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Finally, my Shore Leave report

Sorry it’s taken me so long to talk about Shore Leave. It’s been a really exhausting week. Since money is very tight for me at the moment, I decided to leave early on Thursday and drive all the way to the DC area so I could spend the night with my cousins Barb and Mark. The drive took 12 hours, including rest and meal breaks, and I didn’t quite make it before dark. It’s a measure of how exhausted I must’ve been that I actually got a decent amount of sleep that night. I almost never manage to get any sleep on my first night in an unfamiliar bed.

(I almost had a copilot this time, though. My Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry just moved from Detroit to a DC-area retirement home, and their daughter Cynthia is still in Detroit trying to square away the rest of their belongings and arrange the sale of the house. The idea was mooted that I could drive up to Detroit and that together we could drive to Shore Leave and bring some of her parents’ stuff to them, whereupon she could visit me at the convention too. Unfortunately, she had a friend’s wedding to attend that weekend.)

Anyway, I was delayed a bit at the start of my drive when I heard an ominous knock-knock-knock sound from my right front tire once I got above 60 MPH. I pulled over at the first opportunity to check the tire, and it looked fine, so I figured maybe something had gotten stuck on it for a bit and had fallen off before I stopped. But then the sound started up again. So I found the nearest auto shop and asked if they could take a look. I managed to talk them down from “We can pencil you in an hour and a half from now” to just coming out to the parking lot to see if there was even a problem. It turned out that the mud flap sort of thingie in front of the tire had come loose from its anchor and was being blown into the tire by the wind at highway speeds. The clerk and I (mostly him) managed to patch it using a roll of “gorilla tape” I keep in the glove compartment, and although I’m pretty sure I tore the tape on the curb at the next rest stop, the sound didn’t recur for the rest of my trip. Maybe the tape covered a hole or altered the weight distribution just enough to change the flap’s aerodynamics. Anyway, it was a relief that the problem turned out to be inconsequential. And the auto shop guy didn’t even charge me, so I’m very grateful for his help.

So after 12 hours on the road and a decent night’s sleep in my cousins’ guest room, my first stop on Friday was the retirement home where Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry just moved, about a 20-minute drive from my cousins’ place. It’s a nice facility, strikingly similar in architecture and layout to the home my father lived in all too briefly, and they seem to be content there. They treated me to lunch, and I had a pretty good chicken salad sandwich. Then I set off from there to the convention. This time I had the sense to leave most of my luggage in the trunk until after I checked into my room, and fortunately my room was close to where I parked, so I didn’t have to lug it very far. Eventually I wandered out to the dealers’ area and ran into fellow Trek author and Only Superhuman editor Greg Cox, who’s usually the first person I run into at Shore Leave, and usually in the dealers’ area. (I walked right by him at first, then recognized his distinctive voice behind me while he was conversing with someone else.) We stood and talked for a while, but I was still pretty exhausted and hungry, so eventually we adjourned to the hotel cafe, where I got a sandwich and juice that I was charged exorbitantly for. We encountered a few other people while there and talked shop and the like.

I didn’t have any panels Friday, but I sat in on Greg and Marco Palmieri’s upcoming Tor Books panel (along with new Tor editor Jennifer Gunnels, who has a theater background, so they let her do most of the talking), then went on to the Meet the Pros autographing event. This time I brought copies of my old books to sell at my table, but the only ones I sold were three copies of DTI: Forgotten History. Still, I met a lot of fans and signed a lot of books.

Since I resolved not to spend hotel prices on food anymore, I just had coffee, a cereal bar, and an apple for breakfast, then walked over to the shopping mall nearby to get a sandwich from the Wegman’s grocery store’s deli. Luckily, I happened to have a refrigerator in my hotel room this year (they usually remove them for some reason, but this year was an exception), so I was able to save half the sandwich to eat on Sunday. I was really trying to economize as much as possible this trip.

Saturday was my big panel day. “Kick-ass Women Heroes” was a fun discussion, although there was one point I wished we’d covered more. We talked at one point about how both male and female comics characters tend to be stylized with male gaze in mind — female characters are sexualized, scantily clad, and objectified, while male characters are overmuscled, body-armored tough guys catering to male power fantasies. I asked the female panelists what a male character drawn for female gaze would look like, and the answers boiled down basically to “Chris Hemsworth” and romance-novel cover models. But the question I didn’t get to follow up on is that, if female gaze still favors big, muscular men, what differentiates them from the male gaze-oriented power-fantasy he-men of the comics? Is it the degree of exaggeration? Their wardrobe (functional vs. revealing)? Their attitude and body language? (I welcome replies in the comments from female readers.)

The “Superhero TV Scorecard” panel let us discuss a range of different points of view, because I started off gushing about how awesome Supergirl is and then another panelist insisted he found it unwatchable. Although the panelists and audience members were pretty civil about such differences of taste. The “World-Building” panel had fewer members on it than I expected — Peter David must’ve cancelled, and indeed I don’t think we encountered each other at all this year. Anyway, it was a nice discussion of the process of developing settings for fiction, gaming, and such, and I think moderator Stephen Kozeniewski did a very deft job directing the conversation and handling the audience’s questions. Then came the crowded “Star Trek at 50” panel, where we talked about our love for the franchise and our Trek memories, and fortunately managed to keep the conversation from getting sidetracked by the negativity about new stuff that often gets injected into Trek conversations by some fans. Although that can be a good opportunity to be informative. When someone questioned the idea of having to pay a monthly fee to watch the upcoming new Trek TV series on CBS All Access (which we’ve since learned will be called Star Trek: Discovery), the panelists were able to explain that the fee was for the entire streaming service and its dozens of old and current shows, and that you could just join for a month and binge-watch the whole series after it’s all out, or that you could wait for it to come out on home video a few months later. And I reminded folks that Star Trek has been used as the anchor of new broadcasting outlets before — Phase II was going to launch a Paramount-run “fourth network” before that fell through and the project evolved into Star Trek: The Motion Picture, ST:TNG was the first prime-time drama in first-run syndication and the beginning of a decade-long explosion of first-run syndicated dramas, and Voyager was the anchor show for the UPN network. Star Trek has always been about seeking out and embracing the new, after all.

Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to reschedule the “Upcoming Star Trek Books” panel, so it was still opposite the panel about the Smithsonian’s Enterprise restoration. We still got a decent-sized audience, though. All of my panels on Saturday were well-attended this year, without any cases of the panelists outnumbering the audience. I honestly don’t remember much about the panel, and I didn’t have anything new to announce that I haven’t already revealed, since the contracts haven’t gone through yet. I do remember it was interesting to have Scott Pearson on the panel, since he’s been copyediting a lot of our books lately (including the anniversary trilogy that Greg Cox, David Mack, and Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore collaborated on) and it was interesting to get that perspective. Scott recently handled the copyedits on The Face of the Unknown for me, and I think he did a terrific job.

Saturday night featured the usual group outing to Andy Nelson’s BBQ for dinner, and I had my usual pulled turkey sandwich with cornbread and cole slaw on the side. I have the same thing every year because I only have it once a year; if I could dine there more often, I might try something different. Unfortunately, I’d had a bit too big a snack that afternoon, so I was pretty darn stuffed by the end of dinner. We usually eat outside, but it was too humid, so we reserved the large dining room for the group. It was my only big meal of the con, since I skipped the Sunday author breakfast; it’s just gotten too expensive, and this year I was trying to cut my expenses as much as possible. (As it turns out, the freshly made sandwich, two sides, and iced tea I got at Andy Nelson’s cost exactly the same amount as the boxed sandwich and small bottle of orange juice that I got at the hotel cafe the previous evening.)

Sunday was pretty relaxed; my only panel was a small one about e-books and how electronic publishing is changing the business. This time it seemed the panelists may have outnumbered the audience, but since we were all sitting around the same table, it was hard to tell which group was bigger. Sunday was a good day for talking business with other writers, and I did get some promising hints of future possibilities, although one prospect I was hoping to pursue did not pan out. I also spent my requisite hour in the “author chimney” at the bookstore table, signing books for passersby. They let me put out some of my own books to sell, and I finally moved a single copy of Only Superhuman, as well as selling a number of my books in their stock. I learned too late that I could’ve let them sell my books on consignment over the whole weekend and split the money with me.

I was hoping to get to talk to a few of the actor guests, but I was only partially successful. I did talk to Zoie Palmer a bit about Lost Girl and Dark Matter, and that was nice. And I talked a bit to Anthony Montgomery about what I’d done with his character in my Enterprise novels, but I think my timing was bad and he had other things on his mind. I also briefly exchanged hellos with John Noble as we passed in the hallway, but that was about it. I never caught a glimpse of Karen Gillan, whom I would’ve liked to meet.

After the con, I drove back to Barb and Mark’s, and we picked up Shirley and Harry and went to have dinner at the home of Charles, a family friend who’s an excellent cook. When I was helping to get stuff out of the car, I fumbled a bag of squash, bent down to pick up one I’d dropped, and keeled over onto the pavement. I had to sit there for a while to gather myself. I realized that the only things I’d eaten that day had been another bare-bones breakfast of coffee, fruit, and a cereal bar, a half-sandwich and more snacks for lunch, and a single tiny cheese snack when I set out for my drive. My blood sugar must’ve been critically low. So once I made my wobbly way inside, the folks got me some water and nachos to rehydrate while we waited for dinner. It’s a good thing I had such an appetite, since dinner was substantial. It was mostly stuff I’d never had before, with an Indian theme, including curried chicken, jasmine rice, spinach with tofu (substituting for an Indian spinach-and-cheese dish, I think) and lentils (which I couldn’t visually distinguish from corn, though their taste and texture were very different), as well as some of the squash we brought. I was hesitant about the curried chicken, since I’d gathered Indian food was very spicy, but this was quite mild. And when I tentatively sampled it, I not only liked it but found it inexplicably familiar. It took me a while to realize what it reminded me of: amazingly enough, Cincinnati chili. It was probably due to the cinnamon and cumin. Anyway, it’s good to know that Indian food is something I might enjoy after all.

The highlight for me on Monday was my trip to the Air and Space Museum to see the restored Enterprise. Here she is:

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By the way, that isn’t my hand in the photo.

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And here’s a video I took, from my Facebook author page:

I was disappointed that I couldn’t get anyone to go with me (so there are no photos of me with the ship this time). Anyway, it was an amazing experience. It just looks so right now, and seeing it with the lights on was amazing. The restorers did a fantastic job. Seeing this object on TV for the first time as a child sparked my curiosity and started me on the path that has shaped my whole life, so getting to stand before it and see it restored to its original glory was like completing a pilgrimage. It was amazing. Maybe it was better to be there by myself, just me and my feelings about the ship.

I also enjoyed wandering around the rest of the museum — at least until I got hungry and had to go out into the Mall to have the peanut butter sandwich I’d brought — and geeking out over all the science and exploration stuff. I may do another, more photo-intensive post about it later. I also dropped by the American Museum of Natural History after lunch, but I was still too worn out to enjoy it fully (and I didn’t take pictures there). I found it odd that they included exhibits on African and Korean art and culture in a natural history museum, which is generally more about animals and plants and, well, nature. Wouldn’t something like the National Gallery have been a better place for the cultural exhibits?

