TANGENT KNIGHTS 2: TEMPEST TOSSED is out today!

Today is the release date for Tangent Knights 2: Tempest Tossed, the second installment in my trilogy of full-cast audionovels set in an original science fiction universe inspired by the armored superheroes of Japanese tokusatsu TV.

https://www.graphicaudio.net/tangent-knights-2-tempest-tossed.html

Tangent Knights Tempest Tossed
Cover art by Amelia Grace Buff

GraphicAudio’s spectacular original super-heroic series powers on to new heights of action and intrigue, available in no other format!

In a world where communication with parallel Tangent Earths has brought a disruptive influx of new beliefs and scientific innovation, college-student and fangirl Corazon Kagami continues to discover astonishing new facets to the abilities she’s unexpectedly acquired in the accident that transformed her into Tangent Knight Caprice, the foremost of a growing ensemble of armored super-warriors very much like the heroes and villains of her favorite tokusatsu shows.

Earth-shattering revelations about her technology magnate mother Morgan Herrera and her cyborg security team Fireforce have put Cory on the side of Matrix, the interdimensional law enforcement agency tasked with bringing Morgan to justice. Daniel Vajra, the Tangent Knight called Tempest, is increasingly driven by his pursuit of vengeance against those responsible for his sister Meera’s death, and an astonishing confrontation with Fireforce’s powerful new warrior pushes him over the edge. Tempest’s desperate use of dangerous, largely untested cutting-edge tangent tech weaponry in his vengeful quest sends him out of control, a menace to foe and friend alike.

You can hear a sample clip or buy the book at the above link, and an MP-3 CD edition will be available in mid-July. Of course, Book 1: Caprice of Fate is still available too: https://www.graphicaudio.net/tangent-knights-1-caprice-of-fate.html

New Troubleshooter vignette on Patreon

I’ve been neglecting my Fiction tier on Patreon lately due to other work, but I’ve finally put up something new, continuing my commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Only Superhuman, my first original novel. “Origin Stories: Homecoming” started as a deleted scene from the original, longer draft of Only Superhuman, depicting the moment when Emerald Blair decided to enlist in the Troubleshooter Corps, a decision she only described in retrospect in the final novel. But the scene by itself was a bit thin, so I ended up fleshing it out into a whole story. It doesn’t really warrant annotations, but I do have a short page of story notes up on the Behind the Scenes tier.

Meanwhile, since even I was having trouble searching for older posts on my Patreon, I went through the whole backlog and put together a Patreon Fiction Index here on my main site. Between that and the Patreon Review Index, it should now be easier to find anything on my Patreon. I’m hoping that seeing everything I have to offer there will inspire some of you to subscribe, at least long enough to read the backlog.

As I say on the index pages, Patreon supporters help provide me with a small but steady income, which is valuable to me given the irregular nature of my writing work. I just had a worrisome week when my payment for a writing project was delayed and I wasn’t sure it would come in time to pay my bills; it ended up arriving just in the nick of time. I’m now out of the woods for at least the next few months, but my work opportunities beyond my immediate next project are uncertain. So any additional cushion I can get is very much appreciated.

Announcing TANGENT KNIGHTS 2: TEMPEST TOSSED!

GraphicAudio has posted the cover and blurb for the second installment of Tangent Knights, my original audio drama trilogy.

https://www.graphicaudio.net/tangent-knights-2-tempest-tossed.html

Tangent Knights Tempest Tossed
Cover art by Amelia Grace Buff

GraphicAudio’s spectacular original super-heroic series powers on to new heights of action and intrigue, available in no other format!

In a world where communication with parallel Tangent Earths has brought a disruptive influx of new beliefs and scientific innovation, college-student and fangirl Corazon Kagami continues to discover astonishing new facets to the abilities she’s unexpectedly acquired in the accident that transformed her into Tangent Knight Caprice, the foremost of a growing ensemble of armored super-warriors very much like the heroes and villains of her favorite tokusatsu shows.

Earth-shattering revelations about her technology magnate mother Morgan Herrera and her cyborg security team Fireforce have put Cory on the side of Matrix, the interdimensional law enforcement agency tasked with bringing Morgan to justice. Daniel Vajra, the Tangent Knight called Tempest, is increasingly driven by his pursuit of vengeance against those responsible for his sister Meera’s death, and an astonishing confrontation with Fireforce’s powerful new warrior pushes him over the edge. Tempest’s desperate use of dangerous, largely untested cutting-edge tangent tech weaponry in his vengeful quest sends him out of control, a menace to foe and friend alike.

Yes, it’s been a long wait since Caprice of Fate came out last August, but Tempest Tossed is finally almost upon us. Tokusatsu fans who enjoyed Caprice of Fate‘s homages to Kamen Rider, Super Sentai/Power Rangers, and Ultraman will find even more to enjoy in Tempest Tossed. There’s a lot more Showa Era in this one, some oddly familiar locations, and some classic tropes I had enormous fun figuring out how to pull off in Tangent Knights‘ reasonably plausible hard-SF universe. More importantly, the story and character arcs get bigger and more epic with lots of intense conflict and emotion, ramping up both the drama and the comedy along with the action and danger, in the tokusatsu tradition. This story contains some of my favorite character writing that I’ve ever done.

You can preorder now at the above link, and the book will be released in digital download format on June 27, with MP-3 CDs available in mid-July.

New Patreon TV review series: STARMAN (1986)

I’m a bit late in mentioning that I’ve started a new review series on my Patreon site. I’m covering the 1986 Starman TV series which starred Robert Hays (star of Airplane! and the voice of Iron Man in ’90s animation), C. B. Barnes (better known as Christopher Daniel Barnes, voice of Spider-Man in ’90s animation and of the prince in Disney’s The Little Mermaid), and Michael Cavanaugh (Riker’s former captain from one Star Trek: The Next Generation episode). The show was based on the 1984 John Carpenter movie of the same name starring Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen, and I open the series with a free recap/review of the movie, available for everyone to read, though the rest of the reviews will be on the $5/month tier. The film was a gentle science fiction love story, Carpenter’s attempt to show he wasn’t just a horror director, and was moderately successful. The TV series was a similarly gentle, family-friendly sequel in which the alien “Starman” returned to raise his now-teenage son, retconning the events of the movie back a dozen years, which was problematical due to the film’s dependence on the Voyager space probe launched only 7 years before the movie came out. Despite that, the series was one of the few reasonably good, smart science fiction shows on American TV prior to the late ’80s. Or at least that’s how I remembered it; if you want to see how it holds up for me today, you’ll have to read my reviews.

I’ve also updated my Patreon review index here on Written Worlds, so it’s now current and includes all my Roar reviews.

Assorted thoughts on STAR TREK: TMP: The Director’s Edition HD update

I just finished watching the new high-definition update to the 2001 Director’s Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which David C. Fein and Michael Matessino oversaw under the guidance of the late Robert Wise, attempting to complete the film as Wise would have intended to do in 1979 if he hadn’t been forced to release an unfinished rough cut prematurely. Readers of my first ST novel, Ex Machina, probably know how fond I am of the Director’s Edition, considering it greatly superior to the theatrical cut in terms of pacing, visuals, sound design, and so forth.

However, the big limitation of the DE was that it was only made in standard definition, including its new CGI effects that were only rendered at that resolution. Fein & Matessino always hoped to redo it in HD, but it took about as long for them to achieve that as it took for Wise to get the DE made in the first place. (For some reason, the credits on the 2022 HD edition refer to the original DE as the 2000 edition instead of 2001, so let’s just say it’s been roughly the same amount of time.) In addition, they completely redid the film’s color grading to improve the look, and made a few new tweaks to the visuals, as discussed here. The film is now streaming on Paramount+, and will be out on Blu-Ray later on.

I’ve been busy writing and haven’t found the time to watch until now, so here are some assorted thoughts, nothing too detailed.

  • The clarity of the film is definitely much greater. I noticed things I don’t think I ever caught before. I even almost recognized Mark Lenard’s face under the makeup of the Klingon Commander in the opening.
  • The color grading is definitely better. The uniforms are less drab; the colors are still very understated, but you can tell the senior officers’ uniforms are pale blue rather than gray. And the bridge scenes look much brighter than before. The bridge was lit relatively dimly so the film loops behind the monitors would be visible, so the colors were drab in the original DE’s bridge scenes even though they were brighter in other scenes. Now, that’s been fixed, though there’s still a quality to the light and shading in the bridge scenes that lets you tell it wasn’t intrinsically as bright as elsewhere.
  • More than the sets or VFX, what I noticed most were the nuances in the actors’ performances. TMP has a reputation as a dry, passionless film, but the actors seemed more expressive this time around.
  • They finally fixed the officer’s lounge windows!! The private conversation between Kirk, McCoy, and the Kolinahr-cold Spock was meant to take place in the lounge seen in miniature when Spock’s shuttle docks, but they didn’t have the budget to build it full-scale, so they built a makeshift lounge out of leftover pieces of the rec deck set, which didn’t make much structural sense. The original DE at least put a CGI nacelle in the windows, matching how it would look from the rec deck, but the set doesn’t fit within the rec deck. TMP designer Andrew Probert did a sketch reconciling the two lounges, but the “windows” in the lounge scene had to be handwaved as viewscreens, which is how I referred to them in Ex Machina. (More here.) But the new DE finally, finally replaces those damn square windows with the correct lounge background! Kirk’s and McCoy’s profiles get a little blurry when they move in front of it, but I don’t care, since it’s so great that they finally fixed this problem after 43 years. And nobody seems to have remarked on it so far as I’ve seen, so it was a delightful surprise.
  • I’m not sure it really sank in before how much Robert Wise tells a non-verbal love story between Decker and the Ilia probe in the climactic sequence in the Voyager 6 chamber, just by focusing the camera on them as they stare meaningfully at each other while the expository dialogue goes on in the background. The directing has to do all the work to set up why Decker chooses to join with V’Ger/Ilia, since the originally scripted exposition about Decker’s interest in spirituality and higher planes of being was cut out. The way it’s staged, it’s as if Decker is communing with V’Ger through the Ilia probe, the two/three of them coming to a wordless understanding that leads to his climactic act.
  • When I realized that, I realized something else: The Borg Queen is to the Borg as the Ilia probe is to V’Ger. I mean, in-story they’re opposites; the probe is more like a drone, subordinate to V’Ger rather than dominant like the Queen. But in narrative terms, as roles and storytelling devices, they serve the same purpose, to provide the audience with an anthropomorphic spokesbeing for an impersonal superintelligence.
  • There oughtta be a law against streaming services automatically shrinking the end credits by default. They should all do what Netflix does and give us a choice whether we want that or not.

