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Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek’

Home page apparently fixed, and other stuff

I just checked my homepage, and it loaded without a malware warning, so I guess it’s clean now. I apologize for the delay, but apparently it takes a couple of days for a review to go through. Actually Google still has a caution up for the site on its search results, so the request must still be in process, but the site is accessible now and I’m pretty sure it’s safe. Although I’m a little concerned that this is the second time my site has been hacked in the past few months. The first time, it was just the main page and it was simple to upload a clean copy — so simple I didn’t think to report it or change my password. Hopefully the password change will protect it, but if this becomes a problem again, I may need to consider moving my site to a different host.

In other news, my jacket arrived intact. And I finished that plotline from Uncertain Logic, though I still have a way to go on the other main ones, and just over a month to deadline. The problem is that it turned out way too long, but now I’m going through and looking for stuff I don’t need, things I explained twice, etc. Unfortunately I’m under the weather today and haven’t been able to do as much work as I’d hoped. I’d also been planning to go see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes at last today, but I just wasn’t up to it.

Oh, and I decided to take one more look at air fares for flying to Shore Leave, and I’m glad I did, because I was able to find a decently priced flight to Baltimore that only goes a little bit out of the way (layover in Philadelphia) and works out reasonably well timing-wise. So for the first time, I’ll be flying to Shore Leave instead of going by bus or car. I’m so glad I don’t have to take another pair of really long drives, especially since it frees up an extra couple of days for writing. And I’ll get a chance to use my new smartphone’s “airplane mode.” (Which makes it sound like it should sprout wings and fly around. Heck, it can do almost everything else.)

Site malware update

Okay, the webmaster told me the site seems clean and instructed me on how to contact Google for a rescan of the site. I’ve done that, and also changed my password. It may take a day or so for Google to clear the warning, but I’m pretty sure the site is clean now, I hope.

Oh, these past few days… I’m into the climax of one of the main plotlines of Uncertain Logic, but things keep happening to distract me from writing. On Tuesday morning, the first chilly morning we’ve had in weeks, I discovered I couldn’t find my jacket and searched everywhere for it; it ultimately turned out I left it in Aunt Shirley’s hall closet in Detroit, so she’s mailing it back to me. Then my fridge light bulb burned out and I had to notify the apartment manager. Then I had an ophthalmologist appointment that afternoon and couldn’t see clearly enough to write until the evening. And then yesterday this malware thing happened and I’ve been dealing with that. I guess I should be proud of myself for maintaining enough focus to get any work done at all.

TrekMovie posts blurb to UNCERTAIN LOGIC (and other upcoming Trek Lit)

TrekMovie.com has posted a bunch of blurbs for upcoming Star Trek novels scheduled over the next year, including my own Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic, the third volume in the ROTF series, due in April 2015. The article is here:

Preview Of Star Trek Novels and E-book Novellas For Rest of 2014 + 2015

And here’s the Blurb for ROTF:UL:

Years ago, Jonathan Archer and T’Pol helped unearth the true writings of Vulcan’s great philosopher Surak, bringing forth a new era of peaceful reform on Vulcan. But when their discovery is seemingly proven to be a fraud, the scandal threatens to undo a decade of progress and return power to the old, warlike regime. Admiral Archer, Captain T’Pol, and the crew of the U.S.S. Endeavour investigate with help from their Vulcan allies, but none of them suspect the identity of the real mastermind behind the conspiracy to reconquer Vulcan—or the price they will have to pay to discover the truth.

Meanwhile, when a long-forgotten technological threat re-emerges beyond the Federation’s borders, Captain Malcolm Reed of the U.S.S. Pioneer attempts to track down its origins with help from his old friend “Trip” Tucker. But they discover that other civilizations are eager to exploit this dangerous power for their own benefit, even if the Federation must pay the price!

No cover has been released yet, but I’ve been allowed a glimpse at the not-final solicitation cover, which I think is pretty interesting and hopefully will be released soon, though I have no idea if it’ll be anything like the final cover.

(And it occurs to me that “ROTF:UL” is kind of an unfortunate acronym. I assure you the book is not full of rot. Oh, well, at least I didn’t call it Rise of the Federation: Logic, Mayhem, and Outrage.)

Plenty of other interesting book blurbs are at the link!

Movie thoughts: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (Spoilers)

I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past today. It’s a very good movie, and while its time travel isn’t entirely plausible (when is it ever?), it’s at least self-consistent and straightforward in its internal logic. The character work is good, although Wolverine doesn’t really seem like Wolverine. The premise requires him to get out of his comfort zone and adopt a role very different from what he’s used to, which is a good place to take a character, but it would’ve helped if we’d gotten to see it balanced with more of who he normally is, either in his 1973 or 2023 mental state. The one moment where he lost control was one that could only really be understood in the context of what came before.

But really, this whole movie only works as an installment in a series, a continuation of things the audience has seen before — indeed, as a culmination of the series to date, bringing the whole thing together more coherently than it’s often been in some of the middle installments. What’s impressive — spoiler alert — is that even though the ending resets the timeline and undoes the events of the not-well-liked The Last Stand (and possibly every other movie except First Class), the film nonetheless acknowledges and uses all of what came before and thus gives the series a greater sense of unity. Which is a good place from which to move forward for future installments.

The recreation of the ’70s was pretty good, seeming reasonably authentic without coming off as a caricature. Although some of the technology seemed anachronistic, like some of the plastics being used in the anti-Magneto guns and the Sentinels. Trask’s mutant-detecting remote control looked more like a product of the 2000s than the 1970s; it should’ve been big, boxy, and black or brown, or maybe that sickly green that was oddly popular in the ’70s. I was also concerned that some of the vocabulary was anachronistic, like when Charles said Trask would “weaponize” Mystique’s powers, but Merriam-Webster said that usage has been around since the ’50s. There was one other usage that seemed too modern, but I can’t recall it now (I think it was something Charles said to Wolverine after his failed attempt with Cerebro). And how did Magneto know “I don’t know karate but I know crazy,” from an early-’70s song, if he’s been locked in a cell with no access to electronic devices since 1963? Maybe he overheard a guard singing it?

Speaking of which, the Quicksilver breakout sequence was just as awesome as the reviews have been saying. Quicksilver’s a great character, despite the goofy silver hair — isn’t it supposed to be white? I hope he’s back for the next movie.

My one big disappointment is that we never really got to see the ’70s Sentinels being what they were meant to be, a threat against mutants.  They just went right to being Magneto’s weapon against humans. Sure, we saw the future Sentinels, but they were more like scaly T-1000s than the classic Sentinels of the comics and cartoons — or the Sentinels I wrote about in X-Men: Watchers on the Walls (shameless plug). So it wasn’t quite the same. It also leaves me wondering about the original timeline. If Trask had the Sentinels designed in 1973, and if his assassination led the government to go ahead with the program, then that implies that the X-Men must have faced them sometime before the movies we saw. The use of a Sentinel simulation in the Danger Room in The Last Stand certainly supports this. So what happened to them? Why wasn’t the government using them against mutants during the original two films?

I also wonder how Xavier got his act together in the original history where Logan didn’t come back. We’ve seen in X-Men Origins: Wolverine that within six years after this movie, he’s assembling the X-Men (and is bald and is walking, though with his telepathy intact). And of course he eventually becomes the wise mentor we see in the first three films and the future scenes here. So he must’ve found his way on his own somehow — Logan just helped him do it sooner. I’m curious how it originally happened.

The big thing that bugged me was giving Kitty Pryde this time-travel power out of nowhere. It doesn’t really make sense. I understand why they couldn’t be faithful to the original story and have Rachel Summers send Kitty’s mind back, because in the movie universe, Kitty wouldn’t have been born yet in the ’70s. Given the 50-year gap, sending Wolverine makes sense. But giving Kitty an arbitrary power just to keep her involved in the story doesn’t really work for me. What’s the connection between phasing through objects and telepathic time transference? Unless… hmm… unless she phases by putting herself out of temporal sync with matter. Or something. I would’ve liked some kind of explanation. It’s all very contrived.

