Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Random items typed in spare minutes over the course of a day

Star Trek book news tidbit

Over on TrekBBS, Baerbel Haddrell started a thread about a list of upcoming Trek books published in a recent issue of TV Zone. There were a couple of unfamiliar titles. Editor Margaret Clark provided a little more info.

David A. Goodman is writing a book with the working title Decker. A sequel to the TOS episode "The Doomsday Machine," it's about Kirk and Will Decker, son of Commodore Matt Decker, who appears in that episode.

The post-Nemesis TNG novel by Michael Jan Friedman already mentioned here is called Death in Winter.

Well, I did say it was a tidbit.

A Doctor Who kind of day

The adventure begins in a small town, almost more of a village. There's an English pub/restaurant; the customers' accents vary, but the staff speak with Lancashire accents. For the thirstier customers, there's an ESB and a cask conditioned real ale, or a can of Boddington's, the Cream of Manchester. The menu has fish and chips, bangers and mash, mushy peas, chicken curry, and other classic English standbys.

It's a nice, quiet, almost rural establishment. Over near the bar there's a small table with locally made jams and chutneys for sale. It's relaxing and peaceful (though beer can do that anywhere, if consumed in moderation). But what lies beyond this quiet facade?

Not far away, there's a military guard post that doesn't seem to be guarding much of anything. Fences, a parking lot, some hilly terrain... and some odd protrusions from that terrain, definitely manmade. Communications antennas and less identifiable small structures, sheltered by the hillside, catch a visitor's attention. But then one notices the larger structure, which looks a bit like a garage set against the hill.

The door leads into a long tunnel. Halfway down its length, there's a break in the tunnel, blast doors leading to the interior of an underground military base. Decontamination showers. More doors. Down the hall there's a medical facility. There are offices and crew quarters. Stairways lead farther down to more offices, more quarters, a cafeteria, meeting rooms, a radio studio, fitness facilities. A situation room with large maps, computers, and TV equipment. A private suite for the Prime Minister. There's a large generator room and another room with air-scrubbing facilities to provide a constant supply of radiation-free air.

About all that's missing is a few Cybermen or Silurians.

Welcome to the Diefenbunker.

During the Cold War, a bunker designed to withstand a nuclear attack was constructed in the town of Carp, a short helicopter flight away from the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Canada's capital city. Officially referred to as Central Emergency Government Headquarters, it became known as the Diefenbunker because the PM at the time was John Diefenbaker. Not too long after it was constructed advances in ICBM technology made it considerably less likely that there would be enough warning time to evacuate senior government and military officials to the bunker. However, the facility was kept in service as a Canadian military establishment until 1994. It was later reopened as a museum.

It's a neat place, and you really do get that Base Under Siege feeling. You half expect UNIT troops fleeing an alien incursion to appear suddenly from around a corner. Starting the day with lunch at The Swan at Carp just adds to the atmosphere. (It may not for much longer, though, as it's going to be under new management and it's not known if they're planning to maintain the English pub atmosphere.)

A few links:

Official Diefenbunker website

Unofficial site with a few photos

CBC Radio story: Reporting Live From the Diefenbunker

The Swan at Carp

Recent Reading

EC Tubb's first Space: 1999 book since the late 1970s was a reasonably fun read, if not really essential. The adaptation of the episode "Earthbound" stays pretty close to the show as aired, with a little more attention paid to the perspective of Commissioner Simmonds, the political appointee who doesn't really have a place in the new Alpha's power structure. The other two sections, adaptations of early versions of scripts later significantly changed to reflect new producer Fred Freiberger's vision of the series and the resulting cast changes, are more interesting. "The Face of Eden" became the episode "The Immunity Syndrome." It has echoes of a number of other Space: 1999 episodes... a planet that isn't the haven it seems, something that causes people to revert to savagery, and so on. "The Exiles" is closer to the version eventually aired and is rather less interesting as a result. My main criticism would have to be Tubb's characterization. His Victor Bergman just did not seem like the warm and intelligent character played by Barry Morse. Also, Tubb's prose style makes a little too much use of sentence fragments.

