John M. Ford

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John M. Ford (1957 - 2006) was an SF writer, game designer, and poet, noted for his intelligence, wit, and originality. This last was in a sense also his greatest weakness, since a writer who never repeats himself can be very hard to market effectively, and he never achieved the fame many feel he deserved.

Probably his widely-known work is in a sense his least original -- two novels in the Star Trek Expanded Universe, but even here he broke new ground: The Final Reflection is a historical novel of the early years of Federation-Klingon interaction, with a Klingon as its hero, and How Much For Just The Planet? is a musical comedy. He also co-wrote the Klingons sourcebook for FASA's Star Trek Table Top Role Playing Game, which was for a time the most complete and in-depth source on Klingon language and culture available. Much of it has been Jossed since the screen canon got serious about exploring Klingon culture, but there are still fans who think Ford's version was better, and not just in the sense that there will always be fans who think the old version was better. Even so, many feel that Ford's explorations directly influenced the evolution of the canon Klingons into their modern, honor-driven pseudo-Samurai form.

Ford's other work in the realm of RPG design includes several sourcebooks for GURPS, and the classic Paranoia supplement, The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues.

Notable poems include the sonnet "Against Entropy" ("Regret, by definition, comes too late; / Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate."), the multi-award-winning narrative poem "Winter Solstice, Camelot Station", and the September 11 tribute "110 Stories".

And we haven't even scratched the surface of his original novels, which include Web of Angels, which did Cyberpunk before cyberpunk was cool; The Princes of the Air, a Space Opera featuring a trio of con men; The Dragon Waiting, an Alternate History political thriller that won a World Fantasy award; The Scholars of Night, a Cold War thriller; Growing Up Weightless, a Philip K. Dick Award winner that's been described as one of the best Heinlein juveniles Robert Heinlein never wrote; and The Last Hot Time, a Chicago gangster story set Twenty Minutes Into the Future in which half the characters are elves.

Not to be confused with director John Ford.


John M. Ford's works provide examples of:
  • Actual Pacifist: The diplomat Emanuel Tagore in The Final Reflection. This causes some confusion when Klingon security attempts to search his luggage for hidden weapons, and takes their inability to find any as a sign that he's hidden them really well.
  • Against My Religion: In How Much for Just the Planet? we have McCoy explaining why he, Sulu, and two Klingons won't Kneel Before Zod (the evil queen Janeka):

McCoy: Well, it's against Mr. Sulu's religion, these two gentlemen already have a dictator, and I'm a Democrat.

  • Alternate History: The Dragon Waiting
  • Amnesiac Dissonance: Self-inflicted in the short story "Erase/Record/Play", in which the scientists experimenting on prisoners in a concentration camp give everyone - victims, guards, and tormentors - the same experimental memory-wiping drug, and mix themselves into the general population to avoid punishment when the liberators come. They can't be coerced or tricked into revealing their guilt, because even they don't know if they're guilty.
  • Anachronism Stew: In "Winter Solstice, Camelot Station"
  • Bizarre and Improbable Golf Game: How Much For Just The Planet? features one that involves land mines and artillery.
  • Body Double: Queen Rachel in The Princes of the Air has several, of which at least one is an android and one is a male relative who has the same build and shares the distinctive family eye colour.
  • Chained to a Railway: In "Winter Solstice, Camelot Station"
  • Con Man: The heroes of The Princes of the Air
  • Crowd Song: In How Much For Just The Planet?, the Direidians break out into crowd songs around the visiting Federation and Klingon diplomatic delegations on several occasions. It turns out that it was all carefully rehearsed and planned out ahead of time, as part of the Direidian "plan C" to prevent either of the two sides from taking over their planet and disrupting their way of life.
  • Eyepatch of Power: The sorcerer Peredur in The Dragon Waiting
  • Eye Scream: In The Dragon Waiting
  • The Fair Folk: In The Last Hot Time
  • Feudal Future: In The Princes of the Air; it turns out to be important to the plot, and not just set-dressing.
  • Fictionary: "Klingonaase", the Klingon language featured in The Final Reflection and the FASA role-playing game.
  • Filk Song: Most (all?) of the songs in How Much For Just The Planet?
  • Food Fight: How Much For Just The Planet? culminates in one.
  • Genre Savvy: The Klingon communications officer in How Much For Just The Planet?
  • Historical Domain Character: Richard III and many others in The Dragon Waiting
  • Historical Fiction: The Final Reflection presents itself as a historical novel published in Kirk's time and set decades earlier.
  • Human Chess: In The Final Reflection (although technically the participants are all Klingons and the game is klin zha, specifically klin zha kinta, 'the game with live pieces'.)
  • Human Subspecies: One of the planets in The Princes of the Air is an ocean world with no dry landmasses, so the people who live there have been modified to be able to live underwater.
  • In Spite of a Nail: In The Dragon Waiting Christianity never took hold in the Roman Empire, Constantinople didn't fall to the Turks, and France was partitioned between England and Byzantium sometime in the 12th century. The Wars of the Roses still seemingly happen exactly as they do in reality up through the crowning of Edward IV, with the exception of one relatively insignificant death.
  • Light Bulb Joke: The Final Reflection has these in the form of "Rom Jokes", which Federation and Klingon crewmembers swap at a peace conference. The only one related to the reader is "How many Romulans does it take to change a transtator coil? Answer: 1 to change the coil, 150 to blow the ship up out of shame."
  • Magic-Powered Pseudoscience: In "Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues", R&D scientist Willis-G-EEP-4's inventions work well on the test bench, but fail when used in the field when he isn't around. That's because their success depends on his mutant powers of Minor Telekinesis and Luck.
  • Meaningful Rename: All the human characters in The Last Hot Time have one in their backstory, except the protagonist, who being the Naive Newcomer gets his during the course of the story. (Interestingly, the narration continues to refer to him by his old name for a couple more chapters, until he's settled in to his new identity.)
  • Must Have Caffeine: In How Much for Just the Planet? it's quickly established over breakfast that "Bones McCoy was not a morning person":

