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STAR TREK: LIVING MEMORY cover art!

I saw that the cover art for Star Trek: The Original Series — Living Memory started to show up on the Trek news sites the other day, but it wasn’t up on Amazon yet, and I wasn’t sure if the version that was posted was the final draft, so I held off posting it here until I was sure. I forgot to check regularly, but I confirmed today that the final version is out, so here it is:

Star Trek Living Memory cover

I was hoping that Uhura would be featured on the cover, since part of the reason I wrote this book was because I felt I was overdue to give her a focus story. It also makes sense to feature Captain Spock, since this is my first book where he’s in that role throughout. Plus we’ve got Reliant photobombing the cover en passant, as it’s making a return appearance after The Higher Frontier (gotta get Chekov in there somehow, plus I like writing Captain Terrell).

Here’s the description again:

An all-new Star Trek movie-era adventure!

While attempting to settle in as commandant of Starfleet Academy, Admiral James T. Kirk must suddenly contend with the controversial, turbulent integration of an alien warrior caste into the student body—and quickly becomes embroiled in conflict when the Academy controversy escalates to murder. Meanwhile, Captain Spock of the USS Enterprise and Commander Pavel Chekov of the USS Reliant are investigating a series of powerful cosmic storms seemingly targeting Federation worlds—unstoppable outbursts emitting from the very fabric of space. Endeavoring to predict where the lethal storms will strike next, Spock and Chekov make the shocking discovery that the answer lies in Commander Nyota Uhura’s past—one that she no longer remembers….

™, ®, & © 2021 CBS Studios, Inc. STAR TREK and related marks and logos are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Preorder links are here:

Living Memory will be released on June 15, less than three months from now. Getting closer!

2021 STAR TREK novel overview on TrekCore

I posted the news recently about Star Trek: The Original Series — Living Memory, my upcoming novel for this June. Now we have descriptions and information for most of the Trek novels being published this year, and TrekCore has done an overview of them, including a bit of entirely plausible speculation about Living Memory.

For some reason, there’s a gap of three months after January’s Picard: The Dark Veil by James Swallow, but we’re going back to monthly releases from May onward, and you can read more about them at the link.

Announcing STAR TREK: LIVING MEMORY

February 9, 2021 4 comments

Simon & Schuster has now posted the title and blurb for my new Star Trek novel, and the data has started to go out to the major book vendors, though some of the links only have tentative listings so far. So here it is:

Star Trek: The Original Series — Living Memory

An all-new Star Trek movie-era adventure!

While attempting to settle in as commandant of Starfleet Academy, Admiral James T. Kirk must suddenly contend with the controversial, turbulent integration of an alien warrior caste into the student body—and quickly becomes embroiled in conflict when the Academy controversy escalates to murder. Meanwhile, Captain Spock of the USS Enterprise and Commander Pavel Chekov of the USS Reliant are investigating a series of powerful cosmic storms seemingly targeting Federation worlds—unstoppable outbursts emitting from the very fabric of space. Endeavoring to predict where the lethal storms will strike next, Spock and Chekov make the shocking discovery that the answer lies in Commander Nyota Uhura’s past—one that she no longer remembers….

™, ®, & © 2021 CBS Studios, Inc. STAR TREK and related marks and logos are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Preorder links are here:

As you can tell, this is another installment in my post-Star Trek: The Motion Picture novel continuity, which was revived last year with The Higher Frontier (and which at this point has become more of a pre-Wrath of Khan continuity). Living Memory takes place during the gap between The Higher Frontier and Part Two of Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again.

Living Memory is scheduled for release on June 15, 2021, just over four months away. I’m surprised it took this long to announce it, but that means you guys don’t have to anticipate it for too long. And it probably means it won’t be too long before there’s a cover reveal. Stay tuned!

The DTI comes to STAR TREK ADVENTURES in “Another Roll of the Dice”!

February 2, 2021 1 comment

I finally have a new Star Trek Adventures standalone RPG campaign to announce, and it’s a fun one.

Star Trek Adventures: Another Roll of the Dice

Experience time travel and engage Tzenkethi raiders!

“Captain’s Log: We have been ordered to suspend our routine patrol of the Tzenkethi border and proceed to the nearby Federation colony Natsumi’s World, where we will take aboard two agents of the Federation Department of Temporal Investigations. As usual, the DTI has provided no details, stating merely that we are to place ourselves at the disposal of the agents and follow their instructions. Thus, I have no idea whether to prepare my crew to face some unimaginable existential threat or, far more likely with the DTI, days of tedious routine and bureaucratic obstruction.”

When the player characters receive an assignment from the DTI to deliver a powerful alien artifact to DTI facilities, they are soon set upon by Tzenkethi raiders. The ensuing skirmish destabilizes the artifact’s energy field, and the characters discover that they have somehow changed into alternate timeline versions of themselves! Can the characters deal with the sudden changes in themselves and the rest of the crew, and also figure out how to get back to their own time, all the while battling the Tzenkethi?

This standalone 20-page PDF adventure by Christopher L. Bennett is for the Star Trek Adventures Roleplaying Game and is set during The Next Generation era. This adventure also contains advice for adaptation for use in campaigns based in other Star Trek eras. Download includes a regular version and a printer-friendly version.

Yes, it’s the triumphant return of Agents Lucsly & Dulmur! And it’s consistent with my DTI novels and novellas, while still standing alone as a game scenario.

Normally I’d talk more about the story and my creative process behind it, but I’ve already done that for the STA blog, in a piece that also went live today. You can read it here:

https://www.modiphius.net/blogs/news/sta-blog-another-roll-of-the-dice

Another Roll of the Dice is available as a downloadable PDF at the following links:

And this won’t be my last STA standalone. Another new one is currently wending its way through approvals, and I’ve just gotten started on writing a third. And I’ve begun talking with my editor Jim about something new and different on the horizon.

Starting anew

Well, here we are at the start of 2021, which will hopefully be the year we climb out of the hole we collectively sank into in 2020. So far the climb is definitely happening for me. I have money in the bank again, and I have more on the way. I turned in that new novel manuscript on schedule, after doing a few revision passes and incorporating some very useful notes from my consultant, and I was notified this morning that the payment is being processed and should be in my bank by next week, which is nicely prompt. And I’m making excellent progress at outlining what comes next. (Still waiting for it to be formally announced so I can say more.) I’m really feeling upbeat this past week or so, happier than I’ve felt in probably the past few years. That’s both from the financial relief I’m getting from this project and the creative satisfaction and fun of writing it.