Anyway, we dined with Shirley and Harry again Monday night, and I ordered a vegetarian “gyro” (which turned out to be a black-bean patty between slices of flatbread, with tzatziki sauce) and potato wedges, which turned out to be redundant since the sandwich came with chips. So I saved the chips in a takeout box to have on my trip home.

Said trip commenced Tuesday morning — not too early, since I was planning to take it in two days this time, and since I wanted to avoid rush hour on the Beltway. I briefly considered trying to make it in one day, but I wisely recognized that I was just too tired for that and shouldn’t push myself. Plus, the first day was kind of frustrating, since my phone GPS was acting up. It kept forgetting what route I’d selected and trying to redirect me toward its default route — and later, once I’d managed to convince it that I was going to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, for some reason it kept wanting me to detour through Pittsburgh instead of going straight through Wheeling to Columbus. At one point, just after I’d left the Turnpike on Tuesday afternoon, it dinged an alarm tone and told me to take the next exit. I blindly followed its instructions, thinking maybe it was an emergency detour around an accident, but I soon realized it was turning me around, trying to make me go back to the Turnpike and follow it to Pittsburgh!! Why, why, why??? By the time I realized that, it was too late, and I had no choice but to go backward a few miles and then use the next exit to loop back around to the westbound interstate. And I resolved not to blindly trust anything the GPS told me from then on.

So I ended up spending the night at a motel in Eastern PA, one I’d stayed in before on a previous trip (selected for because it was in the book of motel coupons I’d picked up at a rest stop), and then set out again Wednesday morning for a mercifully uneventful trip back home. I had a cup of rest-stop coffee late in the drive, so I was atypically alert when I got home and actually had the energy to unpack most of my bags pretty much right away. Although it’s taken me another few days to get rested enough to write and edit this post.

Anyway, it turns out that my economizing worked fairly well, but not as well as I’d hoped. I made enough money at the convention and saved enough on food and boarding that I’m only in the red by less than 70 dollars. Indeed, if I’d been able to make it all the way home on Tuesday rather than staying in a motel, I would’ve come out a few dollars ahead. Still, it was a mistake to try to save money by relying on snacks instead of decent meals. Both interstate driving and convention-going take a lot out of a person. Here it is a week later and I’m still not fully recovered. Still, it was worth it. It was a hell of a trip.

Blurbs out for TIME LOCK and THE FACE OF THE UNKNOWN

I just found out from The Trek Collective that the blurbs for my next two Star Trek projects but one, Department of Temporal Investigations: Time Lock and TOS: The Face of the Unknown, have been released online.

First, Time Lock, an e-novella coming September 5:

The dedicated agents of the Federation Department of Temporal Investigations have their work cut out for them protecting the course of history from the dangers of time travel. But the galaxy is littered with artifacts that, in the wrong hands, could threaten reality. One of the DTI’s most crucial jobs is to track down these objects and lock them safely away in the Federation’s most secret and secure facility. As it happens, Agent Gariff Lucsly and his supervisor, DTI director Laarin Andos, are charged with handling a mysterious space-time portal device discovered by Starfleet. But this device turns out to be a Trojan horse, linking to a pocket dimension and a dangerous group of raiders determined to steal some of the most powerful temporal artifacts ever known…

Yes, it’s my second DTI novella in a row with a focus on the Eridian Vault, but there’s a method to my madness. This time, for one thing, the Vault is more central to the story. And this is a rather different tale from its predecessor The Collectors, and indeed from any Star Trek time-travel story I can think of. (And don’t worry — Dulmur and other familiar characters will play key roles despite not being mentioned in the blurb.)

Next, The Face of the Unknown, a mass-market paperback novel coming December 27:

Investigating a series of violent raids by a mysterious predatory species, Captain James T. Kirk discovers that these events share a startling connection with the First Federation, a friendly but secretive civilization contacted early in the USS Enterprise’s five-year mission. Traveling to the First Federation in search of answers, the Enterprise suddenly comes under attack from these strange marauders. Seeking refuge, the starship finds its way to the true home of the First Federation, an astonishing collection of worlds hidden from the galaxy beyond. The inhabitants of this isolated realm are wary of outsiders, and some accuse Kirk and his crew for bringing the wrath of their ancient enemy down upon them. When an attempt to stave off disaster goes tragically wrong, Kirk is held fully accountable, and Commander Spock learns there are even deeper forces that threaten this civilization. If Kirk and Spock cannot convince the First Federation’s leaders to overcome their fears, the resulting catastrophe could doom them all!

So now it can be told. “The definitive First Federation novel” has been on my dream-projects list for a long time now. I was going to do one as a Titan novel some years ago, but I got sidetracked onto a different project and then a change of editors led to the First Federation book falling through the cracks. The Face of the Unknown incorporates a number of ideas from that abortive project, though it’s 5-year-mission TOS. To be precise, it’s in between the end of the original series and the start of the animated series. It’s my first full novel set in the 5-year mission, although I’ve visited it previously in one novelette (“As Others See Us” in the Constellations anthology) and in the flashbacks in the first half of DTI: Forgotten History.

The title is from Kirk’s line to Bailey upon inviting him to beam over to Balok’s pilot vessel — “The face of the unknown. I think I owe you a look at it.” I wasn’t sure about the title at first — it was just the only “Corbomite Maneuver” quote I could find that was even remotely suitable as a title — but in the course of writing the book, I came to feel that it was a good fit for the story after all. (And the only other possibility that I considered was First Principles, which was kind of weak.)

