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.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

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.)

Categories: Uncategorized

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.

Where things stand with my writing

October 16, 2021 3 comments

Well, the good news is, I’ve now been paid for the concluding volume of the Tangent Knights trilogy. It was cutting it a bit close, which is my own fault for running behind, but the money’s in the bank at last. Also, with TK done, I had time to finally finish revising a couple more Star Trek Adventures standalone games, and I’m awaiting approval and payment on those. So I daresay I’m probably okay for the next half-year or so now, barring disasters.

Things are still a bit iffy going forward, though. I’ve already pitched an idea for more Tangent Knights novels, and I’ve got a couple of new things tentatively lined up with Star Trek Adventures, all of which I’m waiting to hear back on. I expect my projects with both publishers to go forward, but I’m not sure when they’d be likely to pay out. So my long-term prospects are a little uncertain right now, but at least I have time to try to line up some additional sources of income to bridge the gap, if it proves necessary.

You’re probably wondering about Star Trek novels. Let’s just say things are up in the air with those right now, and I’ve learned over the past few years that it was unwise to rely too heavily on them as my primary source of income, given the unexpected delays and slow periods that tend to crop up. So until I hear otherwise, my current priorities are elsewhere — Tangent, STA, my other original work as time allows, and whatever else I can line up over the months ahead. Ideally, I hope to find the time to start writing a third Arachne novel.

Gaining more Patreon subscribers would certainly help. I fell behind on preparing new Patreon content while I was writing TK3, but I’ve been trying to catch up. I’m currently 3/4 of the way through a review of the 8-episode Japanese miniseries Miss Sherlock, which reinvents Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as modern-day women in Tokyo. After that, starting on October 26, I’ll begin covering the mindbending 1998 cyberpunk anime series Serial Experiments Lain, in an edited repost of the detailed reviews I wrote in 2009 for a now-defunct incarnation of the ExIsle BBS, so they probably no longer exist online in their original form. That will carry my review series through to the end of the year, so I’ll hopefully have time to rebuild my inventory.

I’m also working on a new Patreon story that I hope to have ready by the end of October. It’s a character vignette (well, longer than a vignette) filling in a significant bit of overlooked backstory for one of my favorite characters from Arachne’s Crime. Some of it might find its way into the third Arachne novel if I ever get around to it, or at least it might help me flesh out ideas for that book.

Also, I now have an author copy of Tangent Knights 1: Caprice of Fate, so I’ll finally be able to do annotations, which I was waiting to do until I could hear the final version and get the timings for my notes. I want to get the Patreon story finished up before I tackle that, though.

I also have a new Troubleshooter story that I’ve been trying to sell, but a couple of the markets I was hoping to offer it to have dried up recently. If I run out of other options, it’ll end up on Patreon.

I’m wrestling with an idea for what might be a new Hub story. It’s a concept I’ve had in mind for years, a fairly dark comedy premise. I already tried writing it once as a standalone story, but I wasn’t satisfied with the result; it turned out less comedic than I intended. I have an idea for how to take another stab at the concept in the Hub setting, but I’m not sure if the plot specifics can really work there. So that’s still up in the air.

I keep a list taped to my door of the projects I plan to tackle in a given year, and I usually end up disappointed by how few of them I actually get done. I suppose it’s not as bad as it looks, though, since I got most of the biggest things done, except for Arachne 3. The things I haven’t checked off are mostly outlines or tentative short story ideas. My problem is that it’s hard for me to focus on more than one thing at a time. If I were better at multitasking, I could get some of these smaller things done during breaks in the bigger things. But it’s hard for me to split my focus that way. Indeed, part of why I was late with TK3 is because I took a break from it to finish an STA game and it took longer than intended. But then, almost all my writing takes longer than intended.

Maybe I’d do better if I were more financially secure and less stressed. I’m somewhat better off in that regard than I was last year, thanks to GraphicAudio and Tangent Knights. But it’s not as much of an improvement as I’d hoped for, due to various delays. So I’m hanging on, but the long-term uncertainty remains.

