WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES Review (spoilers)

Yep, I saw another movie today, just a week after saying I couldn’t afford the indulgence much. Don’t worry, I’m not spending the money from my still-ongoing book sale on recreation — I got an unexpected tax refund from the city over the weekend, enough to pay for two movies with a few bucks to spare. So I just had to see War for the Planet of the Apes, which I’d heard such great things about.

And it was very good. I’m actually relieved that the title is, once again, something of a misnomer. For the most part, this wasn’t a war movie. There was a bit of war movie in the beginning, but then it became a revenge-quest movie, almost a Western; and the last half was pretty much a prison-break movie. Indeed, I submit that a better title for this film would’ve been a slight twist on a classic one: Escape to the Planet of the Apes.

But most of all, this is the conclusion of Caesar’s journey, continuing from the first two films. His quest for vengeance and the consequences and lessons he must face are what drive the story, and he manages to remain a deeply sympathetic character even in his darkest moments, because you can see his grim, mournful recognition of what he’s become even as he continues down that path. And of course that’s what leads into his return to a more heroic role later on; the capture of his people moves him away from his personal vendetta to a renewed embrace of his responsibility to those he leads, so that his actions are again guided by compassion and selflessness. What Caesar needed to learn was that the thing about being a leader (as some current real-world leaders are alarmingly incapable of understanding) is that you no longer have the luxury of letting things be about you. Andy Serkis continues to play Caesar brilliantly, and the animators and performance capture artists are as good as ever at conveying and augmenting the nuances of his performance. (Although some of the body movements did look a bit artificial to me at times, with motion seeming to start and stop a bit jerkily with too little momentum. But it was very subtle.)

The Colonel (McCullough) was a very well-written antagonist for Caesar, matching him in complexity. I liked it that, for all that he was a fanatic and maybe a bit mad, he was the more rational of the two. He’d already been through the kind of pain and loss that engulfed Caesar, already made his choice and come out the other side, so he was able to see things more clearly in a way — wrongly, perhaps, but clearly, calculatingly. It was also interesting that he wasn’t a bigot, didn’t look down on apes as inferior. He accepted Caesar as a military leader of equal standing to himself, respected his intelligence and prowess. He allowed his followers to be bigoted, perhaps because it helped motivate them in a war of species survival, but he wasn’t so blind himself. Some very interesting writing there. As for the performance, Woody Harrelson was good enough, but I’ve never seen him as a particularly brilliant actor, and I have trouble not seeing him as the dimwitted kid from Cheers.

There was some standout acting here, but mostly not from humans, at least not speaking ones. Steve Zahn was a lot of fun as the comic-relief Bad Ape, and Karin Konoval’s Maurice and Amiah Miller’s Nova had a touching relationship conveyed through excellent wordless acting.

Most of all, it’s impressive what this movie achieved. The first film was told mainly from a human perspective as Caesar and the intelligent apes first emerged. The second was told about equally from human and ape perspectives. But this one completes the transition, as befits the overarching storyline, and is told entirely from the apes’ POV, with the few humans as the alien threat to be defended against (or assimilated, in Nova’s case). It’s great that they were willing and able to go there. It surely helps that the first two movies laid the groundwork, not only in technology but in character development and performance, to make us want to see a movie told fully from the apes’ perspective. It might be interesting to see a fourth movie, perhaps with Serkis as a grown-up Cornelius, in which there are no speaking human characters at all. (I’m in no hurry for those astronauts seeded in the first movie to show up. These movies have defined their own direction so brilliantly that doing a remake of the original film would seem like a step backward. I’d rather see more exploration of the emergence of ape civilization, the historical gap that wasn’t explored in the original films.)

As far as the human characters go, I’m pleased that the film made at least some attempt to correct the casting problem of the previous one, in which nearly all the prominent human characters were white except for the designated bastard/secondary villain. This film still defaults to white for the two main humans, the Colonel and Nova, but fortunately the other prominent human characters are more diverse, including Gabriel Chavarria as the main soldier character Preacher and Roger Cross and Dean Redman as two of the Colonel’s junior officers. It was a nice surprise to see Cross (whom I met briefly at Shore Leave two years ago) in the film, but disappointing to see him killed off just minutes into the first reel. He deserves better than that; heck, he could’ve played the Colonel at least as well as Harrelson.

