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Archive for August, 2019

Thoughts on AQUAMAN (Spoilers)

I finally got a copy of James Wan’s Aquaman from the library. I’m very impressed. It’s a solid action-fantasy movie, not only with spectacular visuals and worldbuilding and very imaginative action choreography, but with pretty solid characterization and writing too. The plot is a pretty by-the-numbers quest narrative moving from one set piece to the next, but the characters have depth (no pun intended) and nuance, and even the villains have sympathetic qualities and at least partly valid reasons for their actions.

Most of all, I’m pleasantly surprised by Jason Momoa. Pre-Aquaman, I knew him only as Ronon Dex in Stargate: Atlantis, and back then, he barely seemed capable of enunciating vowels and consonants with any clarity, let alone conveying any degree of emotion. But he’s grown far beyond those mushmouthed beginnings and actually gave a really solid performance as Arthur Curry — still in the same basic gruff, tough-guy wheelhouse, but with much more skill, expressiveness, and nuance. If anything, I’d say he was one of the better lead actors in the film, although that’s mainly because both Amber Heard as Mera and Patrick Wilson as Orm/Ocean Master were fairly bland. Wilson in particular gave a flat, robotic, dead-eyed performance that kept his role as the main villain from being as strong as it could’ve been, though I suppose it helped convey his coldness and sociopathy to a degree.

Although what really made Orm despicable was something the movie depicted but never overtly called out as such — his racism. All his talk about Arthur being a “half-breed mongrel” is rooted in the fantasy backstory of Aquaman being half-Atlantean and half-human, but it gains an extra weight and relevance with the casting of the Polynesian Momoa as Arthur and the pale, blond Wilson as Orm. I guess that casting makes the point without the dialogue having to come out and say it. It underlines that, for all that Orm makes a valid point about humanity’s depredation of the seas, his persistent fixation on Arthur’s “impure” blood exposes the real hate and egocentrism driving his push for war. Indeed, given the diversity of the undersea races that Orm tries to force into an alliance, including fishy mer-people and crustacean-people, it’s clear that his intolerance of difference would’ve made him a bad leader. Which, again, feels very relevant right now.

I thought it was very interesting how they made Black Manta, here named David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a sympathetic figure through his close relationship with his father (Michael Beach, who voiced the Black Manta equivalent Devil Ray in the animated Justice League Unlimited), even while simultaneously painting them both as murdering pirate scum, and gave him a legitimate grievance against Aquaman for the latter’s callous refusal to save his father’s life, a decision Arthur would come to regret later on. It’s too bad, though, that the need to save Black Manta for the sequel kept the plot thread from having any real payoff. I suppose it paid off in Arthur’s decision at the end to take the more heroic route and spare Orm, but there should be payoff connecting more directly to Manta.

Back to the technical side, I was very impressed with the visual design. Lately I’ve come to feel that modern CGI movies are just too cluttered with things onscreen, and sometimes I get tired of the sheer visual overload. There were certainly plenty such images in this movie, but they didn’t seem as bothersome to me. Perhaps it’s because I saw them on my old, non-HD television and couldn’t see the details that clearly anyway, but maybe it’s because the images were so creative and unusual. It wasn’t just a horde of soldiers or orcs or whatever, but a wealth of exotic, novel, fanciful images of different types. And they weren’t all the same either — different sequences had different color palettes and thus different tones and styles. It was really refreshing how vividly colorful this movie was, unlike a lot of its DC Extended Universe predecessors and a lot of movies in general. The “Ring of Fire” battle sequence was the only time it fell victim to the “make everything blue and orange” fashion of so many modern films. Although one of the most stunning sequences was nearly monochrome — the “feeding frenzy” sequence with the Trench creatures underwater, lit only by the red of the flares. That was a truly amazing visual sequence unlike anything I’ve seen in a movie before.

It was also nice to see a DCEU film remembering to focus on the civilians. This was more a fantasy epic than a superhero film, but it did take time here and there to show Arthur saving people, or at least to show how bystanders were affected by the action, as in the Sicily sequence. Zack Snyder would’ve contrived some way to evacuate the town so he could blow up a bunch of architecture without having to bother acknowledging the existence of human beings, but the reactions of the townsfolk as their homes are barged into and trashed are an integral part of the flavor of the Sicily sequence — though it would’ve been nice to see some aftermath and cleanup, maybe Mera hydrokinetically hauling up some sunken treasure to help pay for repairs.

If I had a problem with the film, it’s that it was too fond of having quiet or personal scenes suddenly interrupted by explosions and villain attacks as a quickie scene-transition device. I think that happened three or four times, and it got a bit repetitive. The film was also a bit too in love with its elaborate CGI continuous-shot time cuts and swooping camera moves, which generally worked pretty well but were a bit self-conscious at times, as swoopy CGI shots usually are. Also, I’m just generally not a fan of stories about destined kings or chosen ones, although this one did a decent job of subverting that trope by stressing that Arthur was the least likely, least worthy king possible and well aware of it, and that his value was greater as a bridge between worlds and a hero to everyone than as a hereditary elite or whatever.

