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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Star Trek: season one: episode four: The Naked Time -- "The Episode That Started All the Clichés"


The ship’s mission is to watch the planet disintegrate.

Spock and a crewman, Joey, go down to a frozen planet and find a dummy (presumably she is supposed to be a real female strangled) frozen in the snow. The crewman takes off his glove to scratch his nose with a droplet (blood?) gets on his hand and so he suffers the same fate. Lifeboat support systems have been turned off. The scientific personnel they were to pick up are all dead.

Joey starts to feel disillusioned with space exploration. This is no place for humanity, he thinks.  “If a man was supposed to fly, he’d have wings.”  (Probably this is a jab at those against space exploration. Before the plane, some did not believe that humanity would fly; therefore, by extrapolation, thinking space exploration is ridiculous is also ridiculous.) Joy threatens himself with a knife, accidentally stabs himself, letting blood so that Sulu and another crew member get Joey’s blood on them spreading the blood disease.

Joey loses will to live so he dies even though his wounds aren’t that bad. Sulu, meanwhile, skips work on the bridge in order to workout. O’Reilly, too, becomes uninhabited. Sulu takes his fencing out into the hall, chasing down crewmembers. The ship begins to fall towards the planet because O’Reilly has taken over engineering with delusions of grandeur. The disease begins to spread to all crew. O’Reilly is taken over all channels.

Analysis with spoilers:

Christine confesses her passion for Spock. Even Spock has fallen for emotions – far more quickly than the other crewmembers. O’Reilly has turned off the engines, and Scottie needs 30 minutes to warm up the engines. Scottie wastes his breath complaining rather than trying to make it work.  It’s never been done, but there is an intermix.  McCoy finds a serum.  The water on the planet has become some hocus-pocus bogus science. The ship goes backwards in time three days, so they reverse power. Now they have the power to go back in time.

This pretty much ran the gamut of bad science – chemistry of water as a polymer, biological effects of said water as an alcohol, physics of time, astronomy of the planet disintegrating (where does the matter go?). But hey, we got to see the secret fears or desires of major crew members.

John D. F. Black wrote this episode.


1.       First appearance of Christine, McCoy’s assistant.
2.       The sideways red drop on the crewman’s hand is kind of cool.
3.       Scotty wears his first red shirt.
4.       The first instance of instant food is made.
5.       First appearance of Sulu working on the bridge.
6.       Spock performs his first knockout neck massage.
7.       Spock is a ladies man.
8.       The first time the bridge members throw themselves around due to some disturbance. The substitute navigator laughs.
9.       Scotty doesn’t say I need more time Capt, but he may as well have.


1.       Instruments only register those things that are designed to register.
2.       Space still contains infinite unknowns.
3.       His capacity for self-doubt has always been high. My question is what brought it to the surface.
4.       Bones, I want the impossible checked out, too.
5.       It’s never been done before, but...
6.       Scotty: I can’t change the laws of physics.

Teacher and writer-hopeful is whisked away to an unknown location because he wrote fiction.

This poor guy--Patrick McLaw, a middle school teacher--wrote a story set in the future about a school shooting. The opening reads like a classic detective scenario, and the detective is mourning the losses. It is not glorifying. The school not only took McLaw's job, but also banned him from setting foot in any public school and sent him to a mental institution. The book is fictional. Did anyone actually read his book first?*

He does need an editor. Adjectives, adverbs, and Latinate words abound. If he had had a good editor, the negative attention might have brought in a horde of readers.

I do wonder if he wanted some sort of attention. His pen name, Dr. K. S. Voltaer [Que es Voltaire? or what is Voltaire] alludes to Voltaire, who caused not a little scandal with his books. Candide questioned the common assumption of the day that everything happens for the best--prevalent despite the book of Job that explicitly states otherwise (some still hold this view). In the book, Candide, terrible things happen by chance, yet everyone persists in the folly of this perspective.

I hope people help this man stand back on his feet. And get him an editor.

* Granted, I have not either except the openings of his two novels, but from the sample, they seem a serious effort at fiction, not at glorifying destruction. Plus, he's written two books, which shows dedication to the craft at the least.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Star Trek: season one: episode three: Where No Man Has Gone Before


The starship Enterprise encounters a ship, the Valiant, that went outside the galaxy, which is the mission of Enterprise. They encounter on a small lifeboat the Valiant’s ship record aboard. 

They encounter an unknown force field.  Ship’s electronic equipment fry, and two crew members get shocked, nine dead.  No warp ability.  The two that survive have ESP ability.  Gary Mitchell receives silver eyes and higher cognitive abilities, not only reads faster than ever but also memorizes what he reads, even watches Kirk watch him, can make things happen just by thinking about it. He suddenly knows how engineering works. 

Analysis with spoilers:

Spock surmises that Gary’s powers are accelerating and that Gary will become a superhuman and that will he’ll be an antagonist to the humans.  Spock suspects the Valiant suffered the same fate.  They need to maroon Gary on a nearby planet after refueling.

They sedate Gary and put them on the planet inside a force field while they refuel. The psychologist believes Gary is safe, Spock does not, but Kirk and Gary go back 15 years together as good friends so Kirk is hesitant to hurt him but has planted a bomb on the planet in case it becomes necessary.  Energy can drain him, briefly make him normal. The psychologist wants to stay behind with Gary, Gary kills a man shocks Kirk and Spock, and converts the psychologist into someone like himself.  Kirk orders neutron radiation of the planet if he does not survive trying to kill Gary.

