Author copies and annotations

My author copies of Galaxy’s Edge #39 have arrived!

Galaxys Edge 39

Here they are next to my “brag shelf” of Analog issues for size comparison. Normally I keep one copy on the brag shelf and one with my overall collection of SF magazines, but Galaxy’s Edge is too tall to fit on that shelf, so I have to keep them both here.

The Melody Lingers

And here’s the opening page, on paper and everything! It’s great to have a short story in a print magazine again, my first one other than Analog (and Esli for the Russian reprints of the first two Hub stories from Analog).

Right now (July 2019), you can read the entire issue on the Galaxy’s Edge site. But that’ll only be until the next issue comes out in September. If you want something you can keep, or if you read this after September, you can buy the issue in print from:

And digitally from:

In other news, the annotations to “The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” are now up, and can be accessed (for now) from either the Original Short Fiction page or the (newly renamed) Only Superhuman/Troubleshooters page, though the latter will be the long-term “home” for Troubleshooter story discussion.

I also decided to move the book-cover slide show on my front page down below my author bio so it wouldn’t obscure the drop-down menus so much. It still covers up the last couple of items on the Star Trek drop-down menu, but they can still be seen clearly from any other page on the site. I also rearranged the Trek menu to put the Short Fiction page at the top, since the second-level drop-down links for short-story annotations were getting hard to reach that low on the page. I also put the other Trek links into a somewhat more logical order on the menu, instead of the sort of reverse-chronological thing I was somewhat using before (which I guess evolved because I was putting the newest stuff on top for easy access).

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SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME thoughts (spoilers)

I finally saw Spider-Man: Far from Home yesterday, and as with Homecoming, I liked it up to a point but didn’t love it. It’s a bit problematical as a Spider-Man movie, because it’s so heavily rooted in dealing with the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame and the larger status quo of the MCU and Tony Stark’s legacy, so it’s more about using Peter Parker/Spider-Man to tell that story than it really is about telling a Spider-Man story.

I mean, sure, it tries to stay focused on Peter’s romantic pursuit of Michelle — sorry, “MJ” — and his travails with his classmates, evoking the classic formula where his duties as Spider-Man constantly get in the way of his personal life. But as I said in the Homecoming review, I don’t understand the movies’ love for putting Spidey back in high school, and I’m not a fan of the teen-comedy vibe these movies go for. I found most of the humor here clunky and mediocre, or a bit forced when it came to the antics of the teachers. And the romantic plot was pretty much totally devoid of tension or suspense, because it was pretty obvious that MJ was into Peter too and wasn’t into Brad, and it was less a question of “Can our hero overcome obstacles to win the girl of his dreams?” as “When will our hero catch on that she’s already chasing him?” — with the only obstacle being his own slowness on the uptake. Not that I can’t sympathize with that. In high school and college, I squandered at least two chances at romance because I was too dense to tell when I was being flirted with. But in this case, it felt like a foregone conclusion, so Peter’s anxiety about the outcome didn’t resonate.

There was an interesting premise in terms of Peter’s desire to be just a Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, a street-level hero, and to resist the pressures to fill Tony Stark’s shoes and take on global responsibilities he’s not ready for. And the movie did make pretty good use of Quentin Beck/Mysterio, doing a variation on his debut storyline of (spoiler alert) introducing himself as a hero and turning out to be a special-effects fraud, in a way that tied very cleverly into the larger MCU narrative. I guessed well in advance that the “Elementals” were a trick — anyone who’s seen more than zero previous Mysterio stories would see that coming — but I was totally unable to guess his real purpose and motives, and while the scene that finally explained it was a bit too stiltedly expository, the revelation of who Mysterio and his team were and why they were pulling this scam — basically that they were the Tony Stark Revenge Squad, so to speak — was totally surprising and totally effective, and bringing back a bit player from Iron Man as a core team member was a nifty touch, as was retconning Tony’s holotechnology from Civil War as Beck’s co-opted invention.

I also really liked the visualization of Mysterio’s illusions, the constantly shifting, surreal, dreamlike quality. It reminded me of something from the classic ’90s animated Spider-Man series, though I checked, and their own Mysterio episode didn’t have that kind of imagery; maybe I’m thinking of a dream sequence from another episode. In any case, it was quite visually striking.

Unfortunately, the central MacGuffin around which the plot revolves is where the movie failed to earn my suspension of disbelief. The EDITH system is just far too powerful and destructive a thing for Tony Stark to leave to a high school kid, no matter how much he trusts him. Back in Homecoming, we saw that Tony equipped Spidey’s suit with a ton of “training wheels” limitations that wouldn’t unlock until he’d proved himself responsible enough to use them. The lack of any such precautions on EDITH is contradictory and out of character. Even granted that Peter’s earned Stark’s trust by now, you just do not build a highly lethal automated weapon system without putting in a ton of failsafes and redundant authentication checks. You don’t build it so completely devoid of safeguards that it almost kills a teenager because of a verbal misunderstanding. You don’t build a system that treats maximum lethality as its default setting in the absence of clarity. Tony Stark was famously irresponsible, sure, but not this irresponsible, not this reckless and cavalier about technology of this level of lethality. The whole EDITH concept was just bad plotting, a ludicrous and poorly thought out notion that pulled me out of the film.