Also — ending spoilers here — why is Arthur the king if Queen Atlanna is still alive? Shouldn’t she be the ruler and he just the prince? Or is Atlantis a sexist society where only a man can rule? Well, to be generous, maybe he’s king because he defeated Orm in combat. Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if he left Atlanna to rule Atlantis in his stead while he continued to operate as Aquaman out in the world.

So anyway, Aquaman is the sixth DCEU film I’ve seen (I’m on the library’s waiting list for Shazam!), and the third one I’ve liked, since I actually liked Justice League better than most people did. Although I liked that one with reservations, whereas Wonder Woman and Aquaman are both solid, enjoyable superhero films. Anyway, it does seem like the DCEU is finally on the right path.

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New interview with FOOTPRINTS IN THE STARS editor

Passing this along… At PaulSemel.com, there’s an interview with Danielle Ackley-McPhail, editor of Footprints in the Stars, talking about the anthology itself and her work in general:

Exclusive Interview: Footprints In The Stars Editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Feel free to check it out!

Autographed book sale update — new discount prices!

Once more, it’s time for me to try to raise a bit of money to tide me over until my next advance check comes. I was planning to do this anyway, but yesterday I discovered I’d somehow gotten a flat tire in the parking lot, so I had to get that fixed today.

Anyway, I haven’t had much luck moving my trade paperbacks, even the brand-new Star Trek: The Captain’s Oath, so I thought I’d try discounting the prices. As usual, of course, I’m open to straight-up donations, but I’ve got all these books to sell too.

As before, anyone who donates $20 or more or spends that much on books (not counting postage) will, if they so desire, be Tuckerized (i.e. have a minor character named after them, or possibly a spacecraft, institution, or the like) in a future novel. Here’s the current list:

Mass-market paperbacks: $8

  • ST: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel (2 copies 1 copy)
  • ST: ENT — Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic (3 2 copies)
  • ST: ENT — Rise of the Federation: Live by the Code (1 copy) SOLD OUT
  • ST: ENT — Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference (6 5 copies)

Hardcovers: $20 (20% off!)

  • Only Superhuman (19 copies)

Trade paperbacks: $12 (20-25% off!)

  • Star Trek: The Original Series — The Captain’s Oath (12 copies)
  • Star Trek: Mirror Universe — Shards and Shadows (5 copies)
  • ST: The Next Generation — The Sky’s the Limit (1 copy)
  • Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman (5 copies)
  • Footprints in the Stars (3 copies)

You can donate or buy books by clicking on the PayPal “Donate” button on the right-hand side of my blog page. If you’re seeing this on Goodreads, click on the “View more” link below to go to my main blog and you’ll see the button.

Please include a message through the PayPal form specifying whether you want to be Tuckerized, and any particulars as to how (e.g. if you don’t want to be evil or be killed off, or if you do). Everyone who donates will be thanked in the acknowledgments (unless they ask to be anonymous), but I’m only Tuckerizing those who specifically ask for it, just to be on the safe side.

As always, I’ll try to keep this list updated with regard to availability, but if you have doubts (particularly with the single copies), query first. For buyers in the US, add $2.50 postage per book for MMPBs, or $4.00 postage for trades/hardcovers.  For buyers outside the US, pay the book price and I’ll bill you for postage separately once I determine the amount.

If you have a PayPal account of your own, please pay through that instead of a credit card.  PayPal charges a fee for credit card use, so if you do use a credit card, I have to ask for an additional $0.25 per mass-market paperback or an additional $0.50 per trade paperback or hardcover.

“Conventional Powers” is out!

Analog Science Fiction and Fact has just updated its homepage to featue the September/October 2019 issue, featuring my brand new Green Blaze adventure “Conventional Powers,” and I’ve updated my homepage with the cover and a couple of ordering links. Amazon doesn’t have the new issue yet, but it should be out in a couple of days. Anyway, here’s the cover:

Analog Sep Oct 2019

I didn’t get a cover mention this time, but I’m in there, specifically on pp. 118-131. As usual, I’ll put up annotations for the story in a little while, once people have had a chance to read it unspoiled.

Meanwhile, I did a little tweaking of my Bibliography here on the site. It was getting pretty full, so I decided to break it down into sections for greater clarity — Original Fiction, Media Tie-in Fiction, and Nonfiction. It’s nice to see that my Original section is now up to more than 2/3 as many entries as the Tie-in section, even if most of them are short fiction and several of them are collections. The new format will make it easier to keep track of how close I’m getting to parity between the two.

