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More travel

I just got back from a visit to Detroit for my Aunt Shirley’s birthday, and got to see her, Uncle Harry, cousin Cynthia who’s staying with them to help out after their respective hospitalizations, and cousins Barbara and Mark who came in for the birthday too. I spent a nice few days there, had some very nice meals including some baked oatmeal that provided several breakfasts, and a vegetarian chili that ended up being only black-bean chili rather than three-bean (because the other beans took longer to cook than expected) but was still pretty good. I helped make the chili, in fact, which was kind of fun. I also got to go for a couple of nice walks in the sunny (but chilly) weather with Uncle Harry, who’s 90 years old and recovering from a bike-riding accident, but still quite active.

The drive up on Monday was pretty uneventful, except that it was the occasion on which I drank my first ever full cup of coffee. I’ve found that tea wasn’t always adequate to deal with fatigue on the road, so I decided I’d better try the hard stuff. But I’ve never liked the smell or taste of coffee, so I was hesitant. Partly on the advice of my new apartment manager (who used to work at Starbucks), I decided to try a pumpkin spice cappuccino (which I was pleasantly surprised to find in an I-75 rest area vending machine), since I love pumpkin. It was actually pretty good, and it kept me comfortably alert rather than anxiously buzzed. I was concerned I might run into some rain on the way up, but it turned out to be mild flurries instead, which are easy to drive through. I never thought I’d be grateful for sub-freezing temperatures.

Also, this was my first long drive with my new bifocals. At first, I wasn’t sure they were working well at a distance; I was concerned that the variable focus was making it hard for me to home in on the right part of the lens to see something clearly. So I tried switching to my old glasses as a backup. But they didn’t make it any easier to focus at a distance, and I realized that the problem was more with my eyes than with the frames. I guess they just have trouble acclimating to focusing at a distance after being indoors for a while, or something. Also, the old lenses made it harder to see the dashboard or my phone GPS. So I switched back to the bifocals, and they turned out to work just fine in the long run (or, well, long drive) and then afterward. So I’m much more at ease with them now. (Well, mostly — see below.)

My drive home yesterday was more troubled. I had a cup of instant coffee before leaving, but I found the taste unpleasant even with a lot of sugar and milk. Just as I was about to set out, I thought I’d left something behind and went back into the house, only to find it was in my jacket pocket. I was able to get underway okay, and I fortunately timed it so that I managed to stay just behind the storm front that was passing through the area. (It was diagonal, from southwest to northeast, and as it moved eastward, it cleared up progressively from north to south.) But about 15 miles north of the Michigan-Ohio border, I reached up to adjust my glasses with my left hand, and the left side of the frame just popped open and the left lens fell out. Thank goodness that’s my bad eye, which my brain largely ignores anyway, and it didn’t really make much difference to my vision. I kept driving for a while, expecting to find a rest area soon where I could stop and assess the situation, but apparently the rest area on that part of I-75 is only on the northbound side. So eventually I just pulled off the freeway in Toledo and found a parking lot, then looked up the nearest LensCrafters on my phone to get directions. I had to go back north on 75 a couple of miles before diverting to 475 to get to the mall. So they got me fixed up; apparently a screw had just come loose, and they put in a new one and made sure the screws were good and tight. Just the latest of the troubles I’ve been having with this new pair of glasses — and just when I’d finally gotten comfortable with them.

So my glasses didn’t bother me anymore after that, but I realized I was running low on gas. At the next rest stop, I used the app on my phone to find the cheapest gas along 75, but apparently it’s not a perfect app, since when I got there, I found only a deteriorating ruin that may have once been a gas station. Since it would’ve been too much trouble to reprogram my GPS while in motion, I got a little lost trying to get back to the freeway. Fortunately there were a lot of other gas stations in the immediate vicinity, and I found one at the next exit that was only a cent or two higher per gallon than the one I’d aimed for — plus it was next to an Arby’s, so I got a sandwich to have for dinner later. So things seemed to be back on track.

