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DTI: SHIELD OF THE GODS is out today!

Yes, today’s the day that the concluding installment of my Department of Temporal Investigations e-novella trilogy, Shield of the Gods, is released. Here’s the blurb and ordering info:

DTI Shield of the Gods coverStar Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations — Shield of the Gods

The stalwart agents of the Department of Temporal Investigations have tracked down many dangerous artifacts, but now they face a greater, more personal challenge: retrieving a time-travel device stolen from their own vault by a rogue agent of the Aegis, a powerful, secretive group that uses its mastery of time to prevent young civilizations from destroying themselves. Blaming the Aegis itself for a tragedy yet to come, this renegade plans to use the stolen artifact to sabotage its efforts in the past, no matter what the cost to the timeline. Now the DTI’s agents must convince the enigmatic Aegis to work alongside them in order to protect history—but they must also wrestle with the potential consequences of their actions, for preserving the past could doom countless lives in the future!

Available at:

Simon & Schuster

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-A-Million

iBookstore

Kobo

 

I’ve updated my home page to reflect its release, and to add the cover and blurb for Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference to the Upcoming Fiction section. Unfortunately I don’t yet have any new projects to add to Upcoming. “Abductive Reasoning” is still there, not yet scheduled by Analog as far as I know, but I’ve been going through kind of a lull lately when it comes to lining up new work. Hopefully I’ll have something to announce before too much longer.

In the meantime, go buy Shield of the Gods!

Thoughts on WONDER WOMAN (2017) (Spoilers)

I finally saw Wonder Woman today, and I pretty much agree with the critical consensus — it’s a terrific movie, and the first DC Extended Universe movie that not only isn’t fatally flawed, but is genuinely excellent and has a coherent, well-defined heroic journey at its heart. Gal Gadot is fantastic in the role, not only a sublimely beautiful, poised, and powerful physical presence but a strong lead actress who handles all the emotional range the film requires of her, which is a lot more than any of the previous three DCEU films have demanded of their leads. Chris Pine is also remarkably good as Steve Trevor, bringing enormous wit and charm to the proceedings (in fact, there were moments when he reminded me more of William Shatner here than he does in the Star Trek movies). The rest of the supporting cast was good too, with Lucy Davis a standout as Etta Candy.

Oh, and first off, let me respond to the inane “Gal Gadot isn’t buff enough” meme that I’m still seeing floating around online, even from the occasional female reviewer. It’s a myth that people have to be bulky to be strong — a myth that comic books have helped to promote by embracing bodybuilders as their standard character design reference over the past few decades. But bodybuilders bulk up for display. Muscles meant for practical use can be strong yet still quite lean; after all, muscle cells are basically long, thin fibers. And people with naturally tall, slender builds can be very strong while still being slender — look at Venus Williams or Maria Sharapova. This is, of course, leaving aside the fact that Diana of Themyscira is a demigoddess with superhuman strength anyway, so even if she were scrawny (which she isn’t by any realistic standard), she could probably still kick any mere mortal’s ass.

I do have some quibbles with the origin presented in the film. I don’t like the retcon that the Amazons were created by Zeus, and that Diana is the daughter of Zeus. In the original comics, it was Aphrodite, goddess of love, who created the Amazons and breathed life into Diana. Making it Zeus makes the backstory too male-dominated, and makes the Amazons feel like an extension of a male agenda. I also wish Kid Diana hadn’t been quite so enthralled with fighting and weapons; I would’ve liked to see more of her well-rounded education in the more positive things that drive her as an adult. (The actress playing Kid Diana was adorably badass, though. Give her a Wonder Tot prequel, stat!) Still, I guess that preoccupation is part of the naivete she has to outgrow over the film. She has a romanticized, simplified notion of what war is, resulting from the fact that she’s never seen it except as a bunch of awesome athletic feats her elder sisters perform.

