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Where things stand with my writing

October 16, 2021 3 comments

Well, the good news is, I’ve now been paid for the concluding volume of the Tangent Knights trilogy. It was cutting it a bit close, which is my own fault for running behind, but the money’s in the bank at last. Also, with TK done, I had time to finally finish revising a couple more Star Trek Adventures standalone games, and I’m awaiting approval and payment on those. So I daresay I’m probably okay for the next half-year or so now, barring disasters.

Things are still a bit iffy going forward, though. I’ve already pitched an idea for more Tangent Knights novels, and I’ve got a couple of new things tentatively lined up with Star Trek Adventures, all of which I’m waiting to hear back on. I expect my projects with both publishers to go forward, but I’m not sure when they’d be likely to pay out. So my long-term prospects are a little uncertain right now, but at least I have time to try to line up some additional sources of income to bridge the gap, if it proves necessary.

You’re probably wondering about Star Trek novels. Let’s just say things are up in the air with those right now, and I’ve learned over the past few years that it was unwise to rely too heavily on them as my primary source of income, given the unexpected delays and slow periods that tend to crop up. So until I hear otherwise, my current priorities are elsewhere — Tangent, STA, my other original work as time allows, and whatever else I can line up over the months ahead. Ideally, I hope to find the time to start writing a third Arachne novel.

Gaining more Patreon subscribers would certainly help. I fell behind on preparing new Patreon content while I was writing TK3, but I’ve been trying to catch up. I’m currently 3/4 of the way through a review of the 8-episode Japanese miniseries Miss Sherlock, which reinvents Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as modern-day women in Tokyo. After that, starting on October 26, I’ll begin covering the mindbending 1998 cyberpunk anime series Serial Experiments Lain, in an edited repost of the detailed reviews I wrote in 2009 for a now-defunct incarnation of the ExIsle BBS, so they probably no longer exist online in their original form. That will carry my review series through to the end of the year, so I’ll hopefully have time to rebuild my inventory.

I’m also working on a new Patreon story that I hope to have ready by the end of October. It’s a character vignette (well, longer than a vignette) filling in a significant bit of overlooked backstory for one of my favorite characters from Arachne’s Crime. Some of it might find its way into the third Arachne novel if I ever get around to it, or at least it might help me flesh out ideas for that book.

Also, I now have an author copy of Tangent Knights 1: Caprice of Fate, so I’ll finally be able to do annotations, which I was waiting to do until I could hear the final version and get the timings for my notes. I want to get the Patreon story finished up before I tackle that, though.

I also have a new Troubleshooter story that I’ve been trying to sell, but a couple of the markets I was hoping to offer it to have dried up recently. If I run out of other options, it’ll end up on Patreon.

I’m wrestling with an idea for what might be a new Hub story. It’s a concept I’ve had in mind for years, a fairly dark comedy premise. I already tried writing it once as a standalone story, but I wasn’t satisfied with the result; it turned out less comedic than I intended. I have an idea for how to take another stab at the concept in the Hub setting, but I’m not sure if the plot specifics can really work there. So that’s still up in the air.

I keep a list taped to my door of the projects I plan to tackle in a given year, and I usually end up disappointed by how few of them I actually get done. I suppose it’s not as bad as it looks, though, since I got most of the biggest things done, except for Arachne 3. The things I haven’t checked off are mostly outlines or tentative short story ideas. My problem is that it’s hard for me to focus on more than one thing at a time. If I were better at multitasking, I could get some of these smaller things done during breaks in the bigger things. But it’s hard for me to split my focus that way. Indeed, part of why I was late with TK3 is because I took a break from it to finish an STA game and it took longer than intended. But then, almost all my writing takes longer than intended.

Maybe I’d do better if I were more financially secure and less stressed. I’m somewhat better off in that regard than I was last year, thanks to GraphicAudio and Tangent Knights. But it’s not as much of an improvement as I’d hoped for, due to various delays. So I’m hanging on, but the long-term uncertainty remains.

New Patreon fiction: “What Slender Threads”

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted a new story on my Patreon. I fell behind schedule on the conclusion of the Tangent Knights trilogy, so I tried to focus solely on that. But now I’ve finally posted a new story, “What Slender Threads,” which you can read here on the $10/mo Fiction tier:

Fiction: “What Slender Threads”

The annotations for the story are also up at the $12/mo Behind the Scenes tier:

“What Slender Threads” Annotations

I say “new,” but it’s more like “unsold.” As I mentioned on the Tangent Knights discussion page, I already had a rough idea for a trilogy I was planning to develop when GraphicAudio invited me to pitch an original trilogy or series, but I had to rework it to separate out the characters and concepts I’d already used in a prologue story I was shopping around at the time, splitting different aspects of the original premise into two separate continuities and two distinct approaches to the idea of parallel Earths. “What Slender Threads” is that story, a glimpse at my original approach, which would have been somewhat darker and more tragic than Tangent Knights turned out to be. In retrospect, I’m glad I ended up taking a different tack, because TK was enormous fun to write. But there are still aspects of “What Slender Threads” that I’m eager to share with my audience, particularly its distinctive take on the nature of parallel worlds. And people who’ve listened to Tangent Knights: Caprice of Fate might be interested to compare and contrast it with this alternative version of the concept (or vice versa).

Thoughts on Legendary’s GODZILLA VS. KONG (Spoilers)

September 24, 2021 1 comment

The library finally came through with my copy of Godzilla vs. Kong, the climax of what we could derivatively call “Phase One” of Legendary Pictures’ “MonsterVerse” combining Toho’s Godzilla/kaiju franchise with the King Kong franchise. The film picks up the concepts and story threads built up over the previous three films, Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), though the returning human cast members are limited to GKotM’s Millie Bobby Brown (who really needs to be signed up immediately for a Young Princess Leia series or movie before she ages out of it) and Kyle Chandler — and Chandler’s obnoxious Mark Russell character is fortunately reduced to a very minor role. GKotM’s Zhang Ziyi was signed up to return, but her part was cut out entirely (along with Jessica Henwick, who I mentioned in my GKotM review as someone I was looking forward to seeing).

The film opens on Skull Island with Kong waking up to classic rock being piped into his jungle on speakers, a stylistic nod to the soundtrack of KSI. He has a friendly exchange with a young deaf girl named Jia (Kaylee Hottie), who we will learn is the last survivor of the Iwi tribe seen in KSI, and who’s been adopted by Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), the film’s resident Kong expert. But he throws a tree trunk at the sky and breaks a hole in the virtual projection on the vast dome holding him in, built by the monster-regulating Monarch organization introduced in the previous films. Andrews and a colleague exposit to each other that Kong needs to be contained to protect him from Godzilla, who won’t tolerate another alpha Titan, but that Kong has grown too big for his habitat. This addresses both Kong’s absence in GKotM and his much vaster size here than in KSI (which did foreshadow that he was still a growing boy).

We then cut to Brian Tyree Henry as Bernie Hayes, a conspiracy nut and whistleblower within Apex Cybernetics, a powerful tech corporation that he thinks is doing something sinister involving the Titans — something that draws Godzilla to attack an Apex facility, changing his public image from hero Titan to menace to humanity. Bernie’s got a podcast reporting to the public on his secret investigation on a daily basis, surely tipping Apex off to the existence of a whistleblower within their ranks, and he makes no effort to disguise his distinctive Brian Tyree Henry-esque booming voice in his podcasts, which seems contradictory for a paranoid, secretive character like Bernie’s supposed to be. (It’s unclear if his paranoia is an act, since we see him warning a co-worker against eating a GMO apple and then eating it himself, but otherwise he seems sincere.) But it provides an excuse to bring in Millie Bobby Brown’s Madison Russell, Bernie’s most loyal listener, who tracks him down to get his help exposing Apex, along with her nerdy friend Josh (Julian Dennison), who’s mainly just there to complain.