Major spoilers ahead:

I’m a little unsure about the climax — the huge human army rolls in, and then gets wiped out in moments by an avalanche? But I guess it isn’t random. For one thing, the avalanche was undoubtedly the result of the explosion Caesar set off. And it may seem awfully convenient, but I suppose it ties into the theme, expressed earlier by the Colonel, of nature punishing humanity for its hubris.

Speaking of which, I think it’s kind of poignantly fitting that what ultimately defeated the Colonel wasn’t violence, but a simple act of kindness by Nova. Because she came to help Caesar and gave him her doll, the Colonel was infected with the very disease he’d murdered so many people to try to stop. I could see that was going to happen the moment I saw the Colonel pick up the doll. In fact, that went very differently than I expected. When Nova snuck into camp, I was horrified, knowing that the Colonel would kill her if he found her. So that was a nerve-racking moment, but it ended up resolving in the opposite way from what I feared. Was that a little too easy? Maybe. But, as with the avalanche, maybe the point was to show the inevitability of the humans’ defeat at the hands of natural forces they could no longer control. And it’s an amazing accomplishment of this movie to make us see that as a happy ending. Maybe because the message is that human life has value with or without our intellect and civilization — that no matter what limitations we have, we deserve to be accepted and cared for, as Nova was by the apes, rather than killed to preserve the status quo. In the end, the apes were more humane than the humans, and so they deserved to win. Although only time will tell if they manage to preserve that empathy or end up building an oppressive society more like that of the original films.

There’s also the unexpected moral ambiguity of Caesar allowing the Colonel to kill himself as an act of compassion. The real revenge at that point would’ve been to condemn the Colonel to survive and infect the rest of his troops, bringing on the very catastrophe he’d fought so hard to prevent. But Caesar was still a decent being at heart, and so he allowed the Colonel to make his own choice. Not that it ultimately made much difference in the grand scheme of things, but in that moment, to the Colonel, it mattered. Considering how much I hate the tendency of movies to kill off the bad guys and make us root for it, I’m surprised to see a movie that makes me see the bad guy’s suicide as a sign of the hero’s positive growth. This is a remarkably nuanced story.

Let’s see, what else? Well, I kinda liked how the opening text exposition worked in the titles of the first two films in its recap. It helps as a mnemonic for which one was Rise and which one was Dawn, and it was a nice touch to have the actual title graphic grow out of the exposition text. Michael Giacchino’s score was very good (hey, he’s scored both the movies I saw in the theater this month); in Dawn, I thought he was evoking the earlier Apes scores by Jerry Goldsmith and Leonard Rosenman, but this score was different, surprisingly John Barry-ish at times. I love how classically cinematic Giacchino’s scores sound. He’s really been firing on all cylinders lately.

So that’s the end of Caesar’s trilogy, and quite a saga it’s been. At some point I’m going to have to binge the entire trilogy back-to-back, experience it as a single whole. It’s a remake that equals the best of its original and surpasses it in quality overall — and certainly has more consistency among its parts, despite the director change after the first film. And it stands on its own as a groundbreaking cinematic achievement. The Apes have indeed evolved.

Book sale — buy autographed copies of my books!

I haven’t done this in years, but I really need to make some money right now, so I’m offering to sell autographed copies of some of my books. I don’t have that many copies left of the older books, but I’m offering most of what I have.

You can buy these books from me through PayPal (via the “Send Money” tag with payments to clbennett@fuse.net, or simply use the PayPal button to the right of this post) for the prices listed below.  Please use the PayPal “instructions to merchant” option (or e-mail me) to let me know which book(s) you’re ordering, provide your shipping address, and let me know if you want the book(s) inscribed to anyone in particular (or not autographed at all, as the case may be).