And I like the acrobatic horseback combat, by the way. The Amazons of Greek myth were probably based on some of the horse-nomad peoples of Asia Minor, peoples that had a fair amount of gender equality (out of necessity — nomads can’t afford to have anyone not pulling their weight) and thus could’ve been seen as female-dominated by the intensely misogynistic Athenians. And horse nomads were historically known for their impressive mounted-fighting abilities, which seemed to be the basis for the Amazon combat methods shown in the film. So that’s a nice bit of historical context in a film with a generally fanciful portrait of antiquity.

In thinking back on the film, considering how it succeeds where the previous DCEU films failed, I realize that on the surface, it doesn’t seem that different from the previous films. It has a very dark and grim subject matter — it’s set in the quagmire of World War I and has characters lecturing Diana on humanity’s fundamental capacity for evil and self-destruction. It has a hero who kills. And, like Man of Steel, it has a hero whose journey to adopt the role is in defiance of a parental figure trying to hold them back. So why does it work so much better when it has many of the same elements?

As for the parental-defiance issue, part of it is that it fits the character better. Wonder Woman’s origin story has always involved her defying Hippolyta to leave Paradise Island/Themyscira — and has always had Hippolyta grudgingly accept her daughter’s decision and allow her to make her own path in the world. But Superman’s backstory has usually portrayed Pa Kent as Clark’s inspiration and role model, the one who taught him his value system and implored him to use his gifts to help others. Making Jonathan Kent someone whose advice Clark had to reject in order to become a force for good was too great a change, and too cynical for the Superman narrative. Then again, as much as I hated Man of Steel‘s version of Jonathan, I felt one of the more successful aspects of the film was the way Clark refused to be guided by his father’s fear and pettiness, and instead innately tried to do the right thing. So the thing that worked best about MoS’s Clark Kent is also something that worked about Diana of Themyscira. The difference is, in the case of Wonder Woman, it worked for the parental figure too.

As for the dark and grim subject matter, I think part of the difference is that the grimness was necessary in the context of the WWI setting, rather than just being there for its own sake. More importantly, the difference is that the Snyder Superman films tried to impose the darkness on Superman himself, to make him succumb to it and thus diminish him as a figure of nobility and inspiration. MoS and BvS paid lip service to some people seeing Superman as a savior and inspiration, but they didn’t really earn those reactions because they were more interested in showing Superman failing and struggling than in showing him actually helping anyone. BvS also defaulted to grim version of Batman based on a graphic novel (Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns) that was meant to be an exaggerated, worst-case extreme and that’s too often been misinterpreted as a template for how Batman should normally be portrayed.  But in Wonder Woman, the grimness is around Diana. It doesn’t become a part of her. On the contrary, her basic goodness and compassion stand against the darkness of her surroundings and give hope and inspiration to others. She does what a superhero should do — she makes things better. The darkness is her incentive to shine, rather than something that infuses and darkens her. And though she sees the darkness in humanity, she also sees the goodness and love, and stands up for it and instills it in others. This is what Superman should do. It’s even what Batman should do — by using his own darkness to counter the crime and corruption of Gotham, he brings hope to its people and to its forces of law and order, and by taking Robin under his wing, he gives him a better life and allows him to be purer and happier than Batman was in the same circumstances. But Wonder Woman is the first DCEU protagonist who’s actually done that as a central element of her film.

As for the violence… yeah, I’m not a fan of heroes who kill, so that is an issue for me. But it helps somewhat that it’s in the context of a war story, rather than a crimefighting story where that level of force seems excessive. And it helps more that it’s balanced by the more positive things Diana does. The problem with Superman’s actions in Snyder’s films is that they’re too detached, too impersonal. In MoS, he’s literally on the opposite side of the planet while the people of Metropolis are fleeing in terror and dying in droves, and then he (or rather, Snyder) doesn’t even seem aware of the civilians while he and Zod are smashing up the city. In BvS, his acts of heroism are impersonal vignettes about Superman manipulating big heavy objects, and whatever people he’s helping in the process are barely noticed — whereas the film focuses more on his failures to save people when it bothers to pay attention to him at all. But Wonder Woman’s battles are clearly, centrally about saving people. We see the people she’s helping, and we see her connect to them. So there’s a better sense of who and what she’s fighting for, and a greater emphasis on that human element rather than just nonstop CGI destruction. The climax does get a bit heavy on the CGI for a few minutes, but unlike MoS, it doesn’t grind the story to a halt and lose focus on the human stakes of the battle.

