Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek: TNG’

Star Trek eBook deals this month include A CHOICE OF FUTURES

Every month, Simon & Schuster offers an assortment of Star Trek novels in e-book format for $0.99 apiece. Here’s this month’s set:

Since August 12 is Federation Day according to the novels, the deals include three books with “Federation” in the title: Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens’s classic Original Series/Next Generation crossover novel Federation (an alternative take on Zefram Cochrane and World War III predating First Contact), Keith R.A. DeCandido’s equally classic Articles of the Federation (a year in the life of Federation President Nan Bacco), and my own Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures, the first installment in my ROTF series.

Since August 19 is Jonathan Frakes’s birthday, there are also three Will Riker-centric novels available: the TNG novels A Rock and a Hard Place by Peter David (set during the series) and Takedown by John Jackson Miller (set in the post-Nemesis novel continuity with Riker as an admiral), and the first Titan novel, Taking Wing by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels.

And since… well, I don’t know if there’s a thematic reason, but they’re also offering three Star Trek: Voyager novels, including two of the numbered novels released during the series, The Garden by Melissa Scott and Chrysalis by David Niall Wilson (now the editor and publisher of my Hub collections), and Full Circle, the beginning of the acclaimed post-finale series by my friend Kirsten Beyer, who’s now on the writer-producer teams of Star Trek: Discovery and Picard.

STAR TREK ADVENTURES: “Call Back Yesterday” is out!

November 22, 2018 2 comments

It’s been a while since I announced that I was writing for Modiphius Entertainment’s Star Trek Adventures tabletop role-playing game, but at last, the first of the adventure scenarios I’ve written has gone on sale! “Call Back Yesterday” is a Next Generation-era adventure available as a standalone PDF campaign, rather than as part of one of Modiphius’s print books. I wrote it to give players a chance to explore and role-play their characters’ backstories and take advantage of the character-development mechanics that are central to STA’s gaming system, since that was the part that most intrigued me as a writer. But there’s also plenty of opportunity for action, for players more into that sort of thing.


Here’s the official description:

This standalone 21 page PDF adventure by Christopher L. Bennett for the Star Trek Adventures roleplaying game has your Starfleet crew relive past memories, on a strange, abandoned planet.

Can you escape your delusions and uncover what’s really going on?

And here are a couple of ordering links.

The game is available exclusively as a watermarked PDF download, and it comes with a version in the LCARS-based graphical style used in STA’s other publications as well as a version in a more printer-friendly color scheme with a white background.

The Core Rulebook for STA is available here:

I’ve got more games on the way, and of course I’ll announce their releases as they happen.

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.

Shore Leave is coming up again!

Hey, everyone. Once again, I haven’t been keeping up with blogging… Other matters have been preoccupying me, including a side job I just finished for a little extra income, transcribing a book-length SF-fanzine memoir from the ’40s into a Word document for a colleague, which was rather time-consuming.

Anyway, I needed the extra funds because it’s getting close to that time of year again. The Shore Leave convention will be held in about 4 weeks, from July 7-9, 2017, at the usual venue of the Hunt Valley Inn in Hunt Valley, MD. This year’s guests include Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn! As usual, I’ll be on a few panels about various things, though the schedule isn’t finalized, and of course I’ll be at the Friday night Meet the Pros signing event and spend some time signing at the book vendor’s table. Whether I’ll have any new writing projects to talk about at the con remains to be seen; I’m hopeful something will break in the next few weeks, but there’s no way to be sure. At least my new DTI novella, Shield of the Gods, will be out by then. (Oddly, Amazon’s best-seller category trackers have it doing well under “Religion and Spirituality,” subsection “Personal Growth,” subsections “Men’s Personal Growth” and “Philosophy.” I guess they’re getting that from an overly literal interpretation of the title, and there is a reference in the blurb to the characters facing a personal challenge, so I guess this is the result of some kind of computer algorithm; but where do they get the “Men’s” part from?)

So that means there are things I need to take care of over the next few weeks. I need to get my car checked out to make sure it’s safe for the long drive. And I need to replace my laptop hard drive. See, when I got this refurbished laptop, the hard drive was making an intermittent clicking noise and sometimes wouldn’t start up, and I was told it might be damaged and unstable, so I contacted the refurbishers and they sent me a replacement. That replacement worked okay until a couple of months ago when it crashed, so I went back to the original, iffy drive until they could send me another replacement. I got that one weeks ago, but I’ve been putting off the switch because the iffy drive has been mostly working okay, and because I’ve had work I wanted to get done first. Mainly just because I hate going through the rigmarole of setting up a new hard drive, reinstalling and reauthorizing everything, etc., having to spend most of a day getting it all done. But on the other hand, the risk that the current drive might crash is a more long-term source of worry, so I should probably just get it over with. And I definitely should do it before Shore Leave, so I don’t have to worry about my hard drive crashing on me while I’m on my trip. (Assuming the second replacement actually works, which I shouldn’t take as a given considering how the first two turned out. If I could afford it, I’d just buy a whole new computer rather than gambling with this one.)

Star Trek trivia: The evolution of “mind meld”

A while back, I noticed something interesting about the history of Star Trek terminology. We’ve all come to think of “mind meld” as the standard term for the telepathic contact used by the Vulcans, and it’s been used consistently and near-exclusively in most Trek productions over the decades. But in fact, it was never used in the original series until the third season, and then only twice. TOS was quite inconsistent in its terminology — as with so many things, they made it up as they went and it took time for the concept to settle down. Here’s a list of the terms they used, and how they were depicted (originally posted in a thread on, and put together with the help of the Star Trek Script Search app):

  • Dagger of the Mind: “an ancient Vulcan technique to probe into Van Gelder’s tortured mind” — The template for the mind meld as we know it.
  • Devil in the Dark: “the Vulcan technique of the joining of two minds” — Also a very deep fusion and blending of identities.
  • The Changeling: “mind probe” — Ditto.
  • By Any Other Name: “mind probe” and “mind touch” to refer to the telepathic suggestion used with the Eminian guard and Kelinda, much less of a connection than we’ve seen before.
  • Patterns of Force: “mind probe” to refer to Spock reaching Gill’s mind, but we didn’t see how deep it went.
  • Spectre of the Gun: Debut of the term “mind meld,” to refer to what was basically hypnotic suggestion.
  • Elaan of Troyius: “mind meld” suggested but not used as an interrogation technique.
  • The Paradise Syndrome: “mind fusion” used for a full “our minds are one” joining.
  • Is There in Truth No Beauty?: “mind link” to refer to the full union of two minds.
  • One of Our Planets is Missing: “mind touch” for Spock allowing the cloud creature to see and speak through him, much like his “link” with Kollos.
  • The Infinite Vulcan: “mind touch” to refer to a full transfer of mind/memory from giant Spock to original Spock.

So that’s “Vulcan technique” in season 1; “mind probe” and “mind touch” in season 2; “mind meld,” “mind link,” and “mind fusion” in season 3; and “mind touch exclusively in the animated series. The usage was all over the place, and “mind meld” was the third-most common term after “mind touch” and “mind probe.” And the writers’ bible for TOS refers only to Spock’s “strange Vulcan ‘ESP’ ability to merge his mind with another intelligence.” In the first major Trek reference book, The Star Trek Concordance by Bjo Trimble, the version that gets the longest lexicon entry (29 lines) is “Vulcan mind touch,” with “mind link” (non-Vulcan) getting six lines, “Vulcan mind fusion” five lines, and “Vulcan mind meld” only four, the shortest entry (though no “mind probe” anywhere in sight). I always used to have the sense that “mind touch” referred to a shallower, more basic telepathic communication while the “meld” or “fusion” was a deeper, more complete blending, but as you can see above, the terms were used more interchangeably than that.

And yet the 1977 writers’ bible for Phase II, the TV revival project that later turned into Star Trek: The Motion Picture, did use the term “mind-meld” for Vulcan mental abilities. The term was then used in onscreen dialogue in TMP itself, for the contact between Spock and V’Ger’s memory crystal. It was also used in The Search for Spock (referring retroactively to Spock’s katra transfer to McCoy in TWOK) and The Voyage Home (for Spock’s mental communication with the whales). And it’s been the exclusive term in every subsequent Star Trek production. (“Mind probe” was used twice, in The Next Generation‘s “Menage a Troi” and Deep Space Nine‘s “Extreme Measures,” to refer to mind-scanning technologies akin to the Klingon mind sifter, but never for Vulcan telepathy.) So sometime between TAS and the movies, the term became standardized.

It also occurred to me to check into the tie-in fiction that came out between TOS and TMP. 1970’s Spock Must Die! by James Blish used yet another unique term, “mind-lock.” But the next original Bantam publication, the 1976 anthology Star Trek: The New Voyages (which was mostly reprinting earlier fanfiction stories, though newly revised for the anthology), uses “mind-meld” consistently in multiple stories. As far as I can tell, it was pretty standard in Bantam’s books from then on (though I don’t have them all in my possession). So in both screen and prose Trek, the term “mind meld” somehow became the default by the late 1970s — but how? Why that term, when it was so infrequently used in TOS and never in TAS?

When I checked my nonfiction text sources, I found that The Making of Star Trek, written by Stephen Edward Poe (as Stephen E. Whitfield) and Gene Roddenberry during season 2 of TOS and released shortly before the premiere of season 3, refers to Spock’s ability as “mind-melding” — making it the earliest public use of the term. It’s possible Poe/Whitfield got it from the scripts to “Spock’s Brain” and “Elaan of Troyius,” though, depending on how early they were written. Or maybe it’s just the term Roddenberry had decided on, and so it got around behind the scenes.

People today often don’t realize it, but TMoST was the definitive ST reference book in its day, the source of a number of things that became conventional fan wisdom even though they were never stated onscreen, such as Kirk being the youngest starship captain, McCoy’s divorce backstory (proposed by DeForest Kelley for the second-season writers’ bible but first publicized by TMoST), and the Romulan-Klingon alliance (from development notes for “The Enterprise Incident” to explain the Romulan use of Klingon ships, which seems to confirm that Poe had access to early third-season scripts). Not to mention technical details that weren’t canonized until later, like the idea of the forward parabolic dish being a navigational deflector. TMoST was also the second work to establish a 23rd-century setting for TOS, preceded by James Blish’s “Space Seed” adaptation in the collection Star Trek 2 seven months earlier.

So if all these things became conventional wisdom because they were in The Making of Star Trek, it follows that TMoST’s use of the term “mind-melding” is the reason that term became standardized later on. And it does seem that it used the term because it was written around the same time as the two TOS episodes that did use it. If it had been written a few months earlier, we might’ve ended up talking about “Vulcan mind probes” for all these years.

Latest thoughts on fall SFTV

November 7, 2015 3 comments

Continuing my irregular series…


Doctor Who has gotten stronger since the first couple of episodes this season. The stories have gone to interesting places and handled them well. The Zygon 2-parter currently underway has done a remarkable job bringing depth and complexity to a race I always saw as rather goofy before.

Minority Report has also gotten stronger as it’s moved beyond case-of-the-week stuff and delved more into the past and present of the three Precogs. The worldbuilding is still a mixed bag, though — sometimes there are some nice bits of plausible prediction (sea level rise, vat-grown meats), but sometimes the world is too similar to the present (e.g. no improvements in firearm safety in households with children). There are only a few episodes left now; FOX has already decided to end the show at episode 10, which was already planned as a midseason finale of sorts. I hope it isn’t too much of a cliffhanger.