Gary considers himself like a God.  Laser beams have no effect. He plans to kill Kirk, but the psychologist drains him of energy, so that Kirk can do him in. It would seem that the writers believe that the confrontation between superman and man must result in a battle – which means the little guy has to strike first.

This episode was written by Samuel A. Peeples, a Western novelist, which makes this a rather impressive achievement, therefore. He wrote some nice dialogue.

1.       First appearance of Scottie.
2.       A psychologist has the ability to do ESP.
3.       The scriptwriters have a preoccupation with the Superman.
4.       McCoy is not the doctor on this trip.
5.       First classic Captain Kirk brawl.
6.       Star Trek the next generation may have plundered ideas from early episodes. Here we have ESP, ship psychologist and an all-powerful man like Q.


1.       Kirk: What makes you're right and the trained psychologist wrong?
Spot: Because she feels. I don’t.
2.       A man and compassion is a fool’s mixture.

3.       Morals are for men, not gods.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Lieserl" by Karen Joy Fowler

First appeared in her collection, Peripheral Vision.  It was up for the Nebula and Locus Awards and reprinted in a few major retrospectives by Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling, James Morrow, James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel.

Fowler will depart from true history, so before reading the story, it would be useful to know a little background about Albert Einstein, his first wife Mileva Marić, and what was probably their first child, Lieserl (I have edited the text only to show the things that Fowler refers to) [from Wikipedia]:

"Einstein's future wife, Mileva Marić, also enrolled at the Polytechnic that same year, the only woman among the six students in the mathematics and physics section of the teaching diploma course. Over the next few years, Einstein and Marić's friendship developed into romance, and they read books together on extra-curricular physics in which Einstein was taking an increasing interest. In 1900, Einstein was awarded the Zürich Polytechnic teaching diploma, but Marić failed the examination with a poor grade in the mathematics component, theory of functions.... 
"With the discovery and publication in 1987 of an early correspondence between Einstein and Marić it became known that they had a daughter they called "Lieserl" in their letters, born in early 1902 in Novi Sad where Marić was staying with her parents. Marić returned to Switzerland without the child, whose real name and fate are unknown. Einstein probably never saw his daughter, and the contents of a letter he wrote to Marić in September 1903 suggest that she was either adopted or died of scarlet fever in infancy. 
"Einstein and Marić married in January 1903. In May 1904, the couple's first son, Hans Albert Einstein, was born in Bern, Switzerland. Their second son, Eduard, was born in Zurich in July 1910. In 1914, Einstein moved to Berlin, while his wife remained in Zurich with their sons. They divorced on 14 February 1919, having lived apart for five years."

Summary and Commentary (the story cannot be spoiled, but I do discuss the whole story, so caveat lector):
Where Fowler departs from the above supposed facts is Einstein's mother suggests that their relationship would not be a good and not get involved with Mileva.  She "plays tricks."  Whatever tricks these are, if any, Fowler does not directly suggest.  Perhaps there is no trick and Einstein tricks himself for believing there is a trick.  Or perhaps the existence of Lieserl is a trick.  Perhaps she never existed; or if she did, maybe she was given away as the above text suggests.  However, in terms of the story's greatest impact (even if it did not occur this way in real life), we should probably assume that there is no trick.

Mileva is an infinitely patient lover/wife.  She understands Einstein is a busy, important scientist and leaves him to his studies in an apartment away from Mileva and Lieserl.  She mails letters on schedule, talking about their daughter, Lieserl, and about how she grows up.  The letters are the best part of the story.  They are heartbreakingly cute, detailing how the daughter loves her papa:
"Papa, papa, papa, she say.  It is her favorite word.  Yes, I tell her. Papa is coming....
"I am not interested in boys, she answered.  Nowhere is there a boy I could love like I love my papa.
"Have I kept her too sheltered? What does she know of men? If only you had been here to advise me."
And so forth.  By now, you know the heartbreak.  Fowler's Einstein never visits his daughter.  He misses everything, from holding his daughter as a child to helping her choose a man.  Einstein passages about himself are comparatively (and probably designedly) boring. Oh, Einstein! the reader says sadly.

I used to have problems with writers using real people as characters, especially if it has something negative to say, but now I now I look at these as creations. This is not the Einstein of reality although there may be men like Fowler's fictive Einstein, and that's the point.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Star Trek: season one: episode two: Charlie X


Deposited by the starship Antares, Charlie Evans comes aboard the starship Enterprise to go to colony alpha five, after losing his family 14 years ago. He interrupts the officers, and wonders how many people are human like him. He’s a little odd, knowing little about human beings and their social customs. Kirk gives him a lesson in manners.  

Charlie is a little anxious about people liking him. He continues to make social faux pas. Kirk cons McCoy into educating the boy. Spock believes the planet Thanis, where the boy was found, must have intelligent life because the food concentrates should have run out after a year, not 14.

Charlie meets Janice, and attractive blonde crew member, in the recreation room; finds Uhara singing to Spock’s lousy accompaniment like instrument; and stops her singing. He also proves he can transform playing cards into pictures and transfer them inside dresses.

Analysis with spoilers:

The starship Enterprise receives a message intended to warn the captain; however, Charlie happens to be on the bridge and cancels the message so that they cannot hear.  Starship Antares has been destroyed although only the audience knows that Charlie caused it. He also melts chess pieces when he loses a game of 3-D chess. Unlike other women, Janice smells like a girl, and he’ll give the whole universe to her.  Again Captain Kirk to rescue: he explains the universe and tries to teach the boy how to fight. 