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Trackpad travails

In breaking in my new keyboard, I’ve been having some issues with the built-in trackpad. There were a couple of occasions where it started glitching, the cursor dragging spontaneously to the side and the scroll strip (the equivalent of a mouse wheel) no longer working. I found I could reset it by unplugging the keyboard and plugging it back in, but it happened twice within the first few days, then again a bit over a week later. There was one time when scrolling worked intermittently and came on and off with no clear rhyme or reason. Also, the sensitivity of the pad seemed variable; sometimes it got so sensitive that I kept accidentally clicking on things while just trying to move the cursor across them.

So I was concerned I might have to swap it for a different keyboard, but when I went to Amazon to look into the return policy, I saw a troubleshooting page, and after looking it over, I realized the problem was probably that the driver hadn’t installed right, because I’d ignored the instruction to shut down the computer before plugging in the keyboard. I really don’t like to shut down or reboot my laptop, because it takes forever. I usually just hibernate it at night.

So I tried rebooting it at last, and after that, the pad seemed to stabilize. The sensitivity was normal again, and its behavior was consistent for a few days. It still tends to be slow to respond; I have to move my finger over it a bit before it starts to work, so if I try clicking or tapping it “cold” after not moving the cursor for a while, the click doesn’t go through. I wondered if this was another driver issue, but since it’s been pretty consistent from the get-go, I suspect it’s a built-in feature to guard against accidental clicks, or something. Not ideal, but I can get used to it.

But a couple of days ago, the scrolling stopped working again, and I had to unplug/replug the keyboard. I may have to try something more than just rebooting; the troubleshooting page suggested uninstalling the driver, shutting down, then plugging it in and rebooting. Of course, then I’d have to use the laptop’s own keyboard to shut it down, a bit more involved (since I keep the laptop sort of halfway under the desk on a wire rack for ventilation, so I have to kneel down and pull it out to access its keyboard). So I’ve been hesitating to do that.

See, I realized that the past couple of times the trackpad glitched, it was when I tried using it with damp fingers. (I’m a very frequent hand-washer.) So I’m wondering if maybe this is not a driver problem; maybe this particular trackpad just gets confused by the coldness or spread-out contact when there’s moisture on the pad. So maybe reinstalling the driver wouldn’t do anything.

Another possibility suggested on the troubleshooting page was interference with the USB port, suggesting plugging it into another port. The problem is that I don’t have a lot of options there. The ports in my laptop itself are taken or inaccessible. (The speaker jack stopped working several years back and I had to get a USB speaker/mic adapter that’s wide enough to block the adjacent port.) So my only real options are the ports on my USB hub, and if one of them had interference, they all might. And somehow it doesn’t really seem like an interference problem at this point.

I really should try the uninstall/reboot thing just on general principles, but I’m lazy. For now, I’m just waiting to see if the pad glitches again without moisture being involved.

I guess I put up with my old keyboard’s dirty contacts and responsiveness problems for so long, constantly having to fiddle with the left button and push it at just the right angle and pressure to get it to engage after multiple false starts, that having a keyboard that works fine aside from occasionally having to be plugged back in — or one that works fine as long as I keep my fingers dry — seems like a minor inconvenience by comparison, one I can live with in the same way.

Anyway, if anyone has any insights based on the symptoms I described, feel free to comment.

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New Patreon short story: “You Have Arrived at Your Predestination”

It’s been a while, but I’ve finally got a new, fully original short story up on my Patreon’s $10 Fiction tier:

Fiction: “You Have Arrived at Your Predestination”

This is a story that got away from me, turning out with a completely different tone than I’d envisioned. I shelved it and figured I might try again, but on revisiting it, I felt it wasn’t a bad story and was at least worth putting on Patreon.

As usual, you can read more about the creative process and so forth on the $12 Behind the Scenes tier:

“You Have Arrived at Your Predestination” Annotations

In other writing news, I have a paying gig lined up now that I can’t talk about, but it should be just about enough to keep me afloat for about the rest of the year, giving me breathing room to line up further work later in the year and hopefully get a bit better than “afloat.” I’m also doing a bit more work for Star Trek Adventures, something a little different and very cool.

But I don’t get paid for those until they’re done, so money’s still tight for me right now, especially with tax time coming up. So this would be a good time for folks to sign onto my Patreon to read my stories, even if it’s just for a month or two.

My new (old) keyboard

February 13, 2022 2 comments

I’ve needed a new desktop computer keyboard for a long time now. I’ve had the same keyboard since 2007, and it’s gotten really worn out, but it wasn’t easy to replace. See, because of my shoulder tendinitis, I have trouble using a conventional mouse. Back in ’07, I finally found a special ergonomic keyboard, split in the middle and contoured, with a built-in wrist rest that has a touchpad in the center, which is much less strenuous on my shoulder than a mouse. (It’s also got volume and mute hotkeys built in, which is really handy.) But it’s a unique design, and I haven’t been able to find anything comparable. The only available option was to buy another of the original model, and that would run me around 70 dollars, quite pricey for a keyboard.

So I just stuck with my old keyboard and tried to put up with its increasing deterioration. The letters had worn off of many of the keys, which was okay since I can touch-type, but sometimes a problem when I was typing one-handed by sight while sipping tea or something. There was some kind of a glitch in the connection (I suspect in the USB adaptor for its original mouse and keyboard jacks) that occasionally caused it to disconnect for a fraction of a second so I’d have to retype. If it glitched while I was using Shift, Ctrl, or Alt, they would sometimes get stuck on and weird things would happen until I realized the issue and hit the key again to undo it. Worst of all, the left button on the touchpad had a very dirty or eroded contact and I had to push at juuust the right angle and pressure to get it to connect, so it often took multiple tries to highlight a piece of text or use a scroll bar, which was very frustrating. Still, I figured I’d just bear with it until something stopped working altogether.

But the other day, the E key suddenly became less responsive. I had to push firmly for a moment to get it to engage, and that really disrupted my typing rhythm, as you can imagine. So I decided that was the last straw. Despite the expense, I went ahead and ordered the replacement keyboard. I found I could pay on a 3-month installment plan, which is nice, but not really making much difference since I don’t expect to get much if any new income until 3-4 months from now, unless one or two pending things pan out within that time frame (or unless a lot more people finally start backing my Patreon). Still, I figured I didn’t really have a choice. How did I know the E key would keep working at all? I can’t be a writer with only 25 letters! (And yes, I know there have been whole novels written without the letter E, but that’s not an option for someone who writes about the starships Enterprise and Arachne, Troubleshooter Green Blaze, and the Tangent Knights.)

So I went ahead and ordered the new keyboard… and then I somehow managed to get the old one’s E key to work pretty much normally again, though I’m not sure whether it was by finally clearing whatever debris was sticking it or just by pushing down on it long enough to do… something or other. (It ended up permanently lower than the other keys, which had also happened to the T key a few years before.) Still, I couldn’t be sure it would last, so I didn’t cancel the order for the replacement.

I was initially told that the expected arrival date was Tuesday, but then I was notified that it had shipped and would be here Saturday (yesterday). It arrived yesterday afternoon, and it proved a simple matter to plug it in and start using it. The instructions said to turn the computer off first, but I wasn’t sure how that would work with plugging it into my laptop, and I figured maybe it was an outdated instruction that was no longer necessary. So I just plugged it into my active laptop, and the driver installed with no problem. I was using it within moments.

Though it’s the same model, it’s a bit more advanced, with a USB connector this time, so I no longer need the adaptor. The cord comes out further to the right, so it no longer goes into the cord clip built into my desk’s roll-out keyboard tray. But that’s fine, since it’s a heavy keyboard that doesn’t slide around anyway. Other than the brand logo being in a different place, it’s otherwise exactly the same as the previous one, except all the keys work normally.

