Hal Schuster's a famous and controversial author; 2,000,000 of his books are out there somewhere. He's seen on CNN, and listed in Who's Who in the World as an expert on pop culture. Scott Murray visited him at home on Sukhumvit Road.
Look at the titles of Hal Schuster's books and one thing sticks out like Spock's ears. Trek: The Unauthorized A-Z; The Trekker's Unauthorized Guide to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; The Trekker's Unauthorized Guide to Star Trek: Voyager. Yep, they're all unauthorized.
When asked if this tarnishes legitimacy, Schuster says, "On the contrary. Having an official license may give me a little more access... but (the producers) will also restrict and control what I write. And they must approve it as well."
Other works include Yesterday: My life with the Beatles (with Alistair Taylor, Brian Epstein's assistant) and The Magic Lives On: The Films of Elvis, but most are focused on science fiction television. He's also done the unauthorized job on the X-Files and says future books will be about Zena/Hercules, Star Wars and Babylon Five.
One noted ex-pat author living in Bangkok has called Schuster a "literary prostitute." If so, he's good one. Schuster's lowest selling book has probably sold more copies than all of that author's works combined.
He's the former editor of Comics Feature, RBCC, TV Gold, SF Movieland (distributed on every major news stand in America) and Heroes. He's best recognized by Star Trek fans as the leading writer, editor, and published of related material. He's also been involved in Enterprise Incidents (editor and publisher since 1979) and Trek (exclusive national distributor) - the two leading Trekkie magazines. His own company Pioneer Books was known as the major publisher of all unauthorized books for over a decade - he's currently thinking of a relaunch in the US.
So, how do you become a pop culture expert (as he's titled in Who's Who in the World)? Schuster considers himself a communicator not an expert, but he says, "Declare yourself an expert in an assertive way... If you look like you know what you're talking about, and you back it up by knowing what you're talking about by doing your homework, then you're an expert. If you talk reasonably intelligently, and most people don't notice the flaws in your reasoning, then you're considered an expert. If it comes true you're a prophet, if it doesn't you hope everyone forgets what you said."
He started out opening a couple of comic book stores in Washington DC, then moved into distribution (ultimately, to fifty percent of the US specialty market) and publishing, before being encouraged to write full-time by an editor at HarperCollins.
He says he has three types of readers, "The largest group being fans of a particular series. The next being science fiction fans, and the last being fans of the media who want to know how TV shows come together, how they are made, and how people approach their work."
As to why he spends so much time in Thailand, Schuster points to "the liberating power of modern technology. Especially the Internet, where one can live in one place and work elsewhere... The majority of my work has nothing to do with Thailand. My income comes from my work in the State, as if I was living there full-time. But I couldn't do it without the Internet. I use the Net for my research, my communication, and delivering the final product.
"And one of the main reasons I stay here," he says." Despite the pollution, the traffic, and despite the dispirited nature of a lot of things going on right now, is my interest in Thailand and Thai culture (he reads, writes, and speaks Thai and is a member of the Siam Society). I also enjoy the company of Thai people very much and I consider my Thai friends to be among my closest." Including his wife-to-be, a student from Ramkamhaeng University.
Schuster (IQ 149 and one of only four active members of Bangkok MENSA) recalls sitting in a cab, deadlocked in traffic (again), wondering why he was still here, taking in air that's unfit to breathe. Then he looked out of the cab window, watched an elephant walk by the Fortune Town building on Ratchadaphisek Road, and thought, "You don't get this too often in San Francisco." Or in Deep Space Nine.
(Sadly, Hal Schuster passed away 4 April 2000 at the Keiser Hospital in San Francisco, but he is survived by his wonderful wife Pla.)