STAR TREK: THE CAPTAIN’S OATH Cover Reveal!

January 13, 2019 2 comments

At last, the cover and blurb for Star Trek: The Original Series — The Captain’s Oath have been released!

Star Trek The Captain's Oath cover

Cover by Stephan Martiniere

The saga of James T. Kirk’s historic command of the U.S.S. Enterprise is known throughout the galaxy. But one part of the legend has barely been touched upon until now: the story of Kirk’s first starship command and the remarkable achievements by which Starfleet’s youngest captain earned the right to succeed Christopher Pike as the commander of the famous Enterprise. From his early battles with the Klingons to the rescue of endangered civilizations, Kirk grapples with difficult questions: Is he a warrior or a peacemaker? Should he obey regulations or trust his instincts? This thrilling novel illustrates the events and choices that would shape James T. Kirk into one of the most renowned captains in Starfleet history.

That’s right — once more, I’m filling in an unchronicled (or rarely chronicled) gap in Trek history. Indeed, I seem to have worked my way backward through Kirk-era milestones: the first mission post-TMP in Ex Machina, the end of the 5-year mission in Forgotten History, the transition between TOS and TAS in The Face of the Unknown, and now The Captain’s Oath covers both Kirk’s first starship command before the Enterprise (mentioned in The Making of Star Trek back in 1968 and alluded to in passing in the second TOS pilot) and, as a frame story, his first mission as captain of the Enterprise. Which means I’ll now have depicted both the beginning and end of the 5-year mission.

There have been a few previous versions of Kirk’s first mission on the Enterprise, but not very many, and not for a long time. The main ones were both more than 30 years ago — DC Comics’ first ST annual “All Those Years Ago…” by Mike W. Barr and Enterprise: The First Adventure by Vonda N. McIntyre. More recently, there’s been hardly anything — a few stories set near the start of Kirk’s ENT tenure (such as Mere Anarchy Book 1 and the flashback opening of IDW’s Mission’s End) and a brief flashback to the change of command in one of John Byrne’s IDW photo comics. And of course it was covered in David A. Goodman’s The Autobiography of James T. Kirk a few years ago. But I felt it was high time that the Pocket novel continuity got a new version of that first mission.

However, I was more interested in exploring Kirk’s previous command, which has hardly ever been explored in the tie-ins. A few stories have given brief glimpses of the beginning or end of Kirk’s first command — it was the Saladin in Mike Barr’s version, the Lydia Sutherland in McIntyre’s version, the Oxford in Howard Weinstein’s “Star-Crossed” in DC’s ST Volume 2, and the Hotspur in Goodman’s Autobiography. But it’s still largely a blank slate, so naturally I was drawn to it. Goodman’s book is the only one I’ve seen that shows any actual missions of that ship, though it only portrays a couple of them, mostly versions of events we already know from Kirk’s past, like the Dimorus incident mentioned in the second pilot. I was more interested in exploring things we didn’t already know about Kirk’s early career and how it shaped him into the captain we knew. This is a somewhat episodic novel covering several years, so it features a number of different missions and adventures of the fledgling Captain Kirk and his “forgotten” ship and crew.

Filling in the unexplored gap in a Star Trek captain’s career before the Enterprise is also something I’ve done before with Captain Picard in The Buried Age, which is why I’m pleased that that book’s cover artist, Stephan Martiniere, has returned to do this one as well. It’s a neat-looking cover that reminds me of the vintage Bantam Trek novel covers from the ’70s, with the Enterprise streaking past a vast, mysterious construct in space.

The Captain’s Oath will be released in trade paperback, e-book, and audiobook formats on May 28, 2019. Here’s the ordering link from Amazon — so far they’re the only site that’s uploaded the information as of this writing. But I’m told it’ll be showing up elsewhere quite soon.

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Thoughts on GODZILLA: THE PLANET EATER (spoilers)

January 10, 2019 1 comment

Netflix has now released the conclusion of its Godzilla anime trilogy (Part 1, Part 2), under the English title Godzilla: The Planet Eater (Gojira Hoshi o Kū Mono, which is more literally “The One Who Harvests Planets/Stars”). While it’s the culmination of what was set up in the first two films, in many ways it’s a very different story, less action-packed and more philosophical — and not all that much about Godzilla.

