Friday, October 29, 2004


The forums are back online (and have been for some time now, though I was late noticing, of course). The good news for people interested in Trek RPGs is that the forum is back. No good news about any of the remaining Decipher books actually being published, unfortunately, and no good news for the employees recently laid off by Decipher.

And speaking of noticing things, last Friday's post about all the places to discuss Trek books is now outdated. Pocket upgraded to a new forum at;f=3. Looks like a much better interface than the old one. Maybe I'll hang out there a little, too. Another place to promote the ol' Complete Starfleet Library could be handy. Especially since there are only about a dozen pages left to redo (not that all the redone pages have actually been uploaded yet).

Finally, if you haven't seen it yet, the transcript of the chat with Margaret Clark and Michael Jan Friedman is worth reading.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Now, that's more like it.

Enterprise must be getting better. Laura didn't fall asleep.

"Home" should probably be considered the real beginning of the fourth season. The Xindi arc is over, the Temporal Cold War is over, and some of the Enterprise crew are back home on Earth. It isn't home for all of them, though, as some xenophobes remind Phlox. Meanwhile, we see Archer trying to get away from everything because he hates what he had to become in the Expanse. And, in another, meanwhile, the T'Pol/Trip storyline takes a few steps forward.

It's not as if we haven't seen most of this stuff before. There were echoes of "Family," the TNG episode that followed "Best of Both Worlds," and of course "Amok Time," our introduction to Vulcan customs. But it all worked pretty well. It really did feel like something of a rebuke to previous seasons of Enterprise: Archer questioning his actions, humans being bad guys instead of Vulcans, and a visit to Vulcan itself.

Coto is apparently continuing the third season's move to more serialized storytelling, which I'm glad to see. We may get to see elements of the original Star Trek with a more current style of TV writing. The early seasons of Enterprise offered the opposite: strangely old-fashioned writing telling stories that seemed to have little connection to the Star Trek universe.

Of course, it could all go straight to hell. But my optimism remains.

Now, if I can get my hands on a copy of Farscape: The Peacekeeper War, I'll really be happy. Nobody seems to be showing it in Canada.

Star Trek book news tidbit

The third volume of Alva Underwood's Star Trek Reader's Reference series is apparently out now. I've ordered it through but it looks like it may take a little while. Like the first two volumes, it's published by a vanity press, Authorhouse, formerly known as 1stBooks.

Underwood is taking on a daunting task and not necessarily going about it the best way. She's doing a Star Trek Encyclopedia-type of companion to the novels, but for only a few years per volume. So if you want to find out which books Harb Tanzer appeared in, for example, you'll need to look in more than one volume. And the books aren't appearing very quickly. The first was originally due to be published back around 1998 but was delayed by the initial publisher going out of business. It appeared in 2001. the second book made it into print in 2002. In late 2004 we're getting the third book, covering 1984-85. At this rate Underwood is losing ground.

Still, I think it's worth supporting the project. There are very few books about Star Trek books, and anything that demonstrates that we're willing to buy them has to be a good thing. Of course, the one I'm really waiting for is Jeff Ayer's Star Trek Fiction Companion... but that's probably a long way away yet.

And in other news...

Back when I finally got a permanent job and got my own apartment, I went on a kick of reading more literary stuff than usual. Delayed reaction to getting an English degree, maybe. One of the writers I started exploring was Nelson Algren. I'd seen the movie of The Man With the Golden Arm, starring Frank Sinatra, so I read the book and liked it. I wasn't quite as keen on A Walk on the Wild Side. I really didn't care much at all for Who Lost an American? But The Neon Wilderness, Chicago: City on the Make, and Never Come Morning restored my faith in Algren. And then I didn't see any of his stuff in bookstores for years. On Saturday I came across a book called The Last Carousel, a collection of short stories and essays, in a used bookstore. So I'll have a new Algren fix soon. (The other stuff I was reading back then included John Dos Passos and Hubert Selby, and I need to revisit them soon, too.)

Oh, and for the first time in my life yesterday, I was stung by a wasp. Twice. Turns out I'm not allergic. It was buzzing around Laura in a drugstore, so we left. Then, in the nearby LCBO liquor store, I felt a sharp pain in my arm. Somehow the thing had gotten inside my jacket. I took off my jacket and out fell the wasp. We left the store and headed for home, where we have an epi-pen, but fortunately didn't need it. Still stings and itches now, though.