A key difference: In both MoS and WW, the climax has the villain urging the hero to accept his nihilistic view and kill an enemy. MoS has Kal-El succumb to the argument and choose to kill, which means that the villain basically wins the philosophical battle and the hero is thus weakened. But here, Diana makes the opposite choice, sparing Dr. Maru. (At least, I think she does. The editing is a bit unclear, since she seems to throw the tank in the same direction Maru ran, and we don’t see Maru after that. But I presume the intention is that she defied Ares and spared Maru.) Okay, yeah, she also kills Ares, but the difference is, it’s not because he told her to. Both sparing Maru and killing Ares are her own choice, driven by her own judgment. Throughout the film, she had a strong point of view and wouldn’t let anyone tell her what to do. She did listen and learn, did modulate her actions in response to what she learned, but her choices were always her own. Even though I might wish she’d made a different choice in the case of Ares, she still ends up a stronger protagonist than Clark did, because she didn’t just let the villain talk her into abandoning everything she believed in. And her choice not to show mercy to a predator is balanced by the fact that she did show mercy to someone she recognized as a victim.

Of course, part of the reason the film worked so much better than its predecessors is simply that it had a more coherent story with a better narrative flow and pacing. It felt like a normal movie with a good balance of character, action, ideas, emotion, and humor. It wasn’t trying too hard to affect a certain style or attitude as an end in itself, but was telling a story in the way that worked best for that story. And most importantly for a superhero franchise, it was actually about heroism and inspiration.

There was also a lot of respect for the source material, with some nice homages to the comics. There are two points in the film where Diana recreates the pose Wonder Woman struck on the cover of her debut issue — when she smashes through the window to rescue the hostages (I think it is), and in the final shot of the film (though I think she’s in the mirror-image pose there). The montage of her childhood seems to homage the three life stages that were frequently featured in ’50s and ’60s WW stories by Robert Kanigher — Wonder Tot, Wonder Girl, and Wonder Woman. (Kanigher started out telling stories about Wondy’s youth, then got into the habit of doing “imaginary stories” where the child, teen, and adult versions of Diana impossibly hung out together. Then another writer failed to realize that Wonder Girl was a younger Wonder Woman in the past and added her to the Teen Titans comic that was set in the present, so they had to retcon her into being a separate character, and it got immensely more complicated from there.) The climactic battle with Ares even nods at William Moulton Marston’s heavy use of bondage in the early WW comics, when she’s wrapped up and squeezed in the armor plates.

One thing we didn’t get was the name “Wonder Woman” actually being spoken at any point in the film. I think they missed an opportunity to use it in the Veld scenes. It seems that it would’ve been fairly natural for the rescued villagers to call her Das Wunder-Fraulein, and for Steve to translate it into English as “the Wonder Woman.” It was German that gave us wunderkind, after all, so it seems like it would’ve been a plausible origin for the name.

By the way, I’ve seen a number of people say that the Wonder Woman theme used in BvS and here reminds them of a riff from Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” — but I can’t help but notice that it has the same 7/8 time signature and 3-note ostinato as Joseph Lo Duca’s Xena: Warrior Princess theme. Fitting, no?

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: THE FACE OF THE UNKNOWN annotations are finally up!

I’ve been unable to get around to annotating Star Trek: The Original Series: The Face of the Unknown, since I’ve been preoccupied with other projects. The delay in getting my subsequent novel approved and written left me kind of backed up. But I’ve cleared my backlog now, and indeed I’m kind of lacking in things to do at the moment, so that freed me to tackle the annotations at last. As it turns out, they aren’t that long this time:

The Face of the Unknown Annotations

ST Face of Unknown cover

The page is also accessible from the top menu of this site. Hopefully I won’t get delayed so long on future annotations.

DTI: SHIELD OF THE GODS available for preorder!