Ars Technica interviewed me on STAR TREK time travel

February 12, 2016 2 comments

Ars Technica, a science and technology news site that also covers SF and media, has posted a lengthy, in-depth article by Xaq Rzetelny exploring the science of time travel in Star Trek and discussing my attempts to reconcile and rationalize it in my Department of Temporal Investigations books. I was interviewed for the article, and there are some quotes from me toward the end — and even a quote from an actual physicist reacting to my quotes. You can read the whole piece here:

Trek at 50: The quest for a unifying theory of time travel in Star Trek

DTI: Time Lock now available for preorder!

I’ve just learned that my next Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations e-novella, Time Lock, has been listed for preorder online, with a publication date on or around September 5, 2016. Here’s Simon & Schuster’s ordering page for it, which has ordering links to all the various e-book retailers on the lower right. (More efficient just to send you there and let you take your pick, rather than try to track down all the links myself. My freeze-prone laptop just froze when I tried clicking on a link on an Amazon page, so I’d rather not take chances right now.)

And I know September is kind of a long wait. I don’t know why that is — presumably that’s just where they could fit it in the schedule. Still, let’s just say that a long wait is kind of appropriate for this one…

Things are starting to look up a bit…

The best news this week: Not only did I deposit my final advance check for DTI: Time Lock yesterday, but I was just informed that my outline for Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown has been approved and the check is already being processed. I’m glad not only because I need the money, but because my plan was to devote October to original projects and then begin on TFOTU in November, but we’re not supposed to start writing the manuscripts until the outlines are approved. So now I’ll be able to stick with that plan. At the moment I’m proofreading the galleys for Rise of the Federation: Live by the Code, but I’ll get to TFOTU as soon as that’s done. (Although I didn’t get as much done on original projects as I’d hoped, what with my computer issues and illness and some still-unresolved problems with a story I was trying to salvage.)

I also finally got my replacement watchband the other day. It’s taking some getting used to, but it’s working okay. And because of the mixup, the company sent me a second band as a bonus, so I have a replacement for this one if anything should happen to it. Although it’s a pretty sturdy nylon band, so I doubt I’ll need a replacement anytime soon.

I made my first foray into laptop shopping yesterday, but I basically learned that it might be more challenging than I thought to find a reasonably priced model that has the software I need. The place I got my current laptop installs MS Office and a few other programs for no extra charge, but I don’t trust them anymore, certainly not after their 90-dollar “repair” did nothing to fix the problem and just made the performance worse overall. But apparently Staples laptops just come with Windows and nothing else, although you do get a discount if you buy Office along with them. Still, I need to try other possibilities. There are the obvious big stores like Best Buy to consider, but are those really the best options, especially for someone on a budget? The local place did have some appealing qualities, like the free software installation; it’d be nice to find some similar local shop in the Cincinnati area that’s more reliable.

In the wake of the useless “repair,” my laptop is now even worse at playing streaming video than it was before. Hulu is very jerky on Chrome, and ever since I let the computer upgrade Flash the other day, Firefox won’t play Hulu at all, since the Flash just crashes. I should probably just uninstall Flash and rely on HTML5, which is what people recommend online, but I’m not sure what the right way to do that is. Anyway, for now I’m effectively Hulu-less, which is a problem since there are a few shows this week that I skipped watching live because I expected to be able to watch them via On Demand cable, but the On Demand channel isn’t updating this week for some reason. I’m almost to the point of trying to watch Hulu on my tiny smartphone screen and seeing if that works. (If only I’d accepted the phone store’s limited-time offer to get a tablet along with the phone for an extra 50 bucks.) Or I could just try living with the jerky picture.

I’m still having the occasional freeze-up of my laptop. The last time it happened, I checked and confirmed that the hard-drive light was not on at all. Based on the searches I’ve done, that suggests that the freeze may be related to a hardware problem with the RAM, a bad sector or connection or something. I’ve been thinking of taking it in to the local repair shop (not the same as the place I bought it) and seeing if they can fix the RAM — and maybe install some more to improve my video-streaming performance. But I hesitate to spend money on a repair that may not work or that may just lead to the conclusion that I need to buy a new laptop anyway.

Granted, with my check coming in soon, I don’t need to be so reticent about spending money anymore. But I don’t want to spend too profligately either. I’m still feeling kind of burned after throwing away 90 bucks on a non-solution. That’s why I made sure to approach my Staples visit as a purely factfinding expedition. I’m not very good at making on-the-spot decisions, and a couple of times now (with my watch and the laptop) I’ve let store clerks talk me into choices that turned out to be the wrong ones. So I want to make sure I consider all the possibilities before deciding what to do about laptops. Which means I may be stuck with this one for a while longer. I just hope it holds up.

I’m still here…

September 22, 2015 3 comments

Wow, I haven’t posted in over a month! Sorry about that. What have I been up to this past month? Let’s see…

Mostly I’ve been writing my DTI novella Time Lock, which I finished last week. It was rather involved, because the premise entails some complicated timey-wimey stuff that required a fair amount of math. Not very complicated math — I’m not up to that — but just a single formula that I had to apply scene-by-scene to keep track of certain interrelationships. I also had to read a bunch of scenes aloud after writing them and time them on a stopwatch. The reasons for this will become clear when the story is published. Let’s just say I’ve found a way to play with time that Star Trek has almost never used before, certainly not in this way. I’m rather pleased with how the story turned out, but it was hard work getting there. I’m also pleased that the story gave me the opportunity to pick up on a thread or two from one of my older Trek novels — and to fix a continuity error I discovered in my own prior work.

