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.
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.
- 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
- 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)
- 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.
Now that the contracts have gone through (after some delay), I’m finally able to announce my next three Star Trek projects.
First, 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 History, The 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.
My 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!)
I’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):
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:
StarTrek.com has just released the cover for Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel .
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.
“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.)
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:
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.
Thanks to Ian for the recognition!
…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.
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:
I really ought to post something about New York Comic-Con, but I’ve been too busy or too tired. I’ll try to keep it concise.
I ended up driving after all due to the cost of plane fare after waiting so long to buy tickets. I planned out my route carefully this time, so it went fairly smoothly — but I set out too early on the second day and had a hard time staying alert. I didn’t really feel recovered until after lunch. So on the way back, I think I’ll spend the morning of the second day in the motel just resting, then get a good lunch, then drive the rest of the way home.
I’ve been staying with friend and fellow author Keith R.A. DeCandido, his fiancee, a family friend, several cats, and a large Golden Retriever. I was nervous about the latter, but he’s a friendly dog and I’ve been getting used to having him around. Indeed, there’s something reassuring about knowing a dog that big is sleeping outside your bedroom door, on sentry duty as it were.
The two days I spent at the con are kind of a blur right now, so to sum up: both my signings on Friday went pretty well. The GraphicAudio booth is in a good location and drew a lot of attention from passersby, and we got to sell a number of copies of my audiobooks, along with free copies of the prose books as a bonus — courtesy of Tor in the case of Only Superhuman, plus a few Spider-Man; Drowned in Thunder copies which I provided myself. I was expecting Tor to be offering the paperback, but their giveaway copies (half of which I took over to GA, the rest of which I signed for them to give out at Tor’s booth) were hardcovers instead. I guess that makes sense — they want to use up the stock now that people will mostly be buying the MMPB. But it made it more of a slog to carry them over to the GA booth through the Comic-Con crowd. Anyway, the giveaway copies moved pretty well, I was told. My A Choice of Futures signing at the SImon & Schuster booth went well too; this time people actually came to see me specifically rather than just happening to pass by.
I got to talk with a number of colleagues — Keith, of course, and the GA people, and fellow Trek author Kevin Dilmore, who works for Hallmark and was manning their display. It was nice to catch up with him. Unfortunately my former Trek editor Marco Palmieri, now at Tor, was too busy to talk much. I also had fun meeting Lilly, a friend of Keith’s who’s a professional balloon artist, and who performed at his booth to attract passersby. It’s an interesting craft, improvisational yet requiring a lot of meticulous manual control and precision.
Today I just stayed in and rested while Keith et al. went in to the con. I needed a day of quiet to recover before undertaking the drive home tomorrow. I did go down to the local pizza place for lunch, though, and had an excellent slice of white pizza with spinach.
That’s all for now. Maybe I’ll mention more details later, if any come to mind.
In my last post, I voiced some concern about whether my New York Comic-Con tickets (or badges, I should call them) would arrive in time. I actually e-mailed their customer service over the weekend to ask about the delay, but I only got a response this morning, telling me that they’d been mailed last week and would arrive “any day now.” And a few hours later, there they both were in the mail. So if I’d just been a little more patient… Oh, well. I got a few extra hours of reassurance out of it.
So now I know I can get into the con, and I registered the badges so they can be replaced if I should lose them, so as long as I don’t have any travel problems, I’m now confident that I’ll be there for my signings on Friday the 11th (GraphicAudio, Booth 838, 11 AM and Simon & Schuster, Booth 1828, 4 PM). I’m still waffling a bit on whether to fly or drive, but I’ll probably fly, since it’s a rather long drive. The main advantage of driving — aside from getting to avoid airport security, which is awfully tempting — is that it’s cheaper. But I got my final advance check for Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel today, and I have some other work lined up that I can’t talk about yet, so money isn’t particularly tight for me at the moment.
