Category: geeky

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!”


Star-Trek-Gold-Key-1-200x300I’ve decided I should dive into a comprehensive read of the Star Trek comic books. I’ve read a lot of them over the years, but far from all of them, not like the books, which, except for a handful of more recent titles, I’m all caught up on. There’s no better place to start such an endeavor than at the beginning, with the Gold Key comics.

I should note up front that these early comic books are a bit off the wall. The writers and illustrators didn’t have much familiarity with the source material, and apparently were provided little in the way of references textual or visual. Obviously they didn’t have the handy-dandy internet for easy research, but you still would expect that the studio could have provided something for them to work with. But beyond the Enterprise itself and some likenesses of the actors, they appear to have been left largely to their own devices. That is both their charm and their curse; their divergences from the show’s established universe and philosophy induce reactions that swing from WTF to painful cringing for the modern audience. And they have a tendency to have the crew utter various family-friendly curses or exclamations that are downright bizarre.

So here we are with issue 1 (July 1967), “The Planet of No Return.” The basic plot is that the crew of the Enterprise discovers a planet dominated by plant-based sentient life forms. On the one hand, this takes great advantage of the limitless effects budget of comic books, allowing the crew to truly find some wild “new life forms and new civilizations.” On the other hand . . . well, we’ll get to that.

First, I’m willing to let go that they set stardates with a colon like times, e.g., “18:09.2,” but when they open up with the Enterprise exploring “Galaxy Alpha” with “no indication of life anywhere,” I’ve got to wonder if the author understands, as Douglas Adams explained, that “space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Anyhoo, things get weird when they finally detect a planet with life. It looks interesting on the “TV scanner.” (For some reason, the writer has no idea of the terminology the show uses, and fills in the gaps with 1950s style nomenclature, causing unintentional hilarity.) On their way to the planet they pass through a “space fog,” and some spores from the fog get aboard, transforming some guinea pigs into giant, hostile carnivorous plants.

Luckily, both Spock and McCoy are saved, and the landing party eventually makes its way down to the planet, and in cool jumpsuits and backpacks to boot. One of the party gets spored while the rest are set upon by a giant hostile plant. The spored guy is transformed into a tree-like plant and saves the remaining landing party by attacking the  other plant, and both he and the indigenous plant die.

Strangely, throughout the story the plants are referred to as “cannibals” instead of simply “carnivorous.” It’s indicative of the aggressive (dare I say imperial?) stance the crew immediately adopts to the native life. As the intelligence level of the plants becomes increasingly apparent, there’s no effort made to communicate with them. Instead we get lines of dialogue from Kirk like, “Start triggering . . . we’ve got to blast our way out of this fix.”

Various high jinks ensue as Yeoman Rand—at one point called “honey” by Kirk—gets captured and herded into a pen along with some dinosaur-like animals that the plants keep for food. As Kirk and company try to break her out, they call upon Spock back on the Enterprise to risk using the ship’s “laser beam destruct ray” to destroy a part of the fence so that they can rescue Rand and beam back to the ship. Of course, there’s no reason why they couldn’t just beam her up from where she is without risking incineration her while they shoot the fence.

But Spock fires the weapon, Rand is rescued, and they beam back to the Enterprise. There’s only one thing left to do: genocide. Since they now know that the spores that affected the guinea pigs came from the planet and can travel through space, Spock essentially says that they have to nuke the entire site from orbit, because it’s the only way to be sure that the spores don’t reach other planets. So the last panels show the Enterprise using its “laser beams” to wipe the entire planet clean of life. Yikes.

To end on a happier note, my favorite exclamation from this story was Kirk’s “Suffering solar showers!”

When last we left the baron at the end of The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), he was headed for the guillotine in Switzerland. As The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) opens, he’s still on his way, so it’s a pretty direct sequel. More or less. Let’s talk continuity, shall we? Let’s do.

Curse opened with some text stating that the story took place “more than a hundred years ago.” So we can do the math: 1957-100=1857. But Revenge’s opening text tells us the baron was condemned to death in 1860. So . . . that’s in the ballpark, though it seems like it should be 1857 at the latest. But that’s not the pickiest nit to pick here. There’s a whole lot of retconning going on.

revengeRevenge’s intro also explains that the doctor was “condemned to death for the brutal murders committed by the monster he had created” and “the whole continent” was relieved at the end of “his life of infamy.” But that’s not at all what happened in Curse! Frankenstein and his assistant Krempe worked in obscurity for years, and only the two of them really knew of the Creature. Frankenstein himself was considered guilty for the murder of his maid by his own hands, because no one believed him that a Creature had existed.