Ilene is approached by her old flame Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), formerly of Monarch, who’s been approached in turn by Apex exec Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) to mount an expedition into the Hollow Earth to find some MacGuffinish “power source” that could save the world from Godzilla in some unclear way. For some unexplained reason, Lind is considered a crackpot for his Hollow Earth theories even though that realm has been confirmed to exist in previous movies. Apparently the Hollow Earth is more than just underground tunnels but involves a “gravitational inversion” that killed Lind’s brother on their last attempt to get in. But Simmons has developed antigravity-powered Hollow Earth Aerial Vehicles that could survive the transition, and somehow their best brains never realized that “HEAV” (pronounced “heave”) is a terrible name.

Anyway, Lind needs Ilene to recruit Kong as a guide to the Hollow Earth power source, on the theory that Titans have a salmon-like instinct to return to their origins (sounds fishy). He somehow talks Ilene into agreeing, and bringing Jia along because she keeps Kong calm. The involved process of sedating and restraining Kong is skipped over, and we cut to him being chained on a flatbed ship in a military convoy heading for the Hollow Earth entrance in Antarctica, where Ilene discovers what she somehow missed, that Kong speaks sign language and converses with Jia, but they kept it from Ilene since Kong didn’t want her to know. (He’s a gorilla the size of a skyscraper under constant scientific scrutiny. How did he hide it?) Anyway, Ilene was right about one thing: taking Kong out of his dome attracts Godzilla, who’s determined to force his rival to submit to his dominance. His attack threatens to sink the ship and drown Kong until Lind hits the button to release the chains, something he argued against before. I’m not sure whether that’s showing Lind’s growth or just making him the designated hero because he’s the main white male in the film.

Anyway, there’s a big Kong/Godzilla throwdown underwater and on top of the ships, quite a massive fight for 3/4 of an hour into the film, and Kong basically loses, getting wrapped in Goji’s tail and half-drowned until the fleet uses depth charges to disorient Goji and let Kong climb to safety, then goes to silent running to play dead.

To avoid Goji’s notice, they airlift Kong to Antarctica in a net carried by a fleet of helicopters, evoking a visual from King Kong vs. Godzilla. Ilene gets Jia to convince Kong he might find family in the Hollow Earth, prompting him to dive in, with the HEAVs following. The gravitational inversion turns out not to be just some kind of weightless transitional zone, but a full-on 2001-ripoff space warp that spits the HEAVs out in the Hollow Earth, a realm sandwiched between two parallel surfaces with opposing gravities and a lot of weightless rocks floating at the midway plane (how’d they get up there?). The space warp seems gratuitous given that this is supposed to be a Pellucidar-like hollow inside the Earth, rather than some alternate dimension or whatever. They seem to be throwing concepts together without worrying about cohesiveness. Oddly, despite what’s been said all along about the Titans being native to the Hollow Earth, there’s no sign of any familiar kaiju from previous films — no other Godzillas, no Mothras, no Rodans, no MUTOs, even. Well, some pterosaurs from Skull Island, but that’s it. There are some original Titans, though, notably some winged-snake things called Warbats that Kong fights.

Kong eventually finds the ruins of a Kong-sized civilization and a giant axe apparently made from a Godzilla spine and bone. Kong somehow intuits to use this scale as the key to unlocking the super-“power source” that Simmons sent the expedition to find. Simmons’s gorgeous but arrogant daughter Maia (Eiza González), sent along as babysitter but too undeveloped a character to be worth mentioning until now, steals a sample of the power source, which Ilene and Lind are startled by, even though it’s precisely what the whole expedition was explicitly sent to do in the first place. Huh?

And then there’s another “Huh?”, because apparently all Simmons needs to harness this power source is to get a scan of its energy signature transmitted to him, whereupon he’s instantly able to replicate it. What? If this is some super-energy source beyond anything human technology has, how does human technology have the energy to replicate it in a matter of minutes? Isn’t the whole point of a power source that you need to harness the actual source itself to provide the power? You can’t fuel a car with a spectrograph of gasoline vapor. You need the actual substance.

I need to backtrack a bit here, since Madison, Bernie, and Josh have snuck into the destroyed Apex facility in Florida and discovered an underground hyper-monorail system that spirits them to Apex’s Hong Kong facility, where Apex is using Skullcrawlers (from Kong: Skull Island) as test victims for their very own Mechagodzilla. (The plot of this film is so cursory that I just didn’t feel the need to keep up with this bunch until now.) Somehow the three intruders go absolutely unobserved for a long time even while standing right in the middle of the heavily monitored Mechagoji test chamber, and they’re able to find that Mechagoji is telepathically controlled from a station built into the King Ghidorah skull salvaged in the post-credits scene of GKotM, with an implicit second KG skull inside Mechagoji (making it a fusion of Mechagodzilla and Mecha-King Ghidorah). The pilot, by the way, is named Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri), but he’s such a cipher of a character that the implied relationship to Dr. Serizawa from the previous films is never addressed.

So anyway, Simmons wants the Hollow Earth power source to bring Mechagodzilla to full power so that humans can reclaim the “alpha” status from Godzilla. Goji senses MG’s testing and attacks Hong Kong, whereupon he… uh… wait… whereupon he turns out not to be targeting Mechagodzilla after all. Instead he… um… he uses his atomic breath to blast a hole way, way down through the Earth’s crust to blow up the power source in the Hollow Earth temple where Kong is, which… is coincidentally directly below Hong Kong. Yeah. Uh-huh.

WHAAAAAA???????????

This has got to be the lamest way ever to get two disconnected plotlines to converge. I mean, the whole reason Apex needed to use Kong was so he could guide them to the power source, whose location they were unaware of. And it turns out the location was literally right underneath Apex’s main base the whole time???? That is a gigantic cheat. Nobody in the film even remarks on the mind-boggling coincidence or irony of it all. It’s jarring to see what we think is Godzilla reacting to one of the two plotlines and have it instead be a totally random, contrived way to drag the two disconnected plotlines together.

Not only that, but the whole Stargate spacewarp inversion from earlier is gone; now there’s just a big ol’ hole that Kong drops into/climbs out of to attack Godzilla with his new axe. They have a big throwdown that trashes Hong Kong, and unlike the previous MonsterVerse films, there’s no more than the barest token attempt to acknowledge the human impact of this horrendous destruction, with just a couple of brief shots of fleeing citizens. As a result, there’s no sense of stakes to the battle of Titans and it’s all just shallow spectacle and noise. The watching Lind and Ilene show no sense of horror at the cataclysmic loss of life, just idly remarking on who’s winning. If the characters don’t have any strong reaction to what we’re seeing, why should we?

Kong wins the “second round,” in Lind’s estimation, by knocking Godzilla to the proverbial mat, but his ruling is premature; Goji rallies and thrashes him rather decisively, pinning Kong down and only releasing him when Kong gives up the fight. This surprised me; since Kong lost the first bout, I’d expected him to win the second. Indeed, as Jia soon discovers by feeling his heartbeat through the ground, Kong is dying.

Meanwhile, once Simmons brings Mechagodilla to full power, Serizawa loses his connection and the mecha takes on a life of its own, killing Simmons in mid-megalomaniacal speech. Implicitly, King Ghidorah’s consciousness has taken it over, in a beat similar to the one in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla where Kiryu was taken over by the spirit of the Godzilla skeleton it was built around. Although, like so many things in this film, that part is glossed over. Explanations, connective logic, characterizations, it’s all expendable in favor of the CGI spectacle. So anyway, Mechagoji breaks out of the Apex base and attacks Godzilla. You can surely guess what comes next: Lind uses one of the HEAVs’ experimental engines to shock Kong’s heart (because in fiction, defibrillation to restart a stopped heart magically cures whatever broader systemic damage is responsible for the heart stopping in the first place), Jia convinces Kong that his real enemy is the metal Goji instead of the scaly one, and the two alpha Titans team up to kill the mecha. They even do a combi move (as they call it in Japan) where Godzilla supercharges Kong’s axe with his atomic breath. As the human characters reunite and look on, the Titans face each other off once more, but Kong lets the axe fall and Godzilla leaves him be, returning to the sea.