New Patreon fiction: “What Slender Threads”

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted a new story on my Patreon. I fell behind schedule on the conclusion of the Tangent Knights trilogy, so I tried to focus solely on that. But now I’ve finally posted a new story, “What Slender Threads,” which you can read here on the $10/mo Fiction tier:

Fiction: “What Slender Threads”

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

“What Slender Threads” Annotations

I say “new,” but it’s more like “unsold.” As I mentioned on the Tangent Knights discussion page, I already had a rough idea for a trilogy I was planning to develop when GraphicAudio invited me to pitch an original trilogy or series, but I had to rework it to separate out the characters and concepts I’d already used in a prologue story I was shopping around at the time, splitting different aspects of the original premise into two separate continuities and two distinct approaches to the idea of parallel Earths. “What Slender Threads” is that story, a glimpse at my original approach, which would have been somewhat darker and more tragic than Tangent Knights turned out to be. In retrospect, I’m glad I ended up taking a different tack, because TK was enormous fun to write. But there are still aspects of “What Slender Threads” that I’m eager to share with my audience, particularly its distinctive take on the nature of parallel worlds. And people who’ve listened to Tangent Knights: Caprice of Fate might be interested to compare and contrast it with this alternative version of the concept (or vice versa).

Thoughts on Legendary’s GODZILLA VS. KONG (Spoilers)

September 24, 2021 2 comments

The library finally came through with my copy of Godzilla vs. Kong, the climax of what we could derivatively call “Phase One” of Legendary Pictures’ “MonsterVerse” combining Toho’s Godzilla/kaiju franchise with the King Kong franchise. The film picks up the concepts and story threads built up over the previous three films, Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), though the returning human cast members are limited to GKotM’s Millie Bobby Brown (who really needs to be signed up immediately for a Young Princess Leia series or movie before she ages out of it) and Kyle Chandler — and Chandler’s obnoxious Mark Russell character is fortunately reduced to a very minor role. GKotM’s Zhang Ziyi was signed up to return, but her part was cut out entirely (along with Jessica Henwick, who I mentioned in my GKotM review as someone I was looking forward to seeing).

The film opens on Skull Island with Kong waking up to classic rock being piped into his jungle on speakers, a stylistic nod to the soundtrack of KSI. He has a friendly exchange with a young deaf girl named Jia (Kaylee Hottie), who we will learn is the last survivor of the Iwi tribe seen in KSI, and who’s been adopted by Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), the film’s resident Kong expert. But he throws a tree trunk at the sky and breaks a hole in the virtual projection on the vast dome holding him in, built by the monster-regulating Monarch organization introduced in the previous films. Andrews and a colleague exposit to each other that Kong needs to be contained to protect him from Godzilla, who won’t tolerate another alpha Titan, but that Kong has grown too big for his habitat. This addresses both Kong’s absence in GKotM and his much vaster size here than in KSI (which did foreshadow that he was still a growing boy).

We then cut to Brian Tyree Henry as Bernie Hayes, a conspiracy nut and whistleblower within Apex Cybernetics, a powerful tech corporation that he thinks is doing something sinister involving the Titans — something that draws Godzilla to attack an Apex facility, changing his public image from hero Titan to menace to humanity. Bernie’s got a podcast reporting to the public on his secret investigation on a daily basis, surely tipping Apex off to the existence of a whistleblower within their ranks, and he makes no effort to disguise his distinctive Brian Tyree Henry-esque booming voice in his podcasts, which seems contradictory for a paranoid, secretive character like Bernie’s supposed to be. (It’s unclear if his paranoia is an act, since we see him warning a co-worker against eating a GMO apple and then eating it himself, but otherwise he seems sincere.) But it provides an excuse to bring in Millie Bobby Brown’s Madison Russell, Bernie’s most loyal listener, who tracks him down to get his help exposing Apex, along with her nerdy friend Josh (Julian Dennison), who’s mainly just there to complain.

Ilene is approached by her old flame Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), formerly of Monarch, who’s been approached in turn by Apex exec Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) to mount an expedition into the Hollow Earth to find some MacGuffinish “power source” that could save the world from Godzilla in some unclear way. For some unexplained reason, Lind is considered a crackpot for his Hollow Earth theories even though that realm has been confirmed to exist in previous movies. Apparently the Hollow Earth is more than just underground tunnels but involves a “gravitational inversion” that killed Lind’s brother on their last attempt to get in. But Simmons has developed antigravity-powered Hollow Earth Aerial Vehicles that could survive the transition, and somehow their best brains never realized that “HEAV” (pronounced “heave”) is a terrible name.

