Adam Warren’s Dirty Pair

No, I’m not referring to laundry or hygiene. I’m actually referring to one of the first manga series written and published in the United States between 1998 and 2002. Ever since my wife discovered Haruka Takachiho’s first two Dirty Pair light novels in a bookstore in Bisbee last summer, I’ve been learning more about the books, the anime series they inspired, and Adam Warren’s interesting American take on the series.

The “Dirty Pair” are Kei and Yuri, two young interplanetary agents in the distant future who investigate crimes for the World Welfare Works Association or WWWA. In the story, they received their nickname despite their high rate of success, because they’re infamous for leaving behind a path of destruction, though in all fairness the collateral damage is rarely their fault. The 1985 anime series was something of a muse for the Star Trek: The Next Generation production team. That series actually makes a handful of references to the Dirty Pair. As it turns out Haruka Takachiho was inspired to create the Dirty Pair after watching a wrestling match featuring a team called “The Beauty Pair.” Apparently Takachiho attended the match with A. Bertram Chandler, author of the John Grimes space opera novels. Chandler made a quip about how the team should be called “the Dirty Pair” because of their fighting techniques. Takachiho was then inspired to use that as the name for his science fiction action series. (Note: See the comments for more details and a slight correction about this story.)

In 1988, the American company, Studio Proteus, acquired the rights to do an English language version of The Dirty Pair. Later, the rights were transferred to Dark Horse Comics. The Studio Proteus version wasn’t going to be a translation of the Japanese books, but completely new stories. As I understand, Toren Smith of Studio Proteus approached Haruka Takachiho directly and showed him Adam Warren’s concepts for the characters. Takachiho liked what he saw and gave them permission to do their own version.

I decided to give this version a try. I started by picking up the original comic books that comprised the story arc Fatal But Not Serious which tells the story of the WWWA putting on a public relations campaign to improve the image of the Dirty Pair. They end up hosting a convention in Kei and Yuri’s honor. Of course anyone with a grudge against them comes gunning for them at the con. What’s more, someone unleashes a clone of Yuri and tells her she’s the real Yuri who has to kill imposters.

I’ve since gone on to collect the graphic novel adaptations of the other stories. Adam Warren takes the idea of The Dirty Pair and gives them a decidedly cyberpunk makeover. They get involved with bio weapons, they utilize chip implants to communicate, and even swap personalities. They encounter a wide range of adversaries both of the alien and augmented human variety. There are often questions whether they’re operating in the real world or a simulation. I was delighted to see the book Plague of Angels featured an introduction by fellow New Mexican and amazing cyberpunk writer Walter Jon Williams.

The last book in the series, Run from the Future, proved to be not only my favorite, but it turns out to be quite rare. Every now and then you can find a copy of the graphic novel on eBay. I found one at a price I could afford from a seller in Australia. Given shipping delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it took nearly seventy days to reach me, but it proved worth the wait.

What I really love about this series is that Haruka Takachiho allowed Adam Warren and Toren Smith the opportunity to play in his sandbox. Warren’s vision isn’t exactly like Takachiho’s, but he takes the ideas and explores them in interesting and new ways. Much as I enjoy this version, I’m not sure I’d recommend starting with Adam Warren’s version. I’d recommend trying the anime, which is still distributed in the United States, or find a used copy of the original light novels. If you enjoy those and are looking for more, by all means, give Adam Warren’s version a try.

The Literary Bond

Bond. James Bond.

The name is a fixture of the English-speaking pop culture landscape. Films featuring Ian Fleming’s famous spy are so ubiquitous, I find it hard to think of spy thrillers without “hearing” the iconic theme from Dr. No in my head.

This past week, I’ve been working on a short story that’s something of a spy thriller with notes inspired by James Bond. I can’t say much yet about the story or the anthology series it’s written for. The editor wants to keep things under wraps until closer to release and I don’t want to jinx things by saying too much too early. I will say that I do have one story accepted for this series of anthologies and the story I’ve been working on this past week would be the second for the series, presuming it’s accepted.