Well, this is the first Legendary MonsterVerse film that really disappointed me. It’s a silly, shallow mess of cluttered spectacle, feeling like a film whose script was hacked apart and sloppily reassembled by studio fiat, losing most of its substance and coherence in the process. The characterizations established in the first hour, such as they are, get lost in the second half, with the characters becoming little more than tools for exposition and plot advancement and spectators to the CGI carnage. Madison Russell in particular is very poorly served; her ultimate role in the film is simply to stand there and watch events unfolding around her. At the end, Bernie and Josh contribute in their own small way to weakening Mechagodzilla, but Madison, who played a key role in driving events in the climax of the previous film, just stands there uselessly this time while the people with Y chromosomes get all the agency. It’s an utter waste of her character. Indeed, she and her father, the only returning human characters from the previous film, could have been left out of this one entirely without significantly affecting its plot, as she’s only there to tag along with Bernie, the real driver of that half of the film. Which is unfortunate in itself, since Bernie is a conspiracy nut with a lot of nonsensical beliefs, but we’re supposed to believe that he’s a reliable guide to what’s really going on. The film had the misfortune of coming out after the January 6 coup attempt, after which it became impossible to see conspiracy nuts as harmlessly endearing. Even aside from that, Bernie’s eccentric paranoid schtick just isn’t remotely as funny as the film imagines it to be. He and Josh are both rather irritating, making it all the more annoying that they overshadow Madison.

Between Madison’s wasted role and the throwaway treatment of Ren Serizawa — as well as Lance Reddick being credited prominently in the opening titles yet only having one or two lines of exposition to Kyle Chandler — I have to wonder how much of this film’s plot ended up on the cutting room floor in favor of CGI wackiness. (The running time is 1 hour, 53 minutes, the shortest in the series, though only by 5 minutes; GKotM is the longest, but it’s only 2 hours, 11 minutes.) Well, I don’t have to wonder; this Instagram post spells out the massive changes and cuts to the original story, with huge swaths of characterization and story being hacked away in the belief that sacrificing plot and character for empty spectacle would make it “more palatable for general audiences.” It’s a great letdown after Kong: Skull Island, which had rich, effective character work to anchor its monster story. The previous two Godzilla films had more mediocre character work, but even they were substantially richer than anything here. This was supposed to be the pinnacle of seven years of universe-building, but it’s the emptiest, most insubstantial and unsatisfying installment in the whole series. What a waste.

Apparently, despite being so shallow and dumb, GvK was successful enough that Legendary is making plans for more films in the series. Before today, I would’ve been glad to know they were making more. Now, I’m not so sure.

How to find TANGENT KNIGHTS: CAPRICE OF FATE on Goodreads

It’s just come to my attention that the Goodreads page for Tangent Knights 1: Caprice of Fate is hard to find for people who want to leave ratings and reviews. Apparently it only shows up in my list of books on my Author Profile if you sort by title, not by other sorting methods. I’m not sure why that is, but maybe it’ll get more notice once it starts getting some ratings. To that end, here’s a direct link to its page on Goodreads, under Caprice of Fate (Tangent Knights #1):

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59026840-caprice-of-fate

 

Meanwhile, I’m in the final stages of polishing my draft of the Book 3 manuscript and will be turning it in any day now, completing the trilogy — although I’m hopeful that the series will continue beyond it. I haven’t updated my blog in a month because I’ve been so focused on getting it finished. In contrast to the first book, where I finished well ahead of schedule, I had a harder time with this one, since the storyline has grown substantially in complexity and scope, and I had to make sure all its threads came together properly and were worthy of the grand finale. So I fell well behind schedule and really had to buckle down to catch up. I ended up running a few weeks late, but the folks at GraphicAudio have been very understanding, giving me the time I needed to get it (hopefully) right.

Wasp update

After getting stung by a wasp in my car trunk a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what to do about it. Should I risk dealing with it myself or call an exterminator? I looked online for solutions, and one suggestion was to put a hunk of dry ice in the car and let the carbon dioxide smother the moths overnight. But I’d have to drive somewhere to get dry ice, so that was a Catch-22 of sorts.

It occurred to me that maybe the building maintenance people would have experience dealing with wasp nests and might be able to help me out, or at least recommend an exterminator. But when I asked the building manager, the only advice I got was to buy some wasp spray from the store, since an exterminator would be expensive. Eventually I decided to go ahead and try that, getting it when I walked to the store to get groceries. I was uneasy about all the warnings on the can about how toxic it was and how to avoid letting it get into the drains or on my clothes or skin, but I couldn’t see another option. Anything more environmentally friendly would require searching farther afield, which would require driving.

I had to wait for the right time to use it, though. It had to be early in the morning before the wasps were active, and it had to be on a day without rain in the forecast, since my car was parked fairly close to a storm drain. When the day came, I followed online advice and bundled up to cover my skin as much as possible — a turtleneck and buttoned-up jacket to protect my arms and throat (since getting stung in the throat area and having an allergic reaction could close off the windpipe, apparently), bike straps around my pant cuffs (they recommended boots, but I don’t have any), heavy gloves, a wool hat over my ears, and of course my glasses and a mask. Fortunately it was a cool morning.

The wool hat, by the way, is a gift GraphicAudio sent me after hiring me to write Tangent Knights for them. They sent it last winter, and it was very handy, since it often got cold in my apartment overnight.

I also took the long wooden bar that I’d used to knock away the nest the first time, using it to pry open the trunk from a distance. I spotted the nest after a moment; it was in a different place than before, a bit lower and attached to the body of the car rather than the trunk lid. Making sure the wind wasn’t blowing toward me, I sprayed it liberally with the spray, which was a thick white liquid, not the kind of bug spray I’m used to. I fear that I probably used rather more of it than I needed, since I wanted to make really sure. Once I saw no more wasp activity around the nest, I sprayed other areas around the rim of the trunk and a bit in the wheel wells, and even squirted a bit behind the side mirrors, since I’d seen a wasp crawl into the left mirror cowling (or whatever it’s called) some weeks before.

Then I walked away, since the instructions said to let it sit for at least 24 hours until the poison killed the queen and any returning wasps.  I was concerned that I’d left a significant puddle of the liquid on the pavement behind the car, but I really didn’t know what to do about it; I wasn’t supposed to wash it away or let it go down the drain, and I didn’t know how I could safely clean it up by any other means. The instructions said just to let it sit for a day, and I hoped that meant it would just break down naturally in the environment, and that any animals would avoid it. My car wasn’t parked very close to the building or to other cars, so I hoped it would be okay.

When I got up the next morning, there was light rain earlier than had been predicted, which was of some concern, but I hoped enough time had probably passed for the spray to break down or whatever it did. When I went to the car, though, not only did I see no trace of the puddle, but there was no residue of the liquid anywhere on the car where I’d sprayed it. I’d expected dried encrustations or something, but there was nothing at all. I don’t think the rain that morning was heavy enough to account for that, so I figure it must have evaporated on its own, hopefully well before the rain came.

Anyway, I took the same precautions as the day before, just in case, and pried open the trunk to get rid of the nest. I wasn’t pleased to see that there was still one live wasp on the nest, but it was sluggish and I didn’t see any others. I used the wooden bar to deal with it and scrape off the nest, along with a couple of what looked like eggs stuck next to where the nest had been. Then I used my long-handled ice scraper to try to scrape away any residue of anything around the rest of the trunk, and then I applied a little more wasp spray to various crevices just to play it safe, then walked away for another day — actually a couple of days, as it turned out, since there was more rain the next day.

When I checked back again, I saw no sign of wasps, but I wanted to reduce the chances of a recurrence. So I drove up to the local gas station and used the window-cleaning squeegee and paper towels provided there to try to clean out all the accumulated plant matter around the edges of the trunk under the lid, to make it less inviting as a wasp habitat. (I probably should go to a proper car wash, but I didn’t feel ambitious enough to try that.) And when I came back, I parked in the front lot of the building rather than the rear, in hopes of altering as many variables as possible to prevent a recurrence.

