Peering Into Distorted Mirrors

The first time I encountered the idea of parallel worlds — where you might encounter familiar faces existing in an altered reality — was the classic Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror,” written by Jerome Bixby. The episode imagines Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura entering an alternate version of their world where a totalitarian Imperial Earth controls the galaxy instead of a benevolent Federation of Planets. Crewmembers move up in rank by assassinating superior officers and starships are sent to dominate worlds. To me, and I believe many other fans as well, it stands out as one of the more memorable episodes. Despite that, Star Trek would not revisit the “mirror universe” again until Deep Space Nine. At that time, we learn that Spock of the mirror universe attempted to affect changes to the Earth Empire, which, in turn, made the empire weak and allowed the Klingons and Cardassians to take over much of the galaxy. Of course, one wonders what the Mirror Universe equivalents of Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D were doing during this time.

Mirror Universe Collection

IDW Comics decided to explore this idea in a set of comic book miniseries which have been collected in the graphic novel Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mirror Universe Collection. The graphic novel contains three complete story arcs. The first, “Mirror Broken,” tells the story of how the mirror universe Jean-Luc Picard took command of his version of the Enterprise. This story features beautiful painted artwork by J.M. Woodward and is possibly the best artwork I’ve seen in a Star Trek comic. The story by David & Scott Tipton does a nice job of weaving a Next Generation story out of our glimpses of the mirror universe from the TV series. The second arc is “Through the Mirror” which imagines the mirror universe Picard and his crew finding a way into our universe to plunder technology and resources. Of course the Picard of our universe must do what he can to thwart the mirror Picard. The final story arc is “Terra Incognita” in which the mirror universe engineer Reginald Barclay is stranded in our universe and must find a way to blend in. This proved to be my favorite story since it focused on one character, how he was the same and different from his counterpart in “our” universe and how he had to learn to fit in to survive and thrive.

The graphic novel also contains two one-shot stories: “Origin of Data” and “Ripe for Plunder.” Both stories were interesting. The latter involves the mirror universe Data seeking out the deposed Emperor Spock in exile. The idea was interesting, but I thought the tale deserved more nuance than a one-shot story allowed.

To me, the appeal of parallel universe stories is that they allow us to explore “the road not traveled.” We can look back at history and ask what if historical figures made different choices than they did in the history we know? This is what I do in my Clockwork Legion novels. Such alternate universes don’t have to be “dark” universes like the one presented in Star Trek’s mirror universe. They can be an exploration of human drives under different conditions. They can provide for a fun character study. Although I have issues with Star Trek: Into Darkness, I still love the idea of exploring the Enterprise’s encounter with Khan Noonien Singh under different circumstances than we knew in the original series.

In an interesting piece of real-world alternate history, I gather Jerome Bixby and his son Emerson wrote a sequel to “Mirror, Mirror” called “Broken Mirror” for Star Trek: The Next Generation. This version was written before Deep Space Nine’s creation and imagined Spock from the mirror universe discovering a problem which developed when Captain Kirk and his landing party returned to their home universe many years before. Apparently matter from the two universes would have been leaking into one another creating a disaster about to happen, which required crews from both universes to work together. I would love to see this story adapted or even a published version of the screenplay.

Dark alternate universes provide an interesting approach to the cautionary tale. “Mirror, Mirror” and its sequels give us a look at what our future might be like if we give into our darker, more totalitarian natures. After all, there’s no guarantee the Star Trek universe is ours. We could be living inside the mirror.

You can explore my alternate version of the late 1800s by reading the Clockwork Legion series, which is available at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Revisiting a Classic

It! The Terror from Beyond Space is a 1958 science fiction film with a screenplay written by one of my favorite authors, Jerome Bixby. I’ve heard that the film inspired Dan O’Bannon when he wrote the screenplay for Alien. The overall premise is much the same. Aboard a spaceship, the crew is locked in a life-or-death struggle with a formidable alien creature. Bixby himself is probably best known as the creator of Star Trek’s mirror universe and also the author of the short story “It’s a Good Life” which was the basis of a Twilight Zone episode of the same title starring Bill Mumy. I met Jerome Bixby briefly while standing in line to watch Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan in 1982.

I recently came across a 2010 comic book adaptation of It! The Terror from Beyond Space published by IDW comics, who currently publish Star Trek and Doctor Who comics in the United States. The comic is written by Dara Naraghi with art by Mark Dos Santos. I liked the idea of retelling the story of a classic film as a comic book so I picked up the short run series, then rewatched the original film.

