Archive for May, 2011

Getting de-cluttered

I have a bad habit, something of a family trait, of letting my apartment get more and more cluttered with papers, documents, bills, etc. of all sorts.  Periodically I’ll get things relatively organized and then just let the clutter build up again for, literally, years before I get around to straightening up.  It increases so gradually that I don’t even notice how bad it’s getting, or just get used to it.  Part of it is that I just don’t have a very good filing system, don’t have good places to put certain things, so they just end up going in “temporary” piles that end up not so temporary.  And things often ended up getting scattered across multiple piles because I forgot where I’d piled that type of thing in the past.

But recently I had a bit of serendipity that’s worked in my favor.  I was going by my apartment building’s dumpsters and I saw that someone had tossed out one of those inexpensive stacks of translucent plastic drawer/bins because one of the three drawers had broken.  I figured two drawers were better than none, so I took it home and washed it in the tub.  I discovered it was modular, each level detachable, so I wondered why the folks who threw it out didn’t just remove one tier and keep the other two intact drawers.  But they threw it out, so it was fair game.  And it fit just perfectly in the corner formed by the arm of my couch and the side table next to it — just about the only place left in the main room of my small apartment that could’ve accommodated it.

Anyway, at first I used both drawers to hold business-related stuff that I was running out of room for, one for contracts, one for royalty statements.  But both drawers were still pretty empty, and I had a lot of other things I didn’t have good places for.  So I had a very good, very simple idea.  I got a set of manila file folders.  That way I could put several separate types of thing in each drawer without them getting mixed up.  And there were enough folders that I didn’t have to limit myself to the drawers; I had a few other places where I could store sets of folders, including a set of foot-square freestanding shelves in my bedroom corner that I hadn’t found much use for yet.

So now I’ve got one drawer for writing-related documents and one for medical and health-insurance records, and folders for various categories of other stuff being stored in various other places.  Still a bit haphazard,  but I finally have designated places to keep these various things, which hopefully will let me be more organized in the future.  And I can finally see the surface of my dining-room table again.  I still have eight unused folders and some other categories of papers I have yet to reorganize, but I’ve definitely made major progress.

Indeed, being on a straightening-up kick has helped me clear up some other stuff as well.  For instance, I had a big box for holding empty cardboard for recycling that was taking up a fair amount of space in the corner next to the dining table, something of an eyesore but I couldn’t think of a better place to keep it.  Now that my place was starting to look orderly, I got a yen to do something about it, and I thought, “Gee, if only I had room for it in the kitchen somewhere.”  And then I remembered that some of the family members I’ve visited over the past year, not to mention my father at his retirement home, kept their garbage cans or recycling bins under their sinks.  I knew there was a big empty space under my sink, but it never occurred to me to use it to store anything other than trash bags, cleaning stuff, and the like.  But the recycling box fit in there very nicely and is both more convenient and invisible.

Of course, I’ll probably fall back into old habits and let stuff pile up again.  Clutter has a way of expanding to fill the available space.  But at least some of it will be more organized, particularly the really important job and medical stuff.  And at least for now my apartment is starting to look more agreeable again. 

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Review: The “Richard Castle” novels

Well, I finally got around to borrowing the two “Richard Castle” novels from the library.  These are tie-in books to the ABC mystery series Castle, about a mystery writer (Nathan Fillion) who assists the police in solving crimes in exchange for using Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) as the inspiration for his new series character, Nikki Heat.  The two novels that have been published in reality, Heat Wave and Naked Heat, are supposedly written by Castle himself (the ghostwriter is unknown, though suspects include series creator Andrew W. Marlowe and a writer named Tom Straw who’s alluded to on the book jacket and the acknowledgments), and not only that, but they’ve actually been incorporated into stories on the show, complete with accurate dialogue quotes and page-number references.  It’s a rather clever form of cross-promotion blurring the lines between fiction and reality.  Similar things have been done before, like when Laura Palmer’s diary was published as a Twin Peaks tie-in, or when J. K. Rowling wrote and sold a couple of books mentioned as part of the Hogwarts curriculum in the Harry Potter series, but this kind of two-way feedback between the series and its tie-ins is impressive to see, particularly from my perspective as a tie-in author.  (I’m reminded of The Monkees — the folks who created a sitcom about a rock band promoted it by having the performers use their real names on the show and actually cut albums and go on concert tours in real life, so the fiction became reality — with the band achieving legitimacy beyond the show.)  I’m a fan of Castle (though I felt its just-ended third season was weaker than its first two), so I was curious about these books.

There are two ways to evaluate Heat Wave and Naked Heat, since these are at once tie-ins to a TV show and purported artifacts of that show’s fictional reality.  As what they actually are — thinly veiled Castle tie-in stories — they’re reasonably good.  Aside from the changed names and a few details, the characters from the show are all recognizable and it’s easy to imagine the show’s actors in the parts.  So from a character standpoint, the books feel like Castle episodes, which is what you want from a tie-in.  Plotwise, there are some differences — the male and female leads actually become intimate (which hasn’t happened on the show yet), there’s more physical danger and action for the heroine, the murder schemes are bigger with more bodies, and in both books there’s a hired killer who becomes identified as the culprit midway through the book, making it more about the chase, although who hired the killer remains a mystery.  In Heat Wave, Detective Heat (I still can’t take that name at all seriously) is more clearly the star and the sole viewpoint character, and the book doesn’t have the show’s usual formula of bouncing from one suspect to another to another.  But Naked Heat feels closer to the Castle formula, with more suspect-bouncing and more shifts of narrative viewpoint, and with the writer character Jameson Rook being more an equal partner in the crimesolving.  In some ways, though, the books improve on the show, do things the show can’t, which is the real strength of a tie-in novel.  They’re able to offer more character insight, go into more detail on police procedures, introduce more supporting characters in the squad room (for greater realism, since homicides are investigated by whole teams rather than just 2 or 3 people), and make better use of their New York setting than the LA-filmed show can.  I enjoyed those aspects.  In particular, I liked how much the books acknowledged Nikki Heat’s compassion and regard for human life, even remorse for lives she has to take in the line of duty.  That’s not what I would’ve expected from these books; I figured they’d have more of a lurid, exaggerated, potboiler quality.  It’s certainly not what I would’ve expected from a character named “Nikki Heat.”  As for the actual mysteries, there were some things that I felt were telegraphed, but others that came as surprises.

