Going on right now is the 9th annual New York Comic-Con… and the first one ever that I haven’t attended. I just didn’t have any good business reason to attend this year, and it was happening on the same weekend as the local Books by the Banks festival here in Cincinnati, which I had to miss last year because of the conflict (after attending it back in 2012 and once a few years before that). And NYCC has just gotten so crowded and noisy and strenuous that after last year, and exhibitor tickets have become so much costlier and harder to get, that I felt it was time to take a break. And I didn’t feel like another long road trip so soon after my visit to Detroit a few months back, or another plane flight so soon after Shore Leave. So I decided that this year I’d prioritize BbtB over NYCC and just stay in town.
But then I was late to apply to BbtB, and though the organizers were willing to let me apply anyway, somehow it never quite came together and I wasn’t accepted as a guest this year. So I debated with myself whether to try to get into NYCC after all, maybe see if Pocket could get me a guest speaker’s pass and see if I could make last-minute arrangements to stay with a friend. But I realized: I’m still recovering from that minor gum surgery I had a few weeks back, so I have to avoid biting into foods, keep the healing area very clean with a special mouthwash, etc., and it would be hard to ensure that if I were on the road or at the convention, trying to scrounge food where I could. So that pretty much left me without anyplace to be, at least professionally.
Still, I decided I’d drop in to Books by the Banks this afternoon just as a visitor (it was free, though I had to pay for parking — and if I hadn’t been misled online about the parking prices, I would’ve taken the bus instead). I figured it might be a chance to meet some fellow authors, maybe even see somebody I knew. And I did. I finally got to meet John Scalzi, one of the most successful science fiction writers from the Tri-State area, and heck, one of the biggest around, period. I sat in on his panel, where he offered some interesting and hopefully useful advice, and got to chat with him for a bit afterward. I was flattered to hear he was aware of Only Superhuman, though in retrospect I figure it’s probably because of that business over the cover art a while back. I had a talk with Brad Ricca, who’s written an interesting-looking biography of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. And I did run into a couple of people I’ve met before, including Dan Andriacco, a mystery writer and Sherlock Holmes authority whom I met at the Ohioana reception a few months back and who told me some things that were useful in my Locus essay on Sherlock and Elementary, as well as Mark Perzel of WVXU radio, who interviewed me early last year about Only Superhuman and who knew my father back in his radio days. So it was nice to run into them again.
At least staying at home gives me more time to work on my writing. I’ve been trying to get a rough draft of my outline for Rise of the Federation Book 4 done before diving into the copyedits for Uncertain Logic, so that I’ll know of any continuity tweaks or foreshadowings I need to work in, and I finished that to my satisfaction (at least, for an initial rough draft) this morning, with over six weeks’ leeway to polish it before the due date (yes, astonishingly, for once I’m massively ahead of schedule!). And meanwhile I’ve got the final set of galley pages for DTI: The Collectors to proofread. So that’s all keeping me busy enough without the distractions and fatigue of a trip to slow me down.
Still, as tired as I am of the frenzy and crowds of NYCC, I do miss being there and getting to hang around with my friends (and their cats). I saw them all (well, not the cats) at Shore Leave just a couple of months ago, but now I have to wait until next Shore Leave to see them again, unless I can contrive a reason to make a business trip to New York City before then. As for NYCC, hopefully next year I’ll have something new to shill there, but who knows? I might go anyway, just because I missed being there this year. Although I hope next year it doesn’t conflict with Books by the Banks.
Wow, where did the weekend go? This year’s Shore Leave was a whirlwind, over so fast it hardly had time to sink in. Maybe it’s because I flew there this time. Not only did I get in later than usual on Friday and leave early on Sunday, making for a total of only about 48 hours spent in the hotel (c. 2 PM Friday to c. 2 PM Sunday), but maybe the quicker travel time made the whole thing feel more abrupt somehow.
But let’s see what I can extract from the sensory blur in my memories.
The flight out from Cincinnati to Baltimore went fairly well. I seemed to get through the airport amazingly quickly, in part because I got randomly assigned to the expedited TSA check which is simply a walk through a metal detector (along with everyone else around me — making it seem like an implicit admission that all the security theater of the past few years doesn’t really make much difference after all). I took a quick flight to Philadelphia on a medium-sized plane and then a short hop to Baltimore on a small turboprop — the first propeller plane I think I’ve ever been on, and the first plane where the cabin has been under the wing, so I could actually see the landing gear from my window. A little scary at first, but I reminded myself that if it weren’t a proven and reliable technology, it wouldn’t still be in use after a century. And the props were clearly made of carbon composite, which was reassuringly modern.