Furthermore, only the maid was mentioned, a single murder. Although Curse did imply that the Creature killed a blind man and the man’s grandson, whatever the Creature did with them wasn’t shown on screen . . . and they were never mentioned again. So, at worst, the story could have spread of a baron who killed his maid and then tried to get off by claiming he’d made a monster who’d done the deed. Not exactly the kind of event which would make a whole continent breathe a sigh of relief if you ask me. Unless it’s a small continent populated entirely by maids who work for barons.

But I digress. Because the big retcon is still to come. Although at the end of Curse the pompous baron was reduced to a blithering mess begging for his life, we find out in Revenge that that was all an act, because Frankenstein—even though unable to convince the authorities of his miraculous surgical skills—had convinced one of his jailers, Karl. Karl suffered from various physical deformities, and in turn for the doctor’s promise of getting him a new body, Karl colluded with the executioner to take the head of the priest attending the execution in the baron’s stead (it’s unclear why no one seems to have noticed a priest went missing at an execution). Now on to more spoilers.

Flash forward three years. Dr. Victor Frankenstein has moved to Carlsbruck, Germany, and taken up practice as Dr. Victor Stein. In a move far more clever than his transparent pseudonym, he works at a hospital for the poor, giving him a source for all the body parts he needs. The dashing doctor also attracts a large number of women to his regular practice, drawing the ire of their former doctors. When they confront him, one of the locals, Dr. Hans Kleve, recognizes him. Since, according to this film, everyone knows about Frankenstein and the Creature, Kleve wants to learn all Frankenstein can teach him and signs on as the baron’s assistant.

Together they put the finishing touches on Karl’s new body; unlike the hideous reanimated corpse of the first film, the doctor has outdone himself, building a tall, handsome vessel for Karl. The brain transplant is a success, but Karl isn’t patient enough to remain in bed as long as the doctors recommend. He tries out his new body too soon, unsettles his brain, and goes wonky in the melon. Unpleasantness occurs, and Karl spills the beans on Frankenstein’s identity. When Frankenstein’s poor patients find out, they give him a serious beat down. Kleve arrives while he still lives, but his body is too damaged. Kleve harvests his brain just before the authorities arrive, and he tells them he tried to save the doctor but was too late. They are convinced of Frankenstein’s death, having seen the body with their own eyes. Luckily, however, Frankenstein has also crafted a duplicate body for himself; Kleve finishes the transplant after the authorities have left.

Flash forward to London and the practice of one Dr. Franck; yes, the evil doctor hasn’t learned anything about convincing pseudonyms, but this time he wears a moustache and a monocle, so I’m sure no one will ever recognize him. The credits roll as the audience imagines what sort of high jinks the doctor is going to get up to now.

Revenge works quite well as a sequel—even though the retconning requires the audience to put some extra effort into the suspension of disbelief—by avoiding being just another story about the doctor reanimating a creature. The twist of making a healthy body as a cozy new home for a living brain is a nice twist. But there’s no mistaking the doctor for a humanitarian; when he sees an arm he wants on one of his poor patients, he lies to the man about needing to amputate. Another great angle is the sympathetic character of Karl—at least if you try to overlook that he killed a priest. Michael Gwynn’s performance as Karl in his new body is touching. He struggles to adjust, but as things go wrong, he starts carrying his body like his previous, deformed one, and his descent into madness is sad and disturbing. The unreserved ruthlessness of Frankenstein along with various body parts sloshing around in jars and tanks help continue the enjoyably twisted tone of the original. Three decades later, films like, say, Re-Animator (1985), owe a debt to these Hammer Films although, of course, with the gore and depravity turned up to 11.

One could even make the argument that Revenge is a better film than Curse. While Curse, enjoyable as it is, might be characterized as a so-so adaptation of Shelley, once past the original story the Hammer peeps were freed to do whatever they wanted, and they took the story in an interesting direction. It would have been nice to follow the further adventures of Franck and Kleve in London, but, as we shall see next time, the series was about to take a detour in 1964’s The Evil of Frankenstein.