(Now playing: Roxy Music, "If There is Something," Roxy Music.)

Friday, October 22, 2004

How many places do you discuss Star Trek books online?

And how many do you need?

Pocket's official bbs. I used to hang around there until they changes the software one too many times, making it a painful mess, and I joined the exodus to...

Psi Phi, David Henderson's site. It's on a different server now and is slightly different, but the feel and a lot of the users remain. Many of us also like...

TrekBBS, which has (in my opinion) a better interface and a lot of the same folks. These two are my main hangouts. But there's also..., Star Trek Now's The Federation Library, Cygnus X-1, BookTrek, a lot of Yahoo groups (dozens, in fact), the usenet newsgroup alt.startrek.books....

I can understand the fun and excitement of creating a new place online. But I have a Trek books website and I only bother with two of these places. I don't have the time to check them all out regularly. I have to wonder... do some of these offer a substantially different experience? A different atmosphere? Does anyone try to keep up with as many of these as possible?

In the meantime, I've added a couple of other destinations over on the right. I'm not sure if I'm going to stick with Rabble and its Babble forum, but I want to link to something Canadian.

I've added Allyn Gibson's blog because we share a number of interests and he generally has something interesting to say. And he links to some other interesting blogs, plus this one.

(Now playing: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, "Julia's Song," Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.)

Thursday, October 21, 2004

At the fringes of the universes...

I've heard a few mp3s from William Shatner's new album, a collaboration with alt.rock piano man Ben Folds. I'm not sure quite what to think. Clearly Shatner and Folds are aware that a fair percentage of the album's sales will be to hipsters looking for a kitsch ironyfest, and they give the hipsters a few self-consciously funny moments (like the cover of Pulp's "Common People" and the almost laugh-out loud "You'll Have Time"), but there are also some surprisingly serious moments. No doubt the more hardcore kitsch seekers will find laughs even in the unaccompanied spoken word piece in which Shatner addresses his dead wife, on the grounds that the purest kitsch doesn't know it's kitsch, but I'm more inclined to cut Shatner slack for trying to address something serious in a straightforward way. There's also the fact that Aimee Mann, Joe Jackson, Adrian Belew, and Henry Rollins contributed to the album. (Not that Rollins has done anything I've liked since Black Flag's early classic hardcore album, Damaged, but still....)

Whether this is something I'll actually want to listen to in full, and pay for, is another question. After all, how many times would I have listened to that Spaced Out collection of Shatner and Nimoy tunes? Twice? But some of this stuff is pretty entertaining. The question is whether it has more staying power than just novelty appeal.

Meanwhile, according to Outpost Gallifrey, someone's developing a new K9 TV series. It probably wouldn't be awful, and likely wouldn't harm Doctor Who at all, but K9 is a sidekick, not a lead character. It's been tried unsuccessfully before, too, though with a better script it might have succeeded (Sarah Jane Smith was a good choice for lead character). What's interesting about this proposed series is that the producers have a guy who wrote for both Doctor Who and Wallace and Gromit. Can't find anything about it on the company's website yet.

Meanwhile, over at the Complete Starfleet Library... I'm still a week or two away from finishing the renovations. I will be so glad to be done. And then I'll start thinking about how best to do the next little content upgrade I want to do.

(Now playing: On!Air!Library!, "Feb.," On!Air!Library!)

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Star Trek-related ramblings

There's been a lot of hype and fuss about Manny Coto and the fourth season of Enterprise. It's possible that fans will give the show another chance. I thought the Xindi arc wasn't bad, and I'm optimistic about this season based on what Coto's been saying in interviews. But... we have to start the season dealing with the turd in the punchbowl, the out-of-nowhere alien Nazi cliffhanger ending to last season. All of which means that the season premiere didn't do much for me and I'll be glad when this arc is over so we can see whether Coto can deliver. If anyone did tune in for the first time in a year or two based on the buzz, I can only wonder what they'd make of the season premiere, and whether they're likely to stick with the show.

