I just wrapped up a really good day of writing on Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures. I started during breakfast and kept at it on and off throughout the day, finishing just now at about quarter to ten in the evening. I got more than 5000 words done and worked on six scenes encompassing two major plotlines, and several sub-threads within the main one of the two. And I even found time to go for a walk and pick up some groceries (though I forgot I’m almost out of cheddar).
This has been a reassuring day for me, given how close my deadline looms. The more days I have like this one, the more time I’ll have for revisions before the due date.
The Dreamworks movie How to Train Your Dragon just had its network TV premiere on FX, which is the first time I’ve seen it. I have caught the sequel TV series, which has the awkward although possibly AnneMcCaffrey-inspired title Dragons: Riders of Berk, and been underwhelmed by it; I found it okay but not very engaging. So I was curious to see how similar or different the movie was, but my expectations weren’t very high.
But it turned out to be pretty amazing. Well, it has a weak start — a big exposition dump with the hero narrating the backstory to the audience is kind of awkward. But the more I watched, the better it got. The story was pretty rich, with some good character dynamics and dilemmas, mainly between lead character Hiccup and his father the chief. There was some very good, subtle character animation, good music, a lot of quality stuff — and Jay Baruchel’s vocal performance as Hiccup was less annoying than it is on the TV series, because he had more subtle and multidimensional material to work with. And I really like the theme of the film — not only that there’s a better way to solve problems than violence and hate, but that intelligence, curiosity, and imagination are more powerful than brute force. But especially, the movie did an amazing job capturing the joy of flight. There were some moments of real visual grandeur and awe in the flying sequences, and I’m still a little stunned and breathless, even a bit misty-eyed as I think back on them. Really, really well done.
I think I’ll probably give the show another chance now. Maybe having a better sense of the characters and background will help. I still don’t think it will come anywhere close to living up to the movie, though.
Unfortunately I had to stay home this Thanksgiving rather than go spend it with family as I’ve done the past couple of years, since my deadline on Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures (or STEROTFACOF, I guess) looms near and I simply don’t have the luxury to take a trip. But staying here had its advantages, because it was a very nice day today, getting to an unseasonably high upper sixties. I went out for a walk this afternoon to do some thinking about the scene I had to write today, and as I saw how empty the streets were, I realized it would’ve been a perfect day to ride my bike over to campus. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten too much out of the habit of bike riding lately, and my tires are no doubt completely flat by now. Also, since I’m so out of practice at it, I feared that if I did go back, get my bike, walk it to the bike shop, fill the tires, and then ride around campus for a while, I’d be too worn out to write when I got back. Still, it would’ve been nice. I should really try to get back into riding again — I need to get back into better shape. It’s just that the streets around here aren’t very good for it. And the university’s only a good place to ride on Sundays or holidays when it isn’t crowded.
Still, I did at least walk over to campus, and took advantage of the near-total emptiness of the place to get some good thinking done. I revisited a place that used to be my favorite spot when I was in college, something I always thought of as “the Alcove,” though I knew that wasn’t the right word for it. I suppose it’s more properly a small courtyard. It’s a place that used to be a sort of a porch outside the eastern side door of the Old Chemistry building — I know because there’s a porch with the same architecture on the opposite side — but that was walled in when Brodie Plaza was built next to it decades ago, with the plaza level being a story above the porch level. So what was a porch became a sunken area, and what had been the steps down from the porch were walled off and turned into a planter, with a bench of thick wooden planks built across the gap where the steps were, and another bench along the side at right angles — plus a stairway going up to the plaza level. I always found it a nice place to sit or pace around and do some thinking by myself, or occasionally to hang out with a friend. I don’t get back there very often these days, but sometimes I like to go there when I need to do some thinking.
When I got there today, though, I was a bit saddened to discover that the benches were gone. I’m not sure when, but I’d say it wasn’t too long ago, since there still seemed to be a pattern of moss or residue or something on the top of the low stone wall that one of the benches was built around/over, conforming to the shape of its slats. And I’m not sure why they were taken out, but I’m hoping it’s just because the wood was rotting or something and they wanted to replace them. I certainly hope it’s not the first step in something more drastic. “The Alcove” has been a favorite spot of mine for over a quarter-century now, and I’d hate to lose it — even if I’ve only been there a few times in the past decade.