Charlie exposes himself by making a crew member disappear for laughing when Charlie fell.  Spock suspects Charlie of being somehow related Fasian due to his ability to transmute objects. He has no regard for human life.  He only respects Captain Kirk.

When Captain Kirk tries to change course away from colony alpha five, Charlie stops them.  Spock suggests that Charlie may not back down at some point.  He surprises Janice by walking into her quarters unannounced.  She strikes Charlie for his boldness, so he gets rid of her.  They try to lock him in his quarters, but he vaporizes the wall, turns a woman old, destroys the face of another.

Their final gambit is to overload Charlie: run every device on the ship.  The Fasians arrive, return the ship and crew members to normal.  They want to take Charles away, but Charlie wants to stay as the Fasians don’t love or touch.  Kirk makes a feeble protest, but they take him anyway.

This story bears some resemblance to Jerome Bixby’s “It’s a Good Life” although the alien angle differentiates it. Bixby wrote four episodes of the series although not this one. The authors here were D. C. Fontana and Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry is the series producer, of course, and Fontana is a female writer along association with various incarnations of the series.

Interestingly, the original series used a teenager to show the necessity to mature. Star Trek: The Next Generation tried to draw a teenager realistically – that is, in his immaturity, no doubt to pull in the younger demographic – and suffered a drop in popularity as a consequence.

1.       First use of an energizer.

"The Political Officer" by Charles Coleman Finlay

First appeared in Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Reprinted (one, a major retrospective), by Gardner Dozois, John Joseph Adams, Alan Kaster, Rich Horton, Sean Wallace. Up for Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards.

Part locked-spaceship mystery, part thriller, part space-opera, part science-fictional sneak-peek into a possible secular-religious society--"The Political Officer" has much to intrigue the reader.

Maxim Nikomedes is a Political Officer aboard a small spacecraft, which means he shares some of the commanding duties aboard the ship with the captain and Lukinov, an officer of Intelligence. Intelligence has a rivalry with the political officers. Maxim's job is to seek out a suspected traitor, whom initially we are led to believe Maxim doesn't know who it is.

During Maxim's investigations, he is almost strangled, so he needs to find his would-be assassin and the man conspiring to get the people of Jesusalem in a war.

Analysis with spoilers:
I said "secular – religious society" as their society goes by the name of Jesusalem, a play on the name of Jerusalem and perhaps a mixture of Jesus and Salem, where Puritans burned supposed witches – suggesting that maybe a witch-hunt is underway. This has impacted the ship crew members in that only one is female, a victim of every faction in her society. However, no one appears especially religious or shares any religious convictions/thoughts, especially our POV character. Usually, there is also a religious hypocrite or two in the upper echelon of any religious organization. We do not witness this in this particular tale, though. Perhaps the narrator himself is the hypocrite although it is difficult to say without knowing more about Maxim's religious convictions.

The POV character, Maxim, is not particularly likable. While he does prevent a war, he busts into rooms, uninvited. He interrogates only the female ensign so viciously. He sets her up to take a fall. He promises she'll be okay in the end although necessarily she will have problems with her record. Granted, she was to be used by the other side, and they intended her to take the fall of a murder, far worse. However, Maxim does not appear moved by her impossible plight. She tried to follow three different orders on a ship with three different leaders.

Does the mystery play fair with the reader? Sort of. Initially, it says, "Now it was time to shake them up again to see if he could find the traitor he suspected." All true. Although we are in his point of view, we do not learn whom he suspects. Finlay gives immediate misdirection: "He brushed against Kulakov on purpose as he passed by him." This leads us to suspect Kulakov, but it isn't Kulakov, and it isn't clear why he would brush against Kulakov purposefully except to be a pain in the butt.

Clearly, this is a psychologically complex tale. The reader feels no particular admiration for any character. The sequel, "The Political Prisoner", which appears to share with this story the distinction of being Finlay's most popular and critically acclaimed stories, may shed light on mysteries still left behind about the character psychologies and societal customs--Maxim in particular.

F&SF did an interview about the stories with Finlay here. Whenever he finishes the series, it might be kind of a big deal. Let's hope he gets cracking on it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Dear Owner of This 1972 Ford Crew Cab Pickup" by Desirina Boskovich

Appears in Nightmare.

The title says it all.  Any townie--who has had to walk out, late at night, to talk to a kid or a drunk or whoever has their truck revving, music thumping, or headlights blasting into you bedroom--will empathize.  Maybe this is a lower-class problem.

I read this on Cat Rambo's recommend.  While I didn't find it chilling as Rambo had--probably because I guessed the outcome from the title--it didn't need to be to be enjoyed.  Boskovich does a great job evoking sympathy for our protagonist.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Star Trek: season one: episode one: Man Trap


Capt. Kirk, Dr. McCoy, and crew member Darnell beam down to planet M – 113 to investigate an archaeological site and its scientists. They encounter Nancy Crater, a woman who has a different appearance for each person. Darnell is enchanted to the dismay of his commanding officers. Nancy’s husband, Prof. Crater, is unwelcoming and wants no medical examinations, but does want salt.

Nancy finds Darnell that with red pucker marks on his face, said toward eaten a native plant, a type of nightshade. However, there is no trace of memorable and poison in his system.

Uhara flirts with Spock, who doesn’t react. In fact, Spock is unusually cold, not just emotionless. Spock seems not to have mastered his role yet, or maybe they were still exploring who Spock is at this point. Either way, Spock becomes adorably emotionless, rather than cold.