I think I shortchanged Jasper Fforde and his third Thursday Next novel, The Well of Lost Plots, by reading it in short and frequently interrupted bursts. As a result, I never really got into the flow of the book and it came across as a choppy series of events that didn't become greater than the sum of its parts. Which is not to say that it wasn't enjoyable. It delves deeper into the Bookworld than its predecessors, it has some relatively conventional mystery elements, and it takes some potshots at thinly disguised real world targets. The introduction of UltraWord as a replacement for Book 8.3 will resonate strongly with people who mistrust the user-unfriendliness of certain proprietary ebook formats.

After watching the Rebus TV series again, I decided it was time to read another of Ian Rankin's books. I read an omnibus edition of the first three books a few years ago and liked them well enough but not so much that I had to rush out and buy the rest. Since then I've ought a much more recent novel and a short story collection and found them much more to my taste, suggesting either that my taste is changing a little or that Rankin improves a bit from book to book. Anyway, I read the fourth book, Strip Jack, and I'll read more. Though so far there's nothing earthshakingly new about the Rebus series, the depiction of Edinburgh and environs and the grim tone add a little freshness to the formula.

(Now playing: Franz Ferdinand, "Take Me Out," Franz Ferdinand.)

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Odds and ends

Ian McLean has just posted about a new Australian Star Trek: The Next Generation jigsaw puzzle book on TrekBBS and PsiPhi. Sounds interesting. No listing on any of the Amazons yet, or Chapters for that matter, but this I swear: I will have a copy of this book.

There's a two-part interview with Manny Coto over at TrekWeb that reinforces my optimism for Enterprise's fourth season. When someone working on the show makes a TOS reference that the interviewer from a Trek fan website doesn't get, that's got to be a good sign. (Or maybe a not-so-good sign about the interviewer; Colonel Green is not that obscure.) Coto comes across as a knowledgeable TOS fan who wants to tie Enterprise more closely to established Trek history, building up to the original Star Trek. It's impossible to recreate that era in television, but it may well be possible to do fresh, new TV that respects and reflects its roots.

I think I failed to note the death of film music composer Jerry Goldsmith not too long ago. He did some exceptional music for Star Trek, especially the score for Star Trek - The Motion Picture, but I also liked what I heard of his other music as well, especially Logan's Run. (Elmer Bernstein's death reminded me of Goldsmith's.)

And speaking of Star Trek music, you can buy legal mp3s of several Star Trek soundtrack albums on eMusic. Most of the soundtracks released on GNP Crescendo are available. And lots of other stuff from hundredsof small record companies. You won't find top 40 material there, but if you have any serious interest in jazz, punk, reggae, alternative, classical, folk, or world music, chances are you'll find something. And for your modest monthly subscription rate you get to download real, honest-to-goodness mp3s, usually high quality VBR, with no digital rights management stuff to make your life difficult.

At least that's how things are today. eMusic is planning some big changes next month, not all of which have been announced yet. They're bringing in some editorial staff (including Michael Azerrad, author of the essential Our Band Could Be Your Life). Whether they're making any other changes remains to be seen. I hope it continues more or less as it is now, though. Today marks the beginning of a new month in my subscription so I've got 90 fresh downloads... but I already used up a lot downloading albums by Tanya Donelly, the Church, Mission of Burma, and Lata Mangeshkar (each song on an album counts as a download, but you can choose to download individual songs or whole albums). It's addictive.

(Now playing: Lata Mangeshkar, "Aaj Jagraata Hai," Mata.)

Friday, August 13, 2004

Not Just a Geek

I'm about halfway through Wil Wheaton's new book, Just a Geek, and I recommend it highly. It's not a memoir of his time on TNG; instead, it's a book about his struggle to find a life for himself in the years since he left the show and failed to get the major movie career he (not entirely unreasonably) expected would materialize. It's open, candid, honest, and sometimes emotionally wrenching.

So long, TrekRPGNet...

Don Mappin, Trek RPG writer for Last Unicorn Games and Decipher, has announced that he's shutting down the TrekRPGNet website. It's not a complete surprise, because a lot of the content that had been there has been gone for some time, and the forum was the main thing still going. But it was a pretty busy and informative forum, even for a guy like me who doesn't actually play role playing games but likes the books.