Here are the books I have available, their quantities, and the price per copy (in US dollars):

Hardcovers: $25

  • Only Superhuman (25 copies)

Trade paperbacks: $16

  • Star Trek: Mirror Universe — Shards and Shadows (5 copies)
  • ST: Myriad Universes — Infinity’s Prism (2 copies)
  • ST: Mere Anarchy (2 copies)
  • ST: The Next Generation — The Sky’s the Limit (2 copies)

Trade paperbacks: $14

  • ST: Voyager — Distant Shores (2 copies)

Mass-market paperbacks: $8

  • Star Trek: TOS — The Face of the Unknown (7 6 copies)
  • ST: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel (3 copies)
  • ST: ENT — Rise of the Federation: Live by the Code (5 copies)
  • ST: Department of Temporal Investigations — Forgotten History (2 1 copy)
  • ST:TNG: Greater Than the Sum (2 1 copy)
  • ST: Titan: Over a Torrent Sea (2 1 copy)

I’ll try to keep this list updated with regard to availability, but if you have doubts, query first. For buyers in the US, add $2.50 for postage.  For buyers outside the US, pay the book price and I’ll bill you for postage separately once I determine the amount.

If you have a PayPal account of your own, please pay through that instead of a credit card.  PayPal charges a fee for credit card use, so if you do use a credit card, I have to ask for an additional $0.25 per mass-market paperback or an additional $0.40 per trade paperback.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING thoughts (spoilers)

I don’t have the budget to see many movies this summer, but Spider-Man: Homecoming was one I felt I needed to see (even though I’m waiting to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2 until the library gets it). And I made enough money on my recent Shore Leave trip that I felt I could afford to spare a few bucks for recreation. Though of course I went on discount Tuesday.

Anyway, I liked the movie, but I didn’t love it. I guess I’m not the target audience for the John Hughes-style teen romantic comedy vibe they were going for — I don’t think I ever was. I got kind of bored during some of those teen-drama sequences, though the young actors were all pretty good. I didn’t dislike it, and it was pretty fun at times, but it didn’t wow me. I dunno, everyone these days seems to be excited about putting Peter Parker back in high school, even though he spent only three years and 30 issues in high school in the comics (well, more like 44 issues counting guest appearances in other books), but I first became interested in Spidey as a college-age character in the 1990s animated series, and I got to know him best when writing about him as a college graduate and part-time high school teacher in Drowned in Thunder. So I guess the idea of making him a kid doesn’t do that much for me.

Still, for what it was, it worked well. It captured the essence of who Spider-Man is, his sense of fun and his desire to help and his commitment to justice even when it screws up his personal life, as it invariably does — just in a more teenagery way than usual. And in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I can definitely see the value of stepping away from all the big important adult heroes dealing with matters of global or cosmic significance and taking a look at what life in the MCU is like for the little guy down on street level. And Spider-Man is a very good character for that, a hero who often hobnobs with superhero royalty but never loses his connection to the streets. (Which was approached fairly literally here. He tended to stay more on the level of brownstones and bodegas than skyscrapers here, and there was a fun sequence showcasing how hard web-swinging is in suburbia. The few times he did get up high, he had trouble coping with it.) Moreover, it was really interesting to see a street-level villain. Adrian Toomes could soar to any height, but he didn’t want to rule the underworld or conquer the planet, he just wanted to make a dishonest living because he blamed Stark and the government for taking his honest livelihood from him. He wasn’t exactly a victim in the vein of your classic tragic Batman: The Animated Series villain — it’s not like he couldn’t have found a different way to make an honest buck, he just chose to become a criminal and occasional killer because he was ticked off at the system — but he still saw himself as just a guy looking out for his family, making him a more nuanced and relatable villain than the MCU usually manages.

Now — spoiler alert — I could say it’s a huge coincidence that that Vulture turns out to be the father of Peter’s school crush Liz (wait, is she Liz Toomes? Liz Allan-Toomes?), but then, that’s the classic Parker luck. The villain always turns out to be either a family member of one of Peter’s friends, Peter’s own beloved mentor, or both. So I can give that a pass. And it plays out interestingly. We’ve seen the beat of the villain deducing the hero’s identity before in superhero films, perhaps too often, but it rarely plays out on such an intimate scale, and with the villain not really wanting to hurt the hero. Although it does get rather hard to sympathize with Toomes toward the climax, as he’s actively beating up a teenage boy and trying to kill him. That felt like too much of a standard action-movie beat being imposed on the characters. I think that Toomes as established through the rest of the film should’ve had more qualms about such face-to-face violence against such a young opponent.

