Thoughts on DARK PHOENIX (or is it X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX?) (spoilers)

Thanks to my library, I’ve finally seen the last film in Fox’s X-Men series (discounting the not-yet-released spinoff New Mutants), which was shown theatrically under the title Dark Phoenix, with the X-Men supertitle restored for home video. Written and directed by Simon Kinberg — who co-wrote the franchise’s first attempt at the Dark Phoenix story, X-Men: The Last Stand from 2006 — it’s his attempt to use the rebooted timeline of the later X-Men movies to take a mulligan and try to get it right this time.

I actually thought The Last Stand was a decent film, though a flawed one. A major flaw was that its original goal of telling a cinematic version of Chris Claremont’s classic Dark Phoenix story (building on what was set up at the end of the second film) was hampered by the studio’s insistence on merging it with the mutant-cure storyline that Joss Whedon had introduced in Astonishing X-Men a few years earlier, so that Jean Grey’s story arc was reduced to a B plot for much of the film and didn’t have room to breathe. The new film lets Kinberg focus solely on Jean’s story this time out.

Dark Phoenix was a box-office and critical failure, so I didn’t go in expecting much. But I was pleasantly surprised. Certainly the film has flaws, some that I only realized after the fact and a few that stood out right away and took me out of the film. But overall, I found it to be a reasonably effective story, and on balance I’m satisfied with how it played out.

In some respects, the film uses the same beats as The Last Stand. It keeps the idea that Jean Grey always had extraordinary power that Charles Xavier suppressed with mental blocks, tarnishing his pure image and turning Jean against him when she finds out and the barriers in her mind fall down. (In that version, the Phoenix was purely an outgrowth of Jean’s own exceptional power. Here, it’s a cosmic force that merges with her, but it’s her exceptional power that draws it to her and enables her to survive the merger.) But the way it plays out is very different, feeling like a deliberate counterpoint to TLS’s choices, and I prefer this version, which turns out to be far more optimistic and better serves the characters and their relationships.

In other ways, though, the characterizations are a weak point of the film. It’s relatively short by modern standards, only about 100 minutes of story once you subtract end credits, so most of the ensemble cast gets only cursory attention and the plot is raced through. Some of the character transitions and motivations are too abrupt and extreme. Jean turns on the team too quickly after learning Xavier lied to her about her childhood, although to be fair, it is shown that she has no control when her newly unleashed rage takes over. But when she accidentally kills Mystique (to accommodate Jennifer Lawrence being too big a star now to be available/affordable for the whole thing, I reckon), both Magneto/Erik and Beast/Hank jump way too quickly to wanting to murder Jean in retaliation. It’s kind of silly the way it plays out with Magneto. Erik: “I stopped killing because I realized revenge didn’t make the pain go away.” Hank, a couple of scenes later: “Raven’s dead.” Erik: “REVENNNNNNGE!” Hank’s motivation doesn’t work much better — the film seems to suggest a romance between him and Raven, which I don’t think is something ever suggested in previous films (I could be wrong), and is unnecessary because their long friendship going back decades should be enough.

(That’s another flaw in the film, by the way — it’s set in 1992, three decades after First Class, and there’s no attempt to age the actors up.)

Some of the plot points advance in a similarly arbitrary and unbelievable manner. Mainly, the film is set in a time when the X-Men are admired worldwide as superheroes, mutants are accepted, and the President of the US has an actual X-Phone hotline on his desk… but as soon as one mutant, Jean, goes wild and attacks some local cops, all of a sudden the POTUS is ghosting Xavier and the TV news is talking about proposals for mutant internment camps. That’s way too abrupt a change in response to a single incident, and it badly undermines the film’s credibility. Yes, there would be a surge of bigotry flaring up after something like this, but it wouldn’t lead to such an instantaneous change in government policy; it would take time for anti-mutant pundits and politicians to shift the Overton window far enough.