It’s time for me to rewatch—actually, in most cases, watch for the first time—the series of Frankenstein movies produced by Hammer Films from the late fifties through the mid-seventies. There are six films starring Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein:

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

The first two tie together more or less, then the third is basically a reboot with the continuity picking up again after that, after a fashion. I’ll address continuity or lack thereof in the individual posts. I’ll be watching the Cushing films in order, then 1970’s definitely out-of-continuity The Horror of Frankenstein, with Ralph Bates stepping in as Frankenstein. And I’ll be writing snarky spoiler-filled comments, so let’s get to it.

curseoffrankenstein_us30x40First up, The Curse of Frankenstein, in which Christopher Lee (Dracula to Cushing’s Van Helsing in the Hammer Dracula series) plays the unfortunate creature stitched together by Frankenstein and his increasingly reluctant tutor/assistant, Paul Krempe. Yes, you read that right, Krempe starts as a tutor (hired by the young Frankenstein himself !) and then just stays with the baron until he becomes his worried sidekick.

But let’s back up to young Frankenstein, so to speak. We meet him early in the film after his mother dies, and we immediately see that, for the most part, the teenage baron (his father died years earlier) is a self-centered, unlikeable jerk weasel. He doesn’t grow out of it.

The adult Victor brings his cousin Elizabeth to his estate to become his bride, apparently only for appearances, because he exhibits no real affection for her and spends very little time with her, as that would cut into his experiments as well as the time he needs for boinking the maid.

As Frankenstein ruthlessly gathers the necessary parts for his Creature, Krempe increasingly spends all his time 1) telling Frankenstein to stop, without doing much of anything to actually stop him, and B) telling Elizabeth she should leave, without telling her why. For her part, Elizabeth is always cutting Frankenstein slack, even though he continues to treat her abominably (that final word choice may have been influenced by Peter Cushing having been in the lesser-known Hammer Film The Abominable Snowman [1957]).

The maid has more spine than Krempe and Elizabeth put together, threatening to expose Frankenstein for all his shenanigans (including knocking her up), and then she actively looks for evidence in the laboratory. Unfortunately for her, this allows Frankenstein to lock her in a room with the Creature. Problem solved for the Baron . . . or so it seems.

But, wait, the Creature! Lee doesn’t appear until fifty minutes into the eighty-three minute film—what with earlier experiments and then finding the necessary parts and sticking them together and all—and once he’s finally unwrapped, he has frightfully little to do. As in the Boris Karloff version of the story (and unlike the original novel) Frankenstein’s creation doesn’t speak, and after various mishaps reduce his brain to chip dip, he’s little more than a half-trainable animal that, one imagines, would make a lot of messes on the carpet if he survived long enough for Frankenstein to try to housebreak.

But high jinks ensue, and the Creature ends up dead and dissolved in acid, which pins the maid’s murder—justly so—on Frankenstein. Krempe has apparently gotten up the courage to lie to the police so that Frankenstein is the only person claiming there was a reanimated monster at his estate. As the movie ends, the baron is being led to the guillotine and the audience has no reason to feel sorry for him as he begs for his life.

All that said, you may think I dislike the movie, but, no, I’m quite fond of it. Although the baron is twisted and evil and the other main characters generally simpering and ineffectual, there is something about the unreserved glee the film takes in its Grand Guignol plot that still entertains. Although tame by today’s standards, the amount of  blood and body parts—in vivid color, no less!—were shocking in its day, and the performance of Peter Cushing still infuses much of the film with a disturbing creepiness. And one could argue that the aristrocratic baron prefigures characters like, say, Patrick Bateman of American Psycho: rich, privileged, self-involved, and devoid of genuine human feelings.

It’s a solid and gruesome start to the series. Next time, The Revenge of Frankenstein.

[Years ago I watched a bunch of Hammer’s Dracula movies and blogged some thoughts on them. You can find the first post here on my old Live Journal site, then just click the “hammer time” tag at the bottom to find the rest; read from the bottom up.]