Maybe it could’ve been better if EDITH hadn’t been so lethal. Drop the completely unfunny sequence where Peter almost kills his classmates with the first drone — that was just a horrible idea. The whole defining theme of Peter Parker’s narrative is responsibility, and having him so cavalierly make a mistake that almost murders his romantic rival undermines that deeply for the sake of an ill-conceived joke. Give EDITH more safeguards, and have it default to nonlethal options (Tony was supposed to be a hero, after all, not a mad scientist), requiring extra verification to escalate to more destructive methods. Have Beck’s tech people hack the system once he acquires it, breaking those safeguards. They’re ex-Stark employees, so some of them could’ve been involved in programming EDITH in the first place. Then have them modify the drones to be more lethal. Then you wouldn’t have the disturbing scenario of Tony Stark handing total control of a thousand kill-first drones to a 16-year-old kid.

For that matter, I just realized there’s an inconsistency in the premise. Beck’s team was able to fake the mass destruction of the Elementals before they had EDITH, so they already had some pretty darn powerful killer drones. So why the hell did they need EDITH? What did it really gain them that they didn’t already have, besides volume? Egad, so not only does the MacGuffin make no damn sense, but there’s no real reason for the villain to be so eager to obtain it.

Unfortunately, this is the movie we got, and we’re stuck with it. As flawed as the story is, the execution was good as far as the action went. Some of the character work was satisfying; Peter was pretty much in character, and MJ was more likeable this time now that we got to see her softer side. I particularly liked the close relationship that’s grown between Happy Hogan and Peter, a nice change from the icier relationship in Homecoming. They’ve both turned to each other to fill the void left by Tony. I think this may be Happy’s biggest role yet in an MCU film, and it’s ironic that it’s not in an Iron Man film.

But I do wish the film had given us more of Spidey’s life in New York. I read that several such scenes we glimpsed in the trailers, of Spidey catching thieves just like flies and bantering with the cops about doing their job for them, were cut because the director thought the film had too many beginnings. But seeing the film with that knowledge, I feel the opening was too abrupt and cursory, and those scenes should’ve been left in. Seeing Peter’s early cockiness would’ve made it more potent when we saw him start to be overwhelmed by the public’s demand that he fill Iron Man’s boots; without that groundwork being laid, it doesn’t have as much impact. Plus it would’ve given us a bit more of Spidey just being Spidey in New York before getting to the out-of-his-element stuff in Europe. I know they’re putting those scenes on the Blu-Ray as a short film, but the movie itself feels incomplete without them. If they thought the film had too many beginnings, they could’ve ditched the opening “school news broadcast” sequence, which was a mildly cute but (again) stilted way of conveying exposition that was given in dialogue elsewhere. (Also, why are they doing a retrospective of “the Blip” 8 months after it happened? Why 8 months?)

From the beginning, let’s turn to the ending — or rather, the endings. Perhaps the thing I liked best about Homecoming was that it let Spidey succeed in saving the villain’s life and actually benefit from doing so. So I’m disappointed that this film went the more standard Hollywood route of having the villain die through his own actions. It’s a more cliched, less satisfying ending, and doesn’t serve the Spider-Man character as well. Also, I don’t think Beck was really a villainous enough character for such a fate to feel dramatically warranted; he was unstable, sure, but he had some legitimate grievances against Stark. Nor, conversely, was he a sympathetic enough character for his death to feel all that tragic or meaningful to Peter. So it just seemed like they killed him because that’s the routine formula for movie villains, which makes it underwhelming.

I guess the main value of Mysterio’s death is that it sets up the mid-credits scene where Mysterio posthumously blames Spidey for his death (and all the others the drones inflicted) and destroys his reputation. But come on, he’s Mysterio, the master of deception — he could’ve faked his death and had the same effect. He could probably maintain the deception better in life than posthumously. Well, in any case, it was a hell of a way to introduce Jameson at last, and it was a hell of a surprise to hear that familiar voice. (I wonder why they didn’t try to replicate JJJ’s flattop haircut this time, though. Just to be different from the Raimi version?)

As for the post-credits scene, I have no idea what to make of it. Was there a point to it in the larger MCU narrative? Was it setting up some future film? (Given the lack of Captain Marvel 2 on the recently announced slate, it’s hard to see how.) And just how long has the imposture been going on? It seemed like an arbitrary bit of weirdness and it just kind of fizzled out.

All in all, then, I guess I still don’t feel the MCU has quite gotten a handle on how to do a Spider-Man movie. Hopefully the next one will finally get to be just a Spider-Man movie, with Peter dealing with the fallout from the mid-credits scene (though I wonder how they can possibly work out the timing on that, unless they get to work on it really fast) and generally just living his own life and dealing with his own issues, rather than being so heavily immersed in the larger MCU story arc.

Thoughts on Toho’s submarine (and related) SF films (spoilers)

Filling in a few remaining gaps in my review series of Toho tokusatsu films, here’s a trio of films revolving more around super-vessels than monsters.

