Yesterday was a good day

I’ve been feeling pretty down for a while now, even though my fortunes have finally started to improve again. I may have some money in the bank at last and be slowly chipping away at my debts, but I’m also laboring under a tight writing deadline and struggling to make progress, and just generally having trouble shaking off the months of anxiety and depression from when things were at their roughest. But yesterday, several good, refreshing, or reassuring things happened — nothing really huge, but some welcome relief from the tension and concerns I’ve been having. By the end of the day, I felt more upbeat and relaxed than I’ve felt in quite a while.

For one thing, I’m finally getting some real momentum back on my current writing project, which I’ve been pretty far behind on (not an unusual occurrence for me, but still stressful). I’ve had several good, productive days in a row, and I’m into a part of the project where I have a clearer idea where I’m going and don’t have to figure it out on the fly, so it’s pretty satisfying to be making such progress. I’m still a little behind where I’d hoped to be, because this section is turning out to be pretty lengthy, but with luck I’ll finish no more than a day behind my desired schedule.

Tuesday night, I’d barely gotten anything done and was feeling very sleepy and useless (I made the mistake of having a peanut butter sandwich for dinner, and that tends to make me lethargic). I wanted to get something done that evening, but I didn’t want a full cup of coffee that late, so I had some hot chocolate with a little instant coffee. And it actually woke me up and got my brain working again, and I got a surprising amount of work done. And it got me thinking. A few years ago, when I first started drinking coffee, I had an amazing burst of productivity, but coffee hasn’t had the same effect later on. I realize now that the first kind of coffee I used was a mix that was half instant coffee and half powdered creamer/sugar — and at the time of that burst of productivity, I was having regular instant coffee mixed with milk and plenty of honey to mask the foul taste (since I hadn’t yet figured out the whole creamer business). So what if it was the sugar, more than the caffeine, that did the trick? Sugar is the energy source for the brain, after all. If so, that’s a dilemma, since upping my sugar intake to make my brain more active wouldn’t exactly help the rest of my body. I guess I’d need to find the right balance — and exercise more, which is something I need to do anyway.

So yesterday, in search of relatively healthy sweets, I went to the local natural foods store and bought some organic cookies. I also found that they finally had one of my favorite foods that I’d run out of too long ago — pumpkin butter, which is like apple butter but made from pumpkin, and is really yummy. It’s seasonal, so they only have it for part of the year, plus I rarely went to that store while I was broke, and thus my stockpile of pumpkin butter ran out quite a while ago. The variety they had in stock wasn’t my preferred one of the two they tend to carry, but still, I’m happy to have pumpkin butter again. Not only is it just plain good, but it helps me feel like my life is starting to get back to normal after the long period when I was flat broke.

Oh, speaking of buying things and economizing — last week after I went to the movie theater, I went to the Kroger superstore across the street from it to get a few things, and I decided on a whim to check out the superstore’s modest-sized clothing section at the far end, since I’ve been in need of some new clothes. Serendipitously, there was a clearance sale on, and I found several pairs of jeans in my size marked down nearly 80 percent, so I bought one. That evening, after I confirmed that the jeans fit, I realized that I should’ve bought more than one, given how cheap they were. So I went back the next morning and got two more pairs of jeans, plus two polo shirts at the same discount. I’m not crazy about the color of one of the shirts, but hey, I got some $200 worth of clothes (by list price, plus tax) for under $45, which is amazing.

Plus, I finally bought a new laptop battery a week or two back, which makes me feel more free to walk over to campus with my laptop and do some writing there. The change of scenery often helps me focus, and it’s something I haven’t done in a while. I think part of the reason I’ve been creatively blocked in recent months is because my lack of funds has kept me from going out much, and the repetitive setting of my apartment has left my mind unstimulated. I did take my laptop over to campus this past Saturday when my apartment building had a power failure — its second in just a few days, what with the storms we’ve been having (though the second outage was on a day of milder rain, so maybe it was a delayed reaction to the first storm) — and got a little writing done then, but it wasn’t a pleasant walk since I wasn’t really feeling up to it, and since the weather wasn’t great. But the walk I went on yesterday afternoon was much more enjoyable, both a partial cause and effect of the generally better mood I’m in now. I managed to figure out the next scene I wanted to write, and I wrote it out promptly after getting home. (Though I realized this morning that I wrote myself into a bit of a corner regarding one plot point, and I haven’t yet figured out how to fix it.)

