Expedition Vega

This past week, I finished reading the second story arc in J-Novel Club’s translation of the Perry Rhodan NEO series. This arc of eight novellas was presented under the collective title, Expedition Vega. When the first arc, Vision Terrania, ended, astronaut Perry Rhodan, who had been to the moon and made first contact with aliens, had established his city Terrania in the Gobi Desert, and had won over the Chinese General Bai Jun who had laid siege to the city. What’s more they had rescued alien Crest de Zoltral from the hands of the Americans. However, the Americans still held technology from Crest’s race, the Arkonides. Expedition Vega opens as Perry Rhodan leads an expedition to recover that technology, so it doesn’t stay in the hands of just one government.

Perry Rhodan NEO: Expedition Vega

Once this recovery mission comes to a conclusion, Perry Rhodan’s people detect a distress signal from the star Vega. Even though Terrania still faces many challenges, Rhodan decides he can’t ignore the signal and puts together a team, which includes Crest’s adopted daughter, the Arkonide Commander Thora, to investigate. Rhodan and his team arrive at Vega and discover a race of reptillian creatures called the Topsidans have taken it upon themselves to conquer the system. The natives of Vega are blue-skinned human-like creatures known as the Ferron. Perry Rhodan and his team are attacked and soon find themselves separated and fighting desperately just to stay alive.

Soon after Perry Rhodan and his team leave the Earth, another alien species turns up. These are the Fantan, who collect anything and everything that happens to grab their interest. It can be something as mundane as a porta-potty to something as crucial as a major bridge or a rescue vehicle. It can even be people. Reginald Bull and Eric Manoli, two of the astronauts who went to the moon with Rhodan and met the Arkonides, are soon collected along with two young mutants. This group eventually teams up with the alien mutant mouse-beaver known as Gucky and begin to plot a way to escape the Fantan

As all of this is going on, humans have learned that Arkonides visited Earth in the distant past and there’s an ancient Arkonide base and ship under the ocean. The humans on Earth hope to use this ancient technology to find a way to get rid of the Fantan who are proving far more than a mere nuisance.

Through the course of these eight novellas, these very disparate plot lines play out and eventually find their way to a common solution. There were many great moments in the series. I enjoyed how Perry kept trying to find a way not only to survive being stranded in the Vega system, but kept looking for ways to bring peace to the system again. One of my favorite moments in this arc was when Reginald, Eric, and Gucky put on the musical The Pirates of Penzance as a way to distract the Fantan and try to escape. Another fun moment came in the novella “A Step Into the Future” by Bernd Perplies, when he introduces a reporter named Dayton Ward, a name strongly associated with Simon and Schuster’s Star Trek novels in the United States.

As it turns out Bernd Perplies has translated several English-language Star Trek novels into German and was a co-author of the Star Trek: Prometheus novels. I wrote to Dayton Ward and asked if he and Perplies knew each other and Ward confirmed they had, in fact, corresponded. I know Dayton because we were co-editors on our own book of exciting space tales called Maximum Velocity. If you’re a fan of exciting space adventure like Germany’s Perry Rhodan series, I suspect you’d enjoy our short story collection. You’ll find stories by people like Mike Resnick, Irene Radford, and C.J. Henderson. There are even stories by Dayton and me. You can pick up a copy at https://www.amazon.com/Maximum-Velocity-Full-Throttle-Space-Tales/dp/1614755299/

I’m sorry to say, I don’t see any forthcoming volumes of Perry Rhodan NEO listed on J-Novel Club’s website. I’m hoping they’re just taking a brief hiatus, otherwise, I’ll have to dust off my German skills to continue into the next 26 story arcs!

Giants of Iron and Steam

Back around 2008, when I first learned that the weird westerns and alternate history I had been writing overlapped with steampunk, I decided to see if I could find some music to put me in a good frame of mind for writing. I tend to prefer instrumental music while I write, but I’m happy to have music with lyrics while I’m getting settled into write. I remember naively typing the phrase “steampunk music” into Google just to see what would come up. I found several discussion boards talking about a band called Abney Park and their album Lost Horizons, which was brand new around that time. I bought a copy of the album and fell in love with the music written by the band’s lead singer Robert Brown. Over the years, I’ve snapped up pretty much every album they’ve produced as they’ve been released. I have especially appreciated that Brown has released purely instrumental versions of some of the albums, and yes, they do work as great background when I’m writing.

