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Archive for March, 2010

Change of pace: My favorite recipe

I’m not a great cook, but living on my own as I do, I’ve had to develop a modest degree of culinary skill so I’d have an alternative to frozen dinners and sandwiches.  This is a quick, fairly easy recipe I concocted a while back, enjoyed quite a bit, and have refined as I went.  Today I made it again (I’m eating it as I write this) and I decided that, instead of just eyeballing the proportions as I usually do, I’d measure more carefully so I could get it into a form resembling an actual recipe I could pass on to others.

I don’t have a name for the thing, but it’s a chicken-and-rice dish, basically.  The ingredients are:

  • 1 cup (or so) cooked brown rice
  • 1 cup diced precooked chicken
  • 2/3 cup frozen peas
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil (I prefer pure)
  • 1 medium to large clove garlic
  • Black pepper
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Preparation is simple enough.  Cook whatever kind of rice you prefer (I’ve done it with every kind of rice from the regular kind that takes half an hour to cook to the 10-minute boil-in-bag kind to the 90-second microwave pouches, depending on what kind and how much time I’ve had available), just so long as the cooked volume is 1 cup or so.  Meanwhile, steam the peas for a few minutes (not sure this step is necessary, but it saves time in the combining stage).  Steaming is better than boiling since you don’t drain the nutrients away with the boil water.  If the chicken is frozen, thaw it.  Mince the garlic clove finely — remember to smash it first to release the flavor.

Once the rice is cooked, put it in a medium saucepan (if it isn’t there already) and stir in the peas, chicken, olive oil, and garlic (not necessarily in that order) and grind black pepper over it to taste.  Simmer over medium heat until it’s uniformly heated; I forgot to time this stage, but I think it took me about 8 minutes this time.  Once plated, top with the grated parmesan.  (I’ve tried mixing in the parmesan with the rest, but it sticks more to the pan and the storage containers.)  It makes about three servings, or two if you have a big appetite.

I think it’s a pretty healthy meal.  You’ve got whole grain, lean meat, a green vegetable, garlic (whose health benefits are often exaggerated but still present), and plenty of ultra-nutritious olive oil.  The oil has a fair amount of fat, but it’s the good kind of fat, the kind that reduces cholesterol.  And the grated parmesan is pretty low in fat, according to the label on the little green can.  If you like, you could ease off on the olive oil, but I love the stuff so I like to pour it on.  (Funny, I don’t like olives much, but I love the oil.  Though the extra virgin kind is a bit too intense for me.)  And in addition to being healthy, it’s easy to make, uses simple ingredients, and tastes good.  I like to have it with a side dish of applesauce.

Leftovers can keep for, I guess, a few days in the fridge.  I wouldn’t know, since I usually finish them off pretty quickly.  If you’re cooking for one like me, a good trick is to have two storage containers ready beside your plate and spoon equal amounts into all three.  That way you’ve got your portions measured handily, and having the hot leftovers in two smaller containers helps them cool off faster so you can get them into the fridge sooner (not a good idea to put hot containers right into the fridge, since it heats up the whole thing).  Plus you can just take out one of the containers and pop it right in the microwave.

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“Star Trek” in Japanese

One of the Trek news sites that’s been linking to the Star Trek DTI announcement here on Written Worlds, according to my blog control panel, is this one from Japan.  Now, my Japanese from college is very rusty, but I still have my dictionary to let me transliterate the katakana (the Japanese syllabic lettering system used for titles and foreign words, sort of the equivalent of italics in English, if italics were a completely separate alphabet).  And I was surprised by how the title Star Trek is being transliterated.  Japanese is a syllabic language; consonants are almost never found in isolation, but are always followed by a vowel (N being the one exception).  However, the U sound is usually slurred to the point of virtual nonexistence.   So in foreign words with consonantal blends or consonants at the end of a word, the Japanese transliteration will typically insert a U after the consonant, although occasionally it’s an O or something.  The way I’d expect Star Trek to be transliterated, therefore, is “sutaa tureku,” which would be スタートレク.  (The dash-like shape represents  stretching the duration of the vowel sound to double length, corresponding roughly to the British way of pronouncing “ar.”)  However, it looks like the title is being transliterated as スタートレック, which apparently is “sutaa turetsuku.”  Or “Star Tretsk.”  Which is very puzzling.  Why is that extra “tsu” in there?

Of course, this isn’t the only name ST has had in Japan.  Now, there’s a myth circulating on the Internet that the Japanese name for the show is Sulu, Master of Navigation.  That just goes to show that some people don’t know how to recognize a joke, because that was a gag from William Shatner’s monologue on Saturday Night Live ages ago (the same episode with his infamous “Get a life” sketch — another thing that many fans failed to realize was a joke — and the delightful “The Restaurant Enterprise” sketch).  So let’s dispel that myth right away.  The Japanese name for ST, at least the original series, was Uchuu Daisakusen, which translates pretty much as “Big Operation in Space.”  Which is probably about as close as they could come to a literal translation; “Star” in the title is pretty much being used as synecdoche for “space,” and a trek is a type of massive operation, a large-scale movement.  (I think sakusen can have the meaning of a military operation or maneuver, which would probably explain why a fanzine article I read ages ago mistranslated Uchuu Daisakusen as “Outer Space Big Battle.”)

But apparently the movies have just had their titles transliterated phonetically.  Except somehow that extra syllable has gotten inserted.  I’m sure I’ve seen movie posters that rendered the name in katakana without the added “tsu.”  Was that added to the new film’s title to distinguish it from the rest?  Except that site linked above uses it consistently, not just for the new movie.  It’s confusing.

Publicity!

The news of Star Trek: DTI has been picked up on a number of Trek news sites such as TrekMovie.com, TrekToday, and TrekWeb, and they’ve all linked back here to Written Worlds, giving me a nice bump in my viewing statistics.  So I just want to say “Welcome!” to any new readers brought here by the new publicity.  Ahem:

Welcome!

(How’d I do?)

And just to be a bit mercenary, this strikes me as a good opportunity to drop a reminder that I still have dozens of autographed copies of my books for sale at discounted prices.  If any newcomers want to catch up on my past work, I’m happy to oblige.

And please feel free to visit my home page,  loaded with background info and notes on my Star Trek and Marvel Comics fiction, information about my original science fiction (including two novelettes readable online), and other varied goodies.

My streak is broken

Well, it had to happen.  I just got a story rejected, the first of the two fantasy stories I’ve written in recent months.  Oh, well.  It’s only my first try; I’ve still got other markets I can send it to.  Still, this is the first original story I’ve written in the past year and a half or so that I haven’t sold on the first try.  Well, it’ll keep me humble.