Anyway, Lind needs Ilene to recruit Kong as a guide to the Hollow Earth power source, on the theory that Titans have a salmon-like instinct to return to their origins (sounds fishy). He somehow talks Ilene into agreeing, and bringing Jia along because she keeps Kong calm. The involved process of sedating and restraining Kong is skipped over, and we cut to him being chained on a flatbed ship in a military convoy heading for the Hollow Earth entrance in Antarctica, where Ilene discovers what she somehow missed, that Kong speaks sign language and converses with Jia, but they kept it from Ilene since Kong didn’t want her to know. (He’s a gorilla the size of a skyscraper under constant scientific scrutiny. How did he hide it?) Anyway, Ilene was right about one thing: taking Kong out of his dome attracts Godzilla, who’s determined to force his rival to submit to his dominance. His attack threatens to sink the ship and drown Kong until Lind hits the button to release the chains, something he argued against before. I’m not sure whether that’s showing Lind’s growth or just making him the designated hero because he’s the main white male in the film.

Anyway, there’s a big Kong/Godzilla throwdown underwater and on top of the ships, quite a massive fight for 3/4 of an hour into the film, and Kong basically loses, getting wrapped in Goji’s tail and half-drowned until the fleet uses depth charges to disorient Goji and let Kong climb to safety, then goes to silent running to play dead.

To avoid Goji’s notice, they airlift Kong to Antarctica in a net carried by a fleet of helicopters, evoking a visual from King Kong vs. Godzilla. Ilene gets Jia to convince Kong he might find family in the Hollow Earth, prompting him to dive in, with the HEAVs following. The gravitational inversion turns out not to be just some kind of weightless transitional zone, but a full-on 2001-ripoff space warp that spits the HEAVs out in the Hollow Earth, a realm sandwiched between two parallel surfaces with opposing gravities and a lot of weightless rocks floating at the midway plane (how’d they get up there?). The space warp seems gratuitous given that this is supposed to be a Pellucidar-like hollow inside the Earth, rather than some alternate dimension or whatever. They seem to be throwing concepts together without worrying about cohesiveness. Oddly, despite what’s been said all along about the Titans being native to the Hollow Earth, there’s no sign of any familiar kaiju from previous films — no other Godzillas, no Mothras, no Rodans, no MUTOs, even. Well, some pterosaurs from Skull Island, but that’s it. There are some original Titans, though, notably some winged-snake things called Warbats that Kong fights.

Kong eventually finds the ruins of a Kong-sized civilization and a giant axe apparently made from a Godzilla spine and bone. Kong somehow intuits to use this scale as the key to unlocking the super-“power source” that Simmons sent the expedition to find. Simmons’s gorgeous but arrogant daughter Maia (Eiza González), sent along as babysitter but too undeveloped a character to be worth mentioning until now, steals a sample of the power source, which Ilene and Lind are startled by, even though it’s precisely what the whole expedition was explicitly sent to do in the first place. Huh?

And then there’s another “Huh?”, because apparently all Simmons needs to harness this power source is to get a scan of its energy signature transmitted to him, whereupon he’s instantly able to replicate it. What? If this is some super-energy source beyond anything human technology has, how does human technology have the energy to replicate it in a matter of minutes? Isn’t the whole point of a power source that you need to harness the actual source itself to provide the power? You can’t fuel a car with a spectrograph of gasoline vapor. You need the actual substance.

I need to backtrack a bit here, since Madison, Bernie, and Josh have snuck into the destroyed Apex facility in Florida and discovered an underground hyper-monorail system that spirits them to Apex’s Hong Kong facility, where Apex is using Skullcrawlers (from Kong: Skull Island) as test victims for their very own Mechagodzilla. (The plot of this film is so cursory that I just didn’t feel the need to keep up with this bunch until now.) Somehow the three intruders go absolutely unobserved for a long time even while standing right in the middle of the heavily monitored Mechagoji test chamber, and they’re able to find that Mechagoji is telepathically controlled from a station built into the King Ghidorah skull salvaged in the post-credits scene of GKotM, with an implicit second KG skull inside Mechagoji (making it a fusion of Mechagodzilla and Mecha-King Ghidorah). The pilot, by the way, is named Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri), but he’s such a cipher of a character that the implied relationship to Dr. Serizawa from the previous films is never addressed.