Also, the timing puzzles me. From the assassination attempt in Paris to the unveiling of the first Sentinels probably took a few days, even if Trask already had the prototypes built. So Wolverine’s mind was back in the past for quite some time. If time in the future was moving at the same rate, does that mean Kitty was sitting there with her hands against Logan’s temples for days on end? Without sleep or food?

And while we’re at it, why can’t Mystique use her shapeshifting to heal her bullet wound? Just shift the tissues back into an intact configuration? If we assume it required an effort of concentration to hold a form, it wouldn’t be a permanent fix, but couldn’t she at least have used it as a temporary patch to aid her getaway? This is a common trope, shapeshifters retaining injuries when they change forms, and it always seems inconsistent to me. (Although come to think of it, this was established about Mystique way back in the original film, where Wolverine’s claws left wounds that remained when she shifted forms.)

Okay, every movie has plot holes, but for the most part this one held up very well and there was a lot to like. In the future portions, I was particularly fond of Blink’s power, which was rendered very nicely. I loved the way her “doors” let you see an action from two angles at once. And in the past, I guess what struck me the most was how much it was the story of Mystique’s redemption — and Charles’s through her, in a way. She’s ended up playing a role in these past two movies that I never would’ve expected from her prior screen and comics appearances. I’m still a little underwhelmed by Jennifer Lawrence, though. She’s reasonably good, but I don’t find her as impressive as a lot of people seem to.

Oh, and I liked the in-joke of the clip from “The Naked Time” showing on Hank’s TV. Although they kind of looped back through the scene a couple of times — Kirk said “A time warp?” at least twice. (So he was doing the time warp again?)

About those final scenes… I’m glad the altered history brought Scott and Jean back, and it was neat to see Kelsey Grammer’s cameo as older Beast (although I convinced myself that wasn’t really him, and it’s only in looking online afterward that I found it was). And since Rogue is back at the school (I didn’t blink, so I didn’t miss it), I assume that means she never got the “cure” and still has her powers. So it’s nice to see the band back together. The problem is that I don’t think we’re likely to see that timeframe again, with the focus shifting to the younger cast in historical settings. Also, I’m not sure how I feel about the events of the better films — the first two X-Men movies and The Wolverine — being implicitly removed from continuity. I would’ve liked some reassurance that they still happened pretty much as we saw. Although I guess The Wolverine can’t happen the way we saw, because that whole movie is about Logan dealing with the impact of Jean’s death, and its post-credits scene is a setup for the dark future of this movie.

Well, I guess I can still believe those movies “count,” because it was that sequence of events that led to the circumstances that sent Logan back in time with the consequences we saw here. So there’s still a causal progression that makes them relevant. Still, I’m sure there’s going to be a ton of debate about this continuity reboot in the years ahead. Though less so than there was for something like Star Trek, since it was widely considered that the X-Men franchise had lost its way and the reboot was an opportunity to fix that. Which it certainly did. Bryan Singer himself may not have the ability to go back in time and undo the mistake of doing Superman Returns instead of the third X-Men film, but he’s done the next best thing, at least where this franchise is concerned.

Cincy Library Comic Con report

Here I am at the Cincinnati Library Comic Con 2014 this afternoon:

Me at Cinti Library Comic Con

(Thanks to library volunteer Lori for taking the photo for me.)

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.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1988) Reviews: “The Legacy”/”The Wall” (spoilers)

“The Legacy”: A remake of Season 1, episode 15. Credited to Michael Lynn and Allan Balter, the latter being a co-writer of the original episode. Balter’s collaborator William Read Woodfield had his name taken off the episode.

The remake adds a rather pointless action teaser of a battle scene at the end of WWII in Europe, with some Nazi officers escaping the Allies with a truck full of gold. After the titles, Jim gets the briefing disc in a car in the parking lot of an amusement park. The mission is basically the same — find the gold before the four Nazi heirs do — but now the heirs are the grandsons rather than the sons of Hitler’s officers, the gold is now worth 5 billion on today’s market, and the cabal’s plan is not specifically to build a Fourth Reich but simply to fund terrorism and foster a new Nazi movement in Europe. Lalo Schifrin gives us his familiar “self-destruct” harp glissando one more time.

To a large extent, this is the most verbatim adaptation yet, except that Max takes the lead “customs agent” role that Dan Briggs (Phelps’s predecessor) played before. Tony Hamilton stands out as the greatest improvement on his original series predecessor; he has the build to be a plausible strongman like Willy, but is a more capable actor and better able to carry the roleplay as well. The postcard clue is simplified — Cinnamon deciphered it in the original, but here, Casey is left with very little to do, continuing the trend. The four scions meet in a church now, lighting candles and placing their postcards on the table, which is a bit more plausible than the rather easily deciphered chalk-drawing code of the original. Nicholas is the undercover man, like his counterpart Rollin in the original — but I have to say, the Nordic-featured Max would’ve made a much more plausible Aryan. Maybe they hewed a bit too closely to the original on this point.

A small change is that two of the other men give Graff (Judson Scott) their portions of the bank account number before Nicholas finally refuses to give his. Also, Nicholas shows visible alarm at learning of the numbers (that he doesn’t have). Rollin controlled himself better and adapted more swiftly. A more subtantial change comes when the team speaks of planting misleading information about Graff’s partying and gambling in a local magazine to get the other Nazis to question Graff’s motives for seeking the gold. But then it’s back to the original plot, with Casey “becoming royalty” (a role she doesn’t take to nearly as well as Cinnamon did) and having a simpler version of the “Baroness”‘s first meeting with the bank manager, here called Kubler (Shane Briant). But before then there’s a new scene where Grant uses a dial-up modem to hack the bank computer and plant her forged financial records. Ooh, so high-tech!

In the original, a real psychologist named Lubell was brought in to drug and hypnotize the bank manager, but here, Lubell is just an alias used by Jim, who handles the hypnosis himself with help from some techie frippery to give Grant more to do. Passing the matchbook with the numbers to Nicholas is simpler, for Casey just impersonates a hotel maid. After the foursome leaves for the bank, the rest of the team breaks into their suite, plants the magazine article about Graff, and taps into the electronic microscope the Nazis plan to use to read the microdot. This means the IMF team wil get the information at the same time the Nazis do, which changes the purpose of Nicholas pretending to lose his watch. Rather than a ploy to get Rollin out of the room so he can pass along the map, it’s part of the campaign to make the others suspicious of Graff’s intentions. (They also hypnotized Kubler into mentioning a failed investment of Graff’s.) As before, it also serves to let the IMF team get to the cemetery ahead of the bad guys. (And the parts of the map are engraved microscopically on their watch crystals, correcting the original’s scale problems with the microdot vs. the stamp-sized map pieces hidden in their watches.)

And here’s where the episode departs most from the original. There, they found the crypt of “Braun” (which was a pretty obvious clue they hardly should’ve needed a map for), found no gold, got into an overlong shootout with the bad guys, let Graff get away after they caught him (!), and accidentally found that the whole crypt was made of gold. Oh, and Dan got shot in the right lung but reacted like it was just a flesh wound. It was a flawed ending to an otherwise superb episode. Here, Grant uses a computer map of the cemetery to identify the crypt of “A. Lois,” which Jim recognizes as a play on Alois, Hitler’s father’s first name. Once they find the crypt empty, Jim figures out that the incongruous period is the trigger to a secret panel that reveals the gold in a cavern beneath. Grant uses Mylar to reflect the cave wall and hide the gold, and they leave the crypt gaping open for Graff and the others to find “empty.” Nicholas turns the others’ suspicion against Graff, and Graff, shockingly, shoots Nicholas and one of the others, before discovering the real gold. Penghlis plays his “death” very effectively, with a disturbingly sharp twist of his head when he’s shot, but we soon learn he had a bulletproof vest — and the team has called in the Swiss police to arrest Graff, handily contained in the crypt, for the murder he just committed. (Lucky for Nicholas that Graff didn’t go for a head shot.)