Oh, and I got a call today from my eSpec Books editor Danielle McPhail, telling me that my author copies of Arachne’s Exile and The Arachne Omnibus are on the way, including a copy of the hardcover edition of the omnibus. That should be cool to have, a nice companion piece for the Only Superhuman hardcover on my shelf. I find it ironic that this duology that I initially wrote as a single book and then decided would work better as two books has ended up being available as a single volume after all. Anyway, Amazon has been showing the omnibus as one of the most popular books on my author page, though its sales rank listings don’t seem to agree. I wonder if popularity is calculated based on views rather than sales. (Also, for some reason Amazon isn’t showing my books on my author page at the moment.)

I got the aforementioned call while I was in the middle of trying once again to jump-start my car to go pick up groceries (which is why I was a little curt on the phone, Danielle, sorry). Yes, even though I drove around for half an hour 12 days ago to charge up the battery, it was drained once again. (The post title has a double meaning, see? See?) I didn’t think it had been that long; I’d been planning to go to the grocery store sooner this time now that I had a bit more money. But between my reluctance to drive in chilly weather (which makes my car sluggish for the first few minutes it’s running) and my preoccupation with finishing the manuscript, I let a whole two weeks go by between grocery trips and the battery ran dry again. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if it’s really just the car’s lack of use, or if there’s some glitch in the electrical system draining the battery.

The portable jump-starter power pack was acting weirdly again too; the power lights wouldn’t go on. Yet nonetheless, it successfully started the car. I don’t know what happened there, but I’m glad it worked after all. Still, I’m getting tired of having to jump the car every time I drive it. Maybe I need to take a longer drive soon, to charge the battery more fully. Or maybe I need a better battery. (What I really need is a better car, but my finances haven’t improved that much.)

One good, minor bit of car news, though, is that for once I remembered to write down my end-of-year mileage for tax purposes. Usually I forget until March and have to reconstruct my travels in the interim to estimate how much to subtract from my current mileage. This time I finally have an exact figure.

Anyway, for a moment it looked like I wasn’t getting the usual text from the grocery store asking me to approve their product substitutions, and I hoped I’d finally get everything I ordered, including the vegetarian Italian sausages I really love and haven’t been able to find since the pandemic started. But it turned out the text just came a bit late, and they did substitute a couple of items, including those. So I do have veggie Italian sausages, but a different brand, and just basic Italian instead of the really good sun-dried tomato and basil flavor. Hopefully they’ll be a reasonable substitute — or at least better than the veggie kielbasa I got as a substitute last time I tried buying those sausages (which was, wow, all the way back in May).

Oh, and I also made a second try at buying a frozen pizza, a Mediterranean veggie variety. Last time I tried ordering it, they put a spinach and mushroom pizza in with my order even though the receipt showed it was the Mediterranean one, and I don’t like mushrooms (though these were tolerable). This time, I finally got the right pizza, so that’s something. But ironically, they made the exact same mistake with my veggie burgers, substituting the wrong flavor even though the receipt shows the right one! (The online page also says that the cheese singles I ordered were out of stock and substituted with… the exact same cheese singles. Huh??)

I’ll close with a reminder — if you read either of the Arachne novels or the duology, please post reviews or at least ratings on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever. The more reviews the books get, the more awareness there will be for them.

Taking stock as life settles down a bit

I think I’m in a pretty good place right now, relative to how things have been for the past few years and especially this year. I just finished that novel manuscript I’ve been working on, more than a week ahead of schedule, so I have time to tweak it and send it to a friend for consultation on his area of expertise. The writing on this one went really smoothly. I really struggled with the Star Trek novel I was working on before then, since I was dealing with depression and anxiety from being broke and isolated, and I had a really hard time overcoming writer’s block. But I guess I was feeling better with this new project, more optimistic, plus I was able to keep up the momentum I finally gained in the last week or so of the Trek novel, and maintained good writing habits so I didn’t lose it, managing to write at least something every single day.

Although I suspect maybe coffee was a factor. During my long period of depression this year, I started to suspect that coffee was giving me anxiety attacks, so I mostly avoided it unless I was really sleepy, and just had tea. But I eventually figured out that coffee was, at worst, amplifying the anxiety I was feeling for other reasons. I resumed having a cup every morning toward the end of my Trek novel to give me an extra boost, and I kept it up throughout this new novel, and I wonder if that made the difference. I remember that I had a similar amazing burst of productivity about five and a half years ago, not long after I first started drinking coffee (see Coming up for air). But it didn’t persist later on, so I started to question if there was any correlation with coffee. Maybe it’s a function of starting to drink coffee regularly after being off it for a while. I gather the body become desensitized to caffeine over time.

Anyway, it also helped that I was really enthusiastic about this new project, which was enormous fun to write. And it helped that it had a big, long, busy climactic sequence; things like that really give me a lot of momentum, as opposed to a more fragmented plot structure with lots of different threads of action happening separately. (Something to keep in mind in the future.) So I wrote a really huge amount, nearly 15,500 words (more than 20% of the total) in the final four days. When I managed to produce more than 4500 words on Thursday, I felt exuberant. But by Sunday, I was more like, “Help! How do I stop myself? My arms are so tired!”

But now I’m done with my first revision pass and have a week left to deadline, plus I’m waiting for my consultant’s comments, so I have time to relax a little and take stock before moving onto the next thing. It’s not easy to get back into that mode, though, after these past few months of having to write as fast as I could to finish two consecutive novels in time to avoid going broke. To paraphrase Doctor Who: “Robot,” I’ve been cultivating a sense of urgency for quite a while now, and it’s weird to think that I can finally relax, at least for a little while.

But it helps that some aspects of my life are starting to stabilize a bit. I have money in the bank again from the Trek manuscript, and once I get the payment for the just-finished novel (which I think will be announced quite soon so I can finally be more specific), I’ll be even better off. I was finally able to buy some stuff that I’ve needed for a while. For one thing, I bought some adaptors so that my Micro-USB charging cables will be compatible with my new phone’s USB-C connector. Which means I can finally use GPS in my car again (not that I’ve needed to anytime this year), and I expect Google Maps to work much more smoothly on the new phone than on the old one, which evidently didn’t have enough RAM for it or wasn’t up-to-date enough and kept crashing on Maps these past couple of years. Indeed, since the new phone came with its own charging cable, that means I can keep my 6-foot cable in the car permanently for keeping the phone charged on long drives — although I still don’t expect to be taking any until at least late next year, given how long it will probably take to get the pandemic under control.

Still, I’m thinking I should try it out with a test drive soon, probably today. I’ve needed to use my battery pack to jumpstart the car the past two times I’ve gone for groceries, which tells me I need to take it for a longer drive to build up a fuller charge. I gather it’s best to drive for at least half an hour every month or so to keep it charged — though I’m starting to suspect the problems with my car’s electrical system might be draining the battery, or maybe it’s just not a great battery, though at least it’s just draining and not dead.

