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Three minutes, forty-five seconds

As part of my preparations for writing Star Trek DTI, I decided to take another look at the Lucsly-Dulmur scenes in Deep Space Nine: “Trials and Tribble-ations” to refresh my memory about their look, voices, demeanor, etc.  For future reference, I took note of the time and duration of their scenes in the episode so I can track them down more easily if I need to.

The two DTI agents first appear about 12 seconds into the teaser and the scene continues for about 1 minute, 45 seconds.  Their second scene is at the start of Act One and runs a bit over 30 seconds.  After that, we go into flashback and they aren’t seen again until the start of  Act Four, in a scene lasting about 40 seconds.  Then they return at the end of the episode, first for about 15 seconds before we cut to the final flashback of Sisko meeting Kirk (in footage taken from “Mirror, Mirror” instead of “The Trouble with Tribbles,” and with Sisko appearing unnaturally short in order to match Kirk’s eyeline as he looked at Barbara Luna), and then for another 35 seconds as they wrap up the interview and leave.

So Lucsly and Dulmur’s total screen time is only 3 minutes, 45 seconds.  Less than that, actually, since they weren’t on camera the whole time.  Dulmur has 31 lines in the episode, Lucsly has 18, for a total of 49 lines (some of them single words).  Dulmur speaks 170 words, Lucsly a mere 99, for a total of 269 words.

And I have to base a whole novel on just that.

Well, it’s not just that.  The performances of James W. Jansen (Lucsly) and Jack Blessing (Dulmur) are informative as well — the way they react and interact in their short time onscreen told me a lot about them.  Dulmur talks more and takes the lead in speaking with others, but defers to Lucsly, turns to him for answers, suggesting that Lucsly’s the senior partner but Dulmur’s the more gregarious one.  At the end, Dulmur softens when he confesses to Sisko that he probably would’ve arranged to meet Kirk too, but Lucsly reacts to that with a sullen glare, suggesting he’s more strict, meticulous, humorless.  That fits with Lucsly’s superior knowledge.  He knows what Bajoran Orbs are but Dulmur doesn’t.  Dulmur says there have been five Enterprises, Lucsly corrects him that it’s six.  From their faces and deliveries, I see that Dulmur’s able to compute the exact date of a stardate over a century ago but needs to think about it first, but Lucsly adds the day of the week with savant-like ease.  All this tells me a lot about who these men are, or at least who they might be. Developing these characters is detective work — watching and listening, reading between the lines, deducing their personalities.

And I do have other things to draw on besides those 3-plus minutes.  Lucsly and Dulmur have shown up in a few short stories, most notably Bill Leisner’s “Gods, Fate, and Fractals” and Dayton Ward’s “Almost . . . But Not Quite” in Strange New Worlds II.  Last Unicorn Games’ All Our Yesterdays: The Time Travel Sourcebook has a couple of chapters on the DTI and its organization.  And while I’m not bound by any of these and indeed have chosen to go in different directions from them in a lot of ways, they all offer ideas that are useful in building the story.  For instance, Dayton’s story mentions Dulmur’s ex-wife in passing.  I was able to build a ton of Dulmur’s backstory and characterization from the simple suggestion that he was married but isn’t anymore.  Sometimes it’s not so much detective work as taking a single idea and letting your imagination run wild with the possibilities it implies.  (Oh, and most tie-in fiction spells it “Dulmer,” on the theory that the names are anagrams of Scully and Mulder, but it’s Dulmur in the script, on StarTrek.com, and on Memory Alpha, the Trek Wiki.)

Plus the book isn’t just about Lucsly and Dulmur.  There’s a whole cast of DTI characters and their associates, including a few familiar faces but mostly original to this book.  There are a variety of subplots, and tie-ins with multiple ST time-travel episodes.  And I’ve done a lot of reading up on real quantum physics and time-travel theory to help me devise a (more or less) coherent model for how time travel works in the Trek universe.

But it all still centers on Agent Lucsly and Agent Dulmur.  And it all began with those 225 seconds of screen time, those 269 words, those two actors who probably spent no more than a day on the DS9 soundstage yet left an indelible impression.  That’s the thing about time — sometimes a little goes a long way.

Shore Leave approaches

As usual, and barring unforeseen complications, I’m going to be attending the Shore Leave 32 convention in Baltimore, MD this July 9-11.  For information on the con, visit http://www.shore-leave.com/.  The guest information page for yours truly is here.

Shore Leave is a Star Trek/science fiction convention which is pretty much the primary annual gathering of Pocket Star Trek fiction writers and editors.  Though this year it’s just authors and a couple of former editors, since the current Pocket editor won’t be able to make it.

This will be, I think, my sixth Shore Leave.  And it will be the first one since I started a blog, so I may well do some posting from the con, given the opportunity.

Oh, and there will be some actor types around too, like Edward James Olmos and Kevin Sorbo.  But it’s the writers who are the big draw, right? … Right?  (crickets chirping)

At the risk of jinxing it…

I’ve been back on my desktop PC for a bit over two days now, and it seems to be working okay again.  The repair shop kept it for about a week to make sure it was running okay and had no problems.  They tell me that they traced the problems to a leaky $2 capacitor on the motherboard, which they replaced at no additional cost, since the warranty period on their repairs was still in effect.  I’ve only noticed a couple of glitches.  There was a checksum error when I first started it up, but if I understand the meaning of “checksum” correctly, that has something to do with timing, and it’s understandable that it would be off when a computer’s been unplugged for a while.  And the problem hasn’t been repeated.  I also got one system error yesterday, with the error message suggesting it might be a sign of an imminent hard disk failure, but the Event Viewer’s log of the error suggests it’s not as bad as the text suggested, and it hasn’t been repeated.  And heck, if the worst happens and this hard disk does fail, I’ve still got the old one that came with this computer.  If the problem was with a capacitor all along, that hard disk may still be perfectly functional.  It’s smaller in capacity than my new one, but they’re both vastly larger than I need.

So now I’m back (for good, I hope) on a computer that isn’t glacially slow!  Hooray!  Hopefully that means my ability to watch online videos and look at graphics-heavy web pages will be improved.  And if I use my laptop mainly just for writing offline, without the need for browser and mailer and such to be open too, it should go faster.

The catch is, the keyboard I’m using isn’t perfect.  It has a built-in trackpad whose sensitivity leaves something to be desired.  Sometimes it’s too sensitive, interpreting a soft touch as a click when it’s just meant to be part of a scrolling gesture, and sometimes it’s not sensitive enough when I do try to tap/click.  (Or rather, it apparently interprets a gentle tap as a “right-click” instead of a “left-click,” and it’s hard to gauge where the boundary lies.)  There are actual buttons below it, of course,  but they’re sometimes a bit balky too.

Overall, though, I’m better off with the computer repaired.  I just hope it doesn’t break down again within hours of my posting this.

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STAR TREK MAGAZINE now available in digital form!

I’ve just learned thanks to TrekMovie.com that Star Trek Magazine is now being offered for purchase in a digital format for PC, Mac, and iPad from Zinio Digital Magazines.  The first issue available in this format is the current Movie Special issue, containing my feature article “The Remaking of Star Trek,” an evaluation of the 2009 film.  You can preview the digital reader and purchase the issue here at Zinio.com.  There’s also a subscription page here.

ST Magazine 26 regular cover

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S2) Reviews: “A Game of Chess”/”The Emerald”

“A Game of Chess”: Rerun opening footage of Jim getting the mission in a phone booth — though this time the “self-destruct in five seconds” bit is replaced with “ten seconds” to better fit the timing of the visuals.  The mission’s kind of convoluted — gold meant for the resistance in a Soviet-bloc country has been stolen by the government, but there’s a chess player who wants to steal it for himself, and the team has to steal it from both of them.  But none of that really matters.  Ultimately this is simply a heist story, with the underlying politics as the flimsiest of excuses.