So anyway, Simmons wants the Hollow Earth power source to bring Mechagodzilla to full power so that humans can reclaim the “alpha” status from Godzilla. Goji senses MG’s testing and attacks Hong Kong, whereupon he… uh… wait… whereupon he turns out not to be targeting Mechagodzilla after all. Instead he… um… he uses his atomic breath to blast a hole way, way down through the Earth’s crust to blow up the power source in the Hollow Earth temple where Kong is, which… is coincidentally directly below Hong Kong. Yeah. Uh-huh.

WHAAAAAA???????????

This has got to be the lamest way ever to get two disconnected plotlines to converge. I mean, the whole reason Apex needed to use Kong was so he could guide them to the power source, whose location they were unaware of. And it turns out the location was literally right underneath Apex’s main base the whole time???? That is a gigantic cheat. Nobody in the film even remarks on the mind-boggling coincidence or irony of it all. It’s jarring to see what we think is Godzilla reacting to one of the two plotlines and have it instead be a totally random, contrived way to drag the two disconnected plotlines together.

Not only that, but the whole Stargate spacewarp inversion from earlier is gone; now there’s just a big ol’ hole that Kong drops into/climbs out of to attack Godzilla with his new axe. They have a big throwdown that trashes Hong Kong, and unlike the previous MonsterVerse films, there’s no more than the barest token attempt to acknowledge the human impact of this horrendous destruction, with just a couple of brief shots of fleeing citizens. As a result, there’s no sense of stakes to the battle of Titans and it’s all just shallow spectacle and noise. The watching Lind and Ilene show no sense of horror at the cataclysmic loss of life, just idly remarking on who’s winning. If the characters don’t have any strong reaction to what we’re seeing, why should we?

Kong wins the “second round,” in Lind’s estimation, by knocking Godzilla to the proverbial mat, but his ruling is premature; Goji rallies and thrashes him rather decisively, pinning Kong down and only releasing him when Kong gives up the fight. This surprised me; since Kong lost the first bout, I’d expected him to win the second. Indeed, as Jia soon discovers by feeling his heartbeat through the ground, Kong is dying.

Meanwhile, once Simmons brings Mechagodilla to full power, Serizawa loses his connection and the mecha takes on a life of its own, killing Simmons in mid-megalomaniacal speech. Implicitly, King Ghidorah’s consciousness has taken it over, in a beat similar to the one in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla where Kiryu was taken over by the spirit of the Godzilla skeleton it was built around. Although, like so many things in this film, that part is glossed over. Explanations, connective logic, characterizations, it’s all expendable in favor of the CGI spectacle. So anyway, Mechagoji breaks out of the Apex base and attacks Godzilla. You can surely guess what comes next: Lind uses one of the HEAVs’ experimental engines to shock Kong’s heart (because in fiction, defibrillation to restart a stopped heart magically cures whatever broader systemic damage is responsible for the heart stopping in the first place), Jia convinces Kong that his real enemy is the metal Goji instead of the scaly one, and the two alpha Titans team up to kill the mecha. They even do a combi move (as they call it in Japan) where Godzilla supercharges Kong’s axe with his atomic breath. As the human characters reunite and look on, the Titans face each other off once more, but Kong lets the axe fall and Godzilla leaves him be, returning to the sea.

Well, this is the first Legendary MonsterVerse film that really disappointed me. It’s a silly, shallow mess of cluttered spectacle, feeling like a film whose script was hacked apart and sloppily reassembled by studio fiat, losing most of its substance and coherence in the process. The characterizations established in the first hour, such as they are, get lost in the second half, with the characters becoming little more than tools for exposition and plot advancement and spectators to the CGI carnage. Madison Russell in particular is very poorly served; her ultimate role in the film is simply to stand there and watch events unfolding around her. At the end, Bernie and Josh contribute in their own small way to weakening Mechagodzilla, but Madison, who played a key role in driving events in the climax of the previous film, just stands there uselessly this time while the people with Y chromosomes get all the agency. It’s an utter waste of her character. Indeed, she and her father, the only returning human characters from the previous film, could have been left out of this one entirely without significantly affecting its plot, as she’s only there to tag along with Bernie, the real driver of that half of the film. Which is unfortunate in itself, since Bernie is a conspiracy nut with a lot of nonsensical beliefs, but we’re supposed to believe that he’s a reliable guide to what’s really going on. The film had the misfortune of coming out after the January 6 coup attempt, after which it became impossible to see conspiracy nuts as harmlessly endearing. Even aside from that, Bernie’s eccentric paranoid schtick just isn’t remotely as funny as the film imagines it to be. He and Josh are both rather irritating, making it all the more annoying that they overshadow Madison.

