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Archive for March, 2013

I’m in Detroit

I’m posting from a motel room in Detroit, where I’ve been in town for my Aunt Shirley’s 85th birthday bash. They didn’t have room for me to stay with the family, since so many other relatives came in for the event. It was good I was able to make it, because it makes up for missing Thanksgiving last year. I was finally able to give out some of my complimentary copies of Only Superhuman to the clan. And one of Shirley’s friends works for the local library, and I donated a copy which she will put in their collection. I also gave Shirley a copy of the audiobook, since her eyes aren’t what they were; I was hoping I’d have more to give out, but the copies I was expecting this week didn’t arrive in time.

Anyway, the motel (officially a hotel, but let’s face it, it’s a motel with a slightly fancier lobby) hasn’t been all that pleasant. The bed’s too hard, the room’s too noisy, and the soap literally stinks. For once, I won’t be taking any motel soap or shampoo home with me — it just smells too bad. I always tend to have a sleepless night on the first night of a trip, due to adrenaline and the new setting and whatnot, but my second (and fortunately last) night wasn’t much better — I think I got 5 hours sleep at most. But the continental breakfast is okay and the wi-fi works. This morning I finally decided to try one of those waffle makers they have at motel continental breakfast buffets — there are individual cups of pre-measured quantities of batter, and you follow the instructions and pour one in the preheated griddle, close the lid, use the handle to flip it over around the axle, wait until it beeps, then flip back and extract with the tongs, resulting in a largish Belgian waffle. It wasn’t bad, but not easy to cut with the flimsy plastic knife and fork they supplied. And I wish there’d been a better topping available, like fresh blueberries. The syrup was fine, but I wanted more fruit. And I wasn’t in the mood for an apple or an unripe banana.

One other annoyance about the room is that the TV is stuck on the wrong aspect ratio and there’s no way to adjust it. The TV in the breakfast room has the same problem. I continue to be bewildered by all these widescreen TVs that default to stretching out conventional 4:3 images to fit the frame so that everything’s flattened out. It looks ridiculous. I don’t understand why TVs are even made to be capable of doing that. It seems like it should be a given that correct aspect ratio is more important than fitting a certain frame width. One reason I still haven’t upgraded to a widescreen TV at home is because I’m worried about whether I can find one that defaults to the correct aspect ratio every time. My computer monitor does that automatically when I watch videos online, so why wouldn’t TVs do the same? It’s the natural way to do it, and I’m bewildered and annoyed that TV designers seem to think otherwise.

(Oh, by the way, yesterday morning, they had a local newscast on the breakfast-room TV, and a reporter mentioned something about “secretarian conflict” in Iran. So there’s violence between the receptionists and the filing clerks? Oy. People hired to be newsreaders should be better readers.)

Anyhoo, I’ll be checking out in an hour or so, stopping by to see the family one more time after that, then heading home, which should be about a 6-hour trip, or less if I’m lucky. There’s some snow in the forecast along my route, though not as bad as I hear it is further west. Hopefully I’ll avoid any substantial snowfall.

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ONLY SUPERHUMAN audiobook — my thoughts

Well, I finally got my author copies of the Only Superhuman audiobook adaptation from GraphicAudio. It’s been getting uniformly 5-star reviews at their site, which is nice to see. Here’s what it looks like:

Only Superhuman audio coverOnly Superhuman audio discsOnly Superhuman discs2

(There are seven discs, in four two-pocket sleeves. No liner notes or anything, just a GraphicAudio catalog and a promotional postcard for a couple of their other products.)

So what does it sound like? Pretty good. Naturally my experience of it is going to be different from most people’s, since I’ve had my own idea about what the major characters sound like for years, and can’t help comparing the voice cast and their performances against the soundtrack in my head. And naturally, a number of the voices and performance choices are different from what I imagined. But considering that I had no input into the production, it’s actually gratifying how close it comes to what I had in mind.

GraphicAudio is apparently based in the DC area, since (as far as I can Google) many of their actors seem to be stage performers from that area. Unfortunately, the end credits only list the five lead performers by role, so I can’t identify who played the rest of the characters.