My recent purchase also included a replacement for my old 2-quart water bottle that I kept in the fridge and also used for travel. I’ve been using an empty apple juice bottle as a substitute, but the narrower spout was less than ideal and I wasn’t confident about how safe or durable that plastic was for long-term reuse. It’s a relief to have a new bottle of exactly the same kind as the old, a nice feeling of restored normality.

I was also using an empty juice bottle to store iced tea in. I’d worked out a system where I’d fill the bottle with 3 pints of cold water, then steep two iced-tea bags (making 1 qt each) in a measuring cup with 1 1/2 cups of water, then add sweetener and lemon juice to the concentrated tea, fill the measuring cup with a further 1/2 cup of ice and cold water, let it cool a bit, and then use a funnel to pour it into the juice bottle. But again, I wasn’t confident about using those bottles long-term. So I bought a new pitcher that I thought I’d use for iced tea. But it was too small, with 2 quarts filling it nearly to the brim. But I quickly realized: my orange juice pitcher is larger, and one can of juice concentrate only makes around 1 1/2 quarts. So I’m now using the new pitcher for orange juice and the old pitcher for iced tea. Which is fine except that the new pitcher’s lid is much harder to turn in place or pull out. Still, it’s an improvement over the juice bottles.

So things feel a bit more normal now. I do still have some writing work I need to get to soon, but no firm deadlines on anything yet, so I should take advantage of the respite and give myself a chance to slow down and relax. I’ve been enjoying this burst of productivity and I’m afraid I’ll have trouble getting it back again once I let it lapse, but I can’t keep driving myself this hard indefinitely. Hopefully I can remember the good writing habits I’ve cultivated lately and have an easier time getting back into the groove later on. Being more financially stable and less desperate should help. But for now, I think I’ve earned a rest.

This is a good day

December 14, 2020 5 comments

Look what the UPS guy just dropped off!

(That’s my phone screen reflected in the cover, so technically this is one of those infinity images…)

Yes, I finally have my author copies of Arachne’s Crime! Now I can confirm the page numbers on my annotations, so expect a major website update very soon.

Also today, I finally got my manuscript delivery advance for my next Star Trek novel, which hopefully will be announced before much longer. Once again, I managed to get an advance just in the nick of time before I ran out of money to pay my bills. And this really should be the last time I get that close to the brink, because I’m already working on that other big project I’ve been hinting at, which should be announced later this month. That project, along with my other various, increasingly diverse sources of writing income, should bring me enough over the next year to pay off my debts at last. Beyond that, my long-term goal will be to keep earning enough to accumulate some real savings for the future, and I hope I can continue to gain Patreon subscribers and novel buyers to help me out with that. But I can finally be confident that I’ve broken the cycle of climbing a little way up from the brink and then sliding back again.

Also today, I got a book sent to me as a gift from my cousin, a Harley Quinn graphic novel by Mariko Tamaki, who’s new to me but whom I’ve heard good things about. I’m glad my cousin texted me to remind me, since I was distracted by the whole Arachne thing, and by trying to get my selfie to work. (My new phone is very hard to keep a grip on when it’s out of its makeshift case. Why do they make these things so slippery? Probably to make more money selling phone cases.)

And of course, today is the day the Electoral College makes it official, and the day people start receiving the first COVID vaccines. So it feels like today — Monday, December 14, 2020 — is the official beginning of the end of the bad times, although climbing back up will still take time and work, both for me and for the country.

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:

https://www.simonandschuster.com/c/ebookpromoaugust2020

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.

Watch my Shore Leave 41.5 panels!

While it’s too bad that current circumstances prohibit gathering for the Shore Leave Convention this year, the good news is that the virtual panels we’re holding in its place can be watched online by anyone! Just go to the Shore Leave website’s Past Events – Shore Leave 41.5 page and click on “Watch the Panel” below any one you’re interested in, and you’ll be taken to the YouTube page for the video.

For my panels in particular, I’ll post them right here. First up is the panel I participated in two weeks ago to talk about the upcoming Star Trek: Strange New Worlds TV series focusing on Captain Pike, Spock, and Number One (which, if you think about it, is arguably the first Trek series that isn’t a spinoff, since it’s finally taking the original pilot to series after 57 years).

Second is the panel I was on earlier today, the Shore Leave Authors’ Summer Book Release Party! (exclamation point included). This is the closest thing we could manage to the Friday Night Meet the Pros event, gathering as many authors as we could (13 in all) to talk about our respective upcoming projects, Arachne’s Crime in my case. This one was recorded in Zoom’s Speaker Mode rather than Gallery Mode, so you’ll see us one at a time rather than Brady Bunch/Hollywood Squares style. I show up about 31 minutes in.

Apologies for the poor image quality; as I mentioned in the first video, I have a pretty old webcam on my desktop computer. Although I did manage to improve my lighting situation this time around by using my bicycle’s detachable headlamp as a frontlight (with a tissue wrapped around the front as a diffuser).

Keep an eye on the Shore Leave 41.5 Schedule page for more panels, which are planned to come out every other Saturday into October at least. Hopefully I (and my hat) will be in a few more.

Remember, the Shore Leave STRANGE NEW WORLDS panel is tonight!

One last notice — I’m on the virtual Shore Leave panel discussing Star Trek: Strange New Worlds at 7 PM EDT tonight! You can register for a “seat” in the audience here, with no Zoom account required:

https://www.shore-leave.com/programming/schedule.htm

 

Categories: Star Trek Tags: ,

Announcing STAR TREK ADVENTURES: THE KLINGON EMPIRE Core Rulebook

I have a bit of a surprise announcement for a Star Trek project I contributed a little bit to and have only just been cleared to talk about. Star Trek Adventures is releasing an alternative version of its Core Rulebook, told from the perspective of (and entitled) The Klingon Empire rather than Starfleet.

STA Klingon Empire Core Rulebook

 

According to the StarTrek.com press release:

This core rulebook contains the same rules presented in the Starfleet-focused core rulebook released in 2017. The award-winning design team, including 2d20 developer Nathan Dowdell, took the opportunity to edit and streamline the rules chapters based on fan feedback since the game’s launch, and introduce new rules for reputation, honor, glory, and house management. Now, for the first time, you and your fellow players can create your own noble Klingon House and seek out glory. Everything you need to create brave Klingon warriors and fearsome Klingon warships are available for you to use.

In addition to the revised rules, the book contains extensive chapters on Klingon history, culture, politics, military, and planets. Players have more than a dozen Klingon starships to choose from and make their own, creating their own ship to crew and take into battle. Players will be able to play Klingons from most any Star Trek era, including pure-bred Klingon warriors as well as those afflicted with the Augment Virus, the QuchHa’. Fans of Star Trek: Enterprise, The Original Series, and The Next Generation era will all find materials to use in their games and play in any time they choose.