The film opens with the crew aboard the Aratrum in orbit arguing over the events of the previous film’s climax, conveniently providing a recap. The Bilusaludo/Bilsards are outraged that Captain Sakaki Haruo, our protagonist, passed up his chance to kill Godzilla in order to instead stop the Bilsards’ Mechagodzilla City from becoming an even worse threat. The human crew argue he probably did the right thing, and it leads to a schism with the Bilsards seizing the engine room and trapping the ship in orbit. But that won’t amount to much, since the Bilsards’ role in this narrative is all but over.

Down below, Professor Martin tells Haruo that Yuko, his love interest from Part 2 who was infected by Bilsard nanometal, is brain-dead, her body only kept alive by the nanotech. It’s a rather ignominious way to drop her from the story. Meanwhile, the Exif priest Metphies (still pronounced “Metophius”) is convincing the surviving soldiers that Haruo was saved from the nanometal by a miracle (though Martin quickly figures out what was obvious from Part 2, that it was the Houtua natives’ healing sparkle-dust that immunized him), and the soldiers both on Earth and on the Aratrum are implausibly quick to be converted to the Exif’s cult, with Metphies and his priest counterpart on the ship using Haruo as his Messiah figure but controlling the narrative so Haruo can’t actually get a word in to refute it — and Martin’s too afraid of being burned as a heretic to point out the simple truth. It’s all implausibly easy for these soldiers to be turned into religious fanatics, even given their fear and despair about Godzilla.

Anyway, the twin pseudo-Mothra-heralds Miana and Maina both consecutively get naked for Haruo, your conventional “My natural role as a primitive tribal babe is to be sexually available for the hero” cliche, although for unclear reasons he rejects the former twin and sleeps with the latter. (Pretty short grieving period for Yuko there, champ. Her corpse is literally still warm, though that’s admittedly because of the nanotech.) That frees up Miana to confront Metphies and discover through her telepathy that he also has telepathy and is planning devious things with his priest buddy on the ship, so Metphies captures her, and Haruo has a fortunately symbolic dream about Metphy cooking her as soup. But there is real soup, which Metphy serves to his converts with a sermon about how the soup ceases to exist but lives on as part of something greater. (Somehow I don’t think “But we are not soup” is going to go down in history as one of the great philosophical statements.) The collective prayer of the converts, combined with Exif crystal techmagicology, draws the Exif’s extradimensional god, Ghidorah, to this plane. In perhaps the film’s most effectively chilling sequence, the soup drinkers are devoured one by one as the shadow of one of Ghidorah’s heads/necks intersects their own shadows, with the focus of the camera ending up more on the horrified reaction of the last one to go.

The impact up in space is more dramatic — a singularity opens up by the Aratrum and a golden Ghidorah head and endlessly long neck emerge, evidently made of pure gravitational energy and wrapping around the ship, causing chaos and distorting time (the bridge crew gets a message from the engine room 40 seconds after it was destroyed and reads their own life signs as ceased several moments before it happens), ending in an impressively rendered explosion that creates auroras in the Earth’s atmosphere below.

Somehow the folks on the surface never figure out what happened to the ship, just that they’re cut off, but they don’t have much time to wonder. Three singularities form in the clouds around the dormant Godzilla (remember him?), and a long, snaking energy neck emerges from each one. Martin watches in bewilderment as the Ghidorah heads latch onto Godzilla and start draining his energy while he’s unable to touch them in return. The instruments show nothing except gravity distortions, but the observers can see and hear Ghidorah. Martin figures out that the monster must come from another dimension with different physical laws and is being guided by an observer in our dimension — no doubt Metphies.

Haruo confronts Metphies, who has replaced his own eye with the Ghidorah-linked stone he’s been carrying all trilogy. He uses his telepathy (or the stone, or both) to overpower Haruo physically and show him mental visions explaining the Exif’s nihilistic philosophy: All civilizations advance until they invent nuclear weapons, which breeds their destruction and triggers the birth of a Godzilla as the ultimate life form, and then Ghidorah comes to feed on the Godzilla and complete the cycle… which somehow destroys the planet too. The Exif see death as inevitable and thus a blessing to embrace, so they worship Ghidorah, having deliberately sacrificed their planet to it and sending their surviving priests out to make sure other civilizations repeat the cycle.