The director and narrator is Nanette Savard (who also plays Lois Lane for the company’s DC Comics adaptations), who has a voice quality a bit like how I imagine Emerald’s voice — not much, but enough to make her an appropriate choice to narrate a book told mostly from Emry’s POV. (And enough to spark the idle thought that maybe the narrator is an older Emry, or maybe a descendant, telling the story in retrospect.) She does a solid job, striking a good balance between detachment and emotional expressiveness.

Emerald herself is played by Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan (billed here as Alyssa Wilmoth). She’s not exactly what I had in mind (she’s mezzo rather than full soprano), and she’s not the screamer Emry’s described as in the text (which might’ve been too hard on the actress’s voice, granted), but she’s actually quite a good choice for the role vocally, with the right kind of rough edge and attitude, and she does a good job of capturing Emry’s blend of street-hardened toughness and youthful vulnerability. I’m really quite pleased with her performance, especially in some of Emry’s big emotional speeches in the final chapter or two. Wilmoth’s husband Thomas Keegan plays Zephyr, and he’s almost exactly what I was going for — a mellow baritone with a very human, laid-back, amiable delivery, rather than something more robotic as I feared we might get. Having a married couple play Emry and her devoted ship is a good choice chemistry-wise.

Eliot Thorne is played, coincidentally, by Elliot Dash, who’s very effective in the role. Dash’s voice took me a bit of getting used to, since I’ve always imagined Thorne as sounding like Avery Brooks or Keith David’s Goliath from Gargoyles, a smooth, controlled basso, while Dash’s voice reminds me more of Paul Winfield’s, and he imparts the role with more passion and less reserve than I imagined. Still, he gives the role the gravitas, intensity, and oratorical splendor it deserves.

I’m afraid I wasn’t quite as impressed by Colleen Delany (also GraphicAudio’s Wonder Woman) as Psyche. She has broadly the right type of voice and does an okay job, but her performance is a bit too polished and announcer-like to be entirely convincing for me. Perhaps the problem is that the bar in my mind is set so very high. Psyche’s supposed to have an incredibly beautiful, warmly seductive voice, a smooth and mellow alto — my ideal voice-casting choice would be Gina Torres. It would’ve been difficult to find anyone who really lived up to my hopes.

As for the rest of the cast, there are more hits than misses, and I wish I could match the actors to the roles. The performers playing Greg Tai and Sally Knox are ideal. The portrayers of Emry’s parents splendidly capture their personalities; Lyra’s pitch is lower than what I had in mind, but that was probably a better choice in terms of casting a maternal voice. Arkady Nazarbayev turned out very well; I didn’t have a clear voice for him in my head, but they cast an actor who sounds uncannily like Clancy Brown, which is just the sort of voice-casting choice I might’ve made myself had it occurred to me. Javon Moremba is very close to what I wanted, and in fact the way their actor delivered the line “But I loved this car!” was almost exactly what I hear in my head. And while there was no hope of getting Hanuman Kwan to sound like he does in my head (because I wrote him with Roddy McDowall’s inimitably wonderful voice in mind, despite claiming he was Australian), their actor, while more of a Tony Randall-ish baritone, captured the delivery and personality I had in mind quite well. Plus, though it’s a tiny role, Blitz is handled better than I ever imagined, sounding almost like a Mark Hamill villain voice. Other supporting characters like Rachel, Lodestar, and Hijab are solidly handled.

There are a few choices that don’t work as well for me. I feel their Koyama Hikari was miscast; the actress’s voice and delivery would’ve worked well for Ruki Shimoda but just aren’t right for Kari. I’m not crazy about their Cowboy, whose accent is too goofy; granted, it’s supposed to be a corny affectation that Emry finds ludicrous, but they took it too far and I feel it undermines the character’s menace. And their Sensei Villareal is just completely wrong. Sensei is supposed to be a wise, charming mentor figure, a respected hero renowned for his integrity, an aging swashbuckler and Latin lover. (My mental model for the character was Henry Darrow, who played Zorro in two early ’80s shows and Zorro’s father in a ’90s show.) The actor here doesn’t come close to conveying any of that, and has a stilted and unconvincing delivery. It’s the one performance that works against, not only my own intentions and expectations, but what’s actually there in the spoken text.