As time went on, I discovered that Brown is not only a talented songwriter, but a capable storyteller. He’s written three novels set in the world he’s developed through the songs. In 2020, Brown even recorded an audio version of his novel The Toyshop at the End of the World. Given that he performs all the time as lead singer of a band, it should come as no surprise that he performed the book well. So, I was excited to hear that Robert Brown had brought his storytelling and musical talents together into a musical called Giants of Iron and Steam. I gather Brown had hoped to debut this as a live musical, but logistics have not worked out. So, he decided to release it as an album and I recently gave it a listen.

The musical opens in the distant future of his novel series. Two men enter the laboratory of Dr. Calvin Calgori, pushing an older woman in a wheelchair. The two men talk about trying to get to the truth of some matter. To find the information they need, they must use an invention by Dr. Calgori, which will allow them to view the distant past. They peer into the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s as a railroad is being established between a lumber mill and the nearby mountains. We’re soon introduced to a lumberjack named Robert Winters and his daughter Effie who live deep in the mountains. They look forward to the railroad because that means Robert won’t have to float logs down the river. The railroad will support Charles Foster Quinn’s lumber mill. Quinn’s son, Aaron, doesn’t want to succeed his father in the family business. Instead, he wants to be an engineer on the new railroad. Aaron soon meets Effie, which stirs more division between the young man and his father.

The musical felt like a cross between The Pajama Game and Paint Your Wagon. The former is the story of workers at a pajama factory fighting for better wages and working conditions, a theme which comes up in Giants of Iron and Steam. The stage version of Paint Your Wagon focused on the miner Ben Rumson and his daughter’s forbidden romance with a young man named Julio. Unlike those musicals from the 1950s, Giants of Iron and Steam is more honest about the history of labor and race. Plus there’s a dandy mystery as we figure out what the people from the future want from this story of the past.

I felt several personal connections to this story. Aaron learning to be a railroad engineer reminded me of my dad teaching me how to drive a locomotive. Robert Winters talking about the dangers of taking logs down the river reminded me of stories about my great grandfather, who apparently did take logs downriver in his youth, and was seriously wounded at one point. Finally, at one point, Robert Winters reflects on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and sees himself as Prospero to Effie’s Miranda. Given that I actually do have a daughter named Myranda, I’ve opportunity to reflect on The Tempest and definitely felt the parallels.

Giants of Iron and Steam is sold along with the script for the musical, so you can read along as you listen. You can learn more at: https://abneypark.com/market/musical-giants-of-iron-steam-c-83/

If you’d like to look into my steampunk old west, which also tries to present an honest look at history go to http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

The Threepenny League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

This last week, I’ve been working on a new steampunk story. After I wrapped up the story, I decided I wanted to read something in a similar vein to celebrate. When I think “steampunk” one of the first stories that comes to mind is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel written by Alan Moore with art by Kevin O’Neill. I’ve read the first two volumes of their centuries-spanning epic, so decided this was a good opportunity to dive into volume 3. The third volume, chronologically, is called “Century” and is, itself, split into three volumes. The first volume of “Century” is set in 1910.

Century: 1910

This volume opens on the island from Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island. Captain Nemo is dying and he asks his estranged teenage daughter Janni Dakkar to succeed him as captain of the Nautilus. However, she wants no part of this. She swims out to a passing steamer and stows away. Once the steamer reaches London, she assumes the name Jenny Diver. Also on the ship is a criminal returning to London, Captain Jack MacHeath. We learn that this MacHeath is both the son of the Captain MacHeath immortalized in Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, and the man responsible for most of the original Jack the Ripper murders.

Meanwhile, Alan Quartermain Jr. and Mina Murray are still working for the British government. Their associate, Thomas Carnacki — a detective created by William Hope Hodgson — has been having visions of a horrible disaster in which many people will die along with visions of a cult attempting to bring about Armageddon. Mina and Quartermain investigate, then report to their boss, Mycroft Holmes. Holmes tells them about MacHeath’s arrival in London and suggests that he may be responsible for the deaths Carnacki foresaw.

Meanwhile Nemo’s crewman Ishmael finds Janni and informs her that her father has died and that he’s willed the Nautilus to her. She refuses, but Ishmael gives her a flare gun to summon the Nautilus in case its needed. That night Janni is raped by patrons of the inn where she’s found employment. She summons the Nautilus, which razes London’s East End while Suki Tawdry, a character from The Threepenny Opera, sings the Kurt Weill song “Pirate Jenny.” Meanwhile, MacHeath is arrested and Mycroft Holmes plans to hang him without a trial, but the other man who committed the Ripper murders confesses to all the crimes and so MacHeath is set free, paralleling Brecht and Weill’s play.

