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Remember, the Shore Leave STRANGE NEW WORLDS panel is tonight!

One last notice — I’m on the virtual Shore Leave panel discussing Star Trek: Strange New Worlds at 7 PM EDT tonight! You can register for a “seat” in the audience here, with no Zoom account required:

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

 

Categories: Star Trek Tags: ,

New story on Patreon: “Growth Industry”

My newest Patreon story, “Growth Industry,” is now up for subscribers at the $10 Original Fiction level and above. It’s an affectionate parody of Super Sentai/Power Rangers and a particular trope of the franchise that’s always bugged me. I didn’t have any luck selling it to magazines, probably because it’s too much of an inside joke, but I hope my subscribers find it entertaining whether they get the references or not. Annotations will be up for $12 subscribers tomorrow.

Incidentally, Written Worlds readers may notice I’ve made a couple of visual changes to my blog. Something happened to my page theme that replaced whatever background it had previously had (I forget what it was) with blank white, so I went looking for a way to add some kind of header image or something to add visual interest, and I found a set of background pattern options. I chose one with an emerald theme, for what should be obvious reasons. I also discovered it was possible to insert a “gallery” widget along the side to display the covers of my recent releases, making it easier to promote them beyond the main page (basically I copied this from Dayton Ward’s blog, once I realized it was also WordPress). I still haven’t figured out how to add a header image, though. Maybe I’d need a different theme for that.

Announcing STAR TREK ADVENTURES: THE KLINGON EMPIRE Core Rulebook

I have a bit of a surprise announcement for a Star Trek project I contributed a little bit to and have only just been cleared to talk about. Star Trek Adventures is releasing an alternative version of its Core Rulebook, told from the perspective of (and entitled) The Klingon Empire rather than Starfleet.

STA Klingon Empire Core Rulebook

 

According to the StarTrek.com press release:

This core rulebook contains the same rules presented in the Starfleet-focused core rulebook released in 2017. The award-winning design team, including 2d20 developer Nathan Dowdell, took the opportunity to edit and streamline the rules chapters based on fan feedback since the game’s launch, and introduce new rules for reputation, honor, glory, and house management. Now, for the first time, you and your fellow players can create your own noble Klingon House and seek out glory. Everything you need to create brave Klingon warriors and fearsome Klingon warships are available for you to use.

In addition to the revised rules, the book contains extensive chapters on Klingon history, culture, politics, military, and planets. Players have more than a dozen Klingon starships to choose from and make their own, creating their own ship to crew and take into battle. Players will be able to play Klingons from most any Star Trek era, including pure-bred Klingon warriors as well as those afflicted with the Augment Virus, the QuchHa’. Fans of Star Trek: Enterprise, The Original Series, and The Next Generation era will all find materials to use in their games and play in any time they choose.

 

The STA creative team headed up by Jim Johnson called on a bunch of Trek Lit writers to contribute various material to the book, with Klingon authority Keith R.A. DeCandido contributing a considerable amount of content. Other contributors familiar to Trek Lit fans include Derek Tyler Attico, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Scott Pearson, Dr. Lawrence M. Schoen of the Klingon Language Institute, and Dayton Ward. My own contributions are relatively minor (several of the Non-Player Character descriptions, just a few pages’ worth), but I’m in there somewhere.

The new rulebook is available for preorder here:

Star Trek Adventures: Klingon Core Rulebook

Buyers will immediately get a free PDF preview version of the book, with the physical book shipping in the fall or whenever it becomes feasible given the current state of the world.

So remember, a Qapla’ a day keeps the Fek’lhr away. Or something like that.

This year, Shore Leave comes to you!

That’s right, in the topsy-turvy Bizarro universe we now inhabit, Shore Leave, the convention named for the act of going away from where you usually are to somewhere else, is doing the opposite of that. Since none of us will be physically traveling to Hunt Valley, MD for Shore Leave 42 until (we hope) next year, we will instead be holding Shore Leave 41.5 — The Virtual Experience, using Zoom and other online means to make content available to the public.

The event will be on the weekend of July 10-12, starting this Friday, and so far we’ve got several Zoom panels lined up, as well as virtual versions of the usual filk concert and Saturday night Masquerade. The schedule is available here:

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

Since it’s a lighter schedule than usual, and they want to make room for all the guests, each “attendee” will only be doing one panel this weekend, though I gather there’s further content being tentatively planned beyond the weekend. My one panel will be right at the start on Friday at 7-8 PM EDT, a discussion of what we expect and hope for from the upcoming Star Trek: Strange New Worlds series featuring Captain Pike. I’ll be joined on Zoom by John Jackson Miller, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Michael Jan Friedman, Dayton Ward, and Amy Imhoff.

Now, what I’m wondering is, should this event instead be called Shore Arrive?

Categories: Star Trek Tags: , ,

Kaiju review: REIGO: KING OF THE SEA MONSTERS

I recently came across another obscure kaiju movie on the Overdrive online library. While I’ve moved most of my reviews to my Patreon page these days, I figured I should keep my kaiju reviews together here (plus maybe seeing my occasional review for free will prompt some people to subscribe to my Patreon).

Anyway, the movie is known in English as Reigo: King of the Sea Monsters, originally titled Shinkaijū Reigō (深海獣レイゴー, Deep Sea Beast Reigou, with the “kai” meaning “sea” rather than being part of the usual word “kaiju,” though the pun is probably intentional). It’s a 2008 independent film (according to Wikizilla, though the credits say Copyright 2007 and IMDb says 2005) directed and co-written by Shinpei Hayashiya, a Japanese actor-comedian and kaiju buff who had a minor role in 1984’s The Return of Godzilla. Apparently he made a well-regarded fan-film sequel to the superb 1990s Gamera trilogy, which got him the gig making this film. The lead roles went to two kaiju veterans — Yukijiro Hotaru, who was the comical Inspector Osako in all three installments of said Gamera trilogy, and Taiyo Sugiura, who was the lead actor in the 2001-2 TV series Ultraman Cosmos (which, as it so happens, I’m currently watching).

This is an unusual kaiju film in that it’s a period piece, set in the early 1940s aboard Yamato, the iconic Japanese battleship from World War II. This is the only time I’ve seen Yamato depicted onscreen outside of Star Blazers/Uchuu Senkan Yamato, the classic ’70s anime in which the battleship was rebuilt into a starship.

