Archive for October, 2014

Trek writing update

I’ve been so preoccupied with browser issues and other stuff that I neglected to update my writing progress. Over the past few weeks, I’ve completed my outline for Rise of the Federation Book 4 (which I have a title for now, though I don’t know if I should mention it yet), done copyedits for RotF: Uncertain Logic, and dealt with the proofreading galleys for Department of Temporal Investigations: The Collectors.

I wanted to get ROTF4 outlined before I did copyedits for Uncertain Logic, since I wanted to know where I was taking the story next so that I could refine any story or character threads in UL as needed or insert foreshadowing. But it turned out that the two already mesh pretty well, and I didn’t need to do any major alterations to either the Book 3 manuscript or the Book 4 outline. (Or at least, any changes I made to UL were about improving the book itself rather than foreshadowing its sequel.) And I think I managed to make the Book 4 outline tighter than the previous one. Instead of having two distinct, major parallel storylines, it has one main storyline (albeit with two or three interwoven threads) and a smaller independent subplot. Margaret, my editor, was quite happy with it and has sent it in to CBS for approval. The best part is, because of my desire to get it done in time for Book 3 copyedits, I turned it in exactly a month before deadline, which means I should get paid earlier and have more time to work on the manuscript, assuming approval comes in a timely fashion.

I didn’t need to do too much work on the galleys to The Collectors, but I was able to correct a couple of scientific details. I recently learned something about… a thing I don’t want to spoil… that I’d depicted incorrectly in the story, so I was glad for the opportunity to fix those descriptions. Oh, and I also took the opportunity to put together the annotations for the novella, since the galleys include the final page numbering and it’s convenient to proofread and annotate them at the same time. Indeed, I find that doing the annotations gets me thinking about aspects of a story that I didn’t examine closely before, and sometimes that helps me catch mistakes and make improvements in the galleys.

Oh, and I’ve also seen the cover and blurb for The Collectors, so hopefully it won’t be much longer before they show up online. The e-novella will be released on December 8.

Now that I’m done with those projects for the moment, I’m starting to think about a new Trek pitch or two set in the Original Series era. I’m hoping I can get something approved in time for the 50th anniversary in 2016. In which case I’d better get cracking.

Browser update

Well, thanks in part to the suggestions made by the commenters to my earlier post, I’ve managed to get Firefox set up to work almost like Opera, and in some ways even better. I’ve only had to make a few minor adjustments to my habits, like using Ctrl-click to open a new tab rather than Shift-click; and there are a few things I have yet to get used to, like the tabs being on top instead of on bottom, or the Find in Page box being in the lower left and opened by Ctrl-F. One drawback I’ve just discovered, though, is that I can’t seem to reduce the tabs in size within the window; if I want to have two half-size pages side-by-side, I need to open them in separate windows. But that’s a minor adjustment and might actually be slightly easier.

As for the Thunderbird mail client, it seems to work after all. I’ve realized that the main reason it didn’t seem to be getting new messages consistently is that I often mark them as read or delete them on my smartphone before Thunderbird gets around to checking for them. I didn’t realize until yesterday that when I do that on the phone, it changes the messages’ status on the mail server itself. I’m used to my old Eudora client program that used POP (locally downloading and working with mail) rather than IMAP (interfacing directly with the server). But Thunderbird’s already notified me of two incoming e-mails this morning, so I know it works. I’ve now got it set up to interact with both my mail accounts, and I discovered that I could use it as an RSS feed reader as well, which lets it take over the one last Opera 12 function that Firefox didn’t seem equipped for. (Yes, FF has Live Bookmarks, which does something similar, but Thunderbird’s format is closer to what I’m used to from Opera.) I preferred Opera’s arrangement of three parallel vertical columns, since Thunderbird puts the pages in a fairly short window underneath the list of entries; but it’s easy enough to click on the link and read the message on its original page in my browser. So it’s a minor adjustment.
So I’m finally back to a place where I only need to have one browser open as a matter of course rather than two — and just a few days ago, I was afraid I’d have to get used to switching among three browsers to do different things. So I’m definitely glad I managed to sort this out. And thanks to the commenters for the helpful suggestions.