Then came the long ride on the Light Rail, literally from the very start to the very end of the route. But it didn’t feel like it took too long, even though I gave up trying to listen to music on my phone because the train was too noisy. (Maybe I should’ve brought my other earbuds, which block sound better. Plus they don’t get tangled as easily, I think because one earbud is on a shorter cord than the other so there’s less there to tangle.) The one hitch was that I got a sandwich at the airport planning to eat it on the train — and then saw that eating on the train is prohibited. So since I’m an extremely law-abiding sort, I had to wait another hour and a half to eat my lunch. I had half the sandwich while walking from the light rail station to the hotel, and the other half once I got into my room (which was quick and easy because I arrived late enough that it was already prepared).
When I visited the vendors’ area, I was pleased to run into Sally Malcolm and her husband, the founders of Fandemonium Books, the British company that publishes Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis tie-in novels. They were there along with New York writer Diana Dru Botsford, who’s done a number of SG novels for Fandemonium as well as having written for ST:TNG on television. I was glad that this year they were able to come to Shore Leave and bring the two tie-in franchises together, as it were. And now I know who to contact if and when I have a Stargate novel pitch… ;)
At dinnertime, I ran into Greg Cox and some other folks at the hotel’s little cafe/lounge place, which is now open for business again since the hotel came under new management. We had a nice talk there, and later we were seated together at Meet the Pros, though we had less time to talk there since it was really well-attended and busy — another reason it seemed to go by so fast. I signed a lot of copies of Tower of Babel. Unfortunately only one guest bought a copy of Only Superhuman for me to sign, since the book vendor only had it in hardcover. The dearth of mass-market paperbacks of OS continues to bewilder and frustrate me. (It’s still available by print-on-demand, but getting paperbacks in stores is better for getting casual readers interested. Or would have been…)
I also finally got to meet Australian uberfan Ian McLean, aka Therin of Andor, who’s probably the one person who loves Star Trek: The Motion Picture more than I do, and after whom I named an Andorian character in Ex Machina, a character who’s been picked up on by other authors and taken on a life of his own. He brought me an awesome gift, an Australian edition of the ST:TMP novelization from Futura Books, with a lovely photo insert section and a few bits of additional description in the text. He even got it autographed by Billy Van Zandt, the actor who played the Rhaandarite “alien ensign” in TMP, whom I made into a major character, Vaylin Zaand, in ExM. It is a cool thing to have.
Let’s see, panels… Before Meet the Pros, I was on a panel about comedy science fiction, in which I got to talk about my Hub stories, though my comedy contributions are fairly limited in comparison to fellow panelist Peter David — though he demurred that most of his overt comedy writing is fantasy rather than SF. Also in attendance were Aaron Rosenberg, co-founder of Crazy 8 Press, and two authors who’ve had comedies published by Crazy 8, Lorraine Anderson and Russ Colchamiro.
But the rest of my panels were on Saturday, so I was kept pretty busy that day. First was the panel on writing movie-era Trek, which was intended to focus on the original series’ movie era, but ended up being broadened to include TNG movie-era books. Greg and I were on that along with Peter David and Dayton Ward (who did In the Name of Honor in the post-ST V era as well as A Time to Sow/A Time to Reap with Kevin Dilmore in the TNG movie era). Greg pitched his upcoming Foul Deeds Will Rise, set in the post-ST V era, and I just talked about ExM.
Then came “60 Years of Godzilla,” with Greg again (since he novelized the recent movie) as well as Jeffrey Lang and Andrew Gaska. I got to do my spiel summarizing the history of the franchise, based on my posts on this blog, but I think I went a little too much in-depth, since people were walking out by the end. I was afraid that would happen.
I got a burger and fries for lunch in the cafe, where I’d previously gotten a breakfast of cereal, milk, orange juice, and a banana. Both meals cost me 9 dollars. Each. Hotels are so expensive! I also attended a “Writing Stargate” panel by the Fandemonium bunch, and learned some more about their approach and interests. Apparently they’ve been trying to convince MGM to let them do a post-finale series of SG-1 as they’re already doing for SGA, but with no luck as yet; and they don’t have a Stargate Universe license, which is too bad, since I woul’dve liked to write for that one. They explained that the new movie reboot that’s being developed has nothing to do with the show’s continuity and doesn’t affect the books. (I can’t understand MGM’s decision to let Devlin and Emmerich resume their vastly inferior version of Stargate rather than continuing the TV universe.) I also sat in the audience for a panel called “The Villain’s Journey,” with quite a few people including Kathleen David (Peter’s wife), David Mack, and Marco Palmieri exploring the question of whether there was a Villain’s Journey model to complement the standard Campbellian Hero’s Journey. An interesting talk, but it got a bit too philosophical for me at times.