Except the coffee wasn’t working this time — perhaps it wasn’t strong enough, or perhaps I was just more fatigued this time. I stopped at a rest area and looked for some iced tea to have with my sandwich, but the vending machines had none. So I got some hot tea instead, but they were out of lids, so I had to carry it very carefully. Also, I’d put on my heavy coat over the lighter jacket I wore in the car, but I realized the zipper had come undone and the slider was stuck right up at the neck, and I had trouble getting it undone. And it wouldn’t zip up again without coming unfastened. So that coat may have finally given up the ghost. Lucky that it’s starting to warm up now and I hopefully won’t need to replace it immediately.

Anyway, the tea didn’t help — I was still feeling fatigued. But I didn’t want to just load up on more caffeine, since maybe it wasn’t helping as much as I’d hoped. Instead, at the next rest area, I just lay back in my seat and closed my eyes for ten minutes and did some slow, meditative breathing while listening to music on the CD player (Batman: The Animated Series: “Shadow of the Bat, Part 1″ by Shirley Walker). And I kept up the breathing and the music once I resumed driving. It actually helped clear up my fatigue quite well. (Although listening to the car player while parked made me realize how badly the speakers have deteriorated. Maybe I should’ve listened on my phone instead, but I’m not comfortable driving while wearing earbuds, in case I miss an important sound.)

All these delays meant, though, that I wasn’t successful in getting home before sunset. Still, it was only twilight by the time I finally got home. Oh, and I almost left my phone charger cord in the car, but I remembered it before I was halfway to my apartment, and I went back to get it.

So it could’ve been worse. I’ve had worse drives, in fact — much worse. A lot of little things went wrong, but I managed to cope with them all pretty quickly. So I guess I should focus on that.

Oh, yes, and one other thing: The day before I left just happened to be exactly one (February-length) month after I started writing Rise of the Federation Book 4, and exactly three months before my deadline. So my goal was to be a quarter of the way through my target by then, or 25,000 words. I’d gotten 80 percent of the way there two weeks before, but I’d needed to divert to work on Hub Space and then do a lot of planning and foundation-laying for the next part I had to write, so I wasn’t sure I’d get those last 5,000 words in before my trip. But on Sunday night, I decided that I just wanted to get the scene done and out of the way, so I sat down and worked through it and ended up with a word count of 25,003 words. Deadline met! Another instance of a narrowly averted problem. And while I didn’t get much writing done during my trip, I did get the next scene started, at least, and I know what comes next.

Oh, and I took a few copies of Uncertain Logic along and shared them with my family, a day before the official on-sale date. One of the perks of being related to me. (The other main one being having to endure a lot of bad puns.)

UNCERTAIN LOGIC is here!

I grieve with thee

February 27, 2015 4 comments

The New York Times has reported that Leonard Nimoy has died at the age of 83.

I was afraid of this when I heard the news about his hospitalization the other day, but I’d hoped it was a false alarm. Still, it’s not surprising, given his health in recent years. But it is entirely logical to be saddened, and to shed tears for a man who left such a profound mark on the world.

Spock was one of my first childhood role models, and certainly the most influential, for better or worse. When I was seven — about two years after discovering Star Trek — I lost my mother, and in response to that grief, I tried to become like Spock and suppress my emotions. It backfired; without a healthy release valve, my emotions erupted vehemently and often, and I felt more like Dr. Banner from The Incredible Hulk than like Mr. Spock. But in 1979, when Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out and Spock had the epiphany that emotion was valuable and necessary as an integrated part of the psyche, I came to much the same realization — perhaps as a result of Spock’s — and learned to be more at peace with my own emotions.

I also tried to emulate Spock’s intelligence, the way he contributed and was appreciated for being a source of knowledge. (The Professor on Gilligan’s Island also influenced me in this way.) But real life didn’t turn out like fiction; rather than being appreciated for my efforts to inform and contribute, I was seen as a showoff or a know-it-all. Some people appreciated my contributions in the helpful spirit in which I intended them, but to this day, there are others who mistake it for condescension.