After that, I reviewed the copyedits for Rise of the Federation: Live by the Code, which I just finished yesterday. Dealing with copyedits can be frustrating. Copyeditors… well, their job is to focus on grammar and usage, but sometimes they forget that spoken dialogue isn’t always grammatically perfect, and that trying to make it so can rob characters of their individual voices. Some copyeditors also tend to be too intolerant of repeated words. Sometimes it’s good to avoid repeating a word or phrase within the same couple of lines, sometimes it’s redundant, but sometimes repetition is a valuable device. Sometimes repetition is for emphasis. Sometimes repetition is for rhythm. Sometimes repetition is just the way people talk. Sometimes… okay, point made.

There are also some really arbitrary grammatical preferences that copyeditors seem to think are actual rules, like insisting on “more than x items” rather than “over x items,” or on “the thing that is” rather than “the thing which is,” the latter being the way I happen to talk and write, a usage which is commonly found in countless older works of fiction but has somehow randomly come to be seen as inappropriate today.

So now I’m free of immediate deadlines. I still have to get started on my original-series Star Trek novel The Face of the Unknown, but I have enough leeway there that I can spend the next month or so focused on my original writing. I’m going to do one more pass on a spec novel I’m about to submit, then hopefully make some progress on a couple of original stories.

What else has been going on in my life? Well, my computer is acting up, and I’m far from competent to deal with it. Twice in one day, I had Firefox freeze my computer completely and force me to reboot by holding the power button down for five seconds until it shut down. I had a scare when the computer kept shutting off right after I tried turning it back on, eventually giving me a screen that let me restart it in “last safe mode” or something. I’ve been afraid to use Firefox since then and have been using Chrome, but I don’t like Chrome. I hate the way it won’t let me open a new tab in a foreground window. I don’t like it that there’s no good Chrome extension for toggling animated gifs on and off like there is for Firefox. And for some reason, I can’t get decent resolution watching Netflix streams on Chrome. (Although YouTube’s new video format doesn’t play right on Firefox — I hate the lack of a uniform standard for online video.)

Yesterday, though, something else happened — a file within my Avast antivirus program called avastSvc.exe was taking up 99 percent of my CPU usage and wouldn’t stop until I did another power-button forced reboot. (It’s possible that this was the real cause of my Firefox problems, though I’m not sure.) I looked into it, and while I gather there are some malware programs using that filename, I checked and this file is in the Avast directory where it belongs. Also, I couldn’t get Avast to open while it was running, meaning it probably is connected. I looked into some instructions about how to deal with the problem, but the thing about looking online for computer advice is that you tend to get multiple conflicting suggestions, and that just confuses me more. Yeah, I know I write science fiction for a living, but I’m really dumb when it comes to working with actual computers. I’ve never had an aptitude for electronics or programming or anything really practical or applied. I’m really not sure what to do, and I’m just hoping it doesn’t recur.

I’ve also been having a bit of a problem with my remote controls. I use a rather old Sony amplifier/receiver thingy to feed from my TV, DVD, etc. to my speakers, and the mute button has gotten increasingly unresponsive, so that I had to wrestle viciously with it to get it to mute the sound. And I’d never been able to get the universal remote that came with the cable box to work with the amplifier. So I looked into the problem online and found that there was a sneakily hidden, sort of easter-egg command I could use to switch a setting on the amplifier so that it would work with universal remotes, and yay, it worked! But then I discovered that the original remote no longer worked on that setting (some models of remote could be switched to that channel, but not this one), and I couldn’t use the universal remote to switch the input channels from, say, TV to DVD. I can only do that by manually pushing a button on the front of the amplifier now. Also, I have to remember to switch modes on the universal remote between controlling the cable box and controlling the volume. I’m adjusting to that, but the ideal would be to get the old remote working again. I looked into some online instructions for taking a remote apart and cleaning the contacts, but I couldn’t get the remote to come apart. I was able to pry it open on one end after a lot of trial and error, but I couldn’t get it open beyond that no matter how I tried. And buying a replacement online would cost 25-30 bucks. So I guess I’m stuck with the current state of affairs, which isn’t perfect but is better than it was.

Oh, yes, and my watch band broke. It’s a fabric band, but it’s plastic where it attaches to the watch, and I guess it got bent too far or too often at that point and split nearly all the way through. I looked for a replacement band online, but apparently the fabric bands have been discontinued, although you can still get new watches with them, which is bizarre. I could’ve gotten a latex band, but I don’t like those because they tend to break easily. So I took the watch back to where I’d bought it to see if they could get me a replacement band, and they sent it back to the manufacturer to get it repaired… and that was 16 days ago. I called last week, and apparently it only reached the manufacturer 5 days later. I haven’t heard anything back, and I’m getting annoyed. I’ve been wearing my previous watch, whose case and latex band are deteriorating, but which still tells the time well enough. I’m lucky its battery was still good after four years, though I think it’s borderline, since the display faded out when I held the buttons down to reset the time. Still, I want my current watch back. This wait is ridiculous. I probably could’ve just taken it to some other store that sells watch bands and found a suitable substitute much quicker than this.

Let’s see, I’ve also been getting a bit more exercise lately. I’d really let myself get sedentary this past few months, but I’m trying to change that. I put air back in my bike tires and have done a bit of riding. The other day, I walked down the really steep steps and hills to Findlay Market to get some fresh produce, then walked back up the longer and slightly less steep way, which was very tiring in my current out-of-shape condition — but I felt invigorated afterward, not just for the rest of the day but on following days as well. Also, last week, I drove over to the lake area in Burnet Woods — which is within walking distance, but I had other errands to run in that area and I just wanted to hang out in the park a bit first — and that was really pleasant. My little local park is okay, but the lake (well, large pond) and the woods around it are really a soothing environment. I think I should go there more often, and walk next time. In theory it’d be nice to ride my bike over there, but it’s somewhat downhill from here, and I know from experience that biking back up from that vicinity takes a lot out of me, far more than I could handle in my current condition. It’s a lot harder to bike uphill than to walk uphill.

