Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek Discovery’

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.

Today’s book news: AMONG THE WILD CYBERS is out… and STAR TREK novels are back!

(Robot and Cover Design by Mike McPhail, McP Digital Graphics)Well, today’s the day that Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman is officially released in trade paperback! It’s been out in e-book form for a week already, but I missed that date, so I decided to wait until today to do the big site update I’ve been planning. I’ve added a new page for the collection here:

Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman

This page contains the basic information, discussions, and annotation links that used to be on my Original Short Fiction page, which is now much shorter because it only has one story left, “Abductive Reasoning,” at least until my recently sold “The Melody Lingers” comes out in Galaxy’s Edge. But I’ve added links to my story collections on that page so it isn’t too empty.

Meanwhile, I’ve put up four new annotation pages linked from the AtWC page, for “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele,” “The Weight of Silence,” and the brand-new Emerald Blair story “Aspiring to Be Angels.” The notes from “Weight” were previously published on my old website. I never did full annotations to AVG and AWCC until now, but their annotation pages reprint the in-universe worldbuilding notes I did have on my old site. I’ve also updated the annotation pages for “No Dominion,” “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing,” “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad,” and “Twilight’s Captives” with the page numbers for the new book, along with a few minor updates to reflect changes in the new editions.

There may be a few other site tweaks coming, like a link of some sort to “Aspiring to Be Angels” on the Only Superhuman page, and maybe some kind of combined timeline page. But I think I’ve done enough for today.

Now, of course, it’s up to you guys, since now you can buy my book! (Well, you could pre-order it before, but now you don’t have to wait to get it!) And if you buy it from an online bookstore, please post a review of it. The more reviews a book gets on Amazon or a similar site, the more attention it gets. Reviews and ratings on Goodreads will help get the word out too!

The other big news today was announced at the Star Trek Las Vegas convention and reported on

STLV Reveal: Tilly Tale Heralds 2019 Trek Novels

Yes, after a long and frustrating delay in the license renewal, Pocket Books is finally resuming the publication of Star Trek novels. Three have been announced so far: a Discovery novel in January 2019 by Una McCormack, an Original Series novel in March by Greg Cox, and a Next Generation novel in April by Dayton Ward (picking up story threads from previous 24th-century novels). But there are more books that will be announced later when the time is right. And that’s about all I can say on the subject for now. Except that I’m glad to see that the novel line is finally back in business.

Looking back on a slow year

December 30, 2017 2 comments

With 2017 coming to a close, I realize that I haven’t announced a single new writing project all year. I’ve had only three projects come out in 2017 — Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations — Shield of the Gods in June and Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference and “Abductive Reasoning” in August. (Also, Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown and “Twilight’s Captives” were nominally January 2017 publications, but they both came out in December 2016.) The last announcement I made of a new project was for “Abductive Reasoning” in November 2016, more than a year ago.

So what gives? Don’t worry, I haven’t retired from writing. But between one thing and another, it’s been a very slow year for me. The main problem is that Simon & Schuster has been renegotiating its license for Star Trek tie-in fiction, and for some reason, it’s taking an astonishingly long time to get resolved. I would imagine that the arrival of Star Trek: Discovery has created complications and/or distractions that delayed the process, but beyond that, I really have no idea why it’s been taking so long. I heard a month or so back that the deal was close to being finalized, and I’m hopeful I’ll be able to get back into Star Trek soon, but even so, it will still be quite some time before anything new gets announced to the public.

In the meantime, I’ve been pursuing a number of other options, mostly original fiction but one tie-in project as well. There are a few things I’ve actually made progress on, but this year has been a perfect storm of delays. There are two or three exciting new projects I’d expected to be able to announce — and to get paid for — by now, but they’ve all taken months longer than expected to reach a point where I could talk about them, a bizarre coincidence. On the plus side, those projects look like they’re finally coming together now, and I should have some interesting announcements to make in January. Meanwhile, I’ve got an upcoming opening to submit my long-simmering spec novel to a prospective publisher, but I’ve got to make some changes to it to fit the parameters, and I’m working on those now.

As far as this blog goes, I expect it to get a little more active in January, since I’ve been working on a new set of reviews of a vintage SFTV series. That should be ready to go very soon. In the meantime, my autographed book sale is still going on. I called it a holiday sale to get attention, but really, it’s open all year round, as long as anyone is willing to buy.

By the way, though it’s been a slow year for me in terms of selling (or at least announcing) new work, the same doesn’t necessarily go for my recent work. In particular, it seems that Patterns of Interference has been #1 on the Locus Media & Gaming Related Bestseller list for two months running, in November and December. I’ve even beat out the Star Wars novels, though apparently it was a close call in December. Thanks to David Mack for pointing these out to me. And thanks to my readers for buying my books. I hope you’ll be as generous with the new stuff I have coming next year.

The Shore has been Left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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