Anyway, I felt I came up with some promising ideas for how to resolve a key scientific/technical plot point in the novel, but realized that it would help me to do some more research, so I headed back home so I could use the computer. But on the way home, I questioned one of the assumptions I’d been making in my outline about how this subplot would play out, and I realized that the plot point I was trying to work out how to do — which involved figuring out how to use concept A as an analogy that would inspire a character to solve a problem with concept B — was actually unnecessary and even kind of hokey. And once I was free of the need to connect A and B, I realized there was a much simpler and less contrived way to resolve the problem with B. So by the time I got home, I had, in fact, solved my story issue by realizing I didn’t need it at all. Which saves me some work, and makes the story a bit better.
My makeshift Thanksgiving dinner was one I got the fixings for a few days ago at the store — the same 90-second turkey-and-stuffing microwave entree that’s one of my staples these days, but with a single-serve cup of microwave mashed potatoes and an ear of corn that I steamed in the husk — followed a couple of hours later by a bowl of Graeter’s pumpkin ice cream in lieu of pumpkin pie. Fairly simple, but good.
And now I’m sleepy.
The New York Times has just “upgraded” its crosswords page, and every change they’ve made is, from my perspective, a change for the worse. There’s no longer a one-click option for downloading puzzles in AcrossLite. You have to scroll much farther down the page to get to the bonus puzzles. And there’s no longer a list of archived puzzles right there on the page — you have to click to a different page. Every one of those changes makes it less convenient for me. The new format looks like it was designed to be more vertical, probably for compatibility with smartphones and mobile devices. But it’s not a change for the better from my perspective.
Meanwhile, the Opera web browser I use has been upgrading frequently over the past several months, and each major upgrade seems to introduce more problems. For the last few editions, there’s been a glitch in page scrolling that causes the progress bar at the bottom to scroll with the page, or causes glitches or gaps in the display. None of the upgrades since has fixed it. And the latest upgrade has disabled my ability to use Ctrl-key combinations to toggle bold, italics, or underlining on the TrekBBS, the main bulletin board I frequent. It still works fine here on WordPress, but not there.
Let’s see, have any other recent “improvements” made things harder for me? Well, there’s Facebook, but that goes without saying. And I’m annoyed that the 2007 version of MS Word I’m now using as my primary word processor has cruder, more awkward table editing tools than the 2002 version of WordPerfect I recently stopped using.
Anyway, that’s enough griping. Sorry the blog’s been so quiet lately — I’ve got a tight deadline on my novel.
I’ve been interviewed by the book blog The Qwillery about Only Superhuman. Here’s the link:
There’s also a giveaway of a copy of the novel, which you can enter simply by commenting on the interview post. Details at the link.
I’ve finally been cleared to announce the new Star Trek project I’ve been working on for the past few months, which is something entirely new for me and for just about everyone else. It’s called Star Trek Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures. The Romulan War saga of the previous Enterprise novels concluded with the founding of the United Federation of Planets in 2161. I’ve been chosen to tell the next phase of the story. How did an alliance forged in wartime become the peaceful union we know? How did its founding members balance their differing views of what the Federation should become? What did they each contribute to the UFP government and Starfleet? How did that Starfleet end up being so similar to the United Earth Starfleet, and what familiar elements owe more to the Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites than we might have realized? What challenges did this fledgling union face in dealing with neighboring powers unsure of its intentions or threatened by its unity? What new enemies arose in the wake of the Romulans?
This is a followup to the Star Trek Enterprise — The Romulan War duology, but it’s also a fresh beginning, picking up about a year after the Federation’s founding. The war is over, Enterprise herself is in mothballs, and Admiral Jonathan Archer, his former crew, and his allies including Shran and Soval have moved on to new phases in their lives, playing new roles in the Federation and its combined Starfleet. The novel will feature many familiar characters from the era, a few new crewmates for the familiar cast, and some unexpected names as well. It’s called Enterprise for branding/marketing reasons, but I see it more as a sequel to Enterprise — and a prequel to the original series.