It’s con season, as noted over on the Generations Geek blog. I will be at CONvergence over the Fourth of July weekend and at Shore Leave the weekend of July 15. Cons are a weird experience for me. Although I’ve been a sci-fi geek essentially my entire life, cons were not a big deal for me for decades. I think part of that is because I grew up in northern Minnesota, far from any conventions. Combine that with my neuroses around crowds and strangers and places I haven’t been before—imagine that, a neurotic writer!—and you can see why I wasn’t rushing out to cons even after I moved to the Twin Cities, where there are many wonderful cons. But then I started being a writer guest at Shore Leave, thanks to Star Trek fiction. For years, Shore Leave was the only con I regularly attended, halfway across the country, even though there were lots of cons in my own backyard. Finally, a few years ago, I started going to CONvergence as a writer guest, and I’ve grown quite fond of it. But cons are still roller coasters for me, full of ego boosts, awkward social interactions, reunions with old friends, and crowd-induced claustrophobia. So if you ever meet me at a con and I look a bit skittish, like a dog during a thunderstorm, give me a moment, my mood will soon swing back the other way!

Still not really talking about what I’m not talking about: Star Trek fan films. Trek fandom has been biting its own tail for months about this, and with the fan film guidelines CBS and Paramount have recently released, it’s gotten worse. I’m not going to rehash the whole story here. If you’re a fan you already know it; if you’re not, well, neither of us has the time or energy to go over the history. But I’m in the middle on this. I’ve watched and enjoyed fan films. I’ve considered writing for them, but never did. But, as a writer, I’m also big on intellectual property. And I’ve written official Star Trek fiction, published by Simon & Schuster—which, according to the guidelines, disqualifies me from working on a fan film. I don’t take that personally, but I was never really invested in the idea in the first place. Which brings me back to why I haven’t been talking about this. I know people on both sides of the issue, people who totally support the studio’s point of view and people who are deeply invested in fan films either as viewers or creators. Online debates have been intense, and there have been people on both sides who have—I like to give the benefit of the doubt and assume in the heat of the moment—veered off into regrettable personal attacks. The whole situation saddens me. It’s the fiftieth anniversary year of the franchise we all love, and instead of wholehearted celebration, there is instead an atmosphere of taking sides. No matter how many justifiable fingers can be pointed in either direction, the end result is disheartening.

It’s a good thing I’ve got that degree in how to be a freelancer in the new world of publishing. Oh, wait, that never happened. I really don’t think anyone in the industry really knows what they’re doing. Not in a bad way, like, “That guy is driving the wrong way on a one-way street,” but more like, “Uh . . . is this the detour? Is this even a road? Why have all the street signs been painted over?” So you’ve got a lot of people—writers and editors from beginners to pros alike—just trying to keep moving forward, but the rules keep changing, and the game board, instead of being a proper map, is just a white board anyone can erase and redraw with the full conviction that people on the internet seem to have about anything. All I want to do is write my little stories, get them out there for people to read, and somehow make a fair amount of money to pay the bills. That was hard enough in olden days when publishing was a relatively straightforward business that followed the same traditions it always had. Nowadays, on the frontier of e-books and print on demand, when big publishers are buying up self-publishing businesses like farm teams, it’s hard to know what to think. So I just keep on writing my little stories, and I try to get some printed traditionally and self-publish others, and I’ll see where it takes me. Check out my author page on Amazon, where you can see them all. (In theory. It’s kind of buggy. Because it’s not like a little site like Amazon has the resources to . . . oh, wait.)

2016-05-19 19.51.52I’ve been resisting upgrading my OS for five years because I knew several of my most-used and/or most-loved pieces of software would no longer work. I didn’t want to have to buy yet another version of Quicken (to be clear, that’s in the most-used department) and, dang, living without Rise of Nations is no way to live. I had a back-up computer, an old tower that I rarely used, running on older OS, but it had a small (by today’s standards) hard drive. So I embarked on a fabulously ridiculous and ridiculously fabulous journey of geekitude: I bought two new large hard drives for the tower, which has two drive bays, and installed two out-of-date OS versions, one per drive. Counting the updated OS on my desktop, and the unbelievably old OS 9 on my iBook, that means I now have not one, not two, not three, but four, FOUR different versions of the Mac OS running. Yeah, I’m just that geeky. But it gets better than that—or worse, depending on your point of view.