Atragon (1963), originally Kaitei Gunkan (The Undersea Warship), is a loose adaptation of a novel of the same name and another called The Undersea Kingdom. It opens with several people being abducted by strange, hot-bodied people (in the thermal sense, not the sexy sense). The abductees include retired admiral Kusumi and his secretary/ward Makoto, daughter of the long-lost submarine inventor Jinguji. A pair of comic-relief photographers, who are somehow the lead characters and are stalking Makoto in hopes of hiring her as a fashion model, get caught up in the kidnapping; the abductor says he’s going to take them to an undersea kingdom called Mu, the Pacific equivalent of the Atlantis myth (which I used to assume was Asian folklore but is just another “ancient myth” invented in the 19th century by Westerners, around the same time the modern version of the Atlantis myth arose). The abductees fight off the agent, but the admiral is sent a film from the Mu-ians, telling how they ruled the world 12,000 years ago and founded all ancient civilizations until their vast continent sank literally overnight. Now they’ve recovered and become super-advanced (we see miniature vistas of their futuristic-yet-ancient kingdom), and they warn Japan to halt development on the missing Jinguji’s newest super-sub — which they claim to be under Jinguji’s supervision and known to the admiral — or else they’ll send their god Manda to destroy the surface world. The threat is taken to the UN off-camera and promptly laughed off, so the Mu-ites start destroying ships and bridges and such.

The most advanced sub in the world (implausibly named Red Satan and crewed by English-speaking white actors, though not all with American accents) is unable to chase Mu’s attack sub below a certain depth, and when it pushes too far, it implodes in a nicely done visual effect (probably using some sort of suction inside the miniature). With no other options, the authorities ask Kusumi to tell them where Jinguji is, but Kusumi insists he doesn’t know, and grudgingly reveals that Jinguji was a deserter. Meanwhile, Makoto has yet another stalker whom the police pick up on suspicion of being a Mu agent, but he only gives his serial number until he meets Admiral Kusumi, to whom he reports that he’s Jinguji’s radio man and that Makoto’s father is very much alive. He leads Kusumi and the other main characters (including a bearded reporter who threatens to blab the story if they don’t bring him) to the island where Jinguji has built his super-sub, Gotengo (轟天号 Gōten-gō, essentially “S.S. Roaring Heavens” — generally called Atragon in English, short for “Atomic Dragon” for some reason). In addition to the usual submarine features, Gotengo has a drill on the front for underground travel, which I guess would make it both a submarine and a subterrene. And it can fly. Which would make it a… supermarine?

It’s all kind of moot, though, since Jinguji is quite the jingoist. He refuses Kusumi’s pleas to use Gotengo to save the world from Mu, because he insists it must only be used for the glory of Japan. The fact that the world includes Japan seems to be lost on him. But the reporter turns out to be a Mu spy who bombs Gotengo‘s hangar and abducts Makoto along with one of the photographers. This abruptly changes Jinguji’s mind about helping the world.

Down in the supposedly super-advanced Mu, we get one of the standard Toho tribal-dance sequences, and it’s interminable. Finally the abductees are dragged in and told they’ll be fed to the Mu god Manda, a snakelike dragon kaiju, if Jinguji doesn’t destroy the super-sub. But they never actually pass this threat along to Jinguji before he drills out of the wrecked hangar and flies to the rescue when a Mu submarine (with a Manda-shaped death ray on top) attacks Tokyo and a fleet offshore. Gotengo pursues the Mu sub back home, where the captives have snuck out some mining explosives and use them to take the Mu empress hostage and escape to the super-sub, which covers their escape from Manda. Several different-sized Manda puppets are used in different shots, and the one used in the early shots is really goofy-looking with bulging, muppety eyes, though another used later in the escape sequence has a more menacing head sculpt.

On Gotengo, the young Empress (who somehow has all her robes and heavy jewelry even though she G-ratedly shed them earlier to change into a diving suit) refuses to negotiate or surrender, so Jinguji kills Manda with the sub’s Zero Cannon, an absolute-zero freeze ray — which seems like a really unwise weapon to use underwater, but all it does is essentially coat Manda in fake snow until it stops moving. Then the sub drills into Mu’s power generator room and a team uses hand-held freeze rays to battle its way to the generators and plant bombs. The crew and the empress surface and watch the huge explosion (an interesting effect that appears to be achieved by dropping a bunch of colored dyes into a tank of water and split-screening it upside-down over a shot of the ocean, so it looks like fiery clouds erupting upward). The sub freezes the last couple of subs trying to escape, and Jinguji allows the empress to dive into the ocean and swim to her doom in the hellish maelstrom. So they’ve basically achieved the total genocide of the most ancient civilization on Earth. Um, yay?

Kaitei Gunkan/Atragon was apparently a big hit in Japan, but I found it quite a chore to get through. It’s very slow-paced and had little to hold my interest, and I watched it piecemeal over 3 or 4 sittings. The characters are superficial, and it takes a while for the action or the big FX sequences to get going. Jinguji’s resistance to using his sub to save the world is weakly justified and too casually resolved. The token kaiju Manda (only added because it was expected in an Ishiro Honda film) is crudely made and poses a minor threat. And it’s harder to like a film where the heroes exterminate an entire civilization than one where they defeat a giant monster.