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THE BIONIC WOMAN thoughts, Season 1: “Return” and series debut (spoilers)

October 28, 2014 2 comments

Well, Netflix still doesn’t have anything past season 2 of The Six Million Dollar Man, but I got impatient waiting and decided to go ahead with season 1 of The Bionic Woman, since it was so nice to see Lindsay Wagner again in her debut episodes. I’d been hoping I could watch the TBW seasons in parallel with the corresponding 6M$M seasons, but it looks like the DVDs for TBW include all the relevant crossover episodes, so that’s something.

Indeed, the first disc in the Season 1 set only includes one episode from TBW itself, following four episodes from 6M$M: the original “The Bionic Woman” 2-parter from season 2 and its followup, the third-season premiere 2-parter ‘The Return of the Bionic Woman.” Since I’ve already covered the original episode, I’ll lead off with the sequel.

“The Return of the Bionic Woman” is a spoiler title if ever there was one, and the episode makes no secret of what it’s about. It opens with Richard Anderson narrating a recap of the original 2-parter — and I think these narrated recaps are really cool, a practice that might be nice to have today, at least in some cases. Anyway, it ends with Anderson saying that Jaime Sommers died — “Or did she?”

Cut to Steve and Oscar in a helicopter going on a mission, with Steve distracted by his memory of the same slow-motion shot of Jaime on horseback that closed out the previous story (well, three episodes ago in sequence). He then gets his mind on the mission, but in the course of chasing the bad guys, he has something heavy fall on his bionic legs and cripple them. At least, that’s the idea, but the thing that falls on them (evidently the top part of a warehouse rolling door or something) looks way too light to do that kind of damage to his superstrong limbs, a failure of direction. Anyway, he ends up in Rudy Wells’s bionic hospital for repairs, and Rudy has apparently been experimenting with hair restoration, since he’s now played by the less gray, less bald Martin E. Brooks (made up with grayish hair to better resemble Alan Oppenheimer, but that will change over time). This, by the way, is Rudy’s second recasting, since Martin Balsam played him in the pilot movie. While recovering, Steve believes he sees Jaime alive in the hospital, but Oscar and Rudy tell him he was delirious. But his bionic eye susses out the truth and he confronts the two men, who confess that they were able to revive Jaime using an experimental cryogenic procedure developed by Dr. Michael Marchetti (Richard Lenz), a young member of Rudy’s team who’s suddenly been retconned into existence. But it left her in a coma and barely clinging to life, so they didn’t tell Steve because they didn’t want to get his hopes up only to force him to watch her die again. As retcons go, it’s fairly believable — certainly more so than Rudy’s sudden change of appearance (especially since Oppenheimer’s Rudy appears in the recaps at the start of the show).

When Steve is finally brought in to see Jaime, she doesn’t recognize her former fiance. She has… amnesia!! Okay, that’s pretty soapy, and you can see the formula writing at work, the need to keep the action hero from having a permanent romantic relationship. And just to make it soapier, Jaime has not only forgotten Steve but fallen in love with Michael. Michael recognizes that this is just a standard patient infatuation, but — this being the 1970s — is not unwilling to pursue it. Still, it’s handled with more sensitivity than it could be. Rudy convinces Steve not to pressure Jaime to remember, since remembering brings back the severe pain that drove her mad before (although that’s a bit iffy, the idea that just remembering the physical pain of the clot that almost killed her could have a comparable medical effect). So he has to settle for being in the friend zone and not pressure her. He and Michael are actually very civilized and mutually respectful about their competition, which is basically a symptom of ’70s TV’s need to have its heroes be as clean-cut and flawless as possible; but I still like it, because it’s refreshing to see these two men recognize that the woman is not a piece of property they’re competing to possess, but an independent person who’s free to make her own decision. Steve and Michael are not only respecting each other by being so civil and philosophical about their competition, they’re respecting Jaime by recognizing that it’s ultimately not up to them. And I really like seeing that.