Sleepy Hollow has been pretty solid — not as good as season 1, but not as frustrating or uneven as season 2. However, the constant shoehorning in of Betsy Ross, Colonial Superspy is irritating and the actress hasn’t gotten any better.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been puttering along just fine, with one exceptional showing in “4,722 Hours.” It’s a reminder that, for all that we celebrate serialization these days, the standalone stories are often the most memorable ones.

I’m still watching Blindspot, but I’m not quite sure why. I don’t really care about any of the cast other than Jaimie Alexander and Ashley Johnson. And it’s way too gunplay-driven for my tastes. But I am still vaguely curious about the mystery. Some viewers, myself included, are starting to suspect that this is a stealth time-travel show, since that seems the only way to explain the foreknowledge of whoever’s behind Jane’s tattoos.

The Flash and Arrow have been solidly fun so far, even though they’ve mostly been busy setting up the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow spinoff. But The Flash has introduced the multiverse and Jay Garrick, which certainly opens a lot of possibilities. And last week’s Arrow did something rather marvelous, which was to bring back the star of last season’s cancelled NBC series Constantine (based on a DC/Vertigo comic) and retroactively fold his show into the Arrowverse, as well as leaving the door open for his return in the future. The last time anything like that was done, I think, was when Homicide‘s Detective Munch was added to the cast of Law & Order: SVU. There was also that episode of Diagnosis: Murder in the ’80s (or early ’90s?) that was a sequel to an episode of Mannix from the ’70s. Not quite the same thing there, though.

But the big premiere from DC and Greg Berlanti is CBS’s Supergirl, which I am absolutely loving. Melissa Benoist is marvelously charming and likeable, and she brings enormous warmth and credibility to the character of Kara/Supergirl. She has a personality that reminds me of Lindsay Wagner from The Bionic Woman, along with a gushing charm and ready smile that are evocative of Lynda Carter in Wonder Woman. I’m glad we’re past the point where a female heroine has to be all tough and cold and aggressive to be seen as strong. Supergirl is unapologetically girlish and adorable, but the fights she gets into are intense and no-holds-barred, and the show is perfectly matter-of-fact about both, recognizing that there need be no contradiction there.

As for the rest of the cast, Mehcad Brooks is pretty good as James Olsen — not what you expect from Jimmy Olsen, but that’s the point, since he’s grown out of the cub-reporter years and is a grown man now. The rest of the cast is mostly okay, but I feel that David Harewood’s performance suffers a bit from being saddled with an American accent, and Chyler Leigh is a bit bland as Alex.

I like it that the show makes no apologies about being feminist. That’s not a dirty word, and it’s good that the show embraces it. At least, I hope it gets to continue to embrace it. I remember the ’70s Wonder Woman pilot having a front-and-center feminist message that got totally quashed after just a few episodes. Hopefully we’ve gained some ground since then. I hear a lot of fanboy whining about how they changed Jimmy Olsen or whatever, but I also hear a lot of people saying how excited they are to have a superhero show they can watch with their daughters, and that is so much more important.

I also love it that Kara is spending more time in Supergirl attire than in street clothes, something I don’t think we’ve seen in a live-action superhero show since Adam West hung up his cowl (except maybe for some Power Rangers episodes). I’m also really impressed with the Supergirl costume. People like to make fun of superhero capes and tights and trunks, but I just can’t see it. To me, it’s not silly-looking at all, because it’s Superman’s costume, and that makes it a cultural icon, a symbol of truth, justice, and the neverending battle against corruption and prejudice. Granted, some attempts to realize it in live action have been better than others. But when they get it right, it looks to me like something that should be worn with pride. And Colleen Atwood’s version of the Supergirl costume gets it right. I think Benoist looks very classy in it.

I also love how much time Supergirl spends in the air. This is like the anti-Smallville. That show promised “No flights, no tights,” because those things were seen at the time as goofy and embarrassing. But these days, the culture has embraced superheroes, so this show gives us flights and tights all the time, and it’s wonderful.

(One thing bugs me, though. Supergirl has earrings. Not clip-ons, but studs. How the heck did Kara pierce her ears? Heat vision? For that matter, why don’t the piercings instantly heal up after being made? Although I gather there are such things as adhesive or magnetic earrings.)

It’s interesting that this shares something in common with the ’84 Supergirl movie, aside from Helen Slater’s presence. Both stories are about Kara becoming Supergirl in order to fix a problem that she herself inadvertently caused — sending the Omegahedron to Earth in the movie, bringing Fort Rozz to Earth here. (Although I suspect that there’s a deeper story behind just how the fort got out of the Phantom Zone.)

I like it that there’s a clearly defined melodic theme, though episode 2 seemed to use a different one (or a different part of the same one?) than the pilot. It’s not one of the best Super-person themes in the history of the franchise — it doesn’t hold a candle to the Goldsmith Supergirl theme from the movie — but it’s appropriate for a superhero, especially a Super-hero, to have a clear fanfare like this. Most Superman-related shows have had strong themes for the hero, though this is something Smallville totally dropped the ball on until late in its run, because it went with Mark Snow’s atmospheric droning instead of something with actual melody, and then it just copied John Williams’s Superman theme, which just didn’t fit with the rest of the music. (Although later composer Louis Febre did finally concoct a decent heroic theme for Clark in the last couple of seasons.)

One last side note: People may notice that I haven’t said anything yet about the news that CBS is producing a new Star Trek series. This is because we hardly know anything about it yet, so the sensible thing is to wait and see. It’s not necessary to fill the voids in our knowledge with rampant speculation just so we have something to base an opinion on. There’s nothing wrong with having no opinion at all.

Well, I will say that every single time a new Star Trek project has been announced, it’s immediately provoked doom-and-gloom reactions from fandom. And here’s an item from Starlog #117 in which the TOS cast responds to the news that TNG is being made:…ge/n8/mode/1up

Shatner and Nimoy were skeptical, Kelley didn’t understand the idea, and Doohan pretty much called it a fraud. Nichols and Koenig sounded open-minded… and Takei was pitching a Captain Sulu series even then.  But of course, we all know how TNG turned out. So any opinions or assumptions at this point are hardly worth the effort.

Books by the Banks report

Well, as I hoped, Books by the Banks did cheer me up after my recent computer woes. The reception on Friday night was at the Mercantile Library downtown, a pretty classy place. It was heavily attended, making it an unusually noisy gathering for a library, but they had a free buffet which constituted my dinner and included some nice strawberries and cheese among other things. My nametag got me recognized by author Jeff Suess, who had a story in one of the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds volumes, and we talked Trek for a while. I later chatted with a few other authors I met for the first time. And I briefly touched base with noted children’s book author Sharon Draper, who won one of the awards given out at the reception, and who was my 8th-grade English teacher back at Walnut Hills High School decades ago. I was rather surprised that she remembered me, and she had some nice things to say about me. Honestly I don’t remember 8th grade all that well myself. It was a pretty rough time in my life, and I was kind of an emotional wreck and an underachiever. It’s reassuring that one of my teachers from that time came away with positive memories of me.

Anyway, I couldn’t resist staying up until midnight on Friday to watch the series finale of Continuum on Syfy (a bit rushed, but effective), and I woke up too early the next morning. Generally when I do that, I get up for a bit to let the sheets cool down, go back to bed, then eventually drift off and sleep fairly late. But this time, I had to force myself to get up early enough to get to the convention center by 10, and my morning coffee barely left me functional enough to drive. I practically sleepwalked into the convention center, or so it felt to me, but I bought another cup of coffee and it did the trick — or at least helped me kick into my convention/interview mode where I’m more outgoing and talkative than I usually am with strangers.

The energy of the crowd may have helped too. It was unusually lively and well-attended this year, and people weren’t afraid to spend money on books. The main book I was there to sell this year was Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic, but they had a few copies of ROTF: Tower of Babel as well, plus about five print-on-demand trade-paperback editions each of Only Superhuman and TNG: Greater Than the Sum, neither of which I’ve seen in TPB before. It wasn’t a very Trek-oriented crowd overall, and I didn’t make much of a dent in the big pile of Uncertain Logic copies, but I sold out of both Only Superhuman and Tower of Babel and was down to two copies of GTTS by the end of the day (even though the TPB edition of it was the most expensive item on my table). And since I earned out my advance on Only Superhuman earlier this year, that means I made myself a few more bucks in royalties yesterday, although I won’t see them for another 6 or 7 months.

I also got to see a couple more acquaintances, including Mark Perzel of Cincinnati Public Radio (who interviewed me about Only Superhuman a few years back), local author Dan Andriacco (whom I’ve met at the library’s Ohioana reception and last year’s BbtB), and R. S. Belcher, another Strange New Worlds author whom I’ve met at Shore Leave, as well as a fellow Tor author whose novels include The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana. So I got to have some nice conversations with them and with other authors and readers over the course of the day. All in all, it was a successful event and I had a good time. Though I was really worn out once I got home. Hopefully I finally caught up on my sleep last night, though I think maybe I’m still a little out of it.

But I’m definitely glad I bought a new winter coat the week before last, after my old one’s zipper broke. The weather was still warm when I bought it, but temperatures have plunged over the past few days, so my timing was pretty good.

My day at CLCC ’15

The Cincinnati Library Comic Con was today. I don’t have a picture of myself from there this time, and maybe that’s just as well, because I was kind of frazzled. The day didn’t start out well. First, I lost track of time and had to rush through lunch and hurry out to my car. Then I found that my car wouldn’t start — the battery must’ve died. The one other person in the lot didn’t know anything about jumpstarting cars, and in retrospect, that was just as well, since even if I’d made it downtown, I would’ve probably needed another jumpstart to get back home again. Anyway, I hurried down to the bus stop, lugging my bag of books to sell, and just barely made it in time to catch the bus. I made it in time — early, in fact — but it wasn’t an auspicious beginning.

For a while, too, it seemed like I wasn’t going to sell many books. As I said in my earlier post, I decided to focus on my superhero stuff this year based on what sold last year, bringing mainly copies of Only Superhuman and my last few leftover copies of my two Marvel novels, and as an afterthought I brought a few Trek novels: a couple of copies each of Ex Machina, The Buried Age, and Greater Than the Sum. But somehow, for the first hour or so, it was only the Trek novels that people were interested in buying. Perhaps it’s because I brought TOS and TNG books this time instead of the more unfamiliar stuff like DTI and Rise of the Federation. Anyway, after a while, I was afraid I wouldn’t move any of the OS hardcovers and would end up making substantially less money than I did last year. Fortunately, things picked up right near the end and I finally sold a couple of the OS hardcovers, as well as four of the five Marvel books. I made nearly as much as I did last year — though that new car battery is probably going to eat up all of it and then some.

Still, I wonder why I had more trouble getting people interested in OS this year. I suspect it’s because I wasn’t pitching it as well. The problems with my car and racing for the bus threw me off and tired me out, and I didn’t do that great a job talking it up. So even though I managed to come out of the day okay, I feel I could’ve done better.

Also, when one person asked me to write down my website address for them, I wasn’t thinking clearly and I put an “@” before “” instead of a period. I hope they figure out what it’s supposed to be.