Oh, and when I went down to Findlay Market, I saw that the downtown streetcar project is making good progress. There’s actually a streetcar maintenance building around there now, with side tracks that go around and through it, which is rather neat, like a miniature railroad depot. There are also streetcar stops in place on raised sections of the sidewalk, and the overhead wiring is in place along the part of the rails I saw. This is really happening! Though apparently it’s still about a year from completion, darn it.

The reason I went down to Findlay Market for produce — and on those errands last week — is because the local Kroger has closed for a year to get rebuilt into a bigger superstore, and I need to find other places to shop. There are a couple of other Krogers that aren’t too far away, but they’re far enough that I’d prefer closer options when practical — convenience stores, the pharmacy, that sort of thing. The nearest open Kroger is three times as far and doesn’t have as good a selection. There’s a slightly closer market, a former IGA that’s been taken over by a local co-op, but I don’t think it’s reopened yet. When it does, it might be my best option. Still, I saw the plans for the new local Kroger, and it’s going to be quite an improvement, particularly where parking is concerned, since the new lot will be on nearer side of the block and have an exit near the corner closest to my home, instead of the opposite corner where it is now. Hmm, I guess it and the streetcar will be opening around the same time.

I suppose I could talk about the TV shows I’ve been watching, but maybe I should save that for another post, covering the new fall shows and my thoughts on them, and maybe some other recent shows. I’ll just say that I’ve decided to work my way systematically through all of classic Doctor Who, instead of just borrowing DVDs randomly when I happened to find them at the library. The thing is, I want to do it on DVD whenever possible so I can watch the wonderfully in-depth bonus features they have, so it’s slow going — I’m still early in season 2. But I’ve decided I’m also going to watch the missing-episode reconstructions that can be found online, using the surviving audio and set photos. I’ve read the novelizations of those episodes, seen the surviving bits and pieces, but I’ve never watched the recons, so I’m finally starting to do that. The reconstruction of “Marco Polo,” the first missing serial, was terrific. The recons of the missing episodes of “The Reign of Terror” weren’t as good, but I think I prefer them to the Flash-animated recreations that were released with the DVD.

Well, I suppose that’s enough catching up for this morning. Especially since it’s now just after noon.

Oh, how about that… my computer’s clock is running over (or more than) five minutes ahead of the actual time. It often runs a minute or two fast, but five is unusual. I wonder if that’s a symptom of its problems.

Shore Leave 2015 report

August 13, 2015 1 comment

Um, okay, I guess I’m nearly recovered enough from Shore Leave to finally get around to posting about it… if I can remember enough.

Let’s see, I set off relatively early on Thursday morning, since it was raining in southwest Ohio and I hoped to get past the weather as soon as I could, before the really harsh stuff caught up with me. Once more, the weather radar app on my smartphone was very helpful in tracking the storm. I did get caught in one pretty heavy downpour, but it was brief.

Oh yes, but before I did anything else, I went to the nearest Kroger gas station to use my fuel discount, and then I went to the Starbucks in the same mall to get coffee for the road. It took me a moment to spot the store, because it didn’t have its name on the sign, only its logo. I suppose that reflects how ubiquitous Starbucks has become, but it’s also a worrying sign that we’re becoming a non-literate society. (Even the New York Times crossword page has redesigned its format to be mostly pictures rather than words. I mean, a crossword page. Think about that.) Anyway, I asked the clerk (barista? I don’t know this arcane terminology yet) for some advice on picking a beverage, something mild and sweet and not bitter, and ended up going for a white mocha thingummy with whipped cream, which wasn’t bad. Still, I found I needed more of a caffeine boost on the road, so over the course of the day I had both of the iced-coffee drinks I’d bought the day before just in case. I’m starting to think that caffeine doesn’t have that much of an effect on me. But the other part of the problem was that I’m out of shape. I’ve been too busy writing lately, too sedentary, so my general endurance and energy levels are down. Driving may be a sedentary activity, but it’s a draining one. I’ll have to remember that in the future, and try to get in better shape before my next long drive. As usual, I had an essentially sleepless night in the motel where I stayed, but the coffee I had the next morning did help me stay reasonably alert for the rest of the drive. I got in to the hotel at just about 3 PM on Friday, and my room was ready promptly.

So anyway, my phone rang while I was on the road Thursday afternoon, but I couldn’t answer it while driving. When I stopped for dinner a bit later and checked my messages, I learned from my cousin Cynthia that our mutual cousin Scott, whom I’d never met, would be attending Shore Leave with his son and hoped we could get together. I was expecting him to show up at Meet the Pros on Friday if he didn’t find me sooner, but he never appeared that night. I contacted him later and found he wouldn’t be in until Sunday.

My first panel on Friday was at 5 PM, so I didn’t have time to rest much in my room, though I did shower and change and transfer stuff into my trusty but worn Shore Leave tote bag that I’ve had since my first visit over a decade ago. The panel was “Keeping it Real: Using Facts in Fiction,” and I and the other panelists, including my friend David Mack, had a pretty good discussion about incorporating real scientific and historical research into our work. After that, I tagged along with Dave and his wife Kara as they checked out the vending area, and then later we got together with a bunch of the other writers and went over to a sports bar in the mall across the way for dinner. We had an interesting conversation, and I had a pretty good chicken wrap with cheese sauce, but I had to step out early because I had an 8 PM panel. I took the second half of my wrap with me to have later, and I hurried back to the hotel on foot, expecting to be late for the panel. I managed to get there just one minute late — only to find that I was the first panelist to arrive, and that the auction scheduled for the previous hour was still going on. The panel I’d rushed to reach started over 15 minutes late, and I had enough time to wolf down the rest of my wrap. Fittingly, it was a panel on SF humor. I used it as a chance to plug Hub Space, but I didn’t have much to contribute beyond that. Fortunately, Peter David was on the panel, so I didn’t have to say much.