The dossier scene starts a bit unusually for a change, with Jim looking at a book on chess before he picks his team, but it’s the same damn team as always.  Anyway, the chess grandmaster they have to beat is Nicholas Groat, who has arranged for the main bank in Countryoftheweekia to be burned down, so that the stolen gold is to be stored in the next-safest location, the vault of the hotel where the chess tournament is being held.  Groat is played by Don Francks, whom I know mainly as the voice of Sabretooth in the ’90s X-Men animated series, though his highest-profile gig seems to be as one of the leads in the La Femme Nikita TV series, which I never watched.  He’s also noteworthy as the first person ever to play Boba Fett, in the cartoon short that was the only watchable part of the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special.

Rollin plays Groat’s opponent, but he’s cheating with a couple of gadgets that were sci-fi for the time, but not anymore: one, a brooch worn by Cinnamon, containing a tiny gem-sized video camera to spy on the match, and two, a computer able to play chess infallibly.  Jim sends the moves to Rollin over his hearing aid.  Rollin makes a point of showing Groat that he’s deaf without the hearing aid, but then after he wins the first match, he makes the “mistake” of taking his earpiece out and then responding to Cinnamon calling his name from behind.  Groat has caught on that he’s cheating, and he follows him to his room and finds out about the computer.  Rollin offers him a partnership, with proven chess champion Groat as the front man to throw off suspicion, but Groat’s pride won’t allow it.

The computer’s operation doesn’t strike me as very realistic, nor does the game play.  It’s presented as proceeding one move at a time, with nobody knowing that a mate is approaching until immediately beforehand.  A master chess player, let alone a chess computer, should be able to anticipate a mate several moves in advance.

Groat’s using some spy tech too, though less advanced than what the team has.  His sidekick is Mueller, played by William Wintersole, who was the sympathetic prison guard in the first season’s “Old Man Out.”  He uses a film camera hidden in a briefcase to film the opening of the hotel safe, then develops the film in his room to get the combination.  But then he finds out that the bank is installing a time lock, so that knowing the combination will be useless.  Uh-oh!

But it so happens that, while Rollin and Barney were showing the computer to Groat, they mentioned that its electronics mess with people’s watches.  Groat discovers his watch is several hours fast.  Hey, what if those guys’ chess computer could speed up the time lock…?

So the team lures Groat into a partnership, though at first they pretend to be reluctant to cooperate, so that Mueller has to hold them at gunpoint.  Groat gets the best line of the episode: “You have one minute to decide whether we do it with or without your cooperation.  And I remind you: my watch is running very fast.”  Of course, the team is only reluctant because Groat doesn’t have an adequate plan.  They agree to the partnership so long as they call the shots.

Thus, we get the odd situation of the entire IMF team cooperating as a team openly in front of the marks, basically letting the bad guys see their entire operation and participate in it, the only remaining deception being which side they’re on (and what their names and nationalities are, of course, though Martin Landau seems to be doing a Mid-Atlantic accent that changes longitude by the second).  It’s not enough to accelerate the time lock; they need to isolate the hotel and neutralize the government guards watching the gold.  They do this by contaminating the water supply with something that simulates the symptoms of typhoid fever and quarantining the hotel.  Rollin, who just lost the tournament to Groat (as a courtesy, and also due to not having the computer running), shows up in a different disguise as a doctor and gives injections that knock out the guards.

This is where the insistence on using the same cast every week falls apart.  Rollin playing two characters interacting with the same group of people just minutes apart is totally unbelievable, given how simple his makeup is in both cases.  And Cinnamon barely needed to be involved at all.  It’s also implausible that Groat wasn’t suspicious when the same woman who called out to Rollin and gave away the hearing-aid scam turned out to be a member of Rollin’s team.  A gifted chess player like that should’ve been able to see that he was being maneuvered into a trap.  They should’ve brought in someone else to play the doctor, and left Cinnamon out of the team as it was presented to Groat and Mueller.  Maybe left Cinnamon out altogether and hired a local actress to stage the hearing-aid reveal.

Anyway, with the guards knocked out, Barney hooks up a gadget that doesn’t look much like the chess computer at all (huh?), and uses it to speed up the time lock in the vault.  He says it’ll speed up about 20 times, which means it should still take over half an hour, but they’re all still standing in the same places when it opens.  Anyway, Groat uses the combination, and he and Mueller rush into the safe to ooh and ahh over the gold bars (which I’m betting are the same props as the platinum bars from “Charity,” just repainted).   The team then moves in to “help” them take the gold out of the vault, but Rollie pulls a gun on them and forces them to stay inside, and the team closes the door on them.  It’s a rather abrupt and anticlimactic ending.  And the question of whether they have enough air in there to survive until the time lock disengages again is unaddressed, but it seems unlikely.

Overall, a pretty unimpressive episode, aside from that one really cool line.

——

“The Emerald”: This episode’s premise has a lot in common with the last one.  The tape scene is stock again, and the mission is familiar too; once again, there’s a vague political/espionage backstory for a plot that’s basically about using high-tech cheating and feigned partnership with the bad guy in order to get a valuable McGuffin out of a vault.  In this case, the McGuffin is, somewhat randomly, an emerald to which is attached a microfilm detailing a secret enemy plan for devaluating Western currency.  This emerald has accidentally fallen into the hands of a wealthy arms dealer, Tomar (William Smithers, previously seen in “The Ransom”), who doesn’t know about the secret information but just wants the emerald (which for some reason is blue, not green).  Enemy agent Petrosian (Michael Strong in his third M:I role) is also after the emerald, and the IMF must beat him to it and eliminate him.

The cheating gadget this time is again pretty sci-fi: a card-table cover with built-in sensors that can read the magnetic patterns of the ink in the cards laid upon it (at least the special cards the team switches out for the real ones on the gambling cruise where the episode takes place), allowing Barney to signal Jim using a speaker hidden in his glasses.

Barney plays a diplomatic attache and requests an armed guard on the cruise ship’s safe to protect a diplomatic pouch, so that Petrosian and his man Williams (Claude Woolman, previously seen in “The Legacy”) can’t break in.  And Tomar refuses to sell the emerald for any price.  A stymied Petrosian sees a ray of hope when he finds Rollin practicing his card-sharp tricks.  Rollin explains he’s not allowed to gamble for big money given that he’s a known “professional” (i.e. cheater).  But Petrosian suggests that he could control the cards at a poker game, give Tomar a seemingly unbeatable hand so that he’d be willing to wager the emerald, and then give Petrosian an even better hand; Petrosian would let him have the money.

But first they have to get Tomar to the table.  Cinnamon attracts Tomar’s interest, then she and Jim stage a scene where he cleans her out, winning a priceless bracelet from her, and she’s so distraught she almost flings herself into the sea until Tomar stops her.  She tearily convinces him to play against Jim in order to win back the necklace and humiliate him.  And when he gets to the table, Jim is playing against Petrosian and Rollin.

The poker games here are the usual kind seen in TV and movies where almost every hand features wildly high-scoring and improbable hands.  Nobody in fiction ever seems to win a hand with a pair of fours.  The climactic hand, after Jim has been cleaned out and Tomar has reached the point of betting the emerald, is a classic example, where it’s a full house, kings high (Rollin) vs. a straight flush (Petrosian) vs. four aces (Tomar).  Don’t ask me which one beats which one; I only know enough about poker to recognize the hands.  But I guess a straight flush is the best, since Williams is behind Rollin and signaling Petrosian that he’s good to go.  But Rollin double-crosses them, using an up-the-sleeve gizmo to replace his hand with a higher straight flush.  He takes his winnings and leaves, and while Jim detains Williams, Petrosian pursues Rollin.  Rollin lets slip that he’s an American agent, and Barney and Willy show up and overpower Petrosian, making him think he’s going overboard right before they drug him.