But Maina and Martin give Haruo a hand, communing with the Houtua’s god — an unhatched Mothra egg — to counter Ghidorah’s influence. A vision of Mothra frees Haruo from Metphies’s control, and he remembers his parents’ love and optimism as a counter for Metphies’s despair and nihilism. He also realizes Metphy caused the explosion of his grandfather’s shuttle in the first movie. He overpowers Metphies in his mind and in reality, breaking the stone and the link to Ghidorah. Which, by what Martin said before, should have made Ghidorah unable to exist or interact in our realm, but somehow it makes Ghidorah sufficiently subject to physical law that Godzilla can destroy its heads one by one, followed by the singularities they emerged from. (If they’re connected to a single body, we never see it except in visions.)

We then get a pop-song montage of semi-still images of the soldiers burying their weapons and hooking up with the conveniently numerous primitive tribal babes (who, remember, are evolved from insects, yet evidently interfertile with humans), until Martin eagerly tells Haruo that he’s used a bit of nanometal from Yuko’s still-living corpse (remember her?) to restart the surviving Vulture aircraft, and says he can use the Bilsard tech to recreate all their advanced civilization — which gives Haruo a mental flash of Ghidorah’s screech and Metphies’s dying warning that Ghidorah would always be watching for humanity to destroy itself again. Haruo then has a final talk with Maina about whether she fears and hates Godzilla. She says she fears him like lightning and tornadoes, but her people have no word for hate. You don’t hate a force of nature, you just learn to live with it.

So Haruo takes Yuko’s body into the Vulture and sacrifices himself in a kamikaze run at Godzilla, asking the kaiju with his final breath to make sure every last bit is destroyed this time. Godzilla obliges and is hit by the wreckage, but probably survives. After the credits, we see the Houtua acting out the past battles in effigy and praying to Godzilla (or Mothra, or both?) to devour the things they fear.

Okay, so, that was pretty well-made, but pretty nihilistic and Luddite. The Godzilla series has always revolved around cautionary tales about the dangers of the misuse of technology, but this trilogy comes down a little too hard on the idea of technology being intrinsically destructive, and this film in particular takes some narrative shortcuts that don’t quite work. It’s also an oddly slow, somber, talky film for the finale of a trilogy — quite a change from the first film’s excessive action in its third act, but maybe a bit too far in the other direction. And what action it has is pretty static. It’s the only Godzilla movie I’ve ever seen where Godzilla hardly moves at all. He spends half the film dormant and recovering from Part 2’s climax, then moves exactly once to the location where he confronts Ghidorah, a battle that’s conducted with Godzilla staying in one place except when he’s briefly levitated by Ghidorah. While the design of this extradimensional-gravity-god version of Ghidorah is striking and novel, the kaiju action in this trilogy overall has been largely disappointing.

Still, in my last review I did express hope that this film would be the richest and deepest of the trilogy, and from a philosophical standpoint it pretty much is, if you like that sort of thing. But I think it falls short in other respects, from character to action to the extent to which it actually uses Godzilla as a presence rather than a concept. All in all, the Godzilla anime trilogy was interestingly different and in some ways impressive, but ultimately underwhelming.

eSPEC BOOKS AFTER-HOLIDAYS SALE

Reblogging this. For a limited time, you can get AMONG THE WILD CYBERS and many of eSpec Books’ other publications in e-book form for just 99 cents!

eSpec Books

What a year. From both a personal and professional standpoint, 2018 has been a jagged series of highs and lows. We have hunkered down and pushed forward, and in these final days of the year we rest and regroup, gathering our energy for 2019.

There are a lot of great things we are working on, and things we hope to get going again, such as the eSpec monthly flash fiction contest and Danielle’s personal writing. 