Still, given how many voices they had to cast, and given my total lack of input beyond what’s on the page, it’s impressive that there were so few misses.

(Other “voices in my head” that guided me as I wrote: For Emry, Lenore Zann, the voice of Rogue from the ’90s X-Men animated series — though I often thought Bernadette Peters would be a good alternative, and lately I’ve felt that Amy Jo Johnson’s voice would be a great fit. For Tai, Daniel Dae Kim. For Javon, Khary Payton. For Bast, Julie Newmar or Eartha Kitt. For Zephyr, I’ve always tended to imagine Kevin Conroy doing a deeper version of his Bruce Wayne voice, but I’ve never been sure that was the best choice; Zephyr’s supposed to have a voice women find really sexy, and that’s not something I’m particularly qualified to assess. Thomas Keegan actually sounds a lot like Conroy, though with a bit of David Hyde-Pierce mixed in.)

I do wish they’d consulted me on a couple of pronunciations, though, as well as some of the casting choices. They use Americanized pronunciations for “Villareal” and “Lydie Clement” (they rhyme “Lydie” with “Heidi”) when I intended them to have, respectively, Spanish and French pronunciations. On the other hand, I realize that I’ve been Americanizing the pronunciation of “Arkady” all these years, saying it like “arcade-y” when the Russian A is pretty much always pronounced “ah.” So the audiobook has set me straight on that one.

So what about the adaptation of the text? At nearly 8 hours, it’s fairly thorough, but not comprehensive; a significant amount of stuff is trimmed out. In particular, Kari’s scenes are heavily cut down, making her a considerably more minor character here than in the original. (Ironic, since I’ve grown very fond of Kari and intend to feature her heavily if there are sequels.) In general, supporting characters’ backstories are glossed over, so a lot of the personal detail — as well as some of the technical detail and exposition — is absent. Action scenes are streamlined, which makes sense from a pacing standpoint; and most of the sex is trimmed down or omitted, though a lot of the nudity remains (and there’s even one point where the streamlining of the text results in more nudity than there was originally). A few of the cuts are a bit awkward, though, deleting a scene but leaving in a later reference to something from that scene. (In particular, Kari’s battle peace and personal guilt are mentioned even though the explanations for both are deleted.) There are a couple of points where lines are assigned to the wrong character, but they’re ambiguous enough that they kind of still work that way. Also, it’s not based on the final copyedited draft of the manuscript; there are some details and word choices that I remember altering in the final version, and my last-minute addition of Kari using high-tech tessen fans as weapons is missing.

There are a couple of sound-editing choices that surprised me, but I realize it’s because of the lack of stage directions I gave. One is the scene in chapter 3 where someone notifies Lyra Blair of an incident young Emerald was involved in, which I wrote as dialogue-only for effect; I always assumed it was someone coming to Lyra’s front door, but here it was interpreted as a phone call. That probably makes more sense, come to think of it. And the brunch scene with Emry and Grandma Rachel (here called lunch instead) was supposed to be a very private, personal conversation in Rachel’s home, but they did it with restaurant ambience in the background. I guess I needed to make the setting clearer than I did. It’s a common failing of mine, writing a scene with too little description of the setting. Or maybe they chose to change it for acoustical variety. I suppose their interpretation could work if the characters were in a private booth or balcony of some sort, isolated enough that they wouldn’t be overheard by other diners.

But while there are some details that could’ve been improved if I’d been consulted (something I should try to negotiate for in future contracts), overall it’s an impressive work. The majority of the actors are appropriately cast and give good, convincing performances, and the sound effects and Foley work are good (although I’m not crazy about the use of sound effects for things happening in vacuum, particularly when they were being described in narration anyway). The music seems to be drawn from a stock library spanning a variety of styles, but it mostly fits fairly well and is used in appropriate places. All told, this is certainly the most lavish audiobook production I’ve ever heard.

