The latest Terminator novel features Terminator-vs-grizzly-bear battles, train robbery, Terminator snowmobiles, a Terminator train, and dogsled chases. We asked writer Greg Cox about who'd win a Terminator/bear fight, novelizing Final Crisis and whether Khan should be in the next Trek.
Greg Cox is one of the most prolific, and successful, authors of media tie-in novels, and he's won a loyal following for his many Star Trek books, including a trilogy filling in the backstory of much-loved villain Khan Noonien Singh. He's also written tie-in novels based on Alias, The 4400, Roswell, Underworld, Fantastic Four and Iron Man. He's also novelized the movies Ghost Rider, Daredevil and several others, plus DC Comics' big crossovers.
We talked to him about his new Terminator Salvation tie-in novel Cold War, out now from Titan Books, plus some of his other recent projects.
Cold War uses the same timeline as McG's recent movie, but only includes a couple of characters from the film: The main character is Losenko, the Russian general who appears briefly in the film, mentioning that Skynet is looking for Kyle Reese, and we learn all about Lysenko's backstory. Says Cox, "When I watched the movie, I was probably the only person who was mentally hanging on every scene with general Losenko," watching for every detail about the character to include in the book. Also in the book is General Ashdown (Michael Ironsides), the resistance leader who lives on a submarine. John Connor only pops in the book as a sort of mythological figure, giving inspirational speeches over the radio.
The new book takes place in Alaska and Russia, in two different time frames: 2003, right after Judgment Day, and then 2018. In 2003, the survivors are coping with the aftermath of the nuclear war, and Skynet is attacking them with really primitive Terminators, and the technology is close to what really existed in 2003. And then in 2018, Skynet has all the same tech it has in the movie — plus snowmobile Terminators, to navigate those frozen northern areas. It sounds like Cox had a lot of fun with the frosty settings:
My big gimmick was snowmobile Terminators. There's also a giant Terminator train. The trick is to try to find stuff in the [same] universe, that's slightly different. What haven't we seen yet? We haven't seen a Terminator train. The main reason for setting it in Alaska [was to include things like] dogsled chases, grizzly bears, avalanches, volcanos... We've seen so many chases on California highways, with fire trucks and emergency vehicles. I was looking for a whole different environment, not just recapitulating what people had done before.
Cox is somewhat surprised that the Terminator/grizzly bear fight has been the main thing people have talked about in his novel. "You can't have a Terminator in Alaska and not have him fight a grizzly bear. Okay, it's gratuitous, but how can I resist having a grizzly bear fight a Terminator?" And now that people have been so excited by it, "from now on, I put a grizzly bear in all my books." Spoiler alert: The bear doesn't stand a chance against a Terminator, says Cox.
There's also a Western-style train heist and loads of detail on a Russian submarine, plus lots of gritty war-movie-style action. Cox watched tons of World War II movies on TCM, read every Tom Clancy novel for the submarine details, and did loads of research on the world right after a nuclear war.
Cox says he watched Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles "religiously," but Titan Books and Halcyon were adamant that his book couldn't contain any references to T:SCC continuity. So don't expect Cameron to show up, but if anyone ever green-lights SCC novels, Cox will be first in line. The Terminator people were very keen to make sure Cox's book fit in with their vision of the universe, including making sure Skynet wasn't developing high technology too early after Judgment Day — and that meant loads of conference calls, notes and intensive feedback at every stage of the process.
Wrapping up The 4400
The amount of feedback you get from the licensors on a licensed property depends heavily on whether it's an ongoing concern, says Cox. With The 4400, for example, Cox wrote one tie-in novel while the series was on the air, and went through four different drafts in response to feedback. But when Cox wrote the first of two novels wrapping up the series after it ended, Welcome To Promise City, he got a more-or-less free hand. (The other novel, available now, is written by David Mack.) Cox, Mack and their editor cooked up an ending to the series together.
Except for tons of feedback from the fans. Cox says as soon as it was announced that he was writing a 4400 novel explaining what happened after the show's cancellation, he was bombarded with emails from fans all over the world demanding to know what he was going to do with their favorite subplots and characters. "I can't claim we wrapped up every loose end, but we tried to wrap up the important one," says Cox. He and Mack debated with their editor whether to tie up the end of the series with a neat bow, or leave a few things slightly open-ended in case they ended up doing more novels. They settled on the second approach, so if the books sell amazingly well, you might see further continuations of the story.
Novelizing Final Crisis
Cox novelized Infinite Crisis, 52 and Countdown for DC Comics, and now he's novelized Final Crisis, Grant Morrison's narrative-shredding uber-crossover starring the evil Darkseid. How on earth do you take Morrison's loopy storytelling and convert it into a single novel?
There was a lot of condensing involved, Cox admits:
There's not a lot of connective tissue in that series. [There are] a lot of scenes that jump from place to place. I've got to admit, the book is probably a bit more linear than the comic book, especially issue seven, which was jumping all over time. I actually just tried to tell it a bit more in chronological order, and maybe simplify it a bit.
The biggest problem with novelizing one of these sprawling DC crossovers is figuring out what subplots and tie-ins to leave out. The first week Cox was working on the Infinite Crisis novelization, he was trying to include all of the spin-off issues, including things like Rann-Thanagar War One-Shot, and every other miniseries and crossover issue, "and I realized this book is going to take me ten years, and it's going to be the size of The Wheel Of Time." So he began paring things down. Similarly, the Final Crisis book ignores a lot of tie-ins, sadly including the 3-D Superman tie-in series. "I apologize if your favorite scene is not in this book, but there's no way I can get in the 3-D tie in superman issue and the Batman issues and the special tie-in issue of Secret Six."
With novelizations of comics crossovers, "it's all about streamlining." It's the opposite of novelizing movie scripts, which is all about fleshing out the story and characters and adding new stuff to turn a 90-page script into a 300-to-400-page novel. "The script for Ghost Rider was not a terribly long script," notes Cox. He recalls coming across the novelization for Snakes On A Plane and marveling that Christa Faust had managed to get 400 pages out of that film. He felt like sending her fan mail.
Should Khan Come Back?
As the author of three Khan books, Cox is conflicted about whether Khan should appear in the next Star Trek movie. On the one hand, recasting Khan seems almost impossible, given how much Ricardo Montalban put his stamp on the character. On the other, Cox might have said the same thing about recasting Kirk, Spock and McCoy — and J.J. Abrams and crew pulled that off. The real question is, "do you do Botany Bay Khan, or crazy burned-out Wrath Of Khan Khan? There's the young virile but not quite crazy Khan, and then there's the obsessed spent-15-years-in-Hell Khan. And then there's the whole messy [subject of the] Eugenics Wars — when exactly did they take place? Did they take place during the Bill Clinton years?"
Cox is writing one of four new novels that take place in the movie's continuity, picking up where the movie left off. He's written a draft of his novel, but hasn't gotten feedback from Paramount yet, so everything is subject to change. But at least for now, his novel takes place six months after the end of the movie, and follows Captain Kirk and his crew on a stand-alone adventure. And he hints that, if Paramount approves, the fact that the Vulcans are refugees scattered across the universe will play a part in his novel's plot.