As a fan of Jules Verne, the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and The Threepenny Opera, this graphic novel delighted me a great deal. The strongest part for me was the story of how Janni took over as captain of the Nautilus. Mina Murray and Alan Quartermain Jr.’s investigation into apocalyptic disaster really doesn’t come to a satisfactory conclusion, but I gather this part of the story line set things up for the next two volumes of “Century.”

I often find myself turning to The Threepenny Opera when I need to put contemporary news into perspective. In the play, MacHeath is intended to be the kind of man who, when given a choice, will always take the path that makes him the most profit. I think we see several analogs for that behavior today! If you ever want to explore the music of The Threepenny Opera, I highly recommend the 1976 Broadway recording featuring Raul Julia as Captain MacHeath.

Suki in my Space Pirates’ Legacy novels actually was named for Suki Tawdry from The Threepenny Opera. She’s featured in Firebrandt’s Legacy and The Pirates of Sufiro. You can find those novels at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#pirate_legacy

If you’re more in the mood for steampunk, check out my Clockwork Legion series. Like Janni Dakkar, Captain Onofre Cisneros is a successor to Captain Nemo. You can learn about those novels at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Finally, on the subject of alternate history, Sheriff Chuck Davis from my novella, Breaking the Code, visits Queen Titania’s Court. Find out what happens when he meets the queen of the fae and learn a little more about the novella here: https://wyrmflight.wordpress.com/2022/06/08/breaking-the-code-queen-titanias-court/

The Ghost Ship

Now that I’ve finally caught up with my long-term project of getting all my books back into print, I’m starting to set my sights on some new writing projects. I’ve had an idea for a steampunk short story sitting on the back burner for some time now and hope I can work on it this week. To get my mind focused on steampunk again, I decided to listen to an audio steampunk story on my long commute to work last week. The story I listened to is The Ghost Ship by Madeleine Holly-Rosing and it’s set in the world of her wonderful comic, The Boston Metaphysical Society.

The comic and the audio book are set in an 1895 that’s just a little different than the one we know from history. You’ll find rudimentary steam-driven computers, airships, and a United States ruled by the wealthy of “the great houses.” In the Boston of this world, ex-Pinkerton Detective Samuel Hunter, medium and spirit photographer Caitlin O’Sullivan, and scientist Granville Woods investigate supernatural mysteries. I’ve been reading the comic since it began and I was excited when Madeleine Holly-Rosing announced that she planned to release a long-form audio story set in the world of the comic.

In the audio story, a mysterious, derelict ship sails into Boston Harbor. Anyone who tries to board is attacked by spirits and soon meets their end. Samuel, Caitlin, and Granville are brought in to try to find a way to end the menace of the mysterious ship. To do so, they must first find out what ship has actually arrived. When getting aboard the ship proves too perilous, they turn to Boston’s new library where Caitlin discovers more restless spirits and a young man who bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the spirits on the ship. It soon becomes clear that the ghost ship’s very presence may create a scandal for at least one of the great houses. The audio drama is told in eight half-hour episodes and features the voice talents of Emily C.A. Snyder as Caitlin O’Sullivan, Ryan Philbrook as Samuel Hunter, and Martin Davis as Granville Woods.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when hearing a favorite comic translated into audio. I was pleased to say that all the main characters sounded very much like I imagined they would sound. The supporting characters had distinct voices and the action was easy to follow. The serial nature of the audio story felt very much like an adapted comic adventure, even though this story only appears in audio. The piece was well produced by Eddie Louise and Chip Michael. It would be delightful if Madeleine was able to bring us more audio adventures set in her world. At this point, it appears that the best way to order your own copy of The Ghost Ship is to pre-order a copy through the Backerkit site set up for the recent Kickstarter campaign. It’s at: https://the-ghost-ship-audio-drama.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders/396663 and you can get updates on the audio book at at https://bostonmetaphysicalsociety.com/the-ghost-ship-audio-drama/

I’m happy to say that her story has, indeed, put me in the mood to work on a story in one of my own worlds. I’m already plotting my own machinations. My story won’t have ghosts, but I do have some automata and at least one airship disaster planned. Now, it may be a little while before you get to read that story, but I do have something planned for tomorrow. Sheriff Chuck Davis from my novella Breaking the Code finds himself in the world of the fae, paying an unexpected visit to Queen Titania’s Court. Learn more about him and the novella tomorrow, June 8, at Deby Fredericks’ blog: https://wyrmflight.wordpress.com/

