Star Trek Revisited

This past week, I started a rewatch of Star Trek: The Next Generation with my youngest daughter. The fact that this rewatch coincides with the show’s thirtieth anniversary and this weekend’s premier of Star Trek: Discovery is mostly coincidental. I suspect the part that isn’t coincidence has to do with all the ads I’ve been seeing for Star Trek: Discovery. They’ve certainly put Star Trek on my mind.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted, I was in my senior year at University. I remembered being glued to the television on Saturday afternoon when each new episode aired on syndicated television. Back in those days, I was so much a fan of the original series that I could quote lines verbatim. I typically could identify the episode within the first minute. In the early days, I didn’t feel The Next Generation was quite as good as the best episodes of the original series, but it was never as bad as the worst episodes, either. Most importantly, it felt like Star Trek.

It would probably come as a surprise to friends who knew me in those days that Star Trek: The Next Generation was the last Star Trek series I watched in its entirety. I have seen and enjoyed episodes of Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, but as I began my astronomy and writing careers, television became less of a priority in my life and I just didn’t make time to follow those series.

One of the things I really like in Star Trek: The Next Generation is the way characters will do everything they can to find a mutually agreeable solution before resorting to violence. In many ways, this approach helped to shape Ramon and Fatemeh in my steampunk novels. Of course, Star Trek gave a lot of lip service to the “prime directive”—the policy of not interfering with cultures more primitive than them. In many ways, my alien traveler character Legion explores the bad, and even some good, that might happen from violating such a directive. Legion sparks off global conflict, but he also opens people’s minds, allowing them to see the benefits of technology and to see other peoples’ perspectives.

One aspect of Star Trek: The Next Generation that particularly struck me this time around was the idea of a “post-atomic horror” in the middle of the twenty-first century. When I first watched the series in the post-Reagan years of the 1980s, that seemed extremely pessimistic. As the years went by, I had reason to hope that the idea would disappear just as much as the original series’ Eugenics Wars of the 1990s did. It’s been very disheartening to see the specter of nuclear conflict raise its ugly head again in the last few months. I sincerely hope that world leaders can find a path to negotiate rather than let this science fictional prediction come to pass.

Before I wrap things up, I’ll turn briefly to Star Trek: Discovery. To be honest, I haven’t decided whether I’m going to watch, at least initially. A lot of what I’ve seen looks good and it looks like a show I would enjoy. I’m particularly encouraged to see that Michelle Yeoh, one of my favorite actresses, is part of the series. The big question for me is whether I want to sign up for CBS All Access to watch. The cost itself isn’t a big problem. More to the point for me is how little I watch television these days. For me, I’d be signing into the network to watch just one show. I may wait for a few episodes to come available, then try the “one-week free” option and then see how I like the show.

Before I go, I did want to share a couple of nice appearances this week at The Curious Adventures of Messrs Smith and Skarry Blog. I was interviewed about multicultural steampunk: https://smithandskarry.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/soup-of-the-day-with-steampunk-author-david-lee-summers/

Also, my novel The Brazen Shark received a very nice review, which you can read at: https://smithandskarry.wordpress.com/2017/09/22/morning-cuppa-the-brazen-shark-steampunk-fiction/

I’ll leave you with the Vulcan wish, “Live Long and Prosper” and its reply, “Peace and Long Life.”

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Saturday Morning Cartoons

Perhaps one of the things I miss most from years gone by is the ability to tune in to network television on Saturday morning and find a wide variety of animated cartoon programming. Much of this is due to television networks in the period of 1992 to 2002 deciding they didn’t make enough money to continue supporting animated programming. Also, around 2001 my wife and I decided that neither cable nor satellite TV were necessary items for our budget and we could see all the TV we wanted with other media such as DVDs. Of course, our decision was all part of the national trend that helped to kill animation in the first place. Not many people eschewed broadcast TV altogether as we did that early, but the number of choices available made it harder for networks to justify the expense of animation when certain cable networks specialized in it.

I grew up watching cartoons in the 1970s. I fondly remember many teams of crime-solving kids from shows such as Scooby-Doo and Josie and the Pussycats. The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour provided some great comedy, much of it originally produced much before my time. I was already a Star Trek fan and loved the animated adaptation that aired in the mid 70s. There were even some cool live action experiments during that time such as Land of the Lost about a family trapped in a land of dinosaurs and the superhero-themed Shazam/Isis Hour.

