Almost as fun as watching science fiction and fantasy is reading about its creation. From the writers' initial inspiration to the battles with studios and networks to the invention of new special effects, these behind-the-scenes stories can be as thrilling as the movies and shows themselves.
Here are my favorite books that recount the productions of sci-fi and fantasy creations...
The Fifty-Year Mission
My favorite behind-the-scenes book of 2016, these two volumes recount the entire history of all things Trek, from Gene Roddenberry's first failed pilot through Star Trek Beyond. The interviews are exhaustive, including Roddenberry and his fellow producers down to costumers, special effects artists, and even assistants. The books show how a great film like Wrath of Khan could be made despite studio interference, while a bad film like The Final Frontier gets made despite input from so many talented people. Nothing in the history of Trek was inevitable—not the jump to movies, not Patrick Stewart playing Picard, and not the rebooted universe. It's a fascinating look at a science fiction phenomenon that even dwarfs the Star Wars universe in its scope and longevity.
We Don't Need Roads: The Making of Back to the Future Trilogy
If the above books are too long, We Don't Need Roads is a slim volume that breezily tells the making of the Back to the Future trilogy. The production of all three went pretty smoothly, though screenwriters Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale had some odd ideas in early drafts, like making the time machine out of a refrigerator and putting Marty McFly at ground zero of an atomic bomb test to generate 1.21 gigawatts and return home. The book also recounts a preventable accident in Part II that injured a stunt performer, a reminder that sometimes the consequences of playing make-believe can become very real.
Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner
Director Ridley Scott, concept artist Syd Mead, and special effects chief Douglas Trumbull created a beautifully nightmarish vision of the future that has influenced science fiction for four decades. How did they do it? This insightful book not only shows how the film's visual palette came about, but also how two prickly personalities (Scott and Harrison Ford) argued and compromised their way into making a cult classic.
Firefly: Still Flying
If, like me, you still mourn the early death of Firefly, this book provides much solace. Calling itself a "celebration," it includes less about Fox's awful decisions and more about the joy and fun of creating the show. Fans who love the look of the series will find storyboards, production art, and close-up photos of the weapons, costumes, and signage only glimpsed in episodes. Perhaps best of all, Serenity does indeed keep flying, because the book includes four new stories from the show's writers. Shiny!
Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror
When The Mummy opens in June, the Universal Monsters universe will change forever. Before it does, see how it all began with this authoritative guide. It includes not just the iconic films but also the lower-budget, more experimental sequels like Dracula's Daughter and The Mummy's Hand. The book shows how Universal, lacking the budget or prestige to attract big stars, struck gold by terrifying audiences and portraying the supernatural as real. Then the studio created a cinematic world where the films combine, allowing Frankenstein's Monster could battle the Wolfman. You begin to realize that the films might have fared poorly at the box office and faded into obscurity if not for the immense talents of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney, Jr.
The Lord of the Rings: The Making of the Movie Trilogy
Peter Jackson's trilogy is probably the greatest endeavor in the history of fantasy filmmaking. For the first time ever, three movies were shot simultaneously, in 150 locations over 438 days, and this official book shows how it was done. There are interviews with what seems like a good percentage of the hundreds of artists and technicians involved in creating the epic world of the films. The beautiful photos make it seem less like a production diary and more like a travelogue of Middle-earth. This is an essential visual guide and history for true Tolkien fans.