Speaking of coincidence…

I just realized… in my entire career, I’ve only written two stories in the first person (discounting one aborted story I discussed way back in my “Origin story 2” post), and now they’re both being published in online magazines just six weeks apart — “The Weight of Silence” and “No Dominion.”  Wild, huh?

I generally avoid first person because I find it implausible.  I always wonder, how does the narrator have the skill to tell this story?  How do they get the opportunity to write and publish it?  How do they remember it in such detail, right down to the verbatim dialogue?  In “The Weight of Silence” I actually confront these issues directly in the narrative.  It made sense to do it in first person because the very challenge of telling the story is part of the story.

But in “No Dominion” I didn’t bother to address those issues.  I don’t even know why I went with first person; it just felt like the right idiom for the story, perhaps because it’s common for detective/mystery stories.  And thinking about it in retrospect, I’m thinking that maybe I’ve been taking first-person narration too literally.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that the character actually wrote this story down for publication; it could be taken more as a symbolic way of conveying the character’s thought process.  After all, third-person narration has some of the same problems if you take it literally — namely, how does the narrator have that omniscient viewpoint?  If that’s a conceit of storytelling, why can’t first-person narration be too?

So will I use first person in a story again?  If it feels right, I guess.  But only if it feels right.  I’m still more comfortable with third.

Contracts again!

I just received the contract for Star Trek: DTI, mere minutes after posting the announcement!  How about that?  That’s two contracts I’ve gotten in two days, and three in the past month.  Both are records for me.  And this is after a long drought with hardly any paid writing work coming my way (except for a couple of Star Trek Magazine articles, for which I’m very grateful to editor Paul Simpson).  Now I’m going from famine to feast.  Which is rather thrilling.  Still, it would’ve been nice if I could’ve managed to pace the income more regularly.

My problem, I think, was that by the time I realized my savings wouldn’t last me as long as I thought, I was already pretty close to the brink.  So it took me too long to get into gear and start pursuing things that could get me money (whether writing and submitting stories or applying for jobs).  So maybe it’s not surprising that it’s all starting to pay off around the same time.

Of course, it would still be good if one of those job applications could pay off and I could start building up some additional savings.  Here’s hoping my recent good luck continues.

Coming in 2011: STAR TREK: DTI

I’m able to announce my new Star Trek project now, and it’s my most offbeat one yet.  The working title is Star Trek: DTI, with a more specific title to be settled on later.

DTI is the Federation Department of Temporal Investigations, introduced in the Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” in the persons of Agents Lucsly and Dulmur (sometimes rendered as Dulmer), who questioned Captain Sisko to ensure his crew had not jeopardized the time stream on their recent trip to the past.  The stern, Joe Friday-esque temporal investigators quickly became popular with the fans and soon appeared in not one, but two separate stories in the anthology Strange New Worlds II: “Gods, Fate, and Fractals” by William Leisner (an inspired Dragnet pastiche) and “Almost, But Not Quite” by Dayton Ward.

Now it falls to me to tell the first novel-length story of the DTI, starring Lucsly and Dulmur along with their colleagues in the department, mostly original characters but maybe one or two familiar faces as well.  Though the working title suggests a resemblance to Star Trek: SCE/Corps of Engineers, this book might be better compared to Articles of the Federation, Keith R. A. DeCandido’s chronicle of a year in the life of the Federation president and her staff.  But if AotF was The West Wing in the 24th century, DTI might be more like an FBI procedural show.

In any case, don’t expect the conventional, done-to-death kind of time travel story where the heroes go back into the past and try to prevent or reverse a change in history.  ST:DTI will have its own distinctive approach to time travel, its mechanics, and its consequences, and will explore numerous facets of the Department’s responsibilities.

It’s an exciting challenge to do this book.  With Lucsly and Dulmur being the only established DTI members, and with them being virtual blank slates, this is closer to a fully original creation than any commissioned novel I’ve ever done (though you can expect to see a few more familiar faces showing up here and there).   And it’s my chance to take the byzantine logic of Trek-universe time travel and offer a unifying theory with some degree of scientific credibility to it — while still having fun with it.  On the other hand, with so few established characters or situations to draw on and a lot of ideas to cover, I’ve got my work cut out for me.

The contracts are signed…

…so I can announce my latest original fiction sales.

“The Weight of Silence” will be appearing in the online Alternative Coordinates magazine in their next issue, debuting on May 1, 2010.  This is that third “Default Universe” story I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.  It’s also the shortest story I’ve sold to date, just 7600 words, barely long enough to qualify as a novelette.  (Second-shortest is my upcoming “No Dominion” at 7900.)

And the characters from “The Hub of the Matter” will be returning to the pages of Analog in a new novelette called “Home is Where the Hub Is.”  The publication date hasn’t been settled on yet, but I’d expect it to be sometime in late 2010.

I like the way my homepage is looking now.  My New/Upcoming Titles list is getting busier, and it’s dominated by original projects.  And I’m looking forward to the way my Original Fiction page is going to expand over the months ahead.

And I’ve still got three more stories out on the market, so hopefully I’ll have some more announcements ere long.

But stay tuned for the big announcement of the day, in my next post…

“The Hub of the Matter” e-book links

The March 2010 Analog featuring “The Hub of the Matter” has been off the shelves for a while now, but I’ve belatedly realized that it’s still available as an e-book from several dealers.  Here are the sites where I’ve found it:

eReader.com

Fictionwise.com

Sony Reader Store

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews (S2): “Operation ‘Heart'”/”The Money Machine”

“Operation ‘Heart'”: Driving through the Culver City backlot, Jim takes advantage of the old self-destructing-briefing-tape-in-the-photo-booth trick.  The mission he chooses to accept: William Bennett (not the conservative pundit, but a professor played by Aaron Fletcher) has been arrested and interrogated on (incorrect) suspicion of espionage by Stephan Gomalk (Michael Strong, previously seen in “The Trial” and as Dr. Korby in Star Trek: “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”), the security chief of an Eastern European country ruled by the benevolent President Rurich (Pernell Roberts).  Gomalk plans to assassinate Rurich and install a Communist government, and is afraid Bennett knows of the plan.  The interrogation has caused Bennett’s weak heart to fail and he’s on the brink of death.  The team must simultaneously prevent Gomalk’s coup and get Bennett out alive.