But as what these books purport to be — the “actual” novels written by Richard Castle within the show’s universe — Heat Wave and Naked Heat don’t quite stack up.  For one thing, Heat Wave is extremely short, just under 200 pages, which is more the length you’d expect from a rushed TV tie-in novel than from the debut of a new series by a bestselling celebrity author.  Naked Heat is better, about 50 percent longer, but still a little slim.  For another, whoever the ghostwriter is, he or she (or they?) is apparently British.  There are a lot of tells — characters using “lav” or “loo” for “bathroom,” “dodge ’em” instead of “bumper cars,” “liner” instead of “trash bag,” “manacled” instead of “handcuffed,” phrases that just don’t sound right in a book supposedly written by a lifelong New Yorker.  (Although neither of the ghostwriter candidates I mentioned above appears to be British.  Odd, that.)  But the primary thing that bothers me is how close the characters are to the “real” people Castle is supposed to have based them on — including himself.  Out here in the real world, that makes sense, since what the audience wants to see is something that feels and reads like the show.  But in-universe, I have a hard time buying that he’d copy all these people so exactly with nothing more than flimsy pseudonyms.  For one thing, it’s not very creative; for another, it’s an invasion of privacy (something that’s actually a story point in the second book, so we can’t pretend Castle was unconcerned with it); and for another, it creates the risk of lawsuits if the genuine articles feel they’ve been misrepresented or libelled.  I think that instead, he’d create composite characters and bring more of his own imagination into play, rather than just copying the “real” people note-for-note.  In particular, I think he’d take a lot of flack for Mary-Sueing himself into the books as the reporter Jameson Rook (Rook for Castle, how obvious can you get?).  At least in the first book, Rook is more of a sidekick and is well behind the cops when it comes to solving the case, but in the second, he’s more of an equal protagonist.  True, Castle is known in the show for his ego, so it’s not entirely implausible that he’d write about a thinly veiled roman a clef of himself and make him heroic, handsome, and extremely good in bed.  But it seems he’d be a little subtler about it.  (At least there’s no novel surrogate for Castle’s daughter Alexis.  Given how loving and protective Castle is toward Alexis, the idea that he’d preserve her privacy above everyone else’s is the most plausible thing about the conceit that Castle actually wrote these books.)

There are a couple of in-jokes in the novels that suggest they were written by someone close to the show, such as Marlowe, rather than some hired ghostwriter.  The first book features a judge named Horace Simpson who’s described as resembling Homer Simpson; this is no doubt a surrogate for the recurring judge character Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer) played in the first season.  And in the second book, there are two references to a pair of detectives named Malcolm and Reynolds during an investigation of the Dragonfly Hotel — an obvious reference to Fillion’s Mal Reynolds character from Firefly.  The show itself has made several such fourth-wall-eroding in-jokes, but they could be taken in-universe as showing that Castle’s a big fan of Firefly (no doubt because of his striking resemblance to the lead actor) and would be prone to put nods to it in his books.

So to sum up — as Castle’s “actual” in-universe books, unconvincing, but as Castle-in-all-but-name stories in prose form and as mystery/procedural novels, reasonably satisfying.   My main gripe is that Naked Heat has a misleading title.  Nikki spends a fair portion of Heat Wave naked, but in the second book her nakedness is almost entirely psychological.  Maybe this is supposed to represent Castle’s growing respect and affection for Beckett between the writing of the two books, but the lurid title of the second book is an odd mismatch for the story within.

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Announcing ONLY SUPERHUMAN, my first original novel!

At last, the contracts are signed, the wait is over, and I can finally make the biggest announcement of my career to date.  My first original novel, Only Superhuman, has been purchased by Tor Books!  Not only that, but it will be my first hardcover novel as well!  It hasn’t been scheduled yet, but it will probably come out sometime in mid- to late 2012.

Only Superhuman is a hard science fiction take on superhero adventure, set in the early 22nd century in an Asteroid Belt civilization where transhuman enhancements are commonplace, and a small corps of superhumans called Troubleshooters strives to keep the peace in a high frontier where law and order are often hard to find.  It’s the story of Emerald Blair, a brash, sexy, action-loving young Troubleshooter who joined the corps to make amends for past sins.  When her estranged father’s people, a once-heroic group whose ambitions tarnished their legacy, re-emerge seeking to bring their own brand of order to the Belt, Emerald finds herself caught between them and the Troubleshooters’ new backers, whose own pursuit of order may conceal a hidden agenda.  Torn between loyalties, Emerald must make peace with her own power and its past abuses before she can distinguish the true heroes from those who crave power for their own ends.

In many ways, this is an atypical tale for me.  It’s more action-oriented than most of my published work (except for my two Marvel Comics-based novels), it doesn’t feature aliens (though there are AIs and multiple varieties of transhuman), and it’s got more sexual content and language than my Star Trek fiction.  But the fact is, I’ve been working on this concept for literally more than half my life, and it’s closer to me than anything else I’ve ever written.