Yesterday I drove to pick up groceries again, still bundling up in my jacket and wool hat just in case, but I saw no wasps around the car even though it was quite warm, so that’s a good sign. (I took off the jacket and hat once I got in the car.) Still, just to play it extra-safe, I asked the clerk to put the groceries in the back seat instead of the trunk. And when I got home (still parking in the front lot, even though that’s a longer schlep for the groceries), I found it’s actually a little easier to collect grocery bags from the back seat than from the trunk. So I may do that regularly from now on, even without wasps to worry about. Maybe some good came of this after all.

I wish I’d at least avoided being stung, though.

TANGENT KNIGHTS discussion page now up

I’ve just published a discussion page here on Written Worlds for my new Tangent Knights audiobook series, starting with Book 1, Caprice of Fate:

Tangent Knights

It includes non-spoiler discussion of my creative process and inspirations behind the series. Even though it’s a pastiche of Japanese tokusatsu superhero shows, I built it largely by cannibalizing and remixing elements from some old superhero concepts I shelved decades ago.

I don’t yet know when I might have spoiler annotations up, since I’m busy writing Book 3, and I don’t yet have a copy of the finished audio to refer to. Stay tuned.

Stinging irony

I went out to my car just now to go out for some groceries, and I opened the trunk to double-check that the wasps were gone after I cleared out their nest last week. Guess what — they weren’t gone. In fact, one immediately stung me in the arm before I even realized they were there. So after closing the car back up, I ran back to my apartment to look up online what to do about a wasp sting. It recommended just washing the area, which I’d already done, and putting ice on it and taking an anti-inflammatory, all done. So far, there’s just a bit of skin irritation around the site, but that could be from the scrubbing. I thought my hand was going numb for a moment, but it was just from pressing the ice pack too hard.

It’s been more than ten minutes and I haven’t had an allergic reaction yet, so I’m probably fine. The problem is that anxiety symptoms, like tightness in the throat and tingling in the extremities, can resemble symptoms of an allergic reaction. So I just have to stay calm and focus on breathing normally. I’m pretty sure I’m fine.

Still, I don’t know what I’m going to do about the wasps. I guess I could just put my groceries in the back seat for now, but that’s not a solution. Maybe go to a car wash? Or should I call an exterminator?

Categories: Uncategorized

New interview at Bad Girls, Good Guys blog

A blog named Bad Girls, Good Guys, and Two-Fisted Action, the Writing Blog of Sean Taylor, is running a series of interviews with eSpec Books authors, and mine was posted today:

https://seanhtaylor.blogspot.com/2021/08/especs-books-focus-2-christopher-l.html

I talk about Star Trek: Living Memory and the Arachne duology, and also drop some hints about “the new project I can’t talk about,” which was actually Tangent Knights, since the interview was conducted before that project got announced. So it’s not as thorough an interview as I would’ve liked it to be, but it’s got some good stuff in it. So feel free to take a look!

TANGENT KNIGHTS 1: CAPRICE OF FATE is out today!

Today’s the day! The first book in my brand-new, original audiobook series Tangent Knights is now on sale from GraphicAudio, for an introductory price of just $4.99 if you buy digital!

https://www.graphicaudio.net/tangent-knights-1-caprice-of-fate.html

GraphicAudio introduces a spectacular original Super-heroic Action Series available in no other format!

In the year 2046, on the artificial-island arcology of New Avalon, Corazón “Cory” Kagami is a bright but impulsive college student who follows her passions, resisting the will of her mother, Morgan Herrera, head of a tech conglomerate responsible for astonishing breakthroughs. Morgan controls Catchfire Industries, and is effectively the ruler of New Avalon through her near-monopoly of its technology and through the numerous government officials she keeps in her pocket.

In a world where communication with parallel Tangent Earths has brought a disruptive influx of new beliefs and scientific innovation, Morgan promotes a strong defense against threats from within and beyond this world, developing advanced personal armor and weaponry for her cyborg peacekeeping team Fireforce.

When Cory is accidentally empowered with the most advanced armor system yet, Morgan tries to renew her bond with her daughter and train her to be a hero, a decision she may come to regret. Cory Kagami, a fan of Japanese tokusatsu action entertainment, has her own ideas about what it means to be a hero.

© & ℗ 2021 Graphic Audio, LLC. All rights reserved.

Like I said last month, Tangent Knights is my attempt to do for Japanese tokusatsu superheroes (e.g. Kamen Rider, Super Sentai/Power Rangers, and Ultraman) what I did for Western-style comic-book superheroes in Only Superhuman, capturing the colorful, fanciful fun and adventure while grounding it in plausible science and characterizations. Unlike Only Superhuman, it’s aimed at a general audience, age 13-up. I’ve had enormous fun writing it, and the folks at GraphicAudio have been great to work with.

And there’s plenty more to come! I’m currently in the middle of writing a huge, epic action sequence for Book 3, which is also the scene where the deep, shocking secret underlying all the events of the series so far is finally revealed. And I’m still only in the first half of the book!

I’ll have more to say about the creative process behind Tangent Knights later, but for now I’ll give folks a chance to hear Caprice of Fate for themselves. At only $4.99 during this introductory period, it’s a great time to get in on the ground floor!

Workin’ at the car wasp

I went to pick up groceries today, and when the guy came out to put my order in the trunk, he noticed that the milk was close to expiration, so with my permission, he went back in to get a fresher one. He left the trunk lid open, so I got out to shut it while I waited. I was rather shocked to discover there was a wasp’s nest built into the driver’s side rear corner of the trunk lid, with a bunch of wasps swarming around it! (At least I think they were wasps. Hornets are bigger, right?) Apparently the store guy missed it because the corner was up high away from the trunk while the lid was raised. Or maybe trunk wasps are common and he’s used to them. Anyway, I was tempted to ask the guy to move my groceries to the back seat when he returned, but I figured that was too much of an imposition — plus I was worried a wasp or two might get into the car along with the groceries.

So I determined that I’d do something about it once I got home. I decided to try using my long-handled ice scraper (still on the floor in front of the passenger seat, where I usually keep it) to knock the nest away. But when I went to get out my groceries and attempt to do that with the nest, there were just too many swarming wasps and I was afraid to try it. I just gathered up my grocery bags as quickly as I could and hurried inside. Although I did manage to get rid of a smaller, perhaps nascent nest on the opposite side of the trunk lid.

It occurred to me to find out if wasps were active at night, and I did enough web searching to confirm they’re relatively dormant then. So I waited until after sundown, then went out to the car with the long wooden bar that I use to reinforce my sliding balcony doors at night, which I figured would be long and sturdy enough to deal with the nest from a reasonably safe distance. I wore my jacket and gloves for protection just in case. The wasps weren’t completely dormant, but I was still able to knock the nest away with the bar, though not all in one piece, and I managed to avoid getting stung. Then I used my phone flashlight to check the crannies inside the doors and under the wheel wells to see if there were any more nests, not finding any (although I just realized I forgot to check inside the back doors).

In retrospect, I think that nest may have been there for a while, since I’ve had to contend with a few wasps flying around the trunk on my past several grocery trips. I figured they were just flying over from the trees on the edge of the lot, but it makes more sense if the nest was there.

And now I really need to stop writing about wasps, and hopefully get out of the state of mind where I fear that every little itch is a wasp crawling on me. I hope I don’t dream about it.

Categories: Uncategorized

Thoughts on GODZILLA SINGULAR POINT (Spoilers)

Godzilla is back on Netflix, and in animated form again. The first attempt at an anime Godzilla, the 2017-18 3D-animated film series known as the Godzilla Earth trilogy, proved to be ponderous, pretentious, and disappointing. This time, we get Godzilla Singular Point, a 13-episode series in 2D animation (with cel-shaded 3D for the kaiju and vehicles), written by Toh EnJoe and directed by Atsushi Takahashi. This series goes in a very different direction — not only set in the very near future (2030) instead of the distant post-apocalyptic future, but far more lively, fun, and conceptually dense.