So one could argue that modeling myself on Spock hasn’t always worked out so great for me. But that doesn’t matter — his influence is simply part of who I am, and part of his example was learning to accept who you are even when you don’t fit in or are misunderstood. His example of logical, educated thought and scientific curiosity has guided me throughout my life, enriching my understanding of the world and helping me keep learning, questioning, and thinking. The principles of peace and diversity he embodied have shaped my values and helped me feel more empathy and connection to others.

This is the legacy that Leonard Nimoy has left us. He took a character that another actor might have treated as a joke or a caricature and brought immense sincerity, thoughtfulness, and sensitivity to his performance, giving Star Trek a weight and meaning it might not have had without him. He always treated his role and his audience with respect, and we were drawn to him in turn, and this was key to making Star Trek such an enduring phenomenon, a universe that felt real and solid and inspired us to believe in a better, smarter future even when the show was at its silliest. And as Star Trek matured and Spock aged, Nimoy made him evolve. After his (and my) epiphany in TMP, he let Spock grow more balanced, more self-assured, more at peace with his logic and his emotion, showing us that there was no real conflict between the two. He showed us that synthesis between opposing views is a better, more rewarding response than opposition — a lesson that we are in desperate need of today. And when Star Trek was reinvented with a new cast, continuity, and attitude, he stayed true to that principle, coming out of retirement to give the new incarnation his blessing, befriend his successor and protege in the role of Spock, and show once again that it’s better to unite than divide.

And to think there was a time when Nimoy almost gave up playing Spock. Hard to imagine now, when he’s been such an integral thread tying the whole franchise together. He was there from the very beginning, he was there for the animated series and the films, he crossed over to The Next Generation, and he carried his character through to the new incarnation and into a new universe. The story of Spock is the story of Star Trek. And for all that his character prized logic over passion, Nimoy has always been its heart.

I’m sad that Nimoy didn’t make it to see the 50th anniversary next year. But I suppose he’s already had his own 50th, since the anniversary of “The Cage” was last year. Still, it won’t be the same without him.

I’m glad, though, that next month will see the release of my new book Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic, a novel that focuses heavily on Vulcan civilization and Spock’s grandparents. Spock himself is decades away from being born in the timeframe of the novel, but no one can write about Vulcans without being heavily influenced by Nimoy’s work. I feel it will be a fitting tribute.

I’m crying now. It’s the only logical thing to do.

A Cracking good DTI shoutout!

This is neat: The comedy website Cracked routinely does “Photoplasty” contests, challenging their readers to concoct photoshopped sight gags on various themes, and today’s contest was on the theme of TV spinoffs that need to happen. And coming in at #19 was this one, by a contributor going by “annorax”:

http://www.cracked.com/photoplasty_1338_35-tv-spinoffs-that-need-to-happen_p35/#19

I couldn’t find any way to embed the image, and I wasn’t sure if I should just copy it, but it’s for a Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations series based on my books, using the first names I came up with for Lucsly and Dulmur, and giving me a “Created by” credit (although I think it would probably be more like “Developed for Television by,” since Ronald D. Moore and Rene Echevarria would probably get the creator credit for the two leads). My thanks to “annorax” for the tribute!

(Of the hypothetical spinoffs in the overall piece, though, the ones I’d most like to see are Turanga Leela, Private Eye and September, followed by The War Doctor and The Black Widow Diaries.)

UNCERTAIN LOGIC cover revealed!

January 7, 2015 1 comment

StarTrek.com has just released the cover art for Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic, the third volume in my ongoing series about the early years of the United Federation of Planets. I’m thrilled to get to show it off at last:

ROTF Uncertain Logic cover

And here’s the blurb again:

Years ago, Jonathan Archer and T’Pol helped unearth the true writings of Vulcan’s great philosopher Surak, bringing forth a new era of peaceful reform on Vulcan. But when their discov­ery is seemingly proven to be a fraud, the scandal threatens to undo a decade of progress and return power to the old, warlike regime. Admiral Archer, Captain T’Pol, and the crew of the U.S.S. Endeavour investigate with help from their Vulcan allies, but none of them suspect the identity of the real master­mind behind the conspiracy to reconquer Vulcan—or the price they will have to pay to discover the truth.