A better alternative for setting up the climactic sequence — where the military takes the X-Men captive on a train where the bad guys attack them — would’ve been to spend more time on the machinations of said bad guys, the D’Bari (named after the alien species that Phoenix carelessly destroyed in the original comics, but here retconned into Skrull-like shapeshifters who want to capture the Phoenix Force that destroyed their world and use it for conquest). The D’Bari leader Vuk is played by Jessica Chastain (in the likeness of a woman Vuk killed and impersonated), but Elementary‘s Ato Essandoh plays her second-in-command, impersonating an FBI agent. It would’ve worked better if, say, Essandoh’s character had been shown pushing for a more aggressive stance against the X-Men and faced resistance from officials who still believed in them. I wonder if something along those lines was cut for time and replaced with the sloppy, throwaway voiceover line about internment camps.

One more weakness of Dark Phoenix, unfortunately, is the casting it inherits from the previous film. This time, Sophie Turner as Jean and Tye Sheridan as Scott/Cyclops have a much heavier burden to carry than in X-Men: Apocalypse, and it shows that they’re the weakest members of the ensemble. Turner has her occasional moments (though is nowhere near as appealing as her predecessor Famke Janssen), but she’s out-acted by Summer Fontana, who plays Jean’s 8-year-old self in flashbacks. Sheridan is completely dull and one-note as Cyclops; it’s a role that demands a strong actor to make up for being unable to see Scott’s eyes, and Sheridan totally fails to deliver. What’s more, he and Turner have no romantic chemistry to speak of. It weakens the impact of what should be a core relationship in the film.

Still, what ultimately works for me is how much more optimistically the Phoenix story plays out than in the original film version. In TLS, Magneto wanted to exploit Jean as a weapon for his war on non-mutants; here, he tries to keep the peace and stops her from harming a group of soldiers — and his desire for revenge only lasts for the second act before he chooses a nobler path. In TLS, Jean was so overcome by her runaway power and madness that she killed both Cyclops and Xavier, the two people she was closest to; here, it’s their love for her that reaches her through her pain and bitterness and reminds her of who she is. In TLS, Jean lets Wolverine execute her to stop her from killing her family, but here, she makes her own sacrifice by choice, embracing the power and evolving into something higher in order to save her family. Not only that, but the mature entity she becomes at the end is a really beautiful rendering of the Phoenix in its full flaming majesty, the sort of thing I kept hoping for in the original films but never got. Throw in the additional optimistic beat of that one soldier choosing to trust the X-Men and release them to help defend against the attacking D’Bari, and the upbeat turn the film takes in its last act does a lot to make up for its shortcomings, and works well as a rebuke to the nihilism of TLS.

The action in the last act is also excellent. The train attack sequence was very well-made, I thought, with some very creative uses of superpowers. I’m not crazy about superhero fights where the goal is to ruthlessly kill a whole army of attacking aliens — I prefer superheroes to save lives rather than take them — but the action was intense, frenetic, and creative. It’s the one place where the breakneck pacing did the most to help the film rather than undermine it.

By the way, one odd thing Dark Phoenix shares with one of its predecessors is an apparent desire to homage Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The climax and final scene of X2: X-Men United were deliberately meant to evoke TWOK’s ending, with the closing shot having the same kind of hint of the sacrificed character’s resurrection, a voiceover from said character, and a very similar musical sting leading into the end credits. Here, there’s a sequence where Vuk is tempting Jean with the power of the Phoenix and showing her a mental simulation of using its power to bring life to a lifeless world, and it’s essentially a higher-quality recreation of the Genesis simulation from Carol Marcus’s project proposal in TWOK (the first entirely CGI sequence ever used in a feature film, though beating TRON to the screen by only a month). Interesting to see the same idea executed with technology 37 years more advanced, though it seems a bit incongruous in this film. (As well as making me feel really old — has it really been 37 years?)

So, all in all, Dark Phoenix is a very flawed and inconsistent film, but it’s been a very flawed and inconsistent series. It’s far from the best film of the lot, but far from the worst, and for me the parts that work outweigh the parts that don’t. Despite its cursory, rushed storytelling, I feel it succeeded in its goal of getting right the aspects of the Dark Phoenix story that The Last Stand got wrong. And though it fills the same role of bringing about the end of an era for an X-Men team and film sequence, it does so in a better, more upbeat way that brings closure yet leaves more hope for the future (well, as long as you don’t think about the future Logan established, which may or may not be in the same timeline as this). I think that’s a reasonably satisfactory way to conclude Fox’s long, turbulent X-Men film series.