Because video games have a limited shelf life after which selling them seems pointless, I 2016-05-19 19.49.34tend to just throw them in a stack in the closet, not being able to bring myself to add them to the million of CDs already in our landfills (AOL install discs, WALL-E and I are looking at you). But now that I have all these legacy versions of the Mac OS available to me, I got busy installing all of those games in whichever was the highest OS they would run in. And—you better sit down—some of these games originally came on floppy disks, but I had transferred them to CDs decades ago when floppies were hit by an asteroid and went extinct. I’m almost done with this project, so I can now sit back and simply behold the glory of what I have created. So, now that you ask, at upper left, that is indeed 1998’s Yoot Tower running on my 2001 iBook. At right we have 1991’s SimAnt, which actually runs fine under the Classic emulation of OS 10.4 on the tower. Yoot Tower is buggy in emulation, so that had to go into OS 9 on the laptop. Back with SimAnt, I also have SimEarth (1990), SimLife (1992), SimFarm (1994), SimTown (1995), and SimSafari (1998). Holy crap. Somebody help me.

I’ve got a bunch more games all available to me across three computers . . . but, of course, I barely have time to play any of them. Not to mention all the new games I have on my iPad. This has always been an issue for me: buying more books, games, movies, and CDs than I can ever really appreciate. I’ve gotten much better and resist buying new stuff. But if anyone wants to play decades-old Mac games, I’ve got a museum right over here. By appointment only.

IMG_2016I’m in that weird post-con mood, somewhere between melancholy reminiscence on one hand and the joy of returning to regularly timed meals on the other. CONvergence was a blast of geek power that was both energizing and draining over four days at the DoubleTree Hotel in Minneapolis, Minnesota, just a short drive across the mighty Mississippi River from my lair in St. Paul. My daughter Ella came with, as did a friend of hers who did some mighty cosplay, five costumes in four days: Daryl from The Walking Dead, Peggy Carter from Captain America, Castiel and Dean from Supernatural, and a Hogwarts student from Harry Potter (I forget which house).

My Thursday started with attending the panel “Mainstreaming of Geekdom” on how geek culture has come into the limelight from the fringes of yesteryear. It was an interesting panel, including insightful commentary from panelist Michael R. Underwood. My first panel of the con, “Walking Dead: Comics or TV?” was next. In preparation, I read the comics from the first issue up through the issues corresponding roughly to the first half of the last season. For those who haven’t read the comics, I say “roughly” because the TV adaptation takes some diversions from the source material so it doesn’t line up exactly. The panel compared and contrasted the two versions of the story and made me excited for the upcoming season and reading more of the comics.

After a couple hours wandering around, I attended the panel “Many Faces of Dracula,” which included local horror author Joel Arnold, a friend of mine. The panel discussed many cinematic versions of the famous bloodsucker, including Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Jack Palance, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman, and more. Fun stuff.

Next I was back on stage for a Sherlock panel, focusing on the third season. We talked about what we loved and what we didn’t, touching upon Sherlock’s “return from the dead,” the fate of Moriarty, and the tone of a season that left a lot of fans divided. I left the con for a while to meet up with fellow Trek writer Bill Leisner, who kindly supplied, on consignment, a small box of the ReDeus anthologies (which we had both contributed to) for my signing the next day. After we had a bite to eat, I went back to the con for a bit and was able to drag the kids away from all the fun.

Friday kicked off with my time at the signing table. I shared the table with the super-personable Wesley Chu, who was a great guy to chat with when we weren’t talking with people dropping by the table. I sold just one book, and that was to Joel, but I had fun and did plenty of PR for my new Trek eBook, The More Things Change. Now I’ve got to get Bill’s books back to him.

Following my signing, I wandered around and stumbled into an unscheduled signing by Marina Sirtis, Deanna Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I took advantage of the opportunity to give her a signed copy of The Sky’s the Limit, the TNG twentieth-anniversary anthology in which I have a story. I told her my daughter would be furious that I had met her on my own, but Marina told me to bring her back later and she would give Ella a signed photo in trade for the book I’d given her. Cool! Then we all went to Marina’s first talk at the con, a hilarious hour of snark and attitude, and then quickly got in the autograph line so Ella got to meet Marina as well. Marina commented on Ella’s friend’s Peggy Carter cosplay. Marina was laughing and smiling on stage all the time, it seemed, but every time I snapped a photo, she looked so serious, as above.