Jim goes in under his own name as a reporter covering Rurich, saving his life from an “assassination attempt” staged by Barney.  Barney’s marksmanship is apparently so good that he can safely graze Jim’s shoulder with a bullet to make it look authentic.  This is an excuse to go to the state hospital where Bennett is being held and the rest of the team is gathering.  Rollin sneaks into the hospital as a very loud, irritable old patient, the main bit of humor in the episode.  Cinnamon pretends to be Bennett’s wife, demanding to see him.  Rurich overrides Gomalk’s objections.  Gomalk has already become convinced that Bennett wasn’t a spy after all, but Cinnamon’s job is to make it look like he is, first by getting “caught” trying to poison him, then by planting a handkerchief with a secret message about “Anniversary,” the code name for Gomalk’s coup.  With Rurich now made suspicious, Gomalk (who had been willing to let Bennett die) now finds it imperative to allow the surgery that can save Bennett, conducted by the IMF team’s doctor of the week along with Gomalk’s hench-doctor, so that he can dispel Rurich’s suspicions.

Meanwhile, Barney’s put together a fake bomb in an oxygen tank and Willy smuggles it into the OR.  With the surgery underway, Rollin (now switched to a doctor disguise) “discovers” the bomb and calls in the bomb squad (Barney and Willy).  It’s a pretext to get the hospital evacuated so the team can hold the hench-doctor at gunpoint and arrange to take him out of the hospital, an attempt that allegedly brings him to the brink of death.  The “bomb squad” smuggles the real Bennett out in a hidden compartment while Rollin disguises himself as Bennett long enough to make a deathbed utterance implicating Gomalk in Rurich’s presence.  Rurich undermines his good-guy cred by shooting Gomalk right there without a trial.

This is an awkward plot, because it depends on the team knowing that certain chance factors will turn out the way they want.  Bennett’s ability to survive the dangerous conditions they subject him to is convenient.  Most of all, though, how did they know that Gomalk would already have satisfied himself that Bennett wasn’t an agent?  At first, it looked like maybe Gomalk had gotten ahead of them, that he was seeing through their plans and would become an obstacle.  But the whole plan actually depended on Gomalk knowing that the evidence against Bennett was faked, so that he’d have an incentive to allow the life-saving procedure.  What if he’d been more paranoid than they’d expected and refused to accept Bennett’s innocence no matter what?  It’s improbable that they could’ve anticipated his reactions so perfectly.

The music here is credited to Gerald Fried, but there are hardly any new cues as far as I could tell; the score is mostly stock cues from Fried’s earlier two scores this season (including some Latin-styled music from “Trek” incongruously accompanying the Eastern European leader Rurich) and from one of Scharf’s episodes.  All in all, not an impressive episode musically or otherwise.

——

“The Money Machine”: An “Empty” button on a cigarette vending machine provides Jim with a miniature tape (or wire) player and miniature photos.  The mini-mission: in the fictitious African country of Ghalea, banker/counterfeiter Walter DuBruis (Brock Peters) has stolen a bunch of paper from the mint and plans to use it to make perfect counterfeits and ruin the economy and do other bad stuff.  The team has to stop him and retrieve the stolen paper.  They have the cooperation of Ghalea’s deputy finance minister Giroux (Rockne Tarkington), probably the highest-ranking person to participate in one of the apartment briefing scenes.  Otherwise, the team is the usual suspects minus Willy, his second absence this season.  (Jim is asked to destroy the mini-tape “in the usual manner,” a bit of a blast from the past; but it simply involves tossing it into a nearby metal barrel, whereupon the usual burst of smoke emerges.  The mechanism of its destruction is unclear.)

Rollin plays a bank patron who gives DuBruis a lot of money to open an account and then has a convenient epileptic fit, allowing DuBruis to go through his pockets and find a bank statement revealing he doesn’t have that much money.  He checks with his engraver and is told that, except for the paper, they’re perfect counterfeits of a series that came out only three weeks earlier, an impossibly fast operation.  DuBruis takes Rollin home with the help of Doctor Barney, who treats Rollin’s “temporary amnesia” with sodium pentothal and then conveniently leaves so DuB. can question him about the counterfeits.  Rollie reveals to Dubby (I’ll call him Dubby now, it’s easier to type) that the bills were created with a computer.

Meanwhile, Cinnamon has spent a few days establishing herself as an investor following copper stocks.  She contacts Dubby and hints that she has insider information; when pressed, she reveals that her husband has made a big strike that hasn’t yet been reported.  Dubby has a chance to clean up, if he buys up all possible stock in the company before the news breaks.  But to buy it all, he needs more money than he has, and fast.  If only he had a miraculous computer to print counterfeit money for him instantly!

So he makes Rollin take him to his partner Jim and show him the machine, played by Barney.   That is, Barney’s the man behind the curtain faking the machine’s operation from within it.  Dubby watches in awe as the machine does its work and offers a sheet of the stolen paper as a test.  The bills come out flawlessly (since they were actually pre-printed by the Ghalean mint at Giroux’s orders and switched for the blank paper by Barney inside the machine).  Dubby’s men storm the place; he plans to take the machine for himself.  Commercial time!

Here’s where the logic of the story falls apart.  The act-break crisis is resolved when a bulletproof-vested and masked Barney comes out of the back of the truck with a rifle and shoots one of Dubby’s goons, convincing the others to retreat.  Now, moments before, Dubby had been in the back of that truck and seen it empty save for himself, Jim, and the computer.  There was no way in or out of the back of the truck except the rear door Jim had locked behind him and now unlocked.  And suddenly there’s a guy in there with a gun.  The only place that guy could’ve been was in hiding within the computer.  So this should’ve exposed the scam and ruined the plan.  But Dubby never questions how this man got into the back of the truck.  (Not to mention, how did they know to equip the back of the truck with a bulletproof vest and a mask?)  I wonder if maybe this was originally written with Willy being the gunman (emerging from somewhere else in the room) and was sloppily rewritten when it was decided Willy’s part was small enough to eliminate altogether.

Anyway, the next day, Dubby brings all his stolen paper to Jim so he can computify it into funny money.  Jim inserts the paper into the machine and Barney swaps it out for the pre-printed bills.  In this way, they recover the stolen paper.  As for the phony bills — well, actually real bills, since the mint printed them, so I guess that makes them counterfeit counterfeits — hey, two wrongs do make a right! — where was I?  Deep breath… As for the bills Dubby is now racing to the bank to pay for his accumulated stock, they’ve been printed with a special ink.  When Cinnamon uses her lighter to trigger some sonic gizmos Jim slipped in with the bills, it liquefies the ink.  Dubby is left with two satchels full of wet, inky paper, totally worthless, and has no way to pay for his attempted stock speculation.  He’s ruined, the paper is recovered, and once again the day is saved.