Atragon got a loose remake of sorts in 1977 with The War in Space (Wakusei Daisenso, “Great War of the Planets”), directed by Jun Fukuda and transposing the action to space — most likely as a knockoff of that other space war film that came out in America about half a year earlier. When alien ships purportedly from Venus — mostly looking like flying acorns, but with a mothership described as a “giant galleon” by the crew of a 2D-painting space station that it destroys early in the film — start attacking Earth cities, Dr. Takigawa (Ryo Ikebe) is persuaded to complete building his space battleship Gohten (as it’s written in Roman script on the crew hats), which he’d resisted completing as unnecessary until an alien impostor attempts to steal his plans. He recruits a cast of nondescript male leads and his technician daughter Jun to finish the ship, which gets trapped in its hangar by an alien attack and must drill its way free much as in Atragon, but with lasers this time. (This version of the ship still includes a forward drill, but it’s largely useless here and for most of the film.) It then uses oxymoronically named “aerial depth charges” (at least in the badly written English dub they have on Archive.org) to blow up a fleet of space acorns before heading off for Venus, just in time for the token American crewman to learn his family was killed by the aliens and stare expressionlessly at the camera while a glycerin tear slides down his cheek.

En route to Venus, it turns out that male lead Miyoshi nobly left Japan to let second lead Muroi get engaged to Jun, who liked Miyoshi more. Muroi gets Miyoshi to promise to take Jun if Muroi gets killed on Venus, making it 100% certain that he will. Needless to say, Jun is not consulted in this. The crew then finds a piece of the destroyed space station improbably far from Earth, with a single conveniently placed corpse to bring aboard for services, and they don’t recognize the obvious trap. The “corpse” wakes up and abducts Jun, who’s taken to Venus, changed into leather bondage gear, and held captive by Commander Hell, a green-skinned alien in Marvin the Martian cosplay, and his “Space Beastman” sidekick that looks like Chewbacca with horns, the most obvious Star Wars ripoff in the film. Hell explains his people have a huge space empire based in Messier 13, yet naturally the only planet within 22,000 light years suitable to replace their dying homeworld is Earth.

Gohten lands on Venus and the scouting party finds the “galleon” behind a force barrier. The sub, err, spaceship launches fighters from a giant revolver barrel (no, really, and the hangar inside is too big to fit inside the exterior model) to take out the force field so Miyoshi’s team can get in to save Jun. Ironically it’s the token American who does a kamikaze run to achieve that. The galleon is also way bigger inside than out and looks more like a castle interior than a spaceship. All the soldiers get killed but Miyoshi, who’s thrown in a cell with Jun as hostages for Takizawa to turn over the ship, but Jun saw Hell enter his password and uses it to escape the cell, and they fight their way out of the galleon and return to Gohten.

Now, I’d expected that Muroi would sacrifice himself nobly to cover their return or something, but instead he’s just shot down from behind while calmly tooling his way back to the ship. Seriously? Anyway, Gohten is crippled in the ensuing battle with the galleon, so Takizawa sneaks off in the ship’s otherwise useless forward drill, which it turns out — according to a recorded message he somehow already had cued up for Miyoshi and Jun despite having no time to record it — contains a super-bomb he invented that could destroy the universe if the knowledge got out. He uses it to blow up the galleon and himself, and subsequently all of Venus, to ensure the knowledge dies with him. Gohten barely gets repaired in time to escape (gee, thanks for the heads-up, Skipper). And presumably Earth endures some unpleasant climate effects from the resultant gravitational shifts and the debris belt that forms in Venus’s former orbit.

Well, this was mediocre, forgettable, and silly, with cheaper and clumsier effects work than the original 14 years before. Some of its elements seemed self-parodic, but it was played as a straight war drama, so the serious and goofy elements undermine each other.

Saving the best for last, we jump back to 1969 for Latitude Zero, aka Ido Zero Daisakusen (The Great Latitude Zero Operation/Mission). This one is unusual among Ishiro Honda’s films in that it’s shot entirely in English with a mixed US/Japanese cast headed by Joseph Cotten, Richard Jaeckel, Akira Takarada, and Cesar Romero, and based on an obscure US radio adventure series by the film’s screenwriter, Ted Sherdeman.

Three men in a tub — a bathysphere crew including Dr. Ken Tashiro (Takarada), Dr. Jules Masson (Masumi Okada playing a Frenchman), and reporter Perry Lawton (Jaeckel) — are studying the deep scattering layer when they’re caught in an undersea volcanic eruption (a similar cloud-tank effect to the one in Atragon, but better done). They’re rescued by divers from the Alpha, an incredibly advanced nuclear sub captained by Craig McKenzie (Cotten), who tells Tashiro and Lawton that it’s neutral, belongs to no nation, and was launched in 1804. Dr. Anne Barton, the sub’s physician — a scantily clad young blonde played by Linda Haynes, whose line readings are even stiffer than those of the Japanese actors reciting them phonetically — advises that Masson’s injuries need more treatment than Alpha can provide, so McKenzie reluctantly calls off monitoring the volcano to return to a place called Latitude Zero (and longitude 180, where the equator and the International Date Line cross).

But the villainous Malic — played by Cesar Romero a year or so after the end of his tenure as the Joker on Batman — orders the crew of his own sub, the Black Shark, to destroy the Alpha. Apparently McKenzie and Malic were the hero and villain of the radio series, though the sub was called the Omega there. So the film treats their rivalry as long-standing. The flamboyantly dressed Malic is assisted by his lover Lucretia (Patricia Medina), who’s jealous of the Black Shark‘s female captain Kroiga (Hikaru Kuroki) and is cattily pleased when she’s beaten by the Alpha‘s superior tech tricks in a lengthy sub chase/battle, then is unable to penetrate Latitude Zero’s force field barrier.