Here’s where it gets a little weird.  They set up a fake trawler cabin in Rollin’s stateroom  and let Petrosian wake up there, thinking he’s gone overboard.  He has the trawler crew (Barney and Willy) send a coded message to Williams to kill Rollin and retrieve the emerald.  Then they dismantle the fake cabin, drug Petrosian again, put a Rollin mask on him, and stick a fake emerald under his pillow.  Jim says this is necessary so that the enemy agents won’t pursue them, since they’ll believe they’ve gotten the goods and killed the opposition.  But it feels like a needlessly convoluted way to get Petrosian killed off without having the team kill him directly (something this show usually shuns, hypocritical as that is).

So two episodes in a row with strikingly similar premises, but somewhat different in the execution.  I think this one was a little more fun overall, but it lost its way in the final act.  I also think this one holds a record in having the most return guests so far, but I could be wrong.

By the way, I didn’t note when it started, but the logo at the end of the closing credits reveals that we’ve reached the point where Paramount had bought Desilu.  The Paramount logo here looks different from the one I recall seeing on Star Trek episodes from the same period; maybe one of them was changed for syndication?

Resonance

I’ve been having some bouts of pretty sharp nerve pain lately, and so I went to see a neurologist who had me get an MRI.  I’ve had several MRIs done in my life.  I’m lousy at keeping track of my medical history — perhaps because I don’t like to think about it — but I think the first was back in the ’80s.  A lot of people hate the noise of MRI machines, but I found it to be a fascinating experience.  The way the sounds resonated in the chamber and interfered with each other created a rich white (or pink?) noise that I was able to play with in my mind.  The first stage of the scan was a series of pulses, dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah, and I was able to hear it almost as a chorus of voices.  I imagined the word “cat” and I heard the voices chanting “cat cat cat,” I imagined “bug” and they chanted “bug bug bug,” and so on.  All the necessary overtones were there in the sound I was hearing, so my brain was able to select just the ones I chose to let me hear what I wanted to hear.  I moved on to making it “talk” in-a-stac-ca-to-man-ner-one-syl-la-ble-at-a-time.  But then it switched to a much faster pulsing and the harmonics blended even more intricately, and I literally heard music, the chorus now singing a rather lively melody.  I still remember the tune, a couple of decades later.  As for lyrics, I just made the chorus sing numbers in ascending order until it was over.  I got up to several hundred at least.

So in the years that followed, I always hoped I’d get to have an MRI again someday.  Eventually, maybe close to a decade ago, I got the chance, but it was an open-sided machine, the kind that’s for people who get claustrophobic in the closed tubes.  I actually found the open machine scarier to be in, because I was between these two massive blocks with just a few columns holding up the one on top, and I was afraid of getting crushed between them.  A cylinder is a much sturdier-feeling thing to be inside.  Anyway, the open machine wouldn’t have the same resonances, so I was glad when it turned out that it didn’t give adequate resolution anyway and I needed to get another one in a conventional machine.

However, that machine didn’t give me the same “chorus” that the original one did — just a lot of loud banging.  There wasn’t enough harmonic information bouncing around in there, or the pacing wasn’t right, or something.  I figured maybe the machine’s design was different and it was producing different sounds.  But I’ve had, I think, two more MRIs since then, including the one last week, and at least one of them was in a different machine.  (I think the one last week was the same machine I was scanned in after the open machine didn’t work.)  And I still haven’t been able to experience the same “chorus” effect I got that first time.

Which is disappointing enough in itself, but I’m also bothered by not knowing the reason why.  Is it that newer machines don’t produce the same sound patterns?  Is it that the earplugs they use block out the harmonics?  (But surely I would’ve had earplugs the first time, right?)  Maybe the difference is in me.  I’m older now and I’ve most likely lost some of my higher-frequency hearing, so maybe I’m not getting enough overtone information to let my brain synthesize the perception of phonetic speech.  Or maybe it’s just that my imagination isn’t as flexible as it was in my teens.  That doesn’t seem likely; given what I do for a living, I think my imagination still gets plenty of exercise.  But maybe the mind gets more rigid in other ways.  I hope that’s not it.  I figure either a design change in the MRIs or a change in my hearing is the reason.

So anyway, every time I’ve gotten an MRI before (after the first), I’ve looked forward to it in the hopes of hearing the singing again.  But this time, I realized it’s just not going to happen anymore.  And I’ve decided I don’t like MRIs anymore.  They’re just really dang loud, and they’re confining, and you have to lie totally still for a long time, and oh, they’re really loud.  Plus it made my whole body tremble a bit unnervingly.  I thought it was just the vibration, but the technician I mentioned it to afterward indicated that it was the magnetic field making my innards vibrate like that.  I’m not sure that’s correct; as I understand it, the effects it induces in the body are on a molecular level.  Still, it wasn’t very pleasant.  Not intensely unpleasant, but not much fun.  So hopefully I won’t need another MRI for a while.

Of course, I don’t want to discourage anyone from getting an MRI if it’s medically advisable.  There are much worse experiences that can be had, many of which can be prevented by getting an MRI.  It’s just that my first MRI was actually enjoyable, and I’m disappointed that that was apparently the exception to the rule.

One thing the experience drove home, as I mentioned to the technician, was that you never hear the MRI machine on House making all that loud noise.  She agreed with me and said that show’s depiction of MRI scans is very unrealistic — the doctors personally supervising the scans, getting instantaneous results, getting images that don’t even look like MRI, etc.  I guess her experience when watching House (and probably most other medical shows) is like my experience when watching most space-based sci-fi shows or movies.

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Making stories shorter

I’m in between turning in the outline on Star Trek DTI and getting it approved, so I’ve been doing a bit of work on original stuff in the interim.  I decided to revise an old novelette that I haven’t had much success selling.  I belatedly realized part of the reason why.  I’d attempted to give all the story’s characters nuance and texture, but I somehow ended up making them all rather unlikeable.  Maybe that’s because it’s a murder mystery and I wanted them all to be plausible suspects, but then, the detective wasn’t much better.  So I wanted to strip away the unappealing aspects of the characters.  I also decided that I wanted to trim this 10,000-word story down to 7500 or less, short story length, since that would increase the number of markets I could submit it to.  (This was kind of inspired by my recent realization that I’ve never actually had a short story published, unless you count “The Weight of Silence” at 7600.)  I figured I could kill two birds with one stone, cutting out the unappealing character stuff along with the rest of the extraneous verbiage.

I wasn’t sure I’d actually be able to  meet my goal of 7500 words, but as of a little while ago, I managed to pull it off.  One thing I realized in the process was that I’d put in a lot of unnecessary worldbuilding.  The story’s in my “Default” universe, and as with much of my Default-verse fiction, I tried too hard to establish the story’s place in the larger continuity, to elaborate on backstory and historical and social context, even though a lot of it wasn’t really necessary to tell the story per se.  I guess that’s an important lesson to learn for an aspiring short-story writer: keep the focus tight.  Only include what you need in order to convey the crucial information about the single specific event you’re depicting.

Indeed, detailed descriptions in general are unnecessary in short stories.  I ended up stripping out a lot of the physical descriptions of characters and settings, paring it down to the bare essentials, and doing the same for a lot of the description of characters’ expressions, reactions, etc., letting it rely more on the dialogue.  Again, keeping the focus tight on the specific ideas that are relevant to the story, leaving out extraneous detail.  Short-story writing is about tightness of focus.  It’s not something that comes naturally to me.

The next bit of story reworking I want to do is the opposite in some ways, yet symptomatic of the same problem in others.  I got one of my recent short stories rejected with a very helpful note that I wish I’d gotten sooner: namely that the early portions of the story focus too much on setting the scene, on worldbuilding, and not enough on establishing the viewpoint character, what’s at stake for him, and why the reader should care.  This story actually turned out to be one of my shortest; I succeeded in the part about focusing on a single specific event and leaving out unnecessary detail.  But maybe I left out too much detail on the main character, or maybe included it too late and the other exposition too early.  I’ll have to look into remedying that, and since it came out so short, I have room to expand it where I need to without having to worry about cutting stuff.   But maybe cutting stuff from the early portions is what I need anyway.  Remains to be seen.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S2) Reviews: “The Photographer”/”The Spy”

“The Photographer”: Jim finds the message by raising the scenery flat at a theater, apparently.  Lately I’m noticing that he always spends a lot of time driving up and walking to the place where he finds the message, something that would be far too slow an opening by today’s standards.  I find myself going through this pre-tape portion and the dossier scene on fast playback.  TV viewers really had a lot more patience in the ’60s, I guess.

