Archive for April, 2018

I got busy yesterday and totally forgot to mark the occasion. Five years ago on April 9 I was laid off from my day job. I’d spent ten years with my employer. I started as a copyeditor, moved up to associate editor, then acquiring editor. But publishing continues to go through adjustments in the age of Amazon—and the corresponding dwindling of brick-and-mortar bookstores—and e-books and self-publishing that upend traditional publishing models. I had dodged the bullet in a couple of prior rounds of layoffs, but then my time came.

It was scary and depressing, but, as I told my former boss a little later on, it was the best thing that could have happened. I’d really needed to move on, but never would have gotten up the nerve to jump out of the plane on my own. Getting kicked out was rough, but things started happening. I was contracted to write Star Trek: The More Things Change around then. My former boss also hired me as a writer for a dream assignment: I was flown down to the Kennedy Space Center to research and write their new premium guidebook with primary author Piers Bizony. I started freelance copyediting Simon & Schuster’s Star Trek fiction line. I’ve gotten to do more work with Afterglow Studios, for whom I’d cowritten the space documentary Space Next while I was still at my day job, recently turning in another space documentary, Touch the Stars, and I’m working on a third screenplay right now. I’ve got a continuing gig reviewing materials for the role-playing game Star Trek Adventures to make sure the details remain true to the established canon of the movies and series.

Certainly there have been lows to balance those highs, and, as always, I struggle to get more momentum behind my original writing, which has been languishing for several years. But I’m spending my time writing and editing, more or less making a living as a full-time freelancer. Various things are going on that I can’t yet talk about that could turn into exciting things . . . or not, because that’s the way the business works. But it’s been a pretty amazing five years. Feel free to use this as an excuse for raising a glass, I know I will!


My Epic Trek Comic Book Read #3

Invasion_of_the_City_Builders_ComicGold Key issue 3 (December 1968), “Invasion of the City Builders,” serves up a passable automation-gone-too-far story, but once again it’s wrapped in a tortilla with a large side of WTF sauce.

The Enterprise, continuing the galaxy-hopping trend of the two previous issues, is now “at the edge of a distant galaxy.” Impossible travel times aside, the writer clearly didn’t watch “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” which established the energy barrier surrounding our galaxy and the negative side effects of crossing it. After a quick stop to repair “rocket engine #4”—including an exterior shot of space-suited crew with the Enterprise from such a weird perspective nothing about the ship makes sense—Kirk and his gang continue to “Planet Questionmark.” They should get there in “two lunar hours one galaxy minute.” I wonder how long that is in asteroid days and comet seconds? On the way there, Spock gets Kirk up to speed by showing him old “radio-photo films” of the planet. The Gold Key comics consistently use sci-fi lingo that sounds like it was written in 1945. I should note that I’m typing all of this with a smile on my face, not an angry nerd frown. These comics are a hoot.

The Enterprise reaches the planet and swoops down into the atmosphere, flying at news-chopper height over the city. And what a city! It stretches across most of the planet, yet there are no people in the endless streets. We eventually learn from the few survivors that increasing automation led down a slippery slope from robot lawn mowers to giant city-building machines that simply won’t stop building cities. Meanwhile, the machines that produce food have broken down, and the people no longer know how to do anything for themselves.

Amusing side note: Kirk introduces himself “in the interplanetary language Esperanta.” Esperanto was created in the nineteenth century to serve as a common international language. It didn’t take over the world, but it is the most widely spoken constructed language according to Wikipedia, so it must be true (because that’s where my research stopped, I’m assuming its only competition is Klingon and Elvish). It arguably reached its peak when William Shatner starred in the all-Esperanto horror movie Incubus (1966), which filmed shortly before shooting began on the second Star Trek pilot, the aforementioned “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”

Now back to the story. The city builders are about to citify one of the last open spaces on the planet, and the native population is powerless to stop them. The landing party decides to help and calls upon the Enterprise to fire all weapons on the robot machines. Oops, no, that was what would have made sense. Instead, they use a laser rifle to make a big ditch for the machines to fall into. The machines simply build their way out of the ditch. When Spock does call upon the Enterprise for help, it’s to have a chemistry kit beamed down so he can find a weakness in the city builders’ metal. And the weakness turns out to be “a simple solution of NH2.” The metal “could probably withstand an atomic blast…yet a mild amino acid disintegrates it!” I’d try to research that chemistry if it didn’t take research.

Armed with Super Soakers, and with tanks full of amino acid on their backs, the crew and the natives take care of business. The city builders are destroyed and the natives are on the road to recovering their world and society. This is the first truly happy ending in the comic books!

Favorite exclamation: Kirk’s “Great novas!”

My Epic Trek Comic Book Read #2

Comic2_BigGold Key issue 2 (March 1968), “The Devil’s Isle of Space,” finds a landing party including Captain Kirk trapped on a prison asteroid where the condemned are about to be executed en masse when the planet-sized unstable rock explodes.

It’s not a bad concept for a story, and it raises Prime Directive issues even though the term isn’t used. But it includes some classic WTF gems of the Gold Key series. First off, the asteroid is found “on the outer fringe of the Galaxy Nabu.” So that’s the second galaxy the Enterprise has visited in as many issues. Next, the ship enters orbit at “altitude five thousand feet” . . . if I’m doing my maths correctly, that’s less than a mile above the surface. Then when they encounter turbulence—which is not a surprise at that altitude—Kirk orders “up the infra-red periscope”!

The turbulence was caused by the Enterprise being caught in a force field surrounding the asteroid, which is why Kirk leads a landing party, to find a way to shut down the field. On the surface they get the runaround from the inmates, who are hoping to escape by lying to Kirk about their circumstances. The landing party maintains contact with the ship via Kirk’s “radio”—which is clearly a tricorder. Didn’t any of the writers or artists ever watch the show?

The situation soon goes from bad to worse when Spock discovers the asteroid has “an internal volcano that will blow the planet into a super nova within twenty-four hours.” Uh . . . the planet will go super nova? Although Spock has used “counter energy”—shades of reversing the polarity—to break free of the force field, he can’t use the transporter for fear of also beaming up the violent inmates. He has Scotty create a diversion with a decoy ship made to look like a prison transport which they land on the asteroid. In all the hullabaloo, the crew are saved shortly before the prisoners meet their fate.

Kirk acknowledges feeling bad about leaving all the prisoners to die, but Spock notes that it’s “the way of their society” and they “had no other choice,” a classic Prime Directive dilemma, and certainly a step up from the genocide he committed in issue 1.

Favorite exclamation: Spock’s  “Shades of Pluto!”