Arkham Dreams

In several posts, I’ve mentioned being a Star Trek fan from a very young age. Even before I discovered Star Trek, I was a fan of the Batman television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Part of Batman’s appeal in whatever format is the rogue’s gallery of colorful criminals who try to get away with some dastardly deed only to be foiled by the caped crusader and the boy wonder. My favorite villains at the time were the Penguin played by Burgess Meredith and Egghead played by Vincent Price. Nowadays, I’ve come to appreciate Caesar Romero as the Joker and all the talented actresses who played Catwoman.

Over the years, I’ve remained a fan of the Penguin as a character. Some of that, no doubt, is because I still hear Burgess Meredith’s performance whenever I see the character in the comics. I have to admit, I liked the Penguin’s tuxedo. Some of the appeal came from the Penguin’s use of gadgets hidden in umbrellas. As a kid, umbrellas were fairly easy to come by, so it was easy to play the part without many other accessories. I have to admit, the fact that the Penguin was portrayed a bullied, bookish kid in the comics played on my sympathies. In fact one of my favorite Penguin origin stories was “The Killing Peck” written by Alan Grant with art by Sam Kieth. As it turns out, I wrote about the artist just over a year ago, when I reflected on the comic and animated series, The Maxx.

Batman meets the Maxx

I recently learned that in 2018, Sam Kieth returned to both the worlds of The Maxx and Batman in a comic book miniseries called Arkham Dreams. Three issues of the mini-series were released in 2018, then there was a hiatus, and the series was finished at the end of 2020. The Maxx himself is a large, purple-clad homeless superhero. In Arkham Dreams, we find him in Gotham City going back and forth between the real world and the Outback, which is the world of the subconscious, and, as it happens, fertile ground for exploring both the psyche of Batman and many of his nemeses. The story opens with the Maxx among Gotham’s homeless. Batman catches up with him and takes him to Arkham Asylum for treatment. Of course, Arkham is where many of Batman’s rogues gallery are housed when they’re not committing crimes. At Arkham, Batman encounters a new doctor named Disparu who is trying a new treatment on the Penguin. With the Maxx at Arkham, the worlds of Gotham City and the Outback begin to merge and the two heroes must figure out why this happening and whose Outback they’re going into before the world devolves into chaos.

I love it when characters from different universes meet. Part of what made The Maxx great was its quirky sense of humor even as it delved into serious issues against a psychedelic backdrop. These days, Batman is known for its grim and gritty storytelling, but the best stories often include a certain sense of fun. When that sense of fun is taken to an extreme, Batman becomes like the Adam West and Burt Ward TV series. Pull it back just a little and you find a middle ground where the Maxx and Batman work well together. My favorite part of Arkham Dreams is that even though it’s a crossover, it doesn’t forget to continue some of the narrative from the original Maxx series of the 90s and we get a nice continuation of the story of Maxx and his friend Julie Winters even as Batman confronts the psyches of his rogues gallery.

The real joy of a Sam Kieth book is the art, which is in fine form here. There is a fascinating sequence where the Maxx and Batman are going back and forth between the two worlds. In the Outback, they’re on an air whale battling a strange infection that’s hurting the creature. In the real world, they’re trying to release bombs placed by the Joker on an airship. Arkham Dreams is available in a handsome hardcover edition, which includes all five issues of the comic plus a cover gallery.

If you’re in the mood for crossover stories and want to see the time the Clockwork Legion met the Scarlet Order vampires, read the story “Fountains of Blood” in the collection Straight Outta Tombstone available in ebook at: https://www.amazon.com/Straight-Outta-Tombstone-David-Boop-ebook/dp/B071JGTN3H/

Star Trek: Prodigy

As I mentioned recently, I subscribed to Paramount Plus so I can enjoy the new series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds as its released. I’m still enjoying the series, but while I’m subscribed to the service, I’m also checking out some of the other recent entries in the Star Trek universe.

