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HIGHER FRONTIER annotations are up!

It’s been over a week since The Higher Frontier came out, so I figured I might as well go ahead and post the annotations (beware of spoilers):ST Higher Frontier cover

https://christopherlbennett.wordpress.com/home-page/star-trek-fiction/tos-ex-machina/tos-the-higher-frontier-annotations/

Also, just a reminder that I’ve started a Patreon page where I’ll be posting reviews and original short fiction:

https://www.patreon.com/christopherlbennett

I hope those of you who enjoy The Higher Frontier will consider signing up for at least the $1/month “tip” level. If enough of you did so, it would help me a lot while costing you very little. Although if you sign up for the higher levels, you’ll get original content in return.

Also, please remember to rate or review the book on Amazon, Goodreads, and the like, no matter where you bought it. The more reviews a book gets, the more it’s boosted in Amazon’s search algorithms.

STAR TREK: TOS — THE HIGHER FRONTIER is out!

I’m a couple of days late to announce it, but Star Trek: The Original Series — The Higher Frontier is now on sale!

ST Higher Frontier coverStar Trek: The Original Series — The Higher Frontier

An all-new Star Trek movie-era adventure featuring James T. Kirk!

Investigating the massacre of a telepathic minority, Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise confront a terrifying new threat: faceless, armored hunters whose extradimensional technology makes them seemingly unstoppable. Kirk must team with the powerful telepath Miranda Jones and the enigmatic Medusans to take on these merciless killers in an epic battle that will reveal the true faces of both enemy and ally!

Available at:

 

This is the first time I’ve gotten to work in the post-TMP setting in nearly eight years since DTI: Forgotten History, and the first time since Ex Machina 15 years ago that I’ve been able to do an entire novel in that setting, rather than sneaking in continuations within other projects. To commemorate this, I’ve reworked my Ex Machina page into an overall post-TMP page putting all the relevant discussions together in one place for convenience, aside from DTI:FH, which is technically in a different series and whose dedicated page has several comments, so I figured it was better to leave it separate. You can find it here:

TOS: Motion Picture Era

Scroll down to the bottom to find discussion on The Higher Frontier, since it’s chronological. (One thing I miss about my old HTML web page is that you could link to different anchor points within a single page for quick navigation. I’ve never figured out how to do that in WordPress.)

As usual, spoiler annotations should follow before too long.

 

Reaching a crisis point

February 29, 2020 5 comments

For the past few years, I’ve been caught in a pattern I don’t know how to get out of.

Before then, for more than a decade, I managed to get by modestly on my income from Star Trek novels and occasional original fiction. So I settled for being a full-time writer and didn’t try very hard to pursue alternatives. Then Pocket Books’s Trek license came up for renewal and was badly delayed, so for more than a year I wasn’t getting Trek work. I kept being told it would resolve fairly soon, and I was expecting income from several other sources that I was told would pay off fairly soon, so I just waited for those payoffs, and they all improbably got delayed at once, so I ended up very nearly broke, coming close to the brink of not being able to pay my rent or my bills anymore.

Eventually, I got help from family and from reader donations, and then Trek contracts started to come through again, but even those advances were not frequent or large enough to do more than let me ease away from the brink for a few months and then wind up back on the edge before I could find other work. Because I’ve been a full-time writer so long, I never developed the skill of looking for other kinds of work. I’ve gotten a few interviews here and there, but none have led to a job.

All of this, I realize, has left me suffering from depression, something I’ve been wrestling with on and off all my life. The closer I get to the brink, the worse my depression and anxiety become, which makes it harder to look for work or find solutions. I keep hoping a new Star Trek contract will come through in time and give me enough of  a financial cushion to find a more lasting solution. But depression doesn’t go away that easily. Every time I do get a novel advance or a loan, I try to take some time to recover emotionally and work on my writing for a while, thinking “It’s okay, I have some time before I have to start seriously looking for other kinds of work.” But because depression makes it harder to work, I always take longer than I expected and lose track of time. And I always underestimate how quickly I’m losing money, because I keep forgetting to account for the massive credit card fees that effectively cancel out my efforts to pay down my debt. And once I notice that I’m too close to the brink again, I start panicking again, and the cycle continues.