 

The STA creative team headed up by Jim Johnson called on a bunch of Trek Lit writers to contribute various material to the book, with Klingon authority Keith R.A. DeCandido contributing a considerable amount of content. Other contributors familiar to Trek Lit fans include Derek Tyler Attico, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Scott Pearson, Dr. Lawrence M. Schoen of the Klingon Language Institute, and Dayton Ward. My own contributions are relatively minor (several of the Non-Player Character descriptions, just a few pages’ worth), but I’m in there somewhere.

The new rulebook is available for preorder here:

Star Trek Adventures: Klingon Core Rulebook

Buyers will immediately get a free PDF preview version of the book, with the physical book shipping in the fall or whenever it becomes feasible given the current state of the world.

So remember, a Qapla’ a day keeps the Fek’lhr away. Or something like that.

This year, Shore Leave comes to you!

That’s right, in the topsy-turvy Bizarro universe we now inhabit, Shore Leave, the convention named for the act of going away from where you usually are to somewhere else, is doing the opposite of that. Since none of us will be physically traveling to Hunt Valley, MD for Shore Leave 42 until (we hope) next year, we will instead be holding Shore Leave 41.5 — The Virtual Experience, using Zoom and other online means to make content available to the public.

The event will be on the weekend of July 10-12, starting this Friday, and so far we’ve got several Zoom panels lined up, as well as virtual versions of the usual filk concert and Saturday night Masquerade. The schedule is available here:

https://www.shore-leave.com/programming/schedule.htm

Since it’s a lighter schedule than usual, and they want to make room for all the guests, each “attendee” will only be doing one panel this weekend, though I gather there’s further content being tentatively planned beyond the weekend. My one panel will be right at the start on Friday at 7-8 PM EDT, a discussion of what we expect and hope for from the upcoming Star Trek: Strange New Worlds series featuring Captain Pike. I’ll be joined on Zoom by John Jackson Miller, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Michael Jan Friedman, Dayton Ward, and Amy Imhoff.

Now, what I’m wondering is, should this event instead be called Shore Arrive?

Categories: Star Trek Tags: , ,

How well do I Bechdel, updated

It’s been nearly four years since my “How well do I Bechdel?” post, where I assessed the gender inclusiveness of my fiction by applying the famous Bechdel test (an imperfect but useful assessment for an aggregate body of work, as discussed in the original thread). I was surprised at how poorly my original fiction came out, since so much of it is female-centric, but the problem was that it was mostly short fiction that often centered on one male and one female lead. Anyway, I’ve had a significant number of new stories and novels published (or due for publication) since then, so I figured it was worth updating the list.

To recap, a work of fiction passes the Bechdel test if it meets three criteria:

  1. It includes at least two named female characters…
  2. who have a conversation with each other…
  3. about something other than a man.

There’s also the related Mako Mori test for works with only one female lead; such a work can pass if:

  1. It includes at least one female character…
  2. who has her own narrative arc…
  3. that isn’t about supporting a male character’s arc.

Of course, as I mentioned last time, passing the test doesn’t guarantee a work isn’t sexist, or vice-versa, since it’s more about the aggregate than an individual work. A great example I came across a while back is the Roger Corman horror movie Forbidden World (1982). The movie passes Bechdel handily thanks to a scene where the two female leads have a lengthy conversation with each other about how to communicate with the monster attacking their lab… however, the entire conversation is conducted while they’re fully frontally nude together in a futuristic shower. Indeed, they’re treated throughout as sex objects and victims. So Bechdel alone is not a definitive assessment. But then, part of the point is that it’s an absurdly low bar to clear, so there’s no excuse for so many stories in popular culture to fail it.

So let’s see how my total body of work stacks up now. My first post covered my published or pending works up through Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown from January 2017. Most of my published works since then have been original, so we’ll start with those. In publication order, and including sold works awaiting publication:

“Twilight’s Captives”: Passes Bechdel. The female lead Madeleine Kamakau discusses the rescue of hostage children with the mother of one of the hostages, as well as with a female alien leader and an alien of a third “brooder” sex using a female pronoun. An asexual, non-gendered alien also has conversations with several female characters.

“Abductive Reasoning”: Fails Bechdel, but passes Mako. A two-hander between an alien female and a human male, but the alien’s pursuit of her own goal (which involves reconciling with her sister) drives the story.

“Hubpoint of No Return”: Ambiguous pass. Nashira Wing and the female alien Tsshar have a conversation that is partly about rescuing the male lead David, but evolves into one driven primarily by Nashira’s own agenda. Passes Mako twice over, as both Nashira and Tsshar have their own independent agendas shaping events.

“Aspiring to be Angels”: Passes. Emerald Blair and a female scientist have several discussions about the driving concepts and themes of the story, with the male lead only occasionally discussed.

“…And He Built a Crooked Hub”: Limited pass. Nashira converses with several female characters about various matters, although her overall goal is to locate and help David. (Also contains a metatextual joke about this very subject.) Not a Mako pass; three female characters (Nashira, Yldai, and Tsshar) have narrative arcs (i.e. storylines that develop and resolve rather than just unchanging motives/goals), but all are about David in some way.

“Hubstitute Creatures”: Limited pass. Nashira argues with a female colleague about her work (though her relationship with a male character is brought up) and discusses a medical matter with a female alien doctor. Mako pass, since Nashira’s personal agenda and narrative arc drive the story.

Crimes of the Hub: The new bridging material added for the collection includes one scene that passes, where Nashira speaks with two female colleagues (one human, one not) about their respective careers.

“The Melody Lingers”: Fails Bechdel and Mako. There are two primary named female characters (arguably three, but one isn’t truly present), but they have almost no direct interaction except through the male viewpoint character, and neither has an independent arc (one is subservient to him and the other is reacting against him). But this is arguably more a feature than a bug, since the intent is to critique and challenge the viewpoint character’s self-serving treatment of women.

“The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of”: Barely passes Bechdel. There are several named female characters discussing the artifact around which the story revolves, but they’re mostly discussing it with the male lead, and there’s only one paragraph in which one woman addresses another. Probably passes Mako, as Captain Veronica Moyo has a clearly defined agenda that, while it ultimately puts her at odds with the male lead, is not specifically about him, and her actions in pursuit of her goals are a primary catalyst of the story’s events.

“Conventional Powers”: Full pass. Emerald Blair discusses multiple subjects (largely her own actions, aspirations, and beliefs) with at least five other women, four of them named (or at least code-named).

“The Cat Who Chased Her Tail Through Time” (Patreon): Full pass. My debut Patreon story is a self-indulgent piece I wrote long ago about my cats, so it has no “onscreen” human characters except myself; but all but one of the cats in the story are female and they interact and discuss a great deal; also, the story is catalyzed by the actions of two female humans based on my two best friends from college.