First, however, to kick off what we hope will be a year of amazing fiction for eSpec, our authors, and our fans, for the month of January we are having a sale on all our backlist ebooks at the ebook site of your choice. Because of the restrictions of when we can make price changes, the sale officially starts today, presuming the third-party vendors all make the updates in a timely manner. Below are links…

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Categories: Uncategorized

Looking back on 2018

December 30, 2018 2 comments

Last year at this time, when I made a post looking back on the year just ending, it was merely to talk about how I hadn’t announced any new writing projects that year, even though I had several things lined up that I was able to announce soon thereafter. In a number of ways, 2018 was a good year for me career-wise. Right at the start of the year, I got to announce my Among the Wild Cybers story collection (including the brand-new “Aspiring to be Angels,” the first Emerald Blair story since Only Superhuman), which came out in August and quickly became one of eSpec Books’ top sellers for 2018. Later, I was able to announce that I was writing for the Star Trek Adventures role-playing game, and my first campaign for them was published last month, though I still have four more coming. (Indeed, the fifth was one I initially missed out on due to a lost e-mail, but then got to write after all when a filled slot reopened.) I sold a new trilogy of Hub stories, which all came out in Analog this year. Pocket’s Star Trek license was finally renewed, and I was hired to write Star Trek: The Original Series — The Captain’s Oath for spring 2019. I sold my first-ever fantasy story, “The Melody Lingers” (which should be published in Galaxy’s Edge sometime in 2019), and I got invited to contribute my first-ever story to a non-Star Trek anthology, eSpec’s Footprints in the Stars; said story has been written and submitted and I hope to say more soon. I even got in a bit of copyediting work, which hardly pays anything but should hopefully open the door for more such work in the future.

Despite all that, though, it’s been an extremely stressful year for me. Due to multiple writing projects being delayed by a great deal all at once in 2017 into 2018, I ended up in a deep financial hole and would’ve been in real trouble if not for some very generous donations from my fans, as well as a few family members. I had little luck finding other work, and it left me very anxious and depressed. When The Captain’s Oath finally came through, my depression made it hard for me to focus on my work, which exacerbated the tight deadline pressure I was under. So writing that book was a struggle. Even once I met my deadline and got paid, it proved difficult to shake off my anxiety, especially since I had to contend with jury duty late last month (which turned out to be far more harmless than I feared, but it wast that fear that made it rough to get through), and then try to get past my writer’s block on a new story in time to submit it to an open-call anthology whose deadline was the end of the year. (Wow, just reminding myself of all that is giving me a headache.) I’ve been nervous about my money situation for 2019 and whether I’d be able to line up new work in time. I’ve also been dealing with intermittent hip pain (probably the early stages of arthritis) and a resurgence of my heartburn/indigestion issues, which are both an effect and a contributing cause of my stress.

But suddenly, this past week, a number of things have gone my way. I broke through my writer’s block and finished the new story, which has now been submitted. I’m kind of excited about it; the theme for the anthology led me to dredge up some story notes for a project I came up with many years ago and never got around to writing, and now I realize I’ve basically got a rough outline for what, with a little tweaking, could be a novel trilogy in a whole new fictional universe. Also, I’ve nearly finished the copyedits for The Captain’s Oath, which went pretty smoothly (though I still want to do one more editing pass through the manuscript before I turn it in). With all that stuff cleared off my list, I’m finally free to focus on developing one or two writing projects I’ve been meaning to get around to all year, so I’m looking forward to that. Best of all, though, I finally sold a novelette I’ve been waiting for an answer on for most of the year and had all but given up on. Getting that sale was the happiest moment of the year for me, a breakthrough in a few ways, and I should be able to say more about it in a few weeks, probably.

So I found myself spending a lot of the day yesterday just feeling content. Not overjoyed or euphoric (though there was a bit of that after I got the acceptance on that story a few days ago) — just a feeling of relaxation and inner quiet, a sense of ease and peace that I haven’t felt in a long time. It was refreshing just to sit still in the quiet of my bedroom and feel comfortable inside my own head.