McKenzie — who’s 204, a year older than Malic — shows Tashiro and Lawton the wonders of Latitude Zero (called “LZ” for short), a super-advanced, apolitical, post-scarcity anarchist utopia where the clothes are made of gold (extracted from seawater) and diamonds are used as flowerpot gravel. It’s basically as if Captain Nemo had invented the Federation. Tashiro is the Arronax of the film, intrigued by the utopian vision of LZ, while Lawton is the cynical Ned Land type, finding it too good to be true and suspicious of brainwashing and hallucinations (though he fills his tobacco pouch with diamonds anyway). He makes a good point about LZ’s failure to share their superscience with the world, though McKenzie insists they can’t until they can be sure it won’t be used for war.

Once Masson is healed, McKenzie explains how LZ’s teams recruit scientists from all over the world to come to LZ to conduct pure research without political, military, or commercial agendas — including one Dr. Okada and his daughter, both of whom Malic abducts to set a trap for McKenzie. The three newcomers and Dr. Barton volunteer to join McKenzie and his first mate Kobo (the only Japanese-speaking character in the film, played by Hitoshi Omae) for the rescue mission, and are equipped with an “immunity bath” that makes them temporarily bulletproof (and gives the men and Barton a chance to see each other naked, though it’s strictly G-rated for the audience), protective suits of a gold/platinum weave, jet-powered “elevation belts,” and gloves with built-in mini-weapons. The heroic menfolk leave the finally fully clothed Dr. Barton behind to woodenly pilot the Alpha (whatever happened to the large crew it had before?).

Meanwhile, Malic forces the Okadas to watch him punish Kroiga for her failures by surgically implanting her brain into a lion and sewing on a condor’s wings (which are somehow functional afterward), turning her into a griffin that he then enlarges with a growth serum and sics on the rescue team, though Griffin Kroiga instead just sits idly watching as they contend with various of the island’s deathtraps (what did Malic expect before the anaesthesia wore off?), so they’re able to reach Malic’s decidedly non-sterile operating theater and rescue the Okadas just before the professor goes under the knife. They have no trouble defeating Malic’s Bat Man mutants (Cesar Romero and Bat Men?? Why didn’t I notice that until now???), yet are somehow stymied when Malic releases a swarm of harmless actual bats (or superimposed footage thereof) to cover his escape.

The gang goes back to the Alpha, but Malic shows up in the Black Shark and subjects it to various attacks, including a powerful magnetic field trap, which it escapes by borrowing a trick from the Gotengo — it spreads its wings, fires jet engines, and takes flight. Malic is so vengefully obsessed with shooting down the Alpha with his laser ray that he gets the Shark trapped in the same magnetic field, and then the griffinized Kroiga finally takes flight and attacks the sub (again, what did he expect, really?), leading to both of their destruction along with the Shark. The entire island, like all respectable supervillain lairs, reacts to the villain’s demise by exploding for no apparent reason.

In the denouement, everyone chooses to stay in the paradise of LZ except Lawton, who gets picked up by a ship and finds his story disbelieved when all his film is blank and his diamonds are missing. Bizarrely, some of the crew are dead ringers for McKenzie, Tashiro, and Malic, as if we’re supposed to think it was all a dream — but then they find out (in Lawton’s absence) that a fortune in diamonds has been deposited in Lawton’s bank account, with none of them showing any knowledge of what it’s about. So Latitude Zero is real, and these guys just coincidentally look like the people in it? Huh? Wha?

Aside from that completely inexplicable ending, Latitude Zero isn’t bad as Captain Nemo riffs go. It feels almost like a backdoor pilot for a TV series, one that might’ve been fun to see. Granted, the acting isn’t great, for the most part. Joseph Cotten is basically just showing up for a paycheck, and the Japanese cast can only do so much with phonetically delivered English dialogue (the one fluent English speaker, Masumi Okada, has one of the smallest parts). Linda Haynes’s almost nonexistent performance (her first speaking role) can perhaps be excused by her youth and inexperience, as well as working with a director who didn’t speak English; here’s an interview with her about making the film. But Cesar Romero brings his supervillain A game to the role of Malic, gleefully chewing the scenery (only about half as hyperactively as the Joker would, but that’s more than enough), which makes up for a lot of the rest. It’s largely thanks to him that this film is so much more fun than the other two super-ship films. (Sorry, super-boat, since they’re submarines.)

Site updates and news

Footprints in the StarsOkay, first off, I’ve been informed that the official publication date for Footprints in the Stars has been moved up from October to today. The collection made its debut at Shore Leave last week, but for technical reasons it was necessary to delay its official publication date in order to achieve something that has now ceased to be an issue, so there’s no longer any reason not to release it right away. So I’ve updated the home page to reflect that. It looks like it might take a bit of time for the online vendors to catch up and update their sites, though.

In the meantime, the book’s editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail wants its contributing authors to let reviewers, librarians, and bookstore owners know that Footprints in the Stars (#FootprintsInTheStars) is available for review on #NetGalley from now through July 31 (she told me to use those “hashtag” thingies, though I don’t really know if that makes any difference on WordPress). The link is:

https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/168979

I’ve also now put up spoiler annotations for Crimes of the Hub and “The Melody Lingers” (beware spoilers at the links). The Crimes annotations replace my annotation pages for the three individual stories (which are mostly the same with a few minor changes), but it contains links to the original pages for archival purposes (and those pages are still at their original URLs).

