Happy 30th Anniversary, Alien Nation the TV series!

It’s the 30th anniversary of one of my favorite TV series, Kenneth Johnson’s ALIEN NATION, and my friend and fellow novelist Dayton Ward has written an excellent retrospective on it at his site. Check it out!

The Fog of Ward.

That was the scene in California’s Mojave Desert five years ago: our historic first view of the Newcomers’ ship. Theirs was a slave ship, carrying a quarter million beings bred to adapt and labor in any environment. But they’ve washed ashore on Earth, with no way to get back to where they came from, and in the last five years the Newcomers have become the latest addition to the population of Los Angeles.”

Cue funky opening music and credits.

AlienNation-01

Los Angeles, 1995: Aliens are everywhere.

After their very massive starship crashes on Earth, 250,000 genetically engineered aliens who call themselves “Tenctonese” find themselves forced to assimilate into a world very different from the one to which they’d been heading. The people already living here also find themselves dealing with the very harsh reality that not only is there life “out there,” but there’s actually quite a lot…

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Interview with STAR TREK ADVENTURES manager Jim Johnson

September 10, 2019 1 comment

Morning, folks. Here’s a new interview with Jim Johnson, the editor — and now line manager, congratulations, Jim — who brought me in to write for Star Trek Adventures. If you haven’t tried the game, Jim explains the basics of how it works and how to get into it, and talks a bit about how he’s recruited authors like me.

Interview: STAR TREK ADVENTURES Manager Jim Johnson

 

In other news, the Strange New Worlds mission compendium, for which I contributed one of the adventures, is still running behind the expected release date, but it and my remaining two PDF campaigns should be arriving sometime this fall, possibly October. Stay tuned. And don’t worry, I have a standing invitation to pitch more games, though I have to think of some first.

“Conventional Powers” annotations are up!

Analog Sep Oct 2019I just remembered I hadn’t gotten around to posting the annotations for my new Green Blaze story “Conventional Powers” in the September/October 2019 issue of Analog, so here they are (beware spoilers at the link):

“Conventional Powers” Annotations

Included in the annotations is a rough sketch of the Ceres Sheaf, the cluster of habitats in Ceres orbit that form the Cerean States, as established in Only Superhuman and featured in “Conventional Powers” as the main setting. I guess I’ll reproduce it here for people who haven’t read the story yet:

Ceres Sheaf rough sketch

Illustration by the author

The O’Neill cylinder and Bernal sphere habitats that make it up are probably more widely spaced than shown, to make room for sun mirrors, heat radiators, and the like. The connecting scaffolds described in the story are not shown in the sketch. But the general idea is that the Sheaf consists of formerly separate habitats that were brought together and physically connected after they became politically unified, and the Band is an ongoing construction project that would more than double the complex’s living space (when complete, it’d have the equivalent of 36 cylinders’ volume while the Sheaf contains 28 cylinders and 24 spheres). Although the Band’s rotation around the central axis means that it has much wider stretches of flat ground with open air in the upper halves (in toward the rotational axis) and multiple underground levels in the lower halves (outward from the axis). The separate slabs of the Band are being built two at a time in diametrically opposed pairs to maintain rotational balance during construction, and as of 2108 it’s less than half-completed, as described in Only Superhuman.

Thoughts on AQUAMAN (Spoilers)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New interview with FOOTPRINTS IN THE STARS editor

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

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

Feel free to check it out!

Autographed book sale update — new discount prices!

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

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

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

Mass-market paperbacks: $8

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

Hardcovers: $20 (20% off!)

  • Only Superhuman (19 copies)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Conventional Powers” is out!

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

Analog Sep Oct 2019

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

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