“The Legacy” was one of the strongest episodes of the original series, giving the revival a tall hurdle to surmount. Most of this remake is either a direct copy of the original or a simplification, and the performances of Penghlis and Markwell disappoint compared to their forebears. (Indeed, the more I watch Markwell, the more I wonder why I liked her so much in 1988. She’s not a very versatile or engaging performer, and I can see why they’ve used her so little.) But the final act is an enormous improvement. The shootout ending of the original didn’t really fit the show, but the psychological warfare the ’88 team uses to turn the Neo-Nazis against each other is a classic M:I gambit. One reason I like this story is because it was such an unusual challenge for the team, since they started out with almost no advance information and had to improvise at every step, rather than the usual formula where they’re ten steps ahead of the villains the whole time. That’s still true here, but Jim’s plan to discredit Graff makes the team less reactive. It’s the first remade episode where there’s more cleverness on display than there was the first time around. I never expected the revival to live up to the quality of an episode like “The Legacy,” but while it falls short on some levels, it’s actually managed to improve on it where it counts.

I can’t say the same for the casting, though. Up to this point, the remakes have mostly improved on the originals in their guest casts, but in this case, the new Graff, Judson Scott, isn’t nearly as convincing a menace as the original, Donald Harron. I wish the Graff role had gone to the actor playing supporting Neo-Nazi Brucker, Steven Grives. He would later play the lead villain in BeastMaster: The Series, and was a really excellent scenery-chewing bad guy there. But unfortunately he’s relegated to a minor role here. (It’s interesting to realize that both iterations of M:I were produced contemporaneously with iterations of Star Trek and that both drew on many of the same actors as well as directors, composers, and the like. And the same has more or less been true of the recent movie versions of the two sister franchises, with ST:TNG writing duo Ron Moore & Brannon Braga writing the story to the second M:I movie, and with J.J. Abrams and his collaborators, including Simon Pegg, starting out on M:I and then moving to ST. I guess the two are just destined to go together.)

The music is also a disappointment this time out. The score, credited to Schifrin, is rather ordinary and partly tracked; the last act largely reuses cues from Ron Jones’s two prior scores, and some of the Schifrin cues may be reused as well, or else are just rather generic. The original was tracked too, but mostly with Walter Scharf’s superb score to “Old Man Out.” This score just doesn’t compare. Which is a pity, since it’s Schifrin’s final original contribution to this series and thus to Mission: Impossible as a whole.

“The Wall”: This one looks like it started as a remake of Season 2, episode 15, “The Bank”, but I’m guessing the writers’ strike ended early enough that it could be reworked into an almost completely different story by scriptwriter David Phillips. Little remains except the basic premise of a villain pretending to smuggle people out of East Berlin but leading them into a trap in order to steal their money. In this case, Dr. Wolfgang Gerstner (Alan Cassell) pretends to show people a safe route across the no man’s land between East and West Berlin, but tips off his partner Col. Batz (Peter Curtin) to arrest or shoot them before they get across. Since this was made in the age of glasnost, not long before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the story establishes that there are peace talks underway, and since Gerstner and Batz depend on the Wall for their profits, they’ve kidnapped Ilsa, the teenage daughter of a leading West German negotiator, to force him to sabotage the talks. This raises the stakes for the team, should they decide to accept the mission to rescue the girl and bring down the bad guys (and you know they will). Six episodes into the new M:I, and we finally get a political/espionage mission instead of a crimebusting mission. Well, I guess stopping a Neo-Nazi movement is political, but this is the first time in the new series that the fate of nations has potentially hung in the balance.

The team members make their way across the border into East Berlin (now called that openly — none of the original series’ coy references to the “East Zone”), but Grant — who is totally rocking the trenchcoat-and-fedora look — uses an obviously fake passport to get himself arrested and brought before Batz, whereupon he reveals that he’s a Cuban officer working for the KGB. The team intercepts Batz’s phone when he calls his superior, and Nicholas imitates the man’s voice — another case of a different actor’s voice being dubbed over Penghlis, so there’s still no evidence that he can do accents. It’s an odd oversight in the casting, hiring a “master of disguise” who can’t disguise his voice without audio trickery. Anyway, Grant claims to be investigating a black-market smuggling ring, in order to spook Batz and get him to warn Gerstner to call off his operations. This is after Jim plays much the same role Rollin did in “The Bank,” a desperate man who comes to Gerstner begging for his services to get himself and his “daughter” Casey (who’s still mostly just hanging around Jim rather than doing anything of her own) out of the East. After getting Batz’s call, Gerstner is about to shoot Jim and Casey, but “Stasi officers” Max and Nicholas come in and arrest him (and Tony Hamilton actually can fake a German accent).

The team takes Gerstner to a fake prison set they’ve built in a warehouse and, given the time limit on negotiations, put him through a lightning-round interrogation, using drugs, lighting, and fake stubble on his cheeks to make him think days have passed. (Casey applies the stubble makeup. Hooray, she’s useful! Lucky break that he just looked at his “stubbly” chin in the mirror rather than feeling it). They let him see Stasi Max interrogating Jim and KGB Grant interrogating “Batz” (Nicholas in a mask), and “Batz” gives up Gerstner, prompting Gerstner to incriminate him in turn, with the team taping it. Then Jim stages a fight wherein he shoots the guards, and he and Casey start to run off with Gerstner — but he wants to collect his hostage Ilsa first, and mentions the address just before the drug they injected him with knocks him out. (Geez, guys, cutting it awfully close there.) Meanwhile, Grant shows Batz the first part of the doctor’s taped confession so he’ll send it to his superior, then swaps it out for a tape of the second part where Batz is named, getting the colonel to damn himself. Then at the warehouse, the team rescues the girl and gets away, but not before prompting Gerstner to flee into his own escape tunnel and — in the return of an old M:I tradition — get shot off-camera. And then the negotiator and his daughter are reunited on the other side.

There’s not much point in comparing this to “The Bank,” since they’re such different episodes. It’s an okay story, a pretty standard M:I caper but with a bit more relevance to then-current events than the original series ever got to have. Some parts of the plot seem overly convoluted or gratuitous, serving little purpose but to generate act-break cliffhangers; for instance, the hostage girl is in a medically induced coma, and when the team arrives in the warehouse, they set off a failsafe that cuts the power to her life support, threatening to kill her until Max restores the circuit at the top of the next act. I’m not sure why cutting the power would stop her heart if she’s just in a drug-induced coma and can recover quickly once the drugs are stopped. Cast-wise, there are no notable guests, and Terry Markwell and Thaao Penghlis still come off as the weak links in the main cast. But Phil Morris gets his best chance yet to show his stuff, and he and Hamilton are both reasonably impressive at their role-playing. Musically, we get a fully electronic score by Ron Jones, which, well, sounds a lot like you’d expect a fully electronic score by Ron Jones to sound. For me, while I think Jones did more interesting and distinctive things with electronics than a lot of his contemporaries did, I’ve never enjoyed it as much as his orchestral work. I’d call this a routine Jones score, nothing exemplary.

New interview on TrekCore

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.

You can read the interview here.

ROTF: TOWER OF BABEL annotations now up

Here are my annotations for Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel, including a couple of excerpts from my project notes, one pertaining to the biology of one of the Rigelian species, the other being the historical overview of the Rigel system which I developed as backstory for the novel.

http://home.fuse.net/ChristopherLBennett/Trekfiction.html#ROTF2

Tower of Babel cover

New radio interview about my work

I recently did an interview for a radio show/podcast from New York’s WBAI radio called Equal Time for Freethought, talking about the scientific and philosophical ideas behind my works like Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel and Only Superhuman and my view of the future. It can be heard here:

http://www.equaltimeforfreethought.org/2014/03/29/show-495-science-science-fiction-and-the-future-of-humanity/

The interview portion begins at about 5:40 in the program.

Ohioana reception this Sunday at Cincinnati Public Library

Heads-up for folks in the Cincinnati area: This Sunday, April 6 from 1:30 to 4:00 PM, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will be hosting the annual Ohioana Library Association reception for local authors, including me. The program will include a panel discussion (which I don’t think I’ll be on) and individual recognition of the featured authors, and will be followed by a book fair where attendees can meet the various authors and buy autographed books. This is the second year of the book fair portion, and last year I didn’t sell any books, perhaps because I neglected to let anyone know in advance that the event was happening (blush). So this time I’m giving some advance notice. I’ll have a few copies of Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel on sale, and I’m also thinking of bringing some copies of ROTF: A Choice of Futures and some of Only Superhuman.