Anyway, in the iffiest decision in the episode, they decide that the best way to take Jaime’s mind off the pain of trying to remember her past is to take her to her childhood home of Ojai… where she can’t avoid being reminded of her past. The results are somewhat predictable, though it’s strange that nobody in Ojai seems to have been aware of Jaime’s death, given that she was a world-famous tennis star and all. Was her demise covered up because of its connection to bionics? This is never explained. Anyway, Jaime then decides she needs to take her mind off the past by looking to the future and doing some work for Oscar. He sends Steve and Jaime on a mission to blow up a munitions plant run by Carlton Harris (Dennis Patrick), whom Jaime snows with her feminine wiles (though in a wholesome and sweet way) in order to get to a control she needs to activate to let Steve into the plant so he can sabotage it. But her resurging memories confuse her and she thinks Steve needs her help, so she runs to him and botches the mission. (Continuity error: It was set up that they both had to pull switches in two locations simultaneously to keep from being blown up, but when Steve pulled the switch without Jaime pulling hers, nothing happened.) They both get out, but the mission is a failure. Steve realizes that he himself is the problem –as long as she’s with him, the memory and pain will continue to trouble her. He has to let her go, and suggests that Rudy and Michael take her to their Colorado Springs facility for further treatment.

This sequel 2-parter isn’t quite as good as the original. Since Jaime is now a blank slate with no memory, more distant from Steve, she doesn’t have the same texture to her personality or the same rapport with Steve that she had before, so the relationship and Wagner’s performance aren’t as engaging. And I don’t know if they needed 2 hours to reach the conclusion they did. The previous 2-parter was a bit padded, but the slow pace worked because of the believable relationship and naturalistic dialogue and interplay among the characters. This one could’ve stood to be more compressed.

The 2-parter, written by Kenneth Johnson, leads into the series debut of The Bionic Woman, “Welcome Home, Jaime,” another 2-parter by Johnson, this one split across two discs. Oddly, part 1 of this episode is listed on IMDb as both a 6M$M episode and a TBW episode, and the DVD seems to list it under 6M$M bonus episodes, but it has the TBW main and end titles on the disc. Wikipedia reveals that it was originally intended as a 6M$M episode, presumably part 1 of a crossover introducing the spinoff, but it was re-edited with TBW titles in order to let that series premiere a bit earlier. That would explain its hybrid musical score, which is mostly Oliver Nelson cues with a few interpolations by TBW’s first-season composer Jerry Fielding. I imagine the Fielding cues were added as part of the changeover. It apparently also explains why Part 1 is lumped together with the 6M$M bonus episodes; the DVD set counts it that way even though it has TBW titles.

Anyway, given that it’s Johnson’s direct continuation of his previous storyline, it’s odd that it reverses so much that “Return” set up. Jaime’s had more operations to restore most of her memory (except her relationship with Steve, conveniently) and all her pain, and she returns to live in Ojai (with Steve’s parents Jim and Helen Elgin, now retconned to have been her legal guardians since she was 16 — presumably after Steve went off to join the Air Force, since he’s a few years older). Also she gives Michael the brush-off (not even on camera) and soon learns that she and Steve were once engaged, though she doesn’t remember the feelings and Steve accepts her need to start over. I suppose the setup and reversal made more sense in the original broadcasts, when the episodes were four months apart. I guess I’d always assumed they led more directly into each other.

Anyway, the first half is largely focused on Jaime’s adjustment and settling into her new life in Ojai, taking an apartment above the barn in Steve’s parents’ new ranch (and using bionics to clean it up) and getting a job teaching at the local Air Force base school, thanks to her retconned education degree (and how she managed to find the time to both get a college degree and become a world-class tennis pro is questionable, unless it’s because she’s just that awesome, which I can totally buy). But she’s still willing to go on missions for Oscar, though Oscar is willing to just take a loss on her bionics and let her go back to her normal life, saying she’s been through enough already. To his credit, and Johnson’s, the issue of Jaime’s gender is never raised as a factor in Oscar’s reluctance. It’s implicit that he’s more solicitous with her than he’d be with a male agent, and certainly the episode takes a more “feminine” tone with the domestic scenes and the teaching and the easy-listening theme music, but there’s no point where anyone in the episode says she shouldn’t be risking her life because she’s a woman. The only character who calls attention to Jaime’s womanhood is Jaime herself.