Though he's dropping the site to focus on work, his family, and life in general, Don apparently doesn't think the near future is going to be a great time for Trek RPG players. Decipher has little to no intention of publishing the RPG material they've announced and postponed, and they're trying to sell the game to another company. Not that there are as many companies as there used to be, nor is there as much interest in Star Trek as there used to be. I'm not even a gamer and I've found Decipher's actions frustrating. I can only imagine what someone who plays and really cares for the game feels now.

I'm probably going to have to fix a few links on my website. Among other things, TrekRPGNet was once the place to get the electronic versions of a couple of books from the Last Unicorn Games version of the Trek RPG that just missed been published when Last Unicorn lost the licence. There's still the new version of the Decipher website, but I suspect that'll be gone before long.

(Now playing: British Sea Power, "Carrion," The Decline of British Sea Power.)

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Hal Schuster is driving me mad

If you were a Star Trek fan in the mid-1980s to early '90s and ever set foot in a bookstore or comic shop, at some point you must have noticed some shoddily produced magazine-sized trade paperbacks about Star Trek that clearly weren't official. Some of them essentially were magazines, but they became more booklike as the years went by.

It started back around 1985 with the first Star Trek Files Magazines and ended ten years and over a hundred publications later. Not that I was paying all that much attention at the time. Schuster's stuff was overpriced and not very well distributed, making it easy to miss for someone who wasn't quite the rabid completist that I am today. So I didn't buy much of it and even now I'm not making a serious effort to track it down. Considering how often the same material was recycled from publication to publication, it just doesn't seem necessary. Not that they didn't occasionally cover aspects of Trek that Pocket hadn't yet dealt with, like unproduced TOS episodes and Star Trek Phase II... but for the most part they were eminently skippable.

Well, I'm on my latest roughly annual attempt to update and improve the Hal Schuster page on the Complete Starfleet Library website. John Patuto, of Cygnus X1 fame, emailed me not too long ago to let me know that he had a few more issues of the Star Trek Files Magazines, the hardest Hal Schuster publications to nail down, and that helps. I've only just noticed that Files Magazines did a series of issues on the first four movies written by John Peel and then another series of Files on the first four movies written by Ed Gross. That's just the beginning of the fun. Schuster's quality control doesn't help. One of the last few books had four slightly different titles, depending on whether you checked the front cover, the back cover, the title page, or the verso. An earlier one named one author on the cover and another on the title page.

If anyone out there reading this has a reasonably complete collection of these darn things, please, please let me know. I've had help from a couple of other people besides John in the past, but there must be more than half a dozen people who bought any of these books.

(Now playing: Ultravox, "Life at Rainbow's End," Ultravox!)

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Roddenberry Effect?

SyFy Portal has a story on a book that Eugene W. Roddenberry, son of Gene Roddenberry, is hoping to put together. Roddenberry wants fans to send a photograph and a paragraph of text that in some way demonstrates the "Roddenberry Spirit" in action. It's a kind of strange idea, it seems to me, but if you want more detailed information you can find it at the official Roddenberry website.

In other news, my copy of Wil Wheaton's book, Just a Geek, arrived from Amazon yesterday. It draws on Wheaton's blog, as his previous book, Dancing Barefoot, did, and it recycles a story from Dancing Barefoot, but instead of being a thin trade paperback this one is a fair-sized hardcover. I haven't read it yet, but I have to wonder how many books you can get out of a blog.

(Now playing: Current 93 and HOH, "Passing Horses," Island.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

How did I miss this?

Todd Kogutt, a.k.a. Scav, posted this cover art over on Psi Phi about three weeks ago. Plush Porthos stars in the little-known Enterprise/TOS crossover novel. Guess I haven't caught up with everything yet since my week or two of being mostly offline.

(Now playing: The Postal Service, "Such Great Heights," Give Up.)

Star Trek: The Key Collection is here!