Which is great, since I don’t have to adjust to a new layout. All my old comfortable typing reflexes still apply. The only habit I’ll have to unlearn is my expectation to struggle with the left touchpad key. Although I’m still getting used to the new touchpad, whose sensitivity is a little different than the old one. Sometimes it seems to need a bit more pressure applied to start responding, yet paradoxically, sometimes I accidentally select something when I think I’m just hovering over it and not pressing hard enough to engage. And I probably need to relearn that left-clicking may be a better option sometimes than tapping the pad.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the first thing I did with the old keyboard after plugging in the new one was to pop out a few of the keys to see if I could clean the crevices between/under them. I was always afraid to try that before, since I didn’t know if they were designed to be detachable. Turns out they are, and if I’d know that all along, I could’ve kept the crevices/contacts cleaner and probably kept using it longer. But I still can’t figure out whether the left touchpad key is detachable for cleaning, and that was my biggest problem. Plus cleaning the contacts wouldn’t have helped with the worn-out letters and the glitchy connection. At least I know that I’ll be able to clean out the new keyboard when necessary. Though I wish it were one of those newer models with an integrated surface so you don’t have to worry about crumbs or hairs getting under the keys.

But hey, my previous keyboard lasted through almost 15 years of heavy usage with poor maintenance. Hopefully this one will last even longer.

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Patreon review index now up!

This week, I published my 100th weekly rewatch/review column on my Patreon page. With so many reviews, I felt it would be a good idea to create an easier way to find them, so I’ve created an index page here on Written Worlds:

Patreon review index

Time permitting, I hope to create a similar page soon for the reviews I’ve done here on WW, such as my Mission: Impossible and Godzilla review series.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

CAPRICE OF FATE wins Earphones Award!

The folks at GraphicAudio just let me know that Tangent Knights 1: Caprice of Fate has just won the AudioFile Earphones Award! Their review is here:

https://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/203852/

An excerpt: “Talented GraphicAudio narrators imbue believability by creating accents for the polyglot characters of futuristic New Avalon… This is an aural treat for sci-fi fans everywhere.”

Caprice of Fate cover

According to AudioFile’s Earphones Awards page, “The award is given by AudioFile to truly exceptional titles that excel in narrative voice and style, characterizations, suitability to audio, and enhancement of the text.” That’s quite an honor.

Caprice of Fate is available from:

A blast from the Troubleshooters’ past on Patreon

I’ve been lax in posting content on my Patreon page’s Fiction tier these past couple of months, since I’ve been struggling with writer’s block and slow in getting things done. To try to make up for that, I’ve latched onto the fact that 2022 is the tenth anniversary of Only Superhuman‘s publication (though technically not until October). I’ve posted the first two chapters from Troubleshooter, my first attempt at a novel about Emerald Blair, originally written in the latter half of 1993. The excerpt is actually from the last draft I did of that manuscript in 1999, at which point I’d already changed its title to Only Superhuman, but for clarity’s sake I’m calling it Troubleshooter, since it’s still the original version of the story. It was in the course of the ’99 rewrite that I realized the story’s systemic problems were too deep to be solved with revision, leading me to re-break the story from scratch and rework many of its concepts and characters. This is a glimpse of what Emerald Blair and the Troubleshooters might have been — not so different in many ways, but lacking some key elements.

Fiction: Excerpt from TROUBLESHOOTER (1999 draft)

Accompanying it are the usual notes and discussion on the Behind the Scenes tier:

TROUBLESHOOTER Excerpt Annotations

And some of my early concept art on the $1 tier, including my original design for Emerald’s ship Zephyr:

TROUBLESHOOTER: Early art concepts

It’s possible that I’ll post other deleted scenes, this time from Only Superhuman, over the year ahead. As far as proper, original fiction content goes, I have some thoughts, but things are up in the air for me right now and it’s hard to make plans. So I hope my Patreon subscribers will bear with me. And for those of you who might be on the fence about subscribing, keep in mind that the more subscribers I have, the more motivated I’ll be to create new content for them.

The one thing I have managed to keep current on is the $5 Reviews tier, where I’ve just wrapped up a review of the mindbending cyberpunk anime Serial Experiments Lain. Next week, I’ll be doing a special one-part review of the Watchmen TV series, free for everyone to read. After that, I begin covering the 1997 historical fantasy Roar, a short-lived TV series that was the American screen debut of two actors who became famous later on, Heath Ledger and Vera Farmiga. And after that, I’m planning to cover an old favorite that I’ve wanted to revisit for decades.

A new card for a new year

I can now say something that I haven’t been able to say since college: I have a new library card!

I’ve known for some years that the Kenton County Public library, whose nearest branch is just across the river from Cincinnati in Covington, Kentucky, had a fair number of books and comics that the Cincy library system doesn’t have, and vice-versa. But I visited there infrequently over the years, and the route there is a bit tricky. Well, there’s a quick route through Downtown Cincinnati and over the Roebling Suspension Bridge (essentially a prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge that John A. Roebling built later), but that bridge has been frequently closed for repairs over the past decade — more often than not, it seems, at least at those times when I’ve gotten around to considering a library visit — and the other routes are kind of complicated. So I never got around to applying for a library card there, since I wasn’t even sure I’d be eligible, as a non-resident.

Lately, though, I found that the KCPL has a number of recent Star Trek novels that the Cincinnati library doesn’t have, and I realized it could be quicker to get them (and other items) from there than to request them through the SearchOhio library loan system. So I finally looked into their library card policies, and it looked like Greater Cincinnati residents were eligible. At least, I was able to apply online by entering my address and putting Hamilton County into the “Other County” box on the form, and a day or two later, I got confirmation that a card account had been created and I’d get my physical card in the mail in a few days.

The card came yesterday, along with a letter saying I’d need to go into the library physically and get it activated for in-library use, as opposed to just online access. I could probably have just requested items through their site and then gotten it activated when I went to pick them up, but just to be sure, I decided I should get it activated first. And the library was still open for a few more hours before its New Year’s closure. Plus, I had a new library card and I was eager to try it out!

I checked first to find out if the Suspension Bridge was open (it’s the only suspension bridge out of the six on the Cincinnati riverfront, so we just call it the Suspension Bridge), and it turned out that it was closed for repairs yet again; indeed, it had been slated to reopen at the end of 2021 but there had been delays. So I had to take the more roundabout route Google Maps recommended, the I-71 route over the Brent Spence Bridge (the one in the foreground of the photo linked above, which a family friend used to call the Bent Springs Bridge due to its reputed effect on car suspensions). Apparently that bridge is overdue for repairs or replacement and there are doubts about its safety, but I didn’t know that until I looked it up just now. Hopefully the infrastructure bill that Congress finally passed last year will bring some much-needed improvements, though it will take a while.

Anyway, that route isn’t fun for other reasons, since I had to do some scary merges from the left onto the freeway, and there were some confusing branches where the Maps voice told me to take the left fork when the signs told me to get in the right lane, that sort of thing (luckily I followed the signs, which was the right thing to do). It’s a route I’ve taken before a few times to get to social gatherings at a friend’s house, but that hasn’t happened since before the pandemic, and I never did it often enough to get familiar with the route. Still, I managed to survive the perilous merges and the antiquated bridge and reach the library intact.

The letter said I needed to show two forms of ID to get my card fully activated, but the library clerk didn’t even ask to see them, just doing a quick setting change on the computer and handing me the card back. I didn’t want to hang around too long indoors, even though I’m vaccine-boosted (a bit over 2 weeks ago, so I should be good) and everyone seemed to be masked (myself included, of course). So I just went over to their science fiction shelf — I remembered roughly where it was from my last, pre-pandemic visit, after interviewing there for a job I didn’t get — and made a few quick picks, then took them to the desk to be checked out. Apparently that’s still done manually there, as opposed to the Cincinnati library where there are automated stations for checkouts. (I have mixed feelings about that, since it’s preferable in pandemic conditions but regrettably impersonal.)

The last time I drove back from Covington, I found the Maps directions confusing and took a wrong turn, getting lost for a few minutes before I found my way back to the route. So this time I selected a different route back on my phone, eastward over the small Licking River into Newport, KY and across one of the bridges there, which I’m more familiar with from trips to the mall and movie theater in Newport in past years. Unfortunately, Google Maps’ directions for how to get out of the library parking lot were confusing; they told me to go north on a certain street, but I didn’t know which way was north or what street it was, and the display on my phone didn’t make it clear (since Maps doesn’t always get your starting point or direction quite right before you begin moving). So I just improvised and let Maps recalculate as I went, and unbeknownst to me, it completely ditched my eastward route and sent me back the way I’d come, something I didn’t realize until I saw signs pointing to I-71. Or really I didn’t quite realize it was the same route until just now, checking routes on Maps as reference for this post. It was much simpler going back the other way, without the harrowing merges and confusing branches, so it didn’t feel the same. Luckily it wasn’t the same confusing route as last time, just straight onto the interstate. Still, I’ll be glad when the Suspension Bridge reopens. It’s narrow and a bit scary to drive over, but at least it’s direct.

For future reference, I’ll have to remember that from the library parking lot, north is toward the library. I probably won’t visit too often, but hopefully my sense of direction in Covington will improve on future visits.

One more difference between libraries, by the way, is that the KCPL’s checkout period is four weeks instead of three. That’s handy. On the other hand, by coincidence, the KCPL’s online catalog just recently upgraded to the same system the Cincinnati library uses, so it’s a familiar interface.