The comic series essentially follows the plot of the film. A spaceship goes to Mars to rescue a crashed exploratory mission. When they arrive, they find only one survivor, the captain of the original mission. All the evidence suggests that the first mission’s captain killed his crew so that he’d have sufficient resources to survive until the rescue party arrived. All the while, the captain maintains his innocence, saying a monster killed the crew. The captain is taken prisoner, but as the rescue ship prepares to leave, they dump some waste overboard, leaving the door open. This provides a path for the Martian to get aboard.

I suspect largely for budget reasons, the movie rushes through the early part of the story on Mars. We hear some narration over a lovely panorama showing us the wreckage of the exploratory ship and the rescue ship getting ready to leave. Then we cut to a press conference where an official on Earth tells a room full of reporters what happened. Soon after that, in the movie, the monster begins making trouble.

The comic spends most of the first issue on this early part of the story. This allows us a little more time to get to know the crew and wonder about the captain of the first mission. We also get to know more about the relationships of the rescue ship’s crew. In the movie, it’s hinted that the captain and the chief scientist had a romance. In the comic, that’s a bigger element of the plot. One of the things I love about the movie is that it actually had women in the crew, unlike Forbidden Planet, where the C-57D had a distinctly all-male crew. It was refreshing to see some black characters among the crew in the updated version as well.

I was initially disappointed to see that the first issue of the comic only really acknowledged the movie with a fine-print copyright notice on the inside front cover. However, in the second issue, we learn that a member of the rescue party takes orders from a shadowy group called the Bixby Wing, which was a fun nod to Jerome Bixby.

Overall, the comic maintains the feel of the 1950s film while updating some elements. The monster feels like one that would have been envisioned in that era, if they’d had more effects money. They maintained the overall look of the tall, cigar-shaped rocket ship, including the iconic thick hatches between decks. I’m sorry to say that the three-issue comic series is out of print and hard to find. The comics were part of IDW’s “Midnite Movie” series, which they don’t seem to have released digitally. Still, I do recommend the comics if you can find copies and the movie always makes a fun way to spend an evening.


If you enjoy my posts, please take a moment to learn about my novels at http://www.davidleesummers.com or consider supporting me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers so that I can maintain an ad-free experience here at the Web Journal.

Star Trek: Lower Decks

Given my love of both Star Trek and animation, I knew I would get around to watching the first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks eventually. I admit, I didn’t quite rush to the show for two reasons. First off, back when Star Trek: The Next Generation did a couple of episodes from the point of view of junior officers, I felt they’d botched certain elements of it. Also, the animation style put me off. Still, I’m glad I took a chance and saw what the series had to offer. I was pleased to find yet another incarnation of the Star Trek universe to enjoy.

Set aboard the U.S.S. Cerritos, Lower Decks focuses on four ensigns: Becket Mariner, an irreverent character who has climbed up to higher rank, only to be demoted again; Brad Boimler, a by-the-book character who sees himself as a future captain; Davana T’endi, an Orion medical technician; and Eugene Cordero, an engineer adjusting to a cybernetic implant. The ship itself is on a mission of providing engineering support to worlds just entering the Federation. The series features many references to classic Star Trek episodes and, perhaps not surprisingly, has many wonderful tributes to the original animated series. On the whole, the source of the humor comes from poking fun at places fans themselves have poked fun at the different series. More than once, the series reminded me of Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville.

Back in Star Trek: The Next Generation, there were two episodes told from the perspective of junior officers. The first was called “Tapestry” where the powerful alien Q shows Picard what would have happened if he hadn’t gotten into a fight which resulted in him needing an artificial heart. We learn Picard never took the chances he needed to be promoted and remained a junior officer. The next episode was “Lower Decks” about four junior officers up for promotion. Both episodes were good overall, but my problem was that the senior officers seemed too aloof and frankly snobbish around the junior officers. The dynamic felt more like Hollywood producers around interns from the back office than members of a team working together to explore the galaxy. Over my time in astronomy, I’ve had the opportunity to work with numerous well-known scientists in leadership positions, including Nobel Prize winners, and while some have been challenging to work with, most have been team players who recognized that everyone in the room was there because they had something to contribute no matter their level of seniority or what accolades they’d received. When I turn on a Star Trek episode, I want to see a team I’d want to be on as much or more than the one I’m on in real life. The Lower Decks animated series succeeded at this, possibly helped by the comedy premise. All of the characters are flawed, which puts them on much more equal footing as people, even when some of those people have more experience. What’s more, I felt as though the characters were having fun, which made me want to join them for the fun of exploration.