I mentioned this in the blog once or twice when I was wondering if it would ever actually show up. My comic shop finally got my copy last week. So, here's a version of the comments on the book that'll be going on the Complete Starfleet Library website in the next day or two (I have a couple of other items to add, too).

This is a reprint of the first eight issues of Gold Key's Star Trek comic, first published in the late 1960s. Though to some extent modeled on the old Enterprise Logs collections from the 1970s, there are significant differences for better and for worse.

The good news is that this is a nicely bound book with sturdy, glossy pages. All eight issues are reprinted in full.

The downside? Well, the little extra features added to the first Enterprise Logs are not included, which may annoy completists. Much more important is the problem with the colour. Where the hell is the blue? Compare page after page even to an old, yellowing newsprint copy of Enterprise Logs, and you'll see that the colours here just aren't right. I wonder if the green shirts (instead of yellow) worn by Kirk and other Enterprise crew members looked like an error to someone at Checker, who colour-corrected much too vigourously to make the shirts look closer to yellow. Unfortunately, this changed the look of a lot of the other art. It's too much to expect that original inked pages without colour could easily be found, allowing for new colour work to be done, but I doubt that this is the best that could be done.

And the stories still aren't very good. The comic did get better over the years, and I think any hardcore TOS fan should at least take a look at this (for nostalgic reasons if nothing else), but I can't honestly say these are good in any universally shared meaning of the word "good."

Still, even though I have the four Enterprise Logs collections already, plus almost all of the other Gold Key issues, I'm looking forward to more volumes in this series (volume 2 is scheduled for September). I hope they fix the colour problems. And I hope they reprint the entire run of comics.

(Now playing: Devo, "Beautiful World," New Traditionalists.)

The Richard Arnold Project

Many years ago, when Gene Roddenberry was still alive and The Next Generation was on the air, there was a man who had great knowledge and great power. His name was Richard Arnold, he was Roddenberry's assistant, and he was able to have books and comics cancelled at whim, acting in Roddenberry's name if not necessarily always with his knowledge. He saw himself as Roddenberry's right hand, keeping the expanding Trek universe consistent with his vision of Roddenberry's vision.

And then Roddenberry died and Arnold was escorted off the Paramount lot by security. No job, no power, no insider status. And yet he still makes a living as a supposed insider while pushing his vision of Roddenberry's vision. Fortunately, the licensed Star Trek properties, especially the books, are doing just fine without him.

Arnold's current highest profile job is writing the Data Access column for Star Trek Communicator, the magaine of the official fan club. It's becoming regularly more difficult to understand how he manages to keep this job. So, this marks the beginning of the Richard Arnold Project, a study of some of his responses in his column. I may go looking for other classics in past columns, in which he has occasionally had to be corrected in parenthetical remarks from the editor, and in which he can reliably be expected to (a) glorify Saint Gene and (b) condescend to anyone who reads Trek books. I may also comment on future installments of the column. Or this may be a one-off, inspired by the brilliance of the Data Access column in Star Trek Communicator 151. We may never reach such dizzying heights again. If we're lucky.

Let's take a look at this issue's column.

The second question, from Steve Cramsie of Poway, CA, asks about a reference in the text commentary on the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan DVD mentioning that there was supposed to be a scene in which Sulu mentions his coming promotion to captain. Arnold's reply begins, "This is one of those questions that opens a can of worms and requires tact to answer." He says that there was supposed to be such a line but that it was cut because it didn't aid the story or the plot. Takei has blamed Shatner for this for years, Arnold reports, but he adds that director Nicholas Meyer told him that "the line was not cut to slight George but to move the film along. He also said that Bill had nothing to do with the editing of the scene. Sorry, George!"
So... let's go to George Takei's version of the story. On p.339-340 of the hardcover edition of To the Stars, Takei's autobiography, Takei reports that the scene was shot, but that Shatner deliberately played it badly, so that it wouldn't be usable. He says nothing about Shatner being involved in editing. Looks like Arnold is misrepresenting Takei's complaint and being condescending, too.