I stuck around briefly for the start of Marco Palmieri’s annual 9 PM panel announcing upcoming Tor books, but then I decided I needed to go back to my room and rest up a bit before Meet the Pros at 10. At MtP, I was seated between Dave Mack and a relative newcomer to the Trek line, John Jackson Miller, who’s already known for his Star Wars stuff. Of the three of us, I was the one who got the least attention, because I had the least to promote. Uncertain Logic came out months ago, and I don’t have anything new coming up for a while. I did print up a sort of flyer to promote Hub Space, just a single sheet that I had on display, but nobody took much interest. Maybe I should’ve printed up multiple cards and handed them out, but it was too much of a last-minute decision. Which is not to say that Meet the Pros was a disappointment for me. In addition to meeting my fans (and putting a face to the name of one of the regular commenters over on Tor.com), I got to catch up with some of my friends and colleagues, and talked a bit of business with one of them, which hopefully will turn out well, though I shouldn’t get my hopes up yet.

The new hotel management doesn’t continue the practice of putting preorder menus for Saturday breakfast in our rooms, so instead I just went down to the former Hunt Cafe, which is now yet another Starbucks, and got breakfast there, including another white mocha thingummy (I’m a veteran now!). I don’t remember doing much before my Sherlock Holmes panel at noon. I’m not sure I contributed much there, since the moderator, Kathleen David, wanted to focus on literary Holmes continuations and pastiches, while I was expecting something more screen-oriented. But there was some talk of screen adaptations, so I was able to contribute somewhat. Still, I made a point of seeing Ian McKellen’s Mr. Holmes beforehand, and I don’t think it would’ve made much difference if I hadn’t.

I lucked into a free lunch on Saturday, since I ran into Keith R.A. DeCandido, who brought cold cuts from New York City to provide his friends and colleagues with a less expensive alternative to the hotel restaurant and cafe. I had roast beef with mustard, and it was pretty good. Thanks, Keith!

At 2 PM was the sole Star Trek literature panel, where all of us Trek authors with books coming out in the rest of 2015-16 got together and announced our stuff, as well as the upcoming titles by the authors who weren’t in attendance. You can see the list of titles at Memory Alpha’s Upcoming productions page, including a TOS 5oth-anniversary trilogy by Greg Cox, Dave Mack, and Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, and a TNG trilogy by John Jackson Miller. My own announcements were of two upcoming projects: a 5-year-mission-era TOS novel called The Face of the Unknown, scheduled for January 2017 (released in late December, so just barely squeezing in as part of the 50th anniversary), and a second Department of Temporal Investigations novella, Time Lock, which is not yet scheduled.

After sitting in on the last half of Keith’s Stargate fiction panel from 3-4, I went to the book vendor’s table and did my hour signing autographs in the Author Chimney, the enclosed space between brick pillars where authors sit to do signings. Actually there were one or two non-Chimney spaces for writers at the table this year, but Dave Mack was already there, so I ended up in the Chimney. I actually found the enclosed space kind of comforting. After that, I participated in the annual authors’ ritual of the Saturday night mass visit to Andy Nelson’s Barbecue. I had the same thing I had last year — a pulled turkey barbecue sandwich with cole slaw and cornbread, because Nelson’s makes the only good cole slaw and cornbread I can ever remember having — but I’m thinking that maybe next year I should try something different.

While I was in the Chimney, Kara came up and told me where I could get a new Shore Leave tote bag, since my trusty old one isn’t as trusty anymore, getting kind of worn out and frayed. The vendor was closing up by the time I got there after my signing session, but I went back the next morning and got a new bag, which is fancier than the old one, with more pockets. Hopefully it’ll be useful for years to come.

Sunday morning was the usual authors’ breakfast at the hotel restaurant, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe I should’ve reconsidered that tradition and taken Kevin Dilmore’s suggestion to go out someplace less expensive for breakfast with him and his group. It used to be, back when Pocket Books had an official presence at Shore Leave, that the editor (Marco) picked up the tab for the authors, but these days we’re paying for it ourselves. Still, I’d already told the convention organizers that I’d be at the author breakfast, so I felt obligated to follow through. I had a double-sized breakfast to tide me over and to justify the expense. And I got to chat with some authors I hadn’t already talked to much, including a talk about Gilligan’s Island with Peter David. (Wherein I got to share my theory that Gilligan’s island is the last surviving piece of Captain Nemo’s Mysterious Island. That’s where the 6-foot spider in “The Pigeon” came from!)

I also touched base with cousin Scott and his son before breakfast, and then Scott showed up to watch me at the Orphan Black panel, even though he’s never seen the show. Afterward I showed Scott around the con a bit, and then we joined his son for the back half of John Barrowman’s talk, which was certainly lively — and meaningful, since Barrowman talked a lot about fighting for LGBT inclusion and acceptance, and said a lot of encouraging and affirming things to people from the audience. Afterward, at my suggestion, the three Bennetts went over to the Wegman’s in the mall for lunch — they had pizza, but I was still full from my big breakfast, so I just had a cucumber-blueberry-feta salad (yes, really!) and an iced tea — and then we went back to hang around in the corridor where the actor guests were signing autographs. I’m glad Scott was there, since I usually never get up the nerve to go talk to the actor guests, but I just tagged along with him and thereby got to have conversations with folks like Roger Cross and Jaime Murray. (It was weird getting home the next day and seeing Cross in Dark Matter on the DVR when I’d been talking to him in person just the day before.)