And then I was a member of two more consecutive panels. First was “Writing Action Scenes,” with Dave Mack, Kirsten Beyer, Keith R.A. DeCandido, and a couple of others I didn’t know. I felt a little out of place there, since my approach to action is a little more understated and less based on experience than that of some of the other panelists. But it was informative; Keith’s experience with karate brought some useful insights into the experience of being in a fight, which hopefully can be useful to me in future writing.
Finally was “Series in the Sandbox” with Dave, Kirsten, Dayton, and Kevin, focusing on ongoing single-author or single-team series in Trek (since SG author Jo Graham couldn’t make it). This was supposed to be my big chance to promote what I’m doing in Rise of the Federation, but I can’t remember whether I really talked about it much. By that point I was so frazzled that I wasn’t really sure what was going on.
But fortunately a bunch of us went out to dinner at that really good barbecue place near the hotel, Andy Nelson’s Barbecue Restaurant. It’s the second time I’ve been taken there, and I think I had the same thing I had the first time: a pulled turkey BBQ sandwich, cornbread, and cole slaw, along with a much-needed iced tea. I generally don’t like either cornbread or cole slaw that much, but both were excellent here. It was nice to get to hang out with the group, but the problem with being in such a large group at such a long table — especially since I was sitting at one end — is that you don’t really get to talk to everyone. I was hoping to get to talk more with Kirsten Beyer this weekend, for instance, just to catch up, but we only got to talk briefly a couple of times. (Usually, these past few years, Meet the Pros has died down early enough that the writers have had more time to wander the hall and socialize, but this year we were kept pretty busy throughout.)
I just went back to my room after that, since I needed the peace and quiet after that long, long day. By the time I got up Sunday morning, it was almost time for the author breakfast in the hotel bar. After that I attended the memorial service for the late Ann (A.C.) Crispin, though I’m not sure I really belonged there, since it turned out to be more of a private gathering for her friends, and I was never more than passingly acquainted with her. But I wanted to show my respects. It was a nice service, and the stories her friends told made me regret that I didn’t get to know her better.
I don’t remember what I did for the next hour — probably just went back to my room — but then I went to a panel about Orphan Black that Marco was on along with… oh, man, I totally don’t remember. I think Aaron Rosenberg was there? It was a fun panel, though. After that, I went to a presentation by artist Rob Caswell, whose art inspired the Star Trek: Seekers novel series that Dave, Dayton, and Kevin have just debuted. But halfway through that, I realized I’d been so caught up in panel after panel that I’d totally forgotten to go down to the book vendors’ table and do my stint in the author chimney, the little recessed space between brick columns where we authors sit for an hour or so to sign autographs. And I’d arranged to get a ride to the mall (where I could get lunch and wait for the light rail) right after that panel ended, so I was only able to give the book folks half an hour, during which it was almost totally dead because it was the afternoon of the last day and everyone had already spent whatever they had to spend. I regret that I let this slip my mind until it was almost too late.
So I got a good lunch at the mall, which Marco very nicely picked up the tab for, and then my light rail trip began. And this is where the fun ended. I got mixed messages about whether the train I caught was going to the airport, and it turned out not to be, so I realized I’d have to transfer. Although it became evident that if I’d waited 2-3 more minutes, I would’ve caught the airport train. And halfway through the trip on the train I was on, it got overloaded with Orioles fans who I guess were going home from a game, and it was hellishly noisy and crowded, and I wasn’t comfortable about being on the wrong train. I mean, logically I knew that the right train was behind this one on the same track so I couldn’t possibly miss it, but neurotically, all I knew was Oh my gawd I’m on the wrong train!! And I was fatigued enough that neurosis won out over logic. I could’ve transferred much earlier, but I checked the MTA website and there was a travel advisory about a power outage on the tracks and the need to take a bus from a certain station, so I wanted to wait to transfer at that station just in case the problem was still around. And once the gaggle of fans boarded, I had to wait until the crowd thinned anyway. But once I finally got on the right train, it was so very empty compared to the one I’d been on. Oh, if only I’d waited those 2-3 minutes more! To add insult to injury, midway through the ride I discovered that I could access a tracking page on my smartphone which showed me exactly where the trains were. If I’d looked into that before my trip, I could’ve determined in advance which train I wanted.