Writing this story has required a fair bit of research. I’m thankful to live in an age where I can sit at my desk and watch videos that take me aboard an aircraft carrier or let me walk the streets of a land I haven’t visited before. However, there’s another aspect of research that’s not always appreciated and that’s getting the right tone for a story, especially when the guidelines specify an established tone like the one in this series.

Although I’ve seen large portions of most of the James Bond films, catching bits and pieces here and there when they aired on television, I can only recall sitting down and watching five of the films from beginning to end. What’s more, I’m sad to say that until a few days ago, I’d never actually read any of Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels. The only Ian Fleming novel I’d ever read was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and that was only a year ago. I did find Chitty Chitty Bang Bang an utter delight and had been wanting to explore Fleming’s Bond novels since then.

I settled on Moonraker as the novel to start with. I picked it because I wanted a novel early enough that Fleming wasn’t being influenced by the films but late enough that he’d established his voice. I also wanted a novel that included a certain technological aspect because of the type of story I was writing. Also, although I enjoy a good card game now and then, I wasn’t sure if I was passionate enough about cards and gambling to stay glued to a novel like Casino Royale.

The novel Moonraker is quite a bit different from the movie. This is perhaps no surprise since the novel dates from 1955. The premise of the novel is that Sir Hugo Drax has been supervising a bunch of German scientists who are building England’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. Drax has become something of a national hero and the first test is imminent. The problem is that Drax is suspected of cheating at cards at the elite gambling club he belongs to. Bond is brought in to tactfully expose the cheating and quietly get it to stop before scandal taints Drax and his project. So, the first third of the book ends up being about Bond figuring out how Drax cheats and then turning the tables on him. This was compelling enough that I may have to give Casino Royale a try after all.

On the same night as Bond is working to prevent a scandal, one of Drax’s German employees shoots the head of security for the Moonraker project then shoots himself. The coincidental timing is enough for higher echelons in the British government to decide Bond should lend a hand to the investigation. It was all a good thrill ride of a novel that reminded me of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, especially when Fleming speaks passionately of good food or fast cars. I was also reminded at times of Robert A. Heinlein’s young adult science fiction novels, especially with the fear that Nazis may be hiding in the woodwork, getting ready to unleash some dastardly plan.

I liked how Fleming’s Bond has a little more self-doubt than his onscreen counterparts and while 007 definitely pursues a woman in this novel, she proves to be a force to be reckoned with. I’m delighted I had the chance to read Moonraker and I suspect I’ll be diving into more of Fleming’s Bond novels soon. After all, I need to make sure I get the tone right in my story!

Tombstone Rashomon

I’ve been waiting for the DVD release of Tombstone Rashomon ever since I first heard about the movie, which was during its production. The movie stars my friend Eric Schumacher as Doc Holliday. It’s directed by Alex Cox, who directed Repo Man and Sid and Nancy, and tells the story of the infamous gunfight outside Tombstone’s OK Corral from the perspective of several of the participants in a style similar to Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Rashomon.

The gunfight at OK Corral is a tale worthy of a Rashomon-like treatment. It’s a difficult historical moment to understand because the people involved were tangled in so many ways. It wasn’t as simple as the Clantons vs. the Earps as many filmed versions would have you believe. Both sides had dealings that seem both shady and noble, and self-interests muddied up the lines of who was on what side at various points leading up to the affair. I researched the Earps and the Clantons quite a bit for my novels Lightning Wolves and Owl Riders. When I wrote Lightning Wolves and decided the Clantons needed to be part of it, I knew I was writing a period of history before the arrival of the Earps and Doc Holliday. So, my research focused on the family and their allies in the days before Tombstone’s founding. The events set up in that novel prevented Tombstone’s founding, which meant the two factions never came together and the gunfight never happened, but that didn’t prevent Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday from seeing business opportunities in Arizona Territory in Owl Riders. Eric’s research into Doc’s character for Tombstone Rashomon helped inform my portrayal of Doc.