I’ve known for a while now that I had to stop depending on Star Trek alone as my lifeline. I needed to reorient my life and find some stability, and just get out of this rut I’ve been in for years. But I was slow to act on that, clinging to the hope that rescue would come in the nick of time as it has so many times before. (Being depressed is weird. I keep bouncing back and forth between “I hate being trapped in this rut and need to make a change!” and “I’m afraid to change anything, I just want to stay in my rut where it’s safe.”)

Now, though, I know that’s not going to happen. I assume that, with fewer Trek novels per year these days, and with the uncertainty resulting from the new Trek shows and the re-merger of CBS and Viacom, I can’t rely on Trek offers coming my way like clockwork, and can’t pin my hopes on something materializing just in time. It’s already too late for that now, with tax time looming. I’ve feared this for years, but have still clung to the old way and just hoped things would go back to the way they were somehow. And as a result, I now find myself at a crisis point where I have to change.

Even before I recognized this, I’d begun making some efforts to look for work. I’ve continued to submit game outlines to Star Trek Adventures and I’ve been working on those, but they pay a lot less than a novel and I have to wait for approval. I’ve made a connection that could potentially lead to other tie-in work, but I’m still waiting for an opening to emerge. I have my Kickstarter coming up for Arachne’s Crime sometime soon, but I don’t expect the royalties from the novel or its sequel to be anywhere near the size of a tie-in advance. I’ve joined an online audio transcription service, though it’s turned out to pay hardly anything. I’ve applied to work for the 2020 Census — no reply yet. This past week I found a temp agency that specializes in creative work and signed up for it, hoping that its agents would help me find work since I’m so bad at looking for it myself; but it turned out that it’s more just an online job alert service that informs me of opportunities to apply for, and I’m still waiting for results. Last night I thought I’d found a good option in a freelancer service called Upwork, but on further examination, it seems I’d have to pay to make bids for work with no guarantee of a return on my investment.

It’s not all bad news. I’ve actually made a few hundred bucks this past week or so, helping to stem my losses slightly. I got paid for a bit of Star Trek Adventures writing that I did last year but can’t announce yet. I got a refund on the last monthly bill I paid after I cancelled my cable, which I was apparently charged in error. And I finally got some overdue Only Superhuman royalties that had fallen through the cracks. But it’s not nearly enough, especially with tax time looming in six weeks or so.

The realization that this time I’m definitely not getting a new Trek contract in the nick of time has been terrifying. When it finally hit me, my depression and anxiety reached levels I don’t think I’ve felt since an epic bout of unrequited love back in college 30 years ago. I’ve been going through ups and downs since then, and I’m hampered by the fact that every time I try to confront the situation to look for a solution, it just brings back my anxiety and makes it harder. (I got maybe 3 hours of sleep last night, tops.)

I know this is a very personal thing to broadcast to my fans, but I realized I need to talk about this for my own mental health. I need to share it with someone, and because of my (inherited) proclivities toward depression and self-isolation, I don’t really have any family or good friends close at hand to unload my burdens on, and haven’t done enough to cultivate what local friendships I do have. I’m not always comfortable talking on the phone, I never got the hang of texting, and I’m too broke to go out much, so my online life is really the only way I have of reaching out to friends and family. And my fans have been a great comfort to me these past few years, through your generosity and patience. You’ve been part of my support structure too, and I’m very grateful. (But I’d be glad to hear from any family and friends who wanted to reach out more privately.)

I’ve been giving serious thought to starting a Patreon page. That way, instead of periodically and haphazardly begging for donations all at once, I could offer my fans regular new material in exchange for small, regular monthly donations. It seems a natural thing to migrate my movie and TV reviews there and start monetizing them. (There is a way to add a Patreon plug-in to an existing WordPress blog like this one, but I’d have to upgrade and pay a fee, and I don’t know if I’d make enough profit to offset that.) I’d also try to offer original fiction content alongside the reviews. I have a few unpublished stories I could premiere there, along with my three published but uncollected stories, and maybe some deleted scenes from Only Superhuman, worldbuilding notes, behind-the-scenes stuff like that. I think I might have enough to provide fairly regular content for several months, and if that were profitable, it would hopefully give me time and incentive to create new reviews and original fiction for the platform on an ongoing basis. My fans have been so generous with your donations that I hope a lot of you would be willing to invest a few dollars per month to read my reviews, original fiction, essays, and the like.