One other thing — this past week I’ve been having problems on a couple of websites with ads or something that slowed my Firefox browser so severely I had to keep forcing it to shut down with Task Manager and starting over. I’d started using Chrome for those two sites, but yesterday morning, it happened in Chrome too — or rather, it happened when I had the site open in Chrome and tried to open a different site in Firefox while I waited. This time, though, instead of shutting Chrome down, I just waited it out to see if it would clear up, and it did. And somehow, ever since then, I’ve had no slowdown problems with those sites in either browser. It’s like whatever process was paralyzing the browsers just needed to be given the chance to finish once, and then it was all good. I dunno, I probably need to do a disk cleanup to free up some RAM or something, but this unexpected clearing up of a frustrating nuisance was one more windfall in my good day.

Oh, and then there’s the biggest load off my mind — other than my writing progress, though it relates to that. Last week I got a summons to report for jury duty in two weeks’ time — when I’m six weeks to deadline and behind schedule. Now, if things went the same way they did the last time I had jury service back in early 2009 (some months before I began this blog), where I just sat around waiting in the courthouse and never actually got into a courtroom (which is actually pretty normal for jury pool members), then it’d be a great chance to get some writing done without distractions, plus I’d literally get paid a little money just for showing up. (Last time, IIRC, I was doing a rewrite on Only Superhuman at the time, and I made significant progress during my days in the jurors’ quiet study area.) But I was afraid that if I did get called to serve on an actual jury, it might delay my writing at a time when I can’t afford any more delays. Luckily, I saw on the summons form that you get one chance in your lifetime to request a postponement of jury service, as long as it’s within 6 months of the initial date. So I requested it, and when I returned from my walk yesterday, I found a postcard in the mail saying my request was accepted. I don’t have to report until a month or so after my deadline, which should hopefully give me time for revisions and such. So that’s a bullet dodged, and a great relief. Between that and the progress I’ve made this week, I’m feeling much more optimistic about my deadline.

So all this adds up to put me in a fairly good place right now. I hope it lasts for a while.

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Categories: My Fiction Tags: , ,

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE — FALLOUT (2018) Movie Review (spoilers)

September 5, 2018 3 comments

I had to wait a bit until I had some money to spare, but I finally saw Mission: Impossible — Fallout. This is the second consecutive film in the M:I series to be written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, and the first time that any director has done a second M:I film. Every film in this series since the fourth one has built more and more upon its predecessors, and this is the one that connects most directly to previous films — primarily McQuarrie’s previous installment Rogue Nation, but with major links to M:i:III, and a surprising connection to yet another installment. It reunites nearly all the main cast from RN: IMF agents Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg); IMF Secretary Hunley (Alec Baldwin); rogue agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson); and villain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). The one no-show is Jeremy Renner’s Brandt, whose absence is never acknowledged or explained. (It was allegedly due to Renner’s commitment to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is odd, because his last appearance as Hawkeye was two years ago.) Notably, the film also brings back Michelle Monaghan’s Julia, Ethan’s bride from M:i:III, last seen only in a cameo in Ghost Protocol.

Unlike its predecessor, Fallout starts slowly with Ethan having a nightmare: He’s marrying Julia, but the priest is Solomon Lane, who recites the litany of how Ethan failed and abandoned Julia before they’re vaporized in a nuclear blast. It’s a handy way to re-establish Julia and Ethan’s backstory for the audience, and a nice callback to III, which also started off with a focus on the Ethan-Julia relationship. I felt Rogue Nation was less successful at substantive characterization than the previous two films, but Fallout was off to a good start with this. (Although it can sort of be read to imply that among his other superhuman powers, Ethan Hunt has developed precognition.)

