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Reminder: Joseph-Beth signing tomorrow!

Just a heads-up that I’ll be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati’s Rookwood Pavilion tomorrow, January 26th at 7:00 PM, to sign and discuss Star Trek: The Original Series — The Face of the Unknown and my Analog novelette “Twilight’s Captives.” Here are directions.

ST Face of Unknown cover Analog Jan/Feb 2017 cover

Star Trek trivia: The evolution of “mind meld”

A while back, I noticed something interesting about the history of Star Trek terminology. We’ve all come to think of “mind meld” as the standard term for the telepathic contact used by the Vulcans, and it’s been used consistently and near-exclusively in most Trek productions over the decades. But in fact, it was never used in the original series until the third season, and then only twice. TOS was quite inconsistent in its terminology — as with so many things, they made it up as they went and it took time for the concept to settle down. Here’s a list of the terms they used, and how they were depicted (originally posted in a thread on Tor.com, and put together with the help of the Star Trek Script Search app):

  • Dagger of the Mind: “an ancient Vulcan technique to probe into Van Gelder’s tortured mind” — The template for the mind meld as we know it.
  • Devil in the Dark: “the Vulcan technique of the joining of two minds” — Also a very deep fusion and blending of identities.
  • The Changeling: “mind probe” — Ditto.
  • By Any Other Name: “mind probe” and “mind touch” to refer to the telepathic suggestion used with the Eminian guard and Kelinda, much less of a connection than we’ve seen before.
  • Patterns of Force: “mind probe” to refer to Spock reaching Gill’s mind, but we didn’t see how deep it went.
  • Spectre of the Gun: Debut of the term “mind meld,” to refer to what was basically hypnotic suggestion.
  • Elaan of Troyius: “mind meld” suggested but not used as an interrogation technique.
  • The Paradise Syndrome: “mind fusion” used for a full “our minds are one” joining.
  • Is There in Truth No Beauty?: “mind link” to refer to the full union of two minds.
  • One of Our Planets is Missing: “mind touch” for Spock allowing the cloud creature to see and speak through him, much like his “link” with Kollos.
  • The Infinite Vulcan: “mind touch” to refer to a full transfer of mind/memory from giant Spock to original Spock.

So that’s “Vulcan technique” in season 1; “mind probe” and “mind touch” in season 2; “mind meld,” “mind link,” and “mind fusion” in season 3; and “mind touch exclusively in the animated series. The usage was all over the place, and “mind meld” was the third-most common term after “mind touch” and “mind probe.” And the writers’ bible for TOS refers only to Spock’s “strange Vulcan ‘ESP’ ability to merge his mind with another intelligence.” In the first major Trek reference book, The Star Trek Concordance by Bjo Trimble, the version that gets the longest lexicon entry (29 lines) is “Vulcan mind touch,” with “mind link” (non-Vulcan) getting six lines, “Vulcan mind fusion” five lines, and “Vulcan mind meld” only four, the shortest entry (though no “mind probe” anywhere in sight). I always used to have the sense that “mind touch” referred to a shallower, more basic telepathic communication while the “meld” or “fusion” was a deeper, more complete blending, but as you can see above, the terms were used more interchangeably than that.

And yet the 1977 writers’ bible for Phase II, the TV revival project that later turned into Star Trek: The Motion Picture, did use the term “mind-meld” for Vulcan mental abilities. The term was then used in onscreen dialogue in TMP itself, for the contact between Spock and V’Ger’s memory crystal. It was also used in The Search for Spock (referring retroactively to Spock’s katra transfer to McCoy in TWOK) and The Voyage Home (for Spock’s mental communication with the whales). And it’s been the exclusive term in every subsequent Star Trek production. (“Mind probe” was used twice, in The Next Generation‘s “Menage a Troi” and Deep Space Nine‘s “Extreme Measures,” to refer to mind-scanning technologies akin to the Klingon mind sifter, but never for Vulcan telepathy.) So sometime between TAS and the movies, the term became standardized.

It also occurred to me to check into the tie-in fiction that came out between TOS and TMP. 1970’s Spock Must Die! by James Blish used yet another unique term, “mind-lock.” But the next original Bantam publication, the 1976 anthology Star Trek: The New Voyages (which was mostly reprinting earlier fanfiction stories, though newly revised for the anthology), uses “mind-meld” consistently in multiple stories. As far as I can tell, it was pretty standard in Bantam’s books from then on (though I don’t have them all in my possession). So in both screen and prose Trek, the term “mind meld” somehow became the default by the late 1970s — but how? Why that term, when it was so infrequently used in TOS and never in TAS?

When I checked my nonfiction text sources, I found that The Making of Star Trek, written by Stephen Edward Poe (as Stephen E. Whitfield) and Gene Roddenberry during season 2 of TOS and released shortly before the premiere of season 3, refers to Spock’s ability as “mind-melding” — making it the earliest public use of the term. It’s possible Poe/Whitfield got it from the scripts to “Spock’s Brain” and “Elaan of Troyius,” though, depending on how early they were written. Or maybe it’s just the term Roddenberry had decided on, and so it got around behind the scenes.