The movie begins with a black and white sequence emulating a period movie, with scenes focusing on two soon-to-be Yamato personnel: head gunner Noboru Osako (played by Hotaru and named for his Gamera character) praying at a shrine for his pregnant wife to give birth to a son (though he phrases it more crudely), and Sub-Lieutenant Takeshi Kaido (Sugiura) talking with his pretty childhood friend Chie (Mai Nanami) about how he might not return from war. The movie goes to color once they’re out to sea on the battleship. Osako smuggles a girl onboard for hanky-panky, but she brings along her grandfather, who warns about a “dragon” (ryuu) named Reigo that’s recently reawakened in the sea due to all the naval activity, and whose arrival is heralded by some nasty “bone fish.” Osako shoos him off, having other priorities. Later, at night, the crew sights what they think is an enemy sub and opens fire, killing Reigo’s baby. Reigo — basically a giant plesiosaur with a Godzilla-ish head and an oversized, spiny dorsal fin that attracts lightning — cries out in mournful rage, and the crew assumes they killed a whale.

Unaware of their bad karma, the crew celebrate their victory with sake, and Osako tells those around him of the legend of Reigo, still not believing it. Later, while paying for his drunknness and leaning over the side, Osako spots and rescues an officer from a downed American ship; the officer turns out to speak “a little” Japanese (indeed, the actor’s Japanese is fluent while his “native” English is spoken with a thick Japanese accent) and introduces himself as Lt. Cmdr. Norman Melville (subtle). The captain, Yamagami (apparently a fictional character standing in for Yamato‘s first captain Takayanagi), insists that the prisoner be treated honorably, without violence.

The crew is soon attacked by the shark-sized bone fish, which kill around a dozen people. Melville tells Osako (a fellow gunner, to their mutual excitement) that his ship was also attacked by bone fish and then destroyed by a giant sea monster, and he alone escaped to tell them. Osako goes to warn the captain, who tries to let his crew hash out a strategy for dealing with it in an unsupervised meeting, but they just end up shouting at each other.

Yamato is assigned to lead a task force of ships, which come under attack by Reigo, with two destroyers being blown up (so I guess they were actually destroyees). The giant battleship’s huge guns are useless because they aren’t designed to work at short range. For some reason, Yamagami is randomly promoted to Secretary of the Navy and replaced mid-movie by Captain Matsuda (based on a real person this time), who’s studied marine biology and thinks they can dazzle Reigo with searchlights and then blast it. It fails disastrously, so Matsuda calls in Kaido, a former student of his who offered a wild theory rejected by naval engineers, that flooding Yamato‘s flotation tanks on one side could tilt the ship and allow aiming the guns below the horizontal. But Matsuda’s junior officers reject the plan as too absurd and dangerous, leaving Kaido embarrassed — though he’s cheered up by a letter from his girl Chie professing her hope to marry him on his return.

Reigo’s next attack on the fleet goes as badly as the previous ones, leaving Matsuda no choice but to try Kaido’s ship-tilting plan. Osako drags Melville out of his cell to help work the giant guns. Tilting the ship downward lets them shoot at the approaching monster, but the gun misfires and Reigo does an improbable twisting jump clear over the battleship, damaging the mast with its tail. It comes back around from the other side, and Osako and Melville rotate the gun around 180 degrees and blast it point-blank as it leaps out of the water again — meaning the whole business with tilting the ship was pointless and they just had to wait until the monster obligingly gave them an easy target. Well, anyway, the gunners on the surviving ships keep pouring on fire with the smaller machine guns until Matsuda and Kaido tell them to stop and let the poor beast die in peace. Matsuda gives the crew a speech about how they’ve won a major victory together and now must take on the far greater challenge of defeating the United States. Yeah, good luck with that, guys.

Indeed, we then get a very weird coda that depicts the 1945 destruction of Yamato by American planes through a mix of stock war footage and kabuki pantomime by the actors. It modifies history by showing Reigo returning from the dead to deliver the mortal blow that finally sinks the ship, getting its revenge at last. Finally, we see Chie and Osako’s wife and son praying at the temple years later on the anniversary of their loved ones’ deaths. (The movie implies that Osako’s young son has the same given name as Gamera‘s Inspector Osako, making me wonder if it’s supposed to be the same character, making this an unofficial, indirect prequel to the Heisei Gamera trilogy. However, the inspector would have to be nearly a decade older than he looked in that case.)

This was an odd film, and I’m not sure what to make of it. It’s basically a historical drama about life on Yamato with a monster story added on, but there’s a good deal of comedy and broad acting. The film is hampered by its poor visual effects; while the design of many of the shots is fairly good, the CGI is incredibly crude, with a resolution and frame rate well below the state of the art for the early 2000s, and even the close-up puppet version of Reigo seems to have been shot at a low frame rate or clumsily composited into the CGI ocean. So the action/FX sequences are murky, jerky, and unpleasant to watch. Thematically, its message is kind of vague, though I think it’s mostly anti-war; while the commanding officers are portrayed as honorable and decent, the crew of Yamato basically bring their destruction on themselves by firing blindly and killing an innocent creature, prompting nature’s retribution. Also, I’ve read that Uchuu Senkan Yamato tended to stress the unity of Yamato‘s crew, putting collective over self and working as one entity to achieve their goals; this film seems to subvert that by showing the crew degenerating into hopeless, ego-driven bickering when asked to solve a problem collectively, though they do eventually learn to come together at the end. I’m not sure what point, if any, is conveyed by having Kaido’s daring plan fail and Osako saving the day through dumb luck. Maybe it’s satirizing the clever, so-crazy-it-just-might-work plans of the heroes in other kaiju movies, or maybe it’s just clumsy writing.

All in all, I didn’t get much out of this one, aside from the novelty of seeing two familiar actors in new roles and finally seeing a production about Yamato in its original oceangoing form (though its CGI representation here looked just as cartoony as the one in the anime). I gather there have been two modern-day sequels to Reigo — Raiga: God of the Monsters in 2009 and Raiga vs. Ohga in 2019 — but they’re not available from the library and I don’t feel any pressing need to seek them out.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , ,

Today turned out better than it started

That’s the headline I thought of, but I should begin with yesterday morning, when my building maintenance people told me I needed to move my car from the rear lot to the front lot so they could resurface the rear one. (I didn’t see the notice on the front door ahead of time since I don’t go outside much these days.) When I got down there, I was the only person, resident or building staff, who was wearing a mask.