The movie imagines that time travelers arrive in Tombstone the day after the gunfight. They interview Doc Holliday and his girlfriend, Kate Elder, along with Wyatt Earp, Sheriff John Behan, Ike Clanton, and a saloon owner named Hafford. I especially enjoyed Christine Doidge’s performance as Kate. In real life Kate was a Hungarian immigrant and Doidge played up that aspect. In Hungarian, there are not separate words for “he” and “she” and Kate gets flustered and often just uses “she” for both. Kate also seems to relish how this bothers people and refers to Doc as her “wife” even though there are separate words for husband and wife in Hungarian.

Eric played Doc Holliday as an educated man who will do anything he can to succeed in life and make a buck. As in real life, Doc was wracked with tuberculosis and Eric gives a moment that made me more sympathetic to his plight than Val Kilmer’s understated take in the movie Tombstone. The suggestion is made that Doc became a drinking man to dull the pain of the terminal disease. Of course, the movie is all about unreliable narrators.

At times, the film becomes almost impressionistic, mixing modern elements into the historical. There’s always a danger of this confusing an audience, but it can also be interesting to let it be a way of seeing older events through the lens of more familiar, contemporary icons. The film also literally takes you back in time by starting at modern Boot Hill just outside Tombstone, Arizona with tourists taking selfies in front of the Clantons’ tombstones and then dissolving back into the past.

In addition to Eric, I was excited to see Rogelio Camarillo in the film as Billy Claiborne. He was the sound man when we filmed the book trailer for my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. I was also delighted to see Bradford Trojan as Tom McLaury. I had a bit part in the movie Revenge of Zoe, which starred Bradford and Eric Schumacher. I’m still looking forward to that movie’s DVD release!

If you’re fascinated by the history surrounding the gunfight at OK Corral or would just like to see a non-traditional take on a western film, I recommend ordering a copy of the Tombstone Rashomon DVD. While you’re waiting for it to arrive, check out the links to my books below. On the page for The Astronomer’s Crypt, you’ll find the trailer that Eric and Rogelio helped me make.

Return to Penny Dreadful

In my post looking at the vampires who appeared in the first season of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, I mentioned that I had started the second season. I’ve finished the season, which overall, I enjoyed more than the first.

Our heroes, Vanessa Ives, Ethan Chandler, Sir Malcolm Murray, Sembene, and Dr. Victor Frankenstein, are all back. This time our villains prove not to be vampires but a coven of witches. What’s more, these witches, called nightcomers in the Penny Dreadful mythos, are servants of Lucifer with superhuman powers. In this season, Brona Croft is reincarnated by Dr. Frankenstein as Lily Frankenstein, meant as the monster’s bride but possessing a mind of her own. One of my favorite characters this season was Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle played by Sir Simon Russel Beale who was introduced in season 1 but had a nice character arc in season 2.

Reeve Carney is back this season as Dorian Grey. Mostly his story takes place in the background of season 2’s main action, but it looks like they set him up to take a bigger role in the third season. We’ll have to see what happens with that story.

Although Penny Dreadful’s second season still features many characters from classic literature, they seem freed from their origins to tell their own story this season. In many ways this season felt more like a nineteenth century penny dreadful come to life. Although the series does have better writing than a real life penny dreadful like say, Varney the Vampyre, there were moments it did make baffling turns. Some of the characters’ choices seemed more designed to serve plot than make sense for what people would do when faced with these real situations. Why, for example, do the characters often go to battle the monsters at night when its known that’s when the monsters are strongest?

Despite that, there are a lot of clever plot turns and some good character moments in this season. We learn more about Sir Malcolm Murray and his relationship with his estranged wife. We also learn more about Ethan Chandler. Danny Sapani’s Sembene actually gets stuff to do. For me the standout was Billy Piper’s Lily Frankenstein. Her arc takes her from apparently lost waif betrothed to Frankenstein’s monster to woman in control of her destiny.