Tower of Babel cover  Choice of Futures cover  Only Superhuman by Christopher L. Bennett

And of course there will be plenty of other Ohio Valley authors with books of their own to sell and discuss. So if you’re in the area this Sunday, drop by the Main Library at 800 Vine Street in downtown Cincinnati. Although be aware that, while downtown parking is free on Sunday, there’s reportedly a lot of construction in the area so it may be hard to find. This page has directions and parking info.

Brief excerpt from TOWER OF BABEL up on Amazon

Tower of Babel cover

Amazon’s page for Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel has a brief excerpt up, toward the bottom of the page:

http://www.amazon.com/Star-Trek-Enterprise-Federation-Tower/dp/1476749647

At the moment it’s only a fragment of a scene, but maybe they’ll add more. In any case, the book’s nominal on-sale date is just over a week away. And I’ve gotten my own author copies:

0308141236-02

More news as it unfolds. Sorry I haven’t been posting much, but I’ve been busy with a number of things.

Gene Roddenberry’s THE QUESTOR TAPES

February 19, 2014 3 comments

I finally got around to buying the print-on-demand DVD of Gene Roddenberry’s 1974 pilot The Questor Tapes, featuring the android character who would be the prototype for Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Data. The reason it took me so long, after acquiring his Genesis II and Planet Earth pilots on DVD last year, is that I already had TQT on VHS tape and figured I’d use my VCR/DVD dubbing deck to archive it digitally. Now that I’ve actually found the time to begin transferring my old tapes, though, I realized my copy of TQT was way too low in quality — I’m pretty sure my VHS tape was copied in turn from a Beta recording off a TV movie — and that I’d be much better off paying for the inexpensive DVD release. Granted, the quality of that release isn’t that much better. It’s not remastered from the source, but is apparently just a reissue of a pay-TV edition, judging from the opening copyright disclaimer. Still, it’s the best we’ve got.

Questor was Roddenberry’s attempt to revisit the Kirk-Spock dynamic, with a logical, hyperintelligent lead character relying on the moral and emotional guidance of his human best friend. For the pilot, he brought in former Star Trek writer-producer Gene L. Coon to cowrite the script, which was a great choice, since Coon had a knack for writing close friendship between men. Batman producer Howie Horwitz is the credited producer (with Roddenberry as “executive consultant,” a title generally used for a creator who’s no longer in charge of the production), and the pilot was directed by Richard Colla, who would later direct the pilot movie of Battlestar Galactica.

The pilot is interesting in that it’s structured as a mystery revolving around the title character’s purpose for existence, creating a lot of ambiguity about who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy. It opens at Cal Tech, where top scientists from five nations (evidently including the US, the USSR, China, France, and one other) have come together in Project Questor, an initiative to assemble a revolutionary android designed by the Nobel-winning Dr. Emil Vaslovik, who’s been missing and presumed dead for three years. It quickly becomes evident that nobody understands the advanced technologies underlying the android’s components, not even the lead assembler, Vaslovik’s protege Jerry Robinson (Mike Farrell). And the programming tapes Vaslovik left have been half-erased by the project’s attempts to decrypt them. At first, the programming seems to fail; the android remains inert.  But that night — as project head Geoffrey Darro (John Vernon) is digging into Robinson’s background, suspicious that he may know more than he’s telling about Vaslovik’s intentions for the android — Questor himself awakens and gives his smooth plastic form a makeover using the project’s equipment, turning himself into Robert Foxworth. It’s actually a very clever effect — in continuous shots, we see the equipment removing the “robot” makeup and revealing Foxworth’s features underneath, creating the illusion that it’s actually molding those features onto the mannequin-like form. I’d forgotten that these scenes have a horror-movie quality, since at this point the audience has no way to know whether Questor is the hero or the villain.

Indeed, his actions are quite morally ambiguous at first. Once he breaks out of the lab, he forces a terrified Jerry to come with him, although it gradually becomes clear that he is programmed to be incapable of killing. Still, Jerry convinces Questor to accede to his guidance on matters of morality. Although he lets that slip a bit when they get to a casino in Universal-backlot London and Questor uses his computer senses to cheat at craps in order to obtain “specie,” as he keeps calling it. Virtually this same sequence, right down to the android using his superstrength to unload a pair of loaded dice, was later reused with Data in TNG’s “The Royale.”

Questor remembers enough about Vaslovik’s past to lead him to the home of Lady Helena Trimble (Dana Wynter), a prominent socialite and alleged courtesan,who turns out to be an information broker who worked with Vaslovik, leading Jerry to suspect that Questor may have been built for espionage purposes or worse. Especially once he discovers the secret information center where Questor, like Vaslovik before him, can monitor spy images and sensitive secrets from all over the world, possibly affecting millions of lives. Helena insists the motives behind this technology are benevolent, but Jerry has already called in Darro. Will his trust in Questor’s friendship win out over his doubts, and can Questor win over the cynical Darro to their side?

Spoiler alert: The movie climaxes at Mt. Ararat, where we learn that Vaslovik was himself an android, the latest in a line of androids who’ve been subtly guiding and safeguarding humanity for 200,000 years. Their mission is not to control us, but only to assist us to make our own decisions. But Questor is the last; if humanity survives to the end of his 200-year lifespan, it will have outgrown its childhood and won’t need a nanny anymore.

I think the pilot still holds up pretty well, although it’s not perfect. Foxworth’s jerky line delivery as Questor is a bit annoying after a while, although it gradually softens over the course of the movie. The Questor-Jerry relationship maybe develops a bit too quickly, but the same can be said of many TV relationships; a certain amount of shorthand is just part of the form. And some of the dialogue doesn’t flow as smoothly or logically as it could, and there are some abrupt transitions. It feels like a fair amount was cut out, although the running time on the DVD (96 minutes) is consistent with what the runtime for a movie in a 2-hour time slot would’ve been in 1973, so the cuts would’ve been in the original.

Still, Foxworth, Farrell, and Vernon are strong leads, and the core relationship is pretty solid — inspired by Kirk and Spock, but different enough to be fresh. Jerry is no Kirk, particularly not where women are concerned; at one point, Questor encourages him to seduce Lady Helena for information, but he’s terrible at it and can’t bring himself to use her that way. And Questor, much like Data, is rather the opposite of Spock: lacking the inbuilt potential for emotion (part of what was erased from the programming tapes) but eager to learn more about how to be human. The suspense over the purpose and morals of Questor’s creation is interesting, although resolved a bit too easily. And I kind of like it that there’s no villain in the story, just people with conflicting views and goals, doing what they think is right.

And there’s a lot here that seeded later SF productions. I’ve mentioned Questor as the inspiration for Data. Also, the music cue that composer Gil Melle uses in the Project Questor lab scenes would be repurposed later that year as the theme for Kolchak: The Night Stalker. And when Questor finds Vaslovik’s Mt. Ararat lair, the device that “heals” him and infuses him with his missing knowledge makes the same “ta-ta-tang” sound effect (albeit truncated) that would later become the trademark sound of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman (also from Universal).

The sad thing about TQT is that it almost became a series. As detailed in this excellent overview article (no longer “live” but preserved in the Internet Archive), a season of the show was actually commissioned, but the executives insisted on changes to make it more like The Fugitive — drop Jerry, ignore the ending where Questor found his answers, and have him be a lone hero on the run from the authorities. Apparently they wanted the benign-intervention angle dropped, uneasy with the idea of alien androids playing God — which I think was unfair, because the movie made it clear that Questor’s interventions were meant to be rather subtle. Rather than cave to network pressure, Roddenberry walked away from the show altogether, killing the project. This one movie is all we got. Although maybe that’s just as well, if the only alternative was to see a watered-down version that eliminated the core relationship and the core premise. (Said premise itself being Roddenberry’s latest attempt at the “aliens secretly guiding humans” premise from his Star Trek backdoor pilot episode “Assignment: Earth.”)