People today often don’t realize it, but TMoST was the definitive ST reference book in its day, the source of a number of things that became conventional fan wisdom even though they were never stated onscreen, such as Kirk being the youngest starship captain, McCoy’s divorce backstory (proposed by DeForest Kelley for the second-season writers’ bible but first publicized by TMoST), and the Romulan-Klingon alliance (from development notes for “The Enterprise Incident” to explain the Romulan use of Klingon ships, which seems to confirm that Poe had access to early third-season scripts). Not to mention technical details that weren’t canonized until later, like the idea of the forward parabolic dish being a navigational deflector. TMoST was also the second work to establish a 23rd-century setting for TOS, preceded by James Blish’s “Space Seed” adaptation in the collection Star Trek 2 seven months earlier.

So if all these things became conventional wisdom because they were in The Making of Star Trek, it follows that TMoST’s use of the term “mind-melding” is the reason that term became standardized later on. And it does seem that it used the term because it was written around the same time as the two TOS episodes that did use it. If it had been written a few months earlier, we might’ve ended up talking about “Vulcan mind probes” for all these years.

THE FACE OF THE UNKNOWN is now on sale!

December 28, 2016 1 comment

Just a reminder that Star Trek: The Original Series — The Face of the Unknown officially went on sale yesterday. I’ve updated this site’s homepage and Star Trek Fiction page with ordering links, and I’ve added a book discussion page, although I haven’t had time to do the spoiler annotations yet.

ST Face of Unknown cover

Also, as I mentioned a couple months back, this is my first Star Trek novel to get an audiobook version, something that Simon & Schuster seems to have begun doing regularly with Trek novels now. The narrator is Robert Petkoff, and judging from the sample I heard on Amazon, he does a good job capturing the TOS cast’s voices.

Book signing event at Joseph-Beth Booksellers January 26!

I’m going to be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati’s Rookwood Pavilion for a book signing and discussion event next month. Here’s their events page with the announcement:

http://www.josephbeth.com/AdultEvents.aspx

I figured that, since Star Trek: The Original Series — The Face of the Unknown and my Analog novelette “Twilight’s Captives” were both coming out around the same time, it would be a good opportunity for a signing, and the folks at Joseph-Beth agreed. It’ll begin at 7 PM on Thursday, January 26th at 2692 Madison Road in Rookwood Pavilion (directions are here). This will be my first signing at J-B since the one I did for Only Superhuman three years before. I’ll be talking about the new book and story and answering questions, so hopefully my voice will be in better shape than it was last time. I expect there will be copies of some of my older books available as well.

Look what else arrived today!

December 15, 2016 2 comments

I should’ve waited — I could’ve posted both of these at once. Here’s what I found when I checked the mail this afternoon:

Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown

Yep, my copies of Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown are here, and they look terrific. The spines look good too, with a vivid gold logo on a deep blue starscape background that wraps around from the front. They even look good on the inside, with a nice, classic, easily legible font. I’m happy with how these turned out. I hope readers are happy with them too. They’ll be on sale in just a couple more weeks!

“Twilight’s Captives” are here!

I’ve received my author copies of the January/February 2017 issue of Analog Science Fiction, containing my story “Twilight’s Captives” as the first novelette (second story overall) in the issue:

Analog Jan/Feb 2017

Okay, kind of a blurry picture, but I can’t find an online image of the cover yet. Anyway, I got my name on the cover once again — my third time in a row and my fourth overall (out of seven Analog appearances to date).

The Analog homepage is still showing the December issue, but I expect the new issue to be on sale fairly soon. Oh, and apparently this issue is the beginning of a format change for Analog and its sister magazine Asimov’s Science Fiction. Before, they’ve published ten issues per year, two of which were double issues. Starting with this issue, they’re moving to six double-length issues per year. So it’s the same amount of content, but coming out half as often. I’m not sure what that means in the long run, but in the short term, it means there should be twice as much opportunity for folks to find and buy this issue and read “Twilight’s Captives”!

Sometime soon, I’ll be posting notes about the story here on the site, including illustrations of the featured alien species in the story. Stay tuned!

Thoughts on DOCTOR STRANGE (spoilers)

I finally got around to seeing Marvel’s Doctor Strange. I hadn’t been in a rush to see it because the reviews have been mixed, with some praising it but others saying it was just another run-of-the-mill Marvel origin movie. But I quite enjoyed it. The formula may have been familiar, but the execution was fresh and engaging in a lot of ways.

I grant that it’s a little hard to sympathize with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Stephen Strange at first. He’s good at what he does, and the opening surgical sequences do a good job of establishing how important the precision of his hands is to him, but he’s also an arrogant jerk, and not as charmingly so as Robert Downey, Jr. But if the goal is to make us want to see him get comeuppance and begin a journey of transformation, it succeeds. Although I wish the movie had done more to give us some indication of why Strange would be chosen as a sorceror candidate, what this great potential was that the Ancient One saw in him. If anything, the lead character himself is one of the least well-drawn figures in the film.