And then I had to wait in a long line at the airport and do the whole rigmarole of taking everything out of my pockets and storing it in my bags and jacket — only to end up in the expedited line at the end of the process and learn too late that none of that had been necessary at all. You couldn’t have told us sooner, guys? By this point I was tired of spending extravagant prices on food, and my late lunch had been satisfying, so my “supper” consisted of a protein bar I bought at BWI and a smoothie I later bought at the Philly airport. The flight to Philly was uneventful but the taxiing took forever. For some reason, they used a huge plane for such a short hop (although it was going on to Dallas afterward) — it probably seated more people than both my Friday flights combined. The flight from Philly to CVG also took forever to get takeoff clearance, and we hit some bad weather along the way and there were some scary moments of turbulence. I was struck when I looked out the window and realized the flashing wing lights were illuminating a spray of raindrops streaking backward relative to the jet. No, I didn’t see a gremlin on the wing, but there was a moment there when I wouldn’t have been surprised to.
The weather delayed us just enough that I missed the last bus from CVG to downtown Cincy, and I learned that a taxi ride home would cost 42 bucks. So I caught an executive shuttle van for only 22 bucks to get to the bus stop downtown — only to learn at the last moment that I could have arranged a ride all the way home for a few bucks more, but that the driver couldn’t accept any additional payment at that point. Argh. And then it looked like I’d missed the bus I wanted and would have to wait 40 minutes, but then the bus came late, which was a relief. It didn’t get me as close to home as the later bus would’ve, though, so I had to walk a few blocks at night in what isn’t the best neighborhood, which wasn’t fun. By the time I finally got home well after midnight, I was too tired to do anything but shower off the travel sweat and go right to bed.
I decided to fly because I didn’t want to go through the long slog of spending 2 days driving each way and not getting any sleep at motels, and risking drives through terrible weather. But after all this, driving is looking a lot better. At least it’s a lot quieter, giving me a lot of time to think. Which can get boring, but it’s not as harrowing as all this. Maybe I’d have a better memory of the con this year if the trip home hadn’t been so hectic. Also — between buses, planes, and trains, my outgoing trip took over seven hours from home to hotel, and my return trip took over nine hours the other way. The drive to or from Shore Leave is 10-11 hours split over 2 days. So maybe I don’t save so much time by flying after all.
I don’t mean to sound negative. Shore Leave itself was great, and I got a lot out of it this year. It just went by so fast. Maybe next year I should use more restraint in volunteering for panels, so I have more downtime. Although I guess that wouldn’t rule out having most of my panels scheduled on one day.
And who knows? Maybe next year I’ll have more new work to promote and talk about. I certainly hope I will. To that end, though, I should probably get back to work…
The official Shore Leave schedule hasn’t gone up on the site yet, but here’s a list of the panels I expect to be on:
Comedy of Sci-Fi — 8 PM, Hunt Ballroom
I don’t know if I’m officially on this panel, but I’ve requested it as a chance to talk about my Hub series of comedy novelettes in Analog. Also featuring Aaron Rosenberg, Russ Colchamiro, Peter David, and Lorraine Anderson.
Tor Books : The Year Ahead — 9 PM, Hunt Ballroom
I don’t think I’ll actually be on this panel this time, since I don’t have anything new for Tor yet, but I figure I should mention it anyway, since I’ll at least be around for it. Tor editors Marco Palmieri and Greg Cox will give what’s become their regular preview of next year’s SF/fantasy slate from Tor, which I really wish I were on, but I’m not. Well, maybe next year.
Meet the Pros — 10 PM, Hunt/Valley Corridor
The annual 2-hour mass signing event where all the author guests will be available to autograph whatever you bring or buy.
Star Trek Novels: Writing in the Movie Era — 10 AM, Derby Room
Pretty self-explanatory. I’ll be the only one representing the post-TMP era of Ex Machina, The Darkness Drops Again, and Forgotten History, while the other panelists all represent the post-Final Frontier period: Dayton Ward (In the Name of Honor), Peter David (The Rift), and Greg Cox (the upcoming Foul Deeds Will Rise).