There was an attempt to reboot the series in the early 2000s, under the guidance of Herbert J. Wright, a former TNG producer who’d been attached to the abortive 1974 Questor series. Unfortunately, Wright passed away in 2005 and the project fell through. The rights are currently held by Imagine Entertainment, and in 2010 there was talk about a reimagining to be developed by Tim Minear; but nothing seems to have come of it. They keep trying, but they just can’t seem to get it off the ground.

Foxworth would later go on to play two major villains in the Trek franchise: Admiral Leyton in Deep Space Nine‘s “Homefront”/”Paradise Lost,” and Administrator V’Las in Enterprise‘s Vulcan Civil War trilogy. Farrell would never appear in another Trek or Roddenberry-related production, nor would Vernon. However, the pilot features a couple of Trek veterans in bit roles at the Project: Majel Barrett (who was in every Roddenberry production from TOS onward) as Dr. Bradley, one of the scientists, and Walter Koenig (unrecognizable under a Sonny Bono-ish hairdo and mustache) as Darro’s assistant Phillips. The matte paintings and visual effects in the movie were done by the great matte artist Albert Whitlock, who had previously done the matte paintings for TOS. (His paintings do enhance the “Ararat” location, but there are enough moving shots to make it clear that the featured mountain peak is real; I just wish I could find out where it was. It looks nothing like the real Mt. Ararat, but is extremely striking.)

Despite the abandonment of the series, the pilot got a novelization by Roddenberry’s former Trek colleague D.C. Fontana — the only novel on her resume other than Star Trek: Vulcan’s Glory, although oddly the front matter of the book credits her with a Ballantine title called The Winds of Space, which was actually the title of a TV pilot that Fontana reportedly had in development around 1972-3. Perhaps there was a plan for her to novelize the pilot script, but it fell through.

Although it was Fontana’s first novel, it reads pretty well. It’s quite faithful to the script for the most part, but it adds a lot of material that fleshes out the story considerably and fills in a lot of the gaps in the movie. Notably, there’s a new thread of intrigue as the various nations partnering in Project Questor are all eager to get possession of the technology for themselves and trying to co-opt or bribe Jerry into selling out to them. It helps raise the stakes and helps explain why Darro is so concerned about Questor falling into the wrong hands. We learn a lot more about Lady Helena and Dr. Vaslovik, and there’s an added subplot about Questor using his precise computer projections to play the stock market and make millions by buying and selling at exactly the right moments — somewhat prophetic, I think, given how much stock trading today is dependent on computers. Although it clashes a bit with the movie plot, since the reason Questor suggested that Jerry seduce Helena was because they didn’t have the means to pay her. Fontana doesn’t provide a suitable alternative motivation for the wealthy Questor of the novel to suggest seduction.

The biggest departure from the movie is in the third act. The movie gives Questor a deadline of three days (after their time at Helena’s) to find Vaslovik, or something terrible will happen, and he figures out Vaslovik’s location just before he’s recaptured by Darro’s men. In the book, though, the deadline is extended to seven days, and he doesn’t get the vital clue before his recapture. Instead, there’s a sequence where he’s given the resources and personnel needed to attempt to track down Vaslovik — which seems a rather pointless addition, since after days of futile searching, he ultimately ends up getting the vital clue in the same coincidental way he did in the movie. It’s the one part of the novel that feels like it serves no purpose beyond padding the word count.

But it’s also just about the only part that doesn’t feel like an improvement. Although the novel is long out of print and much harder to track down these days than the DVD, I recommend it as a valuable supplement to the film. Some parts of it should be taken with a grain of salt, but others enhance the “reality” of the film considerably.

In my Genesis II/Planet Earth review, I talked about how I choose to interpret them as an alternate timeline of the Trek universe. But I’ve always liked to think that Questor actually took place in the Trek universe itself — and that maybe Data’s creator Noonien Soong learned some of what he knew about androids from Questor somehow. (Although a direct lineage doesn’t work, because Questor’s brain was based on something called “bionic plasma” rather than a positronic matrix.) Of course, since TQT was from Universal, that can never be officially asserted, but there have been several references in various Trek novels implying that Questor may have existed in that universe:

In Greg Cox’s Assignment: Eternity, Roberta Lincoln reminisces about helping Gary Seven retrieve some secret robot plans called “The Quasar Tapes, or something like that.” Roberta recalls that they were in the Pentagon rather than Cal Tech, but that still fits; maybe the Pentagon stole the plans from Vaslovik, and Gary and Roberta got them back into civilian hands.

In Jeffrey Lang’s Immortal Coil — and its followup, the Cold Equations trilogy by David Mack — we see that Flint, the immortal android-builder from “Requiem for Methuselah,” would live on into the 24th century and adopt the pseudonym Emil Vaslovik, becoming a mentor to Noonien Soong. There’s no mention that Vaslovik was the name of a real historical figure — indeed, given that TQT’s Vaslovik was a famous Nobel laureate, it might’ve been a bad idea for Flint to choose such a conspicuous pseudonym — but it’s possible to fudge things and surmise that Flint had known Vaslovik and/or Questor back in the 20th century and learned about androids from them.

And I’ve followed their lead and inserted a reference in my own work: in Watching the Clock, a member of Gary Seven’s Aegis organization refers to “those damn androids” as if they were the competition. And there’s another very subtle nod coming up in my DTI eBook The Collectors.

Although that competition thing is the main problem with having Questor in the Trek universe: aren’t he and Gary Seven basically doing the same thing? And since Gary and Roberta have been doing it six years longer, are Questor’s efforts even necessary? But seeing the movie again, I’m thinking maybe they don’t overlap that much. We know that Gary’s mission was to prevent humanity from destroying itself as it moved through the era of its greatest crisis. So he and Roberta are dealing fate-of-the-world stuff. By contrast, the Vaslovik androids are on a much subtler mission, just guiding and protecting human beings who have the potential to do good and make the world better — not making their decisions for them, but helping them survive or get the education or resources or opportunities they need to fulfill their potential. Maybe speaking a word in the right ear, as Questor puts it, to nudge someone in the right direction. They’ve been at it since the dawn of Homo sapiens‘ existence as a distinct species, and while there have been times in that 200,000-year span when we were at risk of extinction, it probably hasn’t been a concern for most of that span — or at least it wasn’t something that could’ve been affected by the ability to influence human decisions, not until the nuclear age. So maybe Questor’s activities are on a small enough scale that Gary’s activities don’t render them redundant. They could have even complemented each other, with Gary and Roberta tackling the big crises and Questor and Jerry and Helena helping out the little guys who fell through the cracks. Maybe that’s why Gary wanted to make sure the Questor Tapes ended up in the right hands.

Of course, that idea is somewhat dependent on the fact that neither show went past the pilot stage. If both shows had been made, they might have ended up telling fairly similar stories — and of course neither would’ve acknowledged the other. But then, if A:E had been made, Roddenberry wouldn’t have tried to revive the concept with Questor anyway. As it is, though, we’re free to fill in the gaps and imagine what might have been.

Let me count the words

I realized it’s been nearly three years since I last posted a list of the word counts of my published works. I’m curious to see how much I’ve added since then. This is counting everything I’ve sold and finished writing to date, so there are a couple that haven’t yet been published.