The lead characters include the staff of the Otaki Factory, a catchall fixit service run by eccentric scientist Goro Otaki to fund the construction of his robot Jet Jaguar (about one story tall, with an operator’s cockpit in the chest and short, apelike legs), which he believes is needed to defend the Earth against UFOs, kaiju, ghosts, or whatever. Its employees include Yun Arikawa, a Holmes-level deductive genius and programmer who prefers to communicate through his AI assistant Yung because it’s more accurate than he is, and Haberu Kato, who initially seems like a muscular everyman but turns out to be quite scientifically knowledgeable himself, like most of the characters in the series. They’re investigating a radio signal transmitting a mysterious song, which turns out to come from the Misakioku radio observatory. Mei Kamino, a nerdy-cute, purple-haired grad student, is called in by the observatory staff to troubleshoot the problem on behalf of the professor she assists.

Mei’s connection to the other leads is tenuous: She and Haberu went to high school together, and Mei happens to download a free copy of Yun’s AI assistant, which takes over her computer like a friendly virus and customizes itself into a cute avatar she names Pelops II after her late dog. It’s weird that a computer-savvy grad student would be so cavalier about downloading unknown software, especially after its malware-like takeover of her laptop and casual invasion of her privacy to build its personality profile. But it’s played as cute and friendly and propels her into the larger plot, so whatever.

To pay the bills, Otaki and his employees display Jet Jaguar to the public as a novelty for kids at a local summer festival, when a pteranodon attacks out of nowhere. Otaki comes to the rescue in JJ. The battle is comical, but the pteranodon is seriously dangerous (and impressively designed — also a realistic size for a pterosaur, unlike past versions of Radon/Rodan), forcing Otaki out of the cockpit and almost killing him before Yun takes remote control of JJ from a tablet. The fight is a draw, and the pteranodon retreats… and suddenly drops dead.

More pteranodons begin to appear, and are dubbed Radons because they emit radon gas. (In the original, Radon was short for “pteranodon.” It was changed to Rodan for the English dub because Radon was the brand name of a laundry soap or something.) They begin swarming en masse, unable to survive long at first but apparently evolving to fit the environment, and are accompanied by a “Red Dust” with strange properties. Yun, Haberu, and Otaki try to draw them away with a radio signal and protect the citizens from them, with help from a robot drone remote-piloted by Pelops II, leading to online contact between Yun and Mei.

Meanwhile, Pelops II continues to cutely take over Mei’s life, organizing her loose research notes into extra-dimensional biology into a preprint paper and publishing it under both their names without asking Mei first. Mei is oddly unoffended by this, and her paper quickly attracts the attention of a Chinese professor named Li Guiying. Mei flies out to Dubai to meet Dr. Li and assist in her work. (Oddly, everyone in Dubai and later in other countries speaks fluent Japanese.) We learn that Mei specializes in “Biologica Phantastica,” the conjectural science of nonexistent species in hypothetical alternate worlds and what rules they would follow (e.g. living backward in time, flying in a 2-dimensional world, etc.). Mei learns that Li has been developing a material called Archetype that seems to violate physical law, and Mei realizes that it transcends time, able to draw energy from the future. She doesn’t think it can be native to our universe.

Yun and Haberu soon encounter an ankylosaur kaiju, Anguirus, that appears able to predict bullet paths and deflect them. Otaki and Jet Jaguar are able to bring it down by firing a harpoon gun at point-blank range (so it has no time to dodge), but Anguirus recovers and trashes JJ, leading Yun to install his digital assistant Yung to operate what’s left of it. Yun and Mei begin to figure out that the Red Dust associated with the kaiju is related to Archetype — and Li eventually lets on that the dust is the basis of the substance. I love how scientifically literate the script is as Mei discusses the physical improbabilities with Dr. Li and with Yun.

So where’s Godzilla in all this? Well, at the end of the first episode, we were shown that the Misakioku observatory has a Godzilla skeleton in its basement. It gradually comes out that it somehow emitted the musical signal that triggered the Radon attacks and the emergence of other kaiju like Anguirus and sea serpents called Manda. The skeleton emits the same Red Dust that’s spreading with the kaiju, allowing them to survive better, as if the swarms of Radons spreading worldwide are terraforming the world for the kaiju.

Along the way, the Factory crew find an ancient artwork which was displayed at the local festival, showing Radons alongside a whale (kujira)-like kaiju named Gojira, said to come when the sea turns red. About halfway through the season, this creature makes an appearance, though it looks far more aquatic than any previous Godzilla, and is recognizable only by Akira Ifukube’s iconic Godzilla fanfare. Yet when it comes ashore, cloaked in Red Dust so it’s hard to see, it begins transforming to fit a land environment, much like in Shin Godzilla. (The initial form is officially called Godzilla Aquatilis; its first mutation is Godzilla Amphibia.)

Other characters and threads are introduced along the way, like a blond guy named Kai who initially pretends to be a journalist but knows about the Godzilla skeleton in the basement, which apparently dates from 80 years before (which would be 1950 — perhaps rounded from 1954?). It’s connected with a crazed-looking scientist from 50 years ago named Ashihara, who had insights ahead of his time about Archetype that nobody understood, but that Mei is able to figure out. Ashihara predicted the evolution of kaiju from the dust’s interaction with living organisms. Red Dust/Archetype is based on a multidimensional, trans-temporal construct called Singular Points. There are 13 levels of complexity for it, of which Li has mastered three. The highest, theorized by Ashihara, is called the Orthogonal Diagonalizer, having something to do with the higher-dimensional physics of the material. (The shared initials with “Oxygen Destroyer,” the weapon that defeated Godzilla in the 1954 original, are no doubt intentional.)

There’s also a group called the SHIVA Consortium operating out of India, led by a creepy white-haired woman named Tilda whose eyes are all black. The SHIVA research director is named BB, and he’s trying to keep a kaiju named Salunga from escaping an underground complex containing a vast pool of Red Dust. These guys apparently have Ashihara’s full research and are closer to building a working Diagonalizer, a prototype of which BB uses to temporarily crystallize the pool of Red Dust to delay Salunga’s escape.

Meanwhile, the Otaki Factory staff rebuilds Jet Jaguar into a 2-story giant with the AI Yung controlling it (and adopting its name), so now JJ has a mind and a voice, an autonomous robot rather than a piloted mecha. It also has a spear made from a future-predicting Anguirus spine, which Otaki believes will give it the edge to defeat Godzilla. But the Otaki team gets sidetracked battling a horde of giant spiders (Kumonga) at the pier. Godzilla apparently self-immolates, but its charred “corpse” turns out to be a cocoon in which it mutates into Godzilla Terrestris, a green form closer to its familiar appearance, but still with a more lizard/fish-like head, and not quite able to summon its atomic breath, instead generating a sort of energy smoke ring. But it’s not done evolving yet.

Li takes Mei to Ashihara’s London home to decipher his notes, and Mei learns that he was using Singular Points as supercalculators to predict the future, but ended up getting conflicting answers as the Points competed with each other, the “Ashihara Catastrophe.” Mei realizes this isn’t just a computational catastrophe, but a real end-of-the-world scenario as physical law breaks down — and Ashihara predicted it happening in 2030, just days away. Mei rushes to warn Li, but she’s talking with the SHIVA people, who seem less concerned about the end of the world than with completing the Diagonalizer to eliminate the Red Dust. As Mei flees a Radon attack on London, she realizes that Godzilla is a Singular Point (ohh!!) and the Catastrophe is centered around it. Dr. Li is lost in the attack due to an ill-timed act of kindness on her part.

Confusingly, this is followed with a flashback where Li and Mei discuss how to send information back in time without violating the laws of physics: by encoding it in a form that wouldn’t be recognized as information. This theory becomes real as Yun and Haberu discover that Ashihara (who observed the first Godzilla destroying a fishing village and being defeated 80 years before, then built the observatory over its skeleton) predicted the current events and encoded them in his journals using a numerical code that wouldn’t be invented until the 1990s, after the journals were written. The Jet Jaguar AI decodes dates and times correlating to specific lines in Yun’s text chats with Mei, including one they haven’t had yet — so they won’t be able to understand the message until that conversation happens in 4 days.