Ethan then gets the secret briefing — oddly delivered to his home in a vintage miniature reel-to-reel tape recorder (with built-in video projector) hidden inside an old book, at once an homage to the classic briefing scenes and a departure from them, since they’ve never been delivered straight to the lead character’s door before (kind of defeats the whole purpose, doesn’t it?). We get an infodump (in McQuarrie’s voice) about the Apostles, the remnants of Lane’s Syndicate from RN, and their terror attacks around the world (including a plague outbreak in Kashmir) designed to tear down the world order and bring the devastation from which they believe a new peace will spring — a thematic link to the motives of Ghost Protocol‘s villain, though no explicit connection is drawn. The Apostles, led by a mysterious guy code-named John Lark, are trying to buy three stolen plutonium cores to make nuclear bombs.

We jump right to Ethan and Benji buying the (improbably lightweight) plutonium cores from the thieves, with Luther running ops from the van as usual. The movie deals with the overlap between Luthor’s and Benji’s tech-support roles by moving Benji fully into the field-agent role rather than the mix of both roles he played in the prior two films; this also fills the void left by Brandt. But he doesn’t really do much besides banter with Ethan, and the buy is just a straight-up buy, no hidden gambits or stratagems. When another faction takes Luther hostage and demands the plutonium, they, not the IMF, are the ones who pull a devious trick, using the threat to Luther’s life to distract Ethan from the cores so they can steal them. At this point, I was afraid that this would be another film that was M:I in name only, ignoring the intricate schemes and tricks that defined the original series.

But then we cut to a scene where Wolf Blitzer reports that three nuclear bombs have gone off in Rome, Jerusalem, and Mecca simultaneously. The TV is in a hospital room where Ethan and Luther confront the satisfied bomb-maker, who’s told he’s awoken from 2 weeks in a coma after a car crash. He agrees to give them info on Lark if Blitzer reads his manifesto on the air, figuring there’s no harm now that the good guys have already lost. I was feeling much better at this point, because I recognized the “trick the bad guy into thinking they’ve already won so they give up the info” gambit from several M:I episodes, most prominently “Two Thousand,” which also involved finding stolen plutonium. (See also “Operation Rogosh,” “Invasion,” and “The Freeze.”) Once he gives them the info on Lark, Ethan opens up the fake hospital set and Benji whips off his Wolf Blitzer mask, telling the guy that he’s only been out an hour, not two weeks. (I have a quibble with the end credits, because they list Blitzer as playing “Himself,” when strictly speaking he was playing Benji Dunn.)

All of this is before the main title sequence, which is much the same as RN’s sequence in being a flashier riff on the original show’s titles, with a burning fuse over clips from the adventure to follow. The music this time is by Lorne Balfe, and the theme is an interesting new variation on the Lalo Schifrin theme. Balfe’s score overall is effective and richly orchestrated, but a bit repetitive, not as thematically rich as the previous couple of scores.

After the credits, Baldwin’s Secretary Alan Hunley shows up in person (then why bother with the secret tapes earlier?) to send Ethan in to Paris to infiltrate a party where Lark has arranged to meet the seller of the plutonium. But there’s a bureaucratic clash as CIA Director Sloane (Angela Bassett) shows up, dismisses the IMF as “Halloween” playacting, and refuses to let Hunt go in unless he’s accompanied by her #1 hitman, August Walker. Walker is played by Henry Cavill, whose last involvement in the spy game was as Napoleon Solo in another remake of a ’60s TV series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Here, Cavill is playing a very different kind of spy, intimidating in his bulk but utterly businesslike, calm, and matter-of-fact. He makes nothing personal, holds no grudges, just does the job, but since that job is assassination, it’s an effectively unnerving characterization. In a way, it’s almost the dark reflection of Cavill’s Superman — that same relaxed, unaffected strength and ultracompetence, but directed toward ending lives rather than saving them. Anyway, here’s where the thematic conflict of the film is established. Sloane is willing to use a hardened killer to get the job done and doesn’t care about collateral damage. But Hunley tells Ethan not to beat himself up for choosing Luther’s life over the plutonium, because his refusal to sacrifice one life for many is his greatest strength. It’s a nice moment. Hunley’s feelings toward Ethan have clearly become far warmer and more fatherly between movies.