I’ve been watching Penny Dreadful while working on new editions of my horror novels, Dragon’s Fall, Vampires of the Scarlet Order and The Astronomer’s Crypt. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about Penny Dreadful is that it doesn’t feel too bound by linear storytelling. One episode I thought was interesting in the current season involved Vanessa recounting how she was mentored by a witch. The episode didn’t bother to pop back into the present day, it just had a simple prologue of Vanessa starting her story, then the rest of the story just happened in the series’ past.

This approach reinforced a decision I’ve made for the new edition of Vampires of the Scarlet Order. The original edition was told in very linear order. Events that happened in 1491 happened first. Events that happened in the sixteenth century happened next. That noted, the story’s main conflict actually happens in the present day. So, I’ve decided the new edition will start in the present day and the chapters set in the past will be told when it’s natural for characters in the story to tell them. You can get a sneak peak at the new first chapter at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO-Preview.html

Of course, the buy links still point to the original novel as released in 2008, but that will change soon after the rights revert to me next month.

Star Trek: Picard

For staying at home during a pandemic, I feel like I’ve been extremely busy the last six weeks. Some of this has been from documentation work that I’ve discussed here. Some has been because rights to three of my novels revert to me at the end of this month and I’m working to get new editions ready to go when the reversion takes effect. This past Friday, the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association invited to me to speak to them via Zoom about Kitt Peak’s DESI project. The upshot is that I haven’t had as much extra time to read or watch TV as I might even under normal circumstances. Despite that, I decided to take advantage of a CBS All Access offer of a free month to watch a series I’ve been looking forward to, Star Trek: Picard.

The series takes place twenty years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. Admiral Picard, played admirably by Patrick Stewart, has retired to his home and vineyards in France. Meanwhile, in Seattle, black-suited agents storm the home of a young woman named Dahj and kill her boyfriend. She reveals extraordinary strength and gets away. Somehow she knows Picard is the one who can help her. Picard then figures out that she was a biological synthetic lifeform created from cells taken from Commander Data’s positronic network. In short, she’s a daughter of Commander Data, who sacrificed himself in Nemesis to save Picard.

Right away in the first episode, those black-suited agents are back and this time, they succeed in killing Dahj. However, Picard has learned that Dahj would have been one of a pair of identical twin synthetic lifeforms. From here, we go across space into Romulan territory and find out that Dahj’s twin sister, Soji, is helping to study a captured Borg ship while engaging in a romance with a Romulan named Narek, who I soon realized was played by Penny Dreadful’s Doctor Frankenstein, Harry Treadaway.

Admiral Picard now goes on a quest to find Dahj’s sister. When Starfleet refuses to help, he engages the help of Raffi Musiker, his first officer after Commander Riker left. They hire the ship, La Sirena, commanded by a former Starfleet officer, Chris Rios. They follow the clues that lead them to the Borg cube and then beyond to the planet where Soji and Dahj were created. Overall, I enjoyed the series. It was an engaging quest story with some nice moments for Star Trek: The Next Generation era characters such as Picard, Riker, Troi, and Seven of Nine.

My main complaint with the series had to do with the ending, and I’ll try to describe it in as spoiler-free a way as possible. When they get to the planet where Dahj and Soji were created, a beacon is built to summon a destructive force. We are then treated to some scenes of a hole opening in the sky and metallic tentacles flailing about. It’s a moment that feels all too much like the ending of modern superhero fare. It’s become tired there and it really had no place in a Star Trek episode. What’s more, Star Trek’s best scary moments have never involved big bad explicit threats, but threats like the Borg or the bug-like invaders in the Next Generation episode, “Conspiracy.” These are the things that feel like they could walk in and dismantle Starfleet and the Federation with ease if our heroes aren’t very careful.