I previously reported that the Green Blaze story “Conventional Powers” will be in the September/October 2019 issue of Analog, and I’ve found that it goes on sale August 20. With the official publication date of Footprints moved up, that’s two Troubleshooter stories in two months (even though they’re set nearly 25 years apart)! Since “Powers” is so close now, I’ve added non-spoiler discussion to my Original Short Fiction and (newly renamed) Only Superhuman/Troubleshooters pages. It seems a bit redundant to put discussion of Troubleshooter stories in both places, but since they’re new short fiction, it seems to make sense to put them on the short fiction page, at least until they aren’t new anymore. Of course, there will be spoiler annotations for both Troubleshooter stories going up at some point after their releases.

I’ve also made a couple of tweaks to the look of the site. I figured out I could add an animated slide show of my book covers to the top of the home page, making it a bit more visually striking. It’s kind of hypnotic, and a random slide show of all my covers is a good way to call attention to the full range of my work, including projects that might go overlooked. But it has a couple of problems — it obscures the dropdown menus on the home page, and it doesn’t show up well on my mobile phone. I’d appreciate reader feedback on whether you like the slideshow or not. If it isn’t well-received, I’ll switch to something else like a thumbnail grid.

I also used thumbnail grids to make my main Star Trek Fiction page a bit more compact, with the covers in each series displayed side by side instead of top to bottom. I think it looks a lot better.

There will be more updates to follow!

CRIMES OF THE HUB is out!

Well, it took several months longer than I’d hoped, and I’m a couple of weeks late reporting it, but Crimes of the Hub has finally gone on sale. The sequel to Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy collects the stories “Hubpoint of No Return,” “…And He Built a Crooked Hub,” and “Hubstitute Creatures,” revised, expanded, and blended into a single short novel.

Crimes of the Hub cover

The stock photo site we used for the Hub Space cover has gone out of business in the interim, so we had to “recast” Nashira and David for this cover using images sourced from Shutterstock. But I think the new Nashira model is an improvement, a closer fit to the Lucy Liu-ish appearance I’ve always imagined for the character. It would’ve made more sense for Julio to be the shirtless one (or for all three to be shirtless), but we had to work with the shots that were available.

Here’s the promotional blurb (which will be the back cover blurb once there’s a print edition):

The hapless heroes of Hub Space return with new jobs, new allies, and new adventures at the heart of the galaxy, in a novel expanded and revised from stories originally appearing in Analog.

Just when cynical space pilot Nashira Wing has finally started to enjoy helping David LaMacchia with his clueless quest to crack the secrets of the Hub Network, he’s hijacked by a crew of kittenish thieves and trapped in the treasure vault of a far older civilization. What he finds there gives Nashira a shot at the score of a lifetime—but changes David’s life in ways that threaten their friendship. To keep the devious masters of the Hub from getting their tentacles on Nashira’s prize, she and David must mend frayed relationships and navigate new ones, all while facing adventures in larceny, sex, bureaucracy, hyperspatial geometry, and radical body modification. Can they come through it all with their hearts, their identities, and their dignity intact?

It’s available as an e-book from:

And here’s the book’s Goodreads page if you want to keep track of it there. If you read the book (or any of my other books), please post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads — it helps raise a book’s profile if it gets enough reviews.

I’ll be reworking the individual story annotations for the new format and added material. I’m still figuring out what approach to take there.

In other original fiction news, I’ve been informed that the new Green Blaze story “Conventional Powers” will be in the September/October 2019 issue of Analog. Won’t be long now! So far, this year has seen the release of Star Trek Adventures: The Gravity of the Crime, ST:TOS: The Captain’s Oath, “The Melody Lingers,” Crimes of the Hub, and “The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of,” and still to come we have three more STA campaigns, “Conventional Powers,” and Arachne’s Crime. That’s ten distinct publications in one year, breaking my previous record in 2010!

Post-Shore Leave wrap-up

Well, I’m home at last, recovering from my drive home yesterday. Shore Leave this year was a mixed bag for me; the con was mostly fine, but due to various circumstances, mostly my own situation, I wasn’t able to enjoy it as fully as usual.

On Saturday evening, I had hung out with my fellow authors for our annual BBQ dinner; this year, because several of us had late panels, the ever-generous Keith R.A. DeCandido and his wife Wrenn ordered a take-out catering package for us to have at a reserved suite at the hotel, instead of driving out there en masse as usual. I kind of missed the chance to get out of the hotel and experience the ambience of the BBQ place, but we were able to have a larger group of authors, and I was able to make a second pulled-turkey BBQ sandwich to keep in my hotel room fridge for lunch the next day (which is good, since it cost more per person than I usually spend at the restaurant). I also got to have a nice conversation with the charming and multitalented Mary Fan, an author, acrobat, composer, and who knows what else.