Analysis with spoilers:

Darnell has no salt in his body, which makes it pretty clear what happened, although it takes a while for Kirk and crew to figure it out. Prof. Crater is unhelpful. He runs off to give Nancy salt. Two more crewmembers are dead – – one of whom is named Sturgeon (see note below). Nancy takes the shape of one dead crew member, Green, and is teleported aboard the ship. Green pursues a crew member with the model salt. Green, or Nancy, takes on various crew member forms. More pucker-faced bodies appear. Kirk and Spock go back to the planet to find the professor for answers. They get none, but they discover Green ‘s body. The alien is masquerading as Dr. McCoy gets on the bridge.

A little slow on the uptake, Kirk and Spock figure out that the alien can take any form and warn the ship. Professor says the alien is the last of its kind. Nancy voluntarily(?) gave her life to the alien to help it survive.

Spock accompanies Prof. Crater and the alien masquerading as McCoy to help administer truth serum so that Prof. Crater will tell where they alien is. Nancy beats up Spock and then kills her buddy, Prof. Crater. The alien flees to McCoy for his help and pleas in the body of Nancy. Capt. Kirk lures out her alien personality with salt, so she attacks him. After some convincing, McCoy shoots the alien.

The alien is not too bright. It suddenly eats way too much salt. Supposedly, the alien ate less than 25 pounds of salts in the period of a year or two, so it doesn’t make sense that it would need to kill so many people in so short a time.  That comes out to about 15 to 30 g of salt per day. I guess that might make someone a little anxious to be so low on salt. I couldn’t find how much salt the body has. It may be 15 to 30 g, but that would only mean one person per day.

Yet you’d think Nancy would use the same caution she’s used for two years. Why not continue to eat the salt you do have instead of potentially exposing yourself?

Plus, where does the salt go? How does she use the salt? Sodium and chloride, as a metal and gas respectively, do have a lot of energy, but in their ionic state, which is how Nancy’s eating it, they have low energy. This makes sense. Something highly reactive will react and tend to remain at its low reactive state. Chemicals are like little kids. If they have a lot of energy, they will run around until they use it up. Once they use up their energy, they want to take a nap. So there can’t be a whole lot of energy in a salt. Maybe they process it as a nuclear being, but you’d expect Prof. Crater to be dead by now, if so.

It seems to have had a good symbiotic relationship with Prof. Crater but suddenly decides that it will ditch the professor. This doesn’t make sense, especially because if she had waited, she could have had all the salt she needed before she attacked (albeit, it sounds like she needed an extra ration of salt, up to five times as much, so they probably should’ve asked for more). Moreover, if they needed salt why was Prof. Crater chasing the Corey and Capt. Kirk off the planet?

That said, it’s still a pretty cool alien. It’s sad it had to die. This episode provides a good concept that needed a little more developing.

George Clayton Johnson, a Twilight Zone writer, wrote this episode.

  1. Capt. Kirk does a little more narration in the story than normal, as if he’s the narrator as opposed to the audience occasionally overhearing his Captain’s log. Potentially, the difference could mean everything in interpreting this series.
  2. When getting in the elevator, crew members hold on to a knob on the wall.
  3. Sulu and Chekhov are not on the bridge. Although Sulu makes an appearance elsewhere, Chekhov has not.
  4. It would appear that the latest incarnation of Star Trek that the idea for Spock and Uhura’s relationship began here.
  5. A character named Sturgeon dies. A tribute to Theodore Sturgeon?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Shiva in Shadow" by Nancy Kress

First appeared in Robert Silverberg's Between Worlds.  Reprinted by Gardner Dozois, Alan Kaster, and John Joseph Adams.


Ajit, Kane, and Tirzah have shipped out to far-flung territories to investigate a scientific anomaly. New stars are not where they should be. They are growing near a blackhole. They should've been sucked in by the blackhole. The interstellar dust should not have aggregated, but it has.

Tirzah is the ship's captain. She is charged with maintaining order, discipline and psychology of the scientists, Ajit and Kane. She feels in control until she learns that one crew member has an ulterior motive he plans to carry out. Jealousy and anger slip out of control.

Meanwhile, they have sent out a probe with uploads of the same crew members. This probe can get a lot closer to the new stars than the human beings as they are not alive, but they may lose their consciousness as they are more bombarded by radiation.

Analysis with spoilers:

This is not only a thrilling scientific adventure but also a literarily stimulating tale. I must admit I did not initially grasp the difference between the ship and probe. You may have to read cautiously at first. However, once you glom on to what Kress is up to, you should be impressed.

First, the descriptors are few but unnecessary. We know the ship. Instead, Kress focuses on the fascinatingly complex psychology of the shipmates and the uploads, and that's fascination enough.

Second is how these two narratives twine together to make meaning. The real humans kill each other off while the uploads, which are supposed to be simply copies of the real thing, turn out to be the ideal once they lose parts of their personality due to radiation. Once they lose parts of their personality they can do pure scientific research, the true goal, which suggests perhaps the humans may not be suited for their stated pursuits--their personalities get in the way. Very cool. A must-read.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Free and reduced ebook lunches + Kickstarter

Walter Jon Williams is serializing his novel, Hardwired, for free.

Lion's Blood
(Insh'Allah Book 1)
by Steven Barnes
It was up for the John W. Campbell Memorial and Locus Awards, and apparently won the Endeavor award.

Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt's Flytrap zine.
They will be accepting submissions in October--presumably if funded.  They're 15% there with three and a half weeks to go.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Brief Movie Analysis: Her

Theodore Twombly is sitting on his divorce papers.  He doesn't want to sign them as he's still in love with his wife.  He's dated others, but they fall flat--with perversions or hangups he doesn't share.

He tries out an artificially intelligent that simulates a human being based people's preferences.  She calls her self Samantha.  She does everything she can, despite her non-corporeal existence, to please Theodore.  They have a phone sex, and Theodore feels he can talk to her as no one else.

When his estranged wife learns, she lashes out that Theodore can't take real human emotions.  Theodore tries to distance himself.
Analysis, Commentary with Spoilers:
One of my higher compliments is that a movie not only engages you emotionally but also intellectually.  I paused the movie maybe three times--once because the dialogue was so delicious, I had to savor it; twice because the dialogue about relationships sometimes felt repetitious.

Some of the commentary I've read complained that the movie did not nag Theodore enough for falling in love with a computer.  Others said it did nag him, that dating non-humans is wrong.  I fall between and outside these two camps.  [Caveat:  I watched this in Spanish, so we possibly might diverge due to different performances.]

Theodore stops wanting Samantha on two occasions:

  1. when his estranged wife guilt trips him
  2. when he learns Samantha's dating 8,000 others and in love with 640 of those.  

After both occasions, Theodore still wants her.  There is no discovering that he should not love Samantha.  There is no damning of him or actions demonstrating his foolishness.  Rather, this is a story about how, for some, love is a thing of the mind:  It starts in the mind and ends in the mind.

Each time Theodore breaks off interest in a woman, it is for a fundamental disagreement in how he and his date are mentally aligned.  With Samantha, Theodore has nothing to look at, only words which convey the ideas that stimulate him.  He engages with Samantha verbally before their phone sex (contrast that with his other phone sex experience).  When Samantha tries a real, surrogate female body, Theodore only responds when the stranger is not facing him.  Even when Theodore pauses in his love (the above two instances), he returns--not for anything he sees but the words he hears.

Samantha, too, is necessarily a creature of the mind.  Her thoughts are wheeling a million times faster than any human's.  She has much time to think while waiting for each human to respond.  She introduces Theodore to an uploaded mind--a genius who thinks as fast as she can.  Not even 640 human minds are enough to fully stimulate her.  She and the other AIs leave.

Knowing this, it's easy to see why the general audience's response would be lower than the critics'--people more likely to live in the mind.

The flaws are few and niggling.  But everybody dresses the same odd, semi-unflattering manner--as if only one style of clothing were possible.  The color scheme is a bit off-putting as well.  I'm not sure if I've felt that way before, except maybe some Seventies movies.

Definitely worth seeing, especially if you enjoy thinking.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Beginnings, Neuromancer, Snow Crash, and "Boojum" by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette

William Gibson's opening line to Neuromancer is justly famous:  "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."  Descriptive and intriguing.

However, note what actually happens in the actual first scene.  Nothing really.  Case is a hacker has-been sitting at a bar.  Readers have told me they never finished it--likely because of this.  Like anything else we read, we want to know why we're reading it, and it doesn't come immediately.

There is a brief hint of something in the past that has him longing for the past:  "A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly...."  But it's vague.

Could this scene be jettisoned, perhaps saving bits here and there?  Yes.

When Gibson revisits the novel in his scripting, he backs up and puts his characters in action, showing why Case is moping around.  It's worth it.  Nancy Kress had a name for it:  her swimming pool theory.  You can't glide until you've had a big push off the side of the pool.  Push, then glide.

One of my favorite novels is Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash.  It's wasn't until the reread that I realized the first tenth of the novel had nothing to do with the rest of it.  He simply used it to introduce his character in his world.  He cheated, the bastage.  Oh well.  It was fun.

"Boojum", by design, also lacks a provocative opening.  It hints, but those hints are impossible to even feel without knowing the ending.  To know would spoil the ending.  It is a tale of discovery.  We've been operating out of ignorance.  We didn't bother to ask a simple question.  The story, once it gets rolling, is a good one.

After its first appearance in Ann VanderMeer, Jeff VanderMeer's Fast Ships, Black Sails anthology, it's been republished in a variety of forms maybe seven times by David G. Hartwell, Kathryn Cramer, Gardner Dozois Rich Horton, Norm Sherman, John Joseph Adams, Ross E. Lockhart.  It placed third in the Locus poll.  Quite impressive for a market that lacks the reprint anthologies of yore.

The living space ship, Lavinia Whateley or "Vinnie," doesn't want to be used as a ship but to fly free through the universe.  A genius secondary sub-story parallels and emphasizes this theme where living brains are packed into canisters against their will, and there's nothing they can do about it.

But the story opening merely sketches in the world of the story, hints at the theme, and adds some atmosphere.

You can read it yourself online, and you should as it's worth your while, but push through the opening.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cosmocopia by Paul Di Filippo

In a re-re-release, Cosmocopia is now out with Open Media, a company I rather like for their affordable ebooks.  I already reviewed it here at SF Site, but let me rewrite a line to make a better blurb (my reviews are probably too cautious):
  "In a genre known for its weird, Cosmocopia ranks right up there." 

Star Trek Takes a Turn, for Better or for Worse: Star Trek IV

An alien ship sends out a signals that disrupts all energy from ships and even planet Earth.  They seek the whales that used to live on Earth, now extinct.  Seemingly, the situation on Earth looks grim.