I'm reading a Star Trek book. First one in some time now. Yes, now that I finally have all the books in the A Time to... series, I've started reading. I'm maybe 50 pages into the first one and John Vornholt's writing is not making me very happy. This is not finely honed and polished prose. This is not something that reads like the work of a seasoned professional who's written some books I've enjoyed. If anything, it reads like the work of someone who's been writing a lot of YA novels and carries over some of that writing style into his non-YA stuff. There's also some dialogue that just sounds completely awful when read aloud. Geordi says something like, "Finally there are some new models of them." Read it out loud. Doesn't exactly flow naturally, does it? Or is it just me? There are also scenes that suggest we're supposed to be following a certain character's point of view instead of an omniscient third person narrator, but which character's POV we're seeing is hard to identify.

And for Pete's sake stop calling Data "the android" all the time instead of just calling him Data. We know he's an android. Picard isn't always being called "the bald human." I also have my doubts about the skiffy parts of the story. Vornholt's Gemworld duology was pure fantasy buried in technobabble, setting new records for scientific implausibility in Star Trek, and the vortex of damaged ships isn't look much more convincing than that. But it's early days yet.

Want actual news? Well, you've already seen the Star Trek manga news at Newsarama, right? Information about stories and some art samples. Intriguing.

Other stuff

Still trying to figure out what I thought of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I liked it, some of it I liked very much indeed, but I'm not sure I ever really connected with it as much as I expected. I think Clarke's deliberately old-fashioned prose distances the reader a little too much. A more modern style might have drawn me in more.

Still, there's no denying that there's a lot of inventiveness and some interesting characters, plus enough worldbuilding to make me willing to read more set in that fictional universe. Preferably something a little shorter, though, with a bit more emphasis on plot and character. Strange was a bit too much of a cipher and Norrell too one-dimensional.

(According to the bio on her site, Susanna Clarke lives with the British SF novelist Colin Greenland. Who knew? I've got a couple of his books.)

James Ellroy's Destination: Morgue! is a mess. There are some reprinted magazine articles, too many of which rehash ground he covered at length (and with better writing) in his nonfiction book My Dark Places. And the three-part novella that rounds out the book is a weird joke of some kind. If you think Ellroy is a deranged cop-loving right wing nutbar who's read way too many lurid true crime magazines from the 1950s, well, imagine the kind of imitation Ellroy wish-fulfiment fantasy fanfic you might get from a deranged racist nutbar cop wannabe who thinks Ellroy's the cat's pyjamas. Then take it another three or four notches further over the top. The magazine articles suffer from Ellroy's annoying recent obsession with short, punchy, alliterative and repetitive prose. The fiction is kind of fun but completely preposterous. A commie terrorist yells "Viva gay marriage! Viva national public television!" A thwarted terrorist plot results in 15,000 Arab American terrorists getting tossed into prison. It's as if Ellroy read some of his more negative reviews and thought, Oh, yeah? Wait'll you read this! It's vulgar, stupid, racist, and too over the top to be taken as anything but satire. Not that I'm sure I know what he's satirizing. I just know he can't be serious.

We rented a couple movies this weekend. I Capture the Castle, based on the Dodie Smith novel, was quite good, in no small part due to Romola Garai's performance as Cassandra Mortmain, but it was more depressing than the book. The novel is presented as the diary entries of a teenaged girl living in genteel poverty in an old English castle with a somewhat eccentric family. Her father's a novelist whose first book was a sensation and a literary masterwork, but he hasn't been able to write anything in twelve years. Her stepmother's an artistic type who isn't a heck of a lot older than the kids she finds herself dealing with. There's more humour in the book, which is well worth reading. The romantic entanglements that the movie centres on are very much a part of the book, of course, but they're described more richly and completely in the novel. You don't get enough of Cassandra's voice in the movie.

Mansfield Park, loosely based on a Jane Austen novel I haven't read, was also pretty decent. The director/writer, Patricia Rozema, made a period costume drama with some vaguely subversive modern touches (a hint of lesbianism here, a flash of nudity there, some condemnation of the slave trade over there). As is usually the case, there's a good cast of mostly British actors, many familiar from other movies, all giving good performances. It's not a must-see but anyone who enjoys historical movies and doesn't mind an occasional detour away from a G rating might enjoy it. It's certainly more enjoyable than the recent Vanity Fair movie, based on Thackeray and also directed by a woman who wanted to subvert expectations a little. Vanity Fair was let down by either a script that didn't draw a sufficiently clear and consistent picture of the main character or a poor performance by Reese Witherspoon. I'm inclined to think both.