The weirdest question I got from a convention guest today was when someone asked me if The Hunger Games had anything to do with Star Trek. I have no idea what led to that question. (The only connection I’ve been able to find is that Robert Knepper is in Mockingjay and was also in TNG: “Haven” and VGR: “Dragon’s Teeth.” Although you could get a degrees-of-separation thing with Jennifer Lawrence and Sir Patrick Stewart both being in X-Men: Days of Future Past, or Philip Seymour Hoffman and Simon Pegg both being in Mission: Impossible III.) I did have a couple of more constructive conversations with people interested in writing and wanting to learn about the process. Hopefully I was coherent enough to be helpful.

Thanks to LeeAnn and the library staff for their invitation to the event and their support while I was there!

“The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing” now available on Buzzy Mag! (Updated)

I’m happy to report that my new novelette “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing” has now gone live on Buzzy Mag‘s site, a day ahead of schedule. Here’s the link:

And here’s their description:

A tale of love and transhumanism in a remote and dangerous star system. There has been a division in humanity due to a horrendous accident, followed by an even more divisive war. The chasm between those two halves seem unbridgeable. Suddenly due to unforeseen circumstance, the chance to reconnect becomes a real possibility.

And they’ve been kind enough to post ordering links to Only Superhuman and The Buried Age at the bottom of the story. I appreciate that, since sales of OS have pretty much stalled; in fact, the mass-market paperback is out of print, although there is a print-on-demand trade paperback edition available as well as the e-book edition. Buzzy’s link is to the TPB ordering page, which hopefully would raise its profile a little. Which would be good, since it looks like TPB and e-book sales are the only prospects I have for earning future royalties on the book.

My home page has been updated (belatedly) with background info on the story, and I’ll try to get annotations done before too long. UPDATE: The annotations are now online. I don’t like to link directly to spoiler notes, so click the background info link, and you’ll find the annotations link there.

Please spread the word about the story on the social media outlets of your choice!

Thoughts on GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (Spoilers)

Yup, for once I get a review out in a movie’s first week of release. I figured I should see it before I got spoiled any further by the Internet.

So, yeah, it’s a pretty good movie for what it is, an effective space-opera action comedy with some heartfelt character stuff. I did like the story of the rogues and scoundrels and loners discovering what they could gain from one another as friends and choosing to embrace a nobler, more selfless purpose. This is the second team-oriented movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in some ways it uses the team idea better than The Avengers. The Avengers may have had personality conflicts they had to overcome to work together, but they’d all more or less chosen already to adopt heroic roles. Here, it’s only as a team that these guys are able to amount to anything at all, and that’s driven home explicitly in the climax, when their combined strength lets them survive the effects of the Infinity Stone when none of them could alone.

And the cast was pretty good. I found Chris Pratt rather annoying in the trailers, just something about his snarky attitude seeming obnoxious to me, but he was definitely more sympathetic here. The rest of the cast did okay, though there were no real standouts for me — except for Karen Gillan, who did a terrific job with the limited amount she was given, and whose makeup design was striking and weirdly beautiful. It’s a great-looking film; the Xandarian capital city looks like a place I’d like to live, very Federationy (in fact, it does a much better job of feeling like Star Trek‘s Federation than the Bad Robot version of San Francisco has done). And while the other locations weren’t as liveable, they were well-designed. (I should note that a lot of the design work was done by Stephan Martiniere, who did the cover to my novel The Buried Age, as well as the ST:TNG anthology The Sky’s the Limit, which includes a story of mine.) The exceptions were the Kree ships and interiors, which didn’t work that well for me.

But it wasn’t perfect by a long shot. Although I enjoyed the story of redemption, I started to realize after a while that I could see the writers at work, the almost mechanical way in which every Guardian was given some personal limitation that he or she later grew beyond to demonstrate their growth under their friends’ influence — e.g. Drax couldn’t use metaphors and then he did, Groot only knew three words until the climactic moment, etc. It worked, but it was a bit calculated and not very deep. Really, the movie was just so cluttered with characters and ideas that it was hard to develop any part of it with any real depth. The moment when I started to realize it had too much going on was when we suddenly got this whole new subplot with the Collector’s assistant (Carina, apparently) coming out of nowhere. This is the problem with basing movies on long-running comics continuities. There’s a lot of material to draw on, sure, but there’s a risk of trying to cram in too many characters and references and plot threads. Green Lantern had that problem and it collapsed under the weight of all the continuity porn. This film has somehow managed to avoid that, perhaps because it has a stronger core story, but it could’ve been better if it hadn’t had quite so many characters and subplots.

In particular, the villains are practically non-entities. Ronan the Accuser is, I gather, a fairly complex and ambiguous figure in the comics, but this version of Ronan has got to be the most superficial, zero-dimensional villain in any MCU film to date. Who was this guy? What were his motives? What was his point of view? Where were his nuances? All we learned about him was that he was a fanatic who hated Xandarians, but we don’t know why. And Thanos was equally one-note, just some big guy who wants to destroy stuff for no clear reason. Yes, comics fans know the reason, I know the reason, but movies need to be able to stand on their own and be comprehensible to the majority of viewers who aren’t familiar with the source. Within this movie itself, we don’t know what Thanos wants or why he loaned his daughters to Ronan or why he even has (adopted?) daughters. And I’m sorry, Marvel fans, but translating the visual of Thanos literally to (simulated) live action, complete with the exaggerated body proportions and the rocket throne thingy, just looked silly. Too much fidelity to the source is often a bad thing.

In fact, I’m not crazy about the CGI character work overall here. Groot was fine, but Rocket looked like a computer-animated character, not nearly as convincing as the ultra-lifelike apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. And spoiler alert: That was a totally hideous, crude bit of CG animation on a certain duck in the post-credits scene. Not to mention how pointless the post-credits scene was overall. For once, I was in a theater where the majority of the audience knew they should stick around to the end of the credits, but this time they weren’t given anything that was worth their patience.

Indeed, this film was startlingly devoid of references to the rest of the MCU, compared to its predecessors. Understandable given its cosmic setting, but there really was very little. Sure, the Collector showed up at the end of Thor: The Dark World, but that was that movie making a reference to this one, not the other way around. And this film’s exposition of the Infinity Stones didn’t reference the prior ones much, although we did see an image of the Tesseract in the Collector’s light show. I guess the main thing is the return appearance of Alexis Denisof as Thanos’s lieutenant, The Other — but we’ve obviously seen the last of him.

Oh, that reminds me — one of my other problems with the script was the overabundance of exposition. So many characters just spouted big chunks of exposition at the drop of a hat. The Collector had no good reason to give Quill and the others this big expository multimedia show about the Infinity Stones, except that it was necessary to fill things in for the audience. Similarly, Rocket was far more garrulous about his past and his origins than seemed reasonable for a character as bitter and closed-off as he is. It’s another artifact of cramming so much into the story — not only was there too much that needed to be explained, but there was too little time to get to the exposition subtly or organically, so characters just had to spout whatever information the audience needed as soon as they arrived.

It bugs me a bit that the Xandarians and so many other aliens were so much like 21st-century American humans in their appearance, speech, culture, and the like. The slang and profanity in particular were the hardest to buy — usually there’s at least a token effort to have English-speaking, human-appearing aliens have their own distinct idioms, or at least speak more formally. Here, Drax was like that, but every other alien in the galaxy seemed totally conversant with 21st-century American slang and cussing. (Or could that be because we’re hearing it interpreted through Quill’s translator implant, as mentioned in the graphics in his “lineup” scene? Of course, a lot of it was in scenes where he wasn’t present.) These days there seems to be a perception that space operas have to be populated with characters who are as ordinary and familiar to contemporary audiences as possible, for fear that those audiences won’t identify with anyone more exotic. But I like exotic. That’s what draws me to science fiction, the chance to see things — and people — that are new and alien and unfamiliar. As pleasant a place as Xandar Prime appeared to be, it still felt too much like an idealized Earth setting.

One thing I loved, though: The movie had an actual main titles sequence! Credits at the start of the film instead of the end! I love that! Of course, it was probably part of the whole Raiders of the Lost Ark homage they were going for in that opening sequence. (Edited to add: By the way, the other day I said that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was probably the first film that billed its unseen performance-capture actors equally with the on-camera actors. Well, this film does something similar, because Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper were billed right up there as the fourth and fifth names in the opening credits. Except that those two weren’t the main performance-capture artists; the director’s brother Sean Gunn was “On Set Rocket” and Krystian Godlewski was “On Set Groot.” But both those actors are listed pretty high in the supporting cast credits. So there’s definitely a move toward more egalitarian billing between seen and unseen actors.)

So, all in all, a fun adventure movie, but too cluttered and needing better-drawn villains. Hopefully, now that the huge torrent of exposition is out of the way, the sequel will have more room to breathe and develop things.

Shore Leave: Over already? I just got there!

Wow, where did the weekend go? This year’s Shore Leave was a whirlwind, over so fast it hardly had time to sink in. Maybe it’s because I flew there this time. Not only did I get in later than usual on Friday and leave early on Sunday, making for a total of only about 48 hours spent in the hotel (c. 2 PM Friday to c. 2 PM Sunday), but maybe the quicker travel time made the whole thing feel more abrupt somehow.

But let’s see what I can extract from the sensory blur in my memories.

The flight out from Cincinnati to Baltimore went fairly well. I seemed to get through the airport amazingly quickly, in part because I got randomly assigned to the expedited TSA check which is simply a walk through a metal detector (along with everyone else around me — making it seem like an implicit admission that all the security theater of the past few years doesn’t really make much difference after all). I took a quick flight to Philadelphia on a medium-sized plane and then a short hop to Baltimore on a small turboprop — the first propeller plane I think I’ve ever been on, and the first plane where the cabin has been under the wing, so I could actually see the landing gear from my window. A little scary at first, but I reminded myself that if it weren’t a proven and reliable technology, it wouldn’t still be in use after a century. And the props were clearly made of carbon composite, which was reassuringly modern.

Then came the long ride on the Light Rail, literally from the very start to the very end of the route. But it didn’t feel like it took too long, even though I gave up trying to listen to music on my phone because the train was too noisy. (Maybe I should’ve brought my other earbuds, which block sound better. Plus they don’t get tangled as easily, I think because one earbud is on a shorter cord than the other so there’s less there to tangle.) The one hitch was that I got a sandwich at the airport planning to eat it on the train — and then saw that eating on the train is prohibited. So since I’m an extremely law-abiding sort, I had to wait another hour and a half to eat my lunch. I had half the sandwich while walking from the light rail station to the hotel, and the other half once I got into my room (which was quick and easy because I arrived late enough that it was already prepared).