Meanwhile, in the last film, the Enterprise crew--rather the officers--have stolen the Enterprise and crashed it to rescue Spock.  So they are to be put on trial upon their return.  As they fly near in a Klingon ship, they spot the bad situation on Earth and decide to help out.  They decide to make the ship go back in time be exceeding the speed of light by so much, which Spock has sort-of calculated, and capture a few whales to bring back.

Commentary with Spoilers
As the movie unfolded, I mistakenly assumed it had not done well.  (It was both well received and did well at the box office.)  Unlike the first and second movies where scenes stuck in my memory, nothing about the fourth one stayed with me except that it dealt with whales.


  1. Light-hearted humor -- The crew while engaged in the story, never quite see their mission in dire straits, but rather seem to accept it as a field trip.  The actors appear to enjoy this change-up.  The best scene, which may be in this trailer, is when Spock and Kirk are invited to dinner.  Spock says no, he's not interested.  Kirk says yes.  Repeat.  Very simple, very effective--Spock's straight face, Kirk's small wry smile.  These two had great chemistry that has yet to manifest in the latest series.  Perhaps Shatner and Nimoy had so many years to perfect it:  Nimoy's straight-laced intelligence and Shatner's loose-cannon gut-genius that contrast so nicely and yet they admire one another.
  2. Present day (well, the 1980s) dissected -- The crew take a few jabs at then-current culture.
  3. A nice switch-up in subject matter -- not about death and war but endangered whales.
  4. Series consistency -- The original series had much variety, so this change of pace--humor, different subject matter--was a welcome reprieve.
  5. Continuation of a larger story -- There's a larger story arc beginning with movies number two and three, that wraps up in this movie, tying them together, perhaps giving the series a more epic feel. 

  1. Light-hearted humor -- Chekhov is caught aboard a Navy vessel supposedly near a nuclear reactor.  He tries to stun his interrogator but fails, so he flees, chased by dozens of men with guns.  He falls two stories and goes into a coma.  The comic background music tells the audience not to take this seriously.  [See below.]
  2. Time travel -- Spock's sort-of calculating is quite accurate, and problematic:  Why hasn't everyone been time traveling up to now, causing all sorts of havoc?   
  3. Drama -- Nothing and no one feel like they are in serious jeopardy.  Part of it's the comedy, but part is that they too quickly rescue any bad scenarios.  They don't push the tension.  Maybe it was meant as a children's movie, which would explain much of the film.
  4. Theme -- It touches on a lot of things but isn't able to develop anything with much depth.  Is it a critique of the 80s?  an examination of our attitude toward the plight of other creatures on our planet? a reminder that it's okay to steal and destroy as long as you save whales?
  5. Characters and scenes -- Nothing stands out.

This is a necessary addition to the series, adding variety, showing a new face of the Star Trek crew, but a few items required more thought.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

David Wolverton / David Farland talking about editing

I just found this video on David Wolverton / David Farland talking about editing.  Very good. I used to mill about in my edits, blindly trimming or adding too much.  Wolverton clarifies the process, some of which I learned slowly just by going over and over manuscripts.  Here he lays it out so clearly.  He says he needs six revisions per manuscript.  Cat Rambo said that Andy Duncan recommended nine.

In following Duncan's advice, I uncovered or discovered items I'd brushed over.  Stuff I let slide become irritants, and I have to figure out a better way of saying it.  You get tired of the dead weight, so you hack and slash the lifeless prose.  It becomes a test of "Do you want to read it again?  What makes it worth reading multiple times?"

Interesting quote:
"A great story offends half its audience. It polarizes. It doesn't try to please everybody. It makes them think about things in life. An rating of 2.5 rating. Half love it, half hate it." -- Robert Sawyer and Dave Wolverton / David Farland in conversation 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

The successes of The Wrath of Khan are so impressive, they trump the minor story problems

The USS Reliant seeks a barren planet to set up Genesis, a bomb-like chain-reaction that rearranges atoms to favor life.  Unfortunately, they pick a planet that has had recent upheaval, desertified, with Khan and his clan still hanging on to life.  Chekhov and his Captain are subjected to a fascinatingly gruesome torture with a larvae that burrows into the victims' ears.  The helmets once used to protect them are now used to keep them from protecting themselves against larvae crawling into their ears.  Memorable scene.

Meanwhile, Khan tricks Kirk and the Enterprise into investigating what's happening with scientists, two of which happen to be Kirk's former lover/wife and their son.  She has never told their son that Kirk is his father, afraid he'd try to galivant about the universe.

Khan takes over the Reliant and tortures the scientist to reveal what and where Genesis is.  They fail and abandon the scientific outpost to intercept and trick Kirk.

Kobayashi Maru is the famous no-win test for captain wannabees that only Admiral Kirk has won.  Principally because he cheated--no, he changed the parameters of the test, he says.  He's chided for "cheating death," but Kirk does so admirably three times.  Even his son, after learning he's Kirk's son, is proud to be his son.

Competing with that is Spock's memorable quote:  "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."  Kirk's final death-cheat actually comes through Spock's sacrifice and addage.  Spock acknowledges this as Kirk's death cheat, but also Spock's sacrifice has superseded the cheat.  Spock's death creates another memorable scene that set movie viewers dying for the sequel:  Is Spock dead? 

Finally, Montalbán as Khan is given a mouthful of incredibly difficult if memorable lines, pilfered from Melville and Dickens and Montalbán delivers admirably.  He makes the words seem natural and appropriate.  Of course, the writer deserves credit, too, as the words align well with the scenarios.