Going forward, I’ll just have to be careful not to get confused about which library to return things to. It shouldn’t be too hard right now, since I currently only have DVDs borrowed from Cincy and books from Covington. But I can be forgetful. Still, that’s a minor concern. I now have access to even more library materials than before, and that’s unambiguously a good thing.

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Booster engaged

December 16, 2021 1 comment

I am boosted! I just got back from the hospital, where I got my COVID vaccine booster. I went to the same hospital as last time, but things have changed. The vaccination center was a huge, crowded operation last year, but today it was just in the pharmacy inside the hospital’s little bookstore/souvenir shop, and only a couple of other people were there. I hope that means that most people have already gotten their boosters, or that they’re taking advantage of the free vaccine clinics at the board of health or getting them from their local pharmacies. I tried going to a walk-in vaccination clinic at the board of health a week or two ago, but the parking lot was full so I gave up. A good sign, I guess.

Since it was a relatively warm day, I started to walk to the hospital, which is only a 15 to 20-minute walk from home. But I started out too late, and once I’d gotten a couple of blocks, I decided I wouldn’t make it in time, so I walked back home and took my car after all. As it turned out, what with parking and all, I ended up ten minutes late anyway. I’m not sure I really saved myself any time. Still, that would’ve made more of a difference last year, when so many people were making appointments that a slot might be snatched up between the time you saw it and clicked on it on the hospital’s site. This time, it wasn’t busy at all, so I guess being late didn’t matter.

Another thing that turned out not to matter was the identification number and QR code they e-mailed me and told me to keep on hand. The pharmacist explained that was just a backup if they couldn’t find my name in their system.

Anyway, I got the Pfizer vaccine for my first two shots, but now the hospital only offers Moderna. Apparently the science says it doesn’t really matter which one you get as a booster, and mixing and matching might actually increase immunity a bit. The one cause for concern is that I know I had a mild reaction to the Pfizer vaccine, while Moderna is an unknown quantity. So I might feel kind of bad for the next day or so. No evident symptoms yet, though. My arm isn’t sore, but then, it took some time for the soreness to set in the first time (there was none the second time).

I mentioned before that my first shot hurt significantly (at injection, not later) while the second was so painless that I wasn’t convinced I’d even gotten injected (I never look). I figured the difference was that I was too tense the first time and more relaxed the second. So I made sure to relax my muscles this time too, and I just felt a mild jab and then nothing.

When the pharmacist advised waiting around for 15 minutes, I said, “It’s a good thing I’m in a bookstore, then.” But it turned out to have at least as many of its shelves devoted to tchotchkes, toys, candy, etc. as to books and magazines, I guess for the benefit of patients or visitors buying them gifts. Still, I got to browse through a science magazine, something I don’t do enough anymore.

So now my immune system should be reinforced, which is good, since they’re tentatively planning to hold the Shore Leave Convention in person again in 2022, after going virtual the previous two years. I don’t know if the rise of the omicron variant will force them to change their plans, but for now, I’m hoping to be there if I can. Here’s hoping!

Calculator update (further updated)

This morning, I decided to see if I could find a way to fix the blanked-out row of LCDs on my calculator, after determining that the batteries weren’t the problem. Looking it up online suggested that there was probably a dirty or broken connection in the ribbon of circuits connecting the display to the circuit board, and that it was theoretically possible but extremely difficult to fix.

Taking the long shot, I unscrewed the back of the calculator again — swapping the old batteries back in while I was at it, since they were still good after all — and tried to spot the problem. Seeing nothing, I just generally tried to fiddle with the connecting ribbon and push any loose connections back into place. I have an old irrigation syringe left over from my orthodontic surgery decades ago (since I’m a bit of a pack rat and I often hold onto things just in case they might prove useful someday), and I used it to puff air under the ribbon in hopes of blowing any dust free. But nothing seemed to make any difference. So I figured I’d done all I could and closed the calculator back up again.

Then, just as a last-ditch, token effort since I had nothing left to lose, I resorted to the ultimate fallback — percussive maintenance. I just tried banging the calculator around in hopes of knocking something back into place.

And it worked!!!

I’m not kidding. It actually restored the display to full function, at least for now. Brute force did the job when delicacy failed. I have no idea if it will hold, but at least I have hope that if the problem does recur, I’ll be able to bang it back into place again. Though hopefully there was just a speck of dust or something that’s now gone, and it’ll be fine. Still, I’ll try to remember to be gentle with the calculator lest something get knocked loose again.

That left the question of what to do with the unnecessary replacement batteries I got. Amazon doesn’t let you return batteries, because they’re technically hazardous materials, but it does allow refunds. I didn’t feel right about getting a refund on perfectly good batteries I still had, but if the calculator had proven irreparable, I might’ve done it anyway. As it is, though, since the calculator is still working (for now), I might still have use for the batteries in the future. So no refund — I just put the batteries back in the pouch they were shipped in, taped it back up with a note saying “For calculator” so I wouldn’t forget, and put the pouch in the closet where I keep my other spare batteries. I figure if the original batteries have lasted for so many years (the manual is copyrighted 2003, apparently the last year this model was sold, so it’s probably about 18 years old), the new ones will keep. Though it’s just as possible that the old batteries will last longer than the calculator.

(Also, if I’d remembered earlier that the manual was still in my drawer, instead of just now when I decided to check the copyright date, then I wouldn’t have had to look online for battery replacement instructions. D’oh!)

EDIT: Well, that didn’t last long. I just tried using the calculator, and the LCDs went out again after a few moments. And no amount of banging was able to fix it this time. So basically forget what I just said an hour ago. Yeesh.

UPDATE 12/10: Turns out I can return batteries after all, as long as they aren’t defective. Since the calculator’s busted and the old batteries are still good, I had no reason to keep the new ones. I just had to print out the shipping and hazardous materials labels, tape them onto the return package, and walk them up to the Amazon pickup/drop-off center a few blocks away. I’ve been notified that my refund has been issued — all five bucks and a penny. Whee!

The replacements

Last week, I had trouble getting my electric kettle to go on, and when I fiddled with the cord, the power light on the kettle flickered intermittently… and another light glowed from within the cord, evidently from an electric arc, so I immediately unplugged it. The wire inside must have broken. In retrospect, that must be why the cord kept getting hot there, and I should’ve realized there was a problem. Dodged a bullet there.

So I ordered a replacement online; I couldn’t find an exact match, but I found the most similar one I could. While I was at it, I also ordered a couple of replacement batteries for my calculator, whose display has been fritzing out in places (basically the whole second row of LCDs from the bottom, the ones that make the lower half of the vertical strokes in the numerals).

Anyway, for the past few days I’ve had to microwave water for my coffee and tea, since I don’t have a coffee maker (I use coffee bags that work like tea bags). But the new kettle came yesterday evening at last. It was too late in the day to try it out, and I had to wash it and prep it first according to the instructions. But today I’ve successfully used it to boil water for morning coffee, midmorning tea, and ravioli for lunch. (I like to boil half the water in the pot and half in the electric kettle so it goes faster.) I just have to get used to the power switch being underneath the handle instead of on top of it in easy reach of the thumb, and to the top opening being smaller and not quite as easy to pour water into.

As for the batteries, I’m embarrassed to admit that I forgot they were for my calculator and thought they were for my bathroom scale, which also needs new batteries, though I didn’t think to order any. So I was really confused about how I could’ve ordered the wrong size batteries for the scale, and was planning to go to the local Amazon storefront and return them in the morning — and then I glanced toward my desk drawer and it finally hit me that I’d gotten them for the calculator instead! D’oh.

So I followed the instructions I found online to unscrew the back of the calculator and swap out the batteries, and at first I got no result. Did I get the wrong kind after all? Did I break a connection? I swapped the old batteries back in and they worked, and then I tried again with the new batteries and the calculator turned on. Okay.

But — that lower row of vertical LCDs is still out. So the batteries weren’t the problem after all. The calculator must just be getting old. But I don’t think I can get a refund for the replacement batteries now that I tore open their packs. Can I? If not, then I’ve wasted my money.

I guess there’s not much point in buying a new calculator either, since I can just use my phone app for that. I feel a bit sad about that. (I happen to use the exact same model calculator as the late Grant Imahara of Mythbusters, as I recently learned.)

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So what are the “written worlds?” redux

Happy anniversary! The Written Worlds blog debuted a dozen years ago today, on November 29, 2009. I was pretty prolific at the beginning, writing a half-dozen posts including introductory comments, an announcement of my 2009 Star Trek movie tie-in novel (which was later cancelled), some slice-of-life observations, and a book series review. I also wrote an introductory post summarizing the different fictional universes I’d written professionally up to that point, by way of explaining the blog title:

So what are the “written worlds?”

I always hoped that, in time, I’d be able to make a new, longer list of universes I’d gotten into print. I figure this is as good a time as any, though as it turns out, the list of universes is only slightly longer than it was a dozen years ago. Instead, it’s gotten deeper, and evolved in other ways.