ORIGINAL NOVELS

  • Only Superhuman: 115,000

ORIGINAL SHORT FICTION

  • “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide”: 12,000 words
  • “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele”: 9400
  • “The Hub of the Matter”: 9300
  • “The Weight of Silence”: 7600
  • “No Dominion”: 7900
  •  “Home is Where the Hub Is”: 9800
  • “Make Hub, Not War”: 9800

Total original fiction count: 180,800 words

MARVEL NOVELS

  • X-Men: Watchers on the Walls: 83,500
  • Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder: 71,000

Total Marvel novel count: 154,500 words

STAR TREK NOVELS

  • Ex Machina: 110,000
  • Orion’s Hounds: 105,000
  • The Buried Age: 132,000
  • Places of Exile: 55,000
  • Greater Than the Sum: 78,500
  • Over a Torrent Sea: 89,000
  • Watching the Clock: 125,000
  • Forgotten History: 85,500
  • A Choice of Futures: 80,500
  • Tower of Babel (pending): 84,000

Total ST novel count: 944,500 words

STAR TREK SHORT FICTION

  • “Aftermath”: 26,000
  • “…Lov’d I Not Honor More “: 12,000
  • “Brief Candle”: 9800
  • “As Others See Us”: 9100
  • Mere Anarchy: “The Darkness Drops Again”: 28,900
  • “Friends With the Sparrows”: 10,300
  • “Empathy”: 11,000
  • Typhon Pact: “The Struggle Within”: 25,000
  • “The Collectors” (pending): 35,000

Total ST short fiction count: 167,100 words

STAR TREK MAGAZINE ARTICLES

  • “Points of Contention”: 1040
  • “Catsuits are Irrelevant”: 1250
  • “Top 10 Villains #8: Shinzon”: 820
  • “Almost a Completely New Enterprise”: 800
  • “The Remaking of Star Trek“: 1350
  • “Vulcan Special: T’Pau”: 910
  • “The Ultimate Guide: Star Trek: Voyager Season 3″: 1170 (not counting episode guide)
  • “”Star Trek 45s #11: Concerning Flight”: 1000

Total article count: 8340 words (Counting only paid articles — excluding articles written for websites)

All told:

  • Novels: 1,214,000 words
  • Short fiction: 347,900 words
  • Nonfiction: 8,340 words

Total fiction: 1,561,900 words

Total overall: 1,570,240 words

So since last time, I’m up 365,000 words in novels, I’ve more than doubled my short fiction count, and I’ve gained a measly 2,170 words in paid articles. In total, in the past three years, I’ve increased my published (or soon-to-be-published) word count by over 50 percent!

Note that I’ve now written over 1 million words of published (or nearly-published) Star Trek fiction. My next novel, Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic — which I’ve just been cleared by CBS to begin writing — is contracted to be 80-100,000 words, so that will put me over a million words in Star Trek novels alone. That’s one more milestone to look forward to.

New Star Trek projects: DTI: The Collectors and two more Rise of the Federation novels!

January 27, 2014 5 comments

Now that the contracts have gone through (after some delay), I’m finally able to announce my next three Star Trek projects.

DTItentativeFirst, probably sometime later in 2014, is my return to the Department of Temporal Investigations series, in an e-novella exclusive entitled The Collectors. That’s right, it’s not a full-length novel and it won’t be on paper, but at 35,000 words it’s a pretty hefty novella. And it’s a story I had a great deal of fun writing, delving deeper into two elements from Watching the Clock that I’ve been eager to explore in more depth: The Eridian Vault, where the DTI stores dangerous temporal artifacts (sort of a Warehouse 13 for time travel), and the mysterious Agent Jena Noi of the 31st-century Federation Temporal Agency. Unlike WTC or Forgotten HistoryThe Collectors isn’t about weaving together time-travel episodes from the TV shows, although it does feature one significant onscreen guest star in addition to established DTI characters like Lucsly and Dulmur. Instead, this was my chance to tell an original story driven by the DTI characters and concepts themselves, to just cut loose with them and play with the potentials of a time-travel narrative unfettered by the need to fill in the blanks of this episode or that movie. It was enormously fun to write, and I hope it’s as much fun to read.

Tower of Babel coverMy other, probably less surprising, announcement is that I’ve been signed for two more Enterprise — Rise of the Federation novels to follow this April’s second installment in the series, Tower of Babel. Book 3, tentatively titled Uncertain Logic, will be out in early 2015, and Book 4 will probably arrive in early 2016 (there’s a 10-month gap between the due dates for the two manuscripts, so the interval between publication dates may be about the same). The two books will each stand on their own but have a common story arc connecting them, with the latter story arising from the consequences of the former. (That’s why I got contracted for the two books together. I thought I’d have to talk my editor into that, but she was just, “Sure, I’ll start the paperwork.”) And both books will continue to flesh out ideas from Enterprise, reveal the origins of elements from The Original Series and beyond, and feature original worldbuilding and exploration as well.

In this case, I haven’t started the manuscript yet; indeed, I turned in the outline for Book 3 just last night, and the outline for Book 4 is in more skeletal form, to be fleshed out more once Book 3 is written. But I feel pretty confident about where I’m going with the storyline, which will continue to challenge, deepen, and evolve the characters and hopefully bring some surprises. Oh, and the good news is that I’ll have more room for it. The first two RotF books were in the 80 to 85,000-word range, but these will be heftier tomes; I’m free to go up to 100,000 words. (Which means I should be able to include a subplot I had to cut out of Book 2 for length. Technically I’ve already got 4000 words of Book 3 written!)

Site update — TOWER OF BABEL discussion

Tower of Babel coverI’ve now updated my website with the Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel cover and preliminary/non-spoiler discussion about the genesis and writing process of this book (much of which is already known to readers of this blog, but there’s some new stuff):

http://home.fuse.net/ChristopherLBennett/Trekfiction.html#ROTF2

The page also includes ordering links, hint, hint.

Hey, I just realized how much this cover resembles the cover of the latest Analog I was in:

Analog November 2013

RISE OF THE FEDERATION: TOWER OF BABEL cover and blurb released!

January 19, 2014 1 comment

StarTrek.com has just released the cover for Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel .

Tower of Babel cover

This is a distinct improvement over the rather, err, understated cover to Book 1. That cover wasn’t what I’d been hoping for, so I asked my editor, Ed Schlesinger, if there was a chance we could get Doug Drexler to do a portrait of Endeavour for Book 2, maybe with Pioneer too. Ed said they could do that and the wheels were already in motion. I guess we were thinking along the same lines. And now Book 2 has a Doug Drexler cover of Endeavour and Pioneer together.

Here’s the cover blurb:

The United Federation of Planets has weathered its first major crisis, but its growing pains are just beginning. Admiral Jonathan Archer hopes to bring the diverse inhabitants of the powerful and prosperous Rigel system into the Federation, jumpstarting the young nation’s growth and stabilizing a key sector of space. Archer and the Federation’s top diplomats journey to the planetoid Babel to debate Rigel’s admission… but a looming presidential race heats up the ideological divide within the young nation, jeopardizing the talks and threatening to undo the fragile unity Archer has worked so hard to preserve.

Meanwhile, the sinister Orion Syndicate recruits new allies of its own, seeking to beat the Federation at its own game. Determined to keep Rigel out of the union, they help a hostile Rigelian faction capture sensitive state secrets along with Starfleet hostages, including a young officer with a vital destiny. Captain Malcolm Reed, Captain T’Pol, and their courageous crews must now brave the wonders and dangers of Rigel’s many worlds to track down the captives before the system is plunged into all-out war.

Tower of Babel goes on sale in late March, and can be preordered from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or wherever you buy books.

SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN thoughts: Season 2, Eps.5-8 (spoilers)

January 14, 2014 1 comment

“The Seven Million Dollar Man”: Author Martin Caidin, who created Steve Austin in the novel Cyborg, wanted Monte Markham to play the role on TV. The part went to Lee Majors, of course, but here Caidin got a consolation prize of sorts, for Markham guest stars as the title character, the second bionic man.

We open with Steve undergoing his regular psych review with Rudy and his nurse, Carla Peterson (Maggie Sullivan). We learn that Carla helped Steve through his post-bionic depression and had a romance with him at the time, but has now moved on. This means that Carla is taking the place in series continuity that was filled by Barbara Anderson’s Jean Manners in the pilot movie, much as Oscar Goldman (from the original novel) replaced the pilot’s Oliver Spencer as the head of the project. Plus, of course, Steve was a civilian astronaut in the pilot and an Air Force colonel in the series. Still, it’s too bad they didn’t bring back Anderson, who was far more appealing than Sullivan’s Carla.