Anyway, the mission: Photographer/spy David Redding (Anthony Zerbe, later Admiral Dougherty in Star Trek: Insurrection, and making his first of five M:I appearances) and his partner Alex Morley (ubiquitous character actor John Randolph) have the key to an unbreakable encryption that would reveal the identities of 150 enemy agents who plan to release a plague bacillus across the US.  The team must discover the code in time to stop them.  It’s an interesting case, because for once it uses Cinnamon’s backstory as a famous cover girl rather than ignoring it.  The editor of the magazine Cinnamon modeled for is actually helping out her old model-turned-spy to set Redding up.  But Cinnamon is pretending to be instead a model-turned-prominent-biochemist, working on top secret materials.

David is a fashion photographer, first seen in a shoot where he and the model are intimately close, literally straddling each other at times, giving new meaning to “making love to the camera.”  Anyway, his session with Cinnamon is more sedate, since she’s pretending to be married (to Jim, surprisingly, instead of Rollin; I guess having artifice imitate life in-story was enough without bringing Bain and Landau’s real marriage into it).  His security is incredibly lax for a spy; during the shoot, Barney and Jim sneak around his home and his bomb shelter and replace all his bullets with fake “blood-spatter” wax rounds.

Chemist Cinnamon wants to replace a fake chemical formula on the set with a real one, and “absent-mindedly” writes down a top-secret one she’s had too much on her mind.  Later, David and Alex find out from their contacts that it’s the medium for the bacillus; Cinnamon must be working on the antidote.  The spies trap Cinnamon and Jim, and David explains his reasons for becoming a spy.  He’s bitter because his loyal, honest father was falsely convicted of espionage and executed by the US.  It’s an interesting scene, almost playing like a critique of McCarthyism and anti-communist paranoia, but hold that thought.

David and Alex force their captives to confess what they know (a plan involving real torture of Jim, though Cinnamon doesn’t let it go on too long).  She says the US is planning to nuke their country out of existence before the bacillus is released.  Alex has the idea to tell their people to pre-emptively bomb New York, which the US will blame on Russia or China, forcing them to retaliate on both of those, leaving their nameless country as the only superpower left.  (This was 1967, so Carl Sagan hadn’t theorized nuclear winter yet.  People were still naive enough to believe that if the US, USSR, and China nuked each other out of existence, the rest of the world would be able to survive.  But then, I guess nuclear stockpiles were smaller then than they ended up being in the ’80s.)  The spies shoot Cinnamon and Jim, not knowing their bullets have been replaced with blanks, and notify the People’s Republic of Anonymousia to launch the nuke — though of course Barney is jamming the transmission.  (This is one hell of a dangerous plan.  What if Barney’s equipment had blown a vacuum tube or something?)

When the spies go back to the house for some reason, Rollin and Willy show up as federal agents, placing them under arrest and planning to take them to New York.  Knowing that the Big Apple is about to be baked, the spies strike a deal to turn over the code, which is in the shelter.  Once in the shelter, they “shoot” Willy, but conveniently leave Rollin alive for later, when someone will have to go out and check the fallout levels.  The team uses ground charges and a heat lamp at the shelter’s ventilation shaft to simulate the blast effects from nearby NYC, along with the usual fake radio messages, and set up a panorama of fake devastation around the shelter’s periscope.  Then they feed David a fake encrypted message, and for some reason, perhaps figuring it doesn’t matter anymore, David doesn’t prevent Rollin from watching as he writes down his memorized decryption key.  He’s puzzled when the message comes out as gibberish, but Rollin’s seen enough.  He snatches the key and gets away, unaffected by the wax bullets hitting him.  The spies come up to discover they’ve been punked.

And here’s the disappointing part: just before Jim has the spies hauled away, he tells David that Alex was a spy all along and was the one who framed David’s father.  Of course, the US of A has to be totally blameless, right?

All in all, a mixed bag.  It was nice to see some acknowledgment of a team member’s backstory and a good justification for why that particular person was on this particular mission (who better to entrap a fashion photographer than a supermodel-spy?).  But a lot of the story was rather contrived, and it seems there could’ve been a simpler way to get the code than faking a nuclear holocaust (a gambit they would use repeatedly on this show).  And the success of the plan was too dependent on predicting that David would let Rollin live and watch the decoding process.

——

“The Spy”: My, there’s a distinctive name for an episode of a spy show.  The tape sequence is a reuse of the footage from “The Survivors,” with new audio, of course.  The mission: enemy agent Felicia Vabar (Kate Woodville, Natira from Trek’s “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky and My Goodness, This is an Awfully Long Title, Isn’t It?”) has stolen the first of two overlays that, together, reveal NATO’s defense positions in Europe.  She’s paying off Captain Cherno (Joseph Campanella, who was in ST: Voyager‘s “Author, Author” but whom I know mainly as the voice of Doc Connors on the ’90s animated Spider-Man series) to help her steal the other overlay.  The team must stop her and get the first overlay back.

They do this by using her plan themselves (though how they know her plan is, as usual, unexplained), just ten minutes early.  The defense minister of the anonymous country of the week (seriously, even the Voice on Tape just calls it “the country where the meeting is being held” — so how the hell does the team know where to go?) is in on the IMF’s plan, but everyone else in the defense ministry is in the dark, so there’s theoretically real danger for Jim, the one who has to break in and steal the plans.  For some reason, he starts by pretending to be Cherno’s fill-in masseur and doing a lousy job.  Anyway, he breaks into the vault using an overcomplicated reverse drill of sorts — a motor and belt setup to spin the lock dial while he holds a big stationary bit against it.  He takes spy photos of the overlay and shoots the camera out the window in a large projectile, which Rollin picks up outside.  Jim is captured and interrogated with drugs, but the team knew this would happen and Rollin hypnotized Jim to forget all about the mission after he fired the projectile.  Really.  Yet somehow Jim remembers to keep faking a generic Eastern European accent.

Meanwhile, Willy-as-guard shoots at Rollin to keep him from getting to his car.  Felicia is idling her car nearby, having arrived to see the theft in progress, so Rollin carjacks her to make his getaway.  He keeps the camera long enough for her to see it and recognize what it is, then tosses it out to Cinnamon, who begins developing the photos and creating a fake overlay in their place.  Rollin convinces Felicia to take him back to her place, and after some initial tension (and gunplay with her goons — Rollin wins), they begin to do business together, and eventually move on to pleasure (first base only, this being 1967).  Lucky Rollin.  Kate Woodville looks particularly luscious here.  I never realized how hot she was, because in her Trek episode she had an unflattering hairstyle and an excess of eye makeup.  Still, I’ve always appreciated that ravishing upper-class British accent of hers.

When they arrange to meet to exchange overlays later, Felicia tries to double-cross Rollin and calls an assassin ally to shoot him so she can steal the film.  But Rollin pulls the old dummy-standin-to-draw-fire trick and gets the drop on Felicia and friend.  He tells her to meet him on his terms and bring the real overlay, no tricks.

Meanwhile, intercut with the dummy shooting, Cherno is threatening Jim with Russian roulette to try to get him to talk.  He wants to get the plans for himself to sell to Felicia at an increased price.  But it’s an odd form of intimidation, since he’s using a revolver and Jim can clearly see whether the bullet is going to be in the chamber or not.  And when it is, he turns out to be able to knock it aside before it fires — he wasn’t even tied up.  So what was the point?  Anyway, Rollin’s magic hypnosis has conditioned Jim to snap out of his amnesia and talk if his life is threatened, so he tells Cherno where the exchange will be.