I never really fell out of love with cartoons, but the 1990s ended up being another high point for me. That was in the early days of my astronomy career and cartoons became an escape from my working life. They were also a welcome treat when my first daughter was young. What I particularly remember from that period were some exceptional superhero shows such as Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men. There were also some great animated superhero parodies such as Earthworm Jim, The Tick and Freakazoid.

Of course, for all the gems, there were many forgettable shows as well. Still, what I find amazing living in the times we do is how many of these shows that I thought I would never see again are readily available on video or with the touch of a button on the internet. For a guy like me who occasionally wants a dose of nostalgia, these are great times. That said, the real joy of those Saturday mornings was the fun of discovery and I think that’s what I really miss is having that easy means of discovering new favorites.

Giving people a way to discover new authors was much of the reason I edited Hadrosaur Tales followed by Tales of the Talisman. Publishing those magazines also helped me appreciate the economic reality that caused the networks to take Saturday morning cartoons off the air. Like TV shows gone by, you can still get most of the back issues of both magazines. There are some great stories there by authors such as Neal Asher, Nicole Givens Kurtz, David Boop, and Janni Lee Simner and many more. You can find the back issues of each at:

As it turns out, I can do better than just give you nostalgia, Hadrosaur Productions has published two anthologies of stories set around planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission. Be sure to check out:

Space “Cowboys”

This weekend I’m at Bubonicon 48. If you’re in Albuquerque, I hope you’ll drop by and visit us at the Hadrosaur Productions table and check out some of the cool panels going on. In the run-up to Bubonicon this past week, Steve Howell and I have been working on Hadrosaur’s anthology Kepler’s Cowboys, which looks at the variety of planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler space telescope and imagines the brave men and women who will either explore those worlds or will come to our world exploring.

One of the things that I’ve noticed while reading for this anthology is how literally many of the authors have taken the cowboy idea. Several of the submissions feature very literal cowboys in space, who practically wear spurs and big hats. That’s fine and I think a few of those will definitely make it into the anthology, but I do want to point out that’s not the only thing I want to see. In fact, I thought I’d spend a little time today introducing you to a few of my favorite space “cowboys.”

Faye Faye Vallentine is one of the bounty hunters in the anime Cowboy Bebop. Although I enjoy watching Faye’s story, I probably wouldn’t want to know her. In fact, she’s rather arrogant and lazy and she might well be addicted to both gambling and alcohol. However, she does (albeit grudgingly sometimes) show concern for the crew of the spaceship Bebop and the mystery of her past makes her vulnerable. By all appearances she became an ace pilot in about three years. Although much of the mystery of her past is resolved in the series, there are still lots more stories that could be told about her, both from before she joined the crew of the Bebop, and after the end of the series. I love it when it feels like we’re seeing a snippet of someone’s life in a story and don’t feel like that character was born the moment the story was created.

Jewell_Staite Kaylee Frye is the mechanic who keeps the spaceship Serenity flying in the televison series Firefly. The photo is from Phoenix Comicon a couple of years ago when my daughter and I had the chance to meet Jewell Staite, the actress who played Kaylee. Firefly, like Cowboy Bebop, is almost the definitive space cowboy series. In both cases, I could pick almost any character from the series as an example of someone who fits the archetype. I picked Kaylee because I like the fact that she’s a technical genius. Of all the members of Serenity’s crew, she’s probably the worst with a gun, but she’s loyal and has no problem telling it as she sees it.

Nichols My final entry is arguably two for the price of one, because not only would I consider Nyota Uhura a space cowboy, but Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played her in the original Star Trek is arguably a real-life space cowboy! The photo shows Nichols with my daughters at New Mexico Tech in 2008. To many, Uhura did little but “answer the phone” for Captain Kirk, but those people miss the fact that she not only worked communications on the Starship Enterprise but she could take over the science station when Spock wasn’t there and she could navigate the ship. In the animated episode “The Lorelei Signal,” Uhura took command and even rescued Kirk, Spock and McCoy. What’s more, she was a strong African-American woman on television at a time when most African-American women were relegated to roles in comedy or playing slaves in historical dramas. As for Nichelle Nichols, she not only played an explorer, she’s worked as a real-life space advocate and recruiter for NASA. She’s a powerful speaker and visionary and I’m honored that I’ve had the chance to meet her.