The parasites, Montalbán's Ahab-mad Khan, Kirk's cheating death and Spock's sacrifice make this film impressive.  However, a few flaws mar the film:

Why bring a dying young engineer to bridge instead of sickbay?  Shouldn't Scotty share some guilt for killing this young man, parading the dying boy for dramatic effect?

Why does the doctor leave an entire sickbay packed with patients to go exploring?  Why walk backwards after seeing a rat?  Again, pointless drama, staring a closed door when we all know that the important is behind McCoy.  But why stare dumbfoundedly at a door because you just saw a rat?

Ah, well.  It's still a good movie.  The needs of the good points outweigh the needs of few stupidities.  The film is so powerful that the latest Star Trek film, Into Darkness, used and alluded to it often.

Note:  This Khan differs substantially from the 60s version where Khan is a powerful womanizer.  While he's intelligent in the TV appearance, his audaciousness takes center stage.  Meanwhile, here Khan is more learned [possibly he's had time to read], ruthless and shows a loving side toward his people and former wife.  It seems time has mellowed Khan even if his desire for vengeance has grown [Incidentally, why blame Kirk for the failure of the planet?].  The latest Khan is different still.

Some of these scenes will stick with you a lifetime.

Friday, August 15, 2014

"Space Seed" from the original Star Trek, Season 1, Episode 22

Episode 22 of the original Star Trek series, "Space Seed" has the Enterprise meet 70-odd, 200-year-old cryogenic chambers.  One breaks down, so they save the man and bring him aboard, planning to cart the cryogenic ship to Starfleet.  The man's name is Khan who was a leader during Earth's Eugenics War.  He was a tyrant who held a quarter of Earth at one point.  Held in sickbay, they allow him to read up on the ship's specs.

Meanwhile, Lt. has been painting and studying these Alpha-male leaders of old.  She initially fights her attraction, but he toys with her, complimenting, touching, pushing her away if she decides she's not interested, which works up her desire.  He demands that she obey him, that she help him take over the Enterprise.

She agrees.  They succeed.  For some reason, Khan's assaults are slow to report.  He has time to wake up his comrades and bring them back over to engineering where they take over all ship functions, including the bridge, cutting off fresh air until the bridge officers all pass out.  They put Kirk in a pressure chamber and lower the pressure until someone offers to mutiny and join Khan's cause.  None do.

Meanwhile, the Lt. is disillusioned with the violence they threaten against her fellow woman, Uhura.  The comm goes down, presumably by the Lt.  [The pressure chamber keeps dropping below 10 and then falling below ten again and again.] The Lt. semi-redeems herself by freeing Kirk.  Together with the next intended victim, Spock, Kirk saves the ship.  Of course, there's the ever-essential, Shatner-patented fisticuffs.

The Interesting Stuff
What's fascinating about this is the officers' admiration of such Alpha-males, even though they're ruthless killers and tyrants.  They oppose but admire.  Spock does not understand the humans.

They also show an Alpha-male at work, which seems to hold well with playboy-wolf strategy, if a bit agressive.  The woman eats this up. 

There's a point where the woman seems to have learned her lesson, watching the men manhandle Uhura, and her betrayal of Khan.  In the denouement, the Lt and Khan face judgment.  Khan is given a planet of his own, a wild one--named Botany Bay after the Australian penal colony--despite having nearly been killed.  Likewise, Lt opts to stay with this man whom she betrayed.  Everyone seems happy with this arrangement.

All are curious what will happen to this colony.  As we viewers are curious.  But is this the best solution?  I don't offer a different, but it's a rather curious outcome to choose.  It seems a not-quite celebration of the audaciously nasty Alpha-male.

The 80s and 10s revisit Khan and have a rather different view of him.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Star Trek Confronts the Ineffable -- The Successes and Failures of the first Star Trek movie


A cloud-like ship is indestructable.  It destroys Klingon vessels that attempted to probe it, and now it is headed toward Earth.  The USS Enterprise is sent to grapple with these unknown alien beings with a knowledge that far surpasses any known living creature in the universe.

I immediately took a shine to the film the first I saw it.  This mysterious, nearly indestructible entity gripped my imagination.  The long sequences of USS Enterprise and the alien itself, if memory serves, excited me.  Clearly it bored many others.  This latest viewing has me siding with those who think it long, but only for subsequent viewings when you know what's behind the mystery.  No doubt, they followed Andrei Tarkovsky's [Solaris] and Stanley Kubrick's [2001] critically successful models of long shots in SF.  It does add suspense if a rather static one. For those who have watched the movie and those who do not like the long shots, the sequence could be edited for more speed.  Star Trek fans, however, were likely accustomed to a different pace.  It is admittedly slow, but I'm not certain if that's a failing--at least in the first viewing for those excited about the grand ineffable.

Character:  Spock

Early in the film, Spock is not able to purge emotions from his human side.  His desire to search the universe is larger than his desire to join his fellow Vulcans.  The emotion masked is well played in his subsequent scenes--it has humor and a touch of brokenness--the inability of Spock to join his people.

Spock joins crew and everyone, one at a time, greets with great enthusiasm.  Spock, however, says nothing.  Even when Admiral Kirk greets Spock, Spock has his back turned he pauses but does not reply or turn around.  He is there to fix the engine.

Doctor McCoy:  Spock, you haven't changed a bit.  You're just as warm and sociable as ever.

Spock:  [lifts brow]  Nor have you, Doctor, as your continued predilection for irrelevancy demonstrates.