So Cherno and Felicia independently show up where Rollin is waiting, and the defense minister is watching with the rest of the team to see Cherno incriminate himself, or something.  Cherno’s men chase Rollin off and he claims the overlay, then trades it for Felicia’s rather large satchel o’ moola.  Fat lot of good it does him, though, for she shoots him.  And then the defense minister shoots her.  Which makes one wonder what the point of creating the fake overlay was.  Maybe for once the team didn’t have the psychic ability to anticipate everyone’s decisions and didn’t know Felicia would shoot or get shot.  Anyway, Rollin acts a little sad about the sexy spy lying there dead, and that’s the end.

A mediocre and logically flawed episode, then, but worthwhile for Kate Woodville’s sheer hotness.

Is it a computer or a yo-yo?

Back in December, I wrote about my travails with getting my desktop computer up and running again.  Now that I’m finally not broke, I’ve been able to take it in to the shop to try to get it fixed.  So I took it to a new place I haven’t been to before, one I had a coupon for, and told them about the “disk read error” problem with getting it booted, and so forth.  A few days later, they called me back to tell me they’d fixed it, and when I picked it up, I was told there had been something wrong with the boot sector that needed to be reloaded.  Okay, so I took it home and tried it, and it wouldn’t start at all.  I took it back in, the guy looked at it for a bit, then told me that it was trying to boot from the CD drive before the hard drive, and that was causing the problem.  He said he’d fixed it so it would boot from the hard drive first.  Well, I took it home again, and when I started it up, I got the same disk read error problem as before.  But I kept at it a couple more times and finally it started.  I hoped it was just a temporary aberration; at least the guy’s explanation had given me hope that there might be an easy fix if it persisted.

So it ran fine for a couple of days, but then it started telling me there was a corrupt file in my browser cache and I needed to run CHKDSK.  I did so from within Windows, and it went through the first of CHKDSK’s three steps, then partway through the second.  Then it spontaneously rebooted.  After the Windows intro screen, I got a blue screen telling me it was running CHKDSK again, and again it got through the first one and a half stages before telling me “An unspecified error has occurred . . .” and freezing up.

So I took it back into the shop for the third time.  After I explained all this to the owner, he asked me some questions about the second hard drive I’d put in to replace the first one I’d had this problem with.  We both agreed it was unlikely that two hard drives would have the same problem.  He had the idea to ask whether the hand-me-down drive from my father had been previously installed with Windows Vista or 7 instead of XP.  I realized my father had used Vista, and I couldn’t recall whether I’d reformatted the drive first (though I think I did).  Anyway, he said he’d have his tech people take a look at it.

So that was all well and good.  But as I left the store, I had the vague sense I’d forgotten something.  Alas, it wasn’t until that night that I realized what it was.  This is a “small form factor”  PC, about the size of two stacked laptops, and its power supply is external.  I’d brought it with me in my backpack, but in a separate compartment from the rest, and I’d forgotten to give it to them.  So this morning I had to go back to the store yet again to deliver the power supply. Sigh…

So when I finally go in to pick it up after this, that will be my fifth trip there in less than two weeks.  Thank goodness they have a 90-day warranty.  I just hope the fifth time will be the last.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S2) Reviews: “The Astrologer”/”Echo of Yesterday”

“The Astrologer”: The tape is in the booth at a parking lot, and it’s one of those that says “please destroy in the usual manner” yet is destroyed in a manner we’ve never seen before (spontaneously immolating when placed in an ashtray).  The mission: An exiled leader, Curzon (I’m guessing on the spelling), has been captured by the junta that overthrew him, along with a microfilm holding the names of his resistance contacts back home.  He’s being held captive in an unknown location prior to being taken back home for interrogation.  Even though the team doesn’t know where he is, they must rescue him and prevent the exposure of the agents on the microfilm.

They do this by getting themselves invited aboard the plane that deputy premier Grigov (David Hurst, Hodin from Star Trek‘s “The Mark of Gideon”) will be taking back home.  Cinnamon gets herself invited by posing as a world-famous astrologer (gee, these plans would never work in the age of Google) who predicts a plot against the premier back home.  Odd that they’d take this tack, since Grigov is a skeptic; but he knows the premier is a believer, and a little pushy questioning from Jim as a reporter makes Grigov unwilling to risk not warning the premier and thereby earning his wrath.  Conveniently, the never-seen premier sounds exactly like Martin Landau with a gruff Slavic accent, so Rollin will impersonate him over the phone.  Their plan almost hits a snag when the real premier calls Grigov, but Barney disconnects him and cuts in Rollin, whereupon they stage a little audio play of a hapless aide falling victim to a trap that would’ve killed the premier if not for Cinnamon’s warning.  Premier Rollie orders Grigov to invite Cinnamon on the plane before stopping to pick up Curzon at the hidden location.  (They’re at the Paris airport, yet the phone box Barney taps into is labeled in English on the inside.)

After Cinnamon’s steamer trunks are pre-checked by Grigov’s man, Willy switches them out with duplicate trunks hiding Barney and Rollin inside.  They think they’ll have enough air in the luggage compartment to do their work, but as the plane rises above the clouds (and transforms into a completely different aircraft on grainier stock footage), they discover the air supply is cut off.  So they must hasten to drill an air hole into the conference room overhead to survive — about 30 seconds sooner than they would’ve cut a hole into the same compartment anyway.  Well, that was anticlimactic.

While Barney wires the conference room radio to transmit only to his rig in the luggage compartment, Cinnamon convinces Grigov that there’s a Scorpio out to destroy him.  When they land, they pick up the drugged Curzon and his captor Col. Stahl (Steve Ihnat, Garth of Izar from Trek’s “Whom Gods Destroy”).  Stahl doesn’t by Grigov’s story about Cinnamon saving the premier’s life, since he just talked to the premier and found he’d sustained an injury that made the story impossible.  By all rights, this should’ve blown the IMF’s plan wide open, yet Stahl is inexplicably persuaded by a call to fake-premier Rollin.  At least Grigov’s continued credulity makes sense, because he and Stahl hate each other and Grigov assumes Stahl is just trying to screw him over.  And it just so happens that Stahl is a Scorpio…

Stahl and Grigov place the microfilm in the plane’s safe; conveniently for the IMF, the premier has ordered it to remain sealed until he gets his own hands on it.  Rollin switches it for a fake microfilm naming Grigov as a traitor.  Cinnamon tips them both off one by one; Grigov sees the forgery and blames it on Stahl, and Stahl catches him in the act of trying to burn the microfilm with his name on it.  Stahl arrests Grigov, along with his aide who’s also named on the forged film, leaving Curzon unguarded.

This lets Barney and Rollin bring in the main gimmick, a lifelike automaton of Curzon — actually actor Robert Tiedemann holding very, very still.  (Oddly, Tiedemann was billed as “Automaton” rather than “Curzon.”  Probably because the automaton got more screen time and more action.)  This, err, Life Model Decoy can only do one thing, move its left arm downward.  We were told at the start that this was all it would need to do.  After rescuing the real Curzon, they set up the dummy with its hand on the emergency hatch release and set off the alarm, bringing Stahl just in time to see “Curzon” pull the lever and eject from the plane, falling to his “death.”

So once the team disembarks, they’ve arranged things so that Stahl will be blamed for forging the microfilm and losing Curzon.  I think.  Maybe Stahl will be blamed for losing Curzon and Grigov will be charged with treason.  Either way, the bad guys are doomed and the day is saved, and as usual, none of the obstacles the team faced at the act breaks troubled them for more than a minute or two thereafter.