But I love the way it turns out. I’ve spoken before of my dislike of the way superhero movies insist on killing off the bad guys, either by having the heroes kill them or going the “I don’t have to save you” route or having them die by their own actions or a twist of fate. It was so satisfying to see a movie not do that — to see Spidey risk his life to save the villain, succeed, and even get karmically rewarded for it in the post-credits scene. That’s the way I like to see these stories play out. I was worried about how Spidey, a character largely defined by his refusal to kill, would be handled in the MCU, which tends to make its heroes rather less non-lethal than they usually are in the comics. (Seriously, why would Tony even install “Instant Kill Mode” in that suit?) I’m relieved that they’re keeping that aspect of his character intact.

By the same token, I liked the scene with Spidey and Donald Glover’s character (who apparently is Miles Morales’s uncle). Spidey started out trying to intimidate the guy, but it turned out that what did the trick was Spidey’s kindness — he’d invited the bad guys to shoot him rather than Glover, and the latter appreciated that and was thus willing to help, as well as sharing a common concern for their neighborhood’s safety. That’s the sort of thing that really uses the idea of a Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man and makes it mean something.

I’m a bit disappointed that Spidey ended the film with the same Stark supersuit he started it with. I figured the arc of the film would be that he’d learn that all those gadgets were too much of a crutch and that he preferred something more basic. Maybe that will still be the case, though — maybe he’ll re-enable “Training Wheels Mode” voluntarily. (Although I read a review that pointed out that having the “Karen” AI to talk to was a nice substitute for Spidey’s constant internal monologue in the comics.)

Speaking of Stark, it’s interesting how he has his own parallel plotline sort of running through this movie, even though he’s mainly there to serve Peter’s story as a surrogate father figure and (rather bad) mentor. Even though he seems to treat Peter as an afterthought, he’s invested an awful lot (literally, financially) in this kid and his training as a hero. It matters to him, even if he’s inadvertently following in his own absentee father’s footsteps. One could wonder why he places so much importance on this one young protege, and partly that’s because it’s Spidey’s movie, but it also fits with where Tony is at this point in the MCU. This thing he’s built, the Avengers, has fallen apart. He’s lost almost his entire team, save for War Machine and Vision, and Rhodey’s probably still on the disabled list. So he needs to cultivate new members — not just for the optics or the logistics, but out of his personal need to keep his dream from being a failure. He’s trying not to rush the kid into it, trying to give him a chance to start out small and work his way up, but he’s equipped the Spidey suit with an AI designed to guide Peter’s training and hone him into Avenger material. And once Peter bypasses all that and proves himself by saving the day in his hoodie and goggles, Tony can’t resist jumping forward and offering him the works, just going all-out for the kid the moment he has an excuse. Because he needs this. Not just to rebuilt the Avengers, but because, as he said, he wants Peter to be better than him. He sees himself in the kid and wants to help him be a better man and a better hero than Tony could ever be. It’s interesting how much this film reveals about Tony Stark even though it’s nominally in a different series and even from a different studio. Some might hold that against the film as a Spider-Man story in its own right, but I enjoy the interconnectedness of all this and how unusual it is for movies. I love it that you can put all these individual films together and get an ongoing story running through most of them as a bonus.

Oh, and speaking of bonuses… Yes, as usual, I was the only one in my theater who stuck around through all the credits and got to see the Captain America tag at the end. It was worth it. (Plus, Michael Giacchino’s score was a good one, so I was happy to listen to the whole end title cue.)

I made it home

I’m back home again now, though I’m still recovering from the trip. I had a nice visit with Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry, then turned in early so I’d be rested for an early departure Tuesday morning, though I didn’t get as much sleep as I hoped (but then, I rarely do). Cousins Barb and Mark were kind enough to pick up groceries I could use to make a turkey sandwich for the road.