Full muddled jacket

December 14, 2019 3 comments

Just had a surreal and slightly embarrassing experience. I attended one of my infrequent social gatherings today, an early Christmas party for a local SF fan/writer community, and I hung my winter coat in the closet with the rest. When the time came for me to head home, I searched through the coats in the closet three times and couldn’t find my coat! I asked if there was somewhere else it might have been moved, but there wasn’t, and the hostess was just about to call the one couple who’d left before me to see if they’d taken my coat by mistake… when finally I recognized my sunglasses case in the pocket of what seemed to be an unfamiliar coat. I checked all its other pockets and recognized all their contents exactly where they should be… but I didn’t recognize the coat itself, even though it was definitely mine!

In retrospect, I realize that I’ve never really had to pay attention to what my winter coat looks like, beyond the fact that it’s heavier than my light jacket for cool weather. It’s just one of the two coats hanging there, and I just grab it and put it on. I usually leave both the light jacket and the winter coat hanging from the closet doorknob, so I usually only see the coat from the back when I’m not wearing it, plus it’s in a fairly dimly lit portion of my apartment. So I mainly know my coat from the inside, not the outside. I couldn’t even remember if it was dark blue or black when the others asked me. Plus I was seeing it from the front and side, quite brightly lit by the LED lights in my hosts’ hallway, which brought out the logos I usually don’t even notice, so it looked unfamiliar to me. Plus I was seeing it from the right side so I couldn’t see my sunglasses case in the left pocket. I think I usually hang my coat up facing the other way when I’m out somewhere. So I just couldn’t recognize my own item of clothing, not until the fourth time I looked.

Hmm… Maybe I should find some way to write my name on it?

Categories: Uncategorized

Holiday sale: books are on the way!

Good news for everyone who’s bought books from me — I just got back from a trip to the post office where I mailed all the orders to date at once. (It saved time that so far they’re all to United States addresses, so I didn’t have to fill out any customs forms.) So hopefully everyone will get their books by early next week, in time for the holidays.

Naturally, the sale is still ongoing, and you can see the list of available items in the previous post, along with ordering info. I’m sold out of every Star Trek mass-market paperback other than Patterns of Interference and the Czech translation of Over a Torrent Sea, but I still have plenty of The Captain’s Oath and Only Superhuman, plus a few remaining copies of Mirror Universe: Shards and Shadows, Among the Wild Cybers, and Footprints in the Stars.

Plus I’m keeping a list of all the naming suggestions for future reference. It might take a while to get around to using them all, but I’ll do my best.

Thanks again to everyone who’s helped me out!

Holiday book sale still on! Get autographed STAR TREK and other books!

November 30, 2019 1 comment

Well, my first post about my latest book sale and call for donations has not generated the response I’d hoped for. So far I’ve only gotten one book order and two suggestions for ship/station/etc. names to incorporate into a future Star Trek novel. So maybe I need to improve my sales pitch and clarify what I have to offer.

First off, while I stressed that anyone donating $20 or more will get to name a ship, station, planet, or other institution, I should add that anyone who makes any donation or book purchase through my PayPal account will get my thanks in my next book’s acknowledgments (unless you prefer to remain anonymous). It doesn’t have to be much; if most of the people who read this donate even a couple of dollars, it could help me through my current rough patch. And remember, the naming offer is a neat way to commemorate a friend, family member, favorite school, hometown, whatever. (Again, just make sure it’s something plausible in-universe, no gag names or the like.) Or you could give a loved one a book autographed to them as a holiday gift! Just let me know who to make it out to.

As for the books I have to sell, here are more detailed descriptions. Ordering/donation instructions are below.

Only Superhuman — $20 (20% off!): 18 16 available

Only Superhuman by Christopher L. BennettIn the future, genetically engineered superhumans, inspired by classic Earth comic book heroes, fight to keep the peace in the wild and wooly space habitats of the Asteroid Belt

2107 AD: Generations ago, Earth and the cislunar colonies banned genetic and cybernetic modifications. But out in the Asteroid Belt, anything goes. Dozens of flourishing space habitats are spawning exotic new societies and strange new varieties of humans. It’s a volatile situation that threatens the peace and stability of the entire solar system.