——

“Echo of Yesterday”: Jim gets the message on an 8-track tape in a car on the street.  It’s Nazis again: this time Col. von Frank (Eric Braeden, last seen as Cinnamon’s love interest in “The Short Tail Spy”) is the leader of the neo-Nazi movement in Germany.  He has the support of Otto Kelmann (Wilfrid Hyde-White), the latest of three generations of munitions developers who’ve backed various German war efforts, including the Nazis.  Kelmann is about to hand over his munitions factories and wealth to von Frank, giving the latter the base he’ll need to become the next Hitler.  The mission, naturally, is to stop them.

Now, at first I was a bit surprised to see the perennially adorable Wilfrid Hyde-White cast as a villain.  But it turned out that wasn’t really his role.  Kelmann is more misguided than evil; he believes that Nazism represents a set of noble principles and that the orchestrators of the Holocaust corrupted it.  Even though Hitler personally murdered Kelmann’s wife for opposing him, Kelmann let Hitler convince him that it was necessary, and has repressed his anger for decades in support of what he believed to be a greater purpose.  The team’s goal is to reawaken his sense of moral outrage by reminding him of his tragedy.  As it happens, his late wife bore a resemblance to Cinnamon (though not the usual exact resemblance).  So she takes the role of a young photographer (his wife’s profession as well) and arranges a meet-cute with Kelmann, although it’s more of a meet-rude that’s actually pretty fun.  After a fair amount of acerbic banter, Cinnamon arranges to tear her skirt, so that Kelmann, charming Hyde-Whitish gentleman that he is, feels obligated to escort her home to protect her dignity.   Once there, she gets threatening calls from an abusive boyfriend, so Kelmann invites her to his home for her peace of mind, as well as offering her a job as photographer for his memoirs.  Throughout their interaction, Kelmann sees split-second flashes of his wife in place of Cinnamon, a deftly executed directorial touch.

Meanwhile, Jim is pretending to be an American Neo-Nazi seeking to learn from the master, von Frank.  He has to win vF’s trust so he can control the situation when vF meets Cinnamon at Kelmann’s home (a mansion that’s been used in multiple earlier episodes; meanwhile, vF’s office is the same one used by Borca in “The Slave”).  Von Frank is a paranoid psychotic with a violent temper, and he reacts with outrage and suspicion to Cinnamon’s presence, afraid her photos will expose his connection to Kelmann and give his enemies fuel against him.  Jim claims to be suspicious of Cinnamon and takes vF to her place to investigate.

While Jim thus keeps vF occupied, Cinnamon drugs Kelmann’s tea to put him to sleep while the team redresses Kelmann’s study to look like it did in 1932, when his wife was killed.  This is courtesy of the photos Jim collected from Cinnamon during his visit, both the new ones of his current study and the ’30s-vintage ones she stole from his albums (though why he’d have photos of his own study is unexplained).  With Kelmann in a trancelike “twilight” state, so that he’ll perceive it as a vivid dream, the team stages the murder of his wife before his eyes, with Rollin playing Hitler himself.  (I was wrong in my review of “The Legend,” where Rollin played Martin Bormann; this makes two real people that Rollin has impersonated, both of them top Nazis.)

Meanwhile, Jim and vF have uncovered evidence that Cinnamon is a spy, and they arrive in Kelmann’s home just after it’s been restored to normal and Kelmann has awakened.  Cinnamon and Jim ensure that the confrontation is staged exactly as in the “dream” the others just acted out, and Jim hands vF a gun loaded with blanks, which he uses to “kill” Cinnamon, just as Fuhrer Rollin “killed” her fifteen minutes earlier.   Von Frank pleads the necessity of the killing to Kelmann just as Rollin did.  But this time, Kelmann has been pushed too far.  This time he takes the revenge he wanted to take 35 years earlier.  Then, as von Frank lies dead before him, he moves with quiet dignity to the phone, notifies the police there’s been a shooting, and goes silently upstairs to wait for them.

I’m actually getting a little teary-eyed writing this.  “Echo of Yesterday” is definitely the high point of the season so far.  Of course Hyde-White’s charm is a major part of it, but it’s an engaging, thoughtful story, unusually nuanced for this show.  The scenes between Cinnamon and Kelmann are clever and effective, and the direction is excellent — not just the effective flashes of Kelmann’s memory, just a few frames each in sepia tone, but the overall style of the episode as well.  In the briefing, Jim is silhouetted against the window, an unusual setup, but the purpose becomes clear at the end when he stands in profile and fakes a Nazi salute, a chilling image even knowing that Jim is only pretending.

This is the first episode of the season without Barney in it, and only the fourth of the series overall.  It features some music that I’m fairly certain is new, but no composer is credited beyond Schifrin for the theme.  That might mean Schifrin did the music but they got the credit wrong.  Hard to say; I don’t know Schifrin’s style well enough to recognize it unambiguously as I can with, say, Gerald Fried or Jerry Fielding.

How many words? (UPDATED)

Today in a thread on the TrekBBS, someone asked my colleague David Mack whether his published word count to date had topped one million words.  That got me wondering how many words I’ve gotten published (i.e. stuff I’ve been paid for).   It might also just be useful for my future reference to have a list of all my word counts.  So here goes:

ORIGINAL 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” (upcoming): 7900
  • “Home is Where the Hub Is” (upcoming): 9800

Total original fiction count: 56,000 words

MARVEL NOVELS

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

Total Marvel novel count: 154,500 words

STAR TREK NOVELS

  • Ex Machina: 110,000
  • Orion’s Hounds: 105,000
  • The Buried Age: 132,000
  • Places of Exile: 55,000
  • Greater Than the Sum: 78,500
  • Over a Torrent Sea: 89,000
  • Seek a Newer World (sold but unpublished): 82,000

Total ST novel count: 651,500 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

Total ST short fiction count: 107,100 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

Total article count: 5260 words

All told:

  • Novels: 806,000 words (724,000 to date)
  • Short fiction: 163,100 words (145,400 to date)

Total fiction: 969,100 words (869,400 to date)

Add in nonfiction and the total goes to 974,360 words sold,  874,660 published to date.  Include everything but Seek a Newer World and I’ll have at least 892,360 words in print by the end of the year, probably more.

So I’m within 110,000 words of my million-word mark.  As it happens, I’m aiming for 100K with my Star Trek DTI novel, and I have stories on the market that could add another 12K if they sell.  So there’s a very good chance that DTI could put me over the top.

EDITED TO ADD: What about breakdowns by word count?  It comes out to 9 novels (over 40,000 words), 2 novellas (over 17,500 wds), 11 novelettes (over 7,500 words), and 0 short stories.  I guess “The Weight of Silence” is right on the borderline, though; the magazine it appears in, Alternative Coordinates, technically has a cutoff of 7,500 words, but I guess it’s not absolutely rigid.  So TWoS might end up being classed as a short story in bibliographies, if anyone considers it worth cataloguing.  The two stories I currently have on the market are both short stories, at 6900 words and 5200 words.  Another I’ve been shopping lately is 4200 words, but a recent rejection letter suggests that the opening could use some revisions which might add to that.  (I’ve been trying to produce shorter fiction lately because there are more markets for shorter works.)

New evidence for quantum Darwinism!

Well, what do you know.  Less than two weeks after I found out about the concept of quantum Darwinism for the first time, there’s a report of an experiment that’s actually found evidence for the process, and apparently not for the first time:

http://www.physorg.com/news192693808.html

Since quantum Darwinism was first proposed in 2003 by Wojciech Zurek of Los Alamos National Laboratory, several studies have found evidence to support the idea. Most recently, a team of physicists and engineers from Arizona State University and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., has performed experiments using scanning gate microscopy to image scar structures in an open quantum dot. Their results have revealed the existence of periodic scar offspring states that evolve and eventually contribute to a robust state, much in the way that the derivation of pointer states is predicted by quantum Darwinism.