I set out during morning rush hour, but the westward route I chose toward I-70 enabled me to avoid heavy traffic once I got onto the highway. My plan was to take I-70 to the PA Turnpike so that I’d only have to be on it for a little while and not have to spend as much in tolls as I did on the way out. But Google Maps wanted me to go along I-68 through the Maryland panhandle and avoid the Turnpike altogether, and when I checked my weather app and saw there was rain heading north toward the Turnpike, I decided to follow its suggestion after all. I generally avoid that route because it’s so mountainous, which can be rough in bad weather, and because it’s less trafficked, so it could be harder to find help if something went wrong. But on a clear day with the car working fine, it made for a nice, quiet drive on an uncrowded highway. I did have a bit of a scare, though, when my GPS conked out, since I didn’t have any backup printed maps of the route I was using and was in danger of getting lost. Once I found a place to stop, I was able to reboot it, and also got out my folding state maps in case I had to navigate the old-fashioned way. The GPS stopped working a couple more times along the trip, but not until after I’d gotten past the tricky part, taking the US 40 state road from I-68 up to I-70. The last time I took that route was in the middle of a snowstorm, which is why I’ve avoided it ever since, but in clear July weather it was fine. I was even able to eat most of my sandwich while driving, since the road was so empty and uneventful. That saved me some time.

In fact, I got really lucky with the weather. The forecast called for rain on and off throughout the day, but either I managed to take a route around it or it just happened to go around my route. As I headed west toward Columbus on I-70, there was a big rainstorm heading northeast toward it from Cincinnati, so I figured I’d have to deal with some rough weather on the final leg of my drive — but by the time the storm and I converged, it had mostly tuckered out and I only caught a few moments of heavy drizzle along its fringes.

So thanks to all this good luck, I was able to get home via the quickest route with minimal delays and only the occasional moments of anxiety when my GPS conked out, and when I was unsure if I could find a gas station before running out. There was a moment when it seemed the gas gauge needle was dropping alarmingly fast on a steep uphill grade, but then it went up again once I was going downhill. I realized the changing angle of the fuel in the tank was lowering and raising the bob that connects to the gauge. There was also a weird moment later on where I was backing out a parking space (while turning) and the car kept going backward when I put it into drive, and the brakes were slow to stop it. That worried me, but it seemed to work fine after that. Maybe I was just on a steeper downhill grade than I realized. Or maybe the gears just didn’t catch.

I reached home around 6:30, about 10 hours after I set out, and I even stopped in at the local Kroger for some groceries, since I’d used up the last of perishable items like milk and sandwich fixings before I left. Then I spent the evening catching up on Killjoys and Dark Matter. My DVR failed to record them for some reason, but fortunately On Demand cable has nearly everything now. I still have Orphan Black to catch up on, though. (By the way, several Dark Matter cast members were at Shore Leave, and I got to have a brief chat with Jodelle Ferland, who seemed pretty nice.)

I just finished adding up all my receipts for the trip, and it turns out that the money I spent on the trip is only about 40 dollars more than the money I made, and that’s counting the gas and the car inspection I got shortly before the trip as trip-related expenses. So I didn’t quite break even, but I came close. Who knows — if the fans who said they might buy my books later actually follow through, I might come still closer to breaking even.

The Shore has been Left

This time, I’m sitting in cousins Barb & Mark’s house about an hour’s drive from the convention hotel, taking advantage of some quiet time to recover from the past few days of conventioneering, if that’s the word. So now’s my opportunity to gather my thoughts about Shore Leave and post my recollections.

My second day of driving was much better weather-wise than the first, nice and sunny all day. The one snag I hit was financial. I didn’t get cash before I left, figuring I had enough for the trip and would get more from my convention stipend and book sales — but I didn’t take into account that the Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls had increased. It occurred to me to check the tolls on my phone browser at a rest stop just before I had to get off, and I found I didn’t have enough cash and needed to use the ATM there (complete with $2.50 service fee). Okay, maybe they would’ve taken a credit card, but I didn’t want to chance it. I belatedly realized that they have the prices printed on the tickets — I don’t know why I didn’t consider before that all those numbers on the tickets might actually convey useful information. If I’d thought of that ahead of time, I would’ve gotten off the Turnpike earlier and taken the highway through Maryland instead. I’ll probably do that going  back. I generally stick to the Turnpike despite the tolls because the other route is tricky in bad weather, with all the mountains and fog and such, and there’d been a flood warning in that area the day before. But the weather was clear on Friday, so it probably would’ve been fine.