But that’s the film’s strength, in a way. Marvel films have a tendency to focus on the heroes’ journeys and complexities and keep the villains kind of simplistic, which is a shame, because Marvel Comics have long been known for the richness of their villains’ personalities. Here, though, the supporting cast and the villains (both present and future) are nuanced and well-drawn. The main villain Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) was not what I expected — far from seeking power or vengeance or some standard villain motive, he sincerely believes he’s saving the world and doing good for its people; he’s just been misled by Dormammu’s promises, and is too dismissive of sacrificing individual lives to save the greater number. I was surprised at what a sympathetic figure he turned out to be. And Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo is a fascinating character — an ally of Strange and the Ancient One rather than the power-hungry traitor he was in the comics, but one who has harsh and unyielding sensibilities — a willingness to do whatever violence is necessary to achieve his goals, and a rigid adherence to the rules that makes him unwilling to accept it when his allies break the rules to save the world. In an inversion of the original character, this Mordo sees himself as the betrayed one instead of the betrayer. I’m somewhat reminded of Ejiofor’s Operative character in Serenity — an antagonist who stood for law and order and believed that the unethical things he did were necessary to defend a peaceful, orderly system he revered above all else. Although the Operative went from antagonist to ally, while Mordo went the other way. Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One is a nicely nuanced character as well, taking questionable steps that make Mordo’s sense of betrayal understandable.

One thing I did really like about Strange, in contrast to prior Marvel Cinematic Universe screen heroes, is that he has a clearly stated aversion to killing, and shows remorse when it becomes necessary. This is something that’s been standard for the majority of comic-book superheroes since the ’40s, but it’s all too rare in their movie counterparts, since American adventure movies tend to be made within a paradigm that presumes the villains must die. This is something that’s always bothered me about feature adaptations of superheroes, and I’ve always found it hypocritical that the movies’ Tony Stark supposedly gave up the weapons business due to a crisis of conscience but still routinely uses lethal armaments as Iron Man. But it seems we’re finally starting to see a movement toward heroes with more of a resistance to killing. In Ant-Man, Scott Lang was pretty firm about being opposed to violent methods (although there was dialogue there suggesting that the Avengers were presumed to use lethal force by default), and on Netflix, both Daredevil and Luke Cage are firmly against killing (though in the former case that seems to waver where ninjas are concerned) and Jessica Jones avoided it except in one special case. I do find it ironic that the supposedly darker Netflix shows have more non-lethal heroes than the supposedly light and fluffy MCU movies, although that’s going to change somewhat now that there’s a Punisher series in production. But maybe the movies are starting to turn away from lethal heroes somewhat. I certainly hope that’s the case with Spider-Man: Homecoming, at least.

As far as the visuals and the depiction of magic are concerned, I admit I’m not a big fan of the kaleidoscopic urban-origami Inception-ish stuff that’s featured in all the trailers. It’s certainly a fresh way of depicting magic, but it’s just too overcomplicated in its execution, all these pieces of buildings folding over and reduplicating and tessellating. I mean, these are supposedly changes that the sorcerors are making to the environment to benefit themselves and confound their foes. That much makes sense. But it doesn’t seem necessary to make all those thousands of nibbly little changes to the environment to achieve one specific effect, and it’s hard to believe one person could have the concentration to initiate and control all those individual changes at once. So I might’ve liked it better if it had been a little less overdone, less mechanical-looking, less cluttered with detail.

But I really liked a lot of the other things they did. There’s some very clever stuff here. I liked the way Strange integrated his sorcery and his medicine, using his “Sling Ring” to teleport to the hospital and draw on his colleague/ex Christine (Rachel McAdams) for help in key moments. It helps explain why he holds onto the title “Doctor Strange” instead of Master — he’s not giving up that side of himself completely, but is finding ways to integrate the old and the new. There was some clever stuff in the astral-body battle, and the final scene between Strange and the Ancient One was beautifully done, both visually and in writing/character terms. The battle in Hong Kong was inspired, the way they integrated the combatants moving forward in time with the environment moving backward, including some very clever ways of using the time inversion against the villains. I’ve never seen anything like this in a movie before, and it was delightful. The climax with Strange confronting Dormammu was also excellent, and it really showed how far Strange had grown, to the point where he’d finally set aside his ego completely for the good of the world. That was really effective.

I decided to splurge on seeing the movie in 3D, to get the full effect of the visuals, and it did add to the experience somewhat. Still, I’m not sure if the problem is with the theater or my eyes, but I had the same problems with depth of field that I’ve had with other 3D movies, in that things seem to be closer than they should — a lot of things seemed to be right in front of my face when they should be at least a bit further back, and characters in long shots often seemed tiny and close rather than normal-sized and distant. The theater also had a pretty bad sound mix that made some of the dialogue hard to hear, though it wasn’t as bad in the film as in the trailers.

One thing’s for sure — Cumberbatch definitely looks the part of Dr. Strange. And judging from the mid-credits scene, he’s wasting no time involving himself in the business of the superhero community going forward. I do look forward to seeing where he and Mordo go from here. (And Wong. Wong is cool. I should’ve said that.)

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