The “scars,” as the researchers explained, are actually scarring on the quantum wave functions, which cause the wave functions’ amplitudes to be highly concentrated along classical trajectories. Scars are traditionally thought to be unstable, where any small perturbation could break up the connection to the classical trajectory. However, when scar states replicate and evolve through quantum Darwinism, becoming a family of mother-daughter states, they can become coherent and eventually stabilize into multiple pointer states.

To detect this scar replication, the researchers used scanning gate microscopy to scan a conductive tip over the scar structures at a constant height. The tip acts as a local perturbation by causing a change in electrical conductance proportional to the sample’s electron density at that location. By measuring the change in conductance at different locations, the technique revealed that the scar structures have a periodic magnetic field that fits well with the idea of periodic offspring states.

So it sounds like this is quickly becoming more than an abstract interpretation.  There’s real evidence that this is actually going on.  This is a major step forward in explaining something that’s been a point of contention in quantum physics for generations: how the wavefunction “collapses” (or appears to) to produce our “classical” world.

I do wish they weren’t calling it “quantum Darwinism,” though.  “Darwinism” is a loaded term in a lot of ways.  It’s misapplied when used for evolutionary biology, often used by creationists to paint evolutionary theory as just blind faith in one man’s dogma, when in fact modern evolutionary biology is as far beyond Darwin’s tentative, incomplete, and often inaccurate ideas as modern physics is beyond Newton’s pre-relativistic, pre-quantum model of physics.  Darwin was just the beginning of the process.  Also, more broadly, the term “Darwinism” has long been co-opted for philosophies like social Darwinism that distort and misuse “survival of the fittest” notions (a term actually coined by Herbert Spencer) into something rather different from what Darwin had in mind.  A term like “quantum evolution” or “quantum selection” might be more appropriate, though admittedly less evocative.

On the other hand, Zurek isn’t proposing a comprehensive analogy with evolutionary biology, merely evoking the specific idea of the environment selecting for entities better adapted to thrive in that environment, which is essentially the concept of natural selection that Darwin introduced in On the Origin of Species.  So I guess this is one case where the term “Darwinism” isn’t really inaccurate, as long as you ignore the unfortunate ideological baggage attached to the term by its many abusers.

Categories: Science Tags:

New article in ST Magazine Movie Special (UPDATED)

I kinda forgot that I had an article coming up in Star Trek Magazine #26 (aka #153 in the UK), until I came upon a post about the issue on Allyn Gibson’s LiveJournal.  I then saw the issue on the shelf at the grocery store this afternoon, so I figured I’d better update my homepage and my blog to announce it.

ST Magazine 26 regular coverRegular cover

The issue is billed as “The Ultimate Movie Guide” and has features on all eleven ST films.  My article is the last one in the bunch, covering the 2009 J. J. Abrams Star Trek film.  It’s called “The Remaking of Star Trek,” as a nod to Stephen E. Whitfield’s seminal book The Making of Star Trek, about the production of the original series.  The thrust of the article is to evaluate the movie as a movie, and to address its place in the context of the ST franchise’s history and in the context of the era in which is was made.

So this is some consolation for the shelving of my Abramsverse novel, which would’ve been out within the next month if plans hadn’t changed.  This way I still get something in print based on the new movie.

Star Trek Magazine‘s site is here, though it hasn’t been updated to issue 26 yet.

ST Magazine 26

Alternate cover

EDIT: I’m disabling comments to this post, because for some reason it’s attracting tons of spam.

Color key

Recently I discovered that my key to the front door of my apartment building had gotten bent somehow.  It still fit in the lock, but not perfectly, and I was concerned the bending might have weakened it, so I asked the building manager for a replacement.  It took a few days, since they were out of copies and getting new ones made, but it arrived a couple of days ago.  And I’m quite pleased with the result.  Before, both the building key and my apartment key were of the same design and color, so the only way to tell them apart was by their position on the key ring.  Sometimes my attention lapsed and I got them mixed up.  But the new building key is gold instead of silver!  Now it’s easy to tell them apart.  Hooray for lucky accidents!

Categories: Uncategorized

Patron saint of superheroes?

I’ve just learned that Syfy is developing a series set at a hospital for superheroes — a concept I had over a decade ago but never did anything with, alas.  Anyway, I got to wondering about an appropriate name for such a hospital.  Good Samaritan seems an obvious choice, but I also got to wondering about saint names.  And that led me to an old BBS thread I started that I thought was worth reposting here:

——

This is just an odd twist that my mind took… in thinking about superheroes, I got to wondering: if there were a lot of superheroes in the world, and if some of them were Catholic, then who would be considered their patron saint, their protector?

So I decided to look at Wikipedia’s list of saints and their various professional patronages (and will someone tell me how come shepherds need so many different patron saints? Is their job that dangerous?) and see what candidates might fit the bill. Here are the possibilities I see:

  • St. Adrian of Nicomedia: I’m not sure about this one. He’s a saint of guards and soldiers, but also arms dealers, so he seems to be working both sides of the street there. Maybe he could be the patron saint of your more violent, morally ambiguous crimefighters like the Punisher.
  • St. Dominic: Patron saint of scientists. Good for scientist/heroes like Mr. Fantastic and Ant-Man, but limited otherwise.
  • St. Erasmus of Formiae, aka St. Elmo: Patron of “anyone who works at great heights,” so he works for flying heroes or for rooftop-workers like Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Batman.
  • St. George: He seems like a good candidate. His patronages include archers (Green Arrow, Hawkeye), Boy Scouts (Superman, Captain America), knights (including Dark ones?), and soldiers. And he’s a renowned dragonslayer, helpful to heroes needing a little inspiration while fighting monsters.
  • St. Joan of Arc: Patron (matron?) of Girl Scouts and soldiers, so basically the distaff counterpart of George (although they were on opposite sides in a few wars, but that’s okay; superheroes fight each other all the time).
  • St. Jude: Patron of police officers. Plus I gather he can take a sad song and make it better.
  • St. Michael the Archangel: Another patron of cops and soldiers — plus radiologists, so his bailiwick might cover those heroes who get their powers from radiation.

Given some of the weird modern patronages assigned on the list — radiologists, hospital administrators, payroll clerks, medical record librarians — I think it’s inevitable that if there were superheroes, a patron saint or two would get assigned to them. I’d say George, Joan, and Michael are the most likely all-around candidates.

I wonder, has this ever been addressed in comics? Are there Catholic heroes who have invoked patrons?

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“The Weight of Silence” is out! (UPDATED)

The spring 2010 issue of Alternative Coordinates magazine, containing my short story “The Weight of Silence,” has just gone online:

http://www.ac-mag.com/

There’s a brief excerpt from the story here.  The full magazine is available for $2.00, either online or in a print edition.

I’ve put up story discussion and notes on my site’s Original Fiction page:

http://home.fuse.net/ChristopherLBennett/Originalfiction.html#TWoS

Last time, I held back a bit before posting the story notes, but this time there aren’t any major spoilers in them.

“The Weight of Silence” is a first for me — my first story to be published in online form.  The second (though the first one I sold), “No Dominion,” comes out next month in DayBreak Magazine.

——

UPDATE:  I’ve been sent the installment of the Alternative Coordinates newsletter (which can be subscribed to here) which announces the spring ’10 issue, and here’s what it says about TWoS:

Our latest issue features an original story from Christopher L. Bennett. Christopher is well known for his Star Trek media tie-in novels. The Weight of Silence is a beautifully written human survival in deep space story with just a little bit of romance. We know you’re going to love it.

I’m very flattered.

Quantum Darwinism!

Starting yesterday afternoon, I decided to begin doing some research into quantum physics and the Many-Worlds Interpretation thereof in preparation for Star Trek: DTI — since a book about time travel in the Trek universe has to deal with parallel universes to some extent.  True, the portrayal of temporal physics and alternate realities in ST is quite fanciful, but as my readers know, I like to do what I can to ground ST’s fanciful science in principles from real science.  I’m often surprised at how feasible it is.