Speaking of tightness, apparently part of the reason NYCC was so unbearably crowded last year was rampant badge counterfeiting and lax security that let lots of people sneak in without badges. That seems to be why badges were in such short supply this year — they’ve really tightened up access. Also they’ve put RFID chips in every badge as a security feature against counterfeiting, hence the online registration. Hopefully this means the crowds will be more manageable this year, but it has put some limits on access. Apparently I’m not the only professional creator who missed their chance to get a pro badge because they ran out prematurely. They should work to refine the system so that doesn’t happen again.
Well, it’s been a bit of a mess trying to make arrangements for New York Comic-Con, since apparently they didn’t have enough tickets or something. They actually sold out of professional passes prematurely, before I could get one, so I had to buy regular tickets, and all they had left were Thursday and Friday tickets. So I’ll only be in attendance at NYCC on those two days — well, assuming my tickets ever arrive. The paperwork said they’d begin mailing them in mid-September, but I haven’t gotten mine yet. But there’s still two weeks to go, so I’m hopeful.
Anyway, I have two signings tentatively scheduled, both on Friday, October 11.
11 AM, Booth 838: GraphicAudio hosts a combined signing for the Only Superhuman audiobook, which will be on sale at the booth, and the mass-market paperback. which will be a free giveaway. There might be copies of the Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder audiobook on hand too, though I’m not sure.
4 PM, Booth 1828: Simon & Schuster’s booth hosts a Star Trek signing, which was hoped to be a group signing but so far is just me. I assume I’ll be signing copies of Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures.
There won’t be any scheduled event for me at the Tor booth (2223), which is why I’ll be doubling up on the MMPB and audiobook at the GraphicAudio event (and I’m very grateful to the GA folks for accommodating me). But I’ll surely be hanging around the Tor booth for a fair amount of time on Thursday and Friday, and there will be signed copies of Only Superhuman there as giveaways. No doubt I’ll drop by the S&S and GA booths on Thursday as well. Ticket gods willing, that is.
If there are any changes to the schedule, I will of course announce them promptly.
The interview I did for GraphicAudio’s “All in Your Mind” newsletter/podcast is now available. I had a nice chat with directors Richard Rohan and Nanette Savard about Only Superhuman, Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder, my work in general, and other stuff, running a bit under 40 minutes.
Here’s the direct link:
And if that doesn’t work, there’s also an MP3 link:
This is going back quite a ways, but I just came across this really detailed and thoughtful review of Ex Machina on “The m0vie blog”:
It’s hard to pick just one pull quote, so I’ll go with the wrap-up paragraph:
Ex Machina is a worthy and joyful celebration of an esoteric and oft-overlooked period of Star Trek history, at once an ode to a by-gone age and yet a clever modernisation of some of the franchise’s core qualities. It’s a clever and fun debut from Christopher L. Bennett, and one well worth checking out for anybody who likes a bit of social commentary in their Star Trek or even just occasionally wonders what an expanded version of The Motion Picture might look like.
I’m really impressed — the blogger, “Darren,” makes a lot of extrapolations about the motives and reasoning behind my creative choices, which can be a risky thing to do and runs the risk of projecting the reviewer’s own interpretations onto the writer; but in this case the reviewer is largely on the mark (although maybe that’s because I’ve written so much about my thinking in my annotations and such). Although he perceives a stronger connection to The Wrath of Khan than I’d intended.
Well, it’s been an eventful few days, with little time to post anything. The drive to Baltimore was agreeably uneventful, except for the night I spent in a very cheap motel with no amenities and spiders in the tub and corners. (Could’ve been worse. Spiders are basically harmless and keep other pests at bay.) And except for the sore shoulder I’m dealing with in the wake of my marathon writing session to finish Tower of Babel.