Meanwhile, when a long-forgotten technological threat reemerges beyond the Federation’s borders, Captain Malcolm Reed of the U.S.S. Pioneer attempts to track down its origins with help from his old friend “Trip” Tucker. But they discover that other civilizations are eager to exploit this dangerous power for their own benefit, even if the Federation must pay the price!

I’m really pleased with how well the cover turned out, because the basic idea was my own. It’s unusual for authors to have a say in cover design, but one day it just occurred to me out of the blue that if you superimposed the Kir’Shara (the ark holding Surak’s writings) onto the planet Vulcan, it would look like an IDIC emblem, which I thought would be a very fitting symbol for the plot and themes of the book. I knew it wasn’t my place to butt into the cover design process, but I was so struck by the idea that I suggested it to my editor anyway, and even did a quick-and-dirty mockup image to get the idea across. I’m pleasantly surprised that they thought my suggestion was worth using, and of course Alan Dingman’s art looks a ton better than my version. A nice touch is that the “IDIC” image is reproduced smaller on the spine of the book, much like the cover image of Emerald Blair on Only Superhuman. That should help make it stand out on shelves, I think.

Follow the link for release date and ordering info!

DTI: THE COLLECTORS is out today!

December 8, 2014 10 comments

The temporal coordinates have arrived! My newest e-novella, Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: The Collectors, is now available for purchase wherever e-books are sold.

DTI The Collectors cover

Here are some ordering links:

And here’s the discussion page on my website, with a link to the story annotations.

The story description:

The dedicated agents of the Federation Department of Temporal Investigations have their work cut out for them protecting the course of history from the dangers of time travel. But the galaxy is littered with artifacts that, in the wrong hands, could threaten reality. One of the DTI’s most crucial jobs is to track down these objects and lock them safely away in the Federation’s most secret and secure facility. When Agents Lucsly and Dulmur bring home an alien obelisk of incredible power, they are challenged by a 31st-century temporal agent who insists they surrender the mysterious artifact to her. But before they know it, the three agents are pulled into a corrupted future torn apart by a violent temporal war. While their DTI colleagues attempt to track them down, Lucsly and Dulmur must restore temporal peace by setting off on an epic journey through the ages, with the future of the galaxy hanging in the balance…

Oh, all right, let’s talk about the STAR WARS trailer…

December 3, 2014 10 comments

Everyone else is talking about the Star Wars trailer, so I might as well put in my two cents. Not so much about the trailer itself, since you can’t tell much from a teaser trailer, but about the reactions I’ve been seeing.

First off: Okay, the crossbeam lightsaber is a bit hard to justify rationally, but let’s face it, lightsabers are not a plausible weapon to begin with. A beam of energy acting as a solid blade? How’s that supposed to work? It’s magic. Here’s the thing a lot of people don’t seem to get: Star Wars is not science fiction. Lucas has never claimed that it is. His own term for it is “space fantasy.” The reason he created it is because he couldn’t get the movie rights to Flash Gordon. The opening line of every movie, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” is telling us up front that it’s a fairy tale. It’s not supposed to be a plausible universe, it’s supposed to be a wild adventure fantasy in the vein of the movie serials Lucas enjoyed as a child.

But fortunately the new movie isn’t just looking backward. No more all-white casts like in the bad old days. Our first look at the new generation of Star Wars establishes it as a diverse generation. Who cares if one of them is (at least dressed as) a Stormtrooper? What matters is that they’re there. Inclusion is a good thing, and still far too lacking in feature films.