I created Emerald Blair in the summer of 1988, and made my first try at a spec novel about her, called simply Troubleshooter, in 1993.  I spent the rest of the ’90s rewriting and revising it, as well as coming up with ideas for multiple sequels and even a comic-book series.  In the process, I devised new characters, worldbuilding, and backstory that helped me flesh out the universe.  But around 2000, I realized that my basic concepts weren’t strong enough and I couldn’t fix them by rewriting the book I had.  So I abandoned Troubleshooter, rethought everything from the ground up, and crafted a new novel outline that distilled the best elements from all those sequel and comic-book ideas as well as the best of my new thinking.  Initially, in pursuit of plausibility, I’d downplayed the superhero aspects of the concept, but when I realized that I needed something to make this stand out from the crowd of transhumanist adventure novels, I decided to play up those superhero tropes, to justify and explore them as plausibly as I could while still embracing the fun and grandiose charm of superhero comics.

I started Only Superhuman in 2003, but then my Star Trek writing career began in earnest, so I didn’t finish the first draft until ’05.  After a fair amount of rewriting and refining, I began shopping it to agents in ’07, and though I had no success, one agent offered some constructive criticisms that let me tighten and improve it considerably.  After that, I still had no luck, so I decided that maybe it was too idiosyncratic a project to serve as my introduction to agents.  I submitted it for consideration by Marco Palmieri, my Star Trek editor at Pocket, and began work on a different spec novel for my agent hunt.  But then Marco got laid off from Pocket before I got his answer, and I got stalled on my other spec novel.  I switched gears to short fiction for a while, thinking it might be a better way to make a name for myself in original SF.  But then, last year at New York Comic-Con, I learned that my fellow Trek novelist Greg Cox was acquiring books for Tor, and he said he’d be willing to take a look at what I had.  I still haven’t finished the other spec novel, so I sent him Only Superhuman, and the rest is history.  After all the obstacles and delays I faced before, it was a delightful surprise how smoothly it went from submission to acceptance.  (Shortly thereafter, as it happened, Marco Palmieri began working at Tor, so he’ll probably be involved with editing this book to some extent after all.  Nice how that worked out.)

Anyway, bottom line, this is the best news of my life.  Over the past few months waiting for the contract, all I’ve had to do was think, “I sold Only Superhuman!” and I’d be filled with euphoric glee.  That’s faded somewhat in recent weeks, but I’m feeling it again as I write this, now that I can finally share the news with everyone.  I can’t remember the last time I was so happy about anything. This is the culmination of more than half a lifetime’s work, the fulfillment of one of my primary goals in life.  What’s more, I finally get to share Emerald Blair, a character who’s been close to my heart for most of my adult life, with the rest of the world.  And hopefully, it’s just the beginning of my original novel-writing career.  I’ve definitely got ideas for sequels, and for other novels in the same broader universe (which is also the universe of my previously published stories “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele,” and “The Weight of Silence,” though none of them have any direct links to Only Superhuman).  But that will depend on how well this novel sells.  I’ve been moderately successful as a Star Trek novelist, but this is a whole new start, and I can only hope it does well.

The Doctors’ first and last lines? (Doctor Who) — UPDATED December 2017

Just for the heck of it, I’ve decided I wanted to make a list of the first and last lines uttered onscreen by each of the incarnations of the Doctor in Doctor Who.  (For those who don’t know, the Doctor can escape death by regenerating his/her body and mind — i.e. being recast with a new actor.)  Usually these will be their actual first and last lines — the first words uttered after a regeneration and the last words spoken before the next regeneration.  Exceptions are marked with asterisks.

NOTE: The original list has been updated with new information from the surviving clip of “The Tenth Planet” as well as from the 50th-anniversary stories “The Name of the Doctor,” “The Night of the Doctor,” and “The Day of the Doctor” and the Christmas specials “The Time of the Doctor” and “Twice Upon a Time.” There are spoilers here.

First Doctor (William Hartnell):

  • First* (in-story, from “The Name of the Doctor” flashback): “Yes, what is it? What do you want?”
  • First* heard onscreen (from “An Unearthly Child”): “What are you doing here?”
  • Last* (from “The Tenth Planet”): “Ah, yes! Thank you. It’s good. Keep warm.”
  • Last (in-story, from “Twice Upon a Time”): “Well then, here we go — the long way round.”

Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton):

  • First: “Slower! Slower! Concentrate on one thing. One thing!”
  • Last: “No! Stop, you’re making me giddy! No, you can’t do this to me! No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!”

(Unless you buy into the “Season 6B” theory that he had further adventures after “The War Games,” including “The Two Doctors,” in which case his last* words onscreen were: “Do try and keep out of my way in future and in past, there’s a good fellow. The time continuum should be big enough for the both of us.  Just.”)

Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee):

  • First: “Unnh… Shoes, must find my shoes. Unhand me, madam.”
  • Last: “A tear, Sarah Jane? No, don’t cry. While there’s life there’s…”

Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker):

  • First:  (mumbling) “Typical Sontaran attitude… Stop, Linx… (mumble) course of human history…” (clear) “I tell you, Brigadier, there’s nothing to worry about. The brontosaurus is large and placid… And stupid! If the square on the hypotenuse equals the sum of the square on the other two sides, why is a mouse when it spins? Never did know the answer to that one.”  (Other characters spoke in between these, but it constitutes a running monologue and is too fun not to include in full.)
  • Last: “It’s the end. But the moment has been prepared for.”

Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison):

  • First: “I… Oh.”  First coherent words: “Ah. You’ve come to help me find the Zero Room. Welcome aboard. I’m the Doctor. Or will be if this regeneration works out.”
  • Last: “I might regenerate.  I don’t know.  Feels different this time…” (Montage of memories, then finally) “Adric?”

Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker):

  •  First: “You were expecting someone else?”
  • Last*: “Ohh… carrot juice?  Carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice!” (You had to be there)

Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy):

  • First: “Oh no, Mel.”
  • Last: “Timing malfunction! The Master, he’s out there! He’s out there… I know… I’ve got to stop… him…”

(Those were his last words in the 1996 movie where he regenerated. But I can’t resist mentioning his last* words spoken in the original series: “There are worlds out there where the sky is burning. And the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger. Somewhere there’s injustice.  And somewhere else, the tea’s getting cold. Come on, Ace — we’ve got work to do!”)

Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann):

  • First (in-story): “Who am I?  Who am I?!”
  • First* heard onscreen (opening narration of film): “It was on the planet Skaro that my old enemy the Master was finally put on trial.”
  • Last: “That sounds better. Now where shall we go?” “Physician, heal thyself.”

War Doctor (John Hurt):

  • First: “Doctor no more.”
  • Last: “Yes… Of course, I suppose it makes sense. Wearing a bit thin. I hope the ears are a bit less conspicuous this time.” (They won’t be.)

Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston):

  • First*: “Run.”
  • Last: “Rose… before I go, I just wanna tell you, you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And do you know what? So was I!”

Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) — first incarnation:

  • First: “Hello!  Okay–ooh.  New teeth. That’s weird. So, where was I? Oh, that’s right. Barcelona!”
  • Last: “I’m sorry, it’s too late. I’m regenerating.”

(“The Time of the Doctor” has now established that the Doctor’s “abortive” regeneration in “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End” actually counts as a full regeneration despite the Doctor retaining his previous form and personality. Thus I’m counting Tennant as two consecutive Doctors, just for the sake of being absurdly thorough.)

Tenth Doctor — second incarnation:

  • First: “Now then. Where were we?”
  • Last: “I don’t want to go!”

Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith):

  • First: “Legs! I’ve still got legs!! Good. Arms, hands. Ooh, fingers. Lots of fingers. Ears? Yes. Eyes: two. Nose… eh, I’ve had worse. Chin – blimey! Hair… I’m a girl! No! No! I’m not a girl! And still not ginger! There’s something else. Something… important, I’m… I’m-I’m… Ha-ha! Crashing! Geronimo!!
  • Last (possibly, per “The Impossible Astronaut”): “I’m sorry.” Last: “We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people, all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.” (Wordlessly, ceremoniously removes bow tie, drops it to floor.) (Final exhalation which could be a whispered “Hey.”)

Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi):

  • First: “Kidneys! I’ve got new kidneys! I don’t like the colour. …We’re probably crashing! Ohh! Stay calm. Just one question: Do you happen to know how to fly this thing?”
  • Last: “Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind. Doctor… I let you go.”

Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker):

  • First: “Oh, brilliant!”


Sources: (set browser to block all pop-ups from this one, or every click will trigger an ad)

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Movie review: Marvel’s THOR (SPOILERS)

Spoilers ahead for the movie Thor:

I saw Thor on Monday, and it was really good. It’s easily the best installment yet in the pre-Avengers movie continuity, and one of the best Marvel movies overall. It had a strong character-driven story at the core, the dialogue was excellent, and the action and visuals were impressively done. My main problem may have been the fault of the movie theater’s projector — it was very dark at times, hard to see what was happening onscreen. (And this was in 2D.)

I was particularly interested in this film because it’s co-written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz, whom I’ve been interacting with online ever since they were on the staff of Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, and who have subsequently worked on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and the second season of Fringe.  The credits put Don Payne’s name after theirs, which I think means that Payne wrote the final draft; but the dialogue and characterization felt like Zack/Ash writing to me, with the cleverness and zing of their words.

Thor’s journey from arrogance to humility and wisdom was a little unconvincing to me; I didn’t quite see how his experiences taught him the lessons he learned, and it happened rather quickly. I can understand how being unable to lift Mjolnir and believing that Odin had died because of him would shake his faith in himself, but I’m not sure how that leads to the compassion and self-sacrifice he displayed thereafter. Maybe it’s just that the lessons Odin had taught him were part of him after all, and just weren’t able to express themselves until his arrogance was broken, but that didn’t come across well. Also, you’d think that discovering that Loki had lied about Odin’s death would kind of undo any humility he learned from it. Still, I liked the hero Thor became, however unconvincing the transformation was. I have a lot of respect for characters who are able to admit their mistakes and limitations — and even more respect for protagonists who put protecting the innocent above getting into fights. Chris Hemsworth was effective as Thor, convincing at showing both the arrogant boy and the compassionate hero. And he and his trainer deserve a lot of credit, since he was really built like a comic-book hero, no latex muscles required.  (By the way, if I hadn’t known this was the same guy who played George Kirk in Star Trek, I’d never have guessed.  I found him totally unrecognizable.)

But the real standout here was Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. This is one of the richest antagonists in comic-book movie history, so nuanced and sympathetic that I’m inclined to think of him as the second protagonist rather than the villain. He does devious and deceitful things like staging Frost Giant attacks and arranging for Thor to be exiled, but he keeps turning out to be less malevolent than you’d think. He had Thor exiled because he knew that Thor would be a bad king, and at the time, he was absolutely right, even if his methods were deceitful. And then he goes through all this manipulation that we think is about seizing power and arranging for Odin’s assassination, but then it turns out he set up the assassination attempt so he could save Odin and win his favor. Of course, he always had Odin’s love, but on such misunderstandings are Shakespearean tragedies founded. This was very Shakespearean, especially in the hands of Branagh and his cast, but Hiddleston was particularly compelling.

And was I the only one who felt, at the climax, that the reason Loki let himself fall was to save Thor? That even after all his villainy, he still loved his brother enough to die for him? That’s what I choose to believe.

The other characters were largely pretty good. Natalie Portman was kinda cool as Jane, certainly a lot more interesting than she was in George Lucas’s hands. Jaimie Alexander was really cool as Sif, very effective at the warrior woman role. The Warriors Three didn’t really stand out as individuals beyond their surface characteristics, but I guess that’s why they’re billed as a trio. And they were effective as far as they went.