One thing that has bothered me in Star Trek since The Next Generation is how competitive entry into Starfleet is presented to be. It doesn’t bother me that it’s presented as competitive. After all, exploring space should be aspirational and I have no problem with the idea that its a job for the best and brightest. The problem is the scale of the competition. Back in The Next Generation, Wesley Crusher took a whole bunch of exams and became one of three finalists for some region of space to make it into the academy. Only one of them would make it. How many people started the application process wasn’t clear, but it seemed like these were the only three finalists from several worlds. More recently, in Strange New Worlds, it was stated that thousands of people applied for every single posting.

Two things bother me about these moments. First, we know that Starfleet has many, many ships and many Starbases around the galaxy. In some seasons, it seems like a ship is destroyed every episode. Most of these ships are presented as having somewhere between fifty and a thousand crewmembers. I don’t know how many people there are in Starfleet, but it seems like there are a whole lot of them and there’s real attrition because exploring space is dangerous business! Sure, they come from different planets, but it still strikes me that there’s no shortage of people in Starfleet even though it’s also supposed to be extraordinarily competitive to get in the door. It pushes my willing suspension of disbelief. Also, while I like the aspirational aspect of the competition, I watch a show like Star Trek because I’d like to imagine myself exploring the universe with those people. If it’s presented as too competitive, then I begin to see it as an unachievable dream. Interestingly enough, this is where Star Trek: Prodigy comes in.

Star Trek: Prodigy

Star Trek: Prodigy is a 3-D animated series co-produced by Paramount and Nickelodeon. The show opens on a mining colony outside the Federation where prisoners are used as labor. They’re overseen by a mysterious figure known as Diviner. One of the prisoners, a young man named Dal, is assigned to work deep within the asteroid being mined. There he along with a Medusian in a travel suit called Zero discover the derelict Starfleet ship, the U.S.S. Protostar. Dal and Zero assemble a team of people to resurrect the Protostar and flee Diviner. Their team includes a Tellarite mechanic named Jankom Pog, a rocklike creature named Rok-Tahk, and a slime-like alien called Murph. The inexperienced crew make a getaway aboard the starship with help from a holographic Captain Janeway, from Star Trek: Voyager. The ragtag crew learns about the Federation and decides to take the ship back to Starfleet. In the meantime, we learn that Diviner has been searching for the ship all along and is none too happy with the young people absconding with the prize he’d hoped to find. Diviner, his daughter Gwyn, and the robotic enforcer Drednok go in pursuit of the Protostar.

As our young crew learns about the ship and its abilities, they find that letting it fall into Diviner’s hands would be a bad idea. Along the way, they encounter some strange new worlds, learn to work together as a team and rise to meet the challenges presented to them. There may be a certain realism in presenting placement in Starfleet as highly competitive, but to me, Star Trek’s strongest stories are often about how characters cope with unexpected challenges. There’s no question the best and brightest face difficulties, but sometimes it nice to see people who didn’t necessarily rise to the top of the class, rise to the occasion.

Over the years, Nickelodeon has produced some great shows for younger audiences. While Star Trek: Prodigy may not rise to the quality of a show like Avatar: The Last Airbender, it still tells an engaging tale, expands the Star Trek universe in some good ways and worked equally well for my twenty-year-old daughter and me.

Stay on This Channel

Terrahawks, Volume 1

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I have a long drive from my home to the observatory where I work. Because of that, I like to listen to audiobooks and audio plays while on the road. This past week, I downloaded and listened to Terrahawks Volume 1 available from Big Finish Productions and the Gerry Anderson Store. The production is directed by Gerry Anderson’s son, Jamie Anderson. I gather Terrahawks was shown in the United States, but it came out when I was starting university, so I never saw it at the time. So what is Terrahawks?

Gerry Anderson was a producer well known for producing memorable science fiction and adventure stories in the United Kingdom. Among his most famous shows were Thunderbirds, which ran from 1964-66 and followed the exploits of International Rescue, an agency equipped with advanced air, sea, and space craft that went to the aid of people in trouble. This was followed by the 1967-68 series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons which imagined a top security organization charged with protecting Earth from space invaders. Both shows were produced for younger audiences and featured marionettes. Anderson would go on to produce live action shows in the 1970s like UFO and Space: 1999. Like Captain Scarlet, UFO also featured a security organization protecting the Earth from aliens.

In 1983, Gerry Anderson returned with a new television series. Like Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and UFO, it would feature a secret organization protecting Earth from an alien menace. This show also marked a return to a show produced with a children’s audience in mind featuring puppets. This time, the puppets would be “glove” puppets rather than marionettes, but the show would still feature Gerry Anderson’s quality model work and special effects. The show was called Terrahawks. The aliens were led by a witch-like android named Zelda. She was accompanied by her sister, Cy-star, and her son, Yung-star, plus an assortment of colorful minions. They operated from a base on Mars.