STAR TREK: THE HIGHER FRONTIER description is out!

August 11, 2019 1 comment

It’s a week later than expected, but Amazon has posted the early promotional blurb for Star Trek: TOS: The Higher Frontier (though no cover art yet):

An all-new Star Trek movie-era adventure featuring James T. Kirk!

Investigating the massacre of a telepathic minority, Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise confront a terrifying new threat: faceless, armored hunters whose extradimensional technology makes them seemingly unstoppable. Kirk must team with the powerful telepath Miranda Jones and the enigmatic Medusans to take on these merciless killers in an epic battle that will reveal the true faces of both enemy and ally!

That’s right — after quite a few years, I’m finally returning to the post-Star Trek: The Motion Picture setting featured in Ex Machina, Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again, and the latter half of DTI: Forgotten History. I’m really glad to have gotten the chance to revisit that period in a full novel once more.

And the blurb says “epic” for a reason. One advantage of the big, empty period between ST:TMP and The Wrath of Khan is that there’s plenty of room to tell a really big, sweeping story.

ROTF #1 is Amazon best seller #1 (in Star Trek)!

Choice of Futures coverWell, how about that — I just happened to look at my Amazon author page, and it looks like the Kindle edition of Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures (the first book in that series) is currently their #1 best seller in the “Star Trek Series” category. I suppose that probably has a lot to do with the fact that it’s currently on sale for 99 cents, but hey, I’ll take it.

The current #2 in the category is John Jackson Miller’s new Discovery tie-in novel The Enterprise War, telling what Captain Pike and the big E were doing during DSC’s first season. I wouldn’t be surprised if that book ends up in first place soon. Nice to be competitive, though.

STAR TREK 2020 book line-up announced!

Today at the Star Trek Las Vegas convention, there was a panel announcing the upcoming novel line-up for most of 2020. TrekCore covered it live on their Twitter feed:

https://mobile.twitter.com/TrekCore/status/1156992574671867904

The big news for me is my next novel: Star Trek: The Original Series — The Higher Frontier, scheduled for a March 2020 release. (How the heck is it almost 2020 already??) This is the novel I was busy finishing up during Shore Leave last month, and as it happens, I’m in the midst of manuscript revisions for my editor right now. Apparently the description is slated to go out to book sites with the “metadata” this weekend, so I guess I’ll wait until then to post it — stay tuned. But it’s a book I’m rather excited about, because it lets me do something TOS-wise that I didn’t think I’d get the chance to do again.

Another very surprising bit of news is that the lineup for next year includes two Kelvin Timeline novels, The Order of Peace by Alan Dean Foster and More Beautiful than Death by David Mack. These are two of the four Kelvin novels (before it was called that) which Alan, David, Greg Cox, and I wrote a decade ago for a 2010 release, and which were cancelled for arcane reasons at the start of 2010 — although Alan’s was originally called Refugees. Now, I incorporated much of my cancelled novel Seek a Newer World into TOS: The Face of the Unknown once I became convinced these novels would never be published, and Greg cannibalized parts of his The Hazard of Concealing for TOS: No Time Like the Past, which presumably is why they aren’t being released with the other two. But that’s fine. We all got paid in full for our books back then, and I feel that TFotU is a far better, richer novel than SaNW would’ve been. And maybe this opens the door for doing another Kelvin novel sometime, one written with knowledge of the later films, so that it can be more substantive. Anyway, I’m glad Alan’s and Dave’s books will finally see the light of day.

Other interesting bits of news: Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture novelization (which I drew on in Ex Machina) is getting a 40th-anniversary re-release in trade paperback form in October of this year, along with its first-ever audiobook edition. It’s also commemorating the 40th anniversary of Pocket/Simon & Schuster’s ST publishing program, which began with the TMP novelization. October will also see David Mack’s Collateral Damage, culminating a storyline that’s been developing in the novels since the A Time to… miniseries 16 years ago. In November, IDW Comics will begin publishing a Star Trek: Picard — Countdown miniseries by Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson, and in February 2020, Uma McCormack delivers the first Picard prequel novel, The Last Best Hope. Dayton Ward’s TOS novel Agents of Influence arrives in April. We’ll also see a Discovery novel from John Jackson Miller, and Kirsten Beyer’s Voyager: To Lose the Earth (which has been delayed due to Kirsten’s work on the writing staffs of Discovery and Picard) will reportedly be out at last in 2020.

I’ve been so immersed in the TOS era for the past couple of years that I haven’t really sought out information about what my fellow authors were doing in the larger Trek narrative, so all these announcements come as something of a surprise to me. It’ll be interesting to see what develops going further, and what my part in it will be. But 2020 is going to be a remarkably diverse year for Trek literature.