When I visited the vendors’ area, I was pleased to run into Sally Malcolm and her husband, the founders of Fandemonium Books, the British company that publishes Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis tie-in novels. They were there along with New York writer Diana Dru Botsford, who’s done a number of SG novels for Fandemonium as well as having written for ST:TNG on television. I was glad that this year they were able to come to Shore Leave and bring the two tie-in franchises together, as it were. And now I know who to contact if and when I have a Stargate novel pitch… 😉

At dinnertime, I ran into Greg Cox and some other folks at the hotel’s little cafe/lounge place, which is now open for business again since the hotel came under new management. We had a nice talk there, and later we were seated together at Meet the Pros, though we had less time to talk there since it was really well-attended and busy — another reason it seemed to go by so fast. I signed a lot of copies of Tower of Babel. Unfortunately only one guest bought a copy of Only Superhuman for me to sign, since the book vendor only had it in hardcover. The dearth of mass-market paperbacks of OS continues to bewilder and frustrate me. (It’s still available by print-on-demand, but getting paperbacks in stores is better for getting casual readers interested. Or would have been…)

I also finally got to meet Australian uberfan Ian McLean, aka Therin of Andor, who’s probably the one person who loves Star Trek: The Motion Picture more than I do, and after whom I named an Andorian character in Ex Machina, a character who’s been picked up on by other authors and taken on a life of his own. He brought me an awesome gift, an Australian edition of the ST:TMP novelization from Futura Books, with a lovely photo insert section and a few bits of additional description in the text. He even got it autographed by Billy Van Zandt, the actor who played the Rhaandarite “alien ensign” in TMP, whom I made into a major character, Vaylin Zaand, in ExM. It is a cool thing to have.

Let’s see, panels… Before Meet the Pros, I was on a panel about comedy science fiction, in which I got to talk about my Hub stories, though my comedy contributions are fairly limited in comparison to fellow panelist Peter David — though he demurred that most of his overt comedy writing is fantasy rather than SF. Also in attendance were Aaron Rosenberg, co-founder of Crazy 8 Press, and two authors who’ve had comedies published by Crazy 8, Lorraine Anderson and Russ Colchamiro.

But the rest of my panels were on Saturday, so I was kept pretty busy that day. First was the panel on writing movie-era Trek, which was intended to focus on the original series’ movie era, but ended up being broadened to include TNG movie-era books. Greg and I were on that along with Peter David and Dayton Ward (who did In the Name of Honor in the post-ST V era as well as A Time to Sow/A Time to Reap with Kevin Dilmore in the TNG movie era). Greg pitched his upcoming Foul Deeds Will Rise, set in the post-ST V era, and I just talked about ExM.

Then came “60 Years of Godzilla,” with Greg again (since he novelized the recent movie) as well as Jeffrey Lang and Andrew Gaska. I got to do my spiel summarizing the history of the franchise, based on my posts on this blog, but I think I went a little too much in-depth, since people were walking out by the end. I was afraid that would happen.

I got a burger and fries for lunch in the cafe, where I’d previously gotten a breakfast of cereal, milk, orange juice, and a banana. Both meals cost me 9 dollars. Each. Hotels are so expensive! I also attended a “Writing Stargate” panel by the Fandemonium bunch, and learned some more about their approach and interests. Apparently they’ve been trying to convince MGM to let them do a post-finale series of SG-1 as they’re already doing for SGA, but with no luck as yet; and they don’t have a Stargate Universe license, which is too bad, since I woul’dve liked to write for that one. They explained that the new movie reboot that’s being developed has nothing to do with the show’s continuity and doesn’t affect the books. (I can’t understand MGM’s decision to let Devlin and Emmerich resume their vastly inferior version of Stargate rather than continuing the TV universe.) I also sat in the audience for a panel called “The Villain’s Journey,” with quite a few people including Kathleen David (Peter’s wife), David Mack, and Marco Palmieri exploring the question of whether there was a Villain’s Journey model to complement the standard Campbellian Hero’s Journey. An interesting talk, but it got a bit too philosophical for me at times.

And then I was a member of two more consecutive panels. First was “Writing Action Scenes,” with Dave Mack, Kirsten Beyer, Keith R.A. DeCandido, and a couple of others I didn’t know. I felt a little out of place there, since my approach to action is a little more understated and less based on experience than that of some of the other panelists. But it was informative; Keith’s experience with karate brought some useful insights into the experience of being in a fight, which hopefully can be useful to me in future writing.

Finally was “Series in the Sandbox” with Dave, Kirsten, Dayton, and Kevin, focusing on ongoing single-author or single-team series in Trek (since SG author Jo Graham couldn’t make it). This was supposed to be my big chance to promote what I’m doing in Rise of the Federation, but I can’t remember whether I really talked about it much. By that point I was so frazzled that I wasn’t really sure what was going on.

But fortunately a bunch of us went out to dinner at that really good barbecue place near the hotel, Andy Nelson’s Barbecue Restaurant. It’s the second time I’ve been taken there, and I think I had the same thing I had the first time: a pulled turkey BBQ sandwich, cornbread, and cole slaw, along with a much-needed iced tea. I generally don’t like either cornbread or cole slaw that much, but both were excellent here. It was nice to get to hang out with the group, but the problem with being in such a large group at such a long table — especially since I was sitting at one end — is that you don’t really get to talk to everyone. I was hoping to get to talk more with Kirsten Beyer this weekend, for instance, just to catch up, but we only got to talk briefly a couple of times. (Usually, these past few years, Meet the Pros has died down early enough that the writers have had more time to wander the hall and socialize, but this year we were kept pretty busy throughout.)

I just went back to my room after that, since I needed the peace and quiet after that long, long day. By the time I got up Sunday morning, it was almost time for the author breakfast in the hotel bar. After that I attended the memorial service for the late Ann (A.C.) Crispin, though I’m not sure I really belonged there, since it turned out to be more of a private gathering for her friends, and I was never more than passingly acquainted with her. But I wanted to show my respects. It was a nice service, and the stories her friends told made me regret that I didn’t get to know her better.

I don’t remember what I did for the next hour — probably just went back to my room — but then I went to a panel about Orphan Black that Marco was on along with… oh, man, I totally don’t remember. I think Aaron Rosenberg was there? It was a fun panel, though. After that, I went to a presentation by artist Rob Caswell, whose art inspired the Star Trek: Seekers novel series that Dave, Dayton, and Kevin have just debuted. But halfway through that, I realized I’d been so caught up in panel after panel that I’d totally forgotten to go down to the book vendors’ table and do my stint in the author chimney, the little recessed space between brick columns where we authors sit for an hour or so to sign autographs. And I’d arranged to get a ride to the mall (where I could get lunch and wait for the light rail) right after that panel ended, so I was only able to give the book folks half an hour, during which it was almost totally dead because it was the afternoon of the last day and everyone had already spent whatever they had to spend. I regret that I let this slip my mind until it was almost too late.

So I got a good lunch at the mall, which Marco very nicely picked up the tab for, and then my light rail trip began. And this is where the fun ended. I got mixed messages about whether the train I caught was going to the airport, and it turned out not to be, so I realized I’d have to transfer. Although it became evident that if I’d waited 2-3 more minutes, I would’ve caught the airport train. And halfway through the trip on the train I was on, it got overloaded with Orioles fans who I guess were going home from a game, and it was hellishly noisy and crowded, and I wasn’t comfortable about being on the wrong train. I mean, logically I knew that the right train was behind this one on the same track so I couldn’t possibly miss it, but neurotically, all I knew was Oh my gawd I’m on the wrong train!!  And I was fatigued enough that neurosis won out over logic. I could’ve transferred much earlier, but I checked the MTA website and there was a travel advisory about a power outage on the tracks and the need to take a bus from a certain station, so I wanted to wait to transfer at that station just in case the problem was still around. And once the gaggle of fans boarded, I had to wait until the crowd thinned anyway. But once I finally got on the right train, it was so very empty compared to the one I’d been on. Oh, if only I’d waited those 2-3 minutes more! To add insult to injury, midway through the ride I discovered that I could access a tracking page on my smartphone which showed me exactly where the trains were. If I’d looked into that before my trip, I could’ve determined in advance which train I wanted.

And then I had to wait in a long line at the airport and do the whole rigmarole of taking everything out of my pockets and storing it in my bags and jacket — only to end up in the expedited line at the end of the process and learn too late that none of that had been necessary at all. You couldn’t have told us sooner, guys? By this point I was tired of spending extravagant prices on food, and my late lunch had been satisfying, so my “supper” consisted of a protein bar I bought at BWI and a smoothie I later bought at the Philly airport. The flight to Philly was uneventful but the taxiing took forever. For some reason, they used a huge plane for such a short hop (although it was going on to Dallas afterward) — it probably seated more people than both my Friday flights combined. The flight from Philly to CVG also took forever to get takeoff clearance, and we hit some bad weather along the way and there were some scary moments of turbulence. I was struck when I looked out the window and realized the flashing wing lights were illuminating a spray of raindrops streaking backward relative to the jet. No, I didn’t see a gremlin on the wing, but there was a moment there when I wouldn’t have been surprised to.

The weather delayed us just enough that I missed the last bus from CVG to downtown Cincy, and I learned that a taxi ride home would cost 42 bucks. So I caught an executive shuttle van for only 22 bucks to get to the bus stop downtown — only to learn at the last moment that I could have arranged a ride all the way home for a few bucks more, but that the driver couldn’t accept any additional payment at that point. Argh. And then it looked like I’d missed the bus I wanted and would have to wait 40 minutes, but then the bus came late, which was a relief. It didn’t get me as close to home as the later bus would’ve, though, so I had to walk a few blocks at night in what isn’t the best neighborhood, which wasn’t fun. By the time I finally got home well after midnight, I was too tired to do anything but shower off the travel sweat and go right to bed.

I decided to fly because I didn’t want to go through the long slog of spending 2 days driving each way and not getting any sleep at motels, and risking drives through terrible weather. But after all this, driving is looking a lot better. At least it’s a lot quieter, giving me a lot of time to think. Which can get boring, but it’s not as harrowing as all this. Maybe I’d have a better memory of the con this year if the trip home hadn’t been so hectic. Also — between buses, planes, and trains, my outgoing trip took over seven hours from home to hotel, and my return trip took over nine hours the other way. The drive to or from Shore Leave is 10-11 hours split over 2 days. So maybe I don’t save so much time by flying after all.

I don’t mean to sound negative. Shore Leave itself was great, and I got a lot out of it this year. It just went by so fast. Maybe next year I should use more restraint in volunteering for panels, so I have more downtime. Although I guess that wouldn’t rule out having most of my panels scheduled on one day.

And who knows? Maybe next year I’ll have more new work to promote and talk about. I certainly hope I will. To that end, though, I should probably get back to work…

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (’88) Reviews: “The Greek”/”The Fortune” (spoilers)

“The Greek”: Written by Ted Roberts.

We open in Southeast Asia, where drug tycoon/yachtsman Socrates Colonnades (Cesare Danova) murders an American agent who’s disguised as a fisherman in a passing boat, while his flighty, flirtatious opera-singer girlfriend Serina (Dina Panozzo) entertains his guests on the yacht. John E. Davis’s score reminds me of Jerry Goldsmith’s Rambo music — maybe both drew on Southeast Asian influences? But Davis also uses snatches of “The Plot” during this sequence. I complained before about using “The Plot” to accompany Jim getting the disc briefing — but using it to score the villains’ actions? That’s just not right. Davis seems to have, as it were, lost the plot. (Although the rest of his score is reasonably good. Although he seems to be getting into the habit of using just snippets of “The Plot” rather than fuller statements of its lengthy melody.)