Sixty Years of Godzilla — 11 AM, Hunt Ballroom
Also self-explanatory, and also featuring Greg Cox and myself along with Jeffrey Lang, Andrew Gaska, Bob Greenberger, and Richard C. White. Greg, of course, wrote the novelization of the recent Godzilla movie, while Bob wrote a 2005 nonfiction book about the franchise. I’m there just because I’ve seen and reviewed most of the films within the past couple of years, as Written Worlds followers are aware.
Writing Action Scenes — 4 PM, Concierge Lounge
Something I have some experience with, particularly through Only Superhuman. With myself, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Kirsten Beyer, David Mack, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, and Eric Bakutis.
Series in the Sandbox — 5 PM, Derby Room
This one’s a little harder to explain. It’s basically devoted to single-author or single-team ongoing series in Trek and tie-in literature, with myself (representing Rise of the Federation), Kirsten Beyer (Voyager), the Vanguard/Seekers trio of David Mack, Dayton Ward, and Kevin Dilmore, and Stargate: SG-1/Atlantis novelist Jo Graham.
Unfortunately, both the Sunday panels I wanted to be on are too late for me to attend, since I’m flying in and out this year for the first time, and I need to leave in mid-afternoon to get to the airport in time. So I probably won’t be on any panels on Sunday. But I’ll be generally around, and I’ll try to spend an hour in the Author Chimney at the book vendor’s table down below the escalators, so folks can drop by and find me.
And no, I’m not doing a personal Q&A panel this year. I don’t have enough going on this year to justify it, and the couple I did before were not well-attended. But I’ve tried to get on panels that will let me discuss my various works, so those would be the places to ask questions or just generally lavish praise upon me.
If any of this information is changed once the official schedule goes up, I’ll update this article. But there’s not much time to go!
This is my first Shore Leave with a smartphone, and I’m finding it useful for entering my schedule and important notes into. I’ve even entered my panels into the calendar app. It should also help me keep up with e-mail and Internet during the con, and to look up information if I need to (I’ve already got the Shore Leave page and the Baltimore Light Rail schedule bookmarked). And I’m remembering to bring my backup charger pack.
This is interesting… In checking my blog’s statistics page, I see that on the list of search engine terms that led online searchers here to Written Worlds, there were two hits for “fan art for only superhuman.” I was intrigued to think that two people might be looking for Only Superhuman fan art, but I realized it was probably a single search that led to two different pages here, most likely the posts containing my sketches of Emerald Blair and Psyche Thorne. Still, it’s nice to know that someone out there is interested in OS fan art. Unfortunately, I did the same search myself and found nothing that fit the description. That’s a pity, since I’d love it if there were fan artists out there invested enough in the Green Blaze’s world to undertake some artwork. (Feel free to consider that an invitation.)
On the other hand, one of the search terms on today’s list is “only superhuman torrent.” I’m disappointed in you, whoever you are. I made little enough profit from this book as it is — I need whatever I can get.
The overwhelmingly dominant search terms that people use to find WW are things like “doctor who last words,” “first words of new doctor,” “last words of the [nth] doctor,” and so on, all leading to what I thought was a fairly random, frivolous compilation of The Doctor’s first and last lines, but which has turned out to be by far the most popular post in the history of my blog. I also get surprisingly many search terms leading folks to my “How to dismember a recliner chair” post, which is really not an advice column of any sort. But aside from the Doctor Who post, the most frequent category of searches leading here are those pertaining to Mission: Impossible. I’ve even come across the occasional searches like “mission impossible christopher bennett review [episode title]” — there are people out there actively searching for my M:I reviews by name. That’s gratifying. (And yes, I’ll be completing that series with my reviews of the movies in the days ahead.) And people sometimes search for Written Worlds by name, which is also nice.
Here are some more unusual ones I find in the list:
“re-atomizing human body by medbeds” — Hm. Must be a reference to my Elysium review, in which I did mention the term “medbed,” which is the term I use in the Only Superhuman universe for what Larry Niven called an autodoc. I’m surprised someone else would search for it by that term. Maybe a fan of my work? Or is the term in more general use than I’m aware of?
“anamated cartoon hot hensei girls in bikinis showing their bodies” — Ummm. Oh…kay, I have no idea how that led someone to my blog. “Hot composition girls?” That’s what “hensei” means. Kind of hard to search for Japanese cartoon porn if you don’t even know how to spell it.
“dune books in chronological order” — I don’t think I ever talked about those books here.
“karolina wydra eye” and “karolina wydra eye pupil” — I seem to have gotten things like this a few times that I know of, no doubt connecting to my Europa Report review. Not sure who’s so fascinated by her eye, though.