I was intrigued when my editor at Pocket offered me this opportunity, since the early Federation era is virtually untouched. We have very limited information about this period from canon, and only one book, Starfleet: Year One, has ever been set in this era. But that novel was soon superseded by Enterprise, and its focus was principally on Starfleet and not the wider Federation. (The only other novel that’s even come close was Killing Time by Della van Hise back in the ’80s. It gave us a brief glimpse of a version of the Federation’s founding ceremony, but that was it.) So the period is very nearly a blank slate, which is both a great opportunity and a great challenge for me. Worldbuilding in Trek fiction is usually relatively easy since there’s so much backstory and continuity to build on, but in this case it was a lot more challenging to strain out the tiny fragments of information we have about people, events, and institutions from this period. I’ve had to do a lot of extrapolation. But I’m picking up some threads from ENT, the series, that I felt were worth expanding on, and I’m building toward the Trek universe as we know it in the original series, so at least I know my starting and ending points. The worldbuilding has been a lot of fun — figuring out how the early UFP government was organized, how the member races cooperated in the joint government and combined fleet, and what the various member races contributed to Starfleet and how it evolved toward the form we know, in terms of design and technology. I’ve even come up with a design for the original Federation Starfleet uniform. Plus, of course, there’s the challenge of moving the ENT characters (regular and recurring) forward in their lives and careers. There are a few whose futures we have some foreknowledge of, but the rest are blank slates.
Another cool thing about this is that it completes my grand slam: I will now have written tie-ins for every onscreen Trek series, as well as several book-only ones. At first, admittedly, I was a little wary about taking on Enterprise, which I was lukewarm about in its first run. But upon rewatching the series as research for this book, I’ve gained a much greater appreciation for it. When I watched ENT in its original run, my perceptions were filtered through “Oh, that’s not what I expected” or “That’s not how I would’ve done it,” and that colored my reactions, as I think it did for a lot of us. But on revisiting the series, I was able to accept that this was how it was and evaluate it on its own terms. And I think it held up pretty well overall. It certainly has its share of duds and mediocre episodes, but overall I like how it turned out. The first season does a great job at conveying a flavor of exploration and discovery, a sense of wonder and novelty and fascination with the unknown. Sometimes the characters were a little too naive and reckless, but I liked the sense of experimentation, of pioneers trying everything for the first time and figuring stuff out as they went. Few Trek series have ever done as well at capturing that feeling of exploring the strange and unknown. And I appreciate the first-season producers’ attempt to take the storytelling in a smaller, more intimate and character-driven direction, going for an “everyday shipboard life” flavor in much the same way the early first season of TOS often did. (It often felt they were emulating M*A*S*H, with things like movie night and Dr. Phlox’s letters to Dr. Lucas.) There’s also a nice sense of an arc in the first season, a number of evolving plot and character threads that tie it together; the relationship of Archer and T’Pol and how it evolves from mutual hostility into deep trust and friendship is really quite engaging. The second season was weaker overall, maybe because the producers gave into pressure to do more actiony and high-concept episodes, and didn’t have as much of a sense of direction or focus, but it still had its share of satisfying episodes.
I have mixed feelings about the Xindi/Expanse arc of season 3, since it brought in a lot of implausible and fanciful ideas, but it was an admirably ambitious undertaking to tell one grand season-long epic, and the overall story it told was complex and compelling. In particular, I think it handled death more maturely than any other Trek series. In previous shows, captains would sulk over the deaths of redshirts for a few moments and then be laughing and joking by the end of the hour — or at least we wouldn’t see the effects of the crew losses in any later episodes. But when crewmembers died in ENT’s third season, it was always a big deal, something that stayed with the other characters and whose impact was really felt. The first two seasons were implausibly devoid of crew deaths, but that was because the writers didn’t want to trivialize it, didn’t want it to happen unless they could really face its consequences and give it the solemnity it deserved — which they did very successfully in season 3. They really are entitled to high marks for that.
As for season 4, it was impressive as well, though like every other season it had a few duds. I loved its innovative mix of 1, 2-, and 3-parters, allowing a lot more flexibility with the storytelling and letting them do novelistic mini-sagas that were as long as they needed to be. And it did a good job with the continuity porn, showing the beginnings of the Trek universe we know. My main problem with it is that there was hardly any exploring in it; nearly the whole thing was about NX-01’s crew dealing with diplomatic or political crises or battling criminals and terrorists. What I’m hoping to do in Rise of the Federation is to continue season 4’s emphasis on worldbuilding and laying the foundations of the TOS era while also bringing back season 1’s focus on exploration and the pioneer spirit, as well as its focus on character development.
Naturally I’m hoping Rise of the Federation will be a multi-book series, hence the subtitle A Choice of Futures for this volume. But for now it’s just the one book, which does tell a complete story within itself, yet also sets the direction for potential sequels. The book is scheduled for July 2013, so it’ll be out in time for next year’s Shore Leave convention.
Now I just need to finish writing the darn thing…