The conclusion of my Department of Temporal Investigations e-novella trilogy, Shield of the Gods, has just gone up for preorder and had its cover released:

DTI Shield of the Gods cover

An all new Star Trek e-novella featuring the fan-favorite Federation bureau the Department of Temporal Investigations!

The stalwart agents of the Department of Temporal Investigations have tracked down many dangerous artifacts, but now they face a greater, more personal challenge: retrieving a time-travel device stolen from their own vault by a rogue agent of the Aegis, a powerful, secretive group that uses its mastery of time to prevent young civilizations from destroying themselves. Blaming the Aegis itself for a tragedy yet to come, this renegade plans to use the stolen artifact to sabotage its efforts in the past, no matter what the cost to the timeline. Now the DTI’s agents must convince the enigmatic Aegis to work alongside them in order to protect history—but they must also wrestle with the potential consequences of their actions, for preserving the past could doom countless lives in the future!

 

This is a pretty nice cover. It’s a departure from the abstract covers of previous DTI installments, and though it may seem like a generic space scene, it’s actually a pretty good representation of a specific moment from the novella — the moment of arrival in a location that’s pivotal not only to this story, but to the entire sequence of events connecting Time Lock and Shield of the Gods. So it’s a more significant moment than it seems.

Here’s Simon & Schuster’s page for the book, with preordering links at the bottom. The e-book will be released on June 19, a little under 7 weeks from now.

A pretty good day

Well, at least it was better than it has been for a while. About a week ago, I came down with a dreadful cold and fever. For days, I wasn’t up to doing anything but lying down and watching TV or just napping, and I just felt miserable. I spent more time sitting and lying down than is probably good for me, judging from the twinges I was starting to get in my leg.  Yesterday, I finally felt well enough to go get some much-needed groceries, but it was hard to get up the energy to do it, and my joints were sore afterward. But I also felt more energy that evening. I think what happens to me when I have a bad bout with sickness is that the days of inactivity make my metabolism slow down, and eventually it’s hard to tell whether I’m still sick or just stuck in low-energy mode. I think going grocery-shopping helped get the blood flowing again. So I felt more like myself today, well enough to go for a brief walk in the park and enjoy the sunny day. I felt pretty energetic at first, though it didn’t last long.

But when I got home and checked the mailbox, I was surprised to see my last advance check for Patterns of Interference! I only got notification of the approval 9 days ago, so I hadn’t expected to see this check for another week or two. Needless to say, I was quite pleased. It lets me recharge my bank account just in time to pay my rent and some other bills.  Luckily I still had my shoes and jacket on from my walk, since it let me go right back out and drive to the bank right away.

After that, I went to the library near the bank, and I happened upon some nice finds there — the fourth collection of Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s hilarious The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl from Marvel, the DVD of Star Trek Beyond (which I’ve been wanting to see again but haven’t found at the library until now), and all four Hunger Games movies, which I’ve been meaning to check out and watch back-to-back at some point (to date, I’ve only read the books and seen the first two films). Although I realized I haven’t gotten vol. 3 of Squirrel Girl yet, so I requested it, but I’ll have to wait to read that. And a couple of the Hunger Games discs look a little scratched, so I just hope they play back well enough for my binge to work.

So overall, a reasonably good day. Still, one thing I didn’t manage to do was to refocus on the story I’m writing, which I need to do now that I’m feeling functional again. I did get an idea for how to handle the next scene, but actually getting it done is another matter. Anyway, I need to get a move on with this and other projects. It’s cool that I got my check, but it’s a reminder that I need to get more paying work lined up soon.