Meanwhile, Carlton Harris is still around, trying to track down the woman who attempted to sabotage his plant, and he finds her and sends his agents to Ojai to spy on her and test her superhuman abilities, which he saw during her escape. The only real action in part 1 is when his men stage a car crash so she’ll use her bionics to rescue an “injured” driver. But once Harris arrives in Ojai in part 2, things begin to heat up. He rigs another accident, a blowout of Jaime’s brakes on a downhill road — and for some reason Jaime never tries using her parking brake, which was how my father told me he dealt with that situation when it happened to him once. Instead she opens the door and uses her bionic leg to brake, although it’s pretty blatantly a mannequin leg that the stunt driver was holding out the door. And I’d think that applying braking force in such an unbalanced way would probably cause the car to spin out or something.

Anyway, Jaime proves her smarts when she convinces Oscar that Harris could kill her more easily than this and must instead be testing her, like a potential buyer test-driving a car. Aware that she’s under surveillance, she comes up with a plan to stage a fight with Oscar on the grounds of wanting more money, in order to make Harris think he can buy her. This successfully lets her infiltrate his organization, in hopes of finding the elusive proof that he’s a criminal (he’s stayed clean enough that he actually has government contracts). So she plays greedy and goes along with Harris’s plans to steal some important defense components, while politely rebuffing his seduction attempts. But Harris suddenly has a son, Donald (Kip Niven), who’s fresh out of Harvard Law and conflicted about his father’s dirty dealings, but devoted enough to the man he sees as kind and loving to put up with his corruption. When he discovers that Jaime is spying for the OSI, he’s conflicted about whether to tell his father or not, but Jaime ultimately convinces him to dig deeper and find the truth about the murders Harris has committed. Unfortunately, Oscar’s been having one of his reckless moments, blabbing to the defense contractor (Gordon Jump) that Jaime burglarized that he has an agent in the thief’s organization — and forgetting that Harris is another contractor on the same project, so that Jump calls him up to warn him and tell him the reassuring news about the spy. Thus forewarned, Harris tricks Jaime into robbing his own company, showing off her bionics to his foreign buyers. But Donald shows up at the right time to get her out of trouble and together they save the day (well, mostly Jaime does).

Aside from some ’70s-Universal clunkiness, this is a pretty solid 2-parter. Donald’s sudden existence in part 2 feels tacked on, but there’s some engaging drama in his conflicted feelings toward his father, even if Niven is not the most effective actor. And Johnson established Jaime as a smart, resourceful, courageous protagonist; if anything, Jaime is a lot more gung-ho about her OSI work than Steve is about his, considering how often he rebels against Oscar and goes on vacation at every opportunity. She’s not above using her femininity to catch Harris’s interest and win his trust, but in a demure and wholesome way, without the blatant sexualization of near-contemporaries like Charlie’s Angels. Now that Jaime’s finally moved past being the suffering girlfriend and become the lead in her own right, she’s taking to the role quite well. I think it’s a pretty good start for the series.

The continuity across these three 2-parters is pretty good for ’70s TV, thanks to Johnson being the writer and producer of them all (well, he wasn’t nominally the producer on the original 2-parter, but was being groomed to become one, so he was allowed to effectively function in that role during its making). But there are a couple of glitches. For one thing, the tree with “Steve + Jaime” carved into it is different in “Welcome Home, Jaime” than it was in “Return.” But the main thing is the timing. The original 2-parter was said to have spanned 7 months, and “Return” says Jaime was in a coma for months, suggesting that more than a year has passed. But Steve says in “Return” that his reunion with Jaime was “last spring.”  And “Welcome”‘s references to the time since her last tennis tournament also suggest that less than a year has passed. The later episodes seem to have defaulted to the assumption that the passage of story time matched that of real time.