Agent Coulson was his usual charming self. I think he deserves his own movie.

Heimdall was several kinds of awesome. Great character.

What I really loved about the movie was how compassionate it was. Far too many movies celebrate the death of the villains, or treat the taking of life as a trivial thing. But in this movie, that was the wrong attitude that Thor needed to unlearn, and once he became a hero, he was fighting to save lives, even his enemies’ lives, rather than take them. At the climax, he tried to save the villain — and when the villain (apparently) died, he actually mourned the loss. I love that. I wish more movies were like that.

I also don’t agree with the film critics who complained that this was too much of an “installment” movie whose only purpose was to set up The Avengers. I felt it worked very well as a self-contained movie. There were elements that were ties to the larger continuity, but they mostly served purposes that were relevant to this particular story as well (aside from a couple of throwaway moments like Agent Barton grabbing a bow rather than a gun and one of the SHIELD agents asking if the Destroyer was one of Tony Stark’s designs). Certainly the Avengers-setup material felt more integral and less intrusive here than it did in Iron Man 2.

Belated review: DOCTOR WHO: “The Doctor’s Wife” (SPOILERS)

Spoilers ahead for Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife,” written by Neil Gaiman:

Oh my gosh, this was several dozen kinds of awesome. Cancel the Best Dramatic Presentations Hugo nominations for 2011, we have a pre-emptive winner.

True, a lot of the appeal to this was the loads of continuity porn. No episode of the modern series has been so steeped in Doctor Who history and mythology, such a loving tribute to the series’ past (though some Sarah Jane Adventures episodes have come close). The telepathic distress cubes were a callback all the way to 1969’s “The War Games.” The pocket universe was like E-Space from the Fourth Doctor’s final season. The concept of “deleting” TARDIS rooms and converting their mass into thrust comes from “Castrovalva,” the Fifth Doctor’s debut. The makeshift console room the Doctor builds recalls the look of the consoles from the classic series (though I’ve since learned that it was actually based on the winning entry in a contest held by Blue Peter, the long-running BBC children’s show that often cross-promotes Doctor Who). The Eye of Orion is a vacation spot from “The Five Doctors” anniversary special. There are references to the Russell T. Davies years like the Time War, the Ood, Rift energy (could this be the other end of the Cardiff Rift from Torchwood?  Idris is a Welsh name…), and the RTD-era console room. Even the junkyard setting, as Gaiman explained in interviews, was a callback to the very first Doctor Who episode, where we first encountered the TARDIS in a scrapyard. And so much of the interaction between the Doctor and “TARDIS Idris” (as the closed captioning spoilerifically called her) was an examination of their long history together, complete with incredibly fanwanky references like the “Pull to Open” sign on the door. (Although that’s a bit of an error, because that sign is actually referring to the police telephone that’s in the compartment behind the sign. So the “Pull to Open” instruction refers to the smaller door that the sign is printed on, not to the main doors of the police box. I think it is true, however, that real police box doors open outward.)

And yet Neil Gaiman shows that building a story on the past isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, a lot of great fiction builds on the past. Tons of literature invokes Shakespeare, Greek mythology, the Bible, great figures from history, etc. Much of Gaiman’s canon of work is rooted in mythology and folklore. Here he’s using the mythology and lore of Doctor Who in the same way, and really, what’s the difference? What matters is what an author does with that material. In lesser hands, it can be merely imitation, relying solely on the thrill of recognition as a substitute for using a reference meaningfully. (There was a ton of this in Smallville‘s series finale, for example.) But a skilled author can draw on that history and lore and find something new to say about it, some unrealized potential that’s been latent all along. And that’s what Gaiman did here. The relationship between the Doctor and the TARDIS has been a background thread in Doctor Who almost from the beginning, but it’s never been the heart of a story before. And actually giving the TARDIS a voice, letting us relate to her as a character and learn how she thinks of things, was a revelation.

I love the symmetry of it, the way Gaiman takes the familiar mythology and reflects it and shows it to us in a whole new way. The central myth of the Doctor is that he stole the TARDIS and ran away with it to have adventures. Hearing the TARDIS say that she chose him, that she stole him and considers him to be hers, is remarkable, and rather beautiful. And the most thrilling thing of all was hearing her confirm outright what I have suspected for decades: that the reason the TARDIS always lands the Doctor in the middle of trouble is because she was taking him where he needed to be. I’ve long thought that the TARDIS was guiding the Doctor, taking this Time Lord who started out arrogant and self-absorbed and placing him in situations that would stimulate his latent heroism. After all, the more the Doctor embraced an actively heroic role, the more the TARDIS went where he wanted it to. And what has me absolutely stoked is that Neil Gaiman thought the same way I did! Well, more or less, apparently.

Plus we got the nearly unprecedented situation of the TARDIS becoming a threat, being taken over by a malevolent force. The TARDIS has almost always been the safe haven against a universe of enemies, and here it became the enemy while its spirit was ejected into the outside world. How ironic that this story where the TARDIS is no longer itself is the first time in the new series that a story has really explored the TARDIS — its internal layout, its functions and operations, its capabilities. It’s astonishing that this new version of the show has been around for six years and we’ve never had a story about the TARDIS until now. The original series built up so much mythology about its inner workings and we often got to see its corridors, bedrooms, and the like. I’m glad that’s finally been reintroduced here, and I hope the fact that they invested in building the corridor sets for this episode means that we’ll see more of them, and hopefully other parts of the TARDIS interior, in the future.

Even some of the throwaway references are revelatory. With one passing statement about the Corsair, we have an answer to a question Whovians have been debating for decades: Can Time Lords change sex when they regenerate? True, the Doctor’s offhand statements can’t always be trusted (like in his Sarah Jane Adventures appearance when he claims Time Lords can regenerate 507 times but is pretty clearly just trying to shut Clyde up), but he seemed unlikely to be exaggerating here. I guess this opens the door for a potential female Doctor in the future.