Aside from the logic hole with Barney in the truck, not a bad episode.  The fake computer is a cute gimmick.  Barney gets to stretch himself, doing role-play as the doctor in the first half and serving as firepower later on.  Brock Peters is his usual sonorous self.  The music is all stock, but reuses some good bits.

Two weeks

Just two weeks after my last story sale, I got a letter of acceptance for another of the batch of stories I recently put on the market.  Details to come later.

Two weeks between original fiction sales is a record for me.  I submitted stories for five years before I made my first sale, and it took nearly two more years to make the second.  After that, it was nine years before my third.  What happened?  Well, most of what I wrote back then wasn’t that great.  Or at least it wasn’t suited to the short form, cramming in too many concepts and too much worldbuilding.  Eventually I became convinced that I wasn’t cut out for short fiction, and then my Star Trek writing took over my attention and kept me busy.  So I let my efforts at original short fiction fall by the wayside, concentrating instead on original spec novel manuscripts alongside my tie-in work.

But all that tie-in writing, including novelettes in five anthologies, helped me realize that I did have the ability to come up with viable story ideas of any length and write them reasonably quickly.  This led me to buckle down and do serious work on developing my concept for the Hub universe and actually write the debut story, “The Hub of the Matter.”  Selling that on my first try gave me new confidence.  And that led me to buckle down again and come up with a story for the Shine anthology of optimistic SF, the result being my upcoming story “No Dominion,” which I once again sold on the first attempt.

So those two sales gave me the confidence to keep trying.  Plus my tie-in work was slowing down due to the editorial upheavals at Pocket, so I had nothing but time to focus on original writing.  I also came to realize that if I wanted to make enough of a name for myself to catch the attention of agents, it would help considerably if I could sell more short fiction to establish my name.

So now, with THotM, “No Dominion,”  and my two sales this month, I’ve gone from zero original fiction sales in nine years to four in just under one year, three of which sold on the first attempt.  And I’ve got three more stories currently on the market, and nascent ideas for a couple more.

I’d say I’ve come a long way in the past year or so.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews (S2): “The Slave” Pts. 1 & 2

This review is dedicated to the memory of Peter Graves (1926-2010).  Good night, Mr. Phelps.

——

“The Slave”: This 2-parter opens with Jim walking through a park, but then we cut to a very fakey studio set of a few trees in front of a hilly cyclorama, where Jim opens a box marked “Fire” (for an emergency phone?) to get the message.  The mission: King Ibn Borca (Joseph Ruskin, previously seen in “Old Man Out” and one of multiple Star Trek guests in this one) leads a fictitious country on the Persian Gulf that’s the only one in the Mideast where the slave trade hasn’t been abolished.  The assignment is to oust Ibn Borca and his supplier de Groot (Warren Stevens, Rojan from ST: “By Any Other Name”) and make sure that Borca’s successor, his brother Prince Fasar (David Mauro), ends the slave trade thereafter.

The dossier sequence is quite padded, making us watch as Jim prepares a drink, ponders, looks out the window, ponders some more, then goes over to a locked case, takes it over to his table, unlocks it, and then pulls out the dossiers, which he goes through even more slowly than usual.  In addition to the usual team photos in color and rejected photos in black & white, for once there’s an actual dossier in the dossier stack, a report by Akim Hadramut, an expert on the slave trade in the region.  Akim (Steve Franken, a ubiquitous TV guest star of the era and still active today) is the extra team member this time.

What follows is an episode liberally populated by white people painted dark and pretending to be Arabs.  Not only do most of the team members impersonate Arabs at some point, but just about all the “actual” Arabs, including Akim, are Caucasian actors in makeup.  Nobody seems to find it odd that Akim and the “Arab” Interpol agent played by Rollin have vivid blue eyes.  Rollin is there to observe Borca for a later impersonation, and to establish ties with Fasar, a benevolent character who nonetheless trusts his brother, since somehow Borca has been able to render the slave trade on which his country’s whole economy depends entirely invisible.

Meanwhile, Barney goes undercover as one of the slaves captured by de Groot, and for some reason nobody bothers to search him or strip him of his possessions before throwing him in a cell.  So he’s able to change his disguise to look like a prison guard, complete with a fake gun that’s actually a camera, which he uses to take reference pictures of the cell for later use before springing the lock and sneaking out under cover of pursuing the escaped slave.

At the same time, Jim is playing a disreputable tough guy who hooks up with de Groot and his partner Jara (Percy Rodrigues, Commodore Stone from ST: “Court-martial”), letting them know he has a rare prize, a blonde English singer (Cinnamon), for sale as a slave.  This is his ticket into Borca’s slave auction, but just one phase of the larger plan.  (It also serves to get de Groot’s car to the palace in time to facilitate Barney’s escape from the dungeon beneath, using a harness that Rollin, disguised as an old beggar, had previously attached.)

Here’s where it gets a little dark and interesting.  Nice-guy Prince Fasar is married to a refined Englishwoman, Amara (Antoinette Bower, Sylvia from ST: “Catspaw”).  Rollin, Barney, and Willy employ a convoluted plan involving lowering sleeping bats (kept under by cold — since when were bats ectothermic?) into Fasar and Amara’s fireplace, where they warm up (represented crudely by an offscreen stagehand shaking the pole the actually dead or fake bats are hanging from) and flutter through the room.  Fasar and Amara fling open the window, letting Willy sneak in and kidnap Amara in the confusion.  They stick her in the replica cell built from Barney’s photos, making her think she’s been kidnapped by the slavers.  The team shows some moral qualms about putting an innocent woman through this hell, but they do it anyway.  It’s an effective and intriguingly dark ending to Part 1.

As with “Old Man Out,” the recap at the start of Part 2 is incredibly long, a full 6 minutes and 33 seconds.  When we finally get back to the story, Rollin as Borca comes to “inspect” the abducted Amara, revealing that he knows who she is and is deliberately selling her into slavery.