Although I got so caught up in the conversation that I failed to realize I’d bit the inside of my lip rather hard and repeatedly while eating my sandwich. I had to bow out early, and the next morning it looked badly bruised, so out of an excess of caution, I sought out the hotel’s medical staffer just to make sure it wasn’t infected or something (it was fine). Later on, I was on two consecutive panels in the same room, so I was able to stay in my seat for both. The first was a panel on toxic masculinity and alternatives to it in fiction, with panelists including the aforementioned Mary Fan (who thought Emerald Blair looked “badass” on the Only Superhuman cover, which is a great compliment from someone who’s pretty badass herself), and the second was one on trickster figures in fiction, which I only had a tenuous reason to be on (Emerald Blair can perhaps be considered a bit of a trickster, as can Rynyan and Tsshar in the Hub series).

Ultimately I didn’t really do much beyond panels this year, since the vagaries of bad timing meant that I had a novel deadline on Monday and I had to spend most of the time holed up in my hotel room revising the draft manuscript, which had come out a bit too short and needed fleshing out. Also, for some reason, the con’s book vendor didn’t have any copies of Star Trek: TOS — The Captain’s Oath for sale, and I didn’t bring any of my own since I assumed the vendor would have them. So I wasn’t able to sell many books this year, although what with all my economizing on the trip (eating homemade meals, avoiding some but not all toll roads, driving all the way to and from my cousins’ in DC rather than staying at motels), I was able to come out nearly $47 ahead on this trip. It would’ve been over $50, but I had to buy a new power cord for my phone en route.

Oh, my phone. Ugh. In addition to the power cord problem, the GPS kept crashing on me. And I’m so reliant on GPS that I don’t know the way from the Shore Leave hotel to my cousins’ place without it. Well, I have paper Google maps printouts I could’ve used, but the GPS directed me away from the printed route due to crashes on some highway, so I tried to wing it, made the wrong turn (onto I-83 instead of I-495), and ended up hopelessly lost in the middle of Baltimore. Once I got the GPS working briefly, enough to make my way back to a familiar highway, I tried to rely on my printed map from there, but made the wrong turn again at a confusing exit and got lost a second time! Eventually, after a couple of more false starts with the GPS, I finally ended up on a local road I remembered from coming in on Thursday, just a few miles from my cousins’ house, so I no longer needed the GPS — and that’s when the GPS started working reliably!!!! GRRRRRRRRR!!! I was utterly frazzled by the time I got to Barb & Mark’s, and not great company when we went over to their friend’s for dinner as usual. (Mark suggested that the problem was that I’d enabled offline maps and it was eating up my phone’s memory. I changed the settings as he recommended, and my GPS still crashed at one point on the way home on Tuesday, but it kept working steadily as long as I shut off the phone screen and put it on standby during the long stretches between notifications. Honestly, I barely needed it once I got onto I-68W, and certainly not once I got to I-70.)

Anyway, I spent pretty much all day Monday alone at Barb & Mark’s house (aside from their dog and cats), which was perfect, since I needed both a day to recover from that horrible drive on Sunday and a quiet day to concentrate fully on finishing up the manuscript before the deadline. I managed to turn it in on time and close enough to the target word count, and significantly improved by fleshing out some supporting characters who needed it. (Sometimes it’s good to add a whole subplot in a day, weaving it into the existing storyline, since it gives it cohesiveness and keeps you in the right mindset to write it.) So I’m finally done with that (until I get editorial notes), and hopefully soon I’ll be able to tell you what it was.

Thanks to my cousins buying turkey and cheese for me, I was able to make a couple of sandwiches for the drive home on Tuesday, and to take the remaining turkey and cheese home with me as well, along with an extra ice pack in my insulated grocery bag. The drive home was by the fastest possible route, which Google Maps said would take a bit over 8 hours, but it took me something over 11 hours, which seems excessive even given all the rest areas I stopped at. But then, I was caught in rush hour traffic in both DC and Columbus and at least one similar slowdown in between, so that added somewhat to the travel time.

(Though it could’ve been worse. Since Barb disagreed with the phone GPS about the best route out of town, I went with the version on my map printout and almost made a wrong turn again when it told me to go right at the fork to stay on I-495W when the road signs said that was the left fork. At first I went left, but then I had doubts, and since the road behind me was empty, I stopped, backed up, and parked myself on the marked-off triangle of pavement between the two roads, staring at the signs, before finally deciding I’d probably been correct to go left all along, so I went left again. Fortunately, it turned out to be the right call, and the trip was mostly pretty straightforward from there. I’ve scratched out the “right” on that step on the printout and written in “left” so I won’t make that mistake again.)

So now I’m home, but I still don’t feel quite settled in. The fatigue hasn’t left me, and I have to get groceries and catch up on a lot of TV. I also have an overdue video at the library due to bad timing; I wasn’t able to watch it before going because of my manuscript, and I wasn’t able to renew it because it was reserved. So I’ll have to watch it and get it back today, just one day late.

Once I’m a bit more recovered, I’ll get on with reviewing my editor’s notes on Arachne’s Crime, which have been waiting on my computer since last week. After that, I have an original project I’ve been working on that I need to get back to. And then… we’ll see. I still have some car repairs that I wasn’t able to get done before the trip. For one thing, it seemed that the wiper fluid sprayer was fixed, but it stopped working again late in the drive home.