Anyway, I made it to the hotel a bit poorer but otherwise intact, and once I checked in, I managed to find a free parking space right next to the closest entrance to my room, so I didn’t have to carry my bags very far. (I had the same parking luck at my motel the night before, although I’d unwisely asked for an upstairs room that turned out to be in back, so it was a bit more of a schlep even so.) I got in a bit late, so I only had a few hours before my first panel, but I managed to find a bunch of fellow writer guests in the bar, including Dave Mack (of course he’d be in the bar), his wife Kara, Aaron Rosenberg and his daughter, Bob Greenberger, and I think Keith DeCandido (sorry, I was tired so my memory’s fuzzy), and we sat around and listened to Dave regale us with stories about what’s going on behind the scenes in Star Trek, which are unrepeatable for two or three different reasons. Although Dave, who’s working closely with the Star Trek: Discovery producers on his tie-in novel Desperate Hours, did leave me reassured that the writing on the new show will be solid and that it won’t invalidate our vast tie-in continuity, at least not right away. It was a thrill to hear about how our friend and colleague, Voyager novelist Kirsten Beyer, is doing on the writing staff of the show. It’s awesome to see a friend achieve something like that, and it sounds like she’s already made herself indispensable. Although it’s too bad that her work out in Hollywood is keeping her too busy to attend Shore Leave this year.

My first panel was on Star Trek Literature as Science Fiction, ably moderated by Strange New Worlds author Derek Tyler Attico and including Dave Galanter and John Coffren, and we all had an interesting talk about what we think SF is and what makes ST’s brand of it distinctive. Later I had a quiet dinner in my room (finishing off the sandwich I’d bought on the road, along with a cup of hotel-room coffee) so I’d be nourished and alert enough for Meet the Pros that evening. As usual, I was seated next to my Only Superhuman editor Greg Cox, who was touting his new tie-in novels to TNT’s The Librarians and his novelization of War of the Planet of the Apes, which unfortunately was just a week away from being released so he couldn’t sell copies at Shore Leave. I was also across from Keith and his longtime girlfriend Wrenn, who recently got married at last, and they had a huge sign at their table saying “MARRIED LIFE IS PRETTY DANGED AWESOME,” no doubt pre-empting a question they knew they’d be getting asked a lot otherwise. As for myself, I signed a number of copies of The Face of the Unknown that they had for sale at the book vendor’s table, but only managed to sell three of the older books I had for sale at my own table. It was a pretty quiet evening — in fact, a pretty quiet con, in terms of guest attendance — but that just gave us writers more time to socialize and catch up with each other. It’s nice to connect with the fans, but it’s also nice when the event dies down and the writers can just wander the hall chatting with each other.

I had three panels on Saturday. First was “History for Fun and Profit,” where we talked about using history in our SF/fantasy writing — mostly involving writers of alternate history SF/F, but I talked about how my history studies helped me write about future events, first contacts, cross-cultural interactions, and so forth in my SF. After a quick lunch (a peanut butter sandwich I’d made for the trip), there was “Defending the Light Side,” which was about optimistic and/or humorous writing, refuting the attitude that such things are fluffy or insubstantial. Then I guess I just hung around with various people I ran into for a couple of hours — it’s all kind of blurred together about what conversations I had when — and I did my first hourlong stint in the “author chimney,” the narrow space between brick pillars that’s the only place the book vendors usually have for authors to sit and peddle our work. But it was a slow afternoon — most of the guests were probably in the big ballroom watching Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn give their talk. So it was mainly just a chance to sit and rest between panels. Finally, we had the “Upcoming Star Trek Books” panel with me, Dave, Dayton Ward, and Scott Pearson. We didn’t really have much in the way of new Pocket novels to discuss beyond what’s already been announced, so I thought we might have to do a Q&A about our recent books to fill the time, but Scott also talked about all the other books and comics coming out from other publishers for the rest of the year, and that ended up occupying most of the hour after all. But I got to talk some about my upcoming Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference, and how it’s the climax for the Trip Tucker/Section 31 arc I inherited when I started doing the ENT novels.