Back in Stock-establishing-shot Francisco, Jim gets the briefing in a brewery, and I find myself starting to wonder about the people who exchange code phrases with him, both here and back in the original series. Does the IMF, or the larger American intelligence community, really have so many different agents embedded within the US population, doing ordinary jobs? If so, why? It’s not legal for the CIA to operate domestically. Or are these just ordinary citizens, the actual holders of the various jobs we see, who’ve been paid by the government to meet some guy, exchange a code phrase, and point him to a particular location, without having any idea what it’s all about? Do they also clean up the smoldering boxes after the discs have self-destructed? If so, where do they take them? Is there a point to such a complicated way of contacting an operative? And why did it take me seven and a half seasons to start asking these questions?

And about those boxes… The thing about the original series’ tape drops is that they were always played on ordinary equipment, with only the tapes (or records or films) themselves specially treated to self-immolate after playing, or (in early seasons) just thrown in the fire afterward. Often, before the little tape player became standard, we’d see Dan or Jim playing a record or tape on a normal piece of playback equipment. So once the message was destroyed, presumably there’d be nothing there but an ordinary record player or tape deck or other audio device, maybe with some strange residue or charring, and nothing more suspicious than that. Yet the new disc-player boxes are these elaborate, specialized, high-tech devices that are supposedly left just sitting around San Francisco. Sure, you need an authorized thumbprint to open them, but the very existence of these unusual instruments would tend to attract attention, and give potential enemy agents something to look for. So it’s nice and modern, but it’s too conspicuous to make a lot of sense in practical spy-biz terms. This being 1988-90, it would’ve made more sense for the IMF just to leave cassette tapes for Jim to play in his Walkman.

So anyway… Colonnades leads an international drug cartel that steals medical relief supplies meant for refugees and disaster victims, then resells them as “drugs of addiction,” as the Voice puts it. He’s meeting on his yacht with his five main distributors, and luckily, not only have they never met, but the authorities have nabbed two of them. As with “The Haunting,” the team is already on site, this time in Greece, when Jim briefs them, and as with several prior episodes, this is clearly the first time most of the team is hearing it. Usually it seems that Jim and Grant are the only ones fully briefed before the others are brought in, implying that Grant is possibly the second-in-command — much as his father effectively was in the last couple of seasons of the original. Grant will be impersonating the West African distributor, and Jim will play a Canadian agent allegedly sent by the English one (who conveniently sounds exactly like Nicholas, apparently, since Nick’s able to vouch for Jim with a phone call). When they fax Jim’s picture to Colonnades, Serina finds him “dashing.” I guess she likes older men.

Of the other distributors, the only one who matters is Woodward, a mean-tempered American thug played by Nicholas Hammond, who to me will always be Peter Parker from the ’70s Spider-Man TV series (the mediocre US one, not the awesomely insane Japanese one where Spidey had a giant robot). The team sets things up to make it look like Serina is cheating on Colonnades with Angry Spidey, which is easy enough since she flirts with him readily. Casey records a line or two with Serina’s accent, and somehow Nicholas is able to move a single slider on the audio equipment and make it an exact match for Serina’s voice. Then Casey and Max break in to plant the mini-disc in Woodward’s room, after Jim has drugged Angry Spidey to knock him out so they can abscond with him.

By the way, earlier in the episode, Max swam under the yacht to tangle its propeller in a fishing net so they’d be stuck in port. I wish they’d had Casey do that, since it was established back in “Holograms” that she was a trained scuba diver, and it would’ve been nice if the show had established she actually had a useful specialization other than being female. Instead, she’s relegated to the “tag along with others and occasionally make a minor contribution” role she’s been saddled with for most of the season.

Anyway, Grant sneaks into Colonnades’s quarters (while he’s in them, oddly) to swipe his ledger and plant a fake page to make it look like he’s screwing over the distributors. The safe is opened by a mock desk phone, and the episode uses the lame “guess the password based on obvious names associated with the owner” conceit rather than some IMF codebreaking gadget. Worse, the password turns out to be the name of the yacht they’re on at that very moment. And then they do the lame act-break cliche where a Mr. Collier is about to be discovered at the end of one act and then the threat harmlessly passes at the start of the next. Although they sort of make up for it later. First, Grant’s fake-page-printer gizmo causes electronic interference on the yacht equipment so he’s at risk of discovery, though this is another threat he dodges effortlessly. Later, though, while he’s returning the ledger, Colonnades and Serina come in and have an argument (that leads to her safe departure) and Grant has to hide in the bubble-bath-filled tub until they leave. The look on his face when he surfaces and gasps for breath is a nice moment of comedy.

Okay, so the captured Woodward wakes up in a fake cell where Nicholas, pretending to be a fellow prisoner, claims to be the real Australian distributor, with the guy on the boat being a ringer working for Colonnades. Nicholas helps Angry Spidey “escape,” getting “killed” by Max in the process (Casey at least gets to trigger the squibs), and Angry Spidey hies it back to the yacht to have it out with Colonnades and the Australian, insisting on seeing the ledger with its fake numbers showing that the two are in cahoots to profit at the others’ expense. Jim and Grant make an excuse to get out of the cabin before the bullets start flying. There’s a nice final beat where a wounded Colonnades comes out on deck, sees Jim and Grant rendezvousing with the rest of the team, and almost shoots them, but Angry Spidey shoots him, unknowingly saving them before he too succumbs to his injuries.

A pretty routine episode, and one that didn’t give any of the cast beyond Jim and Grant much to do — Nicholas a bit more than the others, but not much more. But it’s interesting to see the rapport that’s emerging between Jim and Grant. Given that Peter Graves worked closely with Greg Morris for seven years, I’d imagine Phil Morris was aware of him growing up, maybe knowing him as a friend of the family. In-universe, we did see M:I episodes where team members socialized when they weren’t on missions, for instance “The Town” and “Homecoming”, so evidently they were friends as well as colleagues, and it’s thus possible that Grant also knew Jim growing up — at least in the reality of the revival, where Barney was a husband and father during his time with the IMF, as opposed to the reality of the original series where he was a confirmed bachelor. Okay, I’m contradicting myself by both drawing on the original show as evidence and pointing it out as inconsistent at the same time, but that’s the nature of fictional continuity a lot of the time, retconning some things while keeping others. Anyway, it’s nice to think that Jim and Grant are more than just teammates, that there’s a special connection between them as there arguably was for the actors.

“The Fortune”: Written by Robert Brennan.

This one is a Very Special Episode in several ways. First off, its two main guest stars are both veterans of the original series: BarBara Luna, who was the title character/love interest in “Elena” and  a guest agent in “Time Bomb”, and Michael Pate, who was a supporting character in “Trek.” Luna, as we’ll later learn in the disc scene, plays Emilia Berezan, formerly the ruthless power behind the throne of Pate’s Luis Berezan while he was the figurehead ruler of a Latin American country named Alcante. When Luis fell ill and lost his mental clarity, they were deposed and sought asylum in the Florida Keys, but not before ripping off the nation’s treasury and leaving its people in poverty.

But the episode opens with the paranoid, hypervigilant Emilia monitoring her estate’s security feeds, where an intruder is being chased by guards and dogs. The intruder is Casey! And the chase is cued with one of those Ron Jones melodies I’ve never forgotten even though I haven’t heard it in a quarter-century. This is partly because the scene it accompanies made quite an impact on me when I first saw it. Emilia’s men catch Casey and bring her before Emilia — and incidentally before Luis, but he’s too busy watching Mitzi Gaynor sing the title song in the movie Anything Goes as Emilia confronts Casey and, not even bothering to question her, gives her a lethal injection. Yes, Casey’s finally been given something big to do: die. Perhaps the movie Luis is watching was chosen to make a statement: anything goes on this M:I, even the killing of a main cast member.

Okay, nominally a main cast member — in practice, not much more than a decoration. Casey’s surprising murder at the opening of an episode hit me hard when I first saw it, because I had kind of a crush on Terry Markwell at the time. But now I can more clearly see why she was replaced, given how little she contributed — or was allowed to contribute. I’ve done a bit of Googling on the question, and apparently it’s unclear whether Markwell was let go by the producers for not measuring up or asked to be let go because she wasn’t being given enough to do. Perhaps it was a mutual decision, though given how ignominious her demise is — and given that she isn’t even allowed any valedictory lines beyond “No, no” — it seems there wasn’t any love lost on the producers’ part. But in any case, her death scene is the most impressive bit of acting she’s done in the entire series. And it’s the briefest role she’s played in any episode she’s in — but not by that much.

What surprises me on the rewatch is that the team, for the first half of the episode, is totally unaware of Casey’s murder. Jim gets the briefing as normal on an elevated train (meant to be BART, I guess), and the mission is simply to return the Berezans’ funds to Alcante so they can’t bankroll a return to power. In the apartment, the mood is jovial as Jim tells the others that the Secretary sent Casey ahead on special assignment to do the research for this mission. It’s an interesting fragment of insight into IMF procedures, touching on the never-before-addressed question of how they get the information they deliver to Jim. Although it’s never explained why an actual team member was sent to do preliminary research. Anyway, Jim assures the team that they’ll be meeting up with Casey when they get there (although once they arrive, nobody wonders at her absence), and in the meantime they’ve been assigned a fill-in lady agent: Shannon Reed, a 5-year Secret Service veteran with a background in broadcast journalism. Shannon will be Casey’s permanent replacement, though the team doesn’t know it yet. She’s played by Jane Badler, who’s best known as the villainous Diana from the miniseries V and V: The Final Battle and later from V: The Series. (Badler would later play another character named Diana in the dreadful 2011 remake of V, as an homage to her original character. That means she’s been a regular or recurring player in two TV-series revivals.)

Jim and Grant present themselves to Emilia as oil-company representatives willing to help the Berezans reconquer their country in exchange for drilling rights. The plan involves letting the marks in on the team’s trickery, an unusual twist: Nicholas is playing an actor and master of disguise who will impersonate Luis in order to give a speech showing that he can still be virile and commanding and win back the respect of his people. This will be staged for Emilia’s benefit using a pre-taped speech (Nicholas will insist on working without an audience so she’ll watch the speech from the security room), while Nicholas, still disguised as Luis, slips out to the bank and convinces Luis’s banker to transfer the funds back home, using account numbers provided by Grant when he hacks the computer. Shannon plays a reporter who agrees to broadcast the speech (and her bona fides is a shot of her terribly chroma-key matted over riot footage, which convinces Emilia she was in Alcante even though the video fakery is obvious). Meanwhile, Max’s role is to become the latest of Emilia’s many young boy toys in order to gain access to her highly secured home and help the others with their infiltration. Not an unpleasant task; at this point it had been 23 years since Luna had played Martin Landau’s love interest in “Elena,” but she still looked pretty good.

At least, this was the plan. Halfway through, while the team is preparing to fake the broadcast, Jim alone notices a TV report about an unidentified dead woman washed up on shore, a woman he recognizes as Casey. At first, he doesn’t tell the others, presumably not wanting to throw them off their game. Or maybe he just wants to make sure first, because he eventually does tell them. The team is angry and devastated, and Max doesn’t think he can go ahead with his part and seduce the woman who probably killed Casey. Jim says he understands, that Casey was like a daughter to him — although that’s the first indication we’ve ever gotten of that. But Jim convinces the others that continuing the mission is the best way to get justice, since Emilia’s cameras capture everything and may contain evidence connecting her to Casey’s death. Once Max helps smuggle out the security tape, Grant digs through the layers of recordings and re-recordings to try to reconstruct the magnetic palimpsest from the night Casey was captured — allegedly an infrared image according to his expository dialogue with Shannon, although once he reconstructs it, it’s in perfect full color.

