The Complete Starfleet Library

The Hal Schuster Empire

Introduction: Files Magazine, Schuster & Schuster, Pioneer, and more...

Back in the mid-1980s, Star Trek wasn't the publishing phenomenon it is now. There was still only one series, though there was a new movie every two years or so to generate some tie-in books. There were a few Pocket novels every year for the more devoted fans. In 1985, for example, there were six new Star Trek novels (in 1995 there were thirty). As for nonfiction books, in 1985 there were two Pocket books (a Klingon dictionary and a trivia book), two books in the Best of Trek series, a collectibles price guide, a quiz book, and a work of political analysis. And the first several volumes in Hal Schuster's Star Trek Files Magazine series.

Files Magazine Focus on the Undiscovered Star Trek Book OneDistributed mainly to comic shops rather than bookstores, each Files Magazine was the length of a short magazine (40 to 60 pages), but perfect bound (i.e., like a paperback). Each issue cost $5.95 and covered a handful of original series episodes. The pages used a lot of blank white space, photos, and large typefaces for the text. The price was hard to justify, especially considering that the first Pocket Star Trek Compendium covered all of the original series in one book for $9.95 instead of fourteen "files" for $5.95 each (a total of $83.30). But the initial volumes evidently sold well enough. After covering the original series, the animated episodes, and the movies, Files Magazine started doing theme issues on various characters and aspects of the Trek universe. The Files were generally written by John Peel (and, later, Edward Gross) and edited and published by Hal Schuster, usually under the name Psi Fi, sometimes NMB.

After two or three years, and a few dozen volumes, the Files Magazine approach was phased out. The success of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which premiered in 1987, and the consequent increase of interest in Trek undoubtedly helped. The books became longer, less like paperback magazines. Some were compilations of the material from the Files, and some were at least partly new, like the various editions of the encyclopedias. Various publisher names were used: Psi Fi Movie Press, New Media Books, Schuster & Schuster, Couch Potato Inc., Movie Publisher Services, and finally Pioneer, whose books were actually distributed to regular bookstores. Hal Schuster ran the company (or companies) and edited many or all of the books. Over the years, Schuster continued to recycle material from older books and reprint newer ones in slightly revised editions.

Meanwhile, many more publishers, including Pocket, realized that there was a strong demand for nonfiction books about Star Trek, and they increased their own output, always with better quality product than Pioneer's. Most of the books came from major publishing houses, but a couple of smaller presses followed in Schuster's footsteps. Cinemaker and Image both published unofficial Star Trek books, usually with former Pioneer writer Edward Gross's involvement. Though Image, like Pioneer, churned out a number of books with recycled content, their overall production quality (book covers, interior layout) was considerably better. More importantly, each book had a point: it might be a Deep Space Nine episode guide, or a book about the making of the Trek movies, or an encyclopedia, but the contents more or less delivered what the title promised. Schuster's companies occasionally published rather unfocused books, and sometimes mislabeled them. One book that promised a behind-the-scenes look at producing The Next Generation was actually a collection of fannish interpretations of what the show was about, with a selection of episode summaries swiped from another book.

Star Trek: The MoviesThat was nothing unusual. From the beginning, Hal Schuster's publications should have had cover stickers reading "caveat emptor." They were badly laid out, often badly printed, badly designed inside and out. The contents sometimes bore only a passing resemblance to what the title promised. For example, one Files Magazine title, 1985's The Star Trek That Almost Was by John Peel, is supposed to be about Star Trek Phase II, the unfilmed series from the late 1970s. Instead, it's a collection of summaries of unfilmed story treatments from the original series, nine in all. Thirteen pages of text is padded out to 47 pages with a lot of photographs, at least one used twice a couple pages apart. Another John Peel File from 1985, The Star Trek That Never Was, does have some information on Phase II. There's nine pages' worth of text, lots of photos (not from Phase II), then a section on the music of Star Trek, with perhaps six pages of text and more photos. At least one book, four years later, credited one author on the cover and another on the title page (Gross and Van Hise respectively, Trek: The Lost Years).

One of those charming touches that adds to one's fondness for these books was their modesty. For example, The Encyclopedia of Star Trek and the revised version, The Trek Encyclopedia, published by Pioneer, featured quotes of praise from the magazine Enterprise Incidents on the front cover. Oddly enough, that magazine was owned by Hal Schuster. Moreover, it's doubtful as to whether the magazine was even being published in 1988; the last copy I saw was probably in 1986.

None of Schuster's writers stayed with him for the duration of his Trek publishing career. Though John Peel had written most of the early Star Trek Files Magazines (as well as Doctor Who Files Magazines), he was no longer writing new material for Schuster by 1990. He went on to write novels for the official Doctor Who and Star Trek publishing lines, among other things. Edward Gross, who wrote some of the later Files Magazines and a few early Pioneer books, left Schuster and formed his own companies, Cinemaker and Image. Gross and his frequent writing partner Mark A. Altman had a few books published through a larger press, Little, Brown, before the unauthorized Trek book market dried up due to Paramount litigation. 

Pioneer is history now. The most recent publication I've seen from them was published in 1995, though Amazon lists some newer ones (all described as out of print, though many were never actually published). Furthermore, Hal Schuster went on to better things. Starting in 1994, HarperCollins published a few mass market paperbacks that were reprints of Pioneer books, and Prima, starting in 1996, published his guides to The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. Not that he necessarily wrote them. According to the episode guide website www.logbook.com, the writers of that site's Deep Space Nine Logbook gave Schuster permission to reprint their material without payment "primarily as an experiment to see if we would gain any additional exposure." Their involvement was not prominently credited in the book.

Schuster found another company to work with after Prima, that being Gold Rush Games. In a 1998 press release, Gold Rush announced their plans to distribute a number of new Schuster titles, including a Star Trek book to be called Keep on Trekkin': Over Three Decades With Star Trek. One of the titles listed, an unauthorized Babylon 5 book, was actually published, but it was published by Schuster himself instead of through Gold Rush. Schuster was threatened with litigation for using copyrighted online posts by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski without permission. According to Mark Arsenault of Gold Rush Games, the company's "relationship with Mr. Schuster was terminated in 1999 and none of his books were published by our company." It's possible that Keep on Trekkin' was the same as the announced but unpublished 1996 Pioneer book An Uncensored Series Spotlight : 30 Years of Trek.

Will Hal Schuster be back? Well, no. He died in April, 2000. Will anyone pick up where he left off? Not if Paramount has anything to say about it. Though Pioneer apparently never attracted their attention, they have started cracking down on publishers of unauthorized Star Trek books, beginning with their litigation against Sam Ramer and Citadel for the book The Joy of Trek, published in 1997. At least a couple of planned unauthorized books have since disappeared from publishers' catalogues, and the number of unauthorized Trek books published each year has dropped substantially. Phil Farrand, author of the popular Nitpicker's Guide books, announced he would do no more Trek books, and there hasn't been an entry in the Best of Trek series (which started in 1978) since 1996.

For more information on Hal Schuster, see http://www.scottmurray.com/schuster.htm, a profile by Scott Murray from January, 1998.

More information

James Van Hise Interview

Hal Schuster Book List