“how was your drive home” — Err, thanks for asking, but who would ask that of Google?
“teacher at aloha johnson” — No idea.
“acts 6:2 why does the holman use financial rather than wait on tables” — Did a human being type that?
“lesbian scene from massion impossible” — If only, man. If only.
“Target Earth” is an oddly sci-fi name for an episode of this series, but it’s written by former Star Trek scribe Stephen Kandel — also the only writer other than Walter Brough to contribute to both the original and revival series, having been the seventh season’s story editor and scripting the excellent “The Deal” and “The Question” as well as the more disappointing “Incarnate” and “The Fountain,” plus the okay “Movie” and “The Fighter.”
We’re back in Australia again, at what’s supposedly the Outback launch site of the first privately built and operated space shuttle — although the private shuttle looks exactly like the American one so they can use the stock footage. There’s a weird shot panning down what looks like a life-sized wall mural of the shuttle (visibly 2-D) to where a blonde woman, Alina (Gosia Dobrowolska), is dragging an unconscious man under the shuttle’s rockets. Alina then goes to Mission Control, where they’re puzzled that the pilot is missing this important test firing, and she cheerfully orders the rocket ignition that vaporizes that very pilot.
Jim’s briefing today is by Robert Louis Stevenson, or at least that’s where he finds it shelved once a librarian directs him there. The shuttle, called Frontier One and operated by the Eurospace Consortium (whose initials are ESS for some reason), is carrying a powerful laser for destroying orbital debris, taking mineral samples, and nice stuff like that, but the IMF suspects that the disappearance and suspected murder of the pilot was part of a plan to take over the shuttle for terrorist purposes. They don’t know of a specific group or individual behind this, they’re just speculating, but they’re still sending in Jim’s team to find out, an oddly nebulous mission profile for them. And I hope the self-destructing disc didn’t start a fire in the book stacks.
The apartment scene establishes that Jim has done something I’ve often thought would be a good idea: Instead of having everyone just show up on the same day, he’s already had Grant and Shannon embedded at the ESS center for three weeks by the time he briefs Nicholas and Max — Grant as one of the scientists, Shannon as one of the two candidates for replacement pilot, with Grant coaching her through her radio earring. Jim goes in as a NASA observer, Max as a technician, and Nicholas as a doctor (or something) who’ll approve the winning candidate. Shannon has her hair pulled back in a severe bun to play a cool, competent professional, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of her sexiest looks yet. Anyway, her main competition is Rhine (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), and for some reason they’re competing in a piloting simulation in the actual shuttle cockpit, with Grant helping Shannon cheat to win. The simulation involves dodging asteroids, a situation that any space shuttle pilot would have little chance of ever encountering. It’s really unclear what the plan was going to be once they got Shannon the job; evidently they had no intention of having her actually fly the thing into space. Because they’re all shocked when Alina takes control and remotely launches the shuttle — which for some reason was fully fueled and powered up for launch even though it was just a simulation. Shannon Reed becomes the first IMF agent in space (that we know of!), and Rhine turns out to be a traitor, working for Robard (Eli Danker), a beret-wearing, chain-smoking revolutionary of unspecified origin whose band of soldiers storms in and takes over the command center. Robard is mad that Alina sent Shannon up with Rhine. She explains she figured Shannon was useful for her (cover identity’s) laser expertise, but Robard still kills Alina for taking initiative without clearing it with him.
Rhine uses the laser to blow up a communication satellite drifting past the shuttle’s viewports, even though those orbit 22,000 miles higher than any shuttle has ever gone. Robard threatens the world on TV, saying he’ll blow up all communications satellites unless America cedes control of a weapons satellite he intends to use to defend the borders of his own nation, which he doesn’t bother to identify. Cut to NORAD, where a general who’s poorly hiding his Australian accent orders a missile strike on the space center if they can’t resolve the problem otherwise.