Emerald Blair is a Troubleshooter. Inspired by the classic superhero comics of the twentieth century, she’s joined with other mods to try to police the unruly Asteroid Belt. But her loyalties are tested when she finds herself torn between rival factions of superhumans with very different agendas. Emerald wants to put her special abilities to good use and atone for her scandalous past, but what do you do when you can’t tell the heroes from the villains?

Only Superhuman is a rollicking hard-sf adventure set in a complex and fascinating future.

Library Journal‘s SF/Fantasy Debut of the Month for October 2012!

Star Trek: The Original Series — The Captain’s Oath — $12 (25% off!): 12 8 available

Star Trek The Captain's Oath coverThe saga of James T. Kirk’s historic command of the U.S.S. Enterprise is known throughout the galaxy. But one part of the legend has barely been touched upon until now: the story of Kirk’s first starship command and the remarkable achievements by which Starfleet’s youngest captain earned the right to succeed Christopher Pike as the commander of the famous Enterprise.

From his early battles with the Klingons to the rescue of endangered civilizations, Kirk grapples with difficult questions: Is he a warrior or a peacemaker? Should he obey regulations or trust his instincts? This thrilling novel illustrates the events and choices that would shape James T. Kirk into one of the most renowned captains in Starfleet history.

Star Trek: Mirror Universe — Shards and Shadows — $12 (25% off!): 5 3 available

Mirror Universe Shards and ShadowsFractured history. Broken lives. Splintered souls. Since the alternate universe was first glimpsed in the classic episode “Mirror, Mirror,” something about Star Trek’s dark side has beckoned us, called to us, tempted us — like forbidden fruit on the Tree of Knowledge. To taste it is to lose oneself in a world of startling familiarity and terrifying contradictions, where everything and everyone we knew is somehow disturbingly different, and where shocking secrets await their revelation.

What began in 2007 with Glass Empires and Obsidian Alliances — the first truly in-depth foray into the turbulent history of this other continuum — now continues in twelve new short tales that revisit and expand upon that so-called “Mirror Universe,” spanning all five of the core incarnations of Star Trek, as well as their literary offshoots, across more than two hundred years of divergent history, as chronicled by…

Christopher L. Bennett – Margaret Wander Bonanno – Peter David – Keith R.A. DeCandido – Michael Jan Friedman – Jim Johnson – Rudy Josephs – David Mack – Dave Stern – James Swallow – Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore – Susan Wright

Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman — $12 (20% off!): 4 available

(Robot and Cover Design by Mike McPhail, McP Digital Graphics)When the line between life and technology blurs, humanity must adjust its understanding of the universe. From bestselling author Christopher L. Bennett comes Among the Wild Cybers, eight tales portraying a future of challenge and conflict, but also of hope born from the courage and idealism of those heroes willing to stand up for what is right.

  • An intrepid naturalist risks her future to save a new form of life that few consider worth saving.
  • An apprentice superhero must stand alone against an insane superintelligence to earn her name.
  • A cybernetic slave fights to save her kind from a liberation not of their choosing.
  • A seasoned diplomat and mother must out-negotiate fearsome alien traders to save a colony’s children.
  • A homicide detective serves in a world where curing death has only made murder more baffling.

These and other heroes strive to make their corners of the universe better—no matter how much the odds are stacked against them.

Includes the brand-new tale, Aspiring to Be Angels, prequel to the novel Only Superhuman.

Footprints in the Stars — $12 (20% off!): 3 available

Footprints in the StarsTo follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before, first we must find them.

Dreaded hope settles over mankind as we stare into the heavens, looking for a sign we are not alone. Fearing we will find it, puzzled when we don’t.

Among the stars or in our own backyard, lose yourself in the wonder of these tales as we humbly posit mankind’s reaction to the awesome certainty that ‘they’ are out there…or at least, they were…

Footprints in the Stars

With stories by Gordon Linzner, Ian Randal Strock, Robert Greenberger, Dayton Ward, Aaron Rosenberg, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jody Lynn Nye, Christopher L. Bennett, James Chambers, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Russ Colchamiro, Judi Fleming, and Bryan J.L. Glass

Star Trek: Titan — Přes dravé moře (Czech translation of Over a Torrent Sea) — $12.50 (~20% off): 4 available

Star Trek Titan Pres Drave MoreAs the Federation recovers from the devastating events of Star Trek: Destiny, Captain William Riker and the crew of the U.S.S. Titan are ordered to resume their deep-space assignment, reaffirming Starfleet’s core principles of peaceful exploration.  But even far from home on a mission of hope, the scars of the recent cataclysm remain with them as they slowly rebuild their lives.