“The Moving Finger Writes” (Patreon): Borderline pass at most. There are several named female characters, two human and two alien, but the two female aliens only briefly converse to establish their kinship, and all other conversations are with or about males. Probably a Mako fail; several female characters do have their own independent agendas, but their narrative purpose is to support and advance the male lead’s arc.

“They Also Serve” (Patreon): Fail. Emerald Blair is the only female character, and she’s merely the audience for Arkady’s narrative about meeting his husband.

Arachne’s Crime (upcoming): Full pass. There are multiple central female human characters, a female-identifying AI (Arachne), and a genderfluid alien species for which 3/4 of the most prominent characters are female for most or all of the narrative. They have numerous conversations and debates about a wide variety of topics. (Includes the events of “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” discussed in my previous Bechdel post, with most of the conversations mentioned there present here as well.)

Arachne’s Exile (upcoming): Full pass. There may be a higher ratio of female-male interactions to female-female ones here, but there’s still a number of the latter, and one of the two female leads becomes a more active driver of the narrative and shares several scenes with a female alien ally discussing various topics (spoilers!).

“Comfort Zones” (Kickstarter bonus): Pass. Has two main female characters who discuss their respective future plans and debate exploration policies.

“Vein Glory” (Kickstarter bonus): Only 2/3 Bechdel pass, Mako fail. Two named female characters who speak to each other, but only about matters pertaining to the male lead.

So… as of my previous post, my original fiction had 6 Bechdel passes out of 10, many of them borderline. Now I make it 18 out of 27, so I’m up from 60% to 67% (and only three unambiguous Mako fails) — a moderate improvement, though it could be better. However, I’ve succeeded in substantially improving LGBTQ representation in my original fiction, since about half of the above works feature overtly LGBTQ characters, 7 feature same-sex romance or attraction (8 if you count an ambiguous same-sex kiss), and three feature characters (mostly nonhuman) of non-binary sexuality. And 100% of my novel-length original works (Only Superhuman, Arachne’s Crime/Exile, and Crimes of the Hub as a fixup novel) succeed at both Bechdel and LGBTQ representation. It’s easier to achieve with novel-length works where there are more characters and interactions.

And now my comparatively few Star Trek works:

DTI: Shield of the Gods: Passes, briefly. Two female Aegis agents discuss their business.

ENT: Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference: Passes, though not extensively. Caroline Paris and Kivei Tizahr get acquainted; Devna and Maras discuss various matters (including but not limited to a male character); Tizahr discusses transporter ethics with Regina Tallarico (and two male crewmates); etc.

TOS: The Captain’s Oath: Moderate pass. It’s mainly from Captain Kirk’s perspective and relies on TOS characters, so it’s strongly male-centric, but there are a few Bechdel-passing scenes between female characters original to the novel, mainly Starfleet/Federation personnel discussing their work or crisis situations, though there is also a close female/female friendship depicted between Kamisha Diaz and a Caitian classmate. Mako pass, since several female characters have independent agendas and arcs.

TOS: The Higher Frontier: Moderate pass. As before, most of the passing scenes are between book-original characters, including Reiko Onami returning from Ex Machina, but Miranda Jones has a conversation with Chief DiFalco from ST:TMP, and there’s a scene or two of Uhura reasoning with a (more or less) female community leader of a group of aliens (though a male community leader is also involved). A strong Mako pass, as several female characters’ agendas drive much of the narrative.

Before, 20 out of 23 Trek works passed the full Bechdel test, though all passed at least one part. Now I make it 24/27, bumping up the percentage slightly from 87% to 89%. On the LGBTQ inclusion front, there are prominent/returning bisexual characters in the DTI novella and the ENT novel, although The Captain’s Oath only manages a few incidental references. The Higher Frontier establishes one returning Ex Machina character as lesbian and another as bisexual, but only in passing.

In the case of my Star Trek Adventures RPG campaigns, it’s impossible to assess whether they pass, since of course I have no idea who the Player Characters would be in a given gaming group. But as far as Non-Player Character interactions go, Call Back Yesterday, The Whole of the Law, and Stolen Liberty have only one named female NPC each; The Gravity of the Crime has several prominent female NPCs who interact with each other; and Hard Rock Catastrophe has three named female NPCs, two of whom share a scene but do not necessarily address each other directly (depending on how the Gamemaster plays the scene). So only Gravity is a guaranteed pass; the rest depend on who the PCs are and how and whether they choose to interact with the NPCs.

So overall, a limited improvement, but I think it stacks up pretty well. Since Bechdel is more of an aggregate assessment, it may be unreasonable to aim for 100% success; an overall success rate of 2/3 or more across an entire body of works is reasonably good. After all, the goal is diversity; there’s nothing wrong with stories centering on male leads or a single male-female pair, just so long as they’re part of a wider mix instead of crowding out more female-centric stories.

(Just a reminder that you can find more information and purchase links for these publications elsewhere on the site, by following the menu options up top. And if you read them, please post reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and the like; the more reviews a publication gets on Amazon, the more its visibility improves in searches.)

StarTrek.com talks to me about THE HIGHER FRONTIER

A new interview with me has just gone up on StarTrek.com:

Star Trek’s Higher Frontier is Out Now

I talk about my inspirations behind the book, the importance of TOS to me, and so on. I also just noticed that I mistakenly gave the impression that Marvel’s 1996 Star Trek/X-Men crossover came out after my 2005 novel Ex Machina — I got a little confused there. But never mind that part.

I also mention my Patreon page, so hopefully that’ll attract some new patrons.

Shore Leave on hold

Unsurprising but sad news — the organizers of the Shore Leave convention have prudently decided to postpone Shore Leave 42 until July 9-11, 2021.

They’re not calling it a cancellation, just a postponement, since the guests are still committed and tickets already purchased can be saved for next year unless the buyers prefer a refund. But effectively it’s still the same — no Shore Leave this year.

This is sad for me, since I haven’t missed a Shore Leave since I started attending in, I think, 2005. That’s 15 consecutive years, and this breaks my streak. Although in a way, it doesn’t — I’m not actually missing the convention because it’s not being held. It’s just taking twice as long between consecutive ones.

As it happens, I never committed to come this year, because I was waiting until my finances improved, and then when COVID-19 happened I waited, just in case this happened. But hopefully by next year, things will be safer and I’ll be back along with the other guests. Although I believe we’ll need to establish a thorough nationwide testing and containment protocol first, a way to identify and isolate infected people so everyone else can resume normal lives — something that still seems quite far away under the current status quo.