In the meantime, I picked up some new copies of Among the Wild Cybers at Shore Leave, replenishing my stock, so I now have five copies available as part of my autographed book sale. If you buy them, I can say I made more of a profit from my trip! And don’t forget, I have a bunch of copies of The Captain’s Oath for sale too, so you can help me make up for not being able to sell any at Shore Leave.

Shore Leave news — Announcing ARACHNE’S CRIME and ARACHNE’S EXILE!

It’s Saturday night at Shore Leave, and I’m only getting around to posting now since I’ve been busy trying to revise a manuscript by its Monday deadline (lousy timing, I know, but it can’t be helped). I can’t yet say what it’s for, but I do have other big news below.

Anyway, I had a better drive in than expected; there were thunderstorms along my path all day Thursday, but by luck, I managed to stay just behind the tail end of the storms the whole trip, with just a brief period of drizzle in Eastern Ohio and clear skies the rest of the way. I stayed at my cousins’ overnight, worked on the manuscript Friday morning, got into the hotel Friday afternoon, then stayed in my room working until the What’s New in Trek Fiction panel where I couldn’t really talk about anything except the new Star Trek Adventures games I’ve got coming up in the next month or two, theoretically. Meet the Pros was fairly quiet, but I got to talk to writer friends and that was good. Today, I was on a “Batman Turns 80” panel for no particular reason (though it was a nice talk, led by Greg Cox, who — unlike me — has actually written Batman fiction), then I was on two consecutive Star Trek Adventures panels (one about the game, one about how to write/pitch for it, which I wasn’t scheduled for but crashed anyway). Then at 6 came the eSpec Books panel run by the company’s owner/editor Danielle McPhail, and though we literally had an equal number of audience members as panelists (5 each), it was here that I got to make my big announcement.

And here it is: eSpec Books has acquired my duology Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile. I’ve talked about this project intermittently on my blog over the past few years, though not under those titles. Readers of my original work may recognize Arachne as the name of the colony starship from my first published story, “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” from the November 1998 Analog, reprinted in Among the Wild Cybers. To quote the story description from my AtWC page:

The colony ramship Arachne accidentally destroys a space habitat of the nomadic Chirrn while its crew is suspended in hibernation.  Even if the colonists can persuade the Chirrn that the disaster was an accident, will they still be held culpable for negligent mass murder?  And can they get a fair trial despite the Chirrn’s mistrust of planet-dwellers?

I always wanted to continue the story of the Arachne crew in the wake of that novelette’s outcome, so I eventually settled on the idea of doing a novel that would incorporate the original story but expand on it and continue the tale beyond it. It turned out that some of the science in the original story (concerning the feasibility of interstellar ramjets) was implausible, so I eventually decided I needed to break with my usual “Keep everything consistent” policy and do a whole new version that would replace the original story in my universe’s continuity. Once I made that choice, it freed me up to make other changes and really add depth to the story and characters. (Most of the original story’s events and dialogue are still in there, though. Consider it an inaccurate account of the same event, superseded by a much fuller and more accurate version.)

The expanded and corrected retelling of AVG is just the first half of Arachne’s Crime, though. The rest of the novel continues the tale beyond the verdict, as the crew of Arachne adjusts to their new status within the Chirrn’s civilization — which includes a number of Chirrn who did not agree with the verdict and have their own ideas about obtaining justice. Both halves let me flesh out the Chirrn’s culture, biology, and psychology much more richly than in the original story, as well as intensifying the human drama far more than in the original tale.

The events of Arachne’s Crime then build to a climax that leads into the second novel, Arachne’s Exile, which opens up the narrative to a more cosmic, epic scope, bringing in more new species and exotic environments, and really fleshing out the big-picture galactic culture and history of my primary SF universe more than anything I’ve had published to date.

The reason I have a duology all ready to go, by the way, is that it was a single really long novel for years, but I was never able to sell it at that length. Eventually I started to think about submitting it to small publishers with word-count limits per volume, which would require cutting it in two, something I resisted for a while because I saw it as one story. But eventually I realized it had been trying to be two stories all along, that there were elements resolved in the first half and others not introduced properly until the second. Cramming them together probably kept the book from feeling properly focused. Splitting the tale into two distinct phases turned out to work much better, tightening the focus of each volume. Also, since the natural breaking point was less than halfway through, I needed to expand the first book to make it a suitable length, which let me flesh out a lot of Chirrn worldbuilding I’d glossed over in my rush to part 2, as well as adding a new climax to make part 1 more of a complete book on its own. I also added new material to the start of Exile to reintroduce the characters and story threads. I’ve always felt that a story told in two or more volumes should be made of distinct parts that work somewhat independently, rather than just being one long story arbitrarily divided by length (which was why I resisted splitting Arachne until I realized it worked better as two connected stories).

The current plan is to run the Kickstarter campaign for Arachne’s Crime in the early fall, with the book hopefully coming out fairly soon thereafter. Arachne’s Exile is expected to follow sometime in 2020.

Just think… this time a year ago, I had only two original books in print, Only Superhuman and Hub Space. Now I have a third (Among the Wild Cybers) with the fourth (Crimes of the Hub) due out very, very soon. By this time next year, I’ll have six original books in print. (Which are either 3 novels and 3 collections or 4 novels and 2 collections, depending on how you count Crimes of the Hub, which is three stories collected and blended into a short fix-up novel.) Hopefully I’ll have copies of all six to show off and sell at next year’s Shore Leave!