I got into the hotel around noon on Friday and promptly ran into Greg Cox, who, like me, was waiting for his room to be ready. We spent a while catching up, having a good long chat. Later that afternoon, he and I went to dinner with Marco Palmieri, Klingon language expert Lawrence M. Schoen (who just signed a book contract with Tor), and fellow Tor novelist (and one-time Star Trek: Strange New Worlds contributor) Rod Belcher, and we talked Tor for a while. I had a really nice hummus-and-pita appetizer followed by a pretty good spaghetti with tomato-and-basil sauce. Then we went to my first panel, announcing Tor’s recent and upcoming schedule — basically the same thing Marco and his fellow editor Margaret Clark used to do for Star Trek books, but now for Tor’s much broader line of books, including the upcoming mass-market paperback of Only Superhuman. David Mack helped run the slide show, and in return he was granted the opportunity to announce the exciting new Trek project reuniting him with his Vanguard collaborators Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore, Star Trek: Seekers, which you can read about here.
After that came the annual Meet the Pros book-signing event, which was pretty well attended this year, since William Shatner was at the con and thus it drew a larger crowd. I got to catch up with several of my fellow authors/friends. I only managed to sell one copy of OS that night, though, but I also managed to sell one of the copies of Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder that I brought with me.
Saturday, after having breakfast in my room and finally figuring out how to get onto the Internet from the hotel, the first thing I did publicly was to visit the book dealers’ table, where I did the traditional one-hour shift in what Marco Palmieri (IIRC) has now dubbed the Author Chimney — a narrow space between two brick pillars, just wide enough for one person to sit and sign books for passersby. It’s right near the concession stand where they sell burgers and hot dogs (the only relatively inexpensive place to eat in the hotel now, since the cafe closed when the hotel changed owners recently), so I had my lunch there. I think I moved two copies of OS and convinced a couple of others to check out the e-book.
Then I had my marathon of panels, the topics of which I covered in my previous post. That’s all kind of a blur, but it went pretty well. As a bonus, for the panel “Did Man of Steel Tarnish Superman?”, Dave Mack and I had the privilege of being joined by a surprise guest, Paul Kupperberg, who’s written and edited many Superman comics and was more qualified than either of us to discuss the topic. The consensus: No, Superman’s untarnished since he still exists in many media, but the movie rather screwed up his depiction. I was glad to move from there to the Legend of Korra panel, which was a lot of fun. But by the time the final panel rolled around, I was feeling pretty worn out and punchy. Before it, I’d tried to get a granola bar from the vending machine in what was left of the cafe, but I misread “E5″ as “F5″ and got animal crackers instead, which I didn’t want. Then, after the panel, I got a microwave entree out of the carousel vending machine, but the microwaves in the cafe were too low-power to heat it adequately, as I found out when I got it back to my room. After another couple of tries, I just gave up on it and threw it away, and went out to try to find some other place to eat. A fellow guest, Steve Wilson (writer of a couple of my favorite DC Trek comic issues) reminded me that the grocery store across the road had a good deli, so I drove over, got a pasta salad, and finally, finally got to retire to my room for the evening.
Sunday began with the traditional authors’ brunch, and then I attended a talk that NASA scientist Paul Abell — husband of Trek author Amy Sisson — held about the Chelyabinsk meteor explosion last year. Turns out he’s one of the team members involved with detecting potential Earth-threatening asteroids, a division called “planetary defense.” But he tells me their offices do not particularly resemble the Hall of Justice.