I took quantum mechanics in my final year as a physics major in college, but it never really clicked with me.  Part of it was that the calculus was just too complicated for me, but I think part was that it was all so abstract.  I was interested in the concepts, the meaning, but all the class covered was the math.  I recall describing it to a friend as “variables performing unnatural acts on each other.” Nowadays, I still can’t follow the math in any detail, but I find it easier to study the subject now that I’m motivated to use it in fiction.  In fact, I got so caught up in it last night that I barely got any sleep.  It helps that I’ve found some good articles, starting on Wikipedia and including sites linked to in its articles on quantum theory.

So anyway, the basic idea of quantum physics is that a particle or other system can exist in multiple states at once — a superposition, it’s called.  The question is, how does that produce the classical world we observe where  everything appears to have one definite state?  The old idea, the Copenhagen interpretation, was that the wavefunction “collapses” into a single state when it’s measured.  Copenhagen didn’t explain how or why this happened; it was an ad hoc postulate that nobody was really happy with.  (The Schroedinger’s Cat thought experiment, often cited as an illustration of this phenomenon, was actually a critique of it, because it argued that there could be a scenario wherein a macroscopic object like a cat was forced into an impossible dual state because of the superposition of a single atom — the decay or nondecay of that atom determines whether or not the poison is released.)

These days, we understand it as a process called quantum decoherence, which is nicely discussed at this site.  The key is that we don’t really observe a particle directly; we observe its effect on the environment it interacts with.  If you measure the state of a particle, you’re actually observing the state it’s induced in the measuring device.  So the wavefunction’s multiple states never actually collapse into one; rather, they’re all still there, but we, as part of the environment interacting with the particle, only observe one state at a time.

So the idea that Schroedinger’s Cat is both alive and dead until the box is opened by an observer is wrong.  When the atom’s two states (decayed and undecayed) interact with the poison trigger, the interactions with the billions of particles in that trigger cause decoherence, isolating the states’ effects from each other, so the trigger will only react to one state at a time.  So the behavior becomes “classical” through the interaction with the trigger, and when the trigger interacts with the poison and the poison interacts with the cat, they all become part of that same combined quantum system and share the same single state.  The cat survives or dies before the observer opens the box, because the decoherence happens at the trigger.

This is why it’s a mistake to do what so many laypeople do and interpret wavefunction collapse mystically, as the result of observation by a thinking being.  In fact, observation is just one type of interaction between the local system and its environment.  Any such interaction causes decoherence, once the effects of the interaction propagating through the environment become thermodynamically irreversible (like a glass shattering — it’s all but impossible to make the atoms revert to being an intact glass and jump off the floor onto the table).

This idea was proposed in 1957 by Hugh Everett, in what he called the relative state formulation: when a system interacts with its environment, its state can no longer be described in isolation, but only as it exists relative to the environment it interacts with.  So the environment becomes correlated — or quantum entangled, in modern terminology — with the state of the particle.  But each of the multiple states of the particle is separately entangled with its environment, describing a separate system.  Instead of just the particle having a wavefunction that’s a superposition of states, the combined system of the particle and environment has a superposed wavefunction, the whole schmeer existing in two or more states at once.  And once the difference between those states becomes irreversible, they stop interfering and have no more interaction.  From that point on, the system has multiple independent histories.

This has become known as the Many Worlds Interpretation, and that’s often taken literally: each independent measurement history represents a parallel reality.  One world where the cat lives, another where the cat dies.  Naturally, this is the interpretation that applies in the Star Trek universe, with all its parallel realities.  Here’s a really good discussion of MWI, what it means, and what it doesn’t mean.  But although MWI is increasingly accepted among physicists as a mathematically valid approach to quantum physics, not too many of them believe that the other “worlds” literally exist as parallel universes; rather, they consider the alternative measurement histories to be simply alternative possibilities that are present but swamped within our singular reality, states that exist in a mathematical sense but don’t really split off into alternate universes.  This is the view I favor when I’m not writing a work of fiction that requires using MWI.

But either way, there are still questions about the actual physical mechanism behind decoherence.  What causes one state to dominate in the macroscopic system while the others fade away (or get shunted off into other realities)?  This is where Wojciech Zurek and his theory of Quantum Darwinism come in.  It’s pretty much just what it sounds like.  A Darwinian evolutionary process can happen — indeed, must happen — in any system that meets three conditions: 1) It has reproducing entities; 2) the reproductions are not exact; and 3) the environment favors the reproduction of some traits over others.  In such a system, some entities will have traits that let them reproduce more successfully than others.  That means there are more and more of them with each generation, until they inevitably overwhelm the competition.  (This is one of the many reasons why creationism is such BS.  The basic mechanism of evolution is so simple as to be inevitable.  Not only does it happen, but there’s no way to prevent it from happening in any system that meets those three simple conditions.)

In Quantum Darwinism, what’s being “reproduced” is information about quantum states.  The information about the original particle is encoded in the states it induces in the other particles/systems it interacts with, so each particle’s state becomes an “offspring” of the original state.  Basically, the process selects for states that can survive the decoherence process.  The states that survive are ones that are stable enough to survive interaction with other particles and thus get “copied” over and over by multiple interactions, so that they’re encoded redundantly throughout the environment.  Unstable states may be copied once or a few times before being destroyed, so their information doesn’t propagate as far.  The larger the environment becomes (i.e. the further the information spreads out into the universe), the more dominant the redundant information gets, swamping out the alternate states.

This is why reality looks classical.  We measure an object by measuring the environment it’s interacted with, and different observers measuring different parts of the environment wil see the same redundant information and agree on the reality they observe.  The original particle is still in multiple states, but the information about those other states has been swamped because it didn’t get reproduced redundantly enough.

So instead of a vast number of parallel realities, all carrying equal weight, what you have instead is a “signal” of classical reality on top of a faint “background noise” consisting of the unfulfilled potentials of all the other possible outcomes.  Which is how the universe can appear classical even while being entirely quantum-mechanical.  It’s not perfectly classical, which would require infinite redundancy, but it’s close enough to look that way for the most part.

Which doesn’t mean that Quantum Darwinism is incompatible with Many-Worlds.  It’s actually derived directly from Everett’s assumptions.  But as I said, it’s an open question whether MWI can be taken literally, whether the “worlds” are objectively real or just mathematical constructs.  Zurek doesn’t take sides on the question, and he says the following:

Objective existence can be acquired (via quantum Darwinism)
only by a relatively small fraction of all degrees
of freedom within the quantum Universe: The rest is
needed to “keep records”. Clearly, there is only a limited
(if large) memory space available for this at any time.
This limitation on the total memory available means that
not all quantum states that exist or quantum events that
happen now “really happens” — only a small fraction of
what occurs will be still in the records in the future.

If I’m reading this right, Zurek seems to be saying that Quantum Darwinism allows for there to be more than one “real” history to the universe, but rules out the interpretation of MWI stating that every possible outcome must be equally real.  So there could be a finite number of parallel timelines — maybe just those robust enough to stand out from the noise.  That fits the Darwinian paradigm, since a successful species can split apart into multiple coexisting species.  Not every genetic variation or mutation spawns a whole new species, but the most reproductively successful ones generally do.

That’s an interpretation I think I can live with.  The idea that every possible reality is real, that I’m splitting off at every instant into thousands of alternate selves, is one I find inelegant and kind of disturbing.  And from a dramatic standpoint it’s undesirable; if every decision actually happens more than one way, then any story’s outcome is arbitrary and meaningless.  However, if the number of realities is greater than one but still limited, it’s not so bad.  The number could still be quite large, though, large enough to accommodate the myriad universes (to coin a phrase) seen in Star Trek.

Note also that Zurek seems to be saying that a “real” alternate history won’t necessarily remain “real” forever.  The information could be lost, that state of the universe wiped from the cosmic memory.  That has interesting ramifications from a fictional perspective, particularly where a book about time travel is concerned.  And that’s all I’m going to say on the subject for now. 😉

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