In graduate school, I was a fan of Matt Groenig’s comic strip, Life in Hell. I watched Groenig go on to develop The Simpsons and Futurama. I then watched other creators use a similar style in shows like Family Guy and Rick and Morty. In effect, Groenig’s style became the “adult animated comedy” style and we see it again in Lower Decks. I don’t dislike the style, but I found myself wondering if it would work for Star Trek. As it turns out, the style was adjusted to give it just a little more realism. While I was frustrated to see another American animation show forced to look a certain way because of its intended audience, I did find the actual look appealing and I soon warmed to the characters, in part because of solid voice acting and good scripts.

On a personal level, I loved the California-class ships named after the state’s cities. Growing up in California, I recognized all the ship names they’ve mentioned so far. I would love to see my old stomping grounds of San Bernardino or Barstow get a starship in a later season. The former seems like it would provide an opportunity to pay tribute to original series writer Jerome Bixby, who lived there. It might be fun to see it appear in an episode about the mirror universe that he created. Of course, Bixby’s stories were an early influence on my own writing, which you can learn more about by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com

San Bernardino

News of the December 2 attack on the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California has been particularly sad for me to watch. I grew up there and still have friends in the area. A childhood friend even received treatment at the Inland Regional Center. No one I knew seems to be among the dead or wounded, but San Bernardino has been a town going through tough times for a while and I suspect this is going to make things even tougher as people associate the city with the incident.

My family moved to San Bernardino when I was 4. My dad was a General Locomotive Foreman for one of the city’s major industries, Santa Fe Railroad. The other two big employers in the area were Kaiser Steel and Norton Air Force Base. All of those were closed by the early 1990s. We lived in three different houses while we were there, but the house that sticks in my memory as “my” house is one my parents bought in the 1950s just a block away from the site of the original McDonalds. When my parents left San Bernardino for a time in the late 60s and early 70s, my grandmother moved into the house. So, it was a house I visited regularly from my earliest days. They moved back into the house when my grandmother passed away in 1974.

McDonalds Museum

I have a lot of good memories from my years in San Bernardino. It was where I discovered both my love for writing and for astronomy. I made my first attempt at writing The Solar Sea when I was in high school. That draft long since has vanished in time, but the novel that exists probably wouldn’t have been written if not for my early daydreams of riding a solar sail to the outer planets.

Those daydreams were no doubt inspired by a love of astronomy. I started by attending meetings of the San Bernardino Valley Amateur Astronomers when I was a freshman in high school. By the time I was a senior, I took an astronomy class at Cal State San Bernardino from Dr. Paul Heckert and went on to observe variable stars with him for several years.

Of the three times I had a chance to meet with and speak to Ray Bradbury, two of them were in San Bernardino. The first time was at Pacific High School when he came to speak to the students. I actually attended San Bernardino High School across town, but Pacific’s principal invited me to share lunch with Mr. Bradbury. I saw him a gain a few years later at Cal State. Not only did I get to meet Ray Bradbury, but I also got to meet Jerome Bixby, author of the short story “It’s a Good Life” which became a Twilight Zone episode starring Billy Mumy. Bixby also wrote several of my favorite Star Trek episodes including Mirror, Mirror and “Day of the Dove.”

Arrowhead

One of the things I really love about San Bernardino are the mountains. Above is Mt. Arrowhead and the arrowhead feature is a natural rock formation. The Arrowhead is on private land, but I had the rare privilege of being able to climb the mountain one Saturday during my high school years. As it turns out, the springs at the base of the mountain are where Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water gets its name. The nearby San Gorgonio wilderness area and Big Bear Lake provide even more breathtaking sights and I spent time hiking and camping with my family and friends in those areas as well.

My time thinking of San Bernardino as “home” largely came to an end in 1989 when Santa Fe closed their shops, my brother moved with the railroad to Topeka, Kansas. My dad had passed away in 1980, so my mom decided to move to Seattle. I went back to the house I lived in through my high school years, packed up all my belongings and moved them to Socorro, New Mexico. San Bernardino is a town on tough times and those times are even tougher now that such a tragedy has struck. The people of San Bernardino are very much in my heart this holiday season.