Right after that came the annual tradition of Saturday dinner at Andy Nelson’s Barbecue a few miles from the hotel. In years past, I’ve always gotten a pulled turkey sandwich with cole slaw and cornbread as sides, because it’s so unique in my experience to have cole slaw and cornbread that are actually good, indeed really good. But this year, I finally decided to try something different — still the pulled turkey, but with macaroni & cheese and stewed tomatoes as my two sides. (I considered mac & cornbread, but I figured I needed a vegetable.) Right off the bat, I accidentally dropped a piece of macaroni into the tomatoes, which proved a happy accident that I did on purpose quite a bit thereafter. I also got to talk about a bunch of stuff with a bunch of people, some work-related, some not. I learned a lot about the comics business from Glenn Hauman, who’s done some Trek writing but mainly works in comics and knows a ton of the people in the industry, so it’s hard to talk to him and not learn a lot about comics. After dinner, back in the hotel lobby, he and Richard C. White (a comics author who then moved into prose) got to talking to me about an early Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons “Dragnet as time police” spoof from 2000 AD that was a master illustration of the economy of comic-book art, and also a sort of spiritual antecedent of my Department of Temporal Investigations novels. They both found the story on their smartphones to show it to me, but there was no easy way to call up the next page, so it became a two-phone bucket brigade operation — while I read one page on one of their phones, Glenn would navigate to the next page on the other, and we’d swap phones when I was ready. There’s got to be an easier way to read a comic, but luckily it was only five pages. And it was a cool story.

Sunday morning, I got up a bit late and had an 11 AM panel, and I had to have breakfast and check out of my room before the panel, so I didn’t have time for much else that morning. But it was a fun panel, called “Where No Tale Has Gone Before” — Dave, Keith, Dayton, Scott, and myself talking about whether there were still new Star Trek stories to tell after all these decades. Answer: Yes, of course. There are always untapped areas to explore, and every new story introduces new elements that can be explored further. But it was a good talk. Afterward (and after briefly running into my cousin Scott and his son, who’d arrived at the con too late to do more than say hello), it was time for lunch. Due to my tight finances, I was just about to settle for my remaining emergency peanut butter sandwich (now several days old, but it had spent the majority of the intervening time refrigerated), but Aaron Rosenberg was kind enough to treat me to a sandwich from the hotel Starbucks — a chicken sandwich with cranberry mayonnaise, of all things. I sat and talked with him and Greg for a while, and ultimately followed Greg to a panel on genre mashups which he did along with with Keith and Roberta Rogow. I could’ve easily joined them on the panel, since Only Superhuman counts as a hard-SF/superhero mashup (in fact, Glenn Hauman coined a good pitch line for it this weekend, “Superheroes meet The Expanse“), but I welcomed the chance to be an audience member and just be quiet and listen for a while. (Although I couldn’t resist asking one question.)

I was done with panels after that, but I hung around a few hours longer to talk to people, and I did an extended stint at the book vendors’ table — but fortunately there was a larger space available this time, so Greg and I sat together again and pitched our books to passersby. We were competing with Sirtis and Dorn again, but eventually their show ended and the crowd in the hall grew, and I finally managed to sell a couple more Only Superhuman copies. Later on, I briefly got to meet Marina Sirtis and give her a copy of Orion’s Hounds, which she insisted I sign for her. I hope she likes it.