As you’ll no doubt have noticed, none of my cowboys are boys, nor do they have anything to do with cows. (Except perhaps for that one episode of Firefly where they hauled cattle, but that’s beside the point!) Although I don’t want fan fiction with these specific characters, I would love to see more stories with strong women like the ones depicted here. I’d also love to see more stories by women. Here’s what you need to know for submissions:

The “Monsters” of Star Trek

I remember the first episode of the original Star Trek I watched. I must have been around five or six years old and Captain Kirk was being chased around the desert by the largest, most ferocious green lizard man I had ever seen. Monsters-Star-Trek When the creature first appeared hissing and growling with its strange, segmented eyes, it would have sent me to hide and watch from behind the couch if our couch hadn’t been backed against a wall. Scared as I was, the episode hooked me and even made me feel a little sorry for the green lizard man when Captain Kirk finally beat him. That likely was not only the beginning of my love of Star Trek but my love of monsters as well.

In 1980, soon after the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a book appeared at my local bookstore called The Monsters of Star Trek. It was a thin book clearly designed to capitalize on the new movie. On the cover was the Gorn—the lizard man from my childhood—so I had to pick it up. The book discussed mind-bending aliens such as the Talosians from the series pilot and Sylvia and Korob from Star Trek’s twisted Halloween episode “Catspaw.” It talked about dangerous animals such as the giant space amoeba and the ape-like Mugato. Browsing through the pages today, it strikes me that the original Star Trek dealt with vampires not just once but twice. In the first season, they met a salt vampire, then in the second, they met a vampire cloud that Kirk obsessively hunted. No doubt this contributed to my own vampire novels.

Of course many of Star Trek’s monsters prove to be misunderstood aliens or aliens who don’t understand humans. The most recent Star Trek movie, Beyond had an alien that definitely fell into this latter category—a swarm-like race led astray by an outside force. (I won’t say more, lest I give spoilers). I’ve always found swarms a bit scary, since they’re a large force with a single purpose, operating like one organism. For me, the best zombie stories work from this basis. One zombie is a little scary. A bunch of zombies working in concert is really scary! You can find my zombie stories in the anthologies Zombiefied: An Anthology of All Things Zombie and Zombiefied: Hazardous Materials from Sky Warrior Publishing.

As it turns out, zombies aren’t my only look at the scary swarm. In Owl Dance, I introduce Legion, a swarm of microscopic computers who decide to help humans evolve in the second half of the nineteenth century causing near disaster. Legion clearly took some inspiration from Star Trek. In fact, one of the chapters in The Monsters of Star Trek is called “Androids, Computers, and Mad Machines.”

I never really thought of myself as a horror writer or even a horror fan until I started reading Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft as an adult and writing my first vampire stories. That said, it’s interesting to look back and see how scary stories were influencing me even from an early age. Still, it should really be no surprise. I’ve often said my interest in science fiction novels began from paying attention to the writer credits on the original Star Trek. One of those writers was none other than Robert Bloch, a writer mentored by H.P. Lovecraft who would go on to write the novel Psycho. Bloch wrote the Star Trek episodes “Wolf in the Fold” about an evil entity who possessed Scotty and made him a murderer, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” which featured Ted Cassidy from The Addams Family as a decidedly creepy android, and the aforementioned Halloween episode “Catspaw.” If you’re looking for some good creepy TV, you could do worse than hunt up copies of these episodes on video!

Going Beyond

This past week, I’ve been working pretty intensively on two science fiction anthologies and answering questions from my editor about The Astronomer’s Crypt. Both of the anthologies I’ve been working on have been full of science fiction action and adventure. Star_Trek_Beyond_poster Of course, one of those is Kepler’s Cowboys and it’s still open to submissions. You can find the guidelines at http://www.hadrosaur.com/antho-gl.html. During the week, I decided to take a break by spending some time with the original space cowboys, the crew of the Starship Enterprise in their new film Star Trek Beyond.