In sum, this is a good supplement to the novel, but not an exact, unabridged equivalent to the prose version. Rather, it’s an adaptation, an alternative take on the story. To those who’ve only bought the audiobook, I’d recommend getting the novel for the complete, canonical story; if you don’t want to spring for the hardcover or e-book, the paperback’s only 6 months away, or at least you could look for it at the library. As for those who’ve bought the novel, I’d say the audiobook is still worth getting, a good interpretation of the novel, capturing the essentials of what I created (mostly) but putting a different spin on it, thus adding another dimension to the experience. Besides, I don’t know if there will ever be a movie adaptation (Hollywood doesn’t seem interested in female-led superhero films these days), so this may be the only dramatization the story ever gets.

And heck, it’s just impressive that a bunch of actors and other folks got together to put on a performance of something I wrote, to bring it to life. And that most of them really seemed to get it, just from what was on the page. Both of those are quite heartening, and I’m grateful for the hard work and care the creators and performers put into this adaptation.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Affair, Episodes 1-6 (Spoilers)

I’ve recently begun renting season one of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. from Netflix, and I wanted to post some thoughts about it. This won’t be as detailed as my Mission: Impossible reviews; I think I got a little too in-depth with those, and I’m not sure I have the time to go to such length. But I wanted to post my thoughts about it anyway.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. premiered in 1964, and was developed by Sam Rolfe from concepts by Norman Felton and an uncredited Ian Fleming, so it has some James Bond-like elements. It was originally meant to focus on a single lead character, as the title suggests; indeed, Robert Vaughn’s character is actually named Napoleon Solo. But David McCallum made such a strong impression in his brief appearance as Illya Kuryakin in the pilot that they made him a regular — though we didn’t actually see him partnered with Solo until episode 3.

U.N.C.L.E. is the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement — something the show’s producers made a point of specifying in the introductory sequence and the closing gag credit where they thank the organization for its help in the production. The original plan was for it to be a United Nations organ, but the real UN objected to having its name used in a fictional context, so the “Network” name was coined and repeatedly stressed to appease the UN. In the episodes I’ve seen so far, Solo usually gives the acronym as “the U-N-C…L-E,” to further drive home the distinction. (Which makes me wonder if the title of the show is meant to be pronounced “The Man from You-en-see-ell-ee” rather than “The Man from Uncle.” I doubt it ever has been, though.)

Anyway, despite the careful separation from the UN, UNCLE is very much an international organization, with even hostile nations like the US and the USSR cooperating against enemies that threaten the whole world — primarily the Fleming-created organization THRUSH, itself an international organization of aspiring world conquerors, ruthless assassins, evil scientists, and other assorted villains. Their acronym was never explained in the show, though the tie-in novels claimed it stood for “Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity.” In addition to Vaughn and McCallum, the show starred Leo G. Carroll in a charmingly stodgy performance as UNCLE’s New York branch chief, Alexander Waverly. (UNCLE HQ is hidden behind a secret wall in Del Floria’s Tailor Shop in Manhattan.)

Moving on to the episodes, all of which are called “The [Something] Affair”:

“The Vulcan Affair”: This is a black-and-white, cut-down version of the original color pilot, which also had a theatrical release with some expanded footage. The color pilot will be on the last disc of the season 1 set. Anyway, the episode is written by Sam Rolfe and is very strong. I quickly became fond of the clever dialogue and character writing, and it establishes the season’s wry but relatively serious attitude. Vaughn establishes Solo’s persona clearly right away — unflappably professional, cool under pressure, and with a Bond-like eye for the ladies (and vice-versa), but with more of a sense of whimsy and occasionally almost childlike playfulness, as if the whole thing is a game to him. The word “impish” comes to mind.