A lot of that came from thinking about what’s coming up for me in 2019. Things are already looking promising there. Aside from The Captain’s Oath, I’ve got “The Melody Lingers,” my Footprints in the Stars story, the new thing I just sold, and one other thing (to be announced) already slated for next year, so I’ve already tied my personal record for the number of original (non-tie-in) works published in a single calendar year (four in 2010 and again in 2018). I’ve got several other submissions already pending, so if I sell even one more of them, it’s a new record. And I’ve still got time to write and sell more stuff that could be published by year’s end. So 2019 might well turn out to be my most prolific year for original fiction ever — indeed, with The Captain’s Oath and more Star Trek Adventures campaigns pending, it should be my most prolific year, period. I’m still not sure how financially secure I’ll be next year — most of the stuff currently slated to come out next year is stuff I’ve already been paid for, and I’m not yet sure what I might get next year in the way of royalties and new sales/contracts — but all that stuff coming out under my name in 2019 should be good for my long-term career prospects. Hopefully this year will be better for me income-wise than the last two, and hopefully it will lay the foundations for more career success later on.

(And just a reminder — you guys can help in that regard by posting reviews of my books and stories on Amazon, Goodreads, etc., and by liking my Facebook author page.)

I, not quite the jury

December 5, 2018 2 comments

I mentioned a couple of months ago that I got a summons for jury duty while I was busy writing Star Trek: The Captain’s Oath, so I managed to get it postponed for a couple of months — meaning until last Monday.

I went in hoping it would go like my first jury service nearly a decade ago, which I actually kind of enjoyed. That time, I was only called in for Monday to Wednesday the first week and just Wednesday the second week, and the one time I got called up for a trial, it was right before lunch and the parties settled during the break, so I never actually got inside a courtroom. (This is apparently very common — often, just the threat of a jury trial is enough to get someone to settle or plead out, so just being on call in the jury pool is all we need to do.) The rest of the time, I just sat around in the jurors’ lounge waiting to be called if needed. I was literally paid just to show up. And I was working on a rewrite of Only Superhuman at the time, so getting to spend a few hours a day in a quiet study lounge with a workspace for my laptop was perfect for my needs. That time, I found the experience so positive that I occasionally wondered if I could volunteer for another tour rather than having to wait to be summoned.

But this time was different. Given all the stress and anxiety I’ve been dealing with this past year thanks to my financial woes, I didn’t know how well I’d cope emotionally if I got assigned to be a juror on any kind of a serious or challenging case. Also, in recent years I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the racial injustice, police violence, and political corruption in America’s institutions, so I have less faith in the justice system than I used to. So this time around, I was very nervous about the whole thing. I spent the whole time on edge, afraid of having my name called.

It didn’t help that the daily stipend for being a juror is still exactly the same amount that it was nearly 10 years ago. I’d expected it to have increased by now. And I made the mistake of driving there on my first day, and I didn’t realize that my preferred downtown garage had raised its rates, so that parking alone ate up nearly 1/3 of my first day’s stipend. (The validated parking lots near the courthouse would’ve cost just as much, as it turned out.) I took the bus down after that, which meant walking several blocks in frigid weather.

Anyway, my first week did turn out to be uncannily similar to my first week 9 1/2 years ago. I showed up Monday morning and got the whole orientation speech, but I wasn’t called for a jury until Wednesday just before lunch (I got a hot dog from the courthouse convenience store, and it was pretty bad), and when I got back, we were kept waiting for more than an additional hour; then it finally turned out that the defendant had taken a plea, and since we’d been kept so late, we were released for the rest of the week. I was quite relieved that things had played out so much like they did the first time. (Oh, and we got free donuts Wednesday morning.)

