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“Being able to write clean prose fast is a marketable asset,” observes Nathan Archer. An understatement for the Gaithersburg author, who has seen five novels reach the marketplace in only three years. His latest is Mars Attacks: Martian Deathtrap. He wrote it in about six and a half weeks.

“I try not to do just fast typing,” insists Archer. But speed is essential in Archer’s genre, which he terms “licensed material.” His other books include Star Trek: Deep Space Nine No. 10: Valhalla, Star Trek: Voyager No. 3: Ragnarok, Predator: Concrete Jungle, and Predator: Cold War.

Hey, Jim Thompson wrote novelizations of Ironside.

Archer is unashamedly enthusiastic about such labor. “[Mars Attacks] may be the least sophisticated thing I’ve ever written,” he says, “because it’s based on the trading cards that were pretty deliberately over-the-top. So I was trying to think of all the lurid, trashy scenes I would want in there, and trying to get them all in.”

Archer’s book-to-be had its genesis 34 years ago with the publication of a set of Topps Chewing Gum Co. cards. Also titled Mars Attacks, they featured comic illustrator Norm Saunders’ paintings of bubble-brained, flying-saucer-riding Martians having their gruesome way with pitiful Earthlings (card No. 5 is captioned “Washington in Flames”). When re-released in 1994, they proved popular enough to spawn a comic-book series and a forthcoming Tim Burton film.

And Archer’s novel. Though he remembers the thrill of buying those original cards as a youngster, the book is based largely on the modern comic books. But Archer also sought inspiration from acquaintances. A friend’s child asked that a polar bear be part of the story. “I have no idea why,” laughs Archer, “but I put in a polar bear.” Not all requests could be honored, however. Someone petitioned for a scene with a giant lobster. “Topps wouldn’t let me put in a giant lobster,” says Archer, with some regret.

Archer jokes that one day he’ll “publish a novel that doesn’t have a colon in the title.” To that end, he has an original manuscript “making the rounds” and another in progress. Of his spec work, he says, “I’m not sure any of this is ever going to sell, but at least I’m doing all right with the licensed stuff.” Keep watching the skies.—Dave Nuttycombe