The titular Terrahawks were Earth’s defense force, led by Dr. “Tiger” Ninestein. He was one of nine clones and if he ever died, one of the other clones could be brought in to replace him. His second-in-command was Captain Mary Falconer. Working with them were Lieutenants Hawkeye, Hiro, and Kate Kestrel. Kate also worked as a pop musician and her songs were featured in the show. The Terrahawks organization also has a force of spherical robots called Zeroids. Each of the Zeroids have their own unique personality such as the gruff but loveable Sergeant Major and his right-hand, the French-accented Dix Huit. When Terrahawks started, it seemed Gerry Anderson planned to give it the same kind of earnest, serious treatment as he did Captain Scarlet and UFO. However, budget constraints and the type of puppetry, which was new for Anderson, made it hard to take the show as seriously as its predecessors. Many creators would struggle to bring such a show into line with their vision, but Anderson seems to have rolled with it and allowed the show’s more absurdist and humorous elements to come to the fore. What made the show work were the fun scripts and brilliant voice acting. As such, the show translates very well to an audio-only format.

The Terrahawks Volume 1 audio was released in 2015. It contains eight 30 to 40-minute stories plus a making-of feature. The audio opens with “The Price is Right” in which a government inspector arrives to audit the Terrahawks after Zelda has gone on hiatus for several months. Working at the National Observatory in the United States, I’ve seen many of these kind of inspections and the humor was much appreciated. In “Deadly Departed,” it appears Zelda has finally been destroyed, but everyone is surprised to discover that Tiger Ninestein is named as her heir! The episode “101 Seed” was an episode written for the original series by Gerry Anderson, but never filmed.

“A Clone of My Own” was perhaps the most interesting story. Zelda begins killing off Tiger Ninestein’s clones. Lurking in the background is a serious look at the individuals who are Tiger Ninestein’s clones and the ethics of using them as backup models for the Terrahawks’ leader. Another really interesting idea was explored in Chris Dale’s “Timesplit.” In that one, Zelda’s minion Lord Tempo creates two versions of Lieutenant Hawkeye based based on the possible outcomes of an encounter. He would either escape or be captured. In this case, both happen.

Two of the funniest episodes are “Clubbed to Death” in which Zelda starts a payday loan scam on Earth and “No Laughing Matter” in which a comedian is sent to paralyze our heroes by making them laugh to the point that they can’t effectively defend the Earth.

Throughout the stories, the Zeroid robots infuriate the always-serious Dr. Ninestein. In the final story, “Into the Breach,” the good doctor creates a new type of Zeroid called a Cyberzoid that follows orders perfectly and it looks like the Zeroids will be shelved for good in favor of new robots that sound like fans of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I enjoyed these audio stories a great deal. The story “Deadly Departed” is free to download at the Gerry Anderson Store or from Big Finish Productions if you would like to give the stories a try. Otherwise, you can find the full volume at the links below:

Burning Dreams

While waiting for this Thursday’s premier of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, I decided to spend some time with one of the novels featuring Captain Christopher Pike and the crew of the Starship Enterprise in the days before Captain James T. Kirk. Soon after I had watched the second season of Star Trek: Discovery season 2, which introduced Anson Mount as Captain Pike, Rebecca Romijn as Number One, and Ethan Peck as Spock, I dived in and read D.C. Fontana’s novel Vulcan’s Glory which is also set in this era along with reprints of Marvel Comics’ great series Star Trek: The Early Voyages. As you might imagine, Fontana’s novel focused on Spock and I picked her novel since she was so involved in Star Trek’s development and the development of Vulcan culture. I wasn’t disappointed and was treated to an enjoyable look at Spock’s early years aboard the Enterprise. For my recent read, I chose Burning Dreams by Margaret Wander Bonanno which focused on Captain Pike.

Burning Dreams by Margaret Wander Bonanno

Burning Dreams was released in 2006 as part of Star Trek’s 40th anniversary celebration and it’s a sweeping novel that covers much of Captain Pike’s life and career. In the two-part original series episode, “The Menagerie,” we learn Captain Pike was grievously wounded saving cadets during a training voyage. He becomes a quadriplegic who can no longer speak. Spock takes him to the planet Talos IV. The inhabitants there have phenomenal powers of illusion and can create an environment where Pike’s active mind can express itself. What’s more he has a companion, the survivor of an earlier crash named Vina, who was also seriously wounded and relies on illusion for a happier life than she would have in human society.