Speaking of which…
EDIT: Here’s that scan:
Oh, here’s a funny sign I saw at the con and had to photograph:
After getting a hot dog and chatting with Greg and Keith DeCandido during the latter’s stint in the Author Chimney, I joined Paul for a panel on the science and fiction of asteroids, comparing what I did in OS with his real-life knowledge of the field — although, since this is me, there was nearly as much science on my side as his. The next panel in the same room, which mistakenly got left off the schedule grid, was on writing Star Trek: TOS and the challenge of finding something new to say. I ended up joining the panelists for that one and talking about my post-TMP work. Finally came my solo Q&A panel, which was rather poorly attended, since people were going home by that point. But the few people who were there got to be the first to whom I showed the cover for the upcoming Drowned in Thunder audiobook (which I’d downloaded onto my laptop just minutes before):
Which I think is a panel from the same comics scene that Marco wanted the novel’s cover artist to use for inspiration. (It’s not the exact same page, but it’s clearly by the same artist (John Romita, Jr.) and looks like an earlier panel in the same sequence.) I also got to talk for a while about my upcoming Analog novella “Make Hub, Not War,” which should be out in a month or so.
After that, I left the con and drove to the DC suburbs to stay with cousins Barb and Mark, and I’m typing from their guest room. I’ve just gotten back from my visit to GraphicAudio’s studio, which was very cool and which I think deserves its own post. To be continued…
Okay, first the good news: I turned in the manuscript for Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel on time yesterday. Honestly, it was a close one. Even though I gave myself plenty of time, I had difficulty getting a handle on this one. I was sick when I put the outline together and it was very rough, so it was hard to get a grip on the story. I also made the story rather complicated, covering a lot of different places and events, which slowed me down because I had to create a lot of separate worlds and situations, and beginnings are the slowest parts because I have to take time to figure everything out first. Kind of like in film/TV — every new set needs to be designed and constructed, so the more sets you have, the more time and effort you have to expend. Anyway, I finally got a handle on it, refined and fleshed out the story, and made the deadline, but there may still be some polishing to do. And I drove myself so hard toward the end there that the stress and heavy typing have left me with a very sore and inflamed shoulder, so as soon as I turned in the MS I went to see the doctor and got a prescription for the pain. But last night I got the best, most relaxing night’s sleep I’ve had in months. (I even had a dream about my beloved old cat Tasha! Awwww.)
So hopefully my shoulder will be better in time to drive to Shore Leave in a couple of days. To that end, I should go easy on the typing and get on to the schedule that’s just been posted. Not sure if this is completely final, but here are the panels/appearances I’m scheduled for at the moment:
Tor Books: New and Upcoming — 9 PM, Hunt Ballroom
This will mostly be Tor editors Marco Palmieri and Greg Cox talking about the new books they have coming out over the next year, but I’ll be there to shill the upcoming mass-market paperback of Only Superhuman.
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.
The Future History of Star Trek’s Past in Prose — 1 PM, Chase Ballroom
A panel about explorations of the Trek universe’s history in prose. Mainly an excuse for me to talk about Rise of the Federation, but it’ll also feature Michael Jan Friedman (author of Starfleet: Year One, the previous attempt to cover the beginnings of the Federation, which was overwritten by Enterprise) and David Mack (who dealt with the ENT era memorably in Destiny). I was hoping we could also get Greg Cox, who’s done so much with Gary Seven, Khan, and the like in his books, but he’s got a Superheroes on Film panel at the same time.
From Tie-in to Original — 2 PM, Chase Ballroom
The third annual panel letting us tie-in authors shill our original work, this time with me, Ann C. Crispin, Peter David, Keith R.A. DeCandido, and Jo Wymick.
Did Man of Steel Tarnish Superman? — 3 PM, Chase Ballroom
My third consecutive hour in Chase, and I was hesitant to sign up for this one, but yeah, I have some unusually strong opinions about Man of Steel and I guess this’ll be me and Dave Mack and the audience talking about it for an hour.
The Legend of Korra: Let’s Review — 4 PM, Salon F
Yayy, I finally get out of Chase! And I get to chat with Marco Palmieri and the audience about the glory that is Korra. (Good thing I just DVRed the whole series. I can spend the day catching up on the show and resting my shoulder.) Although I expect a very small audience since William Shatner will be in the big ballroom at the same time.