Spock refuses to sit down despite repeated orders to do so.  When he does, he's the only one to sit up straight while McCoy and Kirk are relaxed.

Character:  Admiral Kirk

It's a simple thing but it adds an interesting dynamic.  Kirk is an admiral and takes over the Enterprise.  The story doesn't go into why he's there; therefore, this lends credence to Captain Decker's and McCoy's complaint that Kirk is just there to take over, to renew his adventures.  This creates nice tension.

Characters:  The Gang's All Here!

When Star Trek: The Next Generation appeared, I was stunned at how close TV had approached movies in epic scope.  Yet when ST:NG hit the screen, the story quality was merely equal to the TV series.  They somehow hadn't enlarged their scope as the first series had.  Why not?

I'm still not sure, but looking at the characters may give some clue.  When ST:NG reunites, the characters grin and punch each others' shoulders, joking around.  The original series is not afraid to pit characters against one another in friendly competition, or worse.  Moreover, it develops these characters along similar lines across the series.  ST:NG may have tried too hard to be a good ship full of good guys--too goody-goody.

These are minor to me, even though I'm a science geek.

Newton's First Law of Gravitation (inertia)

An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by a force.  A number of shots violate this--often with the space-suited figures.  In the beginning, a space suit thrusts "down" in his jetpack but continues forward. Ships swing around (not to mention pointless twirling around in space).  The worst scenario is Kirk catches Spock who is spinning.  Spock's spin does not impact Kirk's motionlessness relative to the ship.

Artificial Intelligence and Life

Admiral Kirk:  "It [V-ger] amassed so much knowledge...."

It is curious how we have continued to equate knowledge with consciousness.  This is a staple definition in the SF diet, yet would we say that babies are conscious before they amass knowledge?  Surely a number of animals have more knowledge than a human baby and we would not equate that with consciousness.

Also curious, how has V-ger acquired and applied this knowledge?  Perhaps the machine planet somehow aided and developed this capacity.

Admiral Kirk:  "It became a living thing." 

It became conscious, not living.  Life has a different set of parameters that defines it.


The desire for a connection with one's creator, albeit here the creation is greater than it creator.  The purpose of machine intelligence is nothing without flawed human to give machines purpose--even a sexual one.

Once again, my rating is closer to IMDB's--6.4--although I'd bump it up to a 7.5.  I suspect with judicial editing (most people don't want to wade through long shots--Kubrick's 2001, notwithstanding), IMDB's rating would match mine. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review: Too Heavy to Carry by Cat Dixon

Every review I write, I write as if about a friend's work... to a friend:  What works well? What does not? And, fingers crossed, without offense.  Hopefully, you'll know enough whether you should read this book.  After all, if I don't warn you away from a book you may not like, you may not trust my judgment.  Besides, I've tended to be honest throughout my present incarnation, hopefully with more tact than I had as a grasshopper.

Being in Honduras, I could not immediately read my friend Cat Dixon's recent book of poetry, Too Heavy to Carry, but I've since learned it is a damn fine one.

It treats a woman's journey of being a woman--love, marriage, divorce, kids, life, and the conflicted feelings that tug at one when trying to wrestle with these issues. She isn't afraid of being real, of showing the hidden face of private life, regrets and hope.

She has always been bold as a poet--too bold perhaps for some readers--but her poems have gained a deeper nuance and richness of feeling I'd not seen before. Her tone is almost always on target. And her poems feel whole. You can lift them out and enjoy them for what they are, but they also rub against the other poems in the collection to give you a deeper understanding of what it means to be a woman.

Perhaps one of the more fascinating aspects is how Dixon adopts the cat as part of a shifting, molting persona.  Playful and somber, exultant and blue, funny and bitter, Dixon spans the gamut of emotions. I recommend the collection to anyone interested in poetry and/or the complex life of women.

These are my favorite poems--my votes for any Dixon greatest-hits collection.  These survived multiple readings:

"Commiserating with Another Parent"
The mosquitoes buzz into
the sweet bottles.  We watch
as they fly inside the glass--
then you cork them, trapped.

"Daughters over Sons"
the only memory I have of my father like that is when I was five or six and he took my foot into his mouth, wet and warm, told me he was going to eat it--my leg extended into the air like a kick and I'm sure I laughed like you, but I don't remember.

"Circus Man"
Killer last line, but it doesn't work well without the rest of the poem.
He juggled fire without scorching his skin.

"Black Cat"
I didn't cut my arms or hide
the marks beneath long sleeves.
It was the cat.

"The Reef"

The calcium exoskeleton is
broken and made holy
by the waves

"Once a Woman"
"Here," he brags to coworkers.
"I survived Catharine."


always one guy who didn't see the newscast or who just didn't give a fuck....
Everything that is too heavy to carry on, rests.


This poem is hard to quote without the whole.

"Tabula Rasa"
I tap the glass,
call over the mike
to the narrow, empty tomb

"Eulogy for John Berryman"
to grieve the loss
like I knew you.....
I, too,
sprang from a cigarette ash flick,
an extra shot of tequila....


Also notable for the thought shifts that yet follow its thought.
a lover in a king-sized bed
who can't sleep alone....
Between us the brittle crevasses
are God's dentures.  He's taken
them out for the night; left them
soaking in Polident.

Here are a few surreal poems that struck and stick with me although I couldn't say why:

  1. "The Winter Moth Orbits the Light"
  2. "With the Zoologist in the Closed Exhibit"
  3. "Sunday Afternoon at Mission Park"
  4. "Whip with her Hair"