Between Madison’s wasted role and the throwaway treatment of Ren Serizawa — as well as Lance Reddick being credited prominently in the opening titles yet only having one or two lines of exposition to Kyle Chandler — I have to wonder how much of this film’s plot ended up on the cutting room floor in favor of CGI wackiness. (The running time is 1 hour, 53 minutes, the shortest in the series, though only by 5 minutes; GKotM is the longest, but it’s only 2 hours, 11 minutes.) Well, I don’t have to wonder; this Instagram post spells out the massive changes and cuts to the original story, with huge swaths of characterization and story being hacked away in the belief that sacrificing plot and character for empty spectacle would make it “more palatable for general audiences.” It’s a great letdown after Kong: Skull Island, which had rich, effective character work to anchor its monster story. The previous two Godzilla films had more mediocre character work, but even they were substantially richer than anything here. This was supposed to be the pinnacle of seven years of universe-building, but it’s the emptiest, most insubstantial and unsatisfying installment in the whole series. What a waste.

Apparently, despite being so shallow and dumb, GvK was successful enough that Legendary is making plans for more films in the series. Before today, I would’ve been glad to know they were making more. Now, I’m not so sure.

How to find TANGENT KNIGHTS: CAPRICE OF FATE on Goodreads

It’s just come to my attention that the Goodreads page for Tangent Knights 1: Caprice of Fate is hard to find for people who want to leave ratings and reviews. Apparently it only shows up in my list of books on my Author Profile if you sort by title, not by other sorting methods. I’m not sure why that is, but maybe it’ll get more notice once it starts getting some ratings. To that end, here’s a direct link to its page on Goodreads, under Caprice of Fate (Tangent Knights #1):

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59026840-caprice-of-fate

 

Meanwhile, I’m in the final stages of polishing my draft of the Book 3 manuscript and will be turning it in any day now, completing the trilogy — although I’m hopeful that the series will continue beyond it. I haven’t updated my blog in a month because I’ve been so focused on getting it finished. In contrast to the first book, where I finished well ahead of schedule, I had a harder time with this one, since the storyline has grown substantially in complexity and scope, and I had to make sure all its threads came together properly and were worthy of the grand finale. So I fell well behind schedule and really had to buckle down to catch up. I ended up running a few weeks late, but the folks at GraphicAudio have been very understanding, giving me the time I needed to get it (hopefully) right.

Wasp update

August 19, 2021 1 comment

After getting stung by a wasp in my car trunk a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what to do about it. Should I risk dealing with it myself or call an exterminator? I looked online for solutions, and one suggestion was to put a hunk of dry ice in the car and let the carbon dioxide smother the moths overnight. But I’d have to drive somewhere to get dry ice, so that was a Catch-22 of sorts.

It occurred to me that maybe the building maintenance people would have experience dealing with wasp nests and might be able to help me out, or at least recommend an exterminator. But when I asked the building manager, the only advice I got was to buy some wasp spray from the store, since an exterminator would be expensive. Eventually I decided to go ahead and try that, getting it when I walked to the store to get groceries. I was uneasy about all the warnings on the can about how toxic it was and how to avoid letting it get into the drains or on my clothes or skin, but I couldn’t see another option. Anything more environmentally friendly would require searching farther afield, which would require driving.

