 - 152 are mostly on onion skin typewritten pages, initialed "W.K.," and dated between 10/29/1976 and 12/21/1976. Each of these 83 pages is also autographed by Walter Koenig, as is the title page.
In general, the descriptions of the novel on your site are accurate, except possibly Chekov having become captain.
When reading it, I was struck by two things: one being the controversial nature of the material as well as the similarities to ST:TMP in its various incarnations (novel, script, and film). Some of the similarities include:
So, a good portion of the Roddenberry portions of this novel were recycled for use in ST: TMP. Or taking a different perspective, this novel (based on Gene Roddenberry's 1975 draft) really represents the genesis of ST:TMP, when combined with elements from "The Changeling" and Genesis II's "Robots Return."
So maybe, Star Trek: The God Thing has been here all along.
I asked the collector whether he could confirm the presence of some specific scenes described by various sources, like the big confrontation between the entity and Kirk in which the entity presents itself as different images before appearing to be Jesus Christ, and, for that matter, the odd kinky scenes Susan Sackett describes.
Re: Susan Sackett - yes, it is confirmed. Pages 58-63 have Kirk engaged in what could be best described as nude oil wrestling with three women. "They were nude of course except for their paragame sandals, and young women that way had a disconcerting way of looking quite different. It disconcerted Kirk that the thought made his own genitals tighten against the metallic mesh which protected male vulnerability during the game" (from page 59).
Also confirmed about the entity appearing first as the prophet Hamid, "a tall striking Masai black man of thirty years" "born in the calendar year 1969 in time to give his life in 1996" (from pages 130-131). The entity then transforms himself into Jesus of Nazareth after it realizes that no one knew of Hamid.
Another sample from the manuscript:
Kirk stood near the center of the crowd at the bus station. He felt it important to blend in and so he smiled and applauded lightly as the pretty eight year old in the [illegible] costume mastered her simulated fiber wool jump rope with a succession of graceful little hops. The innocence of the wide eyed child was both a joy and a sadness to him. "The passing of things dear," Kirk thought. There would be no freedom from sin, from guilt for a world overlorded by a vengeful self-proclaimed God-thing. There would be fear, there would be treachery. There would be death and destruction in the name of sanctity. There would again be the Dark Ages.
And the manuscript ends with this paragraph:
As the men approached, those in waiting began to applaud. Even as they pumped his hand and embraced him warmly, Kirk's eyes were raised toward the stars. Next time, he thought, next time... please... let it just be Klingons.
The collector included some photos, with much of the text blurred; he's worried about violating copyright. In this case, given the use of only three paragraphs from a manuscript of 152 pages, and given the more or less scholarly nature of this web page, I'm confident that we are well within the bounds of fair use.
Based on the information and the samples, in addition to all the information gathered over the years, it looks very much like publication of the manuscript would be something of an anticlimax, given the similarities to The Motion Picture and Roddenberry's lack of experience writing prose fiction. That doesn't mean I wouldn't love to have a copy, whether just a photocopy or an edited and revised published version.
Part of the process of researching this has been discovering how many people worked on The God Thing at different times. Gene Roddenberry started it, Walter Koenig worked on a version of it in the late 1970s, Susan Sackett and Fred Bronson worked on a version of it in 1991, Michael Jan Friedman was working on it in 1992, David Alexander was working on it in 1994. The flipside is learning that some of the writers did less work on the project than I originally believed. There is, apparently, no unpublished manuscript as completed by either Michael Jan Friedman or Susan Sackett and Fred Bronson. No doubt they put a lot of thought and time into the project, but apparently neither progressed far beyond the outlining stage.
I've tried contacting Walter Koenig and Rod Roddenberry through their websites. No replies so far. I suspect Koenig still has a copy of his manuscript; I hope so, anyway, as it seems to be the most complete version in existence.
Colour cover scan provided by Jim McCain in 2004. My thanks to Jim, as well as to Dustin Kolan, who provided the black and white image above, which headed this page for well over a year. It was an ad for the audiobook version of The God Thing from a 1992 Starland catalogue. I corrected the angle and cropped it. The audio cover includes the phrase "The Lost Star Trek Novel." It also omits the hyphen that appears on the book jacket. Personally, I think I'll keep calling it The God Thing rather than The God-Thing. If it's ever published either way, I may change my mind...
All quoted material above is copyrighted by the respective authors or by CBS or Paramount Pictures. Book covers are copyrighted by CBS, Paramount Pictures, the artists, or the respective publishers. Please note that I cannot guarantee the veracity of the quoted material.
Thanks to Alan Ravitch, Bob Greenberger, Jim McCain, Dustin Kolan, Michael Jan Friedman, John Ordover, David Alexander, Leif Whitmore, Susan Sackett, the Anonymous Collector, the authors of the materials cited and quoted, and anyone who's read the page or commented on it.