Writing Alien Aliens! — 5 PM, Belmont Room
My Saturday marathon wraps up as Rigel Ailur, Mary Louise Davie, and I talk about the science of creating interestingly exotic alien species and characters.
Science Fiction of Asteroids — 1 PM, Belmont Room
A rare crossover of the SF and science guests. I wrote a book set in the asteroid belt, and science guest Paul Abell is an asteroid expert, so I thought, let’s get together and talk ‘stroids! We’re joined by author Melissa Scott as well.
Christopher Bennett — 4 PM, Salon A
Yup, just me for an hour. I’ll be there to talk and answer fan questions about Rise of the Federation, Only Superhuman, the upcoming audiobook of Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder, my upcoming “Make Hub, Not War” in Analog, and anything else I’ve done.
FYI — there will be a replica of the ’66 Batmobile – aka the only true Batmobile — at the con. I will definitely be there at some point and will probably want to be photographed in it. (I hope someone gets a photo of Shatner sitting in the Batmobile. That might cause a critical mass of geek nostalgia and tear a hole in the space-time continuum, but it will be worth it.)
Just saw this on The Trek Collective: Amazon is now listing a release date for Tower of Babel, my second installment in the Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation series. The date given is March 25, which means it’s technically the April 2014 release.
And my deadline for finishing the dang thing is only 29 days from now, so I’d better get back to work.
I’ve just gotten the proofreading galleys for my new Hub story “Make Hub, Not War” from Analog, and they indicate that the story will be included in the November 2013 issue. I checked with the folks at Analog and they confirmed it. Now, the current issue is July/August, and apparently came out earlier this month, which would suggest that the November issue will be out in maybe 4 months, around September, give or take. Which happens to be around the same time Only Superhuman comes out in paperback! So that’ll be a big month (give or take) for my original fiction.
In other news, I’ve just updated my website with some preliminary discussion of Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures, though there’s little there that I haven’t already said here on the blog.
Empire Magazine‘s site has posted a feature on Pocket’s Star Trek novel line, focusing mainly on the series that expand the universe beyond the aired shows:
This includes some series that I’ve been a part of; Department of Temporal Investigations gets a whole page, and their “if you read only one” recommendation for Titan is my Over a Torrent Sea. Plus there’s an oblique reference to The Buried Age on their page for The Lost Era, though they don’t mention it by name. I do wish they’d spelled my last name correctly, but otherwise I appreciate the attention, both on my behalf and that of my colleagues.
“The Secret Sceptre Affair”: Napoleon and Illya parachute into a nameless Mideastern country to help Solo’s old colonel from Korea, Col. Morgan (Gene Raymond), who’s accused the nation’s Premier Karim (Jack Donner) of planning a coup which he intends to thwart. UNCLE has found no proof of his allegations, but allowed Solo to come on a personal mission. Morgan convinces him to join him in stealing the royal sceptre that the nation’s “primitive tribesmen” hold sacred, following whoever holds it “as if he were Allah himself” — which isn’t remotely how Islam works — so that Karim will lose his claim to power. Although it’s rather blatantly telegraphed that Morgan is up to something and Solo hasn’t been told the whole truth — and that Karim is clueless about the treachery of his own imperious, Celia Lovsky-esque mother (Lili Darvas). The innocent of the week is Zia (Ziva Rodann), a female soldier in Morgan’s outfit who’s unaware of Morgan’s secrets and who helps Solo try to escape after the theft — though Illya gets captured and Solo takes a detour to free him. It’s refreshing for the innocent to be someone who has a legitimate reason to be involved in events rather than a civilian who gets caught up in them somehow.
I didn’t find this one very well-written; the secrets are too obvious, and the attempts to make Illya sound profound just come off as meaningless. And the whole thing about Solo’s trusted mentor being unworthy of his trust makes Solo seem more gullible than sympathetic. There’s also a gratuitous deathtrap involving a bear pit, of all things, though at least they mostly keep the guy in the bear suit behind a cage door so that the fakery isn’t too obvious. Still, it’s a guy in a bear suit for no good reason. The score, credited to Jerry Goldsmith and Morton Stevens, is evidently stock, which seems to hold true for the next few episodes as well.