McCoy: Plergb hfarizz ungemby, and coffee.

Blueberry, Kirk thought instead of ducking.
Splat.
Blueberry it was.

  • Public Domain Character: King Arthur and co. in "Winter Solstice, Camelot Station"
  • Safe Word: Appears in The Last Hot Time, as the hero learns about BDSM.
  • Scrabble Babble: The short story "Scrabble With God" uses this trope with a twist. "It isn't that He cheats, exactly." But any word He plays is a real word -- even if it wasn't a minute ago. And He's not above uncreating things in order to be able to challenge His opponents' words, either...
  • Sealed Badass in a Can: In The Final Reflection the Klingons have a super-soldier with an enhanced metabolism that makes him practically unbeatable, at the cost of a dramatically reduced lifespan. To get the most possible use out of him, his handlers keep him in cryogenic suspension between missions.
  • Smart People Play Chess: The Final Reflection reveals that Klingon military strategy is the province of military "thought admirals", who hone their skills in klin zha (Klingon chess). The (Klingon) protagonist's father, who is a thought admiral, also studies other races' equivalents of klin zha, including the Human game "chess", to gain insight into the races that play them.
  • Starbucks Skin Scale: In The Princes of the Air there's a scene where the protagonist and a woman he's interested in are having coffee together, and it's noted in passing that her skin tone matches the coffee-with-cream they're drinking.
  • Subspace or Hyperspace: The Princes of the Air has a unique version
  • Time for Plan B: In How Much for Just the Planet? the Diredei plan to stop the Federation and/or Klingons from exploiting their dilithium is called "Plan C". There was no Plan A or B; C stands for the keystone of the plan: "Comedy".
  • Treacherous Advisor: In The Dragon Waiting:

"Your Grace." He reached into his bag, produced the translation of Mancini's letter. "We have a great deal of trouble. I hope that these are men you can trust."
"Yes, Professor, they are absolutely loyal to me," Buckingham said, and signaled for his men to close the door.

  • Tuckerization: The Final Reflection includes brief cameos by Klingons based on the co-authors of the Klingons sourcebook. Much of the supporting cast of How Much For Just The Planet? is based on Ford's friends and fellow authors, including Diane Duane, Peter Morwood, Neil Gaiman, Pamela Dean, and Janet Kagan.
  • Twenty Minutes Into the Future: The setting of The Last Hot Time.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The Final Reflection begins with an author's note from the in-story author, admitting up-front that some of what follows is no more than informed speculation, and some of it just plain made up to paper over the gaps in what his research was able to uncover. He declines to say which bits are which.
  • Variant Chess: In The Final Reflection the protagonist's father studies other races through their chess-equivalents. Of the several mentioned in the novel, klin zha, the Klingon game, is of particular and recurring significance.
  • Warrior Heaven: The Klingon afterlife, as described in The Final Reflection.
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: Queen Rachel in The Princes of the Air turns out to be this.