Starting again with the licensed universes, which are the same ones as before:

  • Star Trek. This is the world that still constitutes the majority of my published prose work, though not quite as large a majority anymore. In the past dozen years, I’ve added 11 more novels and four e-novellas, nearly all of them in just three series: Department of Temporal Investigations, Enterprise: Rise of the Federation, and Original Series books set outside the TV series time frame (one before TOS, one between TOS & the Animated Series, two in the movie era). These still include two alternate timelines, the Mirror Universe and the timeline of Myriad Universes: Places of Exile, though the “Abramsverse”/Kelvin Timeline novel I wrote in 2009 ended up not getting published. I guess my post-Nemesis novels and e-novellas are now in an alternate timeline as well, for the novel continuity they were set in has now been contradicted by Star Trek: Picard, and the current Coda trilogy has reconciled the “Novelverse” as an alternate history. I’ve also contributed a number of game campaigns to Star Trek Adventures, whose continuity is distinct from that of the novels while borrowing some elements from them. Arguably those campaigns constitute an open-ended number of alternate worlds, a new one for each gaming group that plays them.
  • Marvel Comics. Still only two entries here, X-Men: Watchers on the Walls and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder.  The only change is that both now have audiobook adaptations, a single-narrator edition for WotW and a full-cast dramatized adaptation for DiT.

The list of my original universes is somewhat different, though:

  • Arachne/Troubleshooter Universe. The primary universe I’ve been developing for most of my life, an optimistic hard-SF future history spanning centuries. This was what I simply called my “Default” universe back in ’09, even though I only had two published novelettes in it at the time. By now, it encompasses the novels Only Superhuman, Arachne’s Crime, and Arachne’s Exile, plus about a dozen short stories. Its published entries to date basically break down into subgroups focused around two stages of the universe’s history: the Troubleshooter period, when genetically and bionically modified superheroes keep the peace in the Main Asteroid Belt, and the interstellar era centered around the Arachne duology or growing out of its events. I’d hoped this would be a significantly longer entry by now, but I’m glad to have made the progress I have. And hey, at least I finally have a name for the darn thing, albeit a bit of a cumbersome one.
  • The Hub. A hard-SF comedy universe revolving around the Hub, the one and only means of FTL travel and thus the nexus of all interstellar civilization, with humanity as a minor, backwards culture struggling to make a name for itself. This was just one story back in my original list; now it’s a series of six stories, basically two trilogies, collected in the volumes Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy and Crimes of the Hub, the latter of which has the length and structure to qualify as a short novel. I’m still hoping for more stories to follow.
  • Tangent Knights. This is the most significant addition to the list, an original series of dramatized full-cast audio novels from GraphicAudio, a hard-SF superhero narrative inspired by Japanese tokusatsu adventure series and built around unused comic-book premises and characters I created back in the 1990s. Only the first book, Caprice of Fate, is out as of this writing, but a whole trilogy has been written, and there’s a good chance there will be more. This could soon be my largest original written world. Or worlds, as it encompasses numerous parallel quantum realities.
  • Thayara. My first published stab at a fantasy universe, set in the early industrial era of an alternate Earth whose evolution and culture were shaped differently by the presence of the Wyrd, a magical force that resonates with sentient minds. It includes two stories so far, “The Science of Sacrifice” and “The Melody Lingers,” both of which are available on my Patreon page, though only “Melody” was previously published professionally.
  • Miscellaneous standalones. I now have a fair number of individual stories in their own distinct continuities, including the professionally published “No Dominion” (the “To Be Announced” entry in my 2009 post) and “Abductive Reasoning,” and seven of my self-published Patreon stories as of this writing. It’s conceivable that some of these standalones could share a universe with one another, but I’ve established no links between them as of yet. Some are pure one-shots, such as the comedies “Abductive Reasoning” and “Growth Industry,” but there are some set in universes that have potential for continuation in further stories:
    • “No Dominion”: A world where medical science has made death largely curable, creating new challenges.
    • The Moving Finger Writes“: An interstellar future featuring an ancient network of time-travel wormholes.
    • The Monsters We Make“: A hard-SF take on kaiju/giant monsters invading the Earth.
    • What Slender Threads“: A multiverse premise of a different sort grounded in brane theory, an alternate approach to some of the ideas of Tangent Knights.

So in the past dozen years, I’ve gone from four original short stories set in three universes to at least six novels and over two dozen stories set in multiple different universes, at least four of which encompass multiple stories. That’s fairly significant progress, though still less than I’d hoped for.

Going forward, I think I’m likely to focus largely on expanding the universes I have. As you can see, my recent attempts at starting new short-fiction universes have largely gone unsold and had to end up on Patreon. Starting a new universe, at least the kind of worldbuilding-heavy universes I favor, is more suited to novels than short fiction. And I’m always interested in fleshing out my existing universes in more depth. But you never know. A new story idea might strike me that doesn’t fit any of my existing universes. Or, as with Tangent Knights, I might be offered an opportunity that requires creating something new.

So I wonder how this list will change over the next dozen years. Will the written worlds have increased more in number or in size and depth? Will I add more licensed universes? Will I finally have reached the point where my original fiction output surpasses my licensed output? Will I even have to wait another dozen years before this list deserves another update? Only time will tell.

Return of the phone woes

You may recall that last year I had chronic problems with my landline phone and internet connections going out. After they were fixed last October 5th, the connection’s been stable, aside from one brief dropout that fixed itself after a short while and was probably due to some kind of work going on outside somewhere temporarily disrupting the system. So I’d thought the worst was behind me — until last Tuesday morning, when both connections abruptly went dead just after 9:40 AM. Remembering the previous brief outage, I waited about an hour to see if it would fix itself, and when it didn’t, I used my cell phone to call the help line. They thought it might be due to some work being done in the area, and said they’d have someone out to fix it within 24 hours. I figured I could make do without it for that long. I could still access the web through my smartphone, though my phone’s Gmail app is for some reason quite slow in updating mail from my other, primary address, and I’d have to do without streaming video, since the data usage without wi-fi would probably get expensive, if I could even get a good enough signal (I rarely get more than 3 bars out of 5 in my apartment, which is part of why I need to keep my landline). I figured if it were fixed by Wednesday morning, I’d be able to catch the Supergirl series finale just a bit later than I otherwise would have, and things would be fine.

By 10:30 AM Wednesday, it still hadn’t been fixed, so I called again. (I see now in my phone log that I called precisely 24 hours later, to the minute, even though I hadn’t planned to. Wow.) They told me someone would be coming that afternoon… then called back later to say they’d been delayed and would be here later that afternoon, no later than 4:30, I think. The technician finally called at 4:45 to say he was on his way, then showed up at 5:08 PM. He determined that the problem wasn’t in my modem or line and was probably in the electrical room downstairs… but it was after the building manager had gone home for the day (apparently she doesn’t live in the apartment adjacent to the office as previous managers have done, something I didn’t realize until now), so he couldn’t get into the electrical room to fix things. He went on his way, promising to have someone out to fix it first thing in the morning. Okay, then, I’d be a bit more delayed in catching my Arrowverse shows and the new Star Trek: Prodigy episode. Also, I wasn’t able to log onto my Patreon page because it didn’t recognize my phone, and it took hours for the confirmation code it emailed to my main address to show up on my phone, by which time it had long since expired.

Nothing happened all day Thursday. As I surfed on my phone, I was reminded that it was Veteran’s Day, and I realized the phone company was probably closed for the day. (It was later confirmed to me that this had indeed been the case.) Oh, well; I resigned myself to one more day without TV, filling the time by rewatching a couple of my DVDs and trying to get some actual writing done despite my frustration (and I did get some done, though not nearly enough). I figured they’d have someone out early Friday morning instead.

So on Friday morning, I called them again to make sure… only to be told that no appointment had been scheduled and the earliest they could fit me in was Monday. Monday?! I got angry, pointing out emphatically that I’d been promised it would only take 24 hours, and then promised again that it would be fixed first thing in the morning, and it was unacceptable for them to make me wait three more days when it should have been fixed already and it only wasn’t due to their delays and oversights. I ended up demanding to speak to a supervisor, but even then, I couldn’t convince them to get anyone out to me any sooner than Monday. I was left infuriated and unsatisfied, but resigned to three more days of this drought.

So I finally started to think about other options and realized I could take my laptop out to the library or the university to use their wifi. That hadn’t been an option on Tuesday or Wednesday when I was waiting for the repair tech, and I hadn’t realized it would be an option on Thursday until it was already too late (plus, in retrospect, it would’ve been harder to find someplace open on a holiday). But on Friday afternoon, after letting the building manager know about the Monday appointment and confirming she’d be there, I walked over to the library with my laptop, taking the opportunity to return some items and borrow a couple more DVDs to tide me over the weekend. But I didn’t see any good places in that branch where I could watch TV on my laptop (with earphones, of course) without distractions and without risk of patrons tripping over my cord. So I went over to campus instead — only to be unable to log onto their wifi! I figured it wasn’t my laptop that was the problem, since I was able to connect at one point to the university guest network’s access page, but kept timing out when it tried to log on anywhere else; it must have just been that the signal was too weak or something. Tired and frustrated, I gave up and went home, resolving to try again at the library the next day.

On Saturday, I decided to drive to the next-nearest library branch and see what they had to offer. I found a quiet place to sit and log on… and I still couldn’t connect to the wifi! Since it was a completely different service, I realized at last that it was my laptop that was the problem; sometimes the DNS recognition thingummy or whatever just stops working and I have to reboot. So I rebooted, noodling around on my phone while I waited, since rebooting my old laptop takes forever. Finally, finally, I got a connection. I had laptop wifi, for the first time in more than four days! I was able to download my emails at last, and to get my Patreon to recognize my phone, and do a bit of other stuff. But again, enough time had passed that I gave up on trying to watch streaming video and just wanted to go home for the day, since I didn’t want to spend too long in a public building even with a mask on. Luckily this was one of the only library branches open on Sundays, so I resolved to go back again the next day.