In the pilot, Solo tries to foil an assassination plot masterminded by THRUSH agent Andrew Vulcan (Fritz Weaver), and recruits Vulcan’s old flame Elaine (Pat Crowley) to get close to him. Housewife Elaine is drawn to the excitement of the spy life and the glamorous identity she assumes, and torn by her reawakened feelings for Vulcan, while Solo has to cope with the consequences of drawing this innocent into his spy games. The pilot establishes the pattern of the series, with most every episode involving an “innocent” getting caught up in the story. The way Solo (and Kuryakin in later episodes) interacts with civilians is surprising after all the off-book secrecy of Mission: Impossible; the U.N.C.L.E. (as they themselves call it, or “Uncle” as everyone else calls it) is a well-known organization, and Solo & Kuryakin openly introduce themselves to civilians as its agents, rather than using cover identities and deception. It’s a little confusing; is (the) U.N.C.L.E. a spy agency or more of an international police force? The show seems to want to play it both ways.

The music is by Jerry Goldsmith, and thus is excellent. I really like Goldsmith’s theme for the series, which has a syncopated Latin rhythm that reminds me of West Side Story while also having elements of orchestration and melody that remind me of John Williams’s themes for Irwin Allen shows. But it has some very Goldsmithian touches too, like a driving and rhythmically complex ostinato that makes a very welcome earworm.

The conventions of the show’s title sequences are established here as well. Like many ’60s shows, it followed the shots of the regular cast with shots introducing the featured guest stars of the episode, and each act opened with a chapter title shown onscreen, usually a quirky reference to something in the scenes to come or a quote of a line of dialogue from the act. I love that. I’m fond of titles, and I love it that not only every episode, but every act (or “chapter”) gets its own title.

“The Iowa-Scuba Affair”: The title tells the tale. Solo (truly solo, since Illya isn’t in the episode at all) investigates murder and sabotage in a farming town next to an underground Air Force base, and explores the mystery of why the saboteurs are using SCUBA gear in the middle of Iowa, and what Slim Pickens has to do with it. (Spoiler: he does not end up riding on the back of a nuclear bomb and going “Yee-haw!” Though there’s a moment or two when it seemed he might be headed in that direction.) The “innocent” is a farm girl (Katherine Crawford) who was dating an Air Force man who turned out to be a saboteur (and was killed by Solo, something the farm girl is rather blase about).

All in all, not as impressive an episode as the pilot. Although it has a great bit establishing Waverly’s dry British wit: After Solo survives an assassination attempt (poison gas in the shower head) and reports it to HQ, Waverly says: “Report further such attempts immediately.” (Thoughtful pause) “Unless they’re successful.”

The music is by Morton Stevens this time, and it’s not bad, but doesn’t stand out in my memory. The episode is most notable as the debut of May Heatherly as recurring UNCLE HQ staffer Heather McNabb, who’s basically Miss Moneypenny only in more of a researcher/tech support capacity, and who’s really, really hot (replacing a different actress/character in an identical role in the pilot). Unfortunately her run on the series will be brief.

This episode introduces the standard opening, a very stilted  introduction to the premise and characters that feels like an old instructional film or documentary. The lead characters actually speak directly to the audience to introduce themselves and tell us their jobs within UNCLE. It plays very oddly to the modern eye and takes way too long.

“The Quadripartite Affair”: UNCLE vs. the Scarecrow! The bad guys this time are a scientist who’s invented a fear-inducing gas and the unspecified evil organization planning to use it for nefarious purposes. The innocent is Marion Raven (no, not Karen Allen, but Jill Ireland), plucky daughter of the first fear-gas victim, whom Illya is assigned to protect and who later insists on accompanying the duo on their mission to the villains’ mountain stronghold. This is Illya’s first big episode, and he’s established as a dour and driven Russian in contrast to Solo’s droll and playful persona. He keeps advising Marion to treat him as not even there, just part of the scenery, but she’s not inclined to play along. It seems they were already playing on the fact that David McCallum was anything but unnoticeable, having made such an impression in one brief scene that they made him a regular two episodes later. McCallum became a major sex symbol with female viewers, and my personal suspicion is that the real reason Gene Roddenberry created the Russian Mr. Chekov for Star Trek was in hopes of emulating Kuryakin’s audience appeal (since the Pravda article that Roddenberry claimed to be his inspiration apparently never existed).