Once Scott and his son went on their way to see other convention stuff and said their farewells, I just hung around and talked more with whatever writer acquaintances were still around — which was serendipitous, since one colleague sounded me out on a very interesting business opportunity that I really hope will prove feasible. That was a good way to end my Shore Leave experience this year, and my mind was racing with the possibilities on the first leg of the drive home. Which is getting ahead of myself, since there are a couple of things I need to find out before I even know whether this is possible; but I always get ahead of myself with these things. Maybe that’s an occupational hazard of a science fiction writer.

I left the hotel at 4:10 PM, which I know because I’ve discovered that my phone’s Google Maps stores a record of my movements — kind of creepy but useful for reference. One reason I’d stuck around was that I’d been hoping for a chance to visit my DC-area cousins Barb and Mark, and I’d texted them to find their plans; but it turned out they wouldn’t be home until late that evening, too late to make it feasible. So I just texted my regrets and headed for home. Given my late start, I was only able to make it midway through Pennsylvania by nightfall — but I had the idea that I should try to make it back to the same motel I’d stayed at on the way out, since I’d been fairly satisfied with it and I didn’t want to take chances with an unknown commodity. Plus, fortunately, I’d picked up two different motel-coupon booklets at a rest stop on Thursday, and thus I had two coupons for the same motel. It belatedly occurred to me that driving west around sunset was a bad idea, but fortunately the sky was overcast most of the time, so I never had to contend with glare in my eyes. I made it to the motel just shortly before sunset and parked in the same space I’d parked in on Thursday night. I even ended up in a room right across the hall from my previous one, and a single digit higher in number. I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t the same room, but missing it by one is almost as good.

At the motel’s complementary breakfast, I had two cups of coffee, and toward the end of the second cup, I noticed some grains that I thought were undissolved bits of sugar. It turned out they were actually coffee grounds. The coffee pot had only just been put in place when I filled my cup, so I guess maybe the grounds hadn’t settled. I just looked into whether there’s anything bad about eating coffee grounds, and it seems the only potential problem is the acidity. I didn’t swallow many before figuring out what they were, though.

I set out fairly early, hoping to get home by mid-afternoon, but as always, it took longer than I hoped, since I needed to take a number of rest breaks. I managed to cross into Ohio just before noon, though. I stopped for lunch at a Subway in a convenience store/truck stop in Cambridge, one that had a small dining area where the TV was playing a basketball game. It slowly dawned on me that it must’ve been a replay of a classic game, since I recognized the Chicago Bulls lineup from back when my father was a fan of them — names like Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, and even Michael Jordan. Checking Wikipedia, it looks like that narrows it down to 1995-98. It was against the New York Knicks, but I can’t narrow it down any more than that. I generally couldn’t care less about basketball, but it was interesting to realize that it was a game my late father might well have watched and enjoyed when it was new.

My phone told me there was some rain coming in between Columbus and Cincinnati again, so I decided to wait it out at a rest stop east of Columbus — where I had yet another cup of coffee to stave off fatigue. I thought I’d stayed there for a significant amount of time, but my Maps timeline tells me it was only 22 minutes. Which it claims to be my last stop before reaching home, but I think I stopped briefly at another rest area on I-71, so I guess it doesn’t catch everything. (And maybe it was longer than 22 minutes at that.) Anyway, my timing was pretty bad, since it was rush hour when I got into Cincinnati. I’d just about decided to get off a few exits early and make it the rest of the way home by the surface roads (why do they call them that?? It’s not like freeways are underground or hovering in midair, usually), but the traffic started to clear off and I figured, hey, it’s not likely to crowd up again within the next three miles, right? So I stayed on the freeway. Only to spot another traffic jam — just five seconds too late to make it off onto the last exit before mine. Arrgghhh! I was stuck crawling forward for most of the last mile and a half before my exit. Really, really frustrating.

And then I got home to find a note under my door from the building manager. Turns out the downstairs storage lockers had been broken into while I was out. Fortunately I don’t keep anything valuable in there, so nothing was taken. But the combination lock I’ve had since high school was destroyed. I still have two others, from my gym locker and my shop locker, but that was my main lock! Waaaah!

I’ve spent the past couple of days recuperating and catching up on recorded shows, as well as getting groceries. At the hotel, they had “coffee pods” that were basically tea bag-like filter packets that went into the coffee maker’s funnel, but it occurred to me one could just use them like tea bags, so I took a few of them home with me for later use. I also checked the grocery store shelf yesterday and found actual coffee bags. I just tried my first one of those this morning, and it’s not very good, but at least it’s convenient. The quest for a good coffee option continues. Maybe I should just buy a small coffee maker and filters and get some good grounds from the natural foods store. They have some beans that are infused with sweet flavor and thus don’t need anything added.

So anyway, that’s my combined travel/Shore Leave/family visit post, only three days late. I had a good time this year. Although the long drive is still wearying, the weekend didn’t feel as rushed as it did when I flew last year. And I got to catch up with my friends, I got to meet another cousin, I got to talk to some actors, I got a new tote bag and some interesting meals, and I got a couple of iffy but hopefully promising work opportunities, both from conversations in the same hotel corridor (though at opposite ends of it). With luck, I’ll be able to say more about one or both of those in times to come.

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