Sunday, I found a better place to set up at that library, a reading/study room with a nice empty corner table where I could plug in. And again, I had DNS problems and had to reboot. I’ve never had that happen twice in such quick succession, and it hasn’t happened in months, so I’m guessing it was somehow a function of moving the laptop around between different wifi signals, or something. Still, I finally made a connection and managed to catch up with a couple of shows including last week’s Prodigy. The laptop got a little warm without its cooling-fan platform (which I should’ve brought with me, but that didn’t occur to me, since this is the first time I’ve taken the laptop anywhere since I bought the cooling platform mid-pandemic), but I finally perched its back end on top of the little box that my earphone cord is stored in, which provided enough ventilation. Still, I didn’t want to press my luck with too much TV, and the branch was only open for four hours on Sundays. I regretted that I hadn’t figured things out sooner.

So then came Monday morning, and waiting for an appointment I’ve been let down for twice already is much more nerve-racking when I’m actually in the scheduled window and can’t think about anything except my fear of being disappointed once again. Luckily, at 9:50, I got a call from the tech to say he was 15 minutes away. After about 25 minutes, I got antsy and went out to look for his truck, not finding it. When I got back in, of course, the tech was waiting outside my apartment!

So I told him where to find the electrical room and went to get the manager, who opened it. This time, I stuck around to watch the tech working, and finally got to see inside this mysterious electrical/storage room. (To my annoyance, I noticed a couple of bottles of wasp/hornet spray, which means they could’ve helped me with my car’s wasp infestation a few months ago rather than leaving me to fend for myself. Grr.) It was rather alarming to see that the Internet connection on which so much of my life depends is reliant on a pair of virtually hair-thin wires in a mare’s nest connected to a old circuit box.

Still, the tech determined that the problem wasn’t a short in the wires like it had been the last time. He managed to trace a dead signal all the way to the substation that the lines lead to, and after calling up the staff there and checking some things, he determined that someone on that end had swapped some things around and attached my line to the wrong place, since they were using really old wires with lead insulation (I think) that wasn’t color-coded like the newer plastic. So not only did the phone company keep missing appointments and failing to live up to its obligations, but the problem was their mistake in the first place.

Despite that, though, the tech explained some things that eased my anger. Apparently there aren’t that many techs still working that are qualified to fix the older copper wiring instead of the newer fiber optics. That’s why it was so hard to get one of them here in a timely manner — they’re just spread too thin, especially in bad weather when there’s more damage to repair. My building complex hasn’t been rewired for fiber optics because it’s just too big, and it would be hard to access all the old lines and replace them.

But that might be a tradeoff for something good. I mentioned to the tech that this week’s frustration had made me think about switching to the building’s wifi service, which I think would be added to my rent, but might cost less than what I’m paying for the Cincinnati Bell service. But the tech nodded to the Spectrum wifi router that was attached to the wall and said that it would get really slow when multiple tenants were using it at once. He opined that the lines originally set up for cable TV had gotten a lot slower since all these other services were piled onto them. Although now that I write that, I have to ask why the same thing wouldn’t be true of lines originally set up for telephone conversations. Still, it might have something to do with each apartment having its own separate phone line, to which individual modems would be attached, rather than everyone drawing on the same modem/router/whatever. It occurred to me at the time that the tech had a vested interest in promoting his service over a rival, but as he is on the technical side rather than the business side, I’m more inclined to trust that his assessments come from a practical place, a mindset that’s more about understanding mechanisms and their abilities and weaknesses than about trying to sell people things.

Bottom line, the tech successfully got my phone and internet back on, and he did good work and reassured me about some things, in contrast to the disappointing service I got over the rest of this week. I could finally start getting back to my normal routine, though I spent most of yesterday catching up on the shows I missed last week. I’m probably going to stay nervous about my connection’s reliability for a while, but it helps to know that last week’s outage wasn’t from the same cause as last year’s, so hopefully it was just a fluke. Apparently there are downsides to relying on the old copper wires, but there are advantages too. And at least now I have a better idea of my options for wifi elsewhere if I need it.

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Thoughts on the Godzilla MonsterVerse comics (spoilers)

November 3, 2021 1 comment

Today (November 3) is Godzilla Day, the anniversary of the release of the original 1954 film and the beginning of the kaiju genre. In honor of that (or really by sheer coincidence, since I was going to publish this today anyway before I found out), I have a bonus entry for my Godzilla/kaiju review series.

Thanks to my library, I’ve managed to get hold of the tie-in comics that Legendary Comics published to supplement its parent company Legendary Pictures’ four movies in the so-called MonsterVerse: Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (2017), Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), and Godzilla vs. Kong (2021). The first tie-in comic, Godzilla: Awakening, was only available in hardcopy (hardcover, in fact), but the remainder can all be found for free at the Hoopla online library for those with cards from participating libraries. All these comics are theoretically canonical to the MonsterVerse, though like all “canonical” tie-ins, that only lasts until a movie sees fit to contradict them (in other words, exactly like non-canonical tie-ins — or indeed like canonical films, given how many sequels over the decades have retconned or ignored previous films).

As is typically the case with movie tie-in comics, these stories are prequels, sequels, and interstitial stories that attempt to fill in backstory or flesh out side elements of the movies’ stories, while trying not to leave too big a footprint on continuity that later movies might contradict, though some inconsistencies are hard to avoid.

Godzilla: Awakening (2014): Written by Max Borenstein and Greg Borenstein; art by Eric Battle, Yvel Guichet, Alan Quah, and Lee Loughridge

This is a prequel to the 2014 film, co-written by the film’s screenwriter Max Borenstein and expanding on a lot of the backstory only briefly discussed in the film. And it’s pretty deep backstory. The frame is set in 1980, when Eiji Serizawa, the father of Ken Watanabe’s movie character Ishiro Serizawa, calls his son home to tell him the truth he’s hidden all his life. (Just as the film character is named for Gojira director Ishiro Honda, his father is named for the film’s special effects creator Eiji Tsuburaya.)

In 1945, Eiji survives the Hiroshima bombing and rescues his infant son Ishiro, only to see a serpentine monster form seemingly from thin air above the radiation-ravaged city. A year later, resenting the Americans for what they’d done, he’s on a ship which answers a distress call from a US vessel and is called on to serve as translator. He cooperates with an American sailor named Shaw in rescuing the others, and then in rescuing his own men from the attacking aerial kaiju. This cooperation in adversity eases his resentment enough that he agrees to work for the US government on a task force called Monarch, organized by General Douglas MacArthur himself to stop the monster. (This contradicts the film’s claim that Monarch was founded in 1954, but continuity glitches about secretive organizations can always be handwaved as misinformation. However, Ishiro being born in 1945 would make him nearly 70 in the movie, which is hard to credit.)

As Serizawa and Shaw track sightings of the flying creature over the next several years, they hear claims that it was driven off by a second creature, a giant lizard known in island legend as Gojira, which Eiji identifies as a portmanteau of the Japanese words for gorilla and whale (its real-life origin). But Monarch disbelieves the rumors. Eventually they determine that the flying beastie is a parasitic colony creature made of large, spiky single cells that assemble into a macro-organism, and Serizawa dubs it Shinomura, from the Japanese for “swarm of death.” Radiation causes the cells to multiply (as usual with these things, there’s no explanation of where the biomass comes from), and Serizawa deduces that Shinomura and Gojira are fossil creatures from the Permian Era, when Earth was more radioactive (supposedly), and the asteroid impact that caused the Permian-Triassic mass extinction 250 million years ago lowered the radiation level (through some unexplained means) and drove the beasts underground. (In reality, the impact increased surface UV radiation by destroying the ozone layer, though only temporarily.) Now, atomic weapons have drawn them back up.

The Shinomura grown in captivity from a single cell escapes, and Serizawa fears that if it merges with its other half, it will be too large even for Gojira to stop, and its cells will propagate out of control until they overrun the Earth. A year later, in 1954, Monarch responds to a sighting and confirms at last that Gojira is real and fighting the combined Shinomura. Goji kills one of the two, but the other escapes and Goji pursues. Serizawa insists that Gojira is only the enemy of the Shinomura, that they’re acting out their ancient roles as natural rivals, and that Goji will go away once the colony creature is destroyed. The Americans refuse to listen and decide that an atom bomb will take care of both beasts. (General MacArthur anachronistically orders “Nuke ‘im,” a verb not recorded to exist before 1962. But then, MacArthur was supposed to have retired three years earlier anyway.)

Back in 1980, Eiji tells his son how the US military set a trap for Gojira at Bikini Atoll, disguising it as nuclear testing, and assuming they succeeded in killing both creatures. But Eiji remains convinced that Gojira lives, and charges his son with carrying on his mission, leading Ishiro to join Monarch after Eiji’s funeral a year later.