Sound-effects watch: The bionic sound that I’ve been rendering as “ta-ta-ta-tang” is definitely standardized by this point, to the extent that it’s even heard at the end of the main titles (accompanying a bionic jump) as a sort of coda. It’s even used for a bionic run at one point, something that’s been done inconsistently at best up to now. I also heard the first occurrence of the deeper, repeating thud sound effect that was used for impacts or rebounds of things struck bionically, although I think that sound was standardized in 6M$M season 3 before it showed up in TBW. Unfortunately I can’t find out for sure, because Netflix doesn’t have season 3 yet! So I’ll just proceed with TBW season 1.

Browser brouhaha

October 27, 2014 4 comments

For years now, I’ve been using Opera 12 as my main Internet browser, but more and more sites are upgrading their tech to be incompatible with it, and apparently the current versions of Opera lack much of its functionality. For a while now, I’ve had to rely on Firefox for certain sites that Opera couldn’t handle well, like Facebook and Netflix. But I had trouble figuring out how to import my Opera bookmarks into Firefox, so I kept on using Opera for most things.

Lately I’ve been thinking I should go ahead and try Google’s Chrome browser — in part because I have it on my smartphone, and since it stores bookmarks in the “cloud,” importing my Opera bookmarks to Chrome would automatically put them on my phone too. Also, I found out this week that Chrome would let me use a bookmark bar like the one I so rely on in Opera, with my favorite sites all listed without the need to open menus. So I decided to try Chrome, and it works fairly well, except for some annoyances, like how there’s no way to open a link in a new foreground tab (which is shift-click in Opera and, as I’ve just discovered, control-click in Firefox), and no RSS reader. Also, for some reason, Chrome doesn’t get along with Netflix streaming at all. Even with the most current update of the streaming software, the image was low-resolution and posterized. So clearly I couldn’t switch to Chrome as my exclusive browser.

But here’s the thing: Once I imported my Opera bookmarks to Chrome, I was able to import them from Chrome into Firefox — and yesterday I figured out how to create the kind of bookmark bar I wanted in Firefox! So I finally have all my bookmarks organized and available in Firefox as conveniently as they are in Opera. Which gives me a strong incentive to keep using Firefox as my primary browser (and I’m using it now as I write this post). And there are other minor ways in which using Firefox is closer to the Opera experience I’m used to, like the ability to open new foreground tabs. It still has a couple of drawbacks, though. Opera has a function I really, really appreciate, which is the ability to disable animated GIF images. I’m very easily distracted and annoyed by such things, so I love having a browser that I can set to disable the animations by default unless I choose to turn them on. I gather there are things you can download that let you temporarily freeze them by hitting the Escape key, but that’s not the same thing. It’s mainly an issue for me on the TrekBBS, whose edit window has a bunch of animated smileys adjacent to it, and that can be very distracting. I may try to see if I can just get used to it, since there are so many advantages to Firefox over Opera 12. (For one thing, when I copy and paste a text in Firefox, it retains formatting like italics and bold.)

So it looks like the main benefit of getting Chrome on my desktop is that it’s helped me make better use of Firefox and my phone. So it’s been more a transitional aid than anything else. It’s a good thing these downloads are free.

The other issue I have to consider is peripheral to that. I’ve recently tried upgrading from my email client, an old version of Eudora (the original program, rather than the modern namesake that’s basically a modification of Mozilla Thunderbird). I pretty much had to, because for some reason my main email service has suddenly stopped letting me send outgoing mail through a client program (i.e. I can’t access its SMTP server, and I’ve gotten no useful response from the provider’s tech support) and I couldn’t get that version of Eudora to connect to my Gmail account. I tried Thunderbird itself, which works okay except for one thing: It doesn’t seem to check mail automatically, even though I have that option turned on in its setting menu. So I’ve been relying on the mail client in Opera lately — although that’s a bit annoying because I have it downloading mail from both accounts, and my Gmail account automatically picks up mail from my main account, so I get most of my mails twice in Opera. I may have to test out another client or two before I find one that works for me. I could just keep using Opera, but it feels wasteful somehow to have a whole browser program open to serve only as a mail program.