The planet Droplet is a world made mostly of water without a speck of solid ground.  Life should not exist here, yet it thrives.  Aili Lavena, Titan‘s aquatic navigator, spearheads the exploration of this mysterious world, facing the dangers of the vast, wild ocean.  When one native species proves to be sentient, Lavena finds herself immersed in a delicate contact situation, and Riker is called away from Deanna Troi at a critical moment in their marriage.

But when good intentions bring calamity, Lavena and Riker are cut off from the crew and feared lost.  Troi must face a life-changing event without her husband, while the crew must brave the crushing pressures of the deep to undo the global chaos they have triggered.  Stranded with her injured captain, Lavena must win the trust of the beings who control their fate — but the price for Riker’s survival may be the loss of everything he holds dear.

(Federace se pozvolna zotavuje z ničivých událostí popsaných v trilogii Volání osudu. U.S.S. Titan a jeho kapitán, William T. Riker, přebírají nové rozkazy – mají pokračovat v průzkumu hlubokého vesmíru, aby tak stvrdili, že mírové bádání je stále tím hlavním posláním Hvězdné flotily. Avšak utržené rány se nechtějí zhojit ani tak daleko od domova. Planeta třídy O, přezdívaná Kapka, je zcela pokryta vodní plochou – jediným velkým oceánem. Život by tu vůbec neměl existovat, přesto se mu až neobyčejně daří. Navigátorka Aili Lavena, sama vodního druhu, je ideální kandidátkou na průzkum tohoto ohromného a divokého moře. Když náhodou objeví jeden vnímavý druh, ocitá se na delikátní stezce k prvnímu kontaktu. Jak to tak často bývá, dobré úmysly však přivodí situaci, ze které se Lavena a Riker nemusejí vrátit. Posádka bez kapitána mezitím čelí drtivým tlakům temných hlubin, ve snaze odčinit globální chaos, který nedopatřením sami rozpoutali.)

Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel (Book 2)– $8: SOLD OUT

ST: ENT — Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic (Book 3) — $8: SOLD OUT

ST: ENT — Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference (Book 5) — $8: 5 4 available

The time has come to act. Following the destructive consequences of the Ware crisis, Admiral Jonathan Archer and Section 31 agent Trip Tucker both attempt to change their institutions to prevent further such tragedies. Archer pushes for a Starfleet directive of non-interference, but he faces opposition from allies within the fleet and unwelcome support from adversaries who wish to drive the Federation into complete isolationism. Meanwhile, Tucker plays a dangerous game against the corrupt leaders of Section 31, hoping to bring down their conspiracy once and for all. But is he willing to jeopardize Archer’s efforts—and perhaps the fate of an entire world—in order to win?

 

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

If you donate $20 or more, please include a message through the PayPal form with your ship/planet/etc. name suggestion, as well as contact info in case there’s an issue with using your suggestion and we need to work out an alternative. (Or you can offer a backup suggestion or two.) All book buyers, let me know who to make out the autograph to.

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

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

This sale will continue as long as I have books in stock, and the call for donations is always open. I hope we can help each other out.

Holiday season book sale/fundraiser time

November 24, 2019 5 comments

Well, folks, I haven’t yet gotten a new novel contract, nor have I had any success in job-hunting yet, though I’ve got a few prospects I’m waiting to hear about. I’ve done a bit of copyediting work and signed up to work for an online audio transcription service, but nothing that’s paid very much at all. I’ve been looking into loan options, but nothing’s come together yet. One bit of good news: I found out I was owed some overdue royalties for Only Superhuman due to some kind of mail mixup, so I’ll be getting that soon, but it’s not a massive amount. And the print edition of Crimes of the Hub should be out pretty soon, but Arachne’s Crime has been delayed until early next year.