Meanwhile, when de Groot shorts Jim on the payment for Cinnamon (getting 5000 pounds from Borca but telling Jim he only got 3000), Jim pretends he only finds 1000 in the envelope, giving hima pretext to chase after de Groot and Cinnamon.  The car chase evidently occurs in that part of the Middle East that looks exactly like the back roads of the hills around Los Angeles (really, they couldn’t even bother to go out to the desert this time?).  Cinnamon shuts off de Groot’s engine and snaps off the key to stop him, so de Groot prepares to make his stand, getting Jim in his rifle sights, but Willy gets the drop on him.  Jim retrieves Cinnamon, and Willy drives off de Groot in the latter’s car, which is conveniently working again without explanation.  Jim and Cinnamon go back to Jara and claim to be a husband-and-wife team who’ve muscled de Groot out of the business, i.e. killed him.  Jim almost gets shot in the back by de Groot’s former henchman Musha (played by perennial henchman Sid Haig, previously seen in “Fakeout” and destined to return as 6 more characters in M:I’s future), but Jara recognizes he’s better off with a live slave supplier than a dead one and shoots Musha.  Jara is surprised at Jim’s ruthlessness when he says he’s honoring his deal to sell his wife into slavery (though not half as surprised as Cinnamon pretends to be).

Now, what’s the upshot of all this?  Rollin and Akim tell the prince that his wife Amara was taken by the slavers and will be auctioned off.  They tell him he can’t go charging in but must infiltrate the auction.  They say that Borca will have her appearance changed so she won’t be recognized.

So Cinnamon goes into Borca’s cell as the prize piece of merchandise at the upcoming auction.  Meanwhile, Amara is sedated and has her hair, makeup, and clothing changed to match Cinnamon’s look as exactly as possible.  We’ve seen that Barney’s rigged a cart with a concealed cavity for smuggling a person.  The plan, clearly, is to switch out Cinnamon for Amara, so that Prince Fasar will find his wife on his brother’s auction block.

The plan is almost scuttled when a buyer notorious for his interest in slaves of a, err, non-domestic nature makes a pre-emptive bid before the auction and Borca agrees.  Jim has to convince Borca to go through with the auction as planned, and he succeeds too easily.  It’s the kind of “snag in the plan” that became all too common in M:I, the kind that crops up just before an act break and is then resolved in moments at the start of the next act.  I prefer those rarer episodes where the plan actually goes seriously wrong and the team has to improvise.

But this time, once the minor snags are dealt with, the plan unfolds perfectly.  Rollin and Akim sneak Fasar into the auction, though it’s not adequately explained how they could find it now when Fasar couldn’t find it before.  He has his proof that the slave trade is real.  But apparently this isn’t enough to achieve the team’s goals.  He has to recognize his wife on the block and confront his brother.  Borca, of course, denies it, since he’s recognized it’s not the same woman he saw go into the cell, but Amara’s testimony convinces Fasar his brother is a liar.  And a moment later, his brother is lying again… lying dead on the ground, shot by Fasar, who angrily declares that the slave trade is ended.

We then get a copout ending wherein Amara and Fasar have apparently been told the whole account of what really happened and are perfectly okay with it.  Amara says she’d gladly go through the whole ordeal again to achieve the same result, so the moral ambiguity of what the team chose to do is simply swept under the rug.  It’s quite a letdown after the ending of part 1.

Ultimately, the whole convoluted scheme seems unnecessary.  Once the team found the location of the slave market, why couldn’t they just tip off Fasar and let him see for himself without going through all the rigmarole and the abduction of his wife?  It would’ve worked better if they’d established that Fasar was either too devoted to his brother to even consider the possibility that he was evil (a frequent M:I plot device) or too self-absorbed or dissolute to be bothered to care about the slave trade until he had a personal stake in the matter.

All in all, a flawed but interesting 2-parter.  Peter Graves is effective as the mean, surly, aggressive slave trader; I’m not used to thinking of him as a heavy, but he played the type well.   The production makes extensive use of the “Arab Village” section of the Desilu 40 Acres backlot in Culver City, seen in Star Trek as the Rigel fortress in “The Cage” and the Organian village in “Errand of Mercy” and as numerous Mideastern or North African locations in M:I.  The music is by a first-time M:I composer, Robert Drasnin — a name I’m familiar with from various ’60s shows, though I’ve never gotten to know his work well enough to recognize a distinctive style.  His score here didn’t impress me much the first time I watched, but it grew on me the second time.  There are some nice variations on the main theme and “The Plot,” some rather interesting use of percussion during the chimney-bats sequence, and some “Arab music” cues that range from very nice (mainly the ambient music in Jara’s cafe) to rather cliched.  I’m sure his renderings of the Schifrin motifs will get heavy usage as stock cues throughout the season.

Side note: Ibn Borca’s aide is played by Peter Lorre, Jr.,  although his voice is dubbed over, and I’m fairly sure it’s by Walker Edmiston, who did various uncredited voiceover roles for Star Trek.

Catharsis

Yesterday, I finally got up to my father’s place for the first time since Shadow passed away.  Up until then, the idea of his loss had been pretty abstract for me, since I haven’t lived under the same roof with the cats for years.  As I expected, it wasn’t until I went into Shadow’s favorite closet and saw he wasn’t there, until I saw his litter box emptied out and packed away, that it finally really hit me that he was gone and I was finally able to start grieving properly.  I spent some time in that closet saying goodbye, and since then I’ve been letting myself be sad, letting it become real to me.

Just a bit before he died, we bought a new case of his special food from the Cat Clinic, and as it happens, Shadow left us just after he’d finished the last can from the old case.  So the new case was never opened.  I’ll be returning it to the clinic when I get the chance.

Categories: Cats Tags:

Strawberries!

With my financial situation slowly starting to improve, I let myself be a little less austere in my grocery purchases this week, and one thing I picked up was a box/tray/whatever you call it of fresh strawberries, maybe fourteen large to medium ones.  Usually it’s hard to find a batch that’s really fresh and doesn’t have any overripe or spoiled ones, but this was just about the freshest batch I’ve ever come across, every single one in good condition, so I couldn’t resist.  And since I wanted to make sure I used them all before they started to spoil, I had plenty of strawberries over the previous couple of days:

  • First, a bowl of diced(ish) strawberries topped with vanilla yogurt and banana nut granola, accompanying my lunch.
  • Then, a strawberry-banana-blueberry smoothie accompanying dinner, containing two large and one smallish strawberries, one medium banana, a dozen or so dried blueberries, a bit of orange juice (a couple of ounces?), a few dollops of yogurt (half a cup, maybe?), and a squeeze of honey.  A bit too much, but not enough for two helpings, so I just treated it as dessert as well as a meal accompaniment.  I was a bit overfull afterward, but satisfied.
  • The next morning, more diced(ish) strawberries in my corn flakes, along with some more dried blueberries.
  • Finally, the last five strawberries, rinsed but unadorned, as a side dish with lunch.