And my car wouldn’t start.

I hadn’t driven in a while, so the battery had run down. So I had to get a jump start from several people not wearing masks, not caring who they breathed on. At least they had their own cables so I didn’t have to interact too closely with them. Still, things like this that would once have been routine are scary these days, especially because so many people don’t seem to get that they aren’t routine anymore.

So anyway, that brief, sudden bout of anxiety ruined my mood for the whole day, not only because of the mask thing but because I needed to get groceries either yesterday or today and wasn’t sure my car would start when I needed it. Plus, while I finally got a new novel advance check last week, thereby easing a lot of my financial anxiety, I was waiting for a portion of it to complete the transfer to my other bank so I could put some more money on my credit card before grocery day. And though yesterday was the expected completion date of the transfer, it didn’t complete.

So this morning I was still kind of uneasy about things — especially when I went out to test my car and it again wouldn’t start. The automatic door lock worked, and the wipers worked when I tried them, so I knew the battery was still viable, just drained. The few minutes I ran it while moving my car yesterday weren’t enough. And I still needed groceries. I might need to spend the extra 10-12 bucks to get them delivered. More than that, I had a tax appointment I’d need to drive out to next week, or so I thought (see below).

Tired of my dependence on jumpstarts, I decided to look on Amazon for one of those portable charger units you can use to jump your own battery. Now that I finally have some money, it seemed worth the investment. I found what seemed like a good and inexpensive one, at a discount and the last one in stock, so I snapped it up — but the delivery date was the end of the month, so it wouldn’t help with any car trips before then.

Meanwhile, I tried watching last week’s Agents of SHIELD on the ABC website, since without a cable provider I have to wait 8 days to see an episode. But it was glitchy. The first act or so had the audio description turned on with no way to turn it off (the second week in a row it’s done that). Then it restarted from the top without it, so I had to jump forward to where it left off. But not long after that, my laptop shut down! Sometimes streaming sites work it too hard and it shuts down to protect itself from overheating. And these days I routinely keep a cool pack from the freezer on top of it when I watch videos, just in case (at least from sites that I don’t know are free of that problem). Either the pack wasn’t cold enough or the thing was just running too hot in spite of it. I rebooted and tried again, but it still seemed like my laptop was running pretty hot, so I gave up rather than risk it. So that was pretty frustrating.

Anyway, a while later, I decided to walk to the nearest mailbox to mail a check, so I could try to clear my head with some exercise. But I gave my car another try, just to see if maybe it had recovered a bit more charge. No luck. But this time, another tenant came out (masked, yay) and I asked her for a jumpstart. Neither of us was very experienced at it, but we managed to get my car started. (She had an electric car with the battery in the trunk and an engine I couldn’t even hear when it was running.) So I drove to the post office, dropped the check in the drive-through mailbox, and then just motored around the neighborhood for a while, since a Facebook friend told me last night that a half-hour drive every so often would keep the battery charged. Still, I could only hope there wasn’t some defect draining the battery and that I’d be able to go pick up groceries after all.

So things were still feeling kind of iffy. On top of all that, I needed to call my tax preparers and ask about the appointment I have scheduled for next week. (I hate to say I’ve benefited from the pandemic, but I’d never have been able to pay my taxes on time if not for the 3-month postponement.) Since the main offices were closed for the summer, I would’ve had to drive a very long way to get to the place, and that would’ve been just to drop off my documents so they could prepare things without me present. And I didn’t know if my car would even work. So I called to ask if there was an online alternative, and the guy told me how to sign up for their website. So that was one step of that problem solved.

Also, my bank transfer finally went through, so I was able to take care of the credit card and also pay some bills, as well as order groceries for later pickup. So things were starting to fall into place. When the time came to pick up groceries, my car did start — and this time, the clerk who brought them out was wearing her mask properly, unlike last time. And though my phone had trouble logging into the website you’re supposed to contact on arrival — which last time meant my order wasn’t logged in properly and I had to go back hours later and figure out how to complete it on my phone so that my card would be charged and I wouldn’t be an inadvertent grocery thief — this time they seem to have improved their process and the order went through properly after all. (However, they were out of sandwich turkey and I forgot to order cheese slices, so I’m not going to be able to have my usual turkey sandwiches for a week or two.)

So stuff was pretty much working out now, and I was feeling better. But the best news came just a little while ago. My new novel outline was approved, so now it won’t be long before I get the second part of the advance. I’m finally pulling away from the brink after all these frustrating months, and hopefully it’s for good this time, if certain other things continue to work out.

Hmm… you know, I wrote this post to celebrate how relieved I was feeling that so much stuff worked out well after the rough start to the day. But writing about how I felt before has made me tense again. Well, it will pass. Things are starting to look up for me now, and hopefully that will continue.

Incidentally, one thing I’ve been enjoying these past few days is DC Universe’s Harley Quinn. I’ve avoided the show because I heard it was really violent and crude, but I’ve seen glowing reviews of its character work and plotlines, so I finally decided to give it a try. It definitely is far more gory than I care for, and I avert my eyes a lot, but otherwise it’s a damn impressive show, with mostly effective humor and fantastic, nuanced character work. There have been some very funny moments, but also some incredibly poignant, moving, and dramatically powerful moments. It’s the first time I’ve liked Kaley Cuoco in anything; she’s surprisingly good as Harley. (But the last thing I saw her in was the original Charmed, which was 14 years ago, so long that they’ve already rebooted it.) Lake Bell is fantastic as the best version of Poison Ivy I’ve ever seen. And Diedrich Bader is easily the best Batman voice actor not named “Kevin.” Remember how rattled I felt yesterday? I spent much of the day bingeing this show, and it was very comforting. (I’m only up to episode 8 of season 2 as of this writing, so no spoilers in the comments, please.)

So that’s where I’ve been. My personal sources of anxiety are finally working out for the better, so now I just have to worry about the ongoing collapse of civilization going on outside. Still, it did seem that a somewhat higher percentage of people were wearing masks today than the last time I went out for groceries. More people may finally be catching on. I just hope my building’s staff figures it out soon.

It’s Arachne Week on Patreon!

We’re probably less than a month away from the publication of Arachne’s Crime, my second original novel and the first half of a duology from eSpec Books. To promote the book, and hopefully to draw in some new subscribers to my Patreon page, I’m devoting this month’s fiction and behind-the-scenes content to Arachne’s Crime.

It begins at noon today with the release of the entire Chapter 1 of Arachne’s Crime for subscribers to my $10 Original Fiction tier and above. Tuesday will be the usual weekly TV review for subscribers at $5 and up, and on Wednesday, all Patreon subscribers at $1 and up will get an advance look at my design sketches for the three alien species featured in Arachne’s Crime, two of which are brand-new. Then on Friday, the $12 Behind the Scenes tier will feature an exclusive look at my worldbuilding notes about the featured aliens’ evolution, behavior, and culture.

If you haven’t tried out my Patreon page before, this is a great time to start!

I’m all out of deadlines…

I just met my deadline for submitting a proposal for a new, potentially quite interesting project that I hope will pan out. It’s audiobook-oriented, so in my sample chapters, I tried to write the whole thing without any “said” tags on the dialogue, which is surprisingly easier than it sounds. (I was following advice from something I coincidentally read a while back with tips for writing with audio in mind, though I can’t remember where it was.)

Anyway, now I don’t have any looming deadlines, not for nearly 5 months, anyway. At the moment, I’m officially between projects, and for the first time in a while, I’m reasonably sure I’ll have enough money for the foreseeable future, providing things go as expected. (Well, at least enough to pull back from the brink for hopefully the last time and start paying down my debts.) So you’d think I’d be relieved, ready to relax and enjoy some downtime. Oddly, though, I feel a little depressed about not having any solid plans or projects to focus on (other than new reviews for my Patreon page, of course).

Maybe it’s an aftereffect of the past few months where I had to find something to work on to avoid going broke, so the prospect of having nothing definite on the horizon makes me reflexively worried, even though I don’t need to be anymore (probably). Or maybe it’s just that I’d gotten on a roll writing the sample chapters so stopping now feels unsatisfying. Or maybe I just have fewer distractions from the increasingly horrible news from the outside world.

Anyway, I don’t plan to be idle for long. I don’t know how much downtime I’ll have before I get the go-ahead to start writing my currently contracted project, but I have a whole list of stories and outlines to work on this year that I’ve only managed to check a few things off of so far, so hopefully I’ll finally be able to get started, at least, on one or two of those. I also have a couple of more Star Trek Adventures campaigns to write, though the world crisis has slowed things down for Modiphius so I’m not under any time pressure on those. So I have options.

Meanwhile, just yesterday my editor Danielle and I worked out the back cover copy for Arachne’s Crime, and I think the completion of the cover art and design is the only remaining step before publication. And I know that process is underway. So the book may be out very soon now. Remember, you can preorder it here.

 

Also meanwhile, I just completed my second online order for grocery pickup, which I scheduled for tomorrow morning. I discovered it was possible to customize my order, to disable substitutions for individual items or give specific instructions, so I could avoid unwanted substitutions of the sort I got last time. So I ordered my acid control medicine with substitutions turned off so I wouldn’t get the wrong dosage this time, though if it turns out they don’t have it at Kroger, I’ll have to go across the lot to Walgreens and actually go into the store. But I’ll have my mask and gloves, and I read recently that it’s reasonably safe to be in a public place for under 15 minutes if it’s not too crowded, which it never has been in my experience even before the pandemic.

The other substitution that turned out poorly was that vegetarian kielbasa that was subbed for my favorite veggie Italian sausage. It did too good a job simulating the aspects of pork flavor and texture that I particularly dislike. I tried the first sausage cut in half and served on hot dog buns, as I often do with the Italian; it was tolerable. I then tried cutting it up in red sauce on top of spaghetti, and that didn’t mesh well at all. So I tried to think of something I had that would go well with a pork-like flavor, and I decided to marinate the next sausage in barbecue sauce. That was decent, but not too satisfying. For the last sausage in the package, I’m wondering if topping it with melted cheese would help, but I’m in no hurry to try.

I’m reminded of how, when I was a kid, I would smother the meat my father cooked in steak sauce to make it more palatable. I remember what may have been the first time he had me try ham, and I didn’t like it so I slathered on the sauce, and when he asked me how it tasted, I said “Like hard A-1 Sauce.” I think he found it pretty funny, which might be why I remember it so clearly.

the other cool thing at Balticon: eSpec launch party!

Reblogging from Keith DeCandido…

KRAD's Inaccurate Guide to Life

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I forgot to mention one thing I did at Virtual Balticon 54: the eSpec Books launch party! One of the highlights of Balticon these last years has been the launch parties run by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, and every since she, her husband Mike McPhail, and Between Books owner Greg Schauer formed eSpec in 2015, it’s been an eSpec launch party specifically.

This year, the launch was virtual, and since part of any launch party is the ability to buy books, eSpec set up a “virtual launch” section on their online bookstore.

The launched books included:

  • To Hell and Regroup by David Sherman & Keith R.A. DeCandido (that’s me!)
  • The Literary Handyman: Build-a-Book Workshop by Danielle Ackley-McPhail
  • Arachne’s Crime by Christopher L. Bennett
  • In a Flash 2020 by Christopher J. Burke
  • Stellar Science Fiction by Jeff Young
  • Death’s Embrace by Michelle D. Sonnier
  • new editions of Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s Eternal Cycle

View original post 92 more words

Categories: Uncategorized

ARACHNE’S CRIME is out for preorder!

Last night, eSpec Books held a virtual launch party for its new slate of books hosted by the Virtual Balticon online convention (oh, the times we live in), and in conjunction with that, they’ve put up a page on their online store where the upcoming books can be ordered, and where one can enter a raffle for prizes:

https://especbooks.square.site/

So you can now order Arachne’s Crime in either trade paperback or e-book format, right here:

https://especbooks.square.site/product/arachne-s-crime-by-christopher-l-bennett/77

Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for the cover to be finalized. But the Kickstarter backers who won Tuckerizations have had their names snuck into the book in a few places, and I think the cover is the last thing we need to get done before the book is released.