So once again, I need to try to raise some cash to tide me over, so it’s time for another autographed book sale and call for donations. I really hate to keep relying on my fans’ generosity, but I’m taking steps now to seek out new work from various avenues, so hopefully this will be the last time. It’s been a rough year or two, and I’ve been dealing with depression, which has made it hard for me to make an effort to look for work. But I’m making that effort now, trying to get out of my rut, and I just need some help tiding myself over until I can arrange something better. Anyway, it’s the holiday season, so now’s a good time to buy my books as gifts!

As before, I want to offer a reward to donors, but I don’t want to repeat the Tuckerization offer from the last couple of times, since I’ll probably get a lot of the same donors, and depending on what book I do next, it might not make sense to reuse the same names. So let’s try this: Anyone who makes a purchase or donation of $20 or more will get to name a starship, planet, station, or institution that gets mentioned in the next Star Trek novel I write (or a later one if there aren’t enough opportunities in the next one), with the namer getting a nod in the acknowledgments. It needs to be a plausible name in-universe, so no Shippy McShipface or anything rude or inappropriate (though sufficiently subtle in-jokes or allusions could work). Don’t suggest your own name (as discussed above), but feel free to suggest the name of a friend, family member, hometown, school, or something like that (but no brand names or the like). Or just use your imagination. Multicultural or nonhuman-sounding names are a plus.

Here’s the current list of books I have to offer (now with pictures!). It’s getting pretty sparse, but just for the heck of it, I’m throwing in a few copies of the Czech language edition of Titan: Over a Torrent Sea, because I don’t know what else to do with them. (It’s called Přes dravé moře, which translates as “Over a predatory sea.” The translator is Jakub Marek.)

Mass-market paperbacks: $8

ROTF_Patterns_cover

  • Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel (1 copy)
  • ST: ENT — Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic (2 copies 1 copy)
  • ST: ENT — Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference (5 4 copies)

Czech MMPB: $12.50 (~20% off by current exchange rate)

Star Trek Titan Pres Drave More

  • Star Trek: Titan — Přes dravé moře (Over a Torrent Sea) (4 copies)

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

 

  • Star Trek: The Original Series — The Captain’s Oath (12 8 copies)
  • Star Trek: Mirror Universe — Shards and Shadows (5 3 copies)
  • ST: The Next Generation — The Sky’s the Limit (1 copy)

 

  • Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman (4 copies)
  • Footprints in the Stars (3 copies)

Hardcovers: $20 (20% off!)

Only Superhuman by Christopher L. Bennett

  • Only Superhuman (18 16 copies)

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

If you donate $20 or more, please include a message through the PayPal form with your ship/planet/etc. name suggestion, as well as contact info in case there’s an issue with using your suggestion and we need to work out an alternative. (Or you can offer a backup suggestion or two.) All book buyers, let me know who to make out the autograph to.

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

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

STAR TREK ADVENTURES: STOLEN LIBERTY is out

November 14, 2019 5 comments

Today’s the release date for my fourth standalone Star Trek Adventures PDF campaign and my fifth STA campaign overall: Stolen Liberty.

STA Stolen Liberty coverWill Your Crew Dare to Break the Prime Directive?

“This is Interlunar Probe Twelve. We are in immediate distress. We are caught in Zafrel’s gravity well. Our orbit is decaying into its outer atmosphere and we are unable to generate sufficient thruster power to break free. We are in full eclipse from Jinidar and unable to contact Master Control. If any other listener is somehow able to receive this message, please respond and advise! Repeat, this is Interlunar Probe Twelve…”

When the crew responds to a call for help, they soon find themselves faced with an ethical dilemma. Does the crew hold to the Federation principles of non-interference, or break regulations to provide assistance?

This standalone 19-page PDF adventure by Christopher L. Bennett is for the Star Trek Adventures Roleplaying Game and is set during The Next Generation era. This adventure also contains advice for adaptation for use in campaigns based in other Star Trek eras.

Stolen Liberty is available as a downloadable PDF at the following links:

The tagline is pretty similar to the one they used for The Gravity of the Crime, but rest assured this is a very different Prime Directive story, more global in its stakes. It’s also a story I’ve had in mind for a long, long time, a concept I initially developed for my original fiction decades ago, and then reworked into a Star Trek: Voyager pitch back when I took a couple of stabs at trying to write for that show. (It may have been a TNG pitch before then, but I don’t quite recall.) I’m glad I finally got the chance to dust it off and do something with it.