The novel opens in the 24th century. Several decades have passed since Captain Pike was left on Talos IV. Spock is an ambassador and he’s summoned to Talos IV. He remembers leaving the captain on the planet. We then shift to Pike’s point of view where he meets Vina again and begins telling his life story. We learn that Captain Pike’s family terraformed worlds for the Federation and we learn how he developed his love of horses. Once Pike is grown, we follow him on a transformative mission where he served as first officer under a hawkish Starfleet captain. Then we follow one of his adventures aboard the Enterprise. The novel tells us that Pike commanded the Enterprise for two separate five-year missions. The novel ends with Ambassador Spock reaching Talos IV, where he learns Captain Pike has died. Despite that sad, but expected news, we are treated to the kind hopeful ending the best Star Trek episodes excelled at.

Around the early 1980s, Gene Roddenberry and a few people in his inner circle went to some effort to define Star Trek’s “canon.” By that point, Paramount Studios had granted licenses to create tie-in media such as books and comics. Understandably, with an eye on the series’ future development, Roddenberry wanted to define the official continuity of the series and no one monitored the continuity of that tie-in media. That said, this process was taken to extremes. Whole series and movies were declared not part of the canon and I’ve seen fans get into intense arguments over what is and isn’t canonical Star Trek.

I’ve seen indications that the current Star Trek production team has a friendlier approach to the tie-in media and I’ve heard murmurings that they have tried to find ways to work in certain elements from the tie-in media that play well with the established continuity, but don’t over-constrain the current writing teams. Enough details about Star Trek: Strange New Worlds have appeared in the media to make it apparent that its story differs in some details from those presented by Margaret Wander Bonanno in her novel. Still, there are a few tantalizing hints that the series and novel may dovetail in some interesting ways.

In a world like Star Trek where they’ve established that multiple universes exist and they’ve even created new canonical universes through time travel stories, I find it hard to get too worked up about what is and isn’t part of the canon. I was glad to meet Margaret Wander Bonanno’s version of Captain Pike. It delighted me that she used aspects established in D.C. Fontana’s Vulcan’s Glory and the Marvel comic series. I would love it if elements from Burning Dreams appeared in the new TV series. If they don’t, I’m still glad to have spent some time with this novel’s version of Captain Pike. All I ask is that TV series tell a similarly compelling story.

Revisiting the Cage

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds debuts in just a few days. It will follow the crew of the Starship Enterprise under the the command of Captain Christopher Pike. Captain Pike, his first officer, Una, and his science officer, Mr. Spock appeared for several episodes of Star Trek: Discovery’s second season. That noted, Discovery was not the first time we encountered the Enterprise in the days before before Captain Kirk. Strange New Worlds is a series inspired by Star Trek’s original pilot film from 1965 called “The Cage.”

Like many Star Trek fans of my generation, I first encountered “The Cage” cut into the original series’ only two-part episode, “The Menagerie.” In that story, we learn that Kirk’s predecessor, Captain Pike was grievously wounded in an accident saving cadets. Spock hijacks the Enterprise and takes his former captain to Talos IV. It turns out that a visit to Talos IV is the only death penalty offense in Federation law. Kirk and a commodore catch up to the Enterprise and put Spock on trial. In the trial, as part of his defense, Spock plays a recording of the Enterprise’s first visit to Talos IV, which also happens to be the original Star Trek pilot.

Screen shot from “The Cage” (CBS)

“The Cage” has a somewhat unique place in television history. Most of the time when a network turns down a pilot film, that’s the end of the story. In this case, the network liked the pilot just enough to commission a revised pilot. The sets were updated, new people were cast to fill critical rolls and the producers went for a more action-packed script. All of this became the original Star Trek series most people are familiar with.

I first became aware of “The Cage” during my pre-teen years. I knew Gene Roddenberry occasionally screened a personal print at conventions, but there were few opportunities for most fans to see the episode except as part of “The Menagerie” in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Despite that challenge, I wanted to experience the original pilot. My solution was to use an audio tape recorder to record the parts of “The Cage” that had been cut into “The Menagerie.” With that, I had my own audio play of “The Cage.” A few years later, “The Cage” would be released on home video and it was finally aired on television for the first time in 1988.