(Now playing: Frank Sinatra, "Why Try to Change Me Now?," No One Cares.)

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Random notes

The latest issue of Star Trek Communicator has a feature article on the A Time to... series, complete with quotes from the authors. It's nice to see the books get that kind of coverage in the official magazine.

I went looking for a few things on Saturday. Like for instance the new 25th anniversary edition of London Calling by the Clash (remastered! plus a whole bonus CD and a bonus DVD!) and KRAD's A Time for War, A Time for Peace. Did I find them? Of course not. Couldn't expect the big box stores near here (Chapters, Best Buy) to have those. I did find a few things, though.

CD-wise, I got Interpol's new album, Antics, which I've been looking forward to for a long time. Their debut album is one of my favourite CDs of the last few years. Yes, there are echoes of other bands (Joy Division, Kitchens of Distinction, and so on), but the music holds up to a lot of repeated listens. It's great to see music like this finding fans now among youngsters who were born after Ian Curtis died.

Bookwise, I bought a couple of consolation prizes: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke and James Ellroy's Destination: Morgue! It'd be hard to find two more dissimilar books, but I love Ellroy's stuff and I'm enjoying Clarke's book so far (I'm about 100 pages in). Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a very long novel set in England at the time of the Napoleonic wars. The age of great English magicians has been over for a couple centuries, but the men named in the title revive the tradition of practical magic. It's fantasy, set in a world in which magic can work and fairies exist, but it draws on the real world in its references to historical events and personages. Like some other writers from more modern times who have set their book in that time (for example, Heyer, Mallinson, O'Brian), Clarke's prose is formal and old-fashioned but not at all lifeless. It's hard to judge the book so early in, but I like what I've read so far.

As for Ellroy... I dimly recall reading some reviews of his early novels that described his books as pretty much the epitome of hardboiled and noir. The two don't always go together; Cornell Woolrich was a master of noir, but I wouldn't call his books hardboiled. Ellroy's seventh novel, and first real breakthrough novel, The Black Dahlia, was reprinted in paperback circa 1988. The then-owner of Prime Crime, Ottawa's mystery bookstore, told me I'd probably like it, because our tastes were diametrically opposed, so I bought it and was blown away. The LA Quartet novels (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential, and White Jazz) are my favourite books of his. His more recent books have taken his ever more stylized prose and political obsessions (e.g., the assassination of John F. Kennedy) close to self-parody, but there's still something worthwhile about whatever he writes. Destination: Morgue! is a collection of true crime articles and short stories, apparently previously published in GQ magazine. If Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell starts to pall after a few more hundred pages, this'll be the perfect antidote. Short sharp shocks of attitude and action.

(Laura's reading a big book herself right now: The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber. I'm curious about it myself, but even if Laura really likes it, I don't think I want to deal with another 800-page book just yet.)

We also rented a couple of DVDs. They're both crime movies based on critically acclaimed novels but they did not make for a good double feature. Mystic River is a grimly realistic story about three men from a working class neighbourhood in Boston, the awful thing that happened to one of them when they were kids, and what happens when their lives cross again after one's daughter is murdered. The movie is both grittily realistic and wrenchingly emotional. It's also remarkably faithful to Dennis Lehane's novel, even down to the dialogue. And of course the acting by Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, and Marcia Gay Harden is great, though at times I found myself thinking, wow, look at Sean Penn act! instead of being fully caught in the story.

The other movie? Ripley's Game, based on one of Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley novels and thus a sequel to The Talented Mr. Ripley, which was filmed a few years ago. This story is set decades later in Ripley's life, so this time around he's played by John Malkovich as a distinctly odd sociopath. I haven't read the novel yet so I can't say how faithful this adaptation is. I can say that it is the opposite of Mystic River in any number of ways: stylized instead of realistic, disengaged instead of emotional, contrived instead of believable. I could believe in the reality of the characters in Mystic River; Ripley and the others felt much more like fictional conceits created to set a series of events in motion, even though that's exactly what Lehane's characters are as well. Ripley's Game was a good movie but it was all about artifice, style, and -- unsurprisingly -- games.

(Now playing: Frank Bretschneider, "Rocket Summer," Looping I-VI.)