This is quite a good story, adding a lot to the film. In some ways, it’s a more interesting and effective story than the film’s, though it necessarily features little direct interaction between Godzilla and the human cast, mostly cutting between them instead. It contextualizes the film’s backstory nicely, tying the rise of the Titans directly to the dawn of the atomic age, and nicely explaining what led up to the Bikini Atoll attack disguised as a bomb test, as described in the movie. I didn’t like the way the movie replaced the original 1954 film’s allegorical protest against the American H-bomb tests with a more neutral and benign depiction of them as merely a misguided attempt to stop Godzilla. Awakening corrects that somewhat by allowing its Japanese protagonist to protest the arrogance of an American military smugly convinced that atomic bombs will solve everything. It’s nowhere near the level of the original film’s powerful commentary on the ethics of WMD development and proliferation, but it’s appreciated.

It’s not perfect, though. The ending is a little abrupt, and the contrivance of making Ishiro 14-15 years older than Ken Watanabe strains credulity. The science is also a mess; one montage page shows Mt. Fuji remaining essentially unaltered over 250 million years of geological and evolutionary change, even though Fuji-san is an active volcano only a few hundred thousand years old. It also shows the Hiroshima atomic blast being visible from Mt. Fuji, when they’re actually about 700 km apart. But one doesn’t expect credible science from a Godzilla story anyway (with the exception of the recent anime Godzilla Singular Point).

There are a couple of interesting similarities between this and Singular Point. The nature of the Shinomura colony creature and the global threat it poses is highly similar to that of the Red Dust in GSP. And there’s a flamboyant Monarch biologist who refers to the science of anomalous creatures as “Problematica,” similar to the “Biologica Phantastica” that GSP’s Mei studied (though that discipline was theoretical and philosophical in nature). It could be coincidence, but I wonder if the comic could have influenced the anime.

One detail worth noting is that I think this is the only American-made Godzilla story I’ve seen where the creature is referred to exclusively as “Gojira” within the story proper, even by English-speaking characters. If anything, this is another anachronism, since the reason Toei coined “Godzilla” as the official English spelling back in ’54 is because the favored romanization scheme at the time rendered the Japanese syllables as “Go-zi-la” or “Go-dzi-la,” vs. the modern preferred scheme that renders the same syllables as “Go-ji-ra.”

Skull Island: The Birth of Kong (2017): Written by Arvid Nelson, art by Zid

This is a sequel to the 1973 events of Kong: Skull Island. The frame story is set in 2012, two years before Godzilla, and features the character Houston Brooks, played as a young man by Corey Hawkins in K:SI and in the present day by Joe Morton in G:KotM. This comic was probably written and painted (by Mohammad Yazid, a Malaysian comic book artist who goes professionally by Zid) before its creators were aware of Morton’s casting. The 2012 Brooks resembles an aged-up Hawkins, but isn’t too dissimilar from Morton. The story shows Brooks retiring from the monster-monitoring Monarch organization, conflicting with his portrayal in KotM, where he’s still with Monarch in 2019.

The frame involves the discovery of a voice recorder left by Brooks’s son Aaron, who was lost in 1995. In flashback to that year, Aaron argues with his father over Monarch’s decision to trust Kong to protect Skull Island and contain its monsters, and thus he secretly organizes an expedition to Skull Island, apparently just to find out for himself. Their helicopter is naturally attacked by Titans (kaiju) and crashes, and they lose their survival expert immediately. They’re rescued by Kong but barely see him, and are taken in by the Iwi tribe as seen in the movie, specifically a boy named Ato, who’s more verbal than most of his people, having learned English from his father, who learned it from Marlow (John C. Reilly’s K:SI character).

The most significant member of Aaron’s expedition is Walter Riccio, a mythographer, who gets hooked on the Iwi’s medicinal brew and starts having mystical visions revealing Kong’s origins. According to him, Skull Island was the home of Kong’s giant ape species for millions of years, until it was invaded by the Skullcrawlers from the Hollow Earth, wiping most of them out. (GvK would later depict a Kong-species homeland within the Hollow Earth, but there’s no reason the species couldn’t have existed in more than one place. However, island living tends to produce dwarfism rather than gigantism due to limited resources, so the biology of Skull Island makes little sense whether it’s populated by a whole community of Kongs or by the horde of deadly Titans seen in K:SI and this comic.) In Riccio’s visions, Kong’s parents were the last two survivors, who greeted the Iwi when they first came to the island. Kong was then born just before his parents were killed by Skullcrawlers, with their violent demise being his first sight.

Riccio is driven mad by his drugged visions, worshipping Kong as a god and seeking to destroy the Iwi’s protective walls so that Kong will prove himself as humanity’s divine protector against evil. Aaron tries to stop him, and Riccio kills two other teammates (including the female lead) in the battle. Riccio succeeds in bringing down the walls and letting the island’s giant predators attack the Iwi, and Kong indeed comes to their rescue, convincing Riccio that he’s proven them worthy of the god’s protection. But Kong recognizes Riccio as the real threat and smooshes him, then has a bonding moment with Aaron and leaves him be. This convinces Aaron that Kong isn’t just a monster but a guardian, an orphan inspired by his own childhood trauma to protect others. (Sounds awfully familiar for a comic-book plot. Are Titans a superstitious, cowardly lot? Does Kong dress up as a giant bat?)

Aaron stays on the island to help the Iwi rebuild, but sends his recorded log out to sea in the slim hope that it will be found. Seventeen years later, the frame story ends with Houston Brooks hinting that he’ll go looking for his son.

It’s an okay story, I guess, but I have issues. I don’t think there’s any precedent in the MonsterVerse for mystical visions being a thing, and Aaron is far too quick to believe that Riccio’s visions of Kong’s origins are fact rather than drug-induced delusion, given that he doesn’t buy Riccio’s other claims about Kong’s divinity. Relying on shamanistic visions to reveal Kong’s backstory is an awkward plot mechanic, and what we learn doesn’t really add that much to what we already knew from the movie. We know Kong’s a good guy, so a story about proving that to someone yet again is redundant.

I guess the story deserves some credit for having the villain be the main white guy on the expedition, who appropriates Iwi culture and forces his own interpretation of it on the Iwi even if it kills them and destroys their creations. Maybe there’s a point being made about cultural imperialism. But the main thrust of the story is the monster mayhem, with frequent attacks by various improbably vicious and gigantic Skull Island denizens, some from K:SI and others original to the comic. The art is fairly good, with the characters easy to tell apart, though it’s in a painted style that I’ve never really warmed to in comics, and the characters’ expressions often look a bit stiff. Also, it tends toward the modern comics style of having only a few large panels per page, prioritizing the art and reducing the amount of story. Though this is more the case in the action scenes than the dialogue scenes.

The miniseries is collected with the one that follows in the MonsterVerse Titanthology trade paperback, with additional material purporting to be Monarch files and photos about Skull Island’s various species, based on the notes of John Goodman’s William Randa from K:SI. It’s not a bad supplement, but the supposedly technical descriptive text about the Titans tends toward unscientifically lurid descriptions of their savagery and whatnot. The file on Kong’s species inexplicably includes “photographs” which are panels from Riccio’s mystical visions of Kong’s parents and the newborn infant Kong. That’s a hell of a trick.

Godzilla: Aftershock (2019): Written by Arvid Nelson, Illustrated by Drew Edward Johnson

This is theoretically a prequel to Godzilla: King of the Monsters, establishing the backstory of its characters Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), but it’s more of a followup to the 2014 Godzilla, featuring Ishiro Serizawa and his assistant Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins). It centers on a series of attacks on nuclear subs and plants by a creature similar to the MUTOs from the ’14 film, which is recorded in Japanese mythology as the Earthquake Beetle — which ought to be Jishin-Mushi, but is misspelled throughout as Jinshin-Mushi. Emma and Serizawa determine, with help from ancient Phoenician inscriptions that frame the miniseries and equate Godzilla with the god Dagon, that the creatures are MUTO Prime, the mature form of the MUTOs; that they’ve evolved to implant their eggs in Godzillas and kill them; and that these battles correspond to mass extinctions and civilizational collapses throughout history. (These are the second Titan species, after Shinomura in Awakening, to be touted as Godzilla’s ancient natural enemy and counterbalance. Kong’s species will be the third. I guess everyone wants to bring down the top gunslinger.)

Emma uses a prototype of the sonic ORCA device in the movie to trick MUTO Prime with the sound of its already-laid eggs so it will let its guard down while fighting Godzilla, which somehow works. You’d think the critter could tell whether it had actually laid its own eggs yet. Anyway, Prime manages to shatter Goji’s dorsal spines in the climactic battle, which means Goji’s atomic ray energy spews out uncontained from his back, which he uses to defeat MUTO Prime by shouldering underneath it and cutting loose. I suppose this was done to explain why Goji’s spines are larger and differently shaped in KotM; presumably the regenerative process caused them to grow back larger and thicker.

This story works poorly as an origin story for Emma Russell. It features Alan Jonah a couple of times, but in a cursory way that does nothing to explain the partnership Emma has formed with him by the time of G:KotM. Indeed, the story actively works against that. In KotM, Emma was sympathetic to Jonah’s view that human civilization was causing a mass extinction and needed to be wiped out by the Titans to restore the balance. But this story shows Emma learning that it was MUTO Primes and their MUTO spawn fighting Godzillas that caused mass extinctions. So there’s no real throughline between this Emma and the person she was in the film. I suppose that was unavoidable, as the comic was released shortly before the film and thus avoided spoilers. But in retrospect, it makes for a very disappointing attempt at filling in the gaps, utterly failing to tell the story it should have told. (There’s a brief appearance by Houston Brooks that connects to nothing and just serves to call back to the previous tie-in comic.)