So the plan goes ahead, and for the second week in a row it entails Grant having to guess a password and making stupid guesses like Luis’s own name (why would someone’s username also be their password????). Of course, it turns out to be “Anything Goes,” like on the movie poster right next to the computer. So Grant forwards the information to the LCD display on Nicholas-as-Luis’s sunglasses and the money is transferred back. Normally this would be the end, but this is a special case. Once the job is done, the whole team (except for Nicholas, who’s away at the bank) confronts Emilia directly and shows her the reconstructed proof that Casey was hunted down in her estate on the night of her murder. Jim angrily grabs Emilia and snarls that she’s going to jail for the rest of her life and it’s too good for her. She goes full Evita, defiantly insisting that her people love her and will rally to her defense, but when she asks Luis to back her up, the doddering ex-figurehead trades a knowing smile with Jim and turns on his movie again, letting Mitzi Gaynor drown out his wife’s rantings.

Fade to black, fade in a computer screen showing a mission status debrief file. The file for Casey Randall, age 28, has her status amended from Active to Deceased (the other options being Inactive and Retired), and a red DISAVOWED flashes on the screen. And that’s the last we see of Casey, and this time around I don’t particularly regret it. Rather, I wonder if it even makes sense for the agency to have a file notation that an agent has been disavowed. Shouldn’t they just wipe all records showing that she was ever part of the agency? And come to think of it, should we feel uncomfortable that the IMF is a US intelligence agency operating illegally on US soil, which is presumably the reason for their ultra-secrecy even on domestic missions?

Oh, well. Farewell, Casey Randall. We hardly knew ye. Hopefully Shannon will actually be given more to do. I’d assume so, but it’s hard to be sure, since Markwell wouldn’t be the first female lead of an ’80s Paramount show to leave due to the smallness of her role (if that was why she left). Just a season earlier, Denise Crosby had left Star Trek: The Next Generation for the same reason — and Ron Jones also scored her death scene, with another unforgettable piece of music (and a much more poignant one than this). The rest of Jones’s score here is moderately interesting, but not one of his best. It is, however, his last. This is his M:I swan song as well as Markwell’s, and it’s a departure I regret a lot more.

New podcast interview on Trek Mate

The Trek Mate Family Network in the UK has just released a podcast of an interview I did for their “Captain’s Table” feature in which they interview Star Trek prose authors. The discussion covers my Trek work, my Marvel novels and their audio adaptations, and Only Superhuman. You can find it here:


Empire Online feature on STAR TREK novel series

Empire Magazine‘s site has posted a feature on Pocket’s Star Trek novel line, focusing mainly on the series that expand the universe beyond the aired shows:

This includes some series that I’ve been a part of; Department of Temporal Investigations gets a whole page, and their “if you read only one” recommendation for Titan is my Over a Torrent Sea. Plus there’s an oblique reference to The Buried Age on their page for The Lost Era, though they don’t mention it by name. I do wish they’d spelled my last name correctly, but otherwise I appreciate the attention, both on my behalf and that of my colleagues.

WAR OF THE WORLDS (1988) Reviews: Eps. 15-17 (Spoilers)

“The Prodigal Son”: Ahh, this is the one I’ve been waiting for.  Not only because it should’ve been aired before “Among the Philistines” four weeks earlier, not only because it’s a crucial story in the arc, but mostly because it features the ever-delightful John Colicos, best known as Kor from Star Trek: “Errand of Mercy” and several Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes, Baltar in the original Battlestar Galactica, and the original voice of Apocalypse in the ’90s X-Men animated series (though it was hard to tell through the voice distortion).

And Colicos is the first voice we hear (due to the show’s custom, which I haven’t mentioned until now, of playing a bit of ominous dialogue from the coming episode just after the opening titles) and the first face we see, sporting a robust gray beard, as he flees from the police through the Toronto New York City streets.  But wait, they have “decay” makeup on, so they’re aliens.  The credits identify Colicos as “Quinn.”  The alien cops chase him up to the rooftops and re-enact the opening of Vertigo — a cop fails to make the jump Quinn makes and dangles from the roof, and Quinn watches with an evil grin, denying his pleas for rescue, then kicks him off the roof and says the most badass line of the series so far: “To life immortal — sucker.”

Turns out Quinn is a famous, reclusive laser/hologram artist, and art lover Harrison’s been invited to meet him and buy an original installation.  Ironhorse cautions Harrison to be sure he’s at the UN in 36 hours, at which point they’re scheduled to brief the UN Security Council on the alien threat.  Quinn and his driver pick Harrison up in a limo with tinted windows, and he’s taken to Quinn’s secret Chinatown loft, where Quinn offers to give Harrison his supposedly spectacular piece of laser art (which is just a few blue beams bouncing around), and also gives him a bracelet as a gift.  When he says his art is a tribute “to life immortal,” Harrison begins to realize Quinn knows about the aliens.  Quinn confirms this, saying he also knows about Dr. Forrester and Sylvia.  Harrison asks him to tell anything he knows about the aliens, and Quinn tells of one particular alien, who was immune to the bacteria that overcame the other aliens and has wandered the world alone for 35 years, trapped in the cesspool of primitive humanity.  Harry catches on that he’s talking about himself.  He’s an alien!  But Quinn’s bracelet is a manacle, binding Harrison to him with invisible force; he’s going nowhere.

Quinn gives the vital exposition that pegs this episode as taking place before “Among the Philistines.”  His people are from a “garden planet” called Mor-Tax, 40 light-years away in the constellation Taurus.  Their sun is dying, so they set their sights on Earth, the nearest habitable world.  Now, this is a nice bit of either good research or lucky happenstance, since 10 Tauri is a potentially habitable star system 45 light-years away in Taurus.  I remember being rather excited when I discovered the correspondence.  Although there’s no reason such a star would die the way Quinn describes, its light going out.  Anyway, he reveals that there’s an invasion fleet of millions of aliens due in under five years.  Humanity will be annihilated — unless Harrison takes Quinn’s proposal to end the war to the UN.

They’re interrupted by the arrival of the alien cops, who got Quinn’s number from an art-gallery dealer by using a power we haven’t seen them employ before, a sort of lethal Vulcan mindmeld where an alien sticks its fingers into her head and forces her to speak before she dies.  Quinn drags Harrison out through a secret passage and they flee through the subway tunnels; Quinn discards Harrison’s gigantic 1980s cell phone, which the aliens find, thus learning that Quinn is with a Harrison Blackwood.  Later, in his sooper-seekrit bolthole filled with the treasures he’s accumulated over 35 years, he reveals his proposal to Harrison.  He’s fleeing from the aliens because they want to dissect him for the secret of his immunity to Earth disease.  But he was the commander of the alien fleet, and believes the approaching soldiers will obey him rather than the politicians who’ve led them astray.  He offers to spare 10 percent of humanity, kept in reservations away from his people, if they accept him as ruler of the Earth.  Otherwise the whole race will be wiped out.  And lucky Harrison gets to be the one to choose who lives and who dies.  (Out of several billion people?  That would be a time-consuming job…)

Meanwhile, Ironhorse and Suzanne are worried that Harrison missed the preliminary meeting, so they investigate and find the crime scene at Quinn’s loft.  They also find a matchbook of Harrison’s with a coded message he had the foresight to leave behind: “Q” = Δ, meaning Quinn is an alien (delta = triangle = 3).  They’re concerned that Harrison himself may have been taken, his secrets in alien hands, so they call Norton and warn him to get everyone out of the Cottage.  They recruit the NYPD to help them stake out the UN that night, but the cops get taken over by aliens (who now know that Ironhorse is looking for the same Dr. Blackwood who’s with Quinn).

Harrison questions Quinn’s plan, saying the aliens will never accept him as leader since he’s become too human: he has human emotion and humor, a human’s individuality and desire for self-preservation.  Plus the same genetic quirk of the host body that gives him immunity (and it’s never explained why he took a host body during the initial invasion) also traps him in it; he’s a half-breed the aliens would never tolerate.  But humans, he says, have learned tolerance and would accept him.  Quinn is understandably skeptical.  (Accept the leader of the invasion force that devastated the planet?  He’d be lucky to get life in prison.)  He drags Harry along to the UN, through the sewer tunnels; the sunlight hurts his eyes.  Harrison notes the irony: “That’s what you came here for.”  But at the UN, they get cornered by the alien cops, who are covering the interior while Ironhorse’s men watch the outside (though Paul goes in when the cops don’t answer the radio).  Quinn makes his demands, but the aliens are rigid and loyal to the Advocates; the best offer they have for him is the chance to die as a hero.  He’s not buying, and he’s convinced they’re doomed, but Harrison uses some “human ingenuity” and rigs a flamethrower from cleaning supplies, so they get away into the tunnels, and a chase ensues through the subway.  Somehow Ironhorse manages to be there, trailing the others, and takes out one of the alien cops.  Eventually Quinn gets the drop on the others… and since Harrison gave Quinn his life, he returns the favor, freeing Harrison and disappearing — but not before promising to return.  Ironhorse shows up and needs to be convinced that Harrison’s still himself.  Then the team gives their speech to the Security Council, which is a bit anticlimactic since it’s nothing we didn’t already know; as far as we see, Harrison doesn’t even include the information Quinn revealed.  But Quinn walks off into the night — and will return in episode 20.

This is the first episode of this series that I’d actually call good.  It’s got a strong premise — a direct, one-on-one confrontation between the hero and an eloquent, charismatic representative of the foe he’s been fighting.  It’s rich on exposition and ideas, adding new texture to the series premise.  It has the best-written dialogue I’ve heard in this show to date, courtesy of scripter Herb Wright (Patrick Barry wrote the story), and Colicos elevates the material even higher.  In my first draft of this review, I wrote, “If the remaining episodes of the season stay at a comparable level, I’ll understand why I remembered the first season of this show so fondly.”  Unfortunately, they won’t.  Only one more episode will reach this level.

“The Meek Shall Inherit”: Speaking of impressive writing, this one is by D. C. Fontana, story editor for the original Star Trek and one of the uncredited co-developers of Star Trek: The Next Generation.   It opens as a pretty typical episode, though: on the theory that disrupting communication would cripple human society, the aliens have invented a weapon that, when connected to the phone lines, can make phones melt or explode (a guy in a phone booth gets blown up).  But they can’t deploy it effectively until they steal a large enough power source.  So they take over the bodies of some homeless people in Portland, Oregon — coincidentally the city where Sylvia Van Buren is institutionalized (in a place that I only just noticed is named Whitewood — and her adoptive son is named Blackwood).  A street person named Molly (Diana Reis) sees her friend getting taken over, and nobody will believe her.  But when she gets checked into Whitewood as a charity case (how convenient), she meets Sylvia.  At first, Fontana portrays Sylvia with the grace and dignity she’s been largely denied until now — a kind, calm, maternal figure who takes Molly under her wing and stands up for her when the staff gets too pushy.  But Sylvia goes back to her usual ranting once she psychically senses the alien activity, and the staff straitjackets and sedates her — until Molly breaks her out.