Because I worked so hard to experience “The Cage,” it holds a special place in my heart. There’s a lot I really like about Star Trek’s first pilot. I like Captain Pike’s vulnerability. I like that his first officer was a woman. Spock is emotional here and I like how he contrasts with the somewhat colder captain and first officer. I love the bridge design, which feels a little more “real” and militaristic than the brightly colored version of the set we got in the series. That noted, some things about “The Cage” have not aged well. The navigator’s name may be José, but it’s a very white cast compared to the production version of the series. Although we have women as first officer and captain’s yeoman, they’re presented as exceptions to a rule that most officers are men.

In the episode, the Enterprise receives a distress call from a ship that crashed on Talos IV. The Enterprise arrives and finds survivors. However, the survivors turn out to be illusions and the whole thing is an elaborate plot to trap Captain Pike for a zoo-like exhibit. In the exhibit is a woman who seems interested in seducing the captain. The woman, Vina, turns out to be the crashed ship’s sole survivor. The Talosians have become so addicted to their power of illusion, they can no longer maintain their own machines. This last idea seems to have become even more relevant in the years since the story was filmed. The Talosians want Pike and Vina to start a colony of humans who can build a new civilization. When Pike seems less than thrilled about this idea, the Talosians arrange for Pike’s first officer and yeoman to beam down as additional choices for Pike to breed with, leading to a famous, unintentionally funny line where Spock, left standing on the transporter pad shouts, “the women!” I like to think there’s an alternate universe version of this scene Vina is given the choice, only the men beam down, and Number One shouts “the men!”

I like the actors who will be portraying Captain Pike and his crew in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. I like that we’re seeing a more diverse cast. I was fortunate enough to meet Ethan Peck who plays Spock in this version when he visited the WIYN telescope in 2019, so I look forward to seeing his work. I anticipate there will be moments that will make me groan or prove unintentionally funny, but I also anticipate moments that will inspire me, which has always been Star Trek’s greatest gift to me as a writer and a scientist.

The Guns of Legende

A couple of weeks ago, author Brody Weatherford asked if I would take a look at his new book, Front Range Rebellion, which is the first book in a new western series called The Guns of Legende. The series is centered on the Society of Buckhorn and Bison, a secret organization that takes on dangerous missions to preserve justice through the Wild West. Led by the suave Allister Legende, no job is too dangerous or too daunting. I was reminded of the Mission: Impossible TV series with Legende filling the role of Mr. Phelps. Legende is a character with a shadowed past and a considerable fortune who lives in a Denver Mansion filled with hidden rooms and secret passages.

Front Range Rebellion

Legende commands a team which includes his butler Kingston, the ironically named Mr. Small, and Augustus Crane, the Denver Postmaster. Like the best fictional butlers, Kingston reveals unexpected talents as the story progresses. Crane is ideally positioned to make sure messages are delivered to Legende and to members of the team.

In Front Range Rebellion, Legende recruits Frank Landy and his ex-wife Emily O’Connor. Landry is a southerner but not a southern patriot who works as a whiskey peddler. He can talk anyone into buying whatever it is he’s selling. O’Connor is of Irish descent from Boston. She has a quick temper but she’s a skilled gambler with a taste in the finer things in life.

As the novel begins, the Society of Buckhorn and Bison is tasked with defeating the power-mad Colonel Carlton Clark’s attempt to form his own country and thus prevent Colorado from achieving statehood. Landry and O’Connor prove just the people needed to thwart Colonel Clark’s political and military machinations. As a former married couple, it’s never quite certain how well they’ll cooperate. They have different ideas and different ways of swinging into action. Landry is just as interested in showing up his ex-wife as he is stopping Colonel Clark and his murderous army. Statehood and more is at stake. Thousands of lives hang in the balance as Frank and Emily battle both the would-be President of Auraria.

Although Front Range Rebellion reminds me of Mission: Impossible, it never really takes on the steampunk flavor of The Wild Wild West since it relies more on suspense and intrigue than on gadgets. Along the way, there’s plenty of western gunfight action. All of the characters are well drawn and I cared about them. Colonel Clark is the kind of bad guy who is nasty enough you want to see him fail, but Weatherford keeps him believable. If you’re a fan of good action-packed westerns, or a fan of spy thrillers, you’re sure to enjoy Front Range Rebellion. I look forward to moving on to the second book in the series, Death Waits at Yellowstone.

You can learn more about The Guns of Legende and order the books at the series website: https://gunsoflegende.com