The other main thread of complaint I keep hearing is about the fact that J.J. Abrams is directing, co-writing, and co-producing. A lot of people are expecting this to be like his Star Trek movies. Here’s why that doesn’t follow:

On Star Trek, Paramount gave Abrams and Bad Robot free rein to recreate the franchise however they wished. They’re making it on behalf of Paramount, but the “Supreme Court” of Abrams, Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman have had pretty much total control over it, and Abrams is the top man. Even though he’s not directing the third film, he’s still producing it, and that means the buck stops with him. But on Star Wars, Lucasfilm executive Kathleen Kennedy is the one in charge. Abrams is hired talent working for her, for Lucasfilm. He’s only directing this one movie, while Kennedy is producing the whole series, including Episodes VIII & IX (slated to be written and directed by Looper‘s Rian Johnson) and some standalone spinoffs (the first two of which are slated to be directed by Godzilla‘s Gareth Edwards and Chronicle‘s Josh Trank).  And he’s been hired, not to reinvent the universe his way, but to make a new installment that’s true to the existing universe, a universe that Kennedy is now in charge of maintaining and advancing. Kennedy, by the way, is the woman who’s produced most of Steven Spielberg’s films and the Back to the Future trilogy, among plenty of others. Think about that. Star Wars is now in the hands of Spielberg’s closest collaborator.

Also, Abrams made his Trek films along with the “Supreme Court” members listed above. But he’s co-written The Force Awakens along with Lawrence Kasdan, and he and Burk are producing it along with Kennedy and Kasdan. Just to be clear, that’s Lawrence Kasdan, the guy who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Frankly I’m amazed I’m not hearing more chatter about that from Star Wars fans. The guy who wrote the best movie in the franchise is back. How is that not exciting?

So yes, of course, The Force Awakens is going to be an Abrams film with his voice and sensibilities, but only insofar as it meshes with Kennedy’s vision. Think of what happened to Edgar Wright on Ant-Man. He spent years developing that film, but when he couldn’t come to terms with how the Marvel Studios executives envisioned the film, he was let go. The same would’ve happened to Abrams if he’d tried to make a Star Wars film in a way that Lucasfilm and Kennedy were unhappy with. After all, this film is the foundation of a whole new series of films that Kennedy is responsible for developing and producing, and that Abrams will have no hand in beyond how he sets the stage in TFA. That tips the balance of power more toward Kennedy.

Anyway, I don’t understand the opinion some people have that Abrams’s sensibilities are inappropriate for Star Wars. His approach has always been to blend big, extravagant fantasy action with relatable, character-based drama. To me, that seems perfect for Star Wars. The problem with the prequel trilogy, with Lucas writing and directing the films himself, was that Lucas never really cared about characters. Abrams always puts characters and emotions at the center of everything, even in the midst of the big flashy action. If anything, the main problem with his series Alias was that it was too tightly focused on characters and relationships, so that all the big worldshaking spy schemes and master plans all ultimately revolved around the family lives of a few core characters to a degree that would’ve made Charles Dickens say “Okay, that’s a bit contrived.” But that’s perfect for Star Wars, a franchise where the big bad turned out to be the hero’s long-lost father and it was their family bond that ultimately saved the galaxy, and, oh, the leading lady is the hero’s sister too. SW is big, broad melodrama and has never pretended to be anything else, just as it’s never pretended to be naturalistic or scientifically plausible.

If anything, Abrams’s main shortcoming as a Star Trek director was that, while he handled the character side well enough to make the stories feel grounded, he treated the universe and its rules too fancifully. Star Trek has always at least nominally tried to be a naturalistic, plausible universe, though it’s often fallen short on the plausibility side. But Abrams has treated it more like a fantasy universe where physics works in whatever way is convenient to the plot and where starships can hop across the galaxy in seconds. In other words, he’s treated Star Trek like it was Star Wars. But now he’s doing Star Wars, and that seems like a natural fit to me.

Of course, there’s no sense in judging a movie good or bad based on its teaser trailer. But it seems to me that fandom today is dominated by voices that look for excuses to criticize and carp, and usually those excuses don’t hold up to analysis. And that’s frustrating. Fandom is supposed to be about enjoying stuff and being excited by stuff. Fandom is love, and love should be optimistic. Even when you’ve been burned by love in the past, even when you’re afraid to take a chance on love again, it’s still important to let it give you hope.

Granted, I myself only like Star Wars rather than loving it. But I love Star Trek, and that love makes me want to see the best in it, even when it disappoints me. Because forgiveness is part of love too. I wish more fans would remember that.

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