The weirdest thing about this episode for me is that it features a heroic Harry Mudd against an evil Oscar Goldman. Roger C. Carmel plays a local mountain man who helps the team infiltrate the enemy base, and Richard Anderson plays the surly, bitter military man who heads the enemy force. (I was surprised to see that Anderson was balding here. All that time, Oscar was wearing a rug! Although now that I think about it, that was kind of obvious, wasn’t it?) The bad guys are working with, or for, a wealthy woman named Gervaise Ravel, played by Anne Francis, who makes a stunning brunette. She gets away at the end and will fortunately be back in episode 7.

The music here is by Walter Scharf, whose work I praised in my M:I reviews (and whose best-known work is probably the National Geographic theme). It’s nice to hear his work again, but unfortunately the music doesn’t carry the action and storytelling to the same extent here as it did on M:I, so he doesn’t get to be as impressive here (or in the next episode, which he also scores).

And I’m amused to learn that the episode’s writer, Alan Caillou, was also an actor who played The Head, Conrad Janis’s boss, in the brief but memorable sci-fi sitcom Quark from the late ’70s.

“The Shark Affair”: UNCLE vs. Captain Nemo! Investigating a series of odd pirate raids, abductions, and disappearances — of supplies as odd as shoelaces and building supplies and professions as odd as thatchers, glaziers, and piano tuners — leads Napoleon and Illya to a ship commanded by Captain Shark, a modern-day Nemo played brilliantly by Robert Culp (just a year before starring in his own spy show, I Spy). And I’m not kidding — aside from having a ship rather than a submarine, this character is a virtually exact pastiche of Captain Nemo, a good man grown disillusioned with the warfare of the world and using advanced technology, cunning, and surprisingly debonair piracy to build his own utopian community aboard his vessel, with Solo and Kuryakin somewhat filling the roles of Aronnax and Ned Land. Shark is convinced that nuclear holocaust is only months away and is building an ark of survivors with the range of skills and knowledge necessary to rebuild. He’s an admirable character in a lot of ways and Culp makes him deeply sympathetic, but Solo still has to stop him, arguing that good men need to participate in solving the world’s problems rather than retreating from them.

The downside of the episode is the innocent, a caricatured Brooklyn housewife played for laughs by Sue Ane Langdon. There’s kind of a cute running gag where she keeps accidentally hitting Illya in the face with doors, but the comic broadness of her character and her interactions with her husband (one of the disappeared, with whom she’s reunited aboardship) get a little annoying and clash unfortunately with Culp’s marvelous dramatic performance.

“The Deadly Games Affair”: UNCLE vs. THRUSH vs. Nazis! Solo & Ilya are pitted against a THRUSH agent in the chase for valuable secrets left by a Nazi scientist who’s not as dead as was believed. The THRUSH agent, Angelique (Janine Gray, who’s a somewhat Julie Newmar-esque type only not quite as attractive), is a past — and current — romantic interest for Solo. Illya doesn’t understand how his partner can be so amorous with someone who’d kill him without a qualm, but it’s just part of the way Solo sees his business as a game, with Angelique seeing it much the same way. They’re kind of like Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog in the Chuck Jones cartoons — trying to defeat and/or kill each other is their job, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be friendly off the clock (though Ralph and Sam were never this friendly). In their efforts to track down or flush out the Nazi (Alexander Scourby) with the help of the innocent, a student he recruited by mail to sell his valuable stamp collection for funding, they go from cooperating to battling; Angelique naturally betrays Solo the moment their truce is no longer useful to her, but ultimately needs him to rescue her from the real menace. I don’t think I’ll spoil the big secret the Nazi scientist is keeping (though IMDb and Wikipedia both spoil it, and you can probably guess it), but let’s just say it’s something that horrifies Angelique as much as it does Solo. And it’s the most science-fictional, implausible premise to show up in the series so far. I’m afraid I found it to be a bit too much to really buy into.