For reasons which the film has no interest in addressing, Ethan and Walker fly over the city in a military cargo plane and do a HALO (high altitude, low opening) parachute drop, an excuse for Tom Cruise to do one of his trademark for-real stunt scenes, a continuous take from the plane to (nearly) the ground. While the stunt dive is real (and frankly I’m more impressed by the camera operator than by Cruise, since he had to do all the same stunts backward and with a camera strapped to his helmet), the background is digitally altered to create a thunderstorm Hunt and Walker have to dive through, requiring Ethan to save Walker’s life after he’s knocked out by a lightning bolt, without Walker ever realizing that Ethan saved him. It’s a spectacular sequence, to be sure… but it makes no damn sense. A HALO drop is for infiltrating an enemy country or military camp, flying above the radar and waiting to deploy chutes until the last possible second to minimize detection risk. It’s something you do to avoid getting shot down by enemy artillery. Ethan and Walker had to infiltrate a party in the middle of Paris. Surely there must have been far simpler ways to sneak into the building.

Once inside, Ethan insists on doing things his way — identify Lark, knock him out, make a mask, impersonate him, buy the plutonium. Of course, things go very wrong and there’s a big fight in the men’s room, and Ethan is saved by the unexpected reappearance of Ilsa Faust, who kills the person they think is Lark before he can kill Ethan. She warns him that Lark is a target of assassins, and backs him up as he meets the contact while pretending to be Lark. The contact is a woman known as the White Widow (the scintillating Vanessa Kirby), whose dialogue subtly reveals her to be the daughter of Max, Vanessa Redgrave’s arms-dealer character from the first M:I film 22 years ago. It’s the second time a Christopher McQuarrie M:I film has called back to the original film, although it’s subtle enough to miss. I was wondering if Kirby might have been Redgrave’s daughter in real life; as it turns out, Redgrave was a friend of her family. Anyway, Ethan and Ilsa save the White Widow from assassins, though it’s unclear who the real target is. Afterward, we see Walker delivering Lark’s phone to Sloane and telling her it has data on it suggesting that Ethan Hunt is the real John Lark. But McQuarrie made a point of showing us earlier that Lark’s phone was shattered in the fight, while the phone Walker hands Sloane is intact. As if it hadn’t been obvious from the start that Walker would turn out to be the bad guy.

So anyway, the White Widow tells Ethan that she’s just a broker for the plutonium thieves; if he wants the Pu, he has to make a trade by breaking out Solomon Lane and delivering him to them. After Ethan swallows the need for this and asks what the plan is, we see a sequence of him and WW’s men ambushing the convoy and killing a bunch of cops to free Lane. Has Ethan compromised his morals that much that he’d kill dozens of innocents to prevent a nuclear holocaust? But no — it’s just Ethan visualizing WW’s plan in his mind, and he then decides he has a better plan. He rams the armored truck carrying Lane into the Seine (or maybe it’s a canal?) and leads the cops on a very lively, well-choreographed, beautifully shot chase through the scenic streets of Paris, while Benji dives down and frees Lane before he drowns. The bulk of this sequence is scored by Balfe’s version of the main title theme, and I was getting frustrated by the lack of “The Plot,” the leitmotif that traditionally accompanies the capers as they unfold. I was starting to worry that this might be the only M:I production other than M:I:II that omitted that motif altogether. But as soon as we get the reveal of Benji and Luther, extracting Ethan from the chase through an underground canal, “The Plot” is heard in its full glory, in something quite close to its original double-bass-and-snare-drum arrangement from the show.

But there’s a complication or two yet to come. As the team is loading the captive, hooded Lane into a car, they open the door to discover a hapless young traffic cop standing there, evidently giving a parking ticket. She sees what looks like a kidnapping and draws her gun, and Ethan tries to talk her down peacefully before Walker shoots her. She then gets shot by a group of WW’s men who’ve been looking for Ethan, and he shoots them down to save the young gendarme and helps her call for medical assistance. It’s a fairly touching moment, rather remarkable to see in a blockbuster spy action movie.