So as of now, all of my completed STA campaigns have finally been published. But I have some new pitches currently awaiting approval, so I’m not done with STA yet.

Midair holograms! Who knew?

November 13, 2019 2 comments

Sometimes it’s cool to be wrong.

One thing that’s been a longtime pet peeve of mine in science fiction film and television is free-floating midair “holograms” — volumetric (3-dimensional) images made of light that just miraculously appear in midair. Star Wars holograms are a familiar example, but they’re a common trope throughout SF media. But they annoy me because they make no sense. Light can’t just appear in midair. It has to be emitted by something or reflected off of something. Actual holograms, things that literally use the phenomenon called holography, are flat sheets of photographic film encoded with laser light that’s polarized in such a way that you see a different angle on the photographed subject depending on the angle at which you view the sheet, so that a 2-dimensional film image contains 3-D information. But the image is “inside” the sheet rather than floating in midair. And the things sometimes used in the entertainment industry or museums that are called “holograms” are really just flat film images reflected off of half-silvered glass positioned in such a way that they look like ghostly images hovering behind the glass, but are still just flat projections, so the label is a total misnomer. So the sci-fi conceit of a 3-D shape made of light hovering in midair has always seemed silly to me.

But just now, I read about a prototype system that comes pretty close. It’s called the Multimodal Acoustic Trap Display, and you can see it in action here:

Pretty impressive, huh? Now, the light in this display is still reflecting off a solid object, but it’s a small white bead that’s levitated and moved through the projection volume by precision sound waves, so fast that it blurs out and creates persistence of vision, and is illuminated by multicolored laser light as it moves. Together, the moving bead and the shifting colors function sort of like an old cathode-ray TV screen with scan lines, except it can actually create 3-D shapes that hover in midair. The abstract published in Nature cites movie/TV-style “holograms” as the inventors’ inspiration, and they’ve actually come pretty close to duplicating them, allowing for the fact that the image still has to be contained inside a sort of C-shaped box so that it isn’t quite floating free. (The scan lines make it seem very Star Wars-y.) But it’s just the prototype, so who knows how it can be refined over time?

Of course, there still is a physical object (or several, since it can levitate multiple beads) that the light is reflecting off of, but because it’s just one or a few tiny beads swooping around really fast, most of the volume actually is empty space, with the perception of a continuous shape resulting from persistence of vision. So this is probably just about as close to the standard intangible, free-floating sci-fi “hologram” as we’re likely to get, allowing for further refinements like maybe a system that uses more and smaller beads. I’ve read before that there are some volumetric displays that project light off of a mist of fine particles, but that doesn’t seem to have the same degree of control as this, though maybe it and the acoustic-trap technology could be merged somehow. Anyway, because the beads are constantly moving around and their positions are controlled by the acoustic waves, someone could wave their hand through such a hologram or walk through it, and as long as they didn’t knock out the beads directly, they could just pass through the image without doing more than briefly disrupting it, as often shown in fiction.

So I now have to rethink my contempt for floaty midair holograms as a sci-fi trope. There would still have to be some physical object there for the light to bounce off, and it would still probably have to be confined within some kind of projector stage rather than moving freely through an area like the holograms in a lot of sci-fi (including Star Trek: Discovery). But to an extent, many of the floaty holos in sci-fi are at least somewhat more credible now. Who knows? Ryuji Hirayama and the other developers of this device have solved a number of the engineering problems that I was skeptical could be solved, so maybe they can solve others. So we may see more realistic and versatile volumetric projections in the future (and I guess we’re stuck with them being called “holograms” even though they’re nothing of the kind).

Which means that maybe I should be more open to incorporating translucent midair holos into my own SF writing, rather than going for alternatives like soligrams (shapeshifting smart-matter gel that morphs into solid lifelike objects) or the anamorphic projections I featured in “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad.” Although I rather like avoiding the standard cliches in my writing. But if science makes those cliches real, then continuing to avoid them would be…

(puts on sunglasses)

…a holo gesture.