I’m glad to have seen the series and I would recommend it to fellow Star Trek fans. Besides the nostalgia factor, I was also pleased to see the series embrace elements of Star Trek canon that haven’t felt terribly popular with fans such as the Romulan supernova from the 2009 Star Trek movie and the events of Star Trek: Nemesis itself. I will admit these are not among the highlights of the franchise, but I’ve long found it baffling how willing Star Trek fans are to cherry-pick their favorite bits of canon and try to imagine the rest didn’t happen.

I’m still a little on the fence about CBS All Access itself. I’m delighted they made a free month available to people during this difficult time. Still, episodes themselves were plagued by the occasional stutter that would be more upsetting if I had paid for it. While that could be my internet, I was also a little frustrated that the service wouldn’t let me watch the end credits of episodes without getting ready to play the next episode right away. Star Trek features some good music and I like the opportunity to hear it and I like being able to see who was in the guest cast of an episode without necessarily having to look it up later.

My Star Trek

Back in 2007, the current actor playing the Doctor in Doctor Who, David Tennant, appeared alongside one of the classic Doctors, Peter Davison in a short film for charity called “Time Crash.” In the short, Tennant has a moment that’s close to breaking the fourth wall. He glances at Davison with admiration, talks about all the things about him that inspired his interpretation of the character and then declares, “You were my Doctor.” Ever since then Doctor Who fans are fond of proclaiming which Doctor was the one that made them a fan of the series. That Doctor is my Doctor.

It’s possible to do almost the same thing with Star Trek. The show is almost as old and existed in numerous incarnations, much like Doctor Who. What’s more, as I talk to people of different ages, I do find that people do remember different Star Trek series with different amounts of fondness, often related to which one they discovered first and really hooked them. Thanks to having older brothers, I have watched and loved Star Trek as long as I remember, but to some degree, the original series is their Star Trek. For me, the series that hooked me was the one that debuted on Saturday morning TV around the time I started the second grade.

The animated Star Trek produced by Filmation Studios and helmed by D.C. Fontana essentially gave us two more seasons of the original series, completing the original five year mission. What’s more, I’d argue most of the episodes were better than the episodes that appeared in the third live action season. We got to see cool new aliens, such as Arex, a new navigator with three arms and three legs, and a Vendorian shapeshifter with tentacles who no doubt stuck in my mind enough to inspire my Alpha Centaurans when I wrote the first chapter of my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro. We also got to see a return of the tribbles and a return to the planet from the episode “Shore Leave.”

I was pleased to see that someone finally devoted a book to the animated series, Star Trek: The Official Guide to the Animated Series by Aaron Harvey and Rich Schepis with an afterward by Dayton Ward, who co-edited the anthology Maximum Velocity with me. It has nice episode summaries plus behind the scenes information. For instance, I didn’t realize that Lou Scheimer of Filmation had been trying to get rights to do an animated Star Trek since before the original went off the air. What’s more, I learned the animated series the only one to win an Emmy in a non-technical category. It won for “Outstanding Children’s Program” in the second season.

The animated Star Trek often suffers from arguments about the series’ canon. In fact, all canon refers to is the collected body of original work produced by the licensed owners. What people really seem to mean when they argue about “canon” is “the consistent internal history of the show.” It doesn’t help that the series creator, Gene Roddenberry, didn’t want to consider the animated series part of that official history. Despite that, several authors in later series have included references to it. Now, to put this kind of debate into perspective, I have a hard enough time maintaining consistency in a multi-book series that I, alone, create. I can’t imagine being absolutely consistent throughout a series that has lasted over 50 years with multiple creators, where history itself has changed some of the backstory. (We all remember Khan Noonien Singh’s reign in the 1990s, right?) I think the best new creators can do is know what came before, do their best to get it right, and maybe even have a little fun when they find contradictions and anachronisms.

If you haven’t seen the animated series, or it’s been a while, I encourage you to take a look. Bringing Harvey and Schepis’s book along for the journey might just add to your appreciation.