Progress is annoying sometimes. Sure, it’s great when new things come along with new abilities, but it’s frustrating when progress takes away things you were happy with.

EDIT: How about that? Just minutes after I posted this, I suddenly got the test e-mail I tried sending to my Gmail account from my mail client weeks ago. I tried again with a new test message, and it worked too. So the problem has spontaneously fixed itself, immediately after I complained about it publicly. Thank you, universe! I approve of this new, more responsive approach. Keep up the good work!

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No, I’m not at New York Comic-Con

Going on right now is the 9th annual New York Comic-Con… and the first one ever that I haven’t attended. I just didn’t have any good business reason to attend this year, and it was happening on the same weekend as the local Books by the Banks festival here in Cincinnati, which I had to miss last year because of the conflict (after attending it back in 2012 and once a few years before that). And NYCC has just gotten so crowded and noisy and strenuous that after last year, and exhibitor tickets have become so much costlier and harder to get, that I felt it was time to take a break. And I didn’t feel like another long road trip so soon after my visit to Detroit a few months back, or another plane flight so soon after Shore Leave. So I decided that this year I’d prioritize BbtB over NYCC and just stay in town.

But then I was late to apply to BbtB, and though the organizers were willing to let me apply anyway, somehow it never quite came together and I wasn’t accepted as a guest this year. So I debated with myself whether to try to get into NYCC after all, maybe see if Pocket could get me a guest speaker’s pass and see if I could make last-minute arrangements to stay with a friend. But I realized: I’m still recovering from that minor gum surgery I had a few weeks back, so I have to avoid biting into foods, keep the healing area very clean with a special mouthwash, etc., and it would be hard to ensure that if I were on the road or at the convention, trying to scrounge food where I could. So that pretty much left me without anyplace to be, at least professionally.

Still, I decided I’d drop in to Books by the Banks this afternoon just as a visitor (it was free, though I had to pay for parking — and if I hadn’t been misled online about the parking prices, I would’ve taken the bus instead). I figured it might be a chance to meet some fellow authors, maybe even see somebody I knew. And I did. I finally got to meet John Scalzi, one of the most successful science fiction writers from the Tri-State area, and heck, one of the biggest around, period. I sat in on his panel, where he offered some interesting and hopefully useful advice, and got to chat with him for a bit afterward. I was flattered to hear he was aware of Only Superhuman, though in retrospect I figure it’s probably because of that business over the cover art a while back. I had a talk with Brad Ricca, who’s written an interesting-looking biography of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. And I did run into a couple of people I’ve met before, including Dan Andriacco, a mystery writer and Sherlock Holmes authority whom I met at the Ohioana reception a few months back and who told me some things that were useful in my Locus essay on Sherlock and Elementary, as well as Mark Perzel of WVXU radio, who interviewed me early last year about Only Superhuman and who knew my father back in his radio days. So it was nice to run into them again.

At least staying at home gives me more time to work on my writing. I’ve been trying to get a rough draft of my outline for Rise of the Federation Book 4 done before diving into the copyedits for Uncertain Logic, so that I’ll know of any continuity tweaks or foreshadowings I need to work in, and I finished that to my satisfaction (at least, for an initial rough draft) this morning, with over six weeks’ leeway to polish it before the due date (yes, astonishingly, for once I’m massively ahead of schedule!). And meanwhile I’ve got the final set of galley pages for DTI: The Collectors to proofread. So that’s all keeping me busy enough without the distractions and fatigue of a trip to slow me down.

Still, as tired as I am of the frenzy and crowds of NYCC, I do miss being there and getting to hang around with my friends (and their cats). I saw them all (well, not the cats) at Shore Leave just a couple of months ago, but now I have to wait until next Shore Leave to see them again, unless I can contrive a reason to make a business trip to New York City before then. As for NYCC, hopefully next year I’ll have something new to shill there, but who knows? I might go anyway, just because I missed being there this year. Although I hope next year it doesn’t conflict with Books by the Banks.

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