On the plus side, Goldsmith is scoring again, and is still doing great work, here and in the next episode, which is…

“The Green Opal Affair”: UNCLE vs. Archie Bunker! Okay, that gag is wearing thin. Solo goes undercover to infiltrate the organization of eccentric rich guy and THRUSH supporter Walter Brach (Carroll O’Connor) in order to uncover and dismantle his brainwashing operation, but it turns out to be a trap to capture and brainwash Solo. The innocent is another housewife, Chris (Joan O’Brien), whom Brach is going to brainwash so she’ll push her genius husband to be more ambitious and rise to a high position that THRUSH can exploit. Why they don’t just brainwash hubby instead is unclear and seems to be just a plot contrivance so Chris can learn a lesson about ambition not being all it’s cracked up to be.

The most impressive thing about this episode is Robert Vaughn’s acting. Solo goes undercover as a foppish, effeminate personal secretary in order to infiltrate Brach’s organization, and Vaughn does a fantastic job of Clark Kenting, totally transforming his body language and appearance and coming off as a completely different, if somewhat broad and theatrical, character. It’s really impressive work, and I hope there are more undercover-Solo episodes to come so I can see more of what Vaughn is capable of as a character actor. (By the way, Illya is hardly in this one, appearing just in the early expository scenes. I wonder if this was an early episode that got delayed and reshot/rewritten to add Illya to a scene or two.)

Otherwise, the episode is mainly notable for giving Heather McNabb her biggest role yet. It gives the impression they were setting her up as a major recurring character, so it’s odd that this is her second-last appearance.

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Read Out Loud, read out wrong

I’ve been sent the galleys of Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures (the text formatted as it will appear in the final book) for my perusal, and I’ve been going over them. They were sent to me as a PDF file, and I’ve been checking the text against the last revised and copyedited draft of the manuscript, looking at them in side-by-side windows on my monitor to compare them line by line. And in looking over my Adobe Reader’s menu options, I discovered that it comes with a function called “Read Out Loud,” which will recite a highlighted paragraph or selected page in a synthesized voice. I thought I’d give it a try — maybe listening to the PDF while reading along in the manuscript would be an easier way to compare than darting my gaze back and forth between them every few words. It’s not a perfect system, since I still need to keep an eye on punctuation here and there (though it’s pretty consistent at rendering periods and commas with intonation and pause duration). I think it’s slower going than my own reading would be, even with reading two texts at once; it’s not really worth doing with short paragraphs.

But it’s been worth it just for the entertainment value. The synthesized voice it uses is like a cross between Ben Stein and Eeyore — this slow, deep voice that usually just drones but sometimes puts a really hilarious, depressed-sounding intonation on the end of a line, kind of like Tim Conway’s old-man character from The Carol Burnett Show. Which can be a lot of fun when it’s reading a line like “I can’t maintain more than warp three-point-two” (or as it reads it, “warp three-point-twoooo,” descending a perfect fifth on the final syllable).  It also does weird things with pronunciation — it renders “navigational” as “nah-vih-gah-tee-on-al” despite having no problems with other “-tion” words, and “redesignated” with a short a. Surprisingly, an ordinary word like “important” comes out as “imper-tahnt.” It thinks T’Pol is named Paul (well, no, there’s a barely audible T sound at the start), except “T’Pol’s” becomes “tee-single-quote-paul-single-quote-ess.” Hoshi Sato is “hawshee suhtoe.” And “NX-class” becomes “N-X-C-L-A-S-S.” On the other hand, it’s done surprisingly well with the alien and technical words I’ve tossed at it so far. In particular, there’s an alien outpost that I named Qhembembem (because I was in a silly mood), and it handled it fairly nicely, having no problem with the “Qh,” though it gave it the interesting pronunciation of “Kem-bem-eem.”

Still, I’m not sure I’ll keep using it. It could wear out its welcome after a while, and I’m concerned its quirks may be more a distraction than an aid. Maybe I’ll use it intermittently depending on the scene and my mood. But it’s helped add some fun to the tedious proofreading process.

UPDATE: One particularly weird glitch of this voice-synth program — it pronounces the word “point,” and only that word, as though it were French. “Phlox pointed out” becomes “Phlox pwaahn-ed out.”

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