Mei arrives in India and meets BB’s daughter, who takes her to meet him. It becomes clear that SHIVA and Tilda have no interest in preventing the imminent Catastrophe, wishing instead to control the power of Archetype and the Diagonalizer. So BB, who turns out to be working with “freelance spy” Kai, goes rogue, stealing the Diagonalizer prototypes and sending them around the world, then fleeing SHIVA with Mei and taking her to where Ashihara found the first Singular Point — which leads to the Supercalculator (the underground complex where Salunga was captive), which Mei plans to ask how to stop the Catastrophe, as only something not of this universe can solve a problem not of this universe.

Meanwhile in Tokyo, Ifukube’s original Godzilla theme (the main title theme to the 1954 film) is heard for the first time in the series as the king of the kaiju finally Gojivolves to Godzilla Ultima, the gray form that most closely resembles the classic Godzilla design, though with more pronounced fangs, a heavy lower body reminiscent of Legendary Godzilla, and an incredibly long tail like Shin Godzilla. Godzilla Ultima finally fires its atomic breath, with multiple rings of light forming before its mouth to herald it, and it’s a devastating, laser-straight beam that does massive damage to Tokyo’s skyscrapers — not quite as cataclysmic as the corresponding scene in Shin, but more targeted, with striking animation of the damage done to the buildings as the ray burns through them. It’s also an ongoing thing as Godzilla battles other kaiju and does more and more damage to the abandoned Tokyo.

Otaki, Yun, and Haberu take Jet Jaguar to Tokyo by boat to fight Godzilla, but the JJ AI is somehow triggered to start upgrading itself over and over, until it wakes up making baby talk and swiftly re-educates itself from first principles, renaming itself Jet Jaguar PP. I think it’s just achieved its own Singularity (in the Kamen Rider Zero-One sense of an AI gaining sentience).

Mei, Pelops, and BB reach the Singular Point supercalculator and try to find the code to shut down the Red Dust and stop the kaiju, while the Otaki gang hook up the military and get the Diagonalizer that’s waiting for them to enter the code that Mei has been predicted to send in a few hours to a location currently contiguous with Godzilla’s body. The military hooks a propeller pack to JJ to send him up there while Yun awaits the code — but Pelops is having trouble finding it because of the way the future keeps branching and producing contradictory solutions. Space is warping more and more around the calculator, and around Godzilla as well. (I love how this is expressed — a soldier reports that the angles of a triangle no longer add up to 180 degrees around Godzilla.)

Pelops tries going to the past to get more time to do the calculation, as the Catastrophe starts and Mei and BB have to leave Pelops there. Yun flies up in Jet Jaguar PP to get the Diagonalizer code, dodging Godzilla’s atomic breath and ultimately landing on its back, while JJ seems to be trashed. The code doesn’t come through in time — but in cyberspace, Pelops sees a vision of Ashihara in the past, which catalyzes something they were already working on but had forgotten until the right time — a program to “make Jet Jaguar invincible.” Which means inexplicably turning it into a giant nearly Godzilla’s size. (I guess this is an homage to Godzilla vs. Megalon, in which the original JJ somehow “reprogrammed” himself into a giant.) JJPP fights Godzilla and monologues about being the descendant of Pelops II and JJ, and that thanks to the time loop, it’s not only had the Diagonalizer code all along, but is the code. It’s a Pyrrhic victory for JJ’s robot body, which Godzilla destroys, but that destruction catalyzes the Diagonalizer, which turns all the Red Dust into stable blue crystals (instead of the red crystals the partial Diagonalizers turned it into temporarily). Godzilla has vanished, and the narration from the beginning of the season repeats now that we understand it’s the incarnations of Pelops/JJ telling the story to each other. Yun and Haberu finally meet Mei face-to-face, and she’s wearing an Ouroboros/infinity t-shirt.

But wait — there’s a post-credit tease. Kai the spy is working with others to turn the original Godzilla skeleton into Mechagodzilla (echoing the Kiryu films) — and Ashihara is with them!

Well. Godzilla Singular Point is an incredibly dense mindbender of a science fiction tale. I love how grounded it is in real physics, unprecedented in a kaiju production. I love it when I know just enough about the science to recognize that the writers understand it better than I do — as opposed to the usual thing where anyone with a passing grasp of grade-school science can easily recognize it as complete gibberish. The plot isn’t easy to follow with all the characters with mysterious hidden agendas cropping up, but I like the thoughtfulness, the energy, and the humor. The Jet Jaguar battles and the eccentric Otaki are a lot of fun. The story is driven more by plot and concepts than character, but the characters are still distinctive and appealing with subtle texture.

That makes it a massive improvement over the ponderous, pretentious, nihilistic anime movie trilogy that preceded it. Those movies were never fun. The CGI on the kaiju is vastly better done here, and the 2D animation and character design are much better than the video-gamey cel-shaded 3D of the trilogy.

It’s far from perfect, though. The physics and philosophy surrounding the Singular Point and Ashihara and transtemporal communication and all that are so intricate and complex that the bits about giant monsters attacking cities feel like a sidebar, even a distraction from the real story. By the time Godzilla finally mutates into Ultima form and starts trashing Tokyo, it feels like the story is just going through the motions of a kaiju plot. Godzilla isn’t well-integrated into the story except as a MacGuffin, a problem motivating the heroes to try to solve it. Indeed, Godzilla is more like an side effect of the real problem of the Red Dust and the Catastrophe. It feels like the creators had their own deep, complicated hard-SF story they wanted to tell and grafted Godzilla and other kaiju into it, rather than telling a story that was centrally about Godzilla. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the story they told, but sometimes it felt like the cutaways to the kaiju stuff were just getting in the way.

Not only that, but Godzilla becomes kind of static in the last couple of episodes, settling down in the ruins of Tokyo and becoming a stationary goal for the heroes to reach. It’s the one thing about Singular Point that’s reminiscent of the Godzilla Earth trilogy’s weaknesses rather than improving on them.

Also, while I like the lead characters, they’re ultimately not much more than spectators in a story about Pelops II and Jet Jaguar — two incarnations of the same AI — acting out their predestined role in preventing the Catastrophe. Maybe that’s unfair — Yun’s and Mei’s intellectual problem-solving does a lot to lay the groundwork — but the human leads’ role in the payoff is peripheral. It’s the AI that has the most complete and significant journey out of all the characters in the season.

Singular Point is reminiscent of Shin Godzilla in some ways, with its mutating kaiju and its focus on media montages and the like — although it has what Shin lacked, an emphasis on ground-level civilians and scientists dealing with the kaiju crisis rather than just government and military officials.

One thing that surprises me is the absence of Mothra from the first season, except in the end titles, which feature a bunch of classic Showa-era kaiju designs. There is a bit in the penultimate episode with a swarm of golden moths, which I thought might be a harbinger of Mothra, but it had no payoff. Perhaps they’re saving her for next season.

All in all, Singular Point may be an acquired taste, too talky and conceptually heavy for people who just want to see Godzilla smashing stuff; but it’s by a wide margin the smartest Godzilla production ever, and I daresay one of the best, despite its weaknesses. The production values are excellent, the writing impressive, the concepts extraordinary. If the series gets a second season (not confirmed as of this writing), hopefully it will be able to keep what worked and improve on its shortcomings.

The Hub in hardcopy!

Since I’m a little less broke these days, I finally did something I’ve wanted to do for years, namely to buy a few author copies of the trade paperback editions of Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy and Crimes of the Hub. Of course, I’ve had copies of the e-book editions since they came out, but since the TPBs are print-on-demand, I had to buy them, albeit at an author discount. Here’s what they look like:

Unfortunately, it seems that Hub Space was just a bit too short to qualify for spine text, as seen in the side view of my now-complete original fiction brag shelf:

So I have the satisfaction of finally having hardcopies of all my original books, but I don’t get to see all their titles lined up. Oh, well.