Anyway, Steve spots Carla handing his evaluation tape to a man who’s cleared to leave by the gate guard, but the guard, Rudy, Carla, and Oscar all deny that any such man was ever in the facility. Resenting being “gaslighted” by his closest friends (of whom Carla is suddenly one even though we’ve never seen her before and never will again — ahh, ’70 TV), Steve presses and finds that the man is former racing champion Barney Miller (Markham), who somehow survived a horrific crash about 18 months earlier. It’s not hard for Steve to put the pieces together. Barney is bionic too, and is having trouble adjusting, as Steve learns when he confronts a drunk, depressed Barney in a bar and loses to him in a tense arm-wrestling match. Oscar comes clean; he resisted making a second bionic man, not liking the idea of his superiors considering Steve expendable, and kept the secret to spare Steve’s feelings. But now that the truth is out, Steve volunteers to chaperone Barney on his first assignment, retrieving some plutonium stolen by agents of an unspecified foreign power. (Richard Anderson pronounces “plutonium” with a short o, like “plutahnium,” oddly enough.) The depressed Barney has a mood swing when he gets to use his strength, getting carried away by the rush and beating the bad guys pretty seriously, within the limits of ’70s censorship, until Steve (who took forever to carry the plutahhnium to their van) stops him. Barney is now addicted to the power and it becomes clear he can’t handle it. It makes sense, in a way: Steve’s an astronaut, a team player, while Barney’s a racer, a highly competitive adrenaline junkie. He feels as driven to compete with Steve as he does to beat up the bad guys, and it’s making him dangerous. So Steve convinces Oscar to dial his bionics down to normal strength. But Barney fights back and tries to destroy all of Rudy’s files on bionics so that he’ll remain indispensable — or maybe he’s just trying to give them an excuse to kill him. Steve is determined to take him down before that happens.

This is a potent, dramatic episode by Peter Allan Fields, whose work on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. didn’t impress me much but who went on to do terrific work on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It’s good to revisit the issues Steve had to face as a result of his transformation, something that hasn’t been touched on much in the series — although it’s disappointing that Steve is a bit too idealized, his problems all totally conquered, leaving all the character flaws to the guest star. But that’s ’70s TV for you, and within those strictures, it’s a strong dramatic piece. Markham does a very effective job as Barney, his expressive acting a drastic contrast to Lee Majors’s deadpan. One wonders what the series would’ve been like with him as Austin, but it’s hard to tell from this, since he’s playing a troubled and dangerous man rather than a clean-cut hero.

Still, the final fight between Barney and Steve is underwhelming. Since they’re evenly matched, there aren’t many strength gags, aside from a shaking of the image (created in post-production) when one slams the other into a wall. Aside from the slow motion and one smashed door, it could’ve been a fight between two normally powered men. (And watching the fights on this show drives home how much the influence of Hong Kong cinema and mixed martial arts has changed American film and TV. These days the fights in a show like this would be so much more sophisticated in technique, as opposed to the cruder brawling style used in this show.)

Barney will return in season 3, but with a name change to Barney Hiller, since the police sitcom Barney Miller premiered in the interim.

Sound effects watch: The ta-ta-tang sound is used repeatedly for people or fists flying laterally, consistently with its earlier usage, but in this case every instance is the result of bionic strength (Steve’s or Barney’s), so we’re getting a bit closer to the familiar standard. The bionic-throw whistling sound — let’s call it the ballistic whistle — is still in use, so I guess we can call that one standardized now. And there was another bionic-jump sound here, when Barney and Steve(‘s stunt doubles) jumped down from a telephone pole to attack the plutahhhnium thieves.

“Straight on ’til Morning”: Star Trek‘s D.C. Fontana is back with another script, and fittingly, it brings aliens into the bionic-verse for the first time. Steve is consulting (or something) on the impending launch of a lunar probe, one of Oscar’s projects, when he spots a UFO (read: a small blue dot) similar to one he saw three years ago during a spaceflight. He’s one of many to report the sighting, so the next morning he goes to the nearby town of Denbow to investigate and discovers a local man has suffered radiation burns when confronted by a prowler who stole clothes from his line. The prowler is actually one of four aliens — whose alienness consists of shiny reddish pancake makeup — whose ship crashed in the sea nearby and are trying to survive. Apparently they burn humans just by touching them, and are harmed by the touch in turn, though the reverse mechanism is unclear. They’re telepathic, with specialized skills so that only one of them, Minonee (Meg Foster), can communicate verbally. She tries to reason with the local hick cops who find the aliens, but TV hick cops are immune to reason and it doesn’t go well. The aliens flee, leading the search party astray with a psionic illusion, but Steve’s infrared vision sees through it and he finally catches up to them, after some futile attempts by the group’s guardian Eymon (Christopher Mears) to fend him off by telekinetically hurling rocks and trees at him. Finally Minonee has found someone who’ll listen to reason, and she explains they’re a family of marooned explorers, and Eymon and their parents are dying from being touched. Minonee expects she’ll die here too, but Steve gets an idea when he learns they have a mothership standing by near Pluto’s orbit. The others soon die, and Steve sneaks Minonee onto the base, planning to send her up in the lunar probe where she can get picked up when it passes behind the Moon (aggravatingly, they refer to the “dark side of the Moon” instead of the far side). But sending the signal alerts Oscar, who confronts Steve because he wants to take Minonee prisoner and study her for the good of Science (and the millions of dollars that would be wasted if Steve sabotages the probe to get her home). Will Steve be able to convince Oscar to choose compassion over duty? Well, duh. We all know by now that Oscar’s a complete teddy bear.

The addition of aliens to the series was a big step, but it’s a weaker episode than I would’ve expected from Fontana. The aliens are too cliched in their mental and physical powers, piled on with whatever attributes the story needs. Maybe it would’ve felt less hackneyed and corny in 1974, but if so, it hasn’t aged well. It isn’t helped by the cheesy sound effects when the aliens use their powers — and though Oliver Nelson’s score is pretty good, he falls back on the cliche of using a Theremin-like sound for the aliens. Too much time was wasted on the manhunt in the woods, and there’s not much thematic weight to the story. Sure, it shows ordinary humans fearing what they don’t understand and hounding the peaceful aliens because of it, but that idea just sort of lays there, and it’s already familiar from films like The Day the Earth Stood Still and It Came From Outer Space. It’s not a bad story, but it’s weaker than it deserved to be.

(Oh, and Steve and Minonee don’t actually learn each other’s names until her final scene, where she actually says “I don’t know your name” shortly before they part. Huh? She’s a telepath who’s been reading his mind for half the episode, and she hasn’t come across his name? Not impossible, I suppose — we probably tend to think of ourselves as “I” most of the time — but it’s the sort of thing that seems to warrant an explanation, at least.)

“The Midas Touch”: Back down to Earth now, in more ways than one. Oscar arrives at a closed government gold mine in Nevada, now reopened and run by a bunch of hired thugs led by MacGregor (Noam Pitlik, who coincidentally would later become the main director for the aforementioned Barney Miller). Oscar seems oddly pleased by how much gold they’ve mined. Has Oscar gone bad? Are we already at the one where he got replaced by an android? (Oops, spoilers!)

When Steve investigates Oscar’s disappearance, he finds that Oscar was researching some handwavium byproduct of a new gold-smelting technique, with potential applications for energy generation. So naturally Oscar’s interest in the mine is above board. But the project director, Oscar’s oldest friend Carrington (Farley Granger), tells Steve that he’s been getting strange orders from Oscar, issued from a private office Steve doesn’t know about. It looks like he’s been planning a gold heist for which Carrington would be framed. Not believing it, Steve goes out to the mine himself and gets captured by MacGregor’s men. The main thug is Connors (Rick Hurst, who would later be Cletus Hogg on The Dukes of Hazzard), whose manner toward Steve is probably meant to be amiably threatening, but comes off as almost flirtatious, particularly given how he calls Steve “pretty boy.” (At least, I assume it was accidental. Although Connors did have a line about not knowing Oscar’s whereabouts because “I don’t date him.” Hmm.) MacG has Connors put Steve to work in the mine, where there’s a convenient accident that lets Steve save Connors from a runaway ore tram. (And for the duration of the scene, Steve’s left arm seems as powerful as his right.)