All in all, a pretty good Shore Leave. I didn’t get to accomplish as much business-related, err, business as I’d hoped, but I got to socialize a lot with old friends and new, and I learned some interesting stuff. And then it was a reasonably easy drive to my cousins’ (aside from a brief traffic jam), and for once I didn’t get lost in the maze of streets around their house (GPS isn’t always helpful here), and as usual we had dinner at their friend Charles’s, and I had a really good turkey burger with a slice of remarkably good tomato. I’ve had good luck with tomatoes this weekend. And later today, I’m going to go visit Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry at their retirement home, and tomorrow I’ll set off for home. Hopefully I can make it in one day this time.

Shore Leave 39 schedule

I’m sitting in a motel room in Western Pennsylvania right now, after driving through increasingly heavy rain throughout the day. I stopped about an hour earlier than I planned because I was fed up with the weather — and of course the rain stopped shortly after I checked into the motel. But then, I had a coupon for this motel (which I’ve stayed at before), it cost less than my other option, and my right foot felt like it was about to cramp if I didn’t rest it and get some dinner soon.

So here I am, and I see that a lot of other Shore Leave guests have posted their schedules for the con. I figure I’d better do the same. Here’s the overall, final schedule (as final as these things get, anyway):

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

And my schedule specifically (copying the panel descriptions from the pocket program because I’m tired):

FRIDAY 7/7

Star Trek Lit as Science Fiction — 7 PM, Salon A
Star Trek authors discuss how their work—and Star Trek literature in general—fits (or breaks) the mold of the science fiction genre. Do Star Trek stories draw on classic sci-fi? Do they advance the genre?
Derek Attico (M), Christopher L. Bennett, John Coffren, Dave Galanter

Meet the Pros — 10 PM to Midnight, Hunt/Valley Corridor

The usual mass signing event. As with last year, I intend to have copies of Only Superhuman and a few older Trek paperbacks for sale, and I take credit cards.

SATURDAY 7/8

History for Fun and Profit — 11 AM, Derby Lounge
Lots of SF/F stories explicitly use historical models, whether it’s the Victorian Age for steampunk or Age of Sail for original Star Trek. What pieces of the past are best for borrowing? How important is accuracy?
Jenifer Rosenberg (M), Christopher L. Bennett, Melissa Scott, Roberta Rogow, Richard C. White
Defending the Light Side — 1 PM, Chase Ballroom
In fiction, as in real life, upbeat and happy are often equated with silly fluff lacking substantial themes and intelligence. Or dismissed as childish. Those claims are often inaccurate, however.
Rigel Ailur (M), Christopher L. Bennett, Michael Critzer, Roberta Rogow, Andrew Hiller
Upcoming Star Trek Books — 5 PM, Belmont Lounge
A preview of forthcoming Star Trek novels from Simon & Schuster, with some of their authors as well as other Trek-related titles due out this fall and into 2018. (Note: It’s likely to be more a “Recent and Upcoming ST Books” panel, because there aren’t that many upcoming books currently scheduled. But the next upcoming book is my Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference, so I’ll have that to talk about.)
Scott Pearson (M), David Mack, Christopher L. Bennett, Dayton Ward
SUNDAY 7/9
Where No Tale Has Gone Before — 11 AM, Chase Ballroom
After over 50 years, how can there still be fresh stories to tell in Star Trek’s shared universe? Our panel of Trekspert storytellers discuss what they think makes for solid new Star Trek tales.
David Mack (M), Dayton Ward, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Christopher L. Bennett, Scott Pearson

I’ll be at Books By the Banks on October 28!

My attendance at the annual Books By the Banks festival here in Cincinnati has been intermittent over the years. There was one year where a communications breakdown kept me from completing registration in time, and last year, for whatever reason, I simply forgot to apply. So I made sure to get my application in this year, with help from Pocket Books’ publicist, and I’m happy to announce that I have been accepted as a guest for this year:

http://booksbythebanks.org/authors-confirmed.php

The event will be held Saturday, October 28, 2017 at the Duke Energy Convention Center in downtown Cincinnati, OH. I’ll provide more info as the time approaches, but since I’ve just been announced as a guest this afternoon, I wanted to get the news out.

 

Of course, next weekend, July 7-9, as most of you probably know already, I’ll be at the Shore Leave Convention in Hunt Valley, MD. I got my car checked out and my vacation hold filed at the post office, so I’m just about ready.