The Addams Family: An Evilution

Back in October, when I discussed the new Addams Family film, I expressed a hope that we would see some new reprints of Charles Addams’ original cartoons that inspired the TV series and the movies. As it turns out, the only new books I’ve seen are tie-ins to the movie itself and most of them are aimed at kids. Fortunately, one very good book that was published a decade ago by Pomegranate Press is still in print. It’s called The Addams Family: An Evilution and I bought a copy for my wife, who, like me, is a fan of Charles Addams. Once she finished reading the book, she passed it along to me.

Over the years, there have been numerous collections of Charles Addams’ cartoons. What sets The Addams Family: An Evilution apart is that it endeavors to collect all the original published Addams Family cartoons together under one cover, plus many unpublished Addams Family sketches. It also includes Charles Addams’ own notes about the characters that he compiled when the TV series was being conceived plus commentary about the history of the characters by H. Kevin Miserocchi, the director of the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation.

The book starts with a description of how disparate characters from one-panel cartoons became a “family.” Each section of the book after that focuses on a particular character from the Addams Family. There are sections devoted to Morticia, Gomez, Lurch, and the others, including the Addams house itself. I thought it was particularly fascinating that Addams’ own conceptions of the characters differed a bit from what we saw on screen, and especially from how they evolved into the movies. For example, Uncle Fester rarely appears in cartoons with the other members of the family and its not clear he was intended to be a blood relative. He may simply have been a close friend referred to as “Uncle” Fester because of his close ties to the family.

This last bit is also interesting because it appears that Addams viewed Fester as something of an avatar for himself. From the photos in the book, it’s clear that Addams himself was a more robust and handsome fellow than Fester. Still, one of the book’s opening cartoons is taken from Tee and Charles Addams’ wedding invitation and shows Fester and Morticia as a couple. This would be quite a twist in the story as we’ve seen it portrayed in the movies and on TV!

Another element I found especially interesting was that “the Thing” was not conceived of as simply a hand or even a hand in a box. I won’t spoil it by revealing who the character was in the cartoons, but I remember seeing an unidentified creature in some of the cartoons and wondering who that was supposed to be. There is a famous cartoon of an Addams record player where hands stick out of the player and change the records and put the needle down. It’s likely this inspired the TV show and it’s even possible those are supposed to be Thing’s hands.

As I read the book, I saw how elements of Charles Addams’ work has inspired me. I see elements of the vampire Alexandra from my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order in Morticia. I see the manic energy of John Astin’s Gomez in Professor Maravilla of my Clockwork Legion novels. Lurch’s frightening and imposing form is reflected in characters like Arepno and G’Liat from my Space Pirates’ Legacy novels. As always, I hope you’ll explore my works at http://www.davidleesummers.com. If, like me and my wife, you’re a fan of Charles Addams, I highly recommend adding The Addams Family: An Evilution to your library.

Captain Pike’s Discovery

By coincidence, actor Ethan Peck visited Kitt Peak National Observatory the week Star Trek: Discovery’s second season was released on DVD and Blu-Ray. I enjoyed the first season enough, I had already planned to watch the second second when I could get it on disk. Meeting the actor who played Spock in the series provided even more motivation. When I finished my shift at the observatory, I stopped in Tucson and picked up a copy of the season on Blu-Ray. I finished watching the season earlier this week.

Season one ended on a cliffhanger. The Starship Discovery encountered a badly damaged Starship Enterprise. When the second season opens, Captain Christopher Pike beams over to the Discovery and announces that he’s been given temporary command so that he can investigate the appearance of seven mysterious red signals around the galaxy while the Enterprise continues to dock for repairs. We soon learn that Pike’s science officer, Mr. Spock, has committed himself to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. Spock’s adopted sister, Michael Burnham, is the series protagonist and serves as Discovery’s science officer.