But again, getting a Patreon page up and running and earning a profit would take time, and wouldn’t help enough in the immediate term to get me through tax time. It’s the same boat I’ve been in for years — none of the plans I’ve already made or can make going forward will pay off soon enough.

In the meantime, I’m always open for reader donations, and my book sale and naming rights bonus offer are still on. I hate having to keep pleading to my fans and offering so little in return, which is why I’m hoping to make the jump to Patreon. But I’m hopeful that by now I’ve planted enough seeds that something will start paying off soon and finally help me get out of this rut over the months ahead. It’s just that, one more time (and hopefully for the last time), I need some extra help staying afloat until they can.

Star Trek: Review: The Captain’s Oath

Star Trek The Captain's Oath coverPaul Simpson of Sci-Fi Bulletin has just posted a nice review of Star Trek: TOS — The Captain’s Oath. (Full disclosure: Paul was my editor on a number of Star Trek Magazine articles I did a decade or so ago.) Here it is:

via Star Trek: Review: The Captain’s Oath

GENESIS II/PLANET EARTH addendum: STRANGE NEW WORLD (1975)

Back in 2013, I posted my thoughts on Gene Roddenberry’s two failed pilots from the early 1970s, Genesis II with Alex Cord and its retooled version Planet Earth with John Saxon, both about a 20th-century man named Dylan Hunt who awoke from cryogenic suspension in a post-apocalyptic future and worked with an idealistic organization named PAX (or Pax, depending on the version) to try to rebuild civilization. In that post, I made the following remarks:

Planet Earth didn’t succeed as a pilot any more than its predecessor did… However, in 1975, ABC attempted to rework the post-apocalyptic premise one more time without Roddenberry’s involvement, keeping Saxon as the lead and retaining the name Pax, and using the Trek-inspired title Strange New World, but changing the rest of the premise and the character names… So it doesn’t count as part of the same series and I haven’t bothered to track it down.

Well, on a whim, I finally decided to track Strange New World down on YouTube and see if it was as bad as I’d heard. And it certainly is a mess. Nominally, they changed the premise and characters enough to make it legally distinct from Roddenberry’s creation, so he’s not credited for the production in any way. Which seems iffy, since the idea clearly did originate with Roddenberry, but it seems to have been an amicable arrangement, with Roddenberry moving back to Paramount to work on reviving Star Trek while allowing Warner Bros. to carry forward with this retooling of his concept.

But it’s a half-hearted retooling. They didn’t even bother to film a proper introduction to the new characters and ideas. Instead, the first 3 1/2 minutes of the 2-hour pilot (an hour and a half without commercials) are a prologue in which Saxon’s new lead character Anthony Vico tells the whole backstory through narration. In this version, PAX is a 20th-century organization that Vico works for along with co-stars Dr. Allison Crowley (Kathleen Miller) and Dr. William Scott (Keene Curtis, who would later play Grand Moff Tarkin in the NPR radio adaptation of Star Wars). The three are in experimental cryogenic stasis in a space station, which saves them from a cataclysmic, entirely offscreen “meteor” bombardment that destroys civilization (not sure whether they dropped the nuclear war to differentiate it from Roddenberry’s premise or to avoid controversy). They wake up 180 years later and descend to Earth to search for the PAX base where their friends and families await them in cryosleep (reminiscent of the Logan’s Run series leads searching for “Sanctuary,” even driving a similar ground vehicle). It’s a lot less effective to be told all this through narration than it would’ve been to actually see the characters’ initial reactions to waking up to find civilization in ruins.

The prologue is followed by what are essentially two routine hourlong episodes, and would probably have been re-edited as such had it gone to series. It feels like they’re trying to have it both ways, loosely continuing from the Planet Earth setup without actually using that setup. Oddly, there seem to be two different versions of the movie available, showing the two halves in the opposite order from one another.