The one thing that bugs me is how easily Amy and Rory were separated. They should’ve kept holding hands, especially after the first time they were cut off by the closing doors.  (And how come the TARDIS has sliding doors in the corridors now? Did the Doctor become a Trekkie since the original series?)

Interesting coincidence: House was voiced by Michael Sheen, who appeared in Frost/Nixon as David Frost — and this is just two weeks after the Doctor told President Nixon “Say hello to David Frost for me.”

By the way, I strongly recommend watching this episode more than once. There are a lot of lines that are more meaningful when you know what future event they’re referring to.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , ,

Belated review: SMALLVILLE finale (SPOILERS)

Spoilers ahead for the 2-hour finale of Smallville:

Well, that was kind of a mess, pretty disjointed, but it had its moments. Jonathan’s ghost being inexplicably around was weird, but there were some nice sentimental bits, especially Jonathan handing Clark the costume. The whole bit about Clark being wrongly convinced he had to give up his ties to the past was a rehash of where he was two season finales ago and didn’t make much sense. Apokolips showing up was kind of wild and totally nonsensical from an astronomical standpoint and a simple logic standpoint — a flaming planet larger than Saturn was closer than the Moon, and nobody even looked up and saw it? Not to mention the devastating gravitational effects. And why, after the wedding was scuttled, wait seven years to try it again? And how come DC in this universe is publishing a comic that gives away the whole backstory of Superman? And…

Oh, there’s so much else I could complain about, and I will later, but I think I’d rather focus on the good stuff for a while. The scene with Clark and Lois exchanging vows on opposite sides of the closed door was a very nice scene, sweetly written and creatively directed, with the camera circling around them despite there being a door and wall between them. The Clark/Lex reunion scene was pretty cool, even if it was awkwardly tacked into a story that had nothing to do with it. Michael Rosenbaum was terrific, bringing back that somber, sympathetic Lex who was as much Clark’s brother as his archrival, even if just for a few minutes. It was a bit silly that all Clark needed to master flight at last was a montage of stock footage of his past feats, but I was leaning forward in my seat when Clark finally caught himself in midair, hovered, and turned against Lionel/Darkseid.

But the final reveal of Superman was one that I’m sure many fans are going to feel very frustrated and let down by. We never got to see Welling full-on in the costume — just extreme closeups of his face interspersed with shots of the cape and long-distance shots of Superman in action, and one final shot of him pulling his shirt open to reveal the S shield. Not to mention the way he saved the world. After all this buildup about Clark being the light who’d inspire people to cast off the darkness, I thought we’d see him appearing before the public and making a heroic speech that would fill them with hope. I mean, that’s the whole thing the season arc has been building toward, the moment where he steps into the light and shows his face as a superhero. But we never got that moment. Instead, he just… pushed… Apokolips… away. In about 20 seconds. A whole ginormous planet, and he pushed it away as easily as if it were a runaway train. And nobody sees his face when he does it, any more than they saw the Blur’s face. And people thought the Doomsday fight two years ago was anticlimactic. This was anticlimactic as much on an emotional level as an action level.

Not to mention the ease with which Clark and Oliver defeated Darkseid and his minions. One hit and they disintegrate in puffs of smoke? And they both straight-up killed the human hosts. There wasn’t even any attempt to rationalize it by saying that the hosts were already dead. They just callously disintegrated their enemies.

Speaking of killing, I’m upset that Tess was killed, but I guess it was necessary to give Lex some villain cred. And it was rather touching the way he explained that he did it to save her from becoming like him, even though the whole “Luthor blood dooms you to evil” business is idiotic. It was a good capper to the arc of Lex Luthor as a nuanced, sympathetic villain. Unfortunately, with Tess wiping his memory so all his knowledge of Clark’s powers will be gone, that pretty much means the Lex we knew is also gone. Not that it really makes a difference at this point, but still, it makes that earlier scene between Clark and Lex seem kind of pointless.

By the way, Tess’s escape from the operating table was one of the best moments in the episode. Really impressive action scene there, great choreography with the legs.

(Oh, and I like the convoluted and perhaps-unintended inside joke that the younger Jimmy Olsen, James Bartholemew, grows up to look exactly like his older brother Henry James Olsen, given that Aaron Ashmore is an identical twin in real life.)

I guess that’s enough to say. Smallville is over now, and it ended as it lived, wildly unevenly. The first few seasons were pretty good for what they were, then it went increasingly downhill for a few seasons more, then it resurged in seasons 8 and 9, but this season has been an inconsistent, unfocused jumble, hampered by a microscopic budget. What I feel now, as much as anything, is relief that it’s finally over. At least its final two hours offered a few glimpses of the quality the show used to have when Michael Rosenbaum, John Schneider, Annette O’Toole, Allison Mack, and John Glover were still in its cast. It was nice that they all got one last hurrah. And on reflection, it’s probably a relief that we didn’t have to watch Tom Welling try to act like Superman, something that to this day I’m still not convinced he could pull off even if he wanted to.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , ,

Close call

I’m feeling a little shaky, since I just had a minor accident that could potentially have been worse.  I was starting to put away the dishes that had been sitting in my drying rack, and as I was lifting a drinking glass up toward the cabinet, for some reason I had it too close and it smashed against the bottom of the cabinet and broke.  Startled, with pieces of the glass falling out of my hand, I reflexively tried to catch it…

…by clutching it against my body.

Which is a stupid move when dealing with broken glass.  Once I realized that, I checked myself for stab wounds.  Mercifully, I only found a tiny, millimeters-long cut to my abdomen, and a slightly larger hole in my shirt.  So I went into the bathroom to clean and bandage the cut — and while I was trying to tear open the band-aid, I noticed there was blood on my left wrist.  I’d cut myself there too and hadn’t even felt it.  But it was also a minor cut, and it just needed some soap and water and another band-aid.