For now, though, we’ll just have to stay in touch online through blogs, Facebook, and other outlets. I should have Arachne’s Crime and hopefully Arachne’s Exile coming out soon, plus there’s my Patreon page and this very blog. Some people have organized virtual conventions of sorts online, so maybe we’ll see something like that happening.

For now, though, everyone stay safe. Think about it! We get to help save the world by staying home, reading, and watching TV! What could be a more worthy mission for sci-fi nerds? 😀

HIGHER FRONTIER annotations are up!

It’s been over a week since The Higher Frontier came out, so I figured I might as well go ahead and post the annotations (beware of spoilers):ST Higher Frontier cover

https://christopherlbennett.wordpress.com/home-page/star-trek-fiction/tos-ex-machina/tos-the-higher-frontier-annotations/

Also, just a reminder that I’ve started a Patreon page where I’ll be posting reviews and original short fiction:

https://www.patreon.com/christopherlbennett

I hope those of you who enjoy The Higher Frontier will consider signing up for at least the $1/month “tip” level. If enough of you did so, it would help me a lot while costing you very little. Although if you sign up for the higher levels, you’ll get original content in return.

Also, please remember to rate or review the book on Amazon, Goodreads, and the like, no matter where you bought it. The more reviews a book gets, the more it’s boosted in Amazon’s search algorithms.

STAR TREK: TOS — THE HIGHER FRONTIER is out!

I’m a couple of days late to announce it, but Star Trek: The Original Series — The Higher Frontier is now on sale!

ST Higher Frontier coverStar Trek: The Original Series — The Higher Frontier

An all-new Star Trek movie-era adventure featuring James T. Kirk!

Investigating the massacre of a telepathic minority, Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise confront a terrifying new threat: faceless, armored hunters whose extradimensional technology makes them seemingly unstoppable. Kirk must team with the powerful telepath Miranda Jones and the enigmatic Medusans to take on these merciless killers in an epic battle that will reveal the true faces of both enemy and ally!

Available at:

 

This is the first time I’ve gotten to work in the post-TMP setting in nearly eight years since DTI: Forgotten History, and the first time since Ex Machina 15 years ago that I’ve been able to do an entire novel in that setting, rather than sneaking in continuations within other projects. To commemorate this, I’ve reworked my Ex Machina page into an overall post-TMP page putting all the relevant discussions together in one place for convenience, aside from DTI:FH, which is technically in a different series and whose dedicated page has several comments, so I figured it was better to leave it separate. You can find it here:

TOS: Motion Picture Era

Scroll down to the bottom to find discussion on The Higher Frontier, since it’s chronological. (One thing I miss about my old HTML web page is that you could link to different anchor points within a single page for quick navigation. I’ve never figured out how to do that in WordPress.)

As usual, spoiler annotations should follow before too long.

 

Reaching a crisis point

February 29, 2020 5 comments

For the past few years, I’ve been caught in a pattern I don’t know how to get out of.

Before then, for more than a decade, I managed to get by modestly on my income from Star Trek novels and occasional original fiction. So I settled for being a full-time writer and didn’t try very hard to pursue alternatives. Then Pocket Books’s Trek license came up for renewal and was badly delayed, so for more than a year I wasn’t getting Trek work. I kept being told it would resolve fairly soon, and I was expecting income from several other sources that I was told would pay off fairly soon, so I just waited for those payoffs, and they all improbably got delayed at once, so I ended up very nearly broke, coming close to the brink of not being able to pay my rent or my bills anymore.

Eventually, I got help from family and from reader donations, and then Trek contracts started to come through again, but even those advances were not frequent or large enough to do more than let me ease away from the brink for a few months and then wind up back on the edge before I could find other work. Because I’ve been a full-time writer so long, I never developed the skill of looking for other kinds of work. I’ve gotten a few interviews here and there, but none have led to a job.

All of this, I realize, has left me suffering from depression, something I’ve been wrestling with on and off all my life. The closer I get to the brink, the worse my depression and anxiety become, which makes it harder to look for work or find solutions. I keep hoping a new Star Trek contract will come through in time and give me enough of  a financial cushion to find a more lasting solution. But depression doesn’t go away that easily. Every time I do get a novel advance or a loan, I try to take some time to recover emotionally and work on my writing for a while, thinking “It’s okay, I have some time before I have to start seriously looking for other kinds of work.” But because depression makes it harder to work, I always take longer than I expected and lose track of time. And I always underestimate how quickly I’m losing money, because I keep forgetting to account for the massive credit card fees that effectively cancel out my efforts to pay down my debt. And once I notice that I’m too close to the brink again, I start panicking again, and the cycle continues.

I’ve known for a while now that I had to stop depending on Star Trek alone as my lifeline. I needed to reorient my life and find some stability, and just get out of this rut I’ve been in for years. But I was slow to act on that, clinging to the hope that rescue would come in the nick of time as it has so many times before. (Being depressed is weird. I keep bouncing back and forth between “I hate being trapped in this rut and need to make a change!” and “I’m afraid to change anything, I just want to stay in my rut where it’s safe.”)

Now, though, I know that’s not going to happen. I assume that, with fewer Trek novels per year these days, and with the uncertainty resulting from the new Trek shows and the re-merger of CBS and Viacom, I can’t rely on Trek offers coming my way like clockwork, and can’t pin my hopes on something materializing just in time. It’s already too late for that now, with tax time looming. I’ve feared this for years, but have still clung to the old way and just hoped things would go back to the way they were somehow. And as a result, I now find myself at a crisis point where I have to change.

Even before I recognized this, I’d begun making some efforts to look for work. I’ve continued to submit game outlines to Star Trek Adventures and I’ve been working on those, but they pay a lot less than a novel and I have to wait for approval. I’ve made a connection that could potentially lead to other tie-in work, but I’m still waiting for an opening to emerge. I have my Kickstarter coming up for Arachne’s Crime sometime soon, but I don’t expect the royalties from the novel or its sequel to be anywhere near the size of a tie-in advance. I’ve joined an online audio transcription service, though it’s turned out to pay hardly anything. I’ve applied to work for the 2020 Census — no reply yet. This past week I found a temp agency that specializes in creative work and signed up for it, hoping that its agents would help me find work since I’m so bad at looking for it myself; but it turned out that it’s more just an online job alert service that informs me of opportunities to apply for, and I’m still waiting for results. Last night I thought I’d found a good option in a freelancer service called Upwork, but on further examination, it seems I’d have to pay to make bids for work with no guarantee of a return on my investment.

It’s not all bad news. I’ve actually made a few hundred bucks this past week or so, helping to stem my losses slightly. I got paid for a bit of Star Trek Adventures writing that I did last year but can’t announce yet. I got a refund on the last monthly bill I paid after I cancelled my cable, which I was apparently charged in error. And I finally got some overdue Only Superhuman royalties that had fallen through the cracks. But it’s not nearly enough, especially with tax time looming in six weeks or so.