Soon after the season begins, Spock leaves the psychiatric hospital and goes on the run. He’s accused of killing his doctors and the Discovery goes after him. The ship is then stopped in its tracks by an ancient artificial intelligence at the end of its operational life. They end up downloading all of the AI’s data into their computers. At this point, Section 31, a covert operations division of Starfleet takes a strong interest both in the ancient data and in Spock. Saying much more about the plot will get into spoiler territory, but we do end up with a season of political intrigue and personal drama.

As a long-time Star Trek fan, the most satisfying aspect of this season was getting to know Captain Christopher Pike. Way back when there was only one Star Trek TV series, he appeared in one episode as the grievously wounded former captain of the Enterprise. During the episode called “The Menagerie,” Mr. Spock hijacks the ship to take his former captain to the mysterious world Talos IV. In the process we learn about the first time Pike visited Talos IV. During the episode we learn that Captain Pike, played by Jeffrey Hunter, is conflicted about command. He regrets ordering his crew into dangerous situations and considers a new career.

In the 2009, Star Trek film, we see Captain Pike again. This time he’s played by Bruce Greenwood. The movie portrays Pike as something of a cool father figure. Anson Mount, who plays Captain Pike in Star Trek: Discovery, bridges these two portrayals and shows us a captain who cares deeply about his crew and is willing to sacrifice himself for others. Ethan Peck does a great job of playing a young Lieutenant Spock dealing with inner demons. In the process, we get a good sense of why he was loyal enough to Captain Pike to risk a court martial to help his mentor in the original series. We also see how Spock and Burnham influenced each other growing up and we see a fun brother/sister dynamic between the two characters.

The second season of Discovery includes a lot of action, which I enjoyed and I was glad to get to know the series’ regular characters better. The season-long arc format continues to suit Star Trek. That said, aside from our encounter with the ancient AI, we don’t seem to “explore new worlds” and “seek out new life and new civilizations” as much as we did in the original series or even Star Trek: The Next Generation. That said, the season’s end did set us up to go “where no one has gone before.” At the end of the season, we got a nice taste of Captain Pike’s Enterprise. I think it would be a lot of fun if we saw a spin-off series that gave us more of Captain Pike and Mr. Spock’s adventures before the more famous five-year mission.

JoJo Rabbit

I first saw the preview for the movie JoJo Rabbit a few weeks ago when it first came out. I thought it looked like an intriguing political satire, and a breath of fresh air at a time when it seems most movies are either romantic comedies, horror films, or superhero adventures. What’s more, the film was written and directed by Taika Waititi who also directed the movies What We Do in the Shadows and Thor: Ragnarok, two films I enjoyed a great deal. The only problem is that the movie came out at a time when I was busy with travel and work and I couldn’t break away to see it.

A few days ago, our local theater held a giveaway for some JoJo Rabbit merchandise. As it turns out, my wife won. My younger daughter models the shirt, hat and pin she won in the photo. The theater also extended the movie’s run, something that seems almost unheard of these days. Given both of these events, we decided to go see the movie in the theater while we could.

JoJo Rabbit is a satire about a boy named JoJo who lives in World War II-era Germany and goes to Nazi youth camp. Hitler is his imaginary friend. All goes pretty well until JoJo is told to kill a rabbit to show his loyalty to the cause. JoJo can’t and he runs away to cries of “JoJo Rabbit.” His imaginary friend turns up and gives him a pep-talk, telling him it’s okay to be the rabbit. He then returns to the others and, in order to prove himself, participates in a hand grenade exercise, only to injure himself seriously. After recovering, he goes home and is given a job passing out Nazi propaganda. Again, all seems well for JoJo until he discovers that his mother is harboring a Jewish girl in the walls of the family house.

One thing people frequently misunderstand about satire is that it’s not necessarily about being funny. Instead, satire attempts to call out how ridiculous something is. In the process, it often is funny, but it can also be tragic. JoJo Rabbit has elements of both comedy and tragedy. It follows a long line of satires about Nazi Germany from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator to assorted World War II-era cartoons to Mel Brooks and The Producers. I also think of the TV series Hogan’s Heroes, which ran in reruns when I was a kid. Those comparisons noted, JoJo Rabbit is less a satire of Nazi Germany and more a satire of a world where politicians foster hate and how, if you’re not going to be one of their attack dogs, they are happy for you to “be the rabbit” and just accept what’s happening.