Steve breaks out and finds Oscar, who’s been drugged, but they get caught — just in time to discover that the real bad guy is Carrington, a totally unsurprising development since otherwise Farley Granger would’ve only had one scene. Carrington intends to make Oscar use his security clearance to help get the gold out of the country, threatening Steve’s life if he doesn’t. But he offers Oscar a quarter of the worth of the gold if he goes into a willing partnership with Carrington. Which means, given that the worth of the gold is $25 million, that he’s just offered Oscar the opportunity to become The 6.25 Million Dollar Man. But the show can only have one title character, so Oscar refuses the deal, but still has to help Carrington to save Steve’s life. Carrington puts on a show of having Connors and another thug take Steve out two days’ walk into the desert and give him a canteen of water, but instructs Thug #2 to kill him. Once Connors figures out what’s really going on, he helps Steve escape.

Steve catches up with MacGregor’s gold-laden truck in a Jeep, and is somehow able to climb out of the driver’s seat and onto the truck without the Jeep swerving out of control the moment he lets go of the wheel. Is that some hitherto-unmentioned bionic power? He gets into the passenger seat and is somehow able to intimidate MacG into playing along even though he’s unarmed — though I guess he’s made it clear enough that he’s very strong. Steve is waylaid by one of MacG’s men, but once he gets into the plane, he’s able to save Oscar. Oscar’s bummed about his oldest friend turning out to be a murderous criminal scumbag, but given the track record of hitherto-unknown best friends in ’70s TV, it was either that or dying.

A decent run-of-the-mill episode. I suppose it illustrates the versatility of this show that it could go from a personal drama in “Seven Million” to high-concept sci-fi in “Straight on” to a more conventional heist story here, but this does feel kind of ordinary by comparison. It has a good score, but that’s kind of a given, at least if you like Oliver Nelson’s style.

“The Deadly Replay”: Once again, we get an episode that revisits — and retcons — Steve’s origin story. Last time it was his bionic recuperation, this time it’s the test-flight crash that precipitated it. Steve’s old engineer colleague Rogers (Robert Symonds) has rebuilt the test vehicle that crashed — herein depicted as the Northrop HL-10, although the footage used in the pilot and main titles is a blend of that and the similar M2-F2 (specifically a crash involving the latter), while Martin Caidin’s novel and the ’87 revival movie designate it as the fictional M3-F5. Upon seeing the rebuilt HL-10, Steve gets a flashback to audio and footage from the main titles — and it would’ve been such a clever segue if they’d had his flashback actually be the main titles, but TV shows hadn’t yet started getting creative that way with their title sequences, so instead we get the same audio and some of the same images replayed a few moments later when the actual titles start.

Anyway, Steve decides he has to get back up on the horse, but Oscar warns him that there was evidence — which Oscar had flimsy reasons for not revealing until now — that the vehicle was sabotaged. That makes it basically a mystery story, and the five members of the flight crew are all suspects — the most obvious suspect being surly Ted Collins (Jack Ging), who resents Steve for a former relationship with the flight doctor who’s now his wife, Andrea (Lara Parker). They make him so obvious a suspect that he’s never a remotely plausible one.

The plan is to run Steve through a simulation that will recreate the malfunction that almost killed him before,  to see if he cracks under the pressure. At first, he seems to, getting disoriented in the cockpit, simu-crashing, and then collapsing. Oscar comes running, and Steve insists to him that he was drugged by some conveniently undetectable substance. He convinces Oscar to let him run the simulation again, and he passes with simulated flying colors. So the actual flight goes ahead, and the HL-10 is sabotaged, conveniently in a way that can be overcome with a superstrong bionic arm. The saboteur turns out to be the least noticeable, least developed member of the group of suspects, which feels like a cheat. Turns out he was working for an aerospace mogul who wanted to poach the lucrative NASA contract for his own firm.

For a revisit of Steve’s origin, this feels a little underwhelming. The formulaic mystery structure and weak payoff thereof don’t do it any favors, and the motive for the sabotage seems anticlimactic. These days, there’d turn out to be some massive evil conspiracy underlying the hero’s origins, and while I don’t suppose I’d want it to go that far, it would’ve been nice if the secret behind the series’ formative event had been a bit more interesting than it was. It’s also a bit annoying that every time Steve flashes back to the crash, it’s the exact same audio sequence used in the main titles. The original pilot used a much more extensive sequence and it would’ve been nice if they’d drawn on that material for some variety.

But the strength of the episode lies where it did in the pilot: in the cooperation of NASA and Edwards Air Force Base in providing the vehicles, filming locations, footage, and presumably technical advice to make the test flight seem authentic. And given that the pilot is not strictly part of series canon, I suppose this is as close as we’ll get to a new canonical version of those events. (Although as I mentioned, later productions would disagree with this episode’s details. Continuity was a flexible thing in ’70s TV.)

Guess who made the “Top 5 Authors of Star Trek Tie-In Novels” list!

I’ve just been informed (by Keith R.A. DeCandido on Facebook) that Ian Coomber of the site What Culture has posted a list of the top 5 Star Trek tie-in novelists:

http://whatculture.com/tv/top-5-authors-star-trek-tie-novels.php

Number 1 is Una McCormack, #2 is David Mack, #3 is Keith, and #4 is yours truly! (#5 is a tie for the actors who’ve written or co-written tie-in novels: Armin Shimerman, Andrew Robinson, and J.G. Hertzler.) I made the list specifically for DTI: Watching the Clock, which he describes as “a novel whose ambition is only surpassed in its accomplishments” and “borderline epic.” Not bad for a novel that I only pitched as an afterthought.

DTItentative

Thanks to Ian for the recognition!

Finishing up RISE OF THE FEDERATION: TOWER OF BABEL

January 10, 2014 1 comment

…And I haven’t yet had my language confounded or been scattered abroad, which is a good sign.

No, that’s something else. What I mean to say is, I’m currently working on the final proofreading pass of Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel, and for efficiency’s sake and to keep it interesting, I’m combining it with writing the first draft of my annotations for the novel, to be posted once the book is released in April. This is actually useful for the revision process, since it encourages me to examine the text critically and double-check references, so I’ve caught a few things I overlooked before.

Meanwhile, I’ve been shown the novel’s cover, which will probably be released pretty soon. It’s a definite improvement over the Book 1 cover, I feel. But I can’t say more about it yet.

I’ve also been making some good progress on my outline for my next Trek novel, which I should be clear to announce very soon, since the contract is signed and executed. Two of the main plotlines are in place and I now have a good idea of what the remaining one will be; I just need to work out the specifics. Indeed, it was just this morning that I had an idea that really helped the plot come into focus. And I’ve got another two and a half weeks to finalize the outline. Last time, I had trouble figuring out the outline and struggled to get it done by my deadline, but this time it’s going much more smoothly.

One thing that may be helping is that I’ve increasingly gotten into the habit of keeping my cell phone on my bedside table and using its voice recorder to dictate story notes. All too often in the past, I’ve had a good idea before I got out of bed or while I was going for a walk, but by the time I got around to writing it down, I’d forgotten much of it. I think dictating notes has helped me work more efficiently. Although I’m getting a little tired of listening to my own recorded voice, especially since I’m often sleepy and mumbling when I record these notes. I’ve been trying to put more animation into my voice, like I do when I give interviews, just so I don’t bore myself so much. Also, today I finally got around to copying my accumulated notes onto my computer, and was pleased to find that the format for the audio files (.amr) is playable with my existing media software. So I don’t have to worry about losing my notes if something happens to my phone. I’ve been thinking of getting a new cell phone anyway — I’ll have to make sure I get one with a similar recording function.

I’ve got some other irons in the fire writing-wise as well, but nothing I’m ready to talk about. Hopefully there will be some progress on those fairly soon. But expect another Trek update very soon.

New podcast interview on Trek Mate

The Trek Mate Family Network in the UK has just released a podcast of an interview I did for their “Captain’s Table” feature in which they interview Star Trek prose authors. The discussion covers my Trek work, my Marvel novels and their audio adaptations, and Only Superhuman. You can find it here:

http://www.trekmate.org.uk/ten-forward-captains-table-interview-with-christopher-l-bennett/

 

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