Following a heartfelt announcement to her fans, beloved SFF author Ann Carol Crispin passed away today, succumbing to a long battle with cancer. Sensing she was nearing the end, Crispin posted on her Facebook page on September 3rd, saying “I’ve been hesitant to make this post, but it’s time…” A former vice-president of SFWA and a cofounder of the watchdog group Writer Beware, Crispin was admired for her prowess in the business of writing as well as the art of storytelling. She was 63.
On a personal note, I’m probably not alone in saying that Ann Crispin opened up a very young version of me to the possibility of a multi-faceted character. And she did it with appropriated icons from pop culture. When I was 9, I would definitely claim my favorite book was Yesterday’s Son by A.C. Crispin. In terms of a book with chapters, there is a very real possibility that this Star Trek tie-in novel was my first favorite novel. As a 9-year-old, it’s unlikely I understood the implications of Spock having a bastard child with Zarabeth in the prehistoric past of the planet Sarpedion. My misconceptions about sex then were as vast as the time vortex generated by the Guardian of Forever. What was important though, was simply that Spock had a son, and that was sooo cool.
And though, I didn’t recognize it at the time, A.C. Crispin made Spock a more interesting by giving him this very grown-up problem to deal with. We not only understood Spock’s past better, but also it expanded the pathos of what the character was capable of going through. But Crispin did this with other beloved Star Trek characters, too. Her novel Sarek gives us the emotional story of a perhaps even more interesting member of that same family: Spock’s father. Why would an author want to write about these cold, supposedly emotionless aliens in her novels? Well, it’s because Crispin recognized the all that dysfunctional family drama resonates with people who have real families, too. Vulcans are the ulimate analog in understanding why we don't understand our parents.
Creating heartfelt expansions of character biographies isn’t something Crispin just did with Star Trek, though. Her trilogy of Star Wars novels shows us exactly what Han Solo was up to prior to the events of Star Wars: A New Hope. While the Brian Daley books published in the 70’s and 80’s have a swashbuckling charm, Crispin’s Han Solo books render him possibly at his most sensitive and conflicted. This ability to pull out tender human drama from big, over-the-top characters, continued well into the more contemporary shores of Crispin’s career.
Based on her successes as a genre author, Crispin was commissioned to create a back-story for none other than Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean. The novel—The Price of Freedom—was released in 2011 in conjunction with On Stranger Tides. Think you can’t take a novel about young Captain Jack Sparrow seriously? Think again.
Naturally, A.C. Crispin created science fiction characters and worlds that were completely original, too. Her Starbridge books essentially pick up on where Robert Heinlein’s SF juvenilia became outdated. Building on SF traditions and employing her own unique brand of humor, Crispin makes aliens into real people as easy as some people can bake whole batches of cookies. Her writing has always made me feel like her process must be like that. She had a bunch of ingredients in her brain and she just cooked them up when she wants to.
But she knew kids like me enjoy a great tasty snack when it has something familiar in it. So, she gave us the gift of tie-in novels with real emotional stakes. Yesterday’s Son, and its sequel, Time for Yesterday, aren’t cynical pieces of writing done to capitalize on how much people love Star Trek. They are thoughtful, moving pieces of science fiction, which made my young life a little less confusing. Of course Spock had a son, and of course he was a much more emotional, almost barbaric young guy. Could I imagine it any other way?
A.C. Crispin will be missed for her vigilant devotion to sticking up for writers, her wonderful candor, her thoughtful and exciting writing, and most of all, for giving the fans of various fictional worlds sweet and unforgettable gifts.
Thanks, Ann Crispin. You’ll be missed.