The realization that this time I’m definitely not getting a new Trek contract in the nick of time has been terrifying. When it finally hit me, my depression and anxiety reached levels I don’t think I’ve felt since an epic bout of unrequited love back in college 30 years ago. I’ve been going through ups and downs since then, and I’m hampered by the fact that every time I try to confront the situation to look for a solution, it just brings back my anxiety and makes it harder. (I got maybe 3 hours of sleep last night, tops.)

I know this is a very personal thing to broadcast to my fans, but I realized I need to talk about this for my own mental health. I need to share it with someone, and because of my (inherited) proclivities toward depression and self-isolation, I don’t really have any family or good friends close at hand to unload my burdens on, and haven’t done enough to cultivate what local friendships I do have. I’m not always comfortable talking on the phone, I never got the hang of texting, and I’m too broke to go out much, so my online life is really the only way I have of reaching out to friends and family. And my fans have been a great comfort to me these past few years, through your generosity and patience. You’ve been part of my support structure too, and I’m very grateful. (But I’d be glad to hear from any family and friends who wanted to reach out more privately.)

I’ve been giving serious thought to starting a Patreon page. That way, instead of periodically and haphazardly begging for donations all at once, I could offer my fans regular new material in exchange for small, regular monthly donations. It seems a natural thing to migrate my movie and TV reviews there and start monetizing them. (There is a way to add a Patreon plug-in to an existing WordPress blog like this one, but I’d have to upgrade and pay a fee, and I don’t know if I’d make enough profit to offset that.) I’d also try to offer original fiction content alongside the reviews. I have a few unpublished stories I could premiere there, along with my three published but uncollected stories, and maybe some deleted scenes from Only Superhuman, worldbuilding notes, behind-the-scenes stuff like that. I think I might have enough to provide fairly regular content for several months, and if that were profitable, it would hopefully give me time and incentive to create new reviews and original fiction for the platform on an ongoing basis. My fans have been so generous with your donations that I hope a lot of you would be willing to invest a few dollars per month to read my reviews, original fiction, essays, and the like.

But again, getting a Patreon page up and running and earning a profit would take time, and wouldn’t help enough in the immediate term to get me through tax time. It’s the same boat I’ve been in for years — none of the plans I’ve already made or can make going forward will pay off soon enough.

In the meantime, I’m always open for reader donations, and my book sale and naming rights bonus offer are still on. I hate having to keep pleading to my fans and offering so little in return, which is why I’m hoping to make the jump to Patreon. But I’m hopeful that by now I’ve planted enough seeds that something will start paying off soon and finally help me get out of this rut over the months ahead. It’s just that, one more time (and hopefully for the last time), I need some extra help staying afloat until they can.

GENESIS II/PLANET EARTH addendum: STRANGE NEW WORLD (1975)

Back in 2013, I posted my thoughts on Gene Roddenberry’s two failed pilots from the early 1970s, Genesis II with Alex Cord and its retooled version Planet Earth with John Saxon, both about a 20th-century man named Dylan Hunt who awoke from cryogenic suspension in a post-apocalyptic future and worked with an idealistic organization named PAX (or Pax, depending on the version) to try to rebuild civilization. In that post, I made the following remarks:

Planet Earth didn’t succeed as a pilot any more than its predecessor did… However, in 1975, ABC attempted to rework the post-apocalyptic premise one more time without Roddenberry’s involvement, keeping Saxon as the lead and retaining the name Pax, and using the Trek-inspired title Strange New World, but changing the rest of the premise and the character names… So it doesn’t count as part of the same series and I haven’t bothered to track it down.

Well, on a whim, I finally decided to track Strange New World down on YouTube and see if it was as bad as I’d heard. And it certainly is a mess. Nominally, they changed the premise and characters enough to make it legally distinct from Roddenberry’s creation, so he’s not credited for the production in any way. Which seems iffy, since the idea clearly did originate with Roddenberry, but it seems to have been an amicable arrangement, with Roddenberry moving back to Paramount to work on reviving Star Trek while allowing Warner Bros. to carry forward with this retooling of his concept.

But it’s a half-hearted retooling. They didn’t even bother to film a proper introduction to the new characters and ideas. Instead, the first 3 1/2 minutes of the 2-hour pilot (an hour and a half without commercials) are a prologue in which Saxon’s new lead character Anthony Vico tells the whole backstory through narration. In this version, PAX is a 20th-century organization that Vico works for along with co-stars Dr. Allison Crowley (Kathleen Miller) and Dr. William Scott (Keene Curtis, who would later play Grand Moff Tarkin in the NPR radio adaptation of Star Wars). The three are in experimental cryogenic stasis in a space station, which saves them from a cataclysmic, entirely offscreen “meteor” bombardment that destroys civilization (not sure whether they dropped the nuclear war to differentiate it from Roddenberry’s premise or to avoid controversy). They wake up 180 years later and descend to Earth to search for the PAX base where their friends and families await them in cryosleep (reminiscent of the Logan’s Run series leads searching for “Sanctuary,” even driving a similar ground vehicle). It’s a lot less effective to be told all this through narration than it would’ve been to actually see the characters’ initial reactions to waking up to find civilization in ruins.

The prologue is followed by what are essentially two routine hourlong episodes, and would probably have been re-edited as such had it gone to series. It feels like they’re trying to have it both ways, loosely continuing from the Planet Earth setup without actually using that setup. Oddly, there seem to be two different versions of the movie available, showing the two halves in the opposite order from one another.

In the version I saw on YouTube, the first “episode” turns out to be ten months after the prologue (despite some initial narration that makes it seem like mere days) and carries its own title, “Animaland.” It’s a rather dismal piece in which the trio winds up in the ruins of a nature preserve and get caught in a longstanding conflict between its protectors, who follow a holocaust-era game warden’s manual as their holy writ, and the near-savage poachers who have to hunt the game to survive. Allison gets captured by the wardens on suspicion of poaching and tries to win over their leader (Ford Rainey) and his heir apparent (Gerrit Graham) with her talk of being from the past and having knowledge to share, while the men end up convincing the poachers to help them break in to find Allison, with Vico making the incredibly reckless choice to give the head poacher (Bill McKinney) a deadly flare gun if he helps them. Eventually, the trio win the trust of the game wardens, then stay to help defend them from the poachers’ attack that Vico essentially caused, then convince them to change their rigid laws to make peace. I lost interest halfway through, then came back later and watched a lot of the rest at accelerated speed. The whole thing was quite darkly lit and slow-paced and not at all good.