The next complication is Ilsa, who tries to kill Lane and inexplicably only wings him. After another long chase, Ethan gets Lane away from her, then meets her later and finds out that MI-6 wants her to kill Lane to prove that she isn’t a threat to them. Her original assignment was to protect “Lark” so he’d lead her to Lane, but she killed him instead to save Ethan. Still, she won’t let Ethan get in the way of her completing her mission, since MI-6 will kill her if she doesn’t. I gotta say, British Intelligence comes off really badly in these two films.

Since the Paris scenery has been exhausted by this point, the story arbitrarily moves to London, where Hunley shows up at an IMF safehouse and confronts Ethan about the Lark accusations, demanding that he shut down the operation, bring Lane in, and let the CIA worry about the plutonium. Ethan knocks him out, turns Benji into a mask-copy of Lane, and convinces Walker to give them a chance to do the job before he applies his sledgehammer methods. Once alone with Lane, Walker reveals that he’s the real John Lark and was working with Lane all along. But guess what — this Lane is actually Benji (though I can’t see how the switch was pulled off) and Walker’s just outed himself as the baddie, with Hunley’s willing cooperation in the plot. Hunley has Sloane on his cell and she sends in her troops to bring in Lane, but half the troops work for Walker/Lark and kill the other half, and the main characters fight, with Hunley making a good effort but ultimately getting killed by Walker. Which I guess I should’ve seen coming when they made him a father figure to Ethan. Anyway, Ilsa randomly shows up and helps in the fight, and for the rest of the film she’s treated as a full member of the team, even though we never see a moment where Benji and Luther go through the process of accepting her. Maybe the effortlessness of their acceptance is the point, but even so, it would’ve been nice to have at least a momentary acknowledgment, rather than feeling like we’ve sidestepped into a slightly alternate reality where she was already on the team.

But the film is focused on another action set piece of Ethan chasing after Walker over the London rooftops to keep him from escaping. It gives Cruise a chance to break out the Patented Tom Cruise Run once more, though after all this time the PTCR is visibly slower and more labored than it used to be. (I gather Cruise actually broke his ankle during this sequence and that the shot was kept in the film. I think it’s the point where he misses a jump, catches the building edge, and pulls himself up, but I couldn’t tell for sure.) Walker gets away, but not before revealing that he knows where Ethan’s ex-wife Julia is and will have her killed if Ethan follows him. After this, Luther fills Ilsa in on Ethan & Julia’s backstory, although his explanation of why they split up and how she ended up staying hidden doesn’t exactly align with the events of Ghost Protocol. But it’s more about establishing a character arc for Ethan, about how he couldn’t focus on the work if Julia were on his mind.

The team remembers that Lark’s Apostles released a plague in Kashmir, which led to the establishment of a medical camp. They realize that if the bombs were set off there, it would contaminate a glacier and poison a third of the world’s water supply. (It wouldn’t really.) They rush to Kashmir, but are in the dark about why the Apostles would want a medical camp there. I saw it immedately, though, once I remembered that Julia was a doctor. I should mention that it was established earlier that Lane was doing your standard recurring-villain thing where his evil plans were personally directed at the film’s hero, not just bringing down the world order but making sure that Ethan Hunt was on hand to see all his plans and loved ones brought to ruin. So this whole massive Kashmir strategy we’ve been hearing about since the cold open was all about manipulating Ethan’s ex-wife to be at ground zero.

(By the way, this opens a bit of a plot hole. When they caught the bomb-maker in the cold open and tricked him into thinking the bombs had been meant to attack three holy cities, how did they know he wasn’t aware of the real target? They took a gamble there.)

Sure enough, they find Julia at the relief camp. She’s now remarried, and what Luther said about Ethan’s divided focus never comes into play — or maybe he just underestimated his old friend’s ability to stay focused on the mission. Anyway, the IMF men find one of the bombs and Luther sets to disarm it while Benji and Ilsa search for the other, and Ethan takes off in a helicopter after Walker, who’s in another helicopter with the detonator. Benji’s sussed out that the only way to disarm the nukes is to shut them both down simultaneously after Ethan removes a key from the detonator, but only after the countdown has started. Walker has obligingly started the countdown, so Ethan just has to figure out how to get to him on a different helicopter while the others find and deactivate both bombs simultaneously. Julia finds Luther at his bomb and immediately asks how she can help. Ilsa finds the other bomb and must fight Lane, forced to choose between killing him and saving Benji’s life (of course she chooses the latter). Ethan goes through another insane series of almost-real helicopter stunts (though judging from the behind-the-scenes footage I’ve seen, they digitally altered the backgrounds again, adding snow on the mountains to make them more convincingly Himalayan) and a big climactic fight with Walker to get the key, and even though they’re out of radio contact with Ethan, Luther and Benji trust him to have succeeded, and indeed he has at the literal last second. How the detonator’s shutdown signal could get through when Ethan’s comms couldn’t is left as an exercise for the viewer.

But Sloane shows up to medevac Ethan to safety, finally convinced of the IMF’s value. Lane is taken alive for the second movie in a row (though Walker isn’t so lucky) and the White Widow delivers him to MI-6, clearing Ilsa’s ledger and presumably paving the way for her to finally join the IMF.

All in all, this is a much better movie than Rogue Nation and one of the very best in the series. Its action and intrigue are top-notch, and it does make a better effort at exploring character and relationships than its predecessor did. Although it isn’t entirely smooth in the execution. A lot of the action beats are set up in implausible ways, especially the totally pointless HALO drop, though they’re all so magnificently executed that it’s hard to complain. Also, it’s great to see the long-dormant thread of Ethan and Julia’s relationship finally brought to the fore again after being ignored in the previous film… but it’s odd how detached Ethan himself is from that exploration. Luther does more of the heavy lifting for that particular plot thread than Ethan does, through his exposition to Ilsa and his conversation with Julia while they disarm the bomb. Ethan and Julia get very little time together to really talk about anything. That’s actually rather disappointing when I consider how crucial their relationship was to III’s success.

What I really love about this film, though, is its repeated emphasis on the idea that what makes Ethan Hunt special is his concern for individual lives — something that isn’t just talked about but shown, as in the Paris sequences where he’s twice faced with the choice of sacrificing innocents to get the job done and instead makes a point of finding a better, less bloody way. It’s refreshing to see a spy movie that focuses on its hero’s efforts to save lives rather than take them. To be sure, Ethan and the team do rack up a body count of villains, but not a huge one by spy-movie standards, given that so many of the big action sequences are chases rather than fights. I like the idea that the IMF is about finding less violent solutions and protecting innocent lives. I’m not sure that was ever really emphasized in any previous film, though, or even in the TV series. True, nominally the IMF wasn’t allowed to assassinate its targets (as was stated explicitly in the pilot but left implicit otherwise) and favored more creative, subtle means of achieving their ends, but they did often manipulate or trick their marks into killing each other. I much prefer this emphasis on protecting lives. In Rogue Nation, McQuarrie played up Ethan as a driven, obsessive figure relentless in his pursuit of his foes, an unstoppable avenging angel. This time, though, he and Cruise chose to play up Ethan’s compassion in contrast to Walker’s businesslike ruthlessness, and it makes him a far more likeable lead. It’s one of many ways in which McQuarrie has improved greatly in his sophomore outing with Mission: Impossible.

Now, let’s see… Obviously the prior films that are the main touchstones for this sixth installment in the series were the fifth film (to which it’s essentially a direct sequel) and the third (through Julia). It also follows up on what the fourth film established about Ethan and Julia’s separation — and technically the Syndicate was introduced at the end of the fourth film, though its specifics weren’t established until the fifth. And it ties indirectly to the first film through the White Widow, daughter of Max. The hospital set sequence in the cold open is also a callback to the opening ploy in the original film, although both use elements from the TV series. Luther also tells Ilsa that there have been two women Ethan truly cared for in his life, but only talks about Julia. I thought at first that he meant Ilsa was the other one, but in retrospect I think it’s more likely he meant Claire from the original film. That leaves only the second film. IMDb’s Trivia page reveals that the helicopter’s “Terrain, pull up!” warning voice was the same audio used for the opening plane scene in M:I:II. But that’s a pretty trivial connection that barely counts, and it may be that it’s the same because it’s a standard aircraft warning (though I don’t know if it is). In terms of actual story and character elements, every prior film except II is acknowledged. Which makes sense, since II is by far the worst and the least characteristic of the series.

Still, the overall pattern stands — the level of continuity in the M:I films has been steadily increasing since Ghost Protocol. And I expect that trend to continue. I saw an article or two suggesting that Fallout seemed like the middle part of a trilogy — though the logic was that it had to be unfinished because Lane wasn’t dead yet, and I’m not at all fond of the casual assumption in American feature films that a story’s conclusion requires the villain’s death. Still, that aside, the question of what Ilsa Faust does next now that she’s free of MI-6 remains open. I would like to see her properly join the IMF; aside from Ferguson’s strength as a lead, it’s annoying that the IMF has been a boys’ club for the past two movies, and that no female IMF member has ever lasted for more than one movie. (Come to think of it, we saw as many female IMF members in the first film alone as in the entire remainder of the franchise. There were three women on Phelps’s team in the first act of that film. Thandie Newton in II was a civilian recruit. III had Maggie Q and Keri Russell, though not on the same team; IV had Paula Patton; V and VI only had Ilsa, who’s nominally a rival agent.) Really, at this point, they should probably think about phasing Cruise out or putting him in the “Secretary” role so Rebecca Ferguson could take over as the series lead. That way, they wouldn’t have to worry about the franchise ending as Cruise and Rhames age out of it.

Q&A with Christopher L. Bennett

Here’s a Q&A I did for ANALOG’s blog in conjunction with the release of “…And He Built a Crooked Hub” in the current issue.

The Astounding Analog Companion

The latest in Christopher L. Bennett’s Hub series is featured in our current issue [on sale now]. Below, he explains the origins of the series as well as the origins of his writing career and interest in science fiction.


Analog Editors: Is this piece part of a greater universe of stories?

Chrisopher L. Bennett: “. . . And He Built a Crooked Hub” is the fifth novelette in the Hub series of comedy SF stories, which have been appearing intermittently in Analog since 2010, and whose first three installments are collected in revised and expanded form in Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy, available from Mystique Press as an e-book or trade paperback. It’s also the middle of a loose trilogy of stories which began with “Hubpoint of No Return” in the May/June 2018 issue and will conclude with “Hub-stitute Creatures” in an upcoming issue.

AE:…

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“Crooked Hub” discussion and annotations are up!

You know the drill — the new Analog is on sale now, so I’ve updated my Hub Series page with non-spoiler discussion of “…And He Built a Crooked Hub,” plus a link to the spoiler annotations page, which I trust folks will save until after they’ve read the story. You’ll need to scroll down a bit, since I decided to put it below the “Hubpoint of No Return” discussion, which just seemed logical.

I tried looking for online reviews to quote, but apparently it’s a bit early for those.

For some reason, while it took me ages to get around to finishing the previous issue I was in, I’m already nearly finished with the current issue; I’ve read everything but the novella. Some interesting stuff in this one, including a sci-fi twist on the French Revolution called “The Pendant Lens” by Sean McMullen, a story of AI activism called “Optimizing the Verified Good” by Effie Seiberg, a twisty monster-movie deconstruction called “The Unnecessary Parts of the Story” by Adam-Troy Castro, and a handy science-fact overview of “Alien Biochemistry” and its possible forms by Jay Werkheiser, useful for the SF worldbuilder.

“Crooked Hub” now on sale!

It’s a few days ahead of the nominal release date, but Analog Science Fiction and Fact has updated their homepage to show the September/October issue, featuring “…And He Built a Crooked Hub,” part 2 of my ongoing Hub trilogy. Here’s the issue cover:

I’ve updated my home page with ordering links.

What’s more, the Next Issue page at the Analog site reveals that the concluding story, “Hubstitute Creatures,” will be in the very next issue, November/December 2018, going on sale October 23. That’s sooner than I expected, since the first two installments were four months apart. But then, it makes sense, since there was a delay between my sales of the first story and the other two. Anyway, I’m glad we won’t have to wait much longer for the trilogy to be complete.

But I’ve belatedly realized that “…And He Built a Crooked Hub” is a career milestone in itself (I seem to be achieving a number of those recently). It’s my 10th Analog story! (Yippee!! Cue celebratory sound effects.) Which seems like a lot until you consider that it took me almost exactly 20 years to achieve it, since my first story was in November 1998. Although there was a gap of over 9 years between my second and third Analog stories, so this is also my 8th story in the past 8 1/2 years, which is nearly twice as good. It’s also my 5th story in the past 2 1/2 years, which is yet another doubling of the pace. I doubt I’ll be able to continue accelerating, though, since with this story and the next one, I’m already up to one story per issue. I’d say that’s about as good as it can get.

For what it’s worth, “Crooked Hub” is also my 15th distinct published work of original fiction overall, not counting reprint collections (the non-Analog ones being “No Dominion,” “The Weight of Silence,” Only Superhuman, “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing,” and “Aspiring to Be Angels”). I have 3 more coming up with “Hubstitute Creatures,” my fantasy story “The Melody Lingers” in Galaxy’s Edge, and the story I’ll be writing for the Footprints in the Stars anthology. Two more sales and I’ll be up to 20 works of original fiction. For comparison, my tie-in tally currently stands at 27 novels and stories, two Marvel and the rest Star Trek. At this rate, it may only be a few more years before I can say that more than half of my published works are in my own original universes — although since all but one of my original works to date are short fiction while close to 60% of my tie-in works are novels, I’m still a long way from balancing the scales in terms of word count. But that’s another post…

New anthology project: FOOTPRINTS IN THE STARS

Well, it looks like I’ve achieved one more career milestone, just a month after the last one. Namely, it looks like I’ll finally be getting a story published in a non-Star Trek anthology. Danielle Ackley-McPhail of eSpec Books (publishers of my just-released Among the Wild Cybers collection) has just announced a new anthology project called Footprints in the Stars, Book 2 of eSpec’s Beyond the Cradle hard science fiction anthology series. I’m one of several authors announced as being on board for the project, including my fellow Trek authors Dayton Ward and Robert Greenberger, plus James Chambers, Russ Colchamiro, Bryan J.L. Glass, and others.

This is still in the preliminary stages; I’ve had a proposal accepted, but I haven’t even written the story yet. It’s the first time I’ll have ever worked that way on a non-tie-in project.  So I probably shouldn’t say too much about the specifics, since plans may change. But it will be a relatively short story, and my proposal is set in one of my existing universes and features a couple of established characters. As it happened, I already had an idea that was a natural fit for the theme of the anthology.

I’ll have more info as it develops, but it may be a while, since the anthology is slated for sometime in 2019.

A couple more minor site updates

Two site fixes today. One: A poster alerted me that my Uncertain Logic Annotations page was displaying the table too wide in Chrome and cutting off part of the text, which I think was due to that page having a second table inside one of the table cells. I tried some formatting changes to fix it, and something I tried caused the table formatting to disappear altogether, so I just went with that and converted it to the non-table format I use for most of my short-fiction annotations.

Two: I updated my Bibliography with my past couple of Hub stories and Among the Wild Cybers. It was about a year out of date, but now it’s current again. I wasn’t sure how to enter both AtWC and “Aspiring to Be Angels,” the new story appearing only in AtWC, so I just went with the redundancy.

Meanwhile, updating my own bibliography reminded me to check my Internet Speculative Fiction Database page, and as I hoped, they’ve finally added my three online original stories now that they’ve finally appeared in print in AtWC. Although they list AtWC as their only catalogued publication with just a note that they were previously published elsewhere. It also lists Hub Space now, but lists it by its trade paperback publication date of 2018 rather than its original e-book release date of 2015. Odd that an online resource would fail to count online publications. Although the bibliography isn’t entirely complete, since it doesn’t include the Russian translations of my first two Hub stories in ESLI Magazine. Still, it’s finally complete as far as my English-language professional fiction goes, so that’s good.