In the version I saw on YouTube, the first “episode” turns out to be ten months after the prologue (despite some initial narration that makes it seem like mere days) and carries its own title, “Animaland.” It’s a rather dismal piece in which the trio winds up in the ruins of a nature preserve and get caught in a longstanding conflict between its protectors, who follow a holocaust-era game warden’s manual as their holy writ, and the near-savage poachers who have to hunt the game to survive. Allison gets captured by the wardens on suspicion of poaching and tries to win over their leader (Ford Rainey) and his heir apparent (Gerrit Graham) with her talk of being from the past and having knowledge to share, while the men end up convincing the poachers to help them break in to find Allison, with Vico making the incredibly reckless choice to give the head poacher (Bill McKinney) a deadly flare gun if he helps them. Eventually, the trio win the trust of the game wardens, then stay to help defend them from the poachers’ attack that Vico essentially caused, then convince them to change their rigid laws to make peace. I lost interest halfway through, then came back later and watched a lot of the rest at accelerated speed. The whole thing was quite darkly lit and slow-paced and not at all good.

The other half is a completely unconnected episode, though no separate title is shown onscreen. It’s a moderately more interesting, more sci-fi story where the trio are captured and subjected to eerie high-tech medical scans (involving solarization/overexposure effects to create some effectively weird and surreal images), then wake up in a utopian society called Eterna, albeit one that dresses them up in faux-Roman robes (with Vico in an oddly skimpy red toga). Their leader, the Surgeon (The Andromeda Strain‘s James Olson, not to be confused with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen), and his assistant, Tana (two-time Bond girl Martine Beswick), seem welcoming enough, but Vico doesn’t trust the situation and hotheadedly beats up and accidentally kills a guard (Reb Brown), who later sits up in his coffin at his joyous “funeral.” Turns out this is a group of immortals who’ve lost the ability to reproduce and have survived by cloning themselves and harvesting their clones for replacement parts — an idea similar in some respects to Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “Up the Long Ladder” 14 years later. The Surgeon is actually a 200-year-old former student of Dr. Scott, now suffering from the onset of dementia (though they still called it “senility” then) and hoping Scott will replace him as leader. Scott is tempted by Eterna’s scientific advances, leading to a rift with the aggressive, mistrustful Vico. But the cloning has cost the Eternans their natural immunity — they only survive thanks to a decontamination field that keeps germs out — and they hope the immunity factors in the trio’s un-cloned blood can cure them. So Scott participates in forcing Vico and Allison to become unconsenting blood donors — so much for medical ethics. But when the less invasive Plan A fails and Plan B calls for taking all of their blood at once (pretty shortsighted, since they could make more if kept alive), Scott helps Vico break free, and Vico starts a fight that gets ridiculously out of hand and destroys all the clones and the decontamination field, so all the Eternans die instantly from germ exposure. Yes, our hero just committed genocide. It’s a rather ghastly, morally bankrupt ending to a story that, while somewhat cliched, did have some interesting character work with Scott and the Surgeon.

Overall, Strange New World is a massive failure as a pilot. Vico is much less appealing than Dylan Hunt; he’s a dumb macho hothead quick to violence and paranoia, with no evident conscience or concern for anything except his own group’s self-interest. He’s basically a caricature of a generic 1970s action hero — right down to being given a gratuitous, completely unmotivated and chemistry-free makeout scene with Martine Beswick merely because such things were mandated for ’70s action heroes. As for Allison, though she does some effective reasoning/peacemaking with the game wardens in “Animaland,” she’s basically just there in the Eterna segment, and the actress does nothing of note with what little she’s given. Dr. Scott has the most interesting characterization of the three, though mainly in the Eterna segment and largely by default.