Anyway, since I now have the hardcopies to refer to, I’ve updated my annotations for the books with page numbers for the print edition:

Hub Space Annotations

Crimes of the Hub Annotations

By the way, when I say “complete,” I only mean up to the present. I still hope to do more Hub stories in the future, though I haven’t had time to focus on them lately. I already have an idea for a climax for the series, but I’m not sure how many more stories I want to do before I get there.

Announcing TANGENT KNIGHTS 1: CAPRICE OF FATE!

That big super-secret project I’ve been hinting about for months has finally been announced!

GraphicAudio introduces a spectacular original Super-heroic Action Series available in no other format!

In the year 2046, on the artificial-island arcology of New Avalon, Corazón “Cory” Kagami is a bright but impulsive college student who follows her passions, resisting the will of her mother, Morgan Herrera, head of a tech conglomerate responsible for astonishing breakthroughs. Morgan controls Catchfire Industries, and is effectively the ruler of New Avalon through her near-monopoly of its technology and through the numerous government officials she keeps in her pocket.

In a world where communication with parallel Tangent Earths has brought a disruptive influx of new beliefs and scientific innovation, Morgan promotes a strong defense against threats from within and beyond this world, developing advanced personal armor and weaponry for her cyborg peacekeeping team Fireforce.

When Cory is accidentally empowered with the most advanced armor system yet, Morgan tries to renew her bond with her daughter and train her to be a hero, a decision she may come to regret. Cory Kagami, a fan of Japanese tokusatsu action entertainment, has her own ideas about what it means to be a hero.

© & ℗ 2021 Graphic Audio, LLC. All rights reserved.

https://www.graphicaudio.net/tangent-knights-1-caprice-of-fate.html

Tangent Knights is an original series which I’ve created and written for GraphicAudio — a trilogy to start, but hopefully ongoing. Like my previous GraphicAudio releases, Only Superhuman and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder, it’s a full-cast audio novel with music and sound effects. But while those were adaptations of prose novels, Tangent Knights will be available exclusively in audio form.

Tangent Knights is hard science fiction with a superhero theme, in the spirit of Only Superhuman. Aimed at a general audience (age 13-up), the series is inspired by the transforming armored heroes of Japanese live-action tokusatsu (special effects) series such as Kamen Rider, Super Sentai (the basis for Power Rangers), and Ultraman, embracing not only their distinctive approach to superhero action but their sophisticated story arcs and nuanced characterizations — yet grounding them in (relatively) plausible quantum theory and technological extrapolation, including a fresh approach to parallel-world narratives.

This project has been a life-saver for me, coming along when I was desperately in need of new work and helping to pull me out of the deep financial hole I’ve been in for the past few years. It’s also been one of the most enormously fun things I’ve ever written, as I’ve tried to capture the lively characters, wild action, zany humor, impassioned melodrama, and rich plotting of tokusatsu while keeping it grounded and plausible. It’s been enjoyable to work in a new medium, to learn how to write with sound effects and dialogue subtext cues as an alternative to narration. I’ve also been very self-indulgent, loading the books with in-jokes and homages that toku fans will hopefully recognize, as well as plenty of science fiction worldbuilding and social commentary that I hope will please fans of my previous works. I’m really proud of this one, and I hope people enjoy listening to it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

Tangent Knights 1: Caprice of Fate will be released in CD and digital formats on August 3, 2021, with more to follow. You can hear an excerpt at the link above.

Watch my Shore Leave 41.6 panels!

Well, the second (and hopefully last) virtual Shore Leave weekend is over, and all the panels are viewable on Shore Leave’s YouTube channel. Here are the three I was part of:

Star Trek Adventures RPG Update

eSpec Books Presents

(Man, the screencap caught me at a bad moment there…)

What’s New in Star Trek Literature

I’m harder to see in the first panel because I hadn’t yet figured out how to frontlight myself decently at my desk. For the Sunday panels, I used the emergency flashlight in my portable car battery jumpstarter pack, resting on one of the shelves of my computer-desk hutch, with a sheet of tracing paper in front of it as a diffuser to soften the light and protect my eyes.

It was nice to see and hear from my writer friends and colleagues again, to talk about my own work and to hear what’s going on with my publishers’ upcoming projects. Hopefully some of what we talked about will lead to new projects for me in the future.

My schedule for (virtual) Shore Leave 41.6 (Updated)

UPDATE: The Trek Literature panel has been moved from 10 AM Sunday to 3 PM Sunday (Eastern Time), for the convenience of our panelists who live further west. I’ve edited accordingly.

I should’ve begun hyping this sooner, but the second virtual Shore Leave convention is being held online this weekend, July 10-11. (Hey, it’s not like you need to make travel plans.) The schedule has just gone online, and it looks like they’re organizing the Zoom panels into “rooms” corresponding to the usual panel rooms at the convention hotel, though I’m not quite sure how that will work. You can find the schedule here:

https://www.shore-leave.com/schedule/

I’m only going to be on three panels, to talk about my various works. They include (all times Eastern):

Saturday July 10, 7 PM

Star Trek Adventures RPG Update: Salon D

Jim Johnson, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Dayton Ward, Derek Tyler Attico, Scott Pearson, Christopher L. Bennett

[ Register ]

Modiphius Entertainment’s Star Trek Adventures RPG heads into its fifth year. Check in for the latest news on current and upcoming releases and Q&A with the STA project manager and several STA writers.

Sunday July 11, 11 AM

eSpec Books Presents: Tack

Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jenifer P. Rosenberg, Aaron Rosenberg, Hildy Silverman, Mary Fan, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Robert Greenberger, Russ Colchamiro, Christopher L. Bennett

[ Register ]

eSpec Books shows off a wealth of new titles, including the brand-new Systema Paradoxa novella series featuring a whole host of cryptid creatures rarely seen before.

Sunday July 11, 3 PM

What’s new in Star Trek Literature: Salon D

Scott Pearson, Dayton Ward, John Jackson Miller, David Mack, Kirsten Beyer, Christopher L. Bennett

[ Register ]

Authors of current and upcoming Star Trek titles discuss their work.

As for the wider convention experience, you can learn more about the options here:

See you there! (Figuratively.)

An eSpec book discount for my Twitter debut

I’ve finally decided to take my first tentative steps onto Twitter. I’ve resisted signing up in the past, both because I’ve never seen the appeal of such a bite-size way of communicating and because of the alarming stories I’ve heard about authors and celebrities being harassed off the platform. But I’ve realized I’m just not getting enough attention for my blog, my books, and my Patreon page from Facebook alone. And I’ve been reassured that the harassment incidents are the exception rather than the rule. I don’t understand much yet about how Twitter works, but I’m hoping it’ll be a new avenue to get the word out more widely. My Twitter handle is @CLBennettAuthor.

I don’t know how much I’ll use the platform going forward. I imagine I’ll use it mainly just for publicizing my blog and Patreon posts, but we’ll see. Anyway, as part of this new publicity push, eSpec Books has given me a special discount code for my social media followers. When you buy Among the Wild Cybers, Arachne’s Crime, Arachne’s Exile, The Arachne Omnibus, or Footprints in the Stars at https://especbooks.square.site, you can get 15% off by entering the coupon code BENNETT15. There’s also a 20% discount code offered exclusively to my Patreon subscribers. Hopefully that’ll encourage a few more people to sign up for my Patreon, which has membership plans as low as $1 a month.

For more info on the offered books, see my Original Fiction page.

A good week, but I can’t talk about it

Some good things have been happening with writing projects these past few days, although I can’t go into specifics. I got a comfortably large check from the publisher of the big project that I hope will be announced soon, and there’s still one more installment to follow in another 2-3 months, so I should now be financially set through early next year at least. I’m happy with how promptly this publisher pays.