My love of Star Trek goes back about as far as I remember. In fact, even before I remember seeing an episode, a friend encouraged me to use my G.I. Joes in an imagined Star Trek adventure. We had a toy van of some sort and that became the Enterprise. We had two G.I. Joes. One was Captain Kirk and the other was Scotty, needed because he could fix the Enterprise when things went wrong. Soon after that, I made a point of looking for Star Trek on television so I could actually see an episode. This was only about two years after it went off the air, but it had started running on reruns. I soon found it and was captivated by the idea of going into space and exploring new worlds. It was the beginning of my love of both science and science fiction.

I literally grew up with Star Trek. It wasn’t just that they had adventures in space, it’s that the episodes had just enough of the ring of truth to make me believe adventures in space were possible. What was perhaps even more important was that Captain Kirk and his crew worked hard to understand the aliens they encountered, even when those aliens might, at first, seem to be out to get them. The mission of the Enterprise was to make friends despite people’s differences—an idea that resonated with me as a child growing up in Southern California and seems even more powerful now in these times when racial, religious, and sexual strife are once again rearing their ugly heads.

Because I’ve loved Star Trek so long, I feel like my love is a little like the love I have for my brothers. Sometimes I have great fun with Star Trek. Sometimes Star Trek really annoys me. Sometimes I ignore it altogether, though I do tend to feel guilty when I do. When J.J. Abrams brought back the original Star Trek characters in 2009, I was excited. I went to the movie and loved its sense of adventure and being reunited with familiar characters. It also annoyed me. I think I audibly groaned when Leonard Nimoy watched Vulcan destroyed from the surface of a distant planet. (You have to be awfully close to a planet to see as much detail as he did!) Without going into a laundry list, there were multiple moments like that in both the 2009 Star Trek and 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness.

What’s more, neither movie really gave us new worlds to explore. Both were about villains bent on taking revenge and harming the Earth. We didn’t get to see Captain Kirk even try to understand or make friends with these people. It wouldn’t have made sense in the context of those movies.

Which brings us to Star Trek Beyond. It opens with Kirk trying to make peace on an alien world. Although that doesn’t go so well, we don’t exactly forget that encounter and it pays off later in the story. The Enterprise soon goes to a new Federation space station, which is one of the most wondrous they’ve built. It reminded me of some of the cool things I’ve read in good SF novels, and even kind of reminded me a bit of the Babylon 5 space station. Then, they go off to explore an uncharted sector of space. They know there’s danger, an alien swarm that hurts others. In the course of the story, Kirk, Spock, and Scotty work to get to the bottom of the mystery and even make a friend or two along the way. I might have wondered about the science in a few places, but nothing made me audibly groan in the theater.

The end result was that Star Trek Beyond felt like going to one of those magical family reunions where everything actually went well and you realize why you love your family. I think a lot of credit goes to a solid script by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. With a fourth Star Trek movie announced and a new TV series on the horizon, I hope the producers pay attention to what made this one work. It wasn’t perfect, but it embodied much of what makes Star Trek special to me.

Time for Yourself

This past week I finished the first complete draft of The Brazen Shark. I phrase that as “first complete” because I’m the kind of writer who does a lot of revision as I go, so it’s not exactly a “rough draft” or a true “first draft.” In fact almost everything but the last chapter has been through some level of revision. However you count it, reaching the end of new manuscript is something of a milestone, so I took a little time for myself this week. I’m a fan of anime and I love to build models. Recently, I found a model of Captain Harlock’s ship, the Arcadia on eBay. I spent a couple days this last week building the model, shown next to the Starship Enterprise.

Arcadia and Enterprise

As an aside, I show these two side-by-side because they are, according to their manufacturers, almost to scale with each other. So, if you ever wondered how big Captain Harlock’s ship was compared to Captain Kirk’s, you now have a pretty good idea. I also find myself wondering what might have happened if Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi had encountered Captain Harlock and Mimay in that cantina in Mos Eisley instead of Han and Chewbacca.

Returning to the topic at hand, the point I want to make is that I think it’s important for writers to take some time and just play. Now your play and mine may be different. I like building models. You might like playing golf or a favorite musical instrument. You might like gardening or watching movies. It doesn’t really matter what you do, these things give your mind a necessary respite before moving on to the next project.

I have a short story I need to write and I have at least one, possibly two more revision passes to go on the novel before I turn it in. However, if I went straight into those things, I know I wouldn’t be effective. I’d slog through and I might get the job done, but I wouldn’t be happy with it.

