Archbishop and Roger Rabbit Author Pen Science Fiction Novel
BOSTON (AP) - The book was called "Space Hawk," and it grabbed a school-aged Gary K. Wolf by the throat.
His seventh-grade buddy, John J. Myers, gave it to him with urgent instructions to start reading. It was the first science fiction novel the two Midwestern boys growing up in the 1950s had seen, and they were floored by its mix of Wild West swagger and space adventure.
Had it not been for the love of science fiction he got from "Space Hawk," Wolf says, he might never have created Roger Rabbit, the animated movie character that decades later won him an Oscar.
And without "Space Hawk," there would be no "Space Vulture," a new sci-fi novel Wolf co-authored with old friend Myers - now the Roman Catholic archbishop of Newark - in what has to be one of the genre's most unusual collaborations.
The book was recently sold to Tom Doherty Associates and will be published by their Tor imprint in March 2008.
"Space Vulture" was conceived as a reworking of "Space Hawk," but instead became an homage to the original, as well as to a friendship that endured the authors' wildly different paths to prominence.
Myers, 65, and Wolf, 66, were friends almost from birth in Earlville, Ill., a town of 1,400 so small and friendly that not only were there no stop lights, there were no stop signs. "It was just all trust," Wolf said.
Myers' father was a farmer and milkman, Wolf's ran the local pool hall, and their families were close. Myers was the oldest of seven children, and Wolf was an only child, so the Myers family treated him like a sibling.
Both were offensive linemen on the football team, they double-dated to the senior prom, and Wolf's dad let Myers parade with his accordion band, even though Myers only played trumpet. They also shared sharp minds, competitiveness and a bit of a wiseacre attitude.
"We're both kind of funny, to be honest," Myers said in an interview with The Associated Press. "So we did a little wisecracking and had fun with the class. Plus, we got into some science fiction together and both have inquisitive minds."
After high school, Myers and Wolf left Earlville on divergent paths. Wolf headed to the University of Illinois to study advertising, then volunteered for a tour of duty in Vietnam as an air commando. Myers studied at Loras College in Iowa before being given a chance to prepare in Rome for the priesthood.
But the friends corresponded and stayed close after Myers returned to a post in the Peoria (Ill.) diocese, where he later became bishop, and Wolf's advertising work took him to San Francisco, and then the Boston area, where he still lives.
Wolf wrote fiction faithfully from the early 1970s on, but didn't get his big break until the early 1980s when he sold his Roger Rabbit story. His novel became the 1988 movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," which explored a world where humans and cartoons exist side by side and won four Academy Awards.
Myers was delighted by his friend's success. Still, he hadn't considered teaming with Wolf though Myers is prolific writer (albeit on more theological topics), and a science fiction fan who knows the Star Trek series cold and faithfully watches the TV series, "Lost."
Their collaboration began after Wolf tracked down two "Space Hawk" copies about six years ago and gave one to Myers for Christmas, thinking they'd reread it together and relive their youth. Problem was, their adult eyes agreed the legendary "Space Hawk" was, in fact, dreadful.
"I said, 'You know, it's a pity that we can't rewrite it the way we remember it, instead of the way it really is,'" Wolf said. "And so John said, 'Let's do that.'"
They couldn't legally rewrite the same book, so they began creating characters and a plot for "Space Vulture" during phone calls, e-mails, and occasional visits to the archbishop's country residence in New Jersey.
Unlike the title character in "Space Hawk," Space Vulture is no hero, but a villainous marauder. The book follows a courageous widow, a con man who changes his ways and the hero, Victor Corsair, as they take on Space Vulture.
Moshe Feder, a consulting editor for Tor, acknowledges the peculiar pairing of authors was one reason Tor was interested in the book. "I think there's automatically going to be some curiosity about what kind of book a Catholic archbishop will come out with," he said.
But he said the story is engaging, and styled after the older pulp science fiction, where the science is less complex and the difference between good and evil is more stark. Without a good story, he said, the book's unique literary collaboration would be "worthless."
Wolf did the bulk of the writing, while Myers helped with story development. Wolf said Myers' influence is obvious: The sex scenes Wolf would have been inclined to write didn't happen. One of the characters prays when she's under duress. And the moral lessons, such as the benefits of helping the weak, are more pronounced than in typical science fiction, Wolf said.
Myers said there's nothing in the book's final draft that would embarrass him or the church. He compared the book to Star Wars, which has violence and unsavory characters, but also a PG rating because of the way things are presented.
"A few things we had to talk over, and I said some things really wouldn't be in accord with Catholic teachings and I couldn't lend my name to that, and we talked it over and we worked it out," Myers said.
But Wolf warns "Space Vulture" is no stroll through the Vatican Gardens. "This has attacks in space, flesh-eating vampires," he said. "You name it it's in there."
Myers said he doesn't know if he'll write science fiction again, though he enjoyed writing "Space Vulture," and the time he spent with Wolf. Decades of friendship, and the unexpected turns of their lives, haven't changed much between them, Myers said.
"We're both small town boys," the archbishop said.
--Jay Lindsay, Associated Press