The rest of Friday night is a blur . . . I attended one panel that never quite came together, and then wandered a bit with the kids before calling it a night.

Saturday was a busy day. I had a panel right away at 9:30 in the morning, “Cartoons You Can Watch With Your Kids.” This was a lot of fun, and one of my fellow panelists was animator Greg Guler, who has worked on, among many other things, Phineas and Ferb, a favorite of ours. He had great insider stories from his years in the business.

I dropped by the signing table when it was Joel’s turn and picked up his novel Northwoods Deep. I got a little something to eat and soon was on my next panel, “The Hobbit: That Wasn’t in the Book!” We talked about the changes Peter Jackson and Co. made in adapting the book into a trilogy of films, including which additional scenes were extrapolated from Tolkien’s writings and which were made up entirely outside canon. This was held in one of the bigger rooms and was well attended. It gave me the perfect opportunity to mention Middle-earth Envisioned: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings On Screen, On Stage, and Beyond, to which I contributed a sidebar. One of my fellow panelists was David Lenander, a Tolkien scholar long active in the Rivendell Group, a local chapter of the Mythopoeic Society.

I had another panel right away, “Agents of SHIELD.” This played to a packed room, there were even people who had to stand in back. We reviewed the first season, its hits and misses, its relation to the Marvel films, and what we hope for in season two. We’d done an episode on this topic for Generations Geek, the podcast I do with Ella, so I felt well prepared, and it seemed to go well, especially with the help of publisher/writer Lee Harris as moderator. He closed the panel by saying, “If you liked this panel, I’m Lee Harris. If you didn’t, I’m Paul Cornell.”

I met up with Joel after that and went to the hotel bar for a burger, fries, and a glass of cabernet. It’s nice to have a sit-down chat with a fellow writer. We then attended a panel, “Cover Art for Your eBook,” which covered a lot of the pitfalls inexperienced self-publishers fall into when they slap together a cover and gave advice on how to do a better job. The panelists included Lee Harris. After that I called it a night.

And then it was Sunday, the last day. I started off with another 9:30 panel, “Your Child & Geekery.” We shared stories on raising geeky kids, and how we approached sharing our love of things geek with our children at various ages. Unfortunately, given the early hour on the last day of the con, the panel was sparsely attended, but it was an interesting talk nevertheless.

Following that, Ella and I were interviewed for the Skiffy and Fanty Show, a geeky podcast that was nominated for a Hugo Award earlier this year. We seemed to talk as though we knew what we were saying, and Shaun Duke and Paul Weimer were fun to talk with. I’ll post on Facebook and Twitter when I find out when our segment will become available.

That’s pretty much it. I got to talk to the eminently personable Emma Bull for a bit in the lobby, though most of her panels were scheduled opposite of mine, so I missed out on a lot of her con presence. I’ve known Emma since the early nineties when I worked at Barnes & Noble and would have her in for signings. I got to say hello to writer Paul Cornell a couple times as he dashed after his toddler in the corridor; I did a Gerry Anderson panel with him at CONvergence 2013. I introduced myself to comic book artist Christopher Jones, I’m happy to say, since I missed all his appearances as well. There’s always so much going on, there’s no way you can see it all. Also had a lovely chat with Carrie Patel, whose first novel, The Buried Life, comes out the end of July from Angry Robot.

All that remains is a shout out to all the panelists I didn’t name above and all the people at CONvergence, which is fan run, for putting on another great con. The kid and I both look forward to next year.

Two things you need to know about me: 1) I love computer games, and B) I don’t have any time to play computer games.

The result of these two incompatible facts is I have tons of games. That I’ve essentially never played. I rarely reach the end of a game, because I don’t invest enough time to play all the way through. So I never get rid of games, because I haven’t finished them. And I keep buying games, because I love them. It’s a form of madness.