I think this is the first time I’ve gotten through a whole tray of strawberries without having to throw any of them out due to spoilage.  And they were very good, in every form.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Chair-endipity

I’m really becoming fond of my new-ish recliner chair (which is also a rocking chair, by the way).  It’s possibly the most comfortable place to sit in my apartment now.  I was thinking that it might well become my preferred place to sit and read or to write on my laptop — except for one problem.  I didn’t have a light source positioned anyplace that would facilitate reading in that chair, and it’s too far from the balcony doors for natural lighting to do much good.  So I was thinking that once I had the money available, I’d have to buy a reading lamp.  Unfortunately, that would mean waiting a while before I could really start using the chair properly.

Now, I have a torchiere lamp that I had in the corner by the couch, really the only movable light source in the main room of my apartment, except for a lava lamp which isn’t much to read by.  The possibility of moving it occurred to me, but I assumed I needed it by the couch.  But this morning, I found myself questioning that assumption.  I realized that if I did move it over next to the recliner, it would still be close enough to the couch to give me illumination there if I needed it.

So I decided to try it.  And it works very well.  The torchiere actually illuminates better than before, since it’s not stuck in a corner and has more of the ceiling to reflect off of.  It’s more centrally located, so it illuminates the room better overall.  It’s now behind the TV, so I don’t get glare on the screen when it’s on.  And as a fringe benefit, I no longer have to worry about accidentally pushing the plug out when I stow my bicycle against the wall where it was.  In fact, with the lamp relocated, I can push my bike further back so it’s a bit less obtrusive.

Plus, it’s change.  That alone is refreshing.  Back when I still lived with my father, I liked to rearrange my furniture in my room periodically, just for variety’s sake.  But in this apartment, that’s not really an option; the placement of outlets, jacks, doors, and such really constrains me.  Ideally I’d like to have the computer desk near the balcony doors where it’s brighter and the TV where the computer desk currently is so I could see it from the kitchen, but then I’d have to have the phone and cable cords stretching across the floor and across doorways.  So I’m pretty much stuck with the arrangement I have.  At least the new chair and the new lamp placement bring some freshness to the room.  The improved illumination gives it a fresh feel too.  And I was able to achieve it without spending a dime.  (In fact, I gained a dime, the one that fell out of my old recliner when I dismantled it.)

Hmm, now that bit of wall where the torchiere used to be is looking bare.  Maybe I should put up a poster there.

Categories: Uncategorized

Thanks to the Ohioana Library Association

Every year, the Ohioana Library Association holds a reception honoring authors from Cincinnati and Hamilton County, and the latest one was held yesterday afternoon at the Main Library in downtown Cincinnati.  I was one of the invited guests, for my second year in a row.  (Well, it’s been more than a year, since they used to hold the events in November but decided this time to move it to March.)  It was a nice reception.  I got a Certificate of Recognition for my work (this year it was Over a Torrent Sea that was nominally being honored, but I also brought a copy of Mere Anarchy to donate to the Ohioana collection), and I got to chat with a couple of local authors, including a fellow SF author who’s also been in Analog.  So I might’ve made a new connection or two within the local writing community, which is good.

There was also a buffet table with punch and cookies and  hors d’oeuvres and such.  The best ones were these little cookie-ish things filled with a pumpkin puree, kinda like bite-size pumpkin pies.  Yum.

Superman vs. The Flash

Courtesy of the library, I recently read a trade paperback collection called Superman vs. The Flash, collecting their various races in the comics.  The first race ends in a deliberate draw, the second too close to call, and one of the later ones is aborted in order to fight the bad guys, although you could say it’s another deliberate draw; there’s a “cosmic curtain” that only one person can penetrate and Superman and the Flash contrive to go through it simultaneously.  But in the other races — SPOILER ALERT — the winner is consistently the Flash, whether Barry Allen, Wally West, or Jay Garrick.  And I like that.  It makes sense.  As one of the later stories points out (“Speed Kills” by Dan Jurgens, from the post-John Byrne era when Superman was powered down to a more reasonable level), Superman isn’t trained as a runner.  When he needs to go somewhere fast, he flies.  So it’s logical that he’d be outmatched in a footrace by the Flash.  (Though this logic wouldn’t apply to Smallville‘s Clark, who still doesn’t fly after nine seasons.)

My favorite race, though, is the Denny O’Neil one from World’s Finest Comics #198-199.  Both Superman and Flash end up wounded and weakened and must drag themselves forward with their arms to reach and deactivate a doomsday device before time runs out.  It’s a lovely twist, and I love the narration:

It is insane..!  It is ludicrous..!  And, yes — it is comical! These two renowned warriors dragging themselves on their stomachs…  Yet mark this moment well!  For behold — they are injured, shocks of agony scream along their limbs!  And still they go forward, fired by the most gallant determination…  Never have Superman and The Flash stood so tall

This is the first race the Flash wins, thus averting the cliche of ending in a draw, but still letting Superman fans feel satisfied that maybe their guy could’ve won if he’d been at full strength.  The Jurgens story has a similarly ambiguous ending, implying that Superman might’ve thrown the race and leaving it to the reader to decide.

There’s at least one Superman-Flash race not in the collection, the Superman: The Animated Series episode “Speed Demons.”  In that one, they abandon the race to stop the Weather Wizard, then at the end they start racing again to resolve who’s faster, with the answer never revealed.

What I don’t get is that the front of the TPB says “Seven of the greatest races of all time!”  There are eight issues including two 2-parters, for six races overall.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , , ,

Under the weather

With that new gig coming up soon, I really should be getting some work done on my spec novel while I can.  But I’ve been feeling under the weather for the past few days and I’m not quite up to it mentally.  I tried getting back into the revisions yesterday, but I realized a certain sequence was way too talky and that I’d ended up glossing over a revelation that was actually pretty important, or that I’d set up earlier as pretty important.  I’ve been trying to think about how to fix it, but I just keep coming up with more possibilities that warrant more careful thought.  I can’t just toss something off here, especially when I’m not at my peak mentally.

So I’m just gonna ramble about various stuff to keep me occupied.  Let’s see.  I figured out my money situtation’s a bit better than I thought.  Still not great, but I now know I’ll at least be able to pay all my bills and rent on time this month, before things start to improve financially next month.  So that’s reassuring.  It’s still a bit frustrating to know I’ll be able to buy stuff I need and stuff I want in the near future but not be able to just yet; but on the other hand, it’s better knowing that it will happen than not being sure at all.

I’m liking my “new” recliner chair.  It’s fairly comfortable.  Unfortunately, my apartment’s too small to put it in the optimal place, which would be facing the TV and under the torchiere lamp.  My couch takes up virtually all the space between the corner and the door.  Theoretically I could reverse the positions of the couch and the audio/video stuff, but then I’d need to have the TV cable stretching across the floor, which wouldn’t really work.  Plus it would be too hard to move it all on my own.