The third question, from Massimiliano Saporito of Sormano, Italy, notes that Leonard Rosenman swiped his end credits theme from the animated version of Lord of the Rings for the closing credits of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, asking what Arnold thinks. Arnold replies that it's a common practice and provides the similar example of James Horner recycling Battle Beyond the Stars for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. So far, so good. Then he asks, "how many times have you heard Trevor Jones's score for 1981's Excalibur used in trailers and wondered where you've heard it before?"
It's almost certain that Arnold is thinking of "O Fortuna," that bit of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana that was used in Excalibur and has been used in trailer after trailer after trailer. It's a strong, evocative piece of music written by a composer who has been dead for some time and doesn't need to be paid. You hear Gustav Holst's "Mars, Bringer of War" from The Planets used quite often in the same way. I don't know about Jones's music.

In the fourth question, Daniel Mosier of Chesapeake, VA asks for the name of the Federation President in ST VI. Arnold replies, "The answer is... drum roll, please... 'the Federation President.' (Sorry, but anything from the books or games is unofficial.)"
Technically, he is correct. However, it would be every bit as correct to say, "Sorry, no name was established for that character. In the script, he is simply referred to as the Federation President." And leave it at that. Or he could have said, "In her novelization of the movie, J.M Dillard created the name Ra-ghoratrei for that character, but as no name was established in the script or onscreen, that name is conjectural. On the other hand, the name is unlikely to be contradicted onscreen, so if calling him that makes you happy, knock yourself out." If another name was given somewhere else, he could have said, "There is no official name for that character, but in the novelization he was called Ra-ghoratrei and in (possible other source) he was called (possible other name). They're both equally valid conjectures, not binding on the writers of the movies and TV series, but you're certainly free to think of him as either one." So instead of being helpful and offering a friendly reminder about Trek licensed products not being canonical, he refuses to give any information and takes a potshot, seemingly out of nowhere, at the books.

In the eighth question, Thomas Pawelczak of Alden, NY refers to Arnold's saying that Starfleet is not a military organization and mentions Franz Joseph's Trechnical Manual to support his argument that it is. Arnold cuts the letter off and then goes into a rant:

"I needn't go any further in quoting your letter, as it only goes on to quote articles, chapters and paragraphs from an unauthorized work of fiction written in 1974 by an author who had nothing to do with the original Star Trek series. The fact that Star Trek's creator, Gene Roddenberry, stated repeatedly that Starfleet was not a military organization says it all. Anything else is only wishful thinking on the part of fans who cannot accept that Star Trek is what Gene said it was and not what the fans or the authors of the books say it is."
First, Roddenberry did indeed say Starfleet was not a military organization, but he said that long after TOS was over. There is a great deal of military terminology in The Making of Star Trek (which Roddenberry was involved in and aproved of): references to orders, captains, security, weapons, ranks, and starships named after historic American military ships. If it has guns and ranks, and fights wars, like, say, Starfleet, it is at least reasonable to say that Starfleet has a military component. We've seen it in action in every incarnation of the series.

Second, by Arnold's reasoning, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise are not Star Trek, because Roddenberry was not involved in their creation or production. There are certainly fans who hold to that point of view. But they don't write columns for the official magazine, which does treat them all as part of the greater Star Trek universe.

Third, there's the tone. He cuts the writer off and then berates him and, by extension, anyone who reads or writes the books. It's hard to see how this meets the needs of the readers of the column.

In the final question of this column, Todd Walkenhorst of Lincoln, NE, asks whether Enterprise's Linda Park and Battlestar Galactica's Grace Park are related. I'm frankly amazed that this one made it into the magazine. Arnold's response is absolutely classic, the standard by which all others must be judged. he mentions that Park "(or more accurately, 'Pak')" is the Korean equivalent of Smith, a very common surname. Then he says, "So while it is a possibility that Grace Park could be distantly related to Linda Park, it's not necessarily the case. But who knows?"
Who knows? Who knows?!

After showing off some knowledge of Korean names our Trek expert (trekexpert@earthlink.net) blows off the question. Very helpful, Richard.