The main difference is that I didn’t have a work in progress to rewrite this time. I’m between projects and was trying to come up with a plot idea for my next story, something I was able to do on Tuesday and Wednesday while riding the bus and walking the courthouse halls for exercise. (If you sign out for your 15-minute break and write “Walking” on the form, they cut you some slack if it takes longer than that to complete a mile, which is 7 laps around the corridors on the jurors’ floor.) Otherwise, I used the time to read the latest Analog issue, the one containing my story “Hubstitute Creatures.” I got it a couple of weeks ago, but I saved it for jury duty. There are some impressive stories in this one; I particularly liked “Pandora’s Pantry” by Stephen L. Burns, a robot-chef story that went in an unexpected and very satisfying direction, and “Learning the Ropes” by Tom Jolly, a story of interplanetary intrigue and tether propulsion in a setting that could almost be part of the historical backstory of Only Superhuman. I finished the magazine in my first week, and on Wednesday after I was released, I went over to the downtown library and picked up some books so I’d have something to read over the weekend and on week 2. One was a collection of Will Elder-illustrated comics stories from EC Comics’s 1950s SF, horror, and humor anthologies; most of them weren’t great, but there were a couple of Ray Bradbury adaptations and a couple of impressive tales that were almost Twilight Zone-worthy. And some of the parody stories were nostalgic for me, since I remembered reading them in my father’s pile of old humor comics back in the day.

So anyway, I was hopeful that week 2 would recapitulate my first time as closely as week 1 did. And I did get Monday and Tuesday off, which was good, because over the weekend, I came down with a bug of some kind — the inevitable result of having spent three days surrounded by dozens of people in public places in winter. If the pattern had continued to match the first time, I’d be called in on Wednesday and that would be it. But of course, there was still the chance that I’d be called to another jury and all bets would be off.

So imagine my surprise and relief when I checked the website Tuesday afternoon and it said that, for jurors of my group number who’d started on November 26, “your service is now complete.” I wasn’t needed back again at all! I guess it must be a slow week for crime and lawsuits. Maybe it’s the weather. But I’m glad I didn’t have to lug myself to the bus stop while I was sick. And now I’ve done jury service twice in my life and have yet to see the inside of a courtroom.

Of course, I wouldn’t have minded making more than three days’ worth of money from this (especially since parking and bus fare ate up so much of it already), but another day or two wouldn’t have made much difference. Fortunately, my manuscript for The Captain’s Oath has now been approved, so I should be getting my final advance from that pretty soon. And now I have about a week and a half until the copyedits for that are due in, which I hope will be enough time to write that new short story I plotted last week. It’s for an open-call anthology whose submission deadline is the end of the month, so I’m cutting it pretty close. But at least I’m free to focus on it now.

So that’s my jury-duty story. Maybe you were hoping for something more exciting, but I’m quite glad it turned out to be so uneventful.

STAR TREK ADVENTURES: “Call Back Yesterday” is out!

November 22, 2018 1 comment

It’s been a while since I announced that I was writing for Modiphius Entertainment’s Star Trek Adventures tabletop role-playing game, but at last, the first of the adventure scenarios I’ve written has gone on sale! “Call Back Yesterday” is a Next Generation-era adventure available as a standalone PDF campaign, rather than as part of one of Modiphius’s print books. I wrote it to give players a chance to explore and role-play their characters’ backstories and take advantage of the character-development mechanics that are central to STA’s gaming system, since that was the part that most intrigued me as a writer. But there’s also plenty of opportunity for action, for players more into that sort of thing.

STACallBackYesterday

Here’s the official description:

This standalone 21 page PDF adventure by Christopher L. Bennett for the Star Trek Adventures roleplaying game has your Starfleet crew relive past memories, on a strange, abandoned planet.

Can you escape your delusions and uncover what’s really going on?

And here are a couple of ordering links.

The game is available exclusively as a watermarked PDF download, and it comes with a version in the LCARS-based graphical style used in STA’s other publications as well as a version in a more printer-friendly color scheme with a white background.

The Core Rulebook for STA is available here:

I’ve got more games on the way, and of course I’ll announce their releases as they happen.

My “Around Cincinnati” interview is online!

November 19, 2018 2 comments

My interview with Barbara Gray for WVXU radio’s Around Cincinnati program has now gone live:

New Sci Fi Short Stories From Local Author Christopher Bennett

It’s a bit edited down from what I remember, but most of it is there — my brief dramatic reading from Among the Wild Cybers, some talk about my origins and approach as a writer, and a bit more information about Star Trek: The Original Series: The Captain’s Oath.

Man, my voice is starting to sound older. I don’t remember sounding so rough and quavery.