Grant communicates with Shannon to get her to sabotage the laser, and she has to find ways to respond without tipping Rhine off that she’s talking to someone. (I remember when I first saw this episode, I had the idea that if I ever wrote an undercover agent in that kind of a situation, I’d have her, or him, establish a habit of muttering to herself under her breath, so that it wouldn’t seem suspicious when the need to communicate arose. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten around to using that idea, but it’s interesting what you remember after so long.) Anyway, the sabotage works, so Rhine makes her spacewalk to fix it — something her cover identity is trained in, but Shannon isn’t. Jim says Shannon is “gutsy enough,” as if that alone were sufficient qualification for performing an EVA. But her “spacewalk” consists of tiptoeing slowly across the set of the top of the shuttle — I guess it’s the old magnetic-boots dodge — and then standing next to the laser to fix it. After which her tether gets snagged (I guess it didn’t get the memo about guts equalling competence) so she has to unhook it, whereupon Rhine swings the laser around to knock into her (dude, you’re just gonna break it again!), and she goes spinning off into space like Sandra Bullock in Gravity. Except that when we come back from commercial, she’s suddenly stabilized, despite a complete lack of thrusters, and perfectly oriented so that purging her oxygen valve will jet her back to the shuttle. (I wonder, are spacesuits even designed to be able to purge oxygen? Seems kind of counterproductive.)
Meanwhile, Jim and Max have planted the notion that there are loose radioactive materials on the base — none of the techs bother to question this, perhaps because they sense these guys are helping them, or more likely because they’re extras who aren’t being paid to do dialogue. They fake a radioactive steam leak next to Robard, get him into the bio lab for decontamination, and use a rigged cigarette to knock him out so that Nicholas can impersonate him using the mask generator that Grant just happens to have with him even though they didn’t know they’d need it. Nicholas-as-Robard orders the troops to follow Max to a “bunker” against the missile strike, so Max can lock them up. Once Shannon knocks Rhine out by purging the airlock to suck him into it (more wasted oxygen) and locking him inside, she uses the shuttle’s relay to patch Jim into NORAD, where he gives his “government cryptonym” — US Alpha 716 Charlie — and tells the general the base is secure. (The general doesn’t actually confirm the cryptonym with anyone first, though.) Then it’s just a matter of Shannon single-handedly flying the shuttle home, which she somehow does effortlessly.
Okay, so the spacey stuff is rather ridiculous, the special effects are cheesy as hell, and Earth is never actually a target, unless you count the part of Earth that the ESS base was on, which was targeted by people on another part of Earth. Still, despite all that, this is a fairly good format-breaking episode of the type seen mainly in the fifth season, where the original mission (ill-defined though it was) is blown in the first act and the rest is all improvisation. Shannon continues her streak of being the team member most commonly placed in danger, but she’s also the one who must do the most single-handedly to resolve the situation, so it’s a strong showing for her. And even John E. Davis’s music is relatively interesting for a change, since he’s doing some more spacey stuff, a bit grander than his usual scoring. All in all, I rather enjoyed it, though parts of it made me wince.
“The Fuehrer’s Children”: Or perhaps “Fuhrer’s,” as it’s spelled on the DVDs. The first of two episodes written by supervising producer Frank Abatemarco, who would later write Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s abysmal “Man of the People,” but then redeem himself by co-writing the classic “Chain of Command” 2-parter.
We open in Oregon where white supremacist Richard Kester is holding a meeting of his White People’s Coalition and spewing a nauseatingly vicious racist screed (complete with the n-word) to his eager followers. Kester is played by Albert Salmi, who was such a ubiquitous character actor in the ’60s that I’m surprised this is his first M:I appearance. Anyway, Kester’s daughter Eva (Nancy Black) informs him that there’s a “race traitor” in their midst, a government agent they capture and hang.
Peter Graves is showing off his equestrian skills again, for Jim gets the disc at a show-jumping ground from a fellow rider. It’s hidden in a haystack by a jumping fence — again with the flammable locations for the self-destructing discs! But “flammable” is the word, for Kester’s WPC is the most violent Neo-Nazi faction around, and he’s meeting in Germany with other international Neo-Nazi groups to unite them under his leadership and start a global race war. The mission is to discredit him and undermine the Neo-Nazi movements.
Jim sets Shannon up as a manager at the inn near Hamburg where the meeting is being held, while Jim himself takes the place of a real South African computer expert Kester has reached out to for help (no word on how they intercepted the real guy, who looks nothing like Jim). The others are basically responsible for tracking down the “secret weapon” Kester supposedly has to support his cause. There’s a setback when Eva catches Grant bugging Kester’s suite just before Kester arrives. Jim is fortunately there too, and is able to talk Kester out of shooting Grant then and there, but they lock him up to be the prey for a special “hunt” the next day.