What’s surprising is that this pilot was directed by Robert Butler, who also directed the pilot episodes of Star Trek and Batman (and later Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman). He had a reputation as a go-to pilot director, yet the directing here was weak and lackadaisical, like he was phoning it in. Maybe he was uninspired by the script. Of the credited writers, Ranald Graham and Walon Green were both novices with no former science fiction credits (though Green would later co-write WarGames, Solarbabies, and RoboCop 2 before eventually becoming an executive producer on Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, and several Law & Order series), and Al Ramrus was mostly a documentary writer who’d plotted one episode of The Invaders.

It goes to show that, while Gene Roddenberry had his weaknesses as a writer and never managed to get any SF shows other than Star Trek off the ground, he was still better at SF than most of his contemporaries in ’70s TV, save his own former collaborators like D.C. Fontana and David Gerrold. SNW followed the same essential format that G2/PE would have, aside from the altered backstory and characters, but the results are much shallower and dumber.

It’s interesting how many mid-’70s shows had this same general format of characters wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape and encountering a variety of weird, isolated cultures-of-the-week — see also Ark II (1976) and the TV adaptation of Logan’s Run (1977), as well as the 1974 Planet of the Apes TV series to an extent. Come to think of it, all three of those aired on CBS, the network that had previously turned down Genesis II. Maybe CBS’s execs just liked the premise and kept trying to make it work. Though apparently getting ABC interested was a harder sell.

It occurred to me briefly to wonder if maybe ABC and Warner Bros. might have gotten far enough along with Planet Earth to commission additional scripts or story outlines, or to sign up John Saxon for some sort of additional commitment, before the network decided to pass on it. If SNW had just been a way to amortize their investment in a pair of additional scripts, I figured that could explain the halfheartedness, and why the pilot is just two standalone episodes glued together. But on reflection, the stories don’t really feel like they were based on Planet Earth proposals, since the characters are too different.

More likely, it’s just that Strange New World is a cheaper version of the premise. It’s the same format as PE but with three leads instead of four, a simple ground vehicle instead of the more elaborate subshuttle sets and miniatures, and no PAX headquarters sets or recurring cast members. Relegating the space station sequence to a few shots in the intro was a lot cheaper than doing a proper origin episode (and the space FX shots may even have been stock footage, though I can’t find evidence of that). Making a pilot movie that could be recut into two standard episodes would also save money. So would hiring less experienced writers and producers. So that’s probably what it all boils down to — Warner Bros. retooling the premise to be cheaper in the hope that it would then be more appealing to a network.

Anyway, I have now put far more thought into analyzing Strange New World than it really deserves. It’s a weird, half-hearted afterthought of a project, a mere footnote to G2/PE, far less worthy of attention than its preceding pilots or its contemporary post-apocalyptic shows (and none of those were all that great anyway). If not for the peripheral Star Trek connection, it would probably be entirely forgotten. I was right to skip it the first time.

STAR TREK: THE HIGHER FRONTIER cover revealed!

December 23, 2019 4 comments

The cover to Star Trek: The Original Series — The Higher Frontier has hit the Internet, so here it is:

ST Higher Frontier cover

And the blurb:

An all-new Star Trek movie-era adventure featuring James T. Kirk!

Investigating the massacre of a telepathic minority, Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise confront a terrifying new threat: faceless, armored hunters whose extradimensional technology makes them seemingly unstoppable. Kirk must team with the powerful telepath Miranda Jones and the enigmatic Medusans to take on these merciless killers in an epic battle that will reveal the true faces of both enemy and ally!

The blurb on the rear cover is a bit different, so here it is, along with the rear side of the wraparound cover image (though I’m told the “Following” is going to be rephrased to “Several years following” to be more accurate):

ST Higher Frontier rear cover

 

I got my first look at the cover a couple of weeks ago. I like it a lot. It’s a very striking and distinctive approach, a lovely piece of art, and along with the font, it has a retro feel that’s very interesting. I would’ve rather had the TMP-era logo, ideally, but the TOS logo works aesthetically with the rest.

And yes, that is an Andorian Kumari-class or similar cruiser on the cover, flying over the icy surface of Andoria with its gas-giant primary in the sky. That and the blurb should give some hints about at least one aspect of the novel’s storyline.

The Higher Frontier is due out in trade paperback, e-book, and audio formats on March 10, 2020, and is available for pre-order at:

 

 

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!