Still, if I’d clutched that broken glass more tightly, or been slower to realize what an unwise thing that was, I might’ve stabbed myself more deeply.  Probably not life-threateningly so, but still, it’s kind of unnerving to have one’s own reflexes turn on one like that.

Well, at least I’ve disproved Murphy’s Law of Glassware, as I defined it in my earlier post of that name:

It seems there’s some kind of cosmic law that when you get a set of drinking glasses, they will systematically break until you have only one left, which will last forever.

I wrote that because I had four tumbler-sized drinking glasses that were the last survivors of their respective sets, and whenever a glass broke, it always seemed to be from a newer set.  However, the tumbler that broke just now was one of those four stragglers.  That particular set no longer has any survivors, at least not in my possession.  Indeed, I didn’t really care for this glass much, since it narrowed a bit toward the top and was thus a bit tricky to get the washcloth into.  So I guess it’s some consolation that it was my least favorite glass that broke.

And now I really need to go clean the broken glass out of the sink and get some lunch into me.

Categories: Uncategorized

DTI: WATCHING THE CLOCK annotations are up!

I’ve now posted the annotations pages for Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock at my website.  And yes, I mean pages, plural.  There was so much science, Trek continuity, and the like to explain that the page-by-page annotations had to be split across two pages.  Plus there’s a separate page devoted to discussing the characters and their development (since most of the characters here are original or developed from barely-established screen roles), and there’s even a page featuring many of the alien calendars I developed for the chapter headings (because I can be really obsessive-compulsive about things like this).

All these goodies can be accessed from the DTI intro section on my main Trek Fiction page:

Typhon Pact title change

There’s been a title change to my e-novella that was going to be called Star Trek: Typhon Pact: The Courage of Conscience.  The new title is Star Trek: Typhon Pact: The Struggle Within.

Finally, another vacation post

This time I have no excuse for a late post beyond being too jet-lagged and too busy catching up on DVRed shows.  Let’s see, I left off on Monday morning.  First thing we did was the ferry ride across Puget Sound, where they let us conduct a ceremony for the ashes of my father and grandmother.  They were very accommodating, and apparently do this as a regular service.  They stopped the ferry in the middle of the bay for us, and after words were said and the ashes consigned to the sea, they sounded the ferry’s horn in tribute to the departed, which was a very nice gesture.  I took no pictures of the ceremony — that’s private — but here’s a shot of the Seattle skyline from the back of the ferry, taken shortly before it:

Seattle skyline

The trip to the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum was disappointing, because the latter half of the combined museum apparently no longer exists.  All the SFM stuff was gone with only two exceptions.  The first was this:

Spinner 1

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe...

 Yep, the Spinner car from Blade Runner, designed by the incomparable Syd Mead, still hangs from the ceiling, all lit up.  I think that writing on the side must be front-projection material (Scotchlite), the same stuff they use in road signs to reflect headlights, given how bright it is in photos regardless of angle.  Here’s another look:

Spinner 2

All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain.

 As you can see from the sign, the other residual bit of SF in the museum was the Battlestar Galactica exhibit that occupied a small display hall upstairs.  I wasn’t too interested in the stuff from the new series, though I did love the attention to detail on the Vipers:


"Caution: Do Not Stand in Front of Cannons." Gee,whyever not...?

 But I was far more enthusiastic about getting a look at this, a replica of the Galactica filming miniature from the original 1978 series, which is so very much cooler than the drab grey thing from the new show:

Galactica 1

Fleeing from the Cylon tyranny...

 Galactica 2

The last battlestar Galactica leads a ragtag fugitive fleet…

I tried taking a side view of the whole thing, but I was crouching and wobbly and the picture came out all blurry.  But these give the idea.  Too bad it’s just a replica, but it was neat to get a close look at the kitbashed details.

Dinner for me was a pizza slice at the Seattle Center food court, and that evening was the last I saw of Cousin Cynthia and her friend Drake, who had other places to go.  We parted with Uncle Clarence and Cousin Barbara after the ferry.  So I had Monday evening free to watch TV in my hotel room, and I just hung out in there on Sunday morning until checkout time.  It was good to get some time by myself to rest and decompress after the previous few eventful days.

After checking out, I decided to walk up to the University of Washington and check out the campus.  The really pretty hotel clerk cautioned that it was a long walk, but I overconfidently figured it would be within my tolerances.  She recommended a route that took me alongside Lake Union, and by the time I was halfway along the lakeside path, I was pretty worn out.  Part of the problem is that I was carrying my heavy backpack with me, since I don’t like to leave my laptop in hotel coat-check rooms (since the one time I did that, the screen got scratched).  Anyway, I managed to hold up until just across the drawbridge (drawbridge!) to the Fremont District, but then I found a bus stop and decided to ride the rest of the way.   I didn’t have the time or energy to see too much at the University, but I did get to visit the Suzzallo Library, a remarkable Gothic cathedral of a building, and the most gorgeous library I’ve been in since the New York Public Library Main Branch.  I hung out for a while in its amazing Graduate Reading Room:

Suzzallo Library reading room

Words fail me, but you shouldn't talk in a library anyway.

After that, I went to the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture on the northwest corner of the university grounds.  I didn’t think to bring my camera with me when I checked my backpack at the front desk, so no pictures.  There were some interesting exhibits, with the upper level having natural-history displays of the fossils and geology of the region (including a plesiosaur skeleton) and the lower level focused on Pacific Rim cultural anthropology (my favorite exhibits were the ceremonial masks, especially the elaborate bird-head mask that opened up like a flower to reveal a human-head mask inside, part of a transformation ritual).