Then Kester goes out to a freighter he’s owned for a dozen years, just sailed in from the Philippines. Max, Nicholas, and Shannon have already come onto the ship as customs inspectors, and here’s a blast from the past: Their cover was that they were looking for contamination by the Mediterranean fruit fly virus — a slightly garbled reference to the problems that the US and other nations had in the 1980s with infestations of the invasive “medfly” species (the actual flies themselves, not a virus), including a deliberate release of medflies in California as an ecoterrorist act in the summer of ’89, just before this season of the show. Anyway, Nicholas follows Kester and discovers his “secret weapon”: Horrifyingly, it’s a room full of young boys that he’s held captive on this ship since abducting them as infants, raising them to know nothing but his Nazi propaganda, the perfect Hitler Youth. They’ve been trained by Kester’s man Vogel (John Bell), who leads them in singing a Nazi song (a familiar one, but I can’t place it) in their sweet little boys’-choir voices, while Nicholas and Shannon look on in horror through a window. It’s really rather horrific.
Meanwhile, Kester talks to Jim about setting up a computer network to allow hate groups to communicate worldwide. Oh, for the days when that was still science fiction. Jim proposes connecting it to the world’s financial network, both because it’s the most secure and because it would let him set up a program to embezzle insignificant amounts from many banks and thereby steal a lot of money undetected. To make this work, though, the team needs to rescue Grant, who’s been strung up by his feet by Vogel and had a tracker put around his neck so the kids can easily find him — quite an unsporting “hunt,” though that’s the least of the things wrong with it. Nicholas and Shannon knock out Vogel and Eva, and Nicholas somehow has a Vogel mask all handy and intercepts the boys before they can shoot Grant full of crossbow bolts. Then they take the boys back to their cabin and Grant introduces himself as a friendly human being and begins to show them that what they’ve been taught all their lives is a lie. It doesn’t prove hard at all to change their minds once they’re faced with the benign truth.
So Jim is able to make the funds transfer successfully (or Grant is, doing it remotely so it looks like Jim did it), and all the Neo-Nazi leaders agree to put their financial info on the special cards he hands out. This will let the team bankrupt their organizations. And Eva almost escapes, but Shannon chases her down and recaptures her, while Grant and Nicholas-as-Vogel give the kiddies a lesson about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. So that night, when Kester proudly presents his Hitler Youth to the waiting Neo-Nazis, they begin singing a song about the Rev. Dr. King while Grant hijacks the video projection to show the “I have a dream” speech and clips of John and Bobby Kennedy, and Jim and Nicholas slip out in the tumult as the other, about-to-be-financially ruined Neo-Nazis turn violently on Kester.
Okay, so it’s hokey and unsubtle, but I love it. What Kester did to those children is probably the most horrific and sick thing any M:I villain has ever done, and it creates a sense of a more palpable threat from this group than you usually get from M:I villains. And while the racial message is kind of awkward, I love it that this becomes a story about rescuing and redeeming the children, about good ideas winning out over evil ones. It gives it a more optimistic feel than M:I episodes usually have. And seeing Nazis get their comeuppance never gets old. The climax reminds me of a line I wrote in Only Superhuman, about some of the things that Emerald Blair’s Freakshow gang did on behalf of persecuted transhumans: “They cracked the computer net of the Fourth Reich Neo-Nazi habitat, wiped their database, and replaced it all with endlessly looping video files of The Great Dictator, Casablanca, and The Producers.” I wonder if maybe I unconsciously remembered this episode when I wrote that.
Here I am at the Cincinnati Library Comic Con 2014 this afternoon:
As you can see, I brought a variety of my books with me, but I still had most of them by the end of the event. Still, I sold a bit over a quarter of my stock and earned a decent chunk of change, with 20% donated to the library. Not shown in the photo: the one copy I had left of Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder. Since this was mainly a comics event, my Spidey novel and Only Superhuman sold significantly better than the Trek titles, a change of pace from what I’m used to. It makes me think I should’ve tried harder to market OS at comics events back when it first came out.
The library had snacks available for the guests, including mini-quiches from Panera. I’m not usually a quiche eater, but I was hungry and I saw that they had a spinach-artichoke variety, so I decided to give it a try, and it was quite good, as one would expect from Panera.
Another thing that really impressed me was the material covering the table, that gold sheeting you see there. The texture had a good firm grip to it and it nicely held my books in that upright position. I usually have trouble keeping them from falling over when they’re like that, but they were all very well-behaved today, so I can only conclude it’s because of the tablecloth material. If I knew what it were called, I’d recommend it to all my conventions.
TrekCore.com recently interviewed me for their blog, and the article is now up. It covers Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel and a bit about my future plans for the series, as well as the upcoming DTI: The Collectors eBook and my work in general.