The only way his answer could be anything remotely in the neighbourhood of helpful would be if a sentence at the beginning had been accidentally cut off. Such a sentence might say, for example, "Using the connections I have that make me qualified for this job, I asked both Linda and Grace if they were related, and they didn't know of any close family connection." And then he could go into the very common name business. But he didn't. We don't know if he actually tried to find out. His response to this question boils down to the words "Who knows?" Which might well be the response to the question, why does he still get published?

(Now playing: Porter Hall, TN, "Don't Bury Me," Welcome To Porter Hall, TN.)

Friday, August 06, 2004

Enterprise is looking more and more promising...

Trekweb reports, and John Ordover confirms, that Star Trek novelists Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens are joining the Enterprise staff as story editors. I've already been intrigued by the news that Manny Coto will be running the show and some announced plans for tying the show more closely to the Star Trek universe as we know and love it. All this should be enough to make up for Evil Alien Space Nazis. I hope.

I don't think I've read a novel by the Reeves-Stevenses I didn't like. I do think their collaborations with William Shatner go way over the top, but it's hard to judge which party is responsible for making the survival of the universe in the 24th century depend on the resurrected James T. Kirk time and again. It might be the Reeves-Stevenses doing that. I dunno. But even those preposterous stories are well told and have lots of good moments.

Federation is still frequently mentioned by fans as an all-time favourite, years after much of it was contradicted by the film Star Trek: First Contact. That's because it's a damn good story. Their Millennium trilogy was not only an epic adventure in its own right, it also tied in with The Fallen, a DS9 computer game that I enjoyed for many, many hours.

The Reeves-Stevenses have also written some essential nonfiction books on Star Trek, most notably The Making of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Phase II: The Lost Series.

So I'm happy about this.

Speaking of The Fallen, I just noticed that there's some people working on a new mission for the game. See the Fusion Creative Design site for more information.

(Now playing: Cecil Taylor Unit, untitled track, Live in Bologna.)

Thursday, August 05, 2004

News roundup, not necessarily all that new...

Not too long ago, I posted about some news from Shore Leave and other sources. And then I was interrupted by life. Here's a quick roundup of some more Trek and other book news.

Star Trek: The Original Series

William Shatner and his usual Trek novel collaborators, Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens, are working on a series tentatively titled "The Academy," about Kirk's days at Starfleet Academy, drawing on references from TOS and the movies.

Margaret Wander Bonanno is writing a Captain Pike novel, David R. George III is doing a TOS trilogy, and there'll be a TOS short story anthology, all due in 2006 for the 40th anniversary.

S.D. Perry is doing a pre-TOS novel featuring Leila Kalomi, who appeared in the episode "This Side of Paradise."

Pocket is publishing Terry Lee Rioux's biography of DeForest Kelley.

Oh, and Checker's reprint collection of the first eight Gold Key comics is finally shipping. My copy's waiting at my fave comic shop.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Here's a little more info on the two post-Nemesis TNG books I mentioned last time. Michael Jan Friedman is writing Sonnets, a book about Picard and Crusher's relationship. J.M. Dillard's novel "will introduce the new Enterprise-E command staff."

Another book apparently tying in with the A Time to... series is Keith RA DeCandido's Articles of the Federation. IIRC, this was once planned to be part of that series, but grew into something bigger. Imagine the Federation presidency, West Wing-style.

Wil Wheaton's nonfiction book, Just a Geek, is out now. Just ordered a copy from Amazon.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Looks like Una McCormack's book. previously mentioned here, may be called Hollow Men.


The Mangels and Martin writing team are working on a novel about the MACOs, with the unofficial in-house title of Squids and Sharks.

The links will take you to more information and let you know who you have to thank for bringing you this news. (A lot of it is from Jackie Bundy at TrekToday.)

Meanwhile, over in the world of Doctor Who...

Mad Norwegian, publisher of the I, Who guides to the Doctor Who novels and the Faction Paradox novel line, has announced a new series of six books looking at the TV series in depth. About Time will have a book each on the Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, Tom Baker, and Davison eras, and a single book covering the shorter Colin Baker, McCoy, and McGann eras of the show.

(Now playing: XTC, "All Along the Watchtower," White Music.)