The virtual launch party was conducted over that Zoom thingy everyone seems to be relying on as a substitute for direct contact these days, and I didn’t let folks know about it before because I wasn’t sure until yesterday whether I’d be able to participate (due both to my hesitancy with new technology, the age of my webcam, and my looming deadline on a new writing proposal). But it turned out that Zoom was easy to install and works fine with my webcam, so I was able to join the event, which included most of the participating authors doing readings from our upcoming works. I did a reading of the prologue to Arachne’s Crime, to complement the earlier reading of the first part of Chapter 1 that I did on the eSpec Books Author Reading Series last month. I don’t know if the video of the launch party is available anywhere. I don’t even know if we had much of an audience, since there was little advance publicity except what Danielle McPhail and we authors could manage over Facebook. Still, it was nice to get to socialize with other folks, including my friend Keith R.A. DeCandido, who tends to be as big a ham in his dramatic readings as I do, though he does better character voices. Plus, now I have Zoom, which might be useful for other things going forward.

How well do I Bechdel, updated

It’s been nearly four years since my “How well do I Bechdel?” post, where I assessed the gender inclusiveness of my fiction by applying the famous Bechdel test (an imperfect but useful assessment for an aggregate body of work, as discussed in the original thread). I was surprised at how poorly my original fiction came out, since so much of it is female-centric, but the problem was that it was mostly short fiction that often centered on one male and one female lead. Anyway, I’ve had a significant number of new stories and novels published (or due for publication) since then, so I figured it was worth updating the list.

To recap, a work of fiction passes the Bechdel test if it meets three criteria:

  1. It includes at least two named female characters…
  2. who have a conversation with each other…
  3. about something other than a man.

There’s also the related Mako Mori test for works with only one female lead; such a work can pass if:

  1. It includes at least one female character…
  2. who has her own narrative arc…
  3. that isn’t about supporting a male character’s arc.

Of course, as I mentioned last time, passing the test doesn’t guarantee a work isn’t sexist, or vice-versa, since it’s more about the aggregate than an individual work. A great example I came across a while back is the Roger Corman horror movie Forbidden World (1982). The movie passes Bechdel handily thanks to a scene where the two female leads have a lengthy conversation with each other about how to communicate with the monster attacking their lab… however, the entire conversation is conducted while they’re fully frontally nude together in a futuristic shower. Indeed, they’re treated throughout as sex objects and victims. So Bechdel alone is not a definitive assessment. But then, part of the point is that it’s an absurdly low bar to clear, so there’s no excuse for so many stories in popular culture to fail it.

So let’s see how my total body of work stacks up now. My first post covered my published or pending works up through Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown from January 2017. Most of my published works since then have been original, so we’ll start with those. In publication order, and including sold works awaiting publication:

“Twilight’s Captives”: Passes Bechdel. The female lead Madeleine Kamakau discusses the rescue of hostage children with the mother of one of the hostages, as well as with a female alien leader and an alien of a third “brooder” sex using a female pronoun. An asexual, non-gendered alien also has conversations with several female characters.

“Abductive Reasoning”: Fails Bechdel, but passes Mako. A two-hander between an alien female and a human male, but the alien’s pursuit of her own goal (which involves reconciling with her sister) drives the story.

“Hubpoint of No Return”: Ambiguous pass. Nashira Wing and the female alien Tsshar have a conversation that is partly about rescuing the male lead David, but evolves into one driven primarily by Nashira’s own agenda. Passes Mako twice over, as both Nashira and Tsshar have their own independent agendas shaping events.

“Aspiring to be Angels”: Passes. Emerald Blair and a female scientist have several discussions about the driving concepts and themes of the story, with the male lead only occasionally discussed.

“…And He Built a Crooked Hub”: Limited pass. Nashira converses with several female characters about various matters, although her overall goal is to locate and help David. (Also contains a metatextual joke about this very subject.) Not a Mako pass; three female characters (Nashira, Yldai, and Tsshar) have narrative arcs (i.e. storylines that develop and resolve rather than just unchanging motives/goals), but all are about David in some way.

“Hubstitute Creatures”: Limited pass. Nashira argues with a female colleague about her work (though her relationship with a male character is brought up) and discusses a medical matter with a female alien doctor. Mako pass, since Nashira’s personal agenda and narrative arc drive the story.

Crimes of the Hub: The new bridging material added for the collection includes one scene that passes, where Nashira speaks with two female colleagues (one human, one not) about their respective careers.

“The Melody Lingers”: Fails Bechdel and Mako. There are two primary named female characters (arguably three, but one isn’t truly present), but they have almost no direct interaction except through the male viewpoint character, and neither has an independent arc (one is subservient to him and the other is reacting against him). But this is arguably more a feature than a bug, since the intent is to critique and challenge the viewpoint character’s self-serving treatment of women.

“The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of”: Barely passes Bechdel. There are several named female characters discussing the artifact around which the story revolves, but they’re mostly discussing it with the male lead, and there’s only one paragraph in which one woman addresses another. Probably passes Mako, as Captain Veronica Moyo has a clearly defined agenda that, while it ultimately puts her at odds with the male lead, is not specifically about him, and her actions in pursuit of her goals are a primary catalyst of the story’s events.

“Conventional Powers”: Full pass. Emerald Blair discusses multiple subjects (largely her own actions, aspirations, and beliefs) with at least five other women, four of them named (or at least code-named).

“The Cat Who Chased Her Tail Through Time” (Patreon): Full pass. My debut Patreon story is a self-indulgent piece I wrote long ago about my cats, so it has no “onscreen” human characters except myself; but all but one of the cats in the story are female and they interact and discuss a great deal; also, the story is catalyzed by the actions of two female humans based on my two best friends from college.

“The Moving Finger Writes” (Patreon): Borderline pass at most. There are several named female characters, two human and two alien, but the two female aliens only briefly converse to establish their kinship, and all other conversations are with or about males. Probably a Mako fail; several female characters do have their own independent agendas, but their narrative purpose is to support and advance the male lead’s arc.

“They Also Serve” (Patreon): Fail. Emerald Blair is the only female character, and she’s merely the audience for Arkady’s narrative about meeting his husband.

Arachne’s Crime (upcoming): Full pass. There are multiple central female human characters, a female-identifying AI (Arachne), and a genderfluid alien species for which 3/4 of the most prominent characters are female for most or all of the narrative. They have numerous conversations and debates about a wide variety of topics. (Includes the events of “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” discussed in my previous Bechdel post, with most of the conversations mentioned there present here as well.)

Arachne’s Exile (upcoming): Full pass. There may be a higher ratio of female-male interactions to female-female ones here, but there’s still a number of the latter, and one of the two female leads becomes a more active driver of the narrative and shares several scenes with a female alien ally discussing various topics (spoilers!).

“Comfort Zones” (Kickstarter bonus): Pass. Has two main female characters who discuss their respective future plans and debate exploration policies.

“Vein Glory” (Kickstarter bonus): Only 2/3 Bechdel pass, Mako fail. Two named female characters who speak to each other, but only about matters pertaining to the male lead.

So… as of my previous post, my original fiction had 6 Bechdel passes out of 10, many of them borderline. Now I make it 18 out of 27, so I’m up from 60% to 67% (and only three unambiguous Mako fails) — a moderate improvement, though it could be better. However, I’ve succeeded in substantially improving LGBTQ representation in my original fiction, since about half of the above works feature overtly LGBTQ characters, 7 feature same-sex romance or attraction (8 if you count an ambiguous same-sex kiss), and three feature characters (mostly nonhuman) of non-binary sexuality. And 100% of my novel-length original works (Only Superhuman, Arachne’s Crime/Exile, and Crimes of the Hub as a fixup novel) succeed at both Bechdel and LGBTQ representation. It’s easier to achieve with novel-length works where there are more characters and interactions.

And now my comparatively few Star Trek works:

DTI: Shield of the Gods: Passes, briefly. Two female Aegis agents discuss their business.

ENT: Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference: Passes, though not extensively. Caroline Paris and Kivei Tizahr get acquainted; Devna and Maras discuss various matters (including but not limited to a male character); Tizahr discusses transporter ethics with Regina Tallarico (and two male crewmates); etc.

TOS: The Captain’s Oath: Moderate pass. It’s mainly from Captain Kirk’s perspective and relies on TOS characters, so it’s strongly male-centric, but there are a few Bechdel-passing scenes between female characters original to the novel, mainly Starfleet/Federation personnel discussing their work or crisis situations, though there is also a close female/female friendship depicted between Kamisha Diaz and a Caitian classmate. Mako pass, since several female characters have independent agendas and arcs.

TOS: The Higher Frontier: Moderate pass. As before, most of the passing scenes are between book-original characters, including Reiko Onami returning from Ex Machina, but Miranda Jones has a conversation with Chief DiFalco from ST:TMP, and there’s a scene or two of Uhura reasoning with a (more or less) female community leader of a group of aliens (though a male community leader is also involved). A strong Mako pass, as several female characters’ agendas drive much of the narrative.

Before, 20 out of 23 Trek works passed the full Bechdel test, though all passed at least one part. Now I make it 24/27, bumping up the percentage slightly from 87% to 89%. On the LGBTQ inclusion front, there are prominent/returning bisexual characters in the DTI novella and the ENT novel, although The Captain’s Oath only manages a few incidental references. The Higher Frontier establishes one returning Ex Machina character as lesbian and another as bisexual, but only in passing.

In the case of my Star Trek Adventures RPG campaigns, it’s impossible to assess whether they pass, since of course I have no idea who the Player Characters would be in a given gaming group. But as far as Non-Player Character interactions go, Call Back Yesterday, The Whole of the Law, and Stolen Liberty have only one named female NPC each; The Gravity of the Crime has several prominent female NPCs who interact with each other; and Hard Rock Catastrophe has three named female NPCs, two of whom share a scene but do not necessarily address each other directly (depending on how the Gamemaster plays the scene). So only Gravity is a guaranteed pass; the rest depend on who the PCs are and how and whether they choose to interact with the NPCs.

So overall, a limited improvement, but I think it stacks up pretty well. Since Bechdel is more of an aggregate assessment, it may be unreasonable to aim for 100% success; an overall success rate of 2/3 or more across an entire body of works is reasonably good. After all, the goal is diversity; there’s nothing wrong with stories centering on male leads or a single male-female pair, just so long as they’re part of a wider mix instead of crowding out more female-centric stories.

(Just a reminder that you can find more information and purchase links for these publications elsewhere on the site, by following the menu options up top. And if you read them, please post reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and the like; the more reviews a publication gets on Amazon, the more its visibility improves in searches.)

StarTrek.com talks to me about THE HIGHER FRONTIER

A new interview with me has just gone up on StarTrek.com:

Star Trek’s Higher Frontier is Out Now

I talk about my inspirations behind the book, the importance of TOS to me, and so on. I also just noticed that I mistakenly gave the impression that Marvel’s 1996 Star Trek/X-Men crossover came out after my 2005 novel Ex Machina — I got a little confused there. But never mind that part.

I also mention my Patreon page, so hopefully that’ll attract some new patrons.

Picking up a new skill (and groceries)

Last time I went grocery shopping, I was concerned at how many people in the store — staff included — were unmasked, and how little concern there was for distancing in the aisles. So this time, I finally gave in and registered at the grocery store’s website so I could order groceries online and arrange a drive-in pickup (which usually has a fee attached but is now offered for free given the pandemic).

I found the website surprisingly convenient; I entered my shopper’s card number when I registered, and as a result, when I started shopping, I was shown a list of the specific items I’d bought previously, already in the store’s computer system. So it was easy to pick out my standard items rather than having to search for them. That was very handy and a real timesaver.

The pickup was straightforward enough. I got a text ahead of time telling me what number to call when I got there, so once I arrived, I just had to tap the number in the text and it connected me right to them. (There were signs in the parking spaces saying what number to call as well, but the text made it simpler.) Then I just had to wait a few minutes for them to come out, pop the trunk, and there we were.

The downside is that they had to substitute a few items due to supply shortages. A couple of the substitutions were harmless, but they gave me my antacid pills in the wrong dosage (though I can just take two at a time to make it up), and in place of my favorite vegetarian Italian sausage (the Tofurky brand, which has sun-dried tomato and basil and is very spicy), they substituted vegetarian kielbasa, which I don’t know if I’ll like. I knew I shouldn’t have gambled on that one, since they didn’t always have the Italian in stock even before all this. I wish the system were set up so we could specify or decline an alternate beforehand rather than gambling on their judgment.

The staffers who came out to deliver groceries to me, and before that to the person ahead of me, were all masked (as was I on general principles, even though I stayed in my car), but one of the people in the earlier group had his mask pulled down, defeating the purpose. I like to think that most people would be more diligent about mask use if they understood that it was to protect others more than themselves. There’s obviously a contingent of selfish people who don’t care about the risk to others as long as they aren’t inconvenienced, but I know they’re very much in the minority, despite what certain politicians claim. Also, based on what I’ve seen, I think more people need to be reminded that masks are not a substitute for social distancing and the rest, but a supplement to them. Parachutists wear crash helmets, but that doesn’t mean wearing a helmet means they get to skip the parachute.

Anyway, aside from those drawbacks, I appreciated the convenience of shopping this way. There were some things they didn’t have available for pickup, so I’ll probably have to brave the store again at some point, but it will be nice to be able to order through the website again in the future, at least as long as the pickup fee is waived. I do feel a bit guilty about making the grocery staff do the work for me, but at the same time, I’m not exposing them to the risk of my presence in the store, which is probably more important under the circumstances (I’m unlikely to have been exposed, but you never know).

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Kickstarter: SUCCESS!! That’s a wrap!

We did it! The eSpec Kickstarter has ended, and I can report virtually complete success! We met our final $6000 stretch goal earlier this morning, unlocking the hardcover omnibuses, and our final tally was $6,181! Over the past month, we have achieved twelve stretch goals in addition to our initial goal of funding Arachne’s Crime and To Hell and Regroup. This campaign has been a runaway success thanks to the 151 of you who backed it, and I’m very grateful to all of you for making the Arachne duology a reality.

Just to sum up, this Kickstarter has funded at least five books for publication — Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile by me, To Hell and Regroup by David Sherman and Keith R.A. DeCandido, the lost novella Get Her Back! by Sherman, and a new story collection by Jeff Young. If you include the omnibus hardcovers of the Arachne duology and The 18th Race trilogy, that makes seven books! And Kickstarter backers will get six bonus stories — “Comfort Zones” and “Vein Glory” by me (the former an Arachne prequel, the latter standalone, both brand new), “House Hunting” and “Alien Invasion of Earth!” by Keith, “Slow and Steady” by John L. French, and “Child of the Wood” by Young, plus the flash fiction collection In a Flash by Christopher Burke. We also unlocked three bonuses for backers — a free audiobook of the story collection The Die is Cast by Danielle Ackley-McPhail & Mike McPhail and free e-books of Robert E. Waters’s Devil Dancers and Keith’s collection Without a License. The only goal we didn’t achieve was the 175-backer bonus of Keith’s novel Guilt in Innocence.

Additionally, three of our backers have earned signed copies of Only Superhuman, including two rare Advance Reader Copies, and two have earned the right to be Tuckerized (have background characters named after them) in Arachne’s Crime!

This has been my third eSpec Kickstarter, and it’s been so much more successful than the first two. The first two both achieved their primary goals but only half of their stretch goals, and the first one made it to $2383 with 87 backers, while the second one ended with $3077 and 109 backers. This time we earned more than twice as much and met every stretch goal, including the last huge pie-in-the-sky one that I thought was unattainable until yesterday. Maybe it made a difference that the primary books were all novels this time rather than a novel/collection mix. Or maybe it’s just that so many more people are stuck at home with time on their hands for reading. Whatever the reason, this Kickstarter has succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. Thank you all.

Oh, and a note from our editor:

And for those who wanted to add on or increase for the hardcover but you didn’t see the notice in time, it is not too late. You can increase by sending the difference through PayPal to especbooks@aol.com. Just message me what you are increasing for and what email payment is coming from.

Thank you again, because we can’t say it enough!

 

Kickstarter: Last day — last chance to fund the hardcovers!

We’re now in the final hours of the Kickstarter, and we’ve gained more than $1000 since my post just yesterday! That means that our final, boldest goal, the limited-edition omnibus hardcovers of my Arachne duology and David Sherman’s The 18th Race trilogy, might actually be attainable, since we have 21 hours left and less than $1200 to go. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible, but now it seems it could actually happen, with your support.

Our publisher at eSpec, Danielle McPhail, has asked us to share her final appeal on the Kickstarter page:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/e-specbooks/two-for-one-science-fiction-novels/posts/2833194

An excerpt:

We want hardcovers in the worst way for several reasons:

  • This is David Sherman’s last novel. He will be doing short fiction, but there will never be another novel.
  • Most small presses don’t have the capital for hardcovers. They are expensive to make using POD processes, that makes them special to us. We want special, for you and for us.
  • And finally, the more we bring in, the more we are going to be able to pay our authors, even given the added expense of producing hardcovers. (That’s why the goal is so high.)

This is not unattainable. We have 22 hours left and we have a plan. See, if we do hit that last goal, we are realistic enough to realize it’s going to be in the final countdown. That means precious little time for interested parties to upgrade. That doesn’t work for us. Like I said, we want special for you, just as much as for us.

Here is what we are going to do. If we hit the $6000 hardcover stretch goal, all backers pledging at a the One-And-Done  Print pledge level (Issue In Doubt, In All Directions, and To Hell and Regroup, for David Sherman; and Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile for Christopher L. Bennett) will automatically be upgraded to the limited edition, signed and number omnibus collections. You will, of course, have the option to decline the upgrade.

There’s more info at the link on how you can adjust your pledge, and how you can get an extra bonus by helping to spread the word about our campaign.

I hope we can make this happen, folks. Those of you who have Only Superhuman in hardcover will now have a chance to put a hardcover of Arachne’s Crime/Arachne’s Exile on the shelf right next to it. But it’s a race against time now. These are your last hours to help us win it, and get a ton of goodies for yourselves into the bargain.

Kickstarter: One more goal met, and two days to go!

We’ve now got less than 51 hours left in the eSpec Books Kickstarter, and as of last night, we unlocked one more goal, the reprint of the lost DemonTech novella Get Her Back! by David Sherman. That novella has been added to the Add-Ons section of the Kickstarter, so anyone who wants it can add $5 to their pledge to receive the e-book edition or $15 for the paperback edition.

And just a reminder: Anyone who pledged before Arachne’s Exile was funded and added to the rewards and add-ons should look over the revised options and adjust your pledge to include AE if you want to.

This is my third Kickstarter campaign, and in the previous two, we got a surge in pledges right at the end. I’m hoping that will be the case here too. I’ve already met all my goals (the Arachne duology, “Vein Glory,” “Comfort Zones”), but there’s still one more book that backers can get out of this campaign, a new story collection by Jeff Young, which will be published if we make it to $4000, just another $190 away now. And there’s the 18th Race emblem patch that will be added as a bonus at $4400, and finally the real long shot, the limited-edition omnibus hardcovers of David’s trilogy and my duology, if we make it all the way to $6000.

This campaign has already been significantly more successful than either of my previous two, and it’s not over yet. Let’s try for a big finish!

Kickstarter: “Comfort Zones” is unlocked, with 6 days to go!

Okay, this is the home stretch. We’ve just barely squeaked past the $3600 threshold to unlock my Arachne’s Crime prequel story “Comfort Zones,” which Kickstarter backers will receive as a bonus along with the Arachne duology, the standalone story “Vein Glory,” and all the other goodies. “Comfort Zones” is a glimpse at how the novel’s main characters met and got set on the course toward the events of the novel, and features guest appearances or cameos by a few characters from other tales in the Arachne/Troubleshooter Universe. But only Kickstarter backers will get to read the story, at least for now. You’ve still got six days to donate!

And there are four more goals to try for, including a new edition of a lost David Sherman novel, a new short story collection by Jeff Young, a custom patch of the emblem for David Sherman’s 18th Race series, and if we get all the way to $6000, limited edition hardcover omnibus editions (i.e. all in one volume) of both the 18th Race trilogy and the Arachne duology! I hope by some miracle we can get there, since I’d love the irony if this duology that I originally wrote as a single long book ended up becoming a single long book again!

New story on Patreon: “They Also Serve” (Troubleshooters)

That new Troubleshooter vignette I promised last week, “They Also Serve,” is now up at my Patreon, for patrons at the $10 Original Fiction tier and above. Tomorrow, I’ll post the annotations for the story at the $12 level.

Meanwhile, back at the Kickstarter, we’re now less than $50 away from unlocking my Arachne prequel story “Comfort Zones” and completing the set of the stories I have to offer for this campaign! There’s one more week to go, and still several more bonuses to unlock!

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – CHRISTOPHER L. BENNETT

Here’s a new interview with me to tie in with the upcoming release of ARACHNE’S CRIME and ARACHNE’S EXILE.

eSpec Books

eSpec Books interviews best-selling science fiction author Christopher L. Bennett, author of Arachne’s Crime (currently funding onKickstarter), Only Superhuman, Among the Wild Cybers, and a wide array of media tie-in novels.

eS: Hi, Christopher. Thank you for joining us today. Arachne’s Crime has some pretty detailed tech. How much of the tech is extrapolation and how much is technobabble? Please tell us something about the science of your universe.

CB: I’ve always striven to make the science in the Arachne/Troubleshooter Universe (as I’ve finally settled on calling it) as authentic as I can. I allow for a little poetic license with things like faster-than-light travel, but I ground them in real theory with a minimum of fudging. The novelette that Arachne’s Crime is expanded from — “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” my first professional sale back in 1998 — was a concept that came out of the…

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I love you, $3000! ARACHNE’S EXILE is a go!

Well, this is astonishing. For the past few days, the eSpec Books Kickstarter for Arachne’s Crime, Arachne’s Exile, and other fiction was in the inevitable mid-campaign lull, only inching slowly upward. We’d crested the $2700 stretch goal to unlock Keith DeCandido’s “Alien Invasion of Earth!” and had gained our 100th backer to unlock bonus copies of Keith’s Without a License collection, but I’d resigned myself to a slow climb toward Arachne’s Exile over the week or two ahead.

Yet within the last few hours, thanks to one incredibly generous backer and a couple of others, we’ve suddenly jumped ahead nearly $450 in a couple of hours, easily pushing us over the top! Arachne’s Exile is funded! The whole duology is now guaranteed to be published, probably close together. Plus Exile has been added to some of the pledge-tier and add-on bonuses as a new option (and if you took one of the previous options, you can adjust your pledge now).

Not only that, but the more funding we get, the more money that I, Keith, and David Sherman will earn directly from this campaign, since the funds that don’t go into book production and distribution will come directly to us, in addition to (rather than as an advance on) our future royalties on book sales. Which is really helpful to all of us in these tough times. I’m very grateful to our Kickstarter backers for making this happen, and I hope you all enjoy the books and the bonus stories you’ve unlocked (and of course the books will be available for everyone to buy).

But wait, there’s more! We’re now just $78 from the next bonus, a DRM-free copy of the flash fiction collection In a Flash by Christopher Burke. And we’re $378 away from unlocking “Comfort Zones,” my Arachne’s Crime prequel story and the last of my four all-new pieces of fiction being offered in this campaign.

Beyond that are four further goals that seem more attainable than they did a few hours ago. The first one is a new bonus just recently added:

$3800 – We will republish in an updated edition the currently out of print lost DemonTech novel, Get Her Back!, by David Sherman.

$4000 – We will produce a new science fiction short story collection by Jeff Young. The ebook will be added to all pledge rewards of $15 or more and the ebook and print versions will be added to the pledge rewards and add-on section.

$4400 – We will produce a custom patch based on the icon representing David Sherman’s 18th Race series and it will be added to the 18TH RACE physical pledge reward and add-on section.

$6000 – We will produce limited edition hardcover omnibus volumes of the 18TH RACE and the ARACHNE series and these options will be added to the pledge rewards and add-on section.

So it’s not over yet! With two weeks to go, how far can we get?

(And yes, I have been waiting days to make that “I love you, $3000” joke in the post title.)