“The Bow-Wow Affair”: It’s our first episode that sidelines Napoleon in favor of Illya, as Solo, who’s emerged unscathed from battles with spies and mobsters, has been brought low by tripping over the office cat and spraining his knee. (Unfortunately the cat is never seen.) But he’s not the only one with animal problems. Waverly asks him to look into a threat received by a distant cousin — actually Leo G. Carroll in a dual role, though his performance isn’t greatly different. The threat involved a “Gypsy” dagger, and that’s been established before as a culture Illya knows well. And apparently someone is after some valuable stock that the cousin owns. Illya fails to save the lookalike cousin from being mauled to death by his own guard dog, and the investigation reveals that all the stockholders in the company are being attacked by their own dogs either to get them out of the way or scare them into selling their stock (and why do they all own dogs?). Yet the cousin’s slightly ditzy daughter Alice (Susan Oliver) is too busy flirting with Illya — successfully, for a change — to be bothered with grieving for her horribly murdered father. The episode overall is played for humor, and there’s a fun sequence where Illya and Alice consult with a dog expert (Pat Harrington, Jr.) for advice on how to deal with the attack dogs, and the number of (friendly) dogs in the scene keeps multiplying to a nearly tribble-like degree.
Remember how I said that the last “Gypsy”-focused episode was relatively respectful and light on negative stereotypes for a ’60s show? Well, this one’s the opposite. Here, the “Gypsies” are not only villains and charlatans, but possess eldritch power over animals, according to the dog expert. The nominal main villain, Delgrovia (Paul Lambert), initially shows up in a Dracula cape and seems quite menacing, but he’s almost passive in the climactic scenes, with more attention paid overall to Delilah (Antoinette Bower), one of the scammers, who initially shows up as a fortune-teller to try to frighten Waverly’s cousin, and ends up in a catfight with Oliver in the final act.
Despite the conceptual/cultural problems, though, this is actually a rather charming and witty episode by Alan Caillou, with a number of good gags and moments. And it’s nice to see Illya get the spotlight for once. Plus there’s a startling number of Star Trek guests here — not only Oliver and Bower, but bit players Tom Troupe, Reggie Nalder, and George Sawaya. Another notable guest is Leigh Chapman, who takes over from May Heatherly as UNCLE’s resident office babe/tech advisor; she appeared as “Receptionist” two episodes before, but here gets a promotion and a name, Sarah. She’ll be in four more episodes.
“The Four-Steps Affair”: We open with sexy THRUSH agent Angela (Luciana Paluzzi) tricking an UNCLE operative to his death. The operative’s name is Dancer — perhaps a relative of future Girl from UNCLE April Dancer? (Though the name is awkwardly overdubbed in some shots, suggesting it was changed after they were shot.) Anyway, he manages to get a partial message to Waverly before he’s cut off, and Waverly and Illya deduce its meaning with very little assistance from the somewhat vacuous agent Kitt Kittredge (overplayed by Donald Harron with a fake English accent). Infuriatingly, the show’s tendency to treat all Asia as one big jumble is worse than ever here: Dancer uses a line from the Rubaiyat, a Persian poem, as a code for Miki (Michel Petit), the 10-year-old reincarnated lama of a Himalayan country, and somehow Illya is able to deduce the meaning of this huge geographical non sequitur. Illya and Kittridge retrieve the boy, his nurse, and his regent or “potentate” Kaza (Malachi Throne) from a safehouse, but Illya, the boy, and the nurse are captured by THRUSH. Meanwhile, Solo has the more pleasant job of playing cat-and-mouse with Angela, who tries to seduce him into the same trap, though he’s more suspicious than Dancer was. Of course, he manages to keep up the flirty banter while keeping his guard up otherwise.