To me, satire succeeds if it gets you to consider the subject. The movie did get us talking afterward and in that way it succeeded. One thing we’ve noted is how easy it’s become for death to be suggested as a punishment for almost anything, including just being an annoyance. I’m still somewhat horrified at a reviewer who suggested characters of mine should have thrown another out an airlock, something which has almost become a casual science fiction trope. In my fiction, I like to imagine characters who don’t necessarily give into their baser instincts on a whim, even when they’re pirates or vampires. At the moment, much of what we hear is rhetoric and talk. I hope it stays that way, though I fear the rhetoric and talk makes it easier for someone in power to act on base instincts and not only get away with it, but be cheered on. For now, I’m grateful we still live in a country where a movie like JoJo Rabbit can exist.

Tesla: Man Out of Time

My brother sent me an early birthday present this year, a copy of Margaret Cheney’s biography of Nikola Tesla called Tesla: Man Out of Time. Nikola Tesla is something of a steampunk icon and his work has fascinated me ever since I saw my first Tesla coil at the Griffith Park Observatory on a family outing when I was a child. I would actually take a crack at building a Tesla coil as an electronics club project in college. The two experiences helped to inspire my story “A Specter in the Light,” which appears in the anthology DeadSteam. The title is a link and will take you to the Amazon page where you can get your own copy of the anthology. I’ve even written a story where I imagine Tesla’s research in Colorado Springs led him to learn more about Mars than is widely known. That story appeared in the All-Martian Spectacular issue of Science Fiction Trails Magazine, which appears to be out of print.

In the real world, Tesla was interested in the propagation of electromagnetic waves. He’s directly responsible for all of our buildings being wired with AC plugs. His patents also led directly to the invention of radio. He pioneered the development of remote control vehicles for defensive purposes. In particular, he experimented on remote-control ships and submarines, but one can easily see how these anticipate the remote-control military aircraft of today. He provided light to the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago, which helped expand the acceptance of electric lighting.

Tesla was also a charismatic visionary who had more ideas than he could possibly test. Because of this, he attracted such luminaries to his circle as Mark Twain and science fiction pioneer, Hugo Gernsback. In her biography, Cheney fills in details of Tesla’s youth in Serbia, his education around Europe, and his immigration to the United States where he briefly worked for Thomas Edison, but found a longtime ally in George Westinghouse. She paints a picture of Tesla as a dapper man who always wore fine clothes and was meticulous in his appearance. She also discusses his love of pigeons, which he fed regularly and kept at his rooms in New York.

Cheney’s book filled in many details I didn’t know about Tesla, such as how he lived much of his adult life in New York City hotel rooms and his friendship with the poet Robert Underwood Johnson and his wife Katharine. Cheney also discusses Tesla’s love of Serbian poetry. I’ve long been fascinated by his brief foray to Colorado Springs where he conducted large-scale experiments he couldn’t conduct in the city and she gives good information about that time period. What’s more, the book pointed out an amusing connection with Tesla and my own writing I hadn’t know about. In my first steampunk story, “The Slayers,” I created a character named Rado, who was meant as a tribute to Ray Douglas Bradbury. However, Tesla had a friend who was a professor at New York University known as Dr. Rado.

As it turns out, not all of Tesla’s ideas seem like good ones. As an astronomer, I found his notion of charging the entire sky so it’s never dark at night to be particularly horrifying. Admittedly, Tesla was thinking about nighttime urban safety, but I’ve long felt that humans need the night and the stars to be able to dream of better futures, including the kind of future Tesla wanted to build.

If you want to know more about Nikola Tesla, I recommend Marget Cheney’s Tesla: A Man Out of Time. There’s a lot of good information and it was a breezy, compelling read.