I had to wait for the right time to use it, though. It had to be early in the morning before the wasps were active, and it had to be on a day without rain in the forecast, since my car was parked fairly close to a storm drain. When the day came, I followed online advice and bundled up to cover my skin as much as possible — a turtleneck and buttoned-up jacket to protect my arms and throat (since getting stung in the throat area and having an allergic reaction could close off the windpipe, apparently), bike straps around my pant cuffs (they recommended boots, but I don’t have any), heavy gloves, a wool hat over my ears, and of course my glasses and a mask. Fortunately it was a cool morning.

The wool hat, by the way, is a gift GraphicAudio sent me after hiring me to write Tangent Knights for them. They sent it last winter, and it was very handy, since it often got cold in my apartment overnight.

I also took the long wooden bar that I’d used to knock away the nest the first time, using it to pry open the trunk from a distance. I spotted the nest after a moment; it was in a different place than before, a bit lower and attached to the body of the car rather than the trunk lid. Making sure the wind wasn’t blowing toward me, I sprayed it liberally with the spray, which was a thick white liquid, not the kind of bug spray I’m used to. I fear that I probably used rather more of it than I needed, since I wanted to make really sure. Once I saw no more wasp activity around the nest, I sprayed other areas around the rim of the trunk and a bit in the wheel wells, and even squirted a bit behind the side mirrors, since I’d seen a wasp crawl into the left mirror cowling (or whatever it’s called) some weeks before.

Then I walked away, since the instructions said to let it sit for at least 24 hours until the poison killed the queen and any returning wasps.  I was concerned that I’d left a significant puddle of the liquid on the pavement behind the car, but I really didn’t know what to do about it; I wasn’t supposed to wash it away or let it go down the drain, and I didn’t know how I could safely clean it up by any other means. The instructions said just to let it sit for a day, and I hoped that meant it would just break down naturally in the environment, and that any animals would avoid it. My car wasn’t parked very close to the building or to other cars, so I hoped it would be okay.

When I got up the next morning, there was light rain earlier than had been predicted, which was of some concern, but I hoped enough time had probably passed for the spray to break down or whatever it did. When I went to the car, though, not only did I see no trace of the puddle, but there was no residue of the liquid anywhere on the car where I’d sprayed it. I’d expected dried encrustations or something, but there was nothing at all. I don’t think the rain that morning was heavy enough to account for that, so I figure it must have evaporated on its own, hopefully well before the rain came.

Anyway, I took the same precautions as the day before, just in case, and pried open the trunk to get rid of the nest. I wasn’t pleased to see that there was still one live wasp on the nest, but it was sluggish and I didn’t see any others. I used the wooden bar to deal with it and scrape off the nest, along with a couple of what looked like eggs stuck next to where the nest had been. Then I used my long-handled ice scraper to try to scrape away any residue of anything around the rest of the trunk, and then I applied a little more wasp spray to various crevices just to play it safe, then walked away for another day — actually a couple of days, as it turned out, since there was more rain the next day.

When I checked back again, I saw no sign of wasps, but I wanted to reduce the chances of a recurrence. So I drove up to the local gas station and used the window-cleaning squeegee and paper towels provided there to try to clean out all the accumulated plant matter around the edges of the trunk under the lid, to make it less inviting as a wasp habitat. (I probably should go to a proper car wash, but I didn’t feel ambitious enough to try that.) And when I came back, I parked in the front lot of the building rather than the rear, in hopes of altering as many variables as possible to prevent a recurrence.

Yesterday I drove to pick up groceries again, still bundling up in my jacket and wool hat just in case, but I saw no wasps around the car even though it was quite warm, so that’s a good sign. (I took off the jacket and hat once I got in the car.) Still, just to play it extra-safe, I asked the clerk to put the groceries in the back seat instead of the trunk. And when I got home (still parking in the front lot, even though that’s a longer schlep for the groceries), I found it’s actually a little easier to collect grocery bags from the back seat than from the trunk. So I may do that regularly from now on, even without wasps to worry about. Maybe some good came of this after all.

I wish I’d at least avoided being stung, though.

TANGENT KNIGHTS discussion page now up

I’ve just published a discussion page here on Written Worlds for my new Tangent Knights audiobook series, starting with Book 1, Caprice of Fate:

Tangent Knights

It includes non-spoiler discussion of my creative process and inspirations behind the series. Even though it’s a pastiche of Japanese tokusatsu superhero shows, I built it largely by cannibalizing and remixing elements from some old superhero concepts I shelved decades ago.