General update

I’ve been making a bit more writing progress lately. Last week, I received, proofread, and returned galleys for both my upcoming Analog short story “Abductive Reasoning” and my third Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations e-novella Shield of the Gods. I’d been starting to wonder when “Abductive Reasoning” would show some movement toward publication, so this is a good sign, though I don’t know the release date yet. As for Patterns of Interference, I got the word last night that the manuscript has been approved by CBS and my final advance payment is routing for approval even now. I hope it arrives before tax day.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on a review and polish of my previously published original stories with an eye toward putting them together into a collection. That entailed making sure my manuscripts were updated with all the changes made in the final printed versions, except in cases where I wanted to undo those changes or make additional changes. Mostly I tried to be faithful to the published versions, though. Anyway, I’ve gotten that done and now it’s a matter of getting a publisher interested. We’ll see how that goes.  With that and the galleys out of the way, I’ve refocused on some new original stories I was working on last year but had to postpone in order to write Patterns of Interference. Well, I actually kind of got stuck because I started writing a story too hastily, before I really had the whole plot worked out. But coming back to it after a break has helped give me a new perspective, and I’ve worked out a couple of things I was stuck on before.

The new Kroger superstore nearby is open now, and I’ve been there three times already — once on foot, twice by car. It’s nice to be able to make smaller grocery trips when I need a few things, instead of just making 2-3 big trips a month and going without certain things for much of the interim. The new store isn’t as big as the other superstores I’ve been to, since its location is more constrained; in fact, they’ve actually had to put the “behind-the-scenes” employee areas up on the second floor, an unusual feature. There’s also an upstairs area for customers, but I haven’t visited it yet. And the shelf space is a bit less expansive. I read an article claiming that they’d compensate by restocking more frequently, but I’ve already noticed a couple of things that they didn’t have in stock while I was there — although there was one they did have in stock by the time I needed it. Anyway, it’s definitely a lot bigger than the old store, and has a lot more features like a pharmacy, deli, Starbucks, and pizza counter. The produce section is laid out pretty much exactly like the one in the gigantic Kroger that opened a year or two ago across from the movie theater I usually go to; I guess it makes sense that the two most recently built stores would use the same design. But it was kind of disorienting the first time I was there.

Reading-wise, I got a couple of new DC trade paperbacks from the library the other day, the second volumes of Batman: The Golden Age (reprinting all the original Batman comics in order from the start) and Wonder Woman ’77. The latter is theoretically based on the Lynda Carter TV show, but my problem with the first volume was that it didn’t feel like the show, just like generic Wonder Woman stories with the likenesses of Carter and Lyle Waggoner. Much of the second volume is like that too, but a couple of the later stories felt more like the show, or more ’70s-oriented at least. (One story brings back a major villain from the show, and another is steeped in ’70s nostalgia like funk music and CB radio.) As for the Batman volume, it’s good to get to see how quickly the character’s tropes fell into place within the first 2 years. These days, you’ll see a lot of people online claiming that the ’40s Batman was a dark, violent, gun-toting character until the Comics Code crackdown of the ’50s, but that’s just wrong. Even though the first year or two of stories were in a violent, pulpy vein, Batman only rarely used guns in them, though he did kill by other means like breaking a neck with a kick or flinging people off roofs. But as early as Batman #4 in December 1940, the dialogue and narration were insisting that Batman and Robin never killed or used weapons — although exceptions were still being made for causing recurring villains Hugo Strange and the Joker to fall to their apparent deaths, since of course they’d surely survive anyway. And B&R were portrayed in a pretty upbeat way, trading wisecracks and bad puns as they fought villains. Volume 2 shows other familiar Batman tropes emerging in 1941, like the Batmobile (a sleek red convertible with a small bat-shaped hood ornament) and the term “Dynamic Duo.” No Stately Wayne Manor or Batcave yet, though — Bruce and Dick live in a house in the suburbs, with a secret tunnel leading to the barn where the Batmobile is kept.

Food-wise, I serendipitously discovered a nice new way to make a sandwich last week. I decided to make a sandwich with tomato, sharp cheddar cheese, and Romaine lettuce on whole wheat bread with olive-oil mayonaisse and spicy brown mustard, served with a pickle spear and a small amount of olive oil potato chips. It was surprisingly yummy, and I’ve made that combo two more times since then, but somehow they weren’t as good as the first. I also recently discovered a second new type of sandwich that’s pretty good: cheddar cheese and apple butter.

Aside from that, I’ve mainly just been watching TV, but maybe I’ll talk about that later in another post.