This is the second episode scripted by Peter Allan Fields, so I was expecting something good. I suppose if you can look past the geographical and cultural ignorance on display, it’s a decent episode, with some fun banter here and there, but overall it doesn’t hold together very well. The main appeal is Paluzzi’s Angela, who’s very nice to watch.
“The See-Paris-And-Die Affair”: The Van Schreeten brothers, Max (Lloyd Bochner) and Josef (Gerald Mohr), are petty criminals who’ve stolen enough diamonds to flood the market and crash prices, and are blackmailing the mob to pay them off regularly lest they release the diamonds. UNCLE wants to retrieve the diamonds and prevent the economic catastrophe or something. So Napoleon recruits the weekly innocent, Mary Pilgrim, a woman that both brothers desire and that Max has arranged to bring over to his Paris nightclub. It’s basically the same premise as the pilot, using the villain’s old girlfriend as a mole. Mary is played by Kathryn Hays, whom I’ve always known as the mute Gem in Star Trek‘s “The Empath,” and I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard her speak. I’d always kind of thought she was solely a dancer/mime and was hired for that purpose, but here she not only acts, she sings as well. Her voice is nothing like I would’ve expected, a salty, brassy alto, and her manner here is totally unlike the sad and poignant Gem, bright and lively with a big, adorable grin that she deploys at the slightest provocation.
Anyway, our UNCLE boys are competing with a THRUSH agent played by Alfred Ryder, another Trek guest (“The Man Trap”), and his boss, Kevin Hagen of Land of the Giants. No doubt THRUSH wants the diamonds for more nefarious reasons. So it’s a jolly chase between the two with lots of schemes and counterschemes, with Solo being unusually forceful about getting what he wants, but at his most impish while doing so. (At one point Mary’s overprotective voice teacher sics the police on Solo for supposedly kidnapping Mary, so he steals the police car at gunpoint, but before leaving he delivers the disclaimer, “In no way do I represent America’s foreign policy.”) I recently read a suggestion that David Tennant would be a better choice than Tom Cruise to play Solo in the recently-announced movie remake, and I could totally see that as I watched Robert Vaughn here.
Anyway, the whole thing leads to Max scarpering with both the diamonds and Mary (without consulting her about the sudden elopement), ultimately leading to a well-done action sequence with a helicopter chasing a van. And Mary acquits herself very nicely in dealing with Max and the cops while Solo and Illya are otherwise occupied. All in all, it’s quite a fun and madcap adventure, with lively dialogue courtesy of Peter Allan Fields once again. The music is credited to Scharf and Stevens, and there seem to be some new bits that are recognizably Scharf-like, as well as a fair amount of nightclub source music performed by a guest group called The Gallants. They’re credited with doing an arrangement of the main theme, but it must’ve been hidden in the background of a nightclub scene somewhere. Hays herself sings a song from the MGM library, “It’s a Most Unusual Day” by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson.
“The Brain-Killer Affair”: When Director Waverly gets too close to identifying a pattern of important smart people suddenly losing competence, THRUSH poisons him so he’ll be taken to a clinic they control, where they plan to perform the same endumbening operation on him so he’ll undermine UNCLE from the inside. The mastermind of this subtle “assassination” method is Dr. Agnes Dabree, played by Elsa Lanchester wearing a frizzy, skunk-striped hairstyle that’s a clear homage to her defining role as the Bride of Frankenstein (though more backswept). She’s set up as a recurring villain, but is never seen again in the series. The innocent is Cecille (Batgirl herself, Yvonne Craig!), whose mentally crippled, mute brother was named by Waverly before he passed out, leading Solo to investigate. There’s a rather uninteresting thread where she’s resistant to cooperation and Solo keeps paying her off with bigger and bigger sums, leading her to become more and more enamored with money — not leading to any sort of lesson, even. It’s rather a waste of Craig’s talents — though I had no idea what a prodigious screamer she was (as we discover when she’s captured by Dabree).