I don’t yet know when I might have spoiler annotations up, since I’m busy writing Book 3, and I don’t yet have a copy of the finished audio to refer to. Stay tuned.

Stinging irony

I went out to my car just now to go out for some groceries, and I opened the trunk to double-check that the wasps were gone after I cleared out their nest last week. Guess what — they weren’t gone. In fact, one immediately stung me in the arm before I even realized they were there. So after closing the car back up, I ran back to my apartment to look up online what to do about a wasp sting. It recommended just washing the area, which I’d already done, and putting ice on it and taking an anti-inflammatory, all done. So far, there’s just a bit of skin irritation around the site, but that could be from the scrubbing. I thought my hand was going numb for a moment, but it was just from pressing the ice pack too hard.

It’s been more than ten minutes and I haven’t had an allergic reaction yet, so I’m probably fine. The problem is that anxiety symptoms, like tightness in the throat and tingling in the extremities, can resemble symptoms of an allergic reaction. So I just have to stay calm and focus on breathing normally. I’m pretty sure I’m fine.

Still, I don’t know what I’m going to do about the wasps. I guess I could just put my groceries in the back seat for now, but that’s not a solution. Maybe go to a car wash? Or should I call an exterminator?

Categories: Uncategorized

New interview at Bad Girls, Good Guys blog

A blog named Bad Girls, Good Guys, and Two-Fisted Action, the Writing Blog of Sean Taylor, is running a series of interviews with eSpec Books authors, and mine was posted today:

https://seanhtaylor.blogspot.com/2021/08/especs-books-focus-2-christopher-l.html

I talk about Star Trek: Living Memory and the Arachne duology, and also drop some hints about “the new project I can’t talk about,” which was actually Tangent Knights, since the interview was conducted before that project got announced. So it’s not as thorough an interview as I would’ve liked it to be, but it’s got some good stuff in it. So feel free to take a look!

TANGENT KNIGHTS 1: CAPRICE OF FATE is out today!

Today’s the day! The first book in my brand-new, original audiobook series Tangent Knights is now on sale from GraphicAudio, for an introductory price of just $4.99 if you buy digital!

https://www.graphicaudio.net/tangent-knights-1-caprice-of-fate.html

GraphicAudio introduces a spectacular original Super-heroic Action Series available in no other format!

In the year 2046, on the artificial-island arcology of New Avalon, Corazón “Cory” Kagami is a bright but impulsive college student who follows her passions, resisting the will of her mother, Morgan Herrera, head of a tech conglomerate responsible for astonishing breakthroughs. Morgan controls Catchfire Industries, and is effectively the ruler of New Avalon through her near-monopoly of its technology and through the numerous government officials she keeps in her pocket.

In a world where communication with parallel Tangent Earths has brought a disruptive influx of new beliefs and scientific innovation, Morgan promotes a strong defense against threats from within and beyond this world, developing advanced personal armor and weaponry for her cyborg peacekeeping team Fireforce.

When Cory is accidentally empowered with the most advanced armor system yet, Morgan tries to renew her bond with her daughter and train her to be a hero, a decision she may come to regret. Cory Kagami, a fan of Japanese tokusatsu action entertainment, has her own ideas about what it means to be a hero.

© & ℗ 2021 Graphic Audio, LLC. All rights reserved.

Like I said last month, Tangent Knights is my attempt to do for Japanese tokusatsu superheroes (e.g. Kamen Rider, Super Sentai/Power Rangers, and Ultraman) what I did for Western-style comic-book superheroes in Only Superhuman, capturing the colorful, fanciful fun and adventure while grounding it in plausible science and characterizations. Unlike Only Superhuman, it’s aimed at a general audience, age 13-up. I’ve had enormous fun writing it, and the folks at GraphicAudio have been great to work with.

And there’s plenty more to come! I’m currently in the middle of writing a huge, epic action sequence for Book 3, which is also the scene where the deep, shocking secret underlying all the events of the series so far is finally revealed. And I’m still only in the first half of the book!

I’ll have more to say about the creative process behind Tangent Knights later, but for now I’ll give folks a chance to hear Caprice of Fate for themselves. At only $4.99 during this introductory period, it’s a great time to get in on the ground floor!

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