However, the chair’s much lighter than the old one, as I mentioned before.  One day, I just moved the chair into the middle of the living room, in front of the couch, and sat in it to watch TV.  Worked nicely, but too impractical to do regularly.  Sigh.  As for the lamp thing, I figure once my money situation’s better, I can buy a reading lamp to put next to the chair.

Okay, I’m all rambled out, save for one bit that turned out long enough that I’m gonna split it off into a second post.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews (S2): “The Survivors”/”The Bank”

“The Survivors”: Jim gets the briefing tape on a rooftop, in some sort of maintenance storage locker or something bearing the rather tautological instruction “Use key to unlock.”  The mission: enemy agent Stavak (Albert Paulsen, previously an IM team member in “Memory”) has kidnapped two scientists and their wives and is holding them hostage in San Francisco (this will be significant).  He’s going after a third scientist, hoping to gain a McGuffin formula for an unspecified secret superweapon.  (I begin to understand why J.J. Abrams made a point of not explaining what the “Rabbit’s Foot” was in Mission: Impossible III.  It may have been an homage to the original show, where the McGuffins were frequently given little explanation and had little actual relevance to the story.  Which is the whole point of a McGuffin, really: that it doesn’t matter what it is so long as the characters are driven by its pursuit.)  Conveniently, Stavak doesn’t know what the third guy looks like, so Jim can impersonate him.

First, though, they publicize the alleged death of his wife’s mother, so that the “wife” Cinnamon can be abducted along with Rollin, whom Stavak’s men assume is the scientist but turns out to be his separated wife’s “good friend.”  The soon-to-be-ex-missus turns out to be quite vindictive toward hubby and willing to sell him out in exchange for money and freedom.  The whole thing being a ploy to get Rollin inside so he can make measurements of the facility and then get them out to Barney, while Cinnamon convinces the hostages to play along with the masquerade.

Once Cinnamon lures Jim into captivity, the purpose for the measurements and other preparations becomes clear.  After calling in a fake gas leak and getting the area around Stavak’s Chinatown hideout evacuated, the team uses a sonic device to shake up the building, allegedly the “same principle” of resonance demonstrated by Barney in the apartment scene when he shattered a glass with a tuning fork.  (So essentially they’re using an electronic equivalent of Tesla’s earthquake machine, though with more success than the Mythbusters were able to achieve.)  They also use a dump truck full of rubble to block the elevator shaft that’s the only way out.  The fake disaster comes just in time to save Jim and the scientists from being shot when Stavak’s expert sees through Jim’s fake equations.  (The physics-speak is almost right here.  Jim cites the “half-life of the K meson” as 1.2 x 10^-8, which is the correct value in seconds of the kaon/K meson’s mean lifetime.  However, the mean lifetime isn’t the same thing as the half-life.  The half-life is the time it takes for half of a sample of a radioactive substance to decay; the mean lifetime is the reciprocal of its decay probability per unit time, and comes out to 1.44 times the half-life.)

Now that they’re all trapped, with a (faked) gas leak giving them a deadline, Stavak cooperates with Jim in devising an escape.  Jim rigs a radio and picks up a fake news broadcast from Rollin, with keywords that direct him to a storm drain they can use as an escape route.  Jim has one of the scientists empty the powder from ten bullets and MacGyvers up a flashlight into a trigger device, covering it with mattresses so the blast won’t set off the natural gas in the corridor (ooh, let’s see the Mythbusters test that!).  In contrast to what you’d probably see in a modern show (or MacGyver for that matter), the blast is believably small (though the sound effect is too big) and only loosens the mortar enough to let the stone wall be disassembled with muscle power and a crowbar.

Once they dig to the storm drain, Stavak holds the hostages at gunpoint (a weak bluff, since as he himself admits on the way out, he doesn’t dare shoot because of the gas) and escapes with his own men into the drain, collapsing the tunnel behind him so the hostages are doomed.  Except that Barney and Willy have already cleared the elevator shaft of rubble so the hostages can get out easily.  Stavak and friends emerge on a calm, un-destroyed Chinatown street and get hauled away, realizing they’ve been had.  Jim tells the ex-hostages that they were in no danger since the gas was faked (it was probably just butyl mercaptan, the additive that gives natural gas its smell).  Or rather, it was “just as real as the earthquake.”

A decent episode, though the kind of M:I caper where they go to implausibly elaborate lengths to achieve a fairly simple goal.  Albert Paulsen is oddly sympathetic as a villain who isn’t written sympathetically at all.

Walter Scharf (“Old Man Out” and “The Ransom”) returns as the composer, and as usual his work has a distinctive and intriguing sound, with an interesting ethnic flavor when the Chinatown location is established.  His score here isn’t quite as impressive as his first-season work, however.

I found the dungeonesque setting of Stavak’s underground lair familiar, and I finally placed it — his office is the same set as the dungeon from Star Trek: “Catspaw.” Which, assuming the two sister shows began shooting at about the same time, would’ve been produced not long before this episode.  But the sets here were more extensive, with corridors and a cell, so maybe this one was done first?  Which would require M:I to have started shooting its season earlier.  Or maybe it’s a standard set that Desilu had in storage for use by various productions.  Still, I never would’ve expected to see ST and M:I share a set.  (Although there is a later episode of M:I where, in a scene with Leonard Nimoy, a Saurian brandy decanter from ST is used as set decoration in an apartment.)

——

“The Bank”: Jim goes inside a “Junk Shop” and exchanges code phrases with the proprietor, except the camera remains outside and the dialogue is unheard.  The proprietor lets him try out an old hand-cranked phonograph in the back room.  The message is on a vinyl record, but unlike the first-season versions, it isn’t sealed away from the air; rather, it’s rigged to self-destruct “when it reaches the final groove” (a misnomer, since a vinyl record only has one spiralling groove, but that’s nitpicking).  Anyway, the mission: East Berlin banker Alfred Belzig (James Daly, previously seen in a triple role in “Shock”) is secretly a Neo-Nazi.  He’s tricking East Germans who want to defect to the West, convincing them to deposit their money in his bank (allegedly so he can deliver it to them once they’re across the Iron Curtain), then sending them down an escape tunnel with instructions to take a route that actually drops them to their death, whereupon he keeps their money to help him bankroll his new Nazi movement.  The team has to expose him and retrieve the money.  (Actually, in dialogue they only mention the “East Zone” of an unspecified socialist country whose occupants use German titles and accents, yet there are signs onscreen specifying the locations as Berlin and West Germany.  Odd, that.)