Meanwhile, a feeler I put out a while back to a different publisher unexpectedly bore fruit this week, when their editor reached out to ask about my interest in some upcoming projects they’re developing. As it happens, they have one thing in the works that’s a good fit for me, and they’ve asked me to work up a couple of pitch ideas for them. It means I’ll have to split my focus from my current project over the next few weeks, which should slow me down a bit, but I have enough of a cushion before my deadline that I should be able to pull it off. If they accept one of my pitches, that will be the next thing I tackle once the current project is done, and should keep me busy for the rest of the year. If not, I may get another chance with them in the future. It could be a pretty interesting project, and quite a change of pace from my current one. About the only thing they have in common is that I can’t say what they are.

Well, except that they aren’t Star Trek. I’ve been thinking for a long time that I needed to diversify my publishing connections beyond Trek and Gallery (formerly Pocket) Books, so I wouldn’t be in such a fix at the times the Trek work slows down for whatever reason. I’m glad that I’m finally managing to do that, with my Arachne duology from eSpec, my current secret project, and this new opportunity that’s just come along.

I guess the one good thing writing-wise that I can talk about in specific terms is that Star Trek: The Original Series — Living Memory has now been out for ten days and is getting mostly very good reviews so far, from what I’ve seen. Oh, and Analog‘s book reviewer, the late Don Sakers, covered Arachne’s Exile in his final review column and called it “a fun, exciting read.” So that’s bittersweet. (Here’s the link, but it’s a “current issue” link, so it should only work until the next issue comes out.)

One other good thing is that the Brood X cicadas seem to be gone already, a week or two ahead of predictions. So I should be able to resume normal outdoor activities at last, which means I can start taking more walks and get back into shape.

All in all, then, a fairly good week. Let’s hope it lasts…

New fiction on Patreon: “The Monsters We Make”

First off, a belated apology to my Patreon subscribers for not posting a Fiction entry for May. When I started my Patreon page, I hoped I’d be able to post something new in the Fiction tier on a monthly basis, but I’ve been very busy with The Big Exciting Project I Still Can’t Talk About, and that will still be ongoing for a couple of months more. I may have to dial back to every other month for new fiction, at least for a while.

However, I do have a new story out this week, along with its annotations. It’s not entirely new, since some of the Kickstarter backers for the Arachne duology got a look at it as an extra bonus when they increased their pledges. But this is technically its first publication. It’s called “The Monsters We Make,” and it’s the latest of my efforts to devise a plausible, hard science fiction approach to a usually fanciful genre — in this case,  kaiju/giant monsters. Did I pull it off convincingly? Well, that’s for my readers to decide. But due to its genre, it’s certainly the most dystopian thing I’ve ever written. Might make an interesting change of pace for my readers.

The story can be read at the $10/month Fiction level here:

“The Monsters We Make”

And the annotations are available at the $12/mo Behind the Scenes tier here:

“The Monsters We Make” annotations

This is good timing, come to think of it, since we’re now just days away from the global release of Netflix’s anime series Godzilla Singular Point. Naturally, I’ll be reviewing that series here on Written Worlds, as part of my ongoing (and free) Godzilla/kaiju review series. I could pretend I timed it this way intentionally, but it’s pure coincidence and I only just realized it as I wrote this post.

STAR TREK: LIVING MEMORY is out today!

Today is the official on-sale date for Star Trek: The Original Series: Living Memory. This is the fifth installment in my ongoing post-Star Trek: The Motion Picture continuity which began way back with my first novel Ex Machina, and the second in as many years, after a long hiatus. It’s the second novel (the third work overall, after Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again and The Higher Frontier) to cover the pre-Wrath of Khan period when Spock commanded the Enterprise and Chekov served on the Reliant, and the first one set entirely in that period.

Star Trek: The Original Series — Living Memory

TOS_Living_Memory_coverAn all-new Star Trek movie-era adventure!

While attempting to settle in as commandant of Starfleet Academy, Admiral James T. Kirk must suddenly contend with the controversial, turbulent integration of an alien warrior caste into the student body—and quickly becomes embroiled in conflict when the Academy controversy escalates to murder. Meanwhile, Captain Spock of the USS Enterprise and Commander Pavel Chekov of the USS Reliant are investigating a series of powerful cosmic storms seemingly targeting Federation worlds—unstoppable outbursts emitting from the very fabric of space. Endeavoring to predict where the lethal storms will strike next, Spock and Chekov make the shocking discovery that the answer lies in Commander Nyota Uhura’s past—one that she no longer remembers….

™, ®, & © 2021 CBS Studios, Inc. STAR TREK and related marks and logos are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Available from:

I’ve updated my TOS Motion Picture Era page with general discussion and a link to the annotations:

https://christopherlbennett.wordpress.com/home-page/star-trek-fiction/tos-ex-machina/#LivingMemory

Categories: Uncategorized

My first outing of cicada season

Some weeks back, after I got vaccinated, I got a call from my dermatologist to schedule my yearly checkup, which I missed last year due to the lack of a vaccine at the time. I was aware that the time they suggested would be during the once-every-17-years emergence season of the Brood X cicada swarm, but I was in the first flush of post-vaccine eagerness to get out into the world, and maybe a bit embarrassed to admit my phobia, so I accepted the appointment and figured I could just reschedule later if I felt it necessary.

Now, I fully expected to find it necessary. This is the fourth Brood X emergence of my lifetime, though the third I’ve been old enough to remember. The first of those, in 1987, was toward the end of my first year of college, and it was awful for a lifelong entomophobe like me. I particularly resented the cicadas for preventing me from getting closer to a woman I thought I had a chance with romantically, since she was untroubled by them and happy to hang around outside while I was desperate to get indoors as soon as possible. The second time, in 2004, was not long after I moved to my current apartment (yes, I’m still here, since the right opportunity to move elsewhere has never quite come together), and I managed to weather it fairly well by staying mostly indoors and only going out in the mornings before the cicadas became active. I was hoping to repeat that this time, but my dermatologist’s appointment was at 2 PM.

So I figured I’d just reschedule when they called to confirm the appointment. But when they did call, it was an automated “please press one” sort of system, and it was while I was watching a show, so I was distracted. So to avoid having to think about it, I just confirmed the appointment before I could stop myself. (Never ask me to make an important decision on the spur of the moment. I usually choose badly.)

I was thus pretty worried about what I might have to face out in the world today, but I decided I just had to weather it. I’ve spent the past year sheltering indoors as much as possible, and I figured I needed to get some practice at facing my fears and getting out into the world again, reminding myself that cicadas are just a nuisance, not a threat.

As it turned out, it wasn’t so bad. There were a few dead cicadas on the hallway floor of my apartment building, but I wasn’t swarmed by them in the parking lot on the way to my car (just a couple took off from the sidewalk ahead of me), nor in the lot of the medical building (or on the moderately long freeway trip between them). Maybe the rain earlier in the day had delayed their emergence.

So it all went pretty smoothly, to my relief. But once I got back, I decided to stop in at the local pharmacy to see if the prescription from my dermatologist had come in yet. Before I got out of the car, I noticed that there were dozens of cicadas swarming around the parking lot. Either that was a busier area for them, or they’d finally come out in greater force. So I just put my seatbelt back on and drove away without getting out of the car, figuring maybe I could come back in the morning or use the drive-thru or something. (They still haven’t called to confirm the prescription anyway, so I don’t know what’s up there. It’s for a minor irritation, so I don’t even really need it.)

I almost made it back into the building unaccosted, but one cicada flew headlong into me as I had my keys in the lock, coming right between me and the door and bumping into me. My tote bag took the hit, but still, there went my perfect record of avoidance. (Why do they just fly right into people like that? Can’t they see where they’re going?)

But overall, the trip was far less stressful than I feared. I’m not sure it really counts as facing my fears, since I chickened out of going into a visibly cicada-heavy zone, but at least I took the chance of going out in the first place, and it turned out not to be so bad. Although I’m still planning to minimize my trips outdoors until the cicadas are gone.

Categories: Uncategorized
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