Once I was done there, my sister picked me up (she used to work there, as it happens, so she didn’t need directions) and took me to her and Larry’s place, going via the scenic route so I could see Green Lake up close.  Once there, I got to meet their two tomcats: Rupert, who’s an enormous brown tabby, and Hugo, who’s a younger, utterly black cat with yellow eyes.  Hugo was a bit shy, but Rupert spent much of the evening on my lap, and I was a bit concerned that if he didn’t want to get off, I might have to miss my flight, because he’s simply huge.  Strong, too.  He likes to wag his tail, and having that happen when he’s sitting on your lap is something like being beaten in the gut with fuzzy nunchuks.  Anyway, it was a nice evening with nice food (thanks, Larry) and leftover wedding cake.  And once I got too sleepy to be good company, I got a ride to the airport.

The flight home wasn’t as carefree as the flight out.  First off, there was renovation going on above  my gate, so I barely avoided having a chunk of ceiling fall on me (okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much).  Then, when the plane started to taxi out, there was a clunking noise from the port engine, and we had to go back to the gate for a “maintenance issue” (which I assumed was related).  When we finally got started again, the clunking briefly resumed before going away, and I was kind of nervous the whole flight about something going wrong.  Obviously nothing did, but I was stiff and sore from all that walking I did and couldn’t get comfortable in my seat.  So I didn’t get any sleep on my overnight flight.  And when we got in, the signage directed me to the wrong baggage carousel, so it took a while to discover where my bag was.  The one good thing that happened was that on the express bus back to Cincinnati, the people who got on ahead of me overpaid, so I saved about 90 cents on the fare back home.

The first thing I did when I got home was to take a nap for a couple of hours.  Then I got up and just web-surfed and watched recorded shows all day.  I got really sleepy and went to bed at 9 PM,  slept for about 11 hours, and was still sleepy the next day.  I’m still getting readjusted.

Oh, and the DVR failed to tape Batman: The Brave and the Bold.  And by the time I realized that and checked the VCR I’d programmed as a backup, it had already taped over it (because I’d stupidly rewound without checking what was on it, figuring the DVR had taken care of everything).  So I guess it’s not a foolproof machine.

So that was my big Seattle vacation/family gathering.  Now I’m back home, I’ve caught up with my recorded shows, and it’s about time to refocus on my writing, specifically several original projects I have in the works.  *Yawwnnn*  Once I get a little more caught up on sleep.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Finally, a post from Seattle

I wasn’t able to post until now because the hotel didn’t get its wi-fi working until this morning.  Anyway, the flight was fine — only slightly delayed starting out, a bit early arriving.  And I had virtually no anxiety on the flight.  I guess becoming a driver and coping with the hazards there has made me more blase about flying, which of course is a lot safer.  I may do this more often in the future, though airports are still a hassle.  (I didn’t get searched, but I did have to take off my shoes.)  And literally seconds after I stepped off the plane, my cousin Cynthia called to let me know she was nearly there to pick me up.  My bag came out on the carousel thingy pretty promptly, only moments after Cyn arrived.  So that went very smoothly.

Hotel: not so great.  Nice-looking place, nice-looking room, very nice-looking female desk clerks, but little in-house food available (though plenty of restaurants in the area), unreliable wi-fi, and the vending machine down the hall stole 30 cents from me this morning.  I can see the Space Needle from my room, though.

Tourism-wise, Cynthia, her friend Drake, and I have been to several attractions.  Friday was the Museum of Flight, where we got to see a Concorde — far smaller and more cramped than I expected — and a plane that used to be Air Force One for several presidents from Eisenhower through Nixon.  Saturday morning was the Boeing Future of Flight exhibit and factory tour.  The Boeing factory is reputedly the largest building by interior volume on Earth.  It was pretty darn huge.  No pictures allowed, for fear of corporate espionage (which just leads me to figure that rival corporations would hire spies with photographic memories).  It was interesting to learn about the new high-tech 787 jets they’re building, made with lightweight composite materials and all sorts of high-tech improvements.  Yesterday the three of us plus Uncle Clarence and Cousin Barbara went to see the Space Needle and the Seattle Science Center.  Former: cool, great view.  Latter: disappointing, mostly for kids.  Later we went down the market and aquarium by Puget Sound, which were interesting, though I’m not fond of fish.  Interesting octopus and seals/otters, though.

Oh, and on Friday we went out to a shoreside park on Puget Sound, and it’s the first time in my memory I’ve stood someplace where an ocean tide was coming in, even a gentle one.  It was fascinating to watch and hear.

The reason we’re here, of course, was my sister’s wedding, which was Saturday evening.  It was a nice nontraditional, nondenominational ceremony in a local studio, informal, though I wore my suit.  Interesting catered buffet afterward.  And hey, I have a brother-in-law now.  Imagine that.  Congratulations, Kathleen and Larry.

Last night, we had a family dinner and I handed out copies of DTI: Watching the Clock.  Today, after a family ceremony for the ashes of my father and his mother (Grandma was from Seattle), we’ll hopefully finally get to visit the Science Fiction Museum, which has been recommended to me by several people (including fellow Trek novelist Greg Cox, himself a Seattleite, who used the SFM as a location in a novel based on the TV series The 4400).  Then I’ll have a pretty free day Sunday morning and afternoon, and then I’ll hang out with Kathleen, Larry, and their cat (yay!) until they take me to the airport.

Oh, and my deadline for Star Trek: Typhon Pact: The Courage of Conscience was today (with an extension if needed).  I finished the first draft Thursday evening, then revised it on the plane and in the hotel on Friday and Saturday.  Yesterday morning, I went out to Seattle Center to find a wi-fi hot spot and e-mailed the story to my editor.  I hope it went through.  I would’ve done more online, but my fingers were freezing.  It got quite comfortable later in the day, though.

So that’s Seattle so far.  More pictures later, probably.

Categories: Uncategorized
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