I also recognize that there’s a lot of pressure to spend time on social media, market your books, write new stuff, and possibly have a day job. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem like anyone is going to give you the time you need to have a break. In short, no one is going to give you that time. You’re going to have to have the discipline to make that time. In much the same way that your recreation may be very different from mine, the time you take may be very different. I took a couple day block after several intensive work days. Others might take an hour a day. Still others might plan half a day a week. Different strategies work for different people. Find a strategy that works for you.

I will note that after a couple of quiet days not thinking about writing, I almost couldn’t stop ideas flowing on that short story I need to write. That’s what I’ll be working on later today. Then, with that little bit of space, I’ll definitely be ready to tackle those revisions, which means, hopefully, book 3 of the Clockwork Legion will be available to you soon! In the meantime, the first two novels, Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves are available right now. Just follow the links to learn more.

Space Battleship Yamato

In 1978, I was still under the spell of Star Wars, the original Battlestar Galactica was on the air, and I was eagerly awaiting the first Star Trek movie. One day, TV station KTLA from Los Angeles showed a Japanese movie that held me spellbound. It was called Space Cruiser Yamato. It echoed many of the space operatic themes of those other shows, but upped the ante in many ways. Life on Earth had been bombed into near extinction by a race of malevolent aliens. To save it, a valiant crew embarked on an interstellar quest for help aboard the only spaceship available—a World War II warship converted into a star vessel with the help of alien technology. Many characters gave their lives to save others and there seemed a real chance Yamato would not succeed in its mission.

Yamato-Anime

This show was not the first anime I’d seen, but it was certainly the most dramatic and serious. I was hooked. A year later, I learned that the movie had been cut together from a TV series. The series debuted in the United States under the name Star Blazers. At first, I was disappointed. They changed the names of all the characters. They even changed the name of the ship. The Yamato was rechristened the Argo. It wasn’t until high school that I learned the names were changed for both the movie and the series by the American companies that dubbed them into English. A friend shared video tapes he’d purchased in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo neighborhood. That’s how I first met Captain Okita, Susumu Kodai, and Yuki Mori in their original forms. I didn’t understand all the words, but my friend narrated the show and I fell even further under its spell. That’s when I learned the proper name of the series: Space Battleship Yamato

There’s no doubt the show had an influence on my writing. Suki from The Pirates of Sufiro was an homage to Yuki Mori, the Yamato’s radar operator and nurse. It seems pretty obvious when I present the names side by side like this, but when Pirates was released, most Americans knew Yuki as Nova Forrester. Likewise, Space Battleship Yamato first made me consider how big a disaster humanity could survive and what it would take to stand up to that threat. Following that path led me to Heirs of the New Earth. That novel also includes a nod to Yamato’s Chief Engineer Tokugawa in the form of Chief Engineer Kimura who finds a way to launch the grounded pirate ship Legacy.

space_battleship_yamato_movie

I was delighted to discover that Toho Studios made a live-action version of Space Battleship Yamato back in 2010. Two weeks ago, I received my copy of the Blu Ray disk. The new movie is amazingly faithful to the source material. They did swap the genders of some key characters, but that was fine. One of my problems with the original Space Battleship Yamato is that the cast had too few women. Another interesting, and sad, choice was the death of a major character. Even so, the theme of personal sacrifice was important in Yamato, so I see this in keeping with the spirit of the original.

I’ve seen some on-line comments which suggest that the movie borrowed heavily from J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek and Ron Moore’s re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. There’s probably some truth to that, but close as the movie is to its source material, it seems just as fair to suggest those productions borrowed from Yamato in the first place. Among other things, I gather George Lucas was strongly influenced by the space dogfights of Space Battleship Yamato and R2-D2 bears more than a passing resemblance to Yamato’s robot, Analyzer. After all, Space Battleship Yamato first aired in 1974, a full three years before Star Wars.

I recently discovered that the first season of Space Battleship Yamato has been remade. The new version is called Space Battleship Yamato 2199. Information and a 13-minute trailer are available at starblazers.com. Unfortunately, it looks like each disk of the seven-disk limited edition set is retailing for $35 to $45 depending on vendor and format. That price is a little steep for my writer and astronomer income. I hope they’ll eventually release a mass-market edition at a lower price or release it to one of the streaming services so more of us can enjoy it. Even so, I’m delighted to see that after 40 years, Yamato is still traversing the heavens on its quest to save Earth.