Meanwhile, Ironhorse is recruiting and training soldiers for a special alien-fighting Omega Squad, and there’s some nice banter with Suzanne as they quibble over her parameters for the selection process (including the fact that she included a woman in her selections — welcome to 1989, when that was still an issue).  And Norton can’t get through to the Pentagon computer because the long-distance phone network is offline — something he and Harrison eventually begin to suspect is due to alien sabotage.  But Harrison and Suzanne rush off to Portland when they learn that Sylvia’s disappeared.

The “homeless” aliens sneak into the truckyard where the power source will arrive, but get driven off by a mean, Bluto-esque (Blutonian?) security guard.  I suppose they didn’t kill him because they didn’t want to attract attention, since they’ve got a long wait — though after they sneak in that night, he finds them the next day and gets wasted.  One of the aliens took over a very ill homeless man and is in the market for a trade-up, but the guard suffers heart failure before he can be taken over.

Harrison and Suze have no luck finding Sylvia, though a helpful hooker tips them off (once paid for her time) that the truckyard is where the homeless go for handouts.   Indeed, Sylvia and Molly are there, sheltering from the cold (and the episode was filmed during a heavy snowfall, something that was surely easier to come by in Toronto than in the actual Portland, OR).  Molly goes out to beg from the truckers, but Sylvia’s alien-sense tingles and she’s too afraid to go out.  So she can only watch in terror as Molly gets taken and the sick alien is able to trade up for a healthier body at last.  And that alien gets a windfall, since Sylvia has told Molly all about her adopted son, alien-fighter Harrison Blackwood.  Uh-ohs!

So once Harry and Suze find Sylv, they discover just how high the stakes are.  Luckily Ironhorse is already en route with Omega Squad, since he and Norton detected an alien signal originating from the Portland truckyard (sheesh, if it’s that easy to find the aliens, why are they able to get away with anything at all?).  Oddly, the squad hasn’t even been told what it is they’re fighting, which seems like a bad idea to me.  Didn’t Sun-tzu say that the key to victory is knowing your enemy?  Anyway, the squad’s ignorance doesn’t hamper them, and they take down the aliens.  The female member of the squad proves herself by shooting ex-Molly just before she pounces on Harrison, and then the episode ends rather abruptly, as they tend to do on this show.

Not as good as the previous episode, and not as good as I’d expect from Fontana.  I wonder how much her script got rewritten.  There are some plot and logic holes, but there are some nice attempts at character-building, and the best portrayal of Sylvia Van Buren that we’ve gotten yet, though that’s faint praise.

“Unto Us a Child is Born”: This show routinely takes forever to get around to showing its main characters. We spend the first eight or nine minutes of the episode following a trio of aliens attempting to test some kind of bioweapon at a shopping mall, but clumsily spilling something that drips through a vent and alerts mall security.  We then follow the thrilling adventures (this is a thing we Earthlings call sarcasm) of mall security chasing the one alien who didn’t have the brains to ditch his workman coveralls to blend into the crowd.  To elude pursuit, he eventually goes into a changing room and takes over the body of the woman there — Nancy Salvo (Amber Lea Weston), whom we’ve been following in between the alien stuff and who’s extremely pregnant.  Which apparently is more than the alien bargained for.  He, now she, seems confused at what’s happening; either his new host’s pregnancy disrupted the joining, or the writers forgot the aliens absorb the knowledge of their hosts.  Anyway, the joining apparently induces labor and she’s rushed to the hospital.

Finally, we visit the Cottage, and even Norton comments on their belated appearance, saying “Nice of you to show up” when Harrison and Ironhorse arrive to be informed of the latest alien transmission, a distress call coming from what appears to be Eureka, California, judging from the map topography on Norton’s computer.  The team races there and finds the signal coming from a hospital.

A hospital wherein Nancy’s husband has been enacting all the hoary expectant-father stereotypes, pacing nervously in the waiting room and then handing out cigars on learning it’s a boy.  The other two aliens, waiting with him, get cigars too, and toss them out (smart move).  Somehow they get to the mother’s room before he does, and instead of one of them taking his body (which would be ideal cover), they just kill him, and the three of them leave without the baby.  Only to be told by the Advocates that they need to bring in the baby, which they already somehow realize is a hybrid that might give them immunity to Earth’s diseases.

But our guys have already played the “hunting terrorists” card and taken over the hospital, and it’s not long before Suzanne determines that the baby is partially hybridized with alien tissue.  And naturally, as a human-alien hybrid child, this baby is mandated by the laws of SFTV biology to undergo hugely accelerated growth, becoming the size of a 2- or 3-year-old within a matter of hours (despite not being fed anything to build all that biomass from, considering that he’s apparently been left alone throughout the entire growth spurt, or else someone would’ve noticed).  Harrison theorizes it has something to do with the aliens’ own maturation cycle, but it never gets a decent explanation.

Anyway, Alien Nancy foolishly insists on joining the other two in re-entering the hospital, despite the risk of being recognized, and apparently this is in keeping with the Advocates’ orders to go in as a trio.  The Advocates are idiots.  So the aliens hijack an ambulance (but not the drivers’ bodies, so the producers don’t have to pay for more actors) and sneak back in, but a nurse recognizes Nancy and the team is tipped off that the aliens might be back inside.  Ironhorse has brought in Omega Squad from last week to handle security.  But that doesn’t help the nurse who goes in to feed the “baby,” who’s had another growth spurt.  A hand reaches out from under the bed and grabs her by the leg — which then breaks off for no good reason, since there’s nothing holding the rest of her in place against the pull.

So our heroes find the body and realize the baby’s become a killer, and begin searching for it — very, very slowly and tediously.   One of Ironhorse’s people becomes a casualty after an interminable walking-and-searching sequence.  Meanwhile, Alien Nancy is showing a psychic link with the child, drawing her toward it.  Eventually they’re reunited, and it looks like the aliens have developed a mother-child bond — except it turns out Alien Nancy’s idea of parental love is to kill the child (now a deformed monster) and absorb its alien component back inside her so they can be one again.  The other aliens toss her downstairs and kill her, and they and the alien mutant head down.

But Ironhorse somehow hears them descending the stairwell even though he’s nowhere near the stairs, and this leads to a confrontation where the two aliens are killed and the mutant flees.  Cue more tedious searching, and eventually the mutant pounces on Harrison, yet far from ripping him apart it just flails at him for a while and then dies of old age once Ironhorse and Suzanne arrive to see it.  Its body dissolves — and a perfectly human baby emerges from the remains.  Suzanne declares it healthy and it gets adopted by its grandparents — who, in a wholly predictable twist, turn to it and say “To life immortal” in alien-speak.

Now, that’s just nasty.  There’s no reason for it.  If the baby is free of any alien cells, then the aliens have nothing to learn from it.  So what could they possibly want with it?  This is just gratuitous nastiness and left a bad taste at the end of a very weak episode, with an absurd premise and an incredibly tedious pace.  It’s amazing how little actual dialogue there was in this one relative to its running time.  I guess there’s supposed to be suspense in scenes of people slowly searching for something deadly that you know is going to leap out at them sooner or later, but I’m not sure that’s the sort of thing that works for me, certainly not as executed here.

Oh, by the way, if I read IMDb right, the mature form of the alien mutant was played by John Pyper-Ferguson, who’s become rather well-known in the years since, with prominent roles on shows like The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Caprica, and Alphas.

WAR OF THE WORLDS (1988) Reviews: Pilot-Episode 2 (spoilers)

My latest Netflix acquisition is 1988’s War of the Worlds: The Series, a show that Paramount syndicated for two seasons as part of the same package that included Star Trek: The Next Generation.  It’s a direct sequel to the 1953 George Pal movie, and draws on a lot of elements from that movie, while changing or ignoring others.  I had mixed feelings about the show’s first season in its initial run.  I often found the writing weak and the production cheesy, but I really connected to the core cast: Jared Martin as Dr. Harrison Blackwood, Lynda Mason Green as Dr. Suzanne McCullough, Philip Akin as Norton Drake, and Richard Chaves as Col. Paul Ironhorse.  I felt they had a marvelous rapport and chemistry and were always fun to watch even when the story was silly.

I’m only going to be rewatching the first of this show’s two seasons.  For the second, producer Frank Mancuso, Jr. was brought in the “fix” the struggling show, and his “fixes” made it worse and more unpleasant in every respect, and turned it into essentially a different show.  I think I’ll save that discussion for the end of the season, though.

(Note: I actually finished watching and reviewing the whole season before deciding to go ahead and post these reviews, since my reaction to the series was more negative than I’d expected.  At times I was tempted to give up on the whole thing, but I kept going on momentum, and now that I’m finished, I might as well go ahead and post them.  But proceed at your own risk.)

“The Resurrection”: All of season 1’s episodes have Biblical titles, which is odd, since nobody in the show is particularly religious.  Anyway, the pilot opens with a bunch of generic and implausibly multiethnic terrorists raiding and taking over a military nuclear-waste storage facility with ATVs and machine guns, with the intent of threatening to blow it up and create a cloud of radiation over the US unless the President resigns and their other unspecified demands are met.  But they awaken creatures held inside storage drums marked “Classified 1951-53” — creatures that resemble the “Martian” seen in the 1953 film, but are burlier and bigger (enough to have human stuntmen inside the suits).  The creatures go Rambo on the terrorists, who then emerge looking zombified and speaking in tongues.  The aliens have body-snatched them!  They never did that in the movie, but hey, it’ll sure save money going forward.

Meanwhile, we’re introduced to three of our core cast.  Harrison Blackwood is aggressively established as a quirky scientist who plays practical jokes and takes an hourlong nap every five hours.  He’s paired up with the more “uptight” Suzanne, a biochemist and single mom, whom he wants to brainstorm about possible aliens so he can narrow down the list of search targets for his SETI project.  The conversation about aliens is strictly theoretical at this point, as though everyone’s forgotten that the whole world was ravaged by alien invaders just 35 years earlier.  (Get used to it.)  We also meet Norton Drake, Harrison’s computer genius, who was the first of a minor spate of paraplegic African-American scientist-heroes on ’80s/’90s sci-fi shows (the others being Dorian Harewood on Viper and Carl Lumbly on M.A.N.T.I.S.).  Norton has a voice-activated motorized wheelchair named Gertrude, and in the pilot he speaks with an odd, stilted cadence and all his lines are recognizably looped.  I figure he must’ve performed the lines with a broad Jamaican accent and then redubbed them without it, though some of the broad, affected cadence remains, and it comes off weird.

Anyway, Norton picks up transmissions from the nuclear-waste site which match transmissions they’ve picked up from space, so Harrison and Suzanne head off to track the signal and run into Col. Ironhorse — not a friendly meeting at first, but Harrison has info Ironhorse can use, so he gets in and sees the ruptured drums that held the aliens.  Learning that many more drums are missing, he storms off.  He tells Suzanne his theory that the ’53 aliens were only rendered dormant by the bacteria that supposedly killed them in the movie, and the radiation leakage from the drums after the gunfight killed the bacteria and awakened the aliens, who are still bent on conquest.  Harrison explains that he was adopted by Dr. Clayton Forrester, Gene Barry’s character from the original film (the villain on Mystery Science Theater 3000 was named after him), a colleague of his parents, after they were killed in the invasion.  (Martin was no doubt cast partly due to his vocal resemblance to Barry.)  Suzanne seems unaware that the ’53 invasion happened, though moments later she’s  stipulating the reality of it without any transition.   There seems to be a big chunk of dialogue missing from their argument, just from the flow of the scene and the way some exposition seems to be skipped over.  (In the novelization by J. M. Dillard, Suzanne and other characters were aware of the invasion as a historical event, just in denial that it could happen again.  I wonder how much of the more fleshed-out conversation in the novel comes from material cut from this scene.)