The art this time is in a more conventional comics style, and is reasonably good. But the story is even more decompressed than in the Kong book, with a lot of multi-page kaiju (sorry, Titan) battle sequences of 1-3 panels per page with no dialogue. The framing pages of the Phoenician carvings further cut into the limited story time. All in all, a weak effort.

Kingdom Kong (2021): Written by Marie Anello, illustrated by Zid

One of two simultaneously released prequels to Godzilla vs. Kong, this is also a sequel to Skull Island: The Birth of Kong. The story centers on Audrey Burns, a Monarch fighter pilot wrestling with heavy survivor’s guilt after a 2019 battle with bat-like Titans called Camazotz (aha, there is a giant bat after all), in which she lost all her team save her best friend, who’s been in a coma ever since. She and several other hotshot pilots are assigned to the test mission into the Hollow Earth, established in GvK as the mission where Nathan Lind’s brother David was killed. But before that, Burns wrestles with her fears in the training, while Houston Brooks — now looking like Joe Morton and handwaving his abortive attempt at retirement from the previous Kong comic — studies Kong and tracks a mysterious superstorm heading for the island, the same storm established in GvK as wiping out the Iwi. Apparently it was created when King Ghidorah attacked Mexico in G:KotM and has persisted for two years.

A test drilling into the cavern to the Hollow Earth releases a Camazotz attack, bringing back Burns’s fears, but there’s a rather lovely scene where she confesses her survivor’s guilt to her commander, Col. Johanna Edwards (who looks exactly like Angela Bassett for some reason), and the rest of her team, who’ve been skeptical of her up to now, come in and share their own tales of guilt at the loss of loved ones to Titan attacks. Burns rallies and leads her team to evacuate the Monarch crew while Kong takes care of Camazotz, but she naturally chooses to go off-mission and help Kong by stunning Camazotz with a sonic boom. After Kong bashes the bat, he catches the parachuting Burns in his hand and they share a bonding moment much like the one between Kong and Aaron in the previous book.

The epilogue ties in more closely with the movie, showing Brooks retiring at last and turning over command to Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall’s GvK character), telling her to find a way to keep Kong on the island now that they know he’s a magnet for rival alpha Titans. Mercifully, it also establishes that the Iwi are being evacuated ahead of the superstorm, rather than wiped out as the film indicated. David Lind also shows up for his ill-fated mission, while Burns goes back stateside for a happy reunion, implying that she wasn’t lost with the others. This is three years prior to GvK’s 2024 setting, which I guess is enough time to set up the status quo seen at the start of that film.

This was a pretty good one. Burns’s story is effective, and the attempts to fill in the continuity gaps, including the inconsistencies with the previous Kong comic, work reasonably well — although the movie-setup scenes at the end feel tacked on to a largely unrelated story. Zid’s fully painted art has improved in the four years since the previous book, and the character renderings are excellent.

Godzilla Dominion (2021): Written by Greg Keyes, illustrated by Drew Edward Johnson

This is an unusual one, since it’s told entirely from Godzilla’s perspective, following him through various kaiju/Titan battles with narration describing Godzilla’s point of view, elaborating on the movies’ portrayal of him as an instinctive force of balance in Earth’s ecosystem. Writer Greg Keyes novelized the 2014 film, so I suppose he may have gotten into Godzilla’s head there too. It speaks of how, to Godzilla, territory is not a place but a compulsion, and how his senses are intimately linked to the Earth as if he’s an extension of it, bordering on the mystical, like he’s a chthonic deity.

There’s not much plot, though it’s established that his old lair was destroyed by the nuclear bomb in G:KotM and that he’s searching for a new one, as well as hinting at “the Rival” who drove him out of his old home, an adversary eventually established to be Kong. There’s also a passing acknowledgment of how Mothra giving him her life has broadened Godzilla’s awareness, though not much is done with it.

So basically there’s hardly any plot, just a lot of kaiju art and some exploration of what it’s like to be Godzilla. Fine, I guess, if you like that sort of thing. It’s an interesting alternative approach, I’ll give it that, but I found it fairly insubstantial. At least it’s not as dumb as the movie it sets up.

So an inconsistent bunch of stories, much like the movies they tie into. The two best ones, Godzilla: Awakening and Kingdom Kong, both add valuable backstory that enhances the films they tie into, and are both better than those respective films in some ways. The weakest is Godzilla: Aftershock, an attempt at continuity-filling that pretty much has the opposite effect due to its avoidance of spoilers. Skull Island: The Birth of Kong is a decent try hampered by a really clumsy and fanciful mechanism for providing backstory that didn’t really tell us anything new. And Godzilla Dominion is just hard to rate, because its approach is so unusual. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but others might find it brilliant.

One point in the comics’ favor is that they’re better at diversity than the movies. All four MonsterVerse films, to some extent, center on white male leads who are fairly bland (or obnoxious in the case of G:KotM’s Mark), when other characters feel more worthy of focus. The comics feature more diverse leads — two generations of Serizawas, two generations of Brooks, and two female leads, Emma Russell and Audrey Burns. The supporting casts are international and quite diverse, and Burns’s best friend in a coma in Kingdom Kong, featured in flashbacks, is non-binary, a fact treated entirely casually by the comic. I really wish that the feature film industry would catch up with other media in portraying human diversity realistically.

All in all, if you liked the MonsterVerse films, most of these comics are worthy or at least somewhat interesting additions — inconsistent and not always successful, but no more so than the films themselves. The art is generally pretty good, though I think kaiju battles in comics format are an acquired taste. But at their best, these comics expand the films’ universe, flesh out supporting characters, and in some cases correct the films’ shortcomings.

TANGENT KNIGHTS 1: CAPRICE OF FATE annotations are up!

Tangent Knights 1: Caprice of Fate

I’ve finally found the time to finish up my annotations for Tangent Knights 1: Caprice of Fate, so now listeners to the audio novel can read up on all the physics and technology ideas and the tokusatsu in-jokes and allusions behind the story, as well as insights into my creative process. I also discovered that a paragraph got accidentally deleted from the general discussion on the main series page, so that the following paragraph was unclear without it. Fortunately, WordPress saves earlier drafts of its pages, so I was able to restore it. You can read the full discussion and find the annotations link on the main Tangent Knights page. (The annotations contain numerous spoilers, so I don’t want to link to them directly.)

I admit I put off listening to the audiobook for fear of disappointment, but it proved unfounded (as I intellectually knew it probably would, since GraphicAudio did well in their adaptations of Only Superhuman and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder). The final result works quite well and captures the feel and style I was going for about as well as I could’ve expected. I particularly want to call out Elaine Yuko Qualter, who rose well to the challenge of playing the very energetic lead character Cory Kagami; John Kielty, whose voice is in just the right range I imagined for Alex Reading but even classier; and Tony Nam, whose voice is an even more perfect fit for Branton Tseng than what I was able to imagine.

Incidentally, I realized something while I listened to the audiobook. My goal with Tangent Knights was to approach the trilogy as if it were effectively a complete season of a tokusatsu series (or meta-series, I guess, since they reboot with a new story and characters every year) — using modern Kamen Rider in particular as my template, as it frequently employs complex narratives that evolve the status quo through multiple escalating stages, which was well suited to the trilogy format. But I always figured that a mere three books would necessarily be rather shorter than a full toku season, since those run nearly year-round with typically about 50 episodes per series, give or take. So it would have the structure of a season in a more compressed form — or so I thought.

But it just struck me that the audiobook for Caprice of Fate is a little over seven hours long. That means I can expect the complete trilogy to have about 21 hours of content, probably. Your typical toku episode is maybe 24 minutes long not counting commercials, so 21 times 60 minutes, divided by 24 minutes, gives the equivalent of 52.5 episodes!

Of course, that 24 minutes includes main and (often) end titles and recaps, so the amount of story per episode is more like 21-22 minutes. Canceling that out, and then some, is the extent to which an audio novel, even a fully dramatized one, is told through narration, which slows things down significantly compared to live action. So the total amount of story being told is still probably somewhat less than a full toku season. But it’s a nice surprise that the total run time of the trilogy will be roughly equivalent to a full season. It means I came closer to my goal than I thought I had.

New Patreon fiction: “Nilly’s Choice” (Arachne’s Crime tie-in)

To make up for going a while without new Patreon fiction, here’s the second story in just under a month, this one newly written exclusively for Patreon. As I mentioned in my last post, “Nilly’s Choice” is a character vignette (if a 5200-word story can be called a vignette) filling in the backstory of R’nilinnath, aka Nilly, the young Chirrn apprentice mediator introduced in the second half of Arachne’s Crime. She was one of my favorite characters to write in that novel and Arachne’s Exile, and I realized it was an oversight that I’d never established her background and motivations for becoming a mediator. This story reveals her reaction to the events of the first half of AC, and it also lets me flesh out a few more details about the Chirrn.

You can find the story here on the $10/mo Fiction tier:

Fiction: “Nilly’s Choice”

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

“Nilly’s Choice” Annotations

This makes, let’s see, the fifth Arachne story I’ve done, after the original “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” (reprinted in Among the Wild Cybers), the duology, and the “Comfort Zones” prequel story (which is also on Patreon as well as in The Arachne Omnibus). The sixth if you count “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele,” which is an indirect sequel.

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