Jim picks the usual suspects plus Paul Lebarre (Pierre Jalbert), a known bank robber.  Paul and Barney case the joint while Jim, pretending to be an agent of the “federal police” (i.e. the Stasi), arrests Paul and makes Belzig fear a robbery so that Jim and Cinnamon can get in place within the bank.  The episode takes place mostly within the bank, with people constantly going back and forth between the main area, Belzig’s office, and the vault as the team goes through maneuvers to get the goods on Belzig.  Barney takes pictures of the vault, Rollin pretends to be a new patsy for Belzig to fleece and kill off, Jim arranges to get Belzig out of the office so he can steal a reel of vault security videotape and find out what deposit box Belzig’s ill-gotten stash is in… it’s all rather convoluted, with so much back-and-forth it’s hard to keep straight.

Anyway, Rollin fakes his demise, then goes back into the tunnel system with a load of bricks.  While Barney is attracting the bank staff’s suspicions, Cinnamon goes into the vault and uses a gizmo to make the video picture flip (like TVs used to do back then when the horizontal was out of sync) to disguise the fact that she’s sliding a photo of the vault in front of the camera, then she rigs a charge to Belzig’s box that goes off when Barney reinserts his.  Paul fires a gun at the same moment the charge goes off (how did he know?) to make it seem like the sound came from him.  Barney comes out holding Belzig’s box, which makes Belzig nervous when Jim’s “federal police” agents apprehend the thieves — and then the real Stasi shows up.  To keep them from opening the box, Belzig has his security hold them at gunpoint, then retreats into the vault with the money, planning to flee through the tunnel — only to find that Rollin has bricked it up.  Jim says that when the time lock opens in the morning, Belzig and his cronies will be happy to go wherever the Stasi wants to take them.

Not a great episode.  There are some weaknesses in the plot and execution.  It’s implausible that hundreds of people would’ve all fallen (literally) for the trap in the left tunnel, even if they weren’t forewarned as Rollin was.  When Rollin shows up, Belzig initially has him held at gunpoint, suspecting him of being a Stasi agent, until he verifies his identity by checking his signature against previous correspondence with the man Rollin’s impersonating — and somehow it never occurs to Belzig, a man with decades of banking experience, that there can be such a thing as a forged signature.  It’s implausible that they’d take Rollin into the vault to “kill” him when “federal policewoman” Cinnamon is right there as the vault clerk; wouldn’t she get suspicious when he didn’t come out?  And there’s a silly bit where Jim is checking the stolen videotape to find out Belzig’s deposit box number, and uses a magnifying eyepiece to zoom in on the video image — what we see is clearly a zoom in on the live set, with no trace of scan lines and impossibly high resolution for a ’60s video image.  It’s as silly in its own way as the CSI episodes where Archie is able to enhance a blurry video image and turn it into a perfectly clear close-up.  Also, it’s unnecessary to know the exact box number; it’s enough to know its position in the vault: second row, second column.

Also, it’s kind of weird politically.  Given that East Germany was already under an oppressive regime at that point, it’s a bit hard to see how much more harm Belzig’s Neo-Nazi movement could’ve done there, at least from the perspective of ’60s TV politics where Nazis and Commies were equally villainous.  I guess it’s evil enough that he was killing so many people — implicitly Jews, I suppose — but his larger political ambitions seem like kind of a nebulous threat, trading one set of bad guys for another.  But I guess it’s another McGuffin.  The politics don’t really matter; what matters is the specific goal of the caper.

There is an amusing touch when Jim is left alone in the office and has to try to figure out the fancy newfangled videotape machine so he can steal the footage he needs.  Usually everything runs so smoothly for the IMF, or else goes wrong in serious ways.  Jim’s fumbling with the machine is played subtly, not blatantly for laughs, but it’s a nice humanizing touch.

Walter Scharf provides his fifth and final M:I score here.  As with “The Survivors,” it’s not as memorable as his first-season efforts.  And it’s interspersed with a lot of reused Gerald Fried cues from the season premiere.  But it has its enjoyable moments, with orchestrations reminiscent of scores from The Outer Limits and Lost in Space (neither of which Scharf worked on).

The final shot of the episode features what I believe is the debut of a touch that was often used in the series: as the team is leaving, the camera flips upside-down to follow them, and the image freezes while still inverted.  I wonder if this was meant to symbolize the topsy-turvy, twisty nature of the capers.

Making maps

Well, knowing that I’ll soon have to begin concentrating on a new paying gig has given me the incentive to finish up my current creative project.  The fantasy world that’s the setting for the past couple of stories I’ve written is basically an alternate Earth whose evolution and history went differently due to the presence of a magical force (though that isn’t explicitly stated in either story).  So I was thinking it would be helpful to make a rough map of the planet and the territories of the various sapient species that inhabit it.  So I tried to find some suitable maps online — public-domain maps without labels or national borders.  I downloaded several candidates, some of the whole world, some of particular regions, and did some dabbling with one of them, a map of the Mediterranean region (the capital of the leading human nation in the stories is located where our Istanbul is), but then decided it didn’t show enough of Africa or Asia Minor to suit my needs.  (I’m trying to avoid a Eurocentric fantasy world, while still basing the species’ territories on a plausible alternate evolutionary history.  Human territory encompasses over 2/3 of Africa, Asia Minor, and Europe south of the Danube.)

So this morning — was it just this morning? — I decided to start over with one of the full-world maps, the smaller one, in fact.  I was a bit concerned about the scale, but it was big enough to let me show the nations and territories and the few major cities I’ve named so far.  It was tricky transferring the country outlines I’d drawn on the smaller map to the larger one, since the projections weren’t quite the same.  I had the same problem trying to figure out where to put the rivers I wanted to use as borders.  I did some copying and pasting of rivers from other downloaded maps onto this one (which doesn’t have them) so I’d know where to draw the borders, but I had to reposition and fudge things to get them to fit.  No matter; it’s an alternate Earth, so maybe the rivers follow slightly different courses anyway.  Later on, I just stopped worrying about precise river positions and eyeballed it from various maps in my atlas and history texts.

I set it aside in the afternoon, thinking I’d get back to it tomorrow, but I ended up basically finishing it this evening.  It’s still pretty rough; only the human territory is broken down into nations, and the rest of the world is just by species.  But planning the map has helped me figure out a few things, such as adding a couple of sapient species I hadn’t planned on using before.  And I made up a few new place names for the map so I wouldn’t have blank countries (though most are a bit large for countries, more like empires).  So it’ll be a helpful reference for future stories.

Tiring work, though.