Luckily, Suzanne happens to be the niece of General Wilson (John Vernon), who at least is aware of the ’53 invasion, but unconvinced of the aliens’ return without further evidence.  Meanwhile, the aliens — their possessed bodies decaying like zombies — kill and possess a gas-station owner, which is witnessed by a Pat Buttram-esque, stereotyped drunken hick who later reports the event to Ironhorse.  The scientists pick up another transmission and track down the aliens, only to run into Ironhorse and his squad as they’re about to raid the “terrorists.”  The soldiers all get possessed save Ironhorse, whom Harrison rescues.  Now they have their proof, and General John Vernon appoints them as his alien-hunting team, moving them all to a high-security ranch called the Cottage.  Suzanne brings her preteen daughter Debi (Rachel Blanchard).

Oh, and did I mention that there’s a subplot with Harrison’s fiancee (Gwynyth Walsh), a rich interior designer who’s trying to get him into the private sector and constantly complains that he loves his work more than he loves her?  I forgot because it’s completely irrelevant to the story.  The fiancee is forgotten without a second thought as soon as Harrison moves to the Cottage; there isn’t even a scene of their breakup or her reaction to him moving away or anything of the sort.  The whole thing feels wrong and adds nothing.  They could’ve dumped this subplot and spent more time on worldbuilding, establishing a world aware of the ’53 invasion as a historical event, yet in denial about whether it could happen again.  (I’m thinking about how, the season before, TNG’s pilot was supposed to be 90 minutes but they decided to expand it to 2 hours and added the Q subplot to the script.  I wonder if the same thing happened here and Walsh’s character was written in to pad the pilot’s length.  If so, it was done much more sloppily than in TNG’s case.)

Anyway, there’s a nice scene where Ironhorse tells Debi a story about his shaman great-grandfather finding an ancient drawing of what seems to be an alien, a story whose truth Ironhorse doubts.  This is where we really begin to see what a charismatic actor Richard Chaves could be and how good the chemistry was among the cast.  Ironhorse quickly became the breakout character here.

So the brain trust does its brainery, and they use some captured maps and Ironhorse’s soldierly thinking to realize that the aliens are planning to raid the secret government vault holding three intact war machines from the invasion.  This leads to a final confrontation which is actually pretty cool.  The war machines and their weaponry and shields are pretty authentically replicated, given the limits of ’80s video FX technology.  The sound effects of the rattlesnake-like sensor sound and the heat ray firing are the authentic originals, although the sound effect of the green energy bolts is not quite right (they use the Star Trek photon torpedo sound, which is similar but not identical to the sound used in the movie), and they’re missing the warbling whistle of the war machines’ levitation fields (which is a slowed-down version of the same sound effect used for phasers in the original Star Trek, actually a recording of a swarm of locusts stridulating).

Unfortunately there’s zero suspense here, since the heroes already planted C4 in the war machines before the aliens took them.  So it’s cool to see the vehicles in action again, but the heroes have already won before the “danger” even begins, which is a terrible way to structure a climax.  The war machines blow up on schedule, and then we get the usual thing in these stories where one character (Suzanne) says “I’m glad it’s finally over” and the hero (Harrison) turns enigmatically and says “Is it?  Is it really?”  And of course it isn’t, since we cut to the abandoned underground nuclear test site in Nevada where the aliens are holed up and see them making plans to strike again.

All in all, it’s cheesier than I remembered.  The character introductions are pretty clunky, there’s too much lame humor, and the actors were worse than I remembered, particularly Akin and Green.  (I guess I forgave it in Green’s case because she was really stunningly beautiful.)  And some of the effects and production values are pretty lame.  Oddly, some scenes seem to be shot on videotape rather than film, and most of the dialogue in the interior film sequences is looped.

And the conceit that the world had forgotten the invasion was an odd choice, reflecting the tendency of too many genre shows to try to be as much like the real world as possible.  It would’ve been so much cooler to see this show set in an alternate history where the world had been radically transformed by the ’53 invasion.  Then again, that’s kind of what the second season tried to do in a retconny sort of way, and its version of that was deeply unpleasant, a perpetually dark and polluted world where society was disintegrating.  Maybe instead, it could’ve been set in a world where humanity had rebuilt its cities and infrastructure using reverse-engineered alien technology, entering a new golden age and growing overconfident.  That could’ve been cool.

“The Walls of Jericho”: The episode opens with the first use of the main title sequence, and the theme is an ’80s-synth pastiche of Holst’s “Mars, The Bringer of War” by series composer Billy Thorpe.  The images are a succession of clips from the pilot, heavily featuring the war machine battle from the climax — which is misleading, since the show didn’t have the budget to do that sort of thing often, and there are only a couple more episodes in the season that use the war machines even briefly.

This episode is credited to “Forrest Van Buren,” an obvious pseudonym (named after the lead characters in the ’53 film), but IMDb has no information on the real writer.  Yet the script is stronger than the pilot’s.

It’s six weeks after the pilot, and Gen. Wilson and Col. Ironhorse are convinced the alien threat is ended and it’s time to shut down the Blackwood Project.  They take their time breaking the news and letting the team get packed, so there’s a lot of time for conversation and character interaction.  We actually get an explanation of sorts for the global amnesia about the invasion, drawing on UFO lore about amnesia in alien abductees/witnesses, the idea being that either a) aliens have some effect on human memory and b) humans suppress the memory of aliens because they can’t cope with it, or a mix of both in Harrison’s view.  Wilson confirms that he fought in the ’53 war but remembers no details.  It’s still odd — how did people explain the global devastation to themselves? — but at least they addressed it.  And it helps explain why the military types here are so determined to believe the aliens are gone — that same suppression effect might be kicking in, and the more imaginative scientists are less susceptible.

Meanwhile, the aliens are dying from the heat in the radiation-rich caverns, and the triumvirate of Advocates (three of the possessed terrorists from the pilot) are pushing their scientists to find a solution before their stolen bodies rot away.  So they launch a series of heists — first draining blood from a herd of cows as some kind of coolant bath, then taking a special plastic to make protective suits (which we will see the Advocates wearing for the rest of the season, since it’s cheaper than using full alien costumes or paying actors to speak on camera — and indeed most of the Advocate scenes over the season will just be stock footage with new dialogue dubbed in), then trying to steal liquid nitrogen from a rocket base as coolant, then finally taking over a refrigeration plant and making their own LN.  In the first couple of cases, the investigating cops go out of their way to mention that they’re putting the reports on the national crime computer database, because that wasn’t taken for granted back then and they need to set up Norton discovering these crimes via his superhacking so the heroes can begin to piece the alien scheme together.  (Good grief, it’s startling to realize how long ago the ’80s were.  The interval between this series and the present is already more than 2/3 the interval between the original movie and this series.  God, I feel old right now.)

So the team convinces Ironhorse to go along and investigate the refrigeration plant, and they find the employees acting zombielike, so they call in John Vernon and they raid the plant.  Vernon gets to shoot up a truck and see the alien inside dissolve upon death (as alien invaders do), thus confirming that the threat is still active and the team needs to stay together.  But the aliens get away with enough canisters of LN to keep them alive for, ohh, at least one TV season.  Everybody wins!  Well, except for all the people (and cattle) the aliens killed.

This episode has the same odd production values, with all the lines in the Cottage blatantly looped except in the one scene that appears to have been on videotape.  (And Philip Akin’s delivery is even more broad when looping than when it’s live audio.  Odd, because he’s done a lot of voiceover work, such as Bishop on the ’90s X-Men animated series.  Then again, the voice acting on that show was never subtle.)  But like I said, the writing’s better, we learn more about the characters, and while the performances are a mixed bag, John Vernon does a really good job.  This episode does a better job than the pilot of reminding me why I liked season 1 of this show.

But will it stay this decent?  To be continued… votes THE STRUGGLE WITHIN best Trek story of 2011 has put up several “Best of 2011” posts lately, and in their “TrekIn2011: Best Star Trek Books & Comics” post, they gave top honors to my e-novella Star Trek: Typhon Pact: The Struggle Within, calling it “[t]he clear winner for short stories and novellas (and in fact for all Star Trek fiction in 2011).”

Typhon Pact: The Struggle Wtihin

Now, even getting just the short-fiction nod would be an honor, because the other candidates would’ve been the four novellas comprising Vanguard: Declassified, and that’s mighty tough competition.  But best of all Trek fiction of the year?  That’s rather mindboggling — and heartening, because frankly I wasn’t too happy with The Struggle Within and feared it wouldn’t work at all.  Personally, my vote for the best of 2011 would’ve been Voyager: Children of the Storm by Kirsten Beyer.  But I’m gratified that TSW has been so well-received, and I thank the TrekMovie staff for the recognition.

TrekMovie reviews STRUGGLE WITHIN, and new ST MAGAZINE article now out!

Two bits of Star Trek news that I’m happy about:

One,’s reviewer Robert Lyons has posted a review of my e-novella Star Trek Typhon Pact: The Struggle Within, and he has some very nice things to say.  My favorite bits:

 Bennett provides a timely story, inspired by very recent real world events, combined with an accessible yet still alien background (in both the A and B story!), that completely engages the reader.

While “Zero Sum Game” may be the best novel in the series, “The Struggle Within” is truly the best story of the five… and an outstanding conclusion to the series….

Very flattering.

Also, Star Trek Magazine #38 is now out, and it contains my entry in the ongoing Star Trek 45s series, examining every 45th aired episode of ST one by one.  My piece is on one of my favorite Voyager episodes, “Concerning Flight,” and it has an absolutely gorgeous title-page illustration of Janeway and Leonardo da Vinci which you can see a small version of here.  My thanks to the magazine’s designer, Philip White, for giving my article such a great accompanying image.


My Star Trek e-novella Typhon Pact: The Struggle Within is now on sale.


Typhon Pact: The Struggle Wtihin

Information and ordering links are on my website here:

The fact that it’s electronic (and short) means I can get pretty quick feedback, and the comments about the story are pretty positive so far, which is reassuring because I was unsure whether it really worked.


The cover to my upcoming e-novella Star Trek: Typhon Pact: The Struggle Within has been released by Simon &

Typhon Pact: The Struggle Wtihin

Despite being an e-book, the cover design here is in keeping with the design used for the previous four novels in the Typhon Pact series.

I can understand the marketing reasons for focusing exclusively on the novella’s Enterprise-centric plot in the cover art and blurb, since the other, parallel plotline focuses on two book-only characters (Jasminder Choudhury and T’Ryssa Chen) and a book-only species (the Kinshaya). Still, it would’ve been nice to see a rendering of Jasminder or T’Ryssa. And getting to see a Kinshaya would’ve been really cool too.

Typhon Pact: The Struggle Within goes on sale on or around October 4.  That’s only about six weeks from now!

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