This isn’t a very good episode, and I found myself particularly annoyed by how casually Solo waved a loaded gun around in various scenes — even pointing the barrel directly at Waverly’s head while checking his pulse after he’s poisoned. Vaughn and the director are treating his gun as a prop rather than a deadly weapon, and it undermines the illusion. But the episode surpasses even “Bow-Wow” for the number of Star Trek guests it features. In addition to Craig, we’ve got David Hurst, Nancy Kovack, and Mickey Morton as Dabree’s assistants, Abraham Sofaer as the substitute UNCLE director flown in from Calcutta when Waverly’s compromised (a nice bit of organizational exposition), Liam Sullivan as one of the “brain-assassination” victims, and even Bill Quinn (McCoy’s father from ST V) as a waiter. The only credited guests who weren’t in Trek were Lanchester, Henry Beckman as an UNCLE doctor, and Rosey Grier as an UNCLE bodyguard. Plus Trek’s second-pilot director James Goldstone directs, and Jerry Goldsmith contributes a few minutes of what sounds to me like new music and a lot of stock cues.
“The Hong Kong Shilling Affair”: Uh-oh. This show doesn’t do well with anything Asian. Anyway, this time, Napoleon and Illya are following a courier, Max, who’s with the Bondishly named Heavenly Cortelle (Karen Sharpe) while delivering a stolen item to a criminal organization that auctions state secrets to the highest bidder. For reasons I’m still not clear on, Max is attacked by the organization’s henchman (future Bond uber-henchman Richard Kiel). A passing student, Bernie (Glenn Corbett), sees the fight and runs in to be a good samaritan, but gets so distracted by ogling Heavenly that he lets Max get stabbed to death before he finally intervenes. This gets him mistaken for Max’s partner by everyone involved, including UNCLE at first. He tells them Max’s dying words that he was killed for a pine tree shilling, and why a single coin is so valuable is the mystery of the episode, along with its whereabouts and the identity of the villains’ unseen leader Apricot — though the latter two mysteries share a very obvious solution.
Solo recruits Bernie to spy on Heavenly and find out more, with strict instructions that Bernie blithely ignores, getting himself into bigger trouble and requiring his rescue. He continues to make matters worse through his bullheadedness and his growing (and reciprocal) crush on Heavenly, whose own loyalties and agendas are themselves a mystery. But he and a captured Solo manage to learn the identity of an incoming bidder, and Solo and Illya intercept him at the airport.
Here’s where it gets problematical. The bidder is a Mongolian warlord, and Illya impersonates him through heavy makeup and an accent — plus his voice is processed to sound a bit echoey and staticky, perhaps in an attempt to disguise McCallum’s voice, though it just makes it all the more obviously faked to the audience. The weird voice treatment is almost as annoying and unpleasant as the yellowface acting, though not as offensive. I mean, seriously — we’re shown that Hong Kong has its own UNCLE branch office, so shouldn’t they have agents of the right ethnicity to pull off a more believable impersonation, rather than sticking a Russian in unconvincing makeup?
All in all, it’s kind of a mess, and Bernie is the most unsympathetic “innocent” in the series so far (though Cecille was kind of unsympathetic too, with only Yvonne Craig’s innate charm redeeming the character). They did a decent job making part of the MGM backlot look like a Hong Kong harbor, with some help from stock footage, but really, I wish this show would just avoid portraying Asia altogether, because they’re terrible at it. The music is credited to Stevens, and it’s mostly in his generic-Oriental vein that we’ve heard before — if not the same cues, then at least the same style that’s hard to pin down to a particular culture. (Oh, and Solo is still casually pointing his gun at his friends and waving it around carelessly with his finger on the trigger. Now that I’ve noticed it, I can’t stop seeing it.)