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. No less than Neil Gaiman and Robert A. Heinlein were great admirers of Ford and his work.
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 Tabletop Roleplaying Game, which was for a time the most complete and in-depth source on Klingon language and culture available. Much of it has been Outdated by Canon since the screen canon got serious about exploring Klingon culture, but there are still fans who think Ford's version was better, and not just in the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, and two Car Wars related short stories (with game stats) "Street Legal" and "Alkahest" for Steve Jackson Games's in-house gaming magazines The Space Gamer and Autoduel Quarterly respectively.
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". "Against Entropy" is cited as an example of Ford's extemporaneous brilliance: it was written and published less than eight hours after a prompt by one of Ford's editors.
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 A. Heinlein never wrote; and The Last Hot Time, a Chicago gangster story set 20 Minutes into the Future in which half the characters are elves.
Mike Ford vanished into obscurity after his tragic and untimely death in 2006. He left no will, his agent disappeared, and almost all his books fell out of print. Beginning in 2019, however, new agreements with his family brought his work back to life: Both The Dragon Waiting and The Scholars of Night came back to print, and his final unpublished novel Aspects is being published in April 2022.
Absolutely no relation to the acclaimed film director John Ford.
Works by John M. Ford with their own pages include:
John M. Ford's other works provide examples of:
- 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"
- Chained to a Railway: In "Winter Solstice, Camelot Station"
- Cool Train: Growing Up Weightless includes a long sequence set on a railroad on the Moon. Ford explained the design and his reasoning behind it in his essay "To the Tsiolkovsky Station."
- Double-Meaning Title: "Fugue State," one of Ford's most challenging novellas, is a psychological horror piece featuring mind-wiped characters with uncertain identities. The story follows the structure of a musical fugue.
- The Fair Folk: In The Last Hot Time
- Fictionary: "Klingonaase", the Klingon language featured in The Final Reflection and the FASA role-playing game.
- 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 Naïve 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.)
- Naïve Newcomer: The protagonist of The Last Hot Time
- 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...
- Time Crash: Ford's "Alternities" stories are set in a multiverse where a major Time Crash (called the Fracture) has occured, and the survivors of Alteco are trying to pick up the pieces.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: The setting of The Last Hot Time.
- What Could Have Been: A fight with the new editor of the Star Trek line torpedoed Ford's plans for a sequel to The Final Reflection. He did go on to write How Much for Just the Planet? (which contains some bitter swipes at Paramount), but afterwards he never wrote another Star Trek novel.