And it gets worse. As computers and operating systems evolve, backward compatibility lasts only so long. Eventually you have a game you haven’t finished that you can’t run anymore. Unless you maintain an older computer. So now I have an iBook that I need to keep going because it’s old enough that it can boot in OS 9. And I recently picked up an old G5 pre-Intel tower that runs OS X 10.4, so that has access to a bunch of software my new Intel iMac with 10.6 can’t run. I’m reluctant to upgrade beyond 10.6, because I know I’ll lose a ton of games. 

But, of course, it’s not like I’m really playing those games anyway. Did I mention it’s a form of madness?

And it gets worse. The interesting thing about Intel Macs is that because they’re running on the same chip as Windows, it becomes possible to run Windows software on your Mac. Do you see where this is going? Yes, I’m now buying Windows games that I don’t have any more time to play than the tons of Mac games I already own. Weird thing is that the Mac versions wouldn’t run on the Intel Mac,  but I can run the Windows game. I’m running the Windows version of Command & Conquer from 1995–seventeen years old!–on my iMac.

I’ve just ordered Star Trek Online, which was never released for the Mac, and look forward to giving it a try, since play is free now. Of course, I’ll barely play it. I’ve also recently ordered an old game, Deep Space Nine: The Fallen for Windows. It was released for the Mac, but it’s very rare and, if you do find it, it’s usually priced far higher than what I would want to pay for a game over ten years old that, realistically, I’ll rarely play. But I was able to pick up the Windows version for $8. Fun side note: Star Trek writer Dave Mack contributed dialogue to The Fallen.

I do, every once in a blue moon, show some restraint. Sort of. To a point. About a month ago I noticed the Mac version of Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn along with the expansion pack Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhal on the shelf at my neighborhood Half Price Books, at $10 a piece. Oooo, I wanted those games. But I forced myself to not buy them. I knew I wouldn’t get around to playing them, and why not save the $20? The following week they were still there. No, I stood strong. The week after that they still taunted me. I walked past, but my resolve was weakening. I decided to look up some reviews, hoping they’d say the game was a major disappointment so that I’d not buy them. Instead, the reviews were jubilant. The game has sold over 2 million copies. I was back to coveting them.

Last week I could stand it no more. I grabbed them off the shelf and took them to the counter. The guy rang them up, then got the discs from behind the desk and dropped them into the case. I saw disks one, two, and four go by. No three.

“You’re missing a disk,” I said. “I guess I’ll be returning those.”

“Sorry about that,” he said. “I don’t know why we took this with a missing disk. You still want the other one?”

“No, it’s an expansion, you need the original game to be able to play it.” The guy started crediting them both back to my card. “Quickest. Return. Ever,” I said. 

I guess that’s what I get for giving in!

Shore Leave

After too long an absence from posting while breathing deeply of the existential malaise emanating from the publishing industry (and please check out Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s fabulous blog on the subject), I’m back with fun news. It’s that special time of year known as Shore Leave!

I can’t overemphasize the importance of this convention to me. I first attended in 2006 with my second inclusion in the contest anthology Strange New Worlds. Still feeling rather fannish, I was nervous to be hanging out with writers like Greg Cox and Margaret Wander Bonanno. But over the years I’ve gotten to know a lot of the Trek writers, and they’re now friends and peers, people I stay in touch with year around via email, Facebook, and other various internet connections. In addition to gaining friends, getting to know people like Marco Palmieri, formerly the head of the Trek line at Simon & Schuster, also helped my career along as I sold a short story and then a novella thanks to Marco’s invitations to pitch. I look forward to Shore Leave for the chance to see the gang in person and to interact with all the great fans.

This year I’ll be taking part in five events. Friday night I’ll be an usher at the big celebrity roast of the fabulously nice Bob Greenberger. Following that is the annual Meet the Pros autographing session, where I’ll finally be signing copies of Myriad Universes: Shattered Light, containing my novella Honor in the Night. Saturday at 1 I’ll be in Salon A for the Star Trek Magazine panel, led by the magazine’s editor, Paul Simpson. I’ve had several articles published in the magazine. Later in the afternoon, at 4 in the Belmont Room, I’ll be on the Myriad Universes panel, with a smattering of authors who’ve been included in the three volumes of the series. On Sunday at 11 in Salon F I’ll be part of the Making of a Reboot panel, led by Kevin Dilmore, as we make the case for what TV show we’d each like to reboot and how we’d approach it. I’m rebooting the classic British series UFO.

I hope to see you there!