The other half is a completely unconnected episode, though no separate title is shown onscreen. It’s a moderately more interesting, more sci-fi story where the trio are captured and subjected to eerie high-tech medical scans (involving solarization/overexposure effects to create some effectively weird and surreal images), then wake up in a utopian society called Eterna, albeit one that dresses them up in faux-Roman robes (with Vico in an oddly skimpy red toga). Their leader, the Surgeon (The Andromeda Strain‘s James Olson, not to be confused with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen), and his assistant, Tana (two-time Bond girl Martine Beswick), seem welcoming enough, but Vico doesn’t trust the situation and hotheadedly beats up and accidentally kills a guard (Reb Brown), who later sits up in his coffin at his joyous “funeral.” Turns out this is a group of immortals who’ve lost the ability to reproduce and have survived by cloning themselves and harvesting their clones for replacement parts — an idea similar in some respects to Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “Up the Long Ladder” 14 years later. The Surgeon is actually a 200-year-old former student of Dr. Scott, now suffering from the onset of dementia (though they still called it “senility” then) and hoping Scott will replace him as leader. Scott is tempted by Eterna’s scientific advances, leading to a rift with the aggressive, mistrustful Vico. But the cloning has cost the Eternans their natural immunity — they only survive thanks to a decontamination field that keeps germs out — and they hope the immunity factors in the trio’s un-cloned blood can cure them. So Scott participates in forcing Vico and Allison to become unconsenting blood donors — so much for medical ethics. But when the less invasive Plan A fails and Plan B calls for taking all of their blood at once (pretty shortsighted, since they could make more if kept alive), Scott helps Vico break free, and Vico starts a fight that gets ridiculously out of hand and destroys all the clones and the decontamination field, so all the Eternans die instantly from germ exposure. Yes, our hero just committed genocide. It’s a rather ghastly, morally bankrupt ending to a story that, while somewhat cliched, did have some interesting character work with Scott and the Surgeon.

Overall, Strange New World is a massive failure as a pilot. Vico is much less appealing than Dylan Hunt; he’s a dumb macho hothead quick to violence and paranoia, with no evident conscience or concern for anything except his own group’s self-interest. He’s basically a caricature of a generic 1970s action hero — right down to being given a gratuitous, completely unmotivated and chemistry-free makeout scene with Martine Beswick merely because such things were mandated for ’70s action heroes. As for Allison, though she does some effective reasoning/peacemaking with the game wardens in “Animaland,” she’s basically just there in the Eterna segment, and the actress does nothing of note with what little she’s given. Dr. Scott has the most interesting characterization of the three, though mainly in the Eterna segment and largely by default.

What’s surprising is that this pilot was directed by Robert Butler, who also directed the pilot episodes of Star Trek and Batman (and later Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman). He had a reputation as a go-to pilot director, yet the directing here was weak and lackadaisical, like he was phoning it in. Maybe he was uninspired by the script. Of the credited writers, Ranald Graham and Walon Green were both novices with no former science fiction credits (though Green would later co-write WarGames, Solarbabies, and RoboCop 2 before eventually becoming an executive producer on Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, and several Law & Order series), and Al Ramrus was mostly a documentary writer who’d plotted one episode of The Invaders.

It goes to show that, while Gene Roddenberry had his weaknesses as a writer and never managed to get any SF shows other than Star Trek off the ground, he was still better at SF than most of his contemporaries in ’70s TV, save his own former collaborators like D.C. Fontana and David Gerrold. SNW followed the same essential format that G2/PE would have, aside from the altered backstory and characters, but the results are much shallower and dumber.

It’s interesting how many mid-’70s shows had this same general format of characters wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape and encountering a variety of weird, isolated cultures-of-the-week — see also Ark II (1976) and the TV adaptation of Logan’s Run (1977), as well as the 1974 Planet of the Apes TV series to an extent. Come to think of it, all three of those aired on CBS, the network that had previously turned down Genesis II. Maybe CBS’s execs just liked the premise and kept trying to make it work. Though apparently getting ABC interested was a harder sell.

It occurred to me briefly to wonder if maybe ABC and Warner Bros. might have gotten far enough along with Planet Earth to commission additional scripts or story outlines, or to sign up John Saxon for some sort of additional commitment, before the network decided to pass on it. If SNW had just been a way to amortize their investment in a pair of additional scripts, I figured that could explain the halfheartedness, and why the pilot is just two standalone episodes glued together. But on reflection, the stories don’t really feel like they were based on Planet Earth proposals, since the characters are too different.

More likely, it’s just that Strange New World is a cheaper version of the premise. It’s the same format as PE but with three leads instead of four, a simple ground vehicle instead of the more elaborate subshuttle sets and miniatures, and no PAX headquarters sets or recurring cast members. Relegating the space station sequence to a few shots in the intro was a lot cheaper than doing a proper origin episode (and the space FX shots may even have been stock footage, though I can’t find evidence of that). Making a pilot movie that could be recut into two standard episodes would also save money. So would hiring less experienced writers and producers. So that’s probably what it all boils down to — Warner Bros. retooling the premise to be cheaper in the hope that it would then be more appealing to a network.

Anyway, I have now put far more thought into analyzing Strange New World than it really deserves. It’s a weird, half-hearted afterthought of a project, a mere footnote to G2/PE, far less worthy of attention than its preceding pilots or its contemporary post-apocalyptic shows (and none of those were all that great anyway). If not for the peripheral Star Trek connection, it would probably be entirely forgotten. I was right to skip it the first time.

STAR TREK: THE HIGHER FRONTIER cover revealed!

December 23, 2019 4 comments

The cover to Star Trek: The Original Series — The Higher Frontier has hit the Internet, so here it is:

ST Higher Frontier cover

And the blurb:

An all-new Star Trek movie-era adventure featuring James T. Kirk!

Investigating the massacre of a telepathic minority, Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise confront a terrifying new threat: faceless, armored hunters whose extradimensional technology makes them seemingly unstoppable. Kirk must team with the powerful telepath Miranda Jones and the enigmatic Medusans to take on these merciless killers in an epic battle that will reveal the true faces of both enemy and ally!

The blurb on the rear cover is a bit different, so here it is, along with the rear side of the wraparound cover image (though I’m told the “Following” is going to be rephrased to “Several years following” to be more accurate):

ST Higher Frontier rear cover

 

I got my first look at the cover a couple of weeks ago. I like it a lot. It’s a very striking and distinctive approach, a lovely piece of art, and along with the font, it has a retro feel that’s very interesting. I would’ve rather had the TMP-era logo, ideally, but the TOS logo works aesthetically with the rest.

And yes, that is an Andorian Kumari-class or similar cruiser on the cover, flying over the icy surface of Andoria with its gas-giant primary in the sky. That and the blurb should give some hints about at least one aspect of the novel’s storyline.

The Higher Frontier is due out in trade paperback, e-book, and audio formats on March 10, 2020, and is available for pre-order at: