Tag Archive: Star Trek


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!

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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!”

My Lost Star Trek Sidebar

TrekUnauthBack in 2011, the ever-ebullient Bob Greenberger was contracted to write Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorized History for Voyageur Press. He solicited sidebar contributions from several other Star Trek writers and fans, including myself. I was excited to be able to contribute to the book. In fact, I’d actually helped the book happen behind the scenes. At the time I worked for Zenith Press, another imprint for the same publishing company that owned Voyageur Press. One of their acquiring editors had asked me, as the company’s resident Trek fanatic, if I thought they should do a Trek book. My response was probably something along the lines of, “Uh . . . YEAH!” We kicked some ideas back and forth, and I dropped Bob’s name as a possible author for the book. Happily, it all came together, which is never guaranteed in the publishing industry.

Then things took a twist. One day I was in my cube working on one of my projects, probably a World War II book, which was a specialty of Zenith Press, when Voyageur’s publisher dropped by. He said that it would probably make sense to have the company’s resident Trek fanatic be the editor for Bob’s manuscript, if I was interested in doing it. My response was probably something along the lines of, “Uh . . . YEAH!” So I took on the project (and suggested adding the silhouettes and Vasquez Rocks to the cover). But now that I’d become the editor, my previously contracted sidebar got a little weird. I would essentially be submitting something to myself. It seemed awkward, but I wrote the sidebar. When the manuscript went to the copyeditor, I explained the situation and said, “Be ruthless on mine.”

The copyeditor took that to heart and responded that some of the stuff I covered in my piece was similar to the other sidebars, and since I already felt uncomfortable about it, his suggestion was to simply cut mine from the manuscript. That was absolutely the right call, so Bob and I cut my sidebar and I didn’t have to feel weird about it any longer.

I stumbled across the piece in my computer files recently and thought that the sidebar, and the story behind it, might be of some passing interest to my fellow Trek fans. So here it is. (Side note: as the book was unauthorized, we generally couldn’t use official photography from the franchise, so much of the book is illustrated with photos of my personal memorabilia collection!)

Old Fans, New Fans

Tucked away somewhere in a box in the basement is a get-well card I received from a classmate in the third grade which reads along the lines of “Get well soon so you can come back to school and play Star Trek.” That would have been about 1972, so I’ve been a Star Trek fan for four decades. Not as long as some, but it still easily qualifies me as an old fan.

Flash forward from my childhood adventures aboard the Enterprise to about thirty years later, the early 2000s. My daughter, Ella, asked me, “What’s this Star Trek thing you’re always talking about?” I decided to introduce her through the animated version, thinking the cartoons might draw her in more easily than the original series. I figured she’d like it, but I didn’t foresee that she would love it and instantly become a fan. But even though she started about the same age I did, her experience of Star Trek is wildly different than mine.

For fans who came to the franchise in the twenty-first century, there is a wide-ranging body of TV series and movies that already existed when they started watching. That’s a completely different way of exploring the Trek universe compared to those of us who experienced its growth in real time, especially those of us who lived through the decades of a single show being the whole universe. In those pre-VCR years, you had to have a channel that syndicated the show or you had no Star Trek. I grew up out in the country with just four TV stations. There were whole years when I had to go without Star Trek on the screen. I once went to a family reunion, which required an uncomfortable overnight Greyhound bus ride, largely for the off chance that I might get to see some Trek. Indeed, it was on in Colorado, and I got a fix. But now Ella can sit down in a coffee shop with her Wi-Fi iPad and stream any of the series from Netflix.

A side effect of this is that Ella accepts all these shows as Star Trek without pause. While I’ve embraced the new entries in the franchise as it grew, I can still understand why some people are devoted to just the original series or how people who started by watching The Next Generation in the 1980s can have a different view that doesn’t quite embrace the show from the 1960s. When you’re a more recent fan, however, it’s all there at once. You can watch an episode here and there from across the Trek timeline whenever you want, instant gratification instead of investing seven years in finding out if Voyager got home or not. I think this makes it easier for new fans to embrace everything, while old fans experience “you ruined my childhood” moments while watching a new incarnation.

Of course, there are even newer fans now, who started with the Abrams reboot and only know Chris Pine as Captain Kirk. (Cue sound of older fans gasping.) Recently, Ella was stunned that one of her eighth grade classmates didn’t know who William Shatner was. But there’s no way around this for a franchise that’s been chugging along for nearly fifty years. And without new fans, where would Trek be? Still rerunning those same original episodes? This old fan and his new fan offspring—as much as we love the Shat—are glad that Trek keeps growing. We can’t wait to see what new versions await us in the future, and we hope that those new versions introduce even more new fans to this universe that we love.

ImageAnd by “we” I mean “me.” June 23 saw the release of my latest Star Trek novella, The More Things Change, an eBook exclusive for Kindle and Nook and such. It’s been four years (!) since my previous Trek book, Honor in the Night in the Myriad Universes: Shattered Light anthology. 

Where Honor in the Night was my Trek version of Citizen Kane, a hundred-year-long story about Nilz Baris and an alternate timeline of the Federation, The More Things Change is a very focused story only covering a few days of adventure for Christine Chapel and Spock. Here’s a synopsis: 

When Dr. Christine Chapel and Spock have to evacuate Audrid Dax from the Enterprise due to a medical emergency, Chapel is frustrated by Trill customs that don’t allow her to treat her patient. Chapel finds herself questioning her long-term plans while also dealing with Spock’s changing personality following his mind meld with V’ger. Soon, however, they have bigger problems when an unidentified vessel ambushes their shuttlecraft. They are forced into a dangerous cat-and-mouse game to evade their attacker long enough to get Dax to the Trill doctors who can save her life. Along the way, Chapel discovers much about herself, Spock, and the secrets of the Trill. 

This was a fun story to write. The Chapel character wasn’t always served that well by the original series, and so the goal behind this story—thanks to the input of my editor, Margaret Clark—was to redeem her, to make her a strong character and define an arc for her that led from the often insecure nurse of the show through becoming a doctor in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and then on to the responsibilities she shoulders after leaving the Enterprise, as glimpsed in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In addition, I got to play with her feelings for Spock, and how her growth through the years would affect her unrequited love for him, and, in turn, how that would be affected by Spock’s own personal changes. 

That’s a lot of character-driven stuff, but it’s held together by the action of the story, as Spock tries to evade the hostile ship that’s pursuing them. I got to write intimate character scenes between Chapel and Spock as well as tense action scenes as they try to stay alive on a damaged shuttle. Plus, a Dax is in the house! I just hope the readers enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

To be completely self-serving, I now quote one of its first readers, Eric Cone, who posted this on Facebook: “If you want a quick, change-of-pace thrill-ride, get the Star Trek: The More Things Change eBook by Scott Pearson. I finished it in about 3 hrs and literally could not put my Nook down. . . . Fast-paced, funny, and highly-entertaining, this one is a real treat.” 

Your mileage may vary, but thanks Eric!    

My Harlan Ellison Story

ImageIn the early 1990s I worked at Barnes & Noble. It had been announced that Harlan Ellison was publishing his original teleplay for the Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever.” This was exciting news; the bad blood between Ellison and Gene Roddenberry over the script was legendary. One customer placed a special order for the book, and as I was in charge of special orders, and was also a fan of Ellison and Trek, I was keeping a close watch for its arrival. The announced publication date came and went, but no book. 

I called up Borderlands Press to see what was going on and found myself speaking with the publisher, Thomas Monteleone, whose name sounded familiar to me. He explained that he was a writer too, and I realized I had read one of his books, The Secret Sea, a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. We chatted about that a bit, and then he explained that Ellison’s book was running behind schedule but they were trying to get it wrapped up. 

Time passed. I checked back in with Borderlands a few times as the book came up on my unfilled special orders report. One day I was told that Ellison had instructed the publisher to have his increasingly impatient fans waiting for the book to call him directly. I was given a phone and fax number (yeah, fax . . . it was twenty years ago). 

I scoffed at the idea—like Ellison wants people calling him and nagging about the book—as I dialed the number. Someone picked up, and a gruff voice said, “Yeah?” 

Holy. Shit. I knew right away that this actually was Ellison. I was on the phone with Harlan Ellison! I explained why I was calling, then didn’t have a chance to say much else for maybe fifteen minutes as Ellison went off on one of his trademark rants against Gene Roddenberry and Paramount. He was hilarious, joking darkly that Roddenberry had died before Ellison could get even with him (Roddenberry had passed away the year before, in October 1991). He explained that his introduction for the script was still growing, that he just couldn’t stop adding stories about his long-running feud with Roddenberry. Outside of calls about getting published, it was the most amazing phone call I’ve ever had. 

More time passed. I had another brief call with Ellison, a nice little chat. Still more time passed. Then he won a Bram Stoker Award in 1993 for his novella Mefisto in Onyx. I felt like congratulating him, but felt self-conscious about phoning him again. I didn’t want to be that guy, taking advantage of having his number. I decided on a compromise: I would fax him my congrats and also ask about City, which still wasn’t out. I jotted a quick note and hit send. It seemed like the sheet of paper hadn’t even fed all the way through the machine when I was paged. 

“There’s a guy on the phone wants to talk to you,” my disbelieving coworker told me. “He says he’s Harlan Ellison.” 

Oh. Shit. Ellison does not come across as a guy who’s going to call some bookseller to thank him for the congratulations. Something must be wrong. I took a deep breath and answered the phone. 

“Did you just fax me?” Ellison growled. 

“Yes.” 

“Why? Just to chat?” 

“Yes, sir.” I think I did call him sir. Seemed like the thing to do. 

“Well, you just woke up my sick wife and me . . .” That was only the start of him ripping me a new one. Turns out his fax machine was in his bedroom, and—it belatedly hit me—it was two hours earlier in California. So now I was being Ellisoned. 

I quietly took my chewing out. When he had finished, I apologized, explaining that I had assumed I was sending the fax to an office, so I had not even considered the time difference between Minnesota and the West Coast. After a moment of consideration, he allowed that he could see that, but . . . 

“You have my phone number, too?” 

“Yes.” 

“Lose it.” 

“Yes, sir.” 

So that’s how I got Ellison’s phone number, had the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and then poured it all down the drain. 

The book eventually came out as a limited edition hardcover from Borderlands in 1995 and in an expanded paperback—with a longer introduction!—from White Wolf Publishing in 1996. It’s a must-read, really.

A Tolkien Fanatic Ramble

ImageI first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in the late seventies—wow, that’s thirty-five years ago. I was immediately entranced and read them once a year for several years following, then sporadically throughout the intervening years. One of the times was while I was a stay-at-home parent. They say it’s good for language development to read to children essentially from birth, and I found out that it doesn’t take as long as you might think to read all four books aloud to a baby. I eventually lost track of how many times I reread them. I would guess at least a dozen, perhaps fifteen or so.

One of the reasons the books are so captivating for me (and for many people, I would guess) is that they seem so real. Strange to say about a fantasy with dragons and giant spiders, but the sense of a vast history beyond the pages you’re turning creates that feeling and pervades The Hobbit and, to a greater extent, The Lord of the Rings. That impression of a deep history wasn’t achieved solely through well-turned flashbacks in the narratives at hand; Tolkien had created a rich tapestry of Middle-earth stories even before he wrote The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Those early stories, tinkered with by Tolkien in various degrees for decades (and touched upon in the appendices of Rings), were released posthumously, sometimes in multiple forms, in several books: The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The Children of Húrin, and the multivolume History of Middle-earth, all edited by Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R.’s youngest son. I’ve read them all. 

That foundational work outside of the four best-known books informs the destinies of Bilbo and Frodo. Just as the rough edges of World War I would eventually boil over into World War II, so too would Isildur’s cutting of the One Ring from Sauron’s hand at the end of the Second Age of Middle-earth lead to the War of the Ring some three thousand years later in the Third Age, as told in Rings. I don’t mean to imply any historical allegory—Tolkien said he disliked allegory—but to emphasize that the “reality” of Middle-earth is enhanced by such connections and consequences running through the various works. 

With all that said, it’s clear I’m a Tolkien fanatic. So it was a bit of a dream come true to become professionally involved in a book about Middle-earth. In an earlier age of the world, I was consulted by a coworker at my then-employer, Quayside Publishing, about whether I thought we should do a Middle-earth book of some sort. I said YES. (As an aside, during this chat I was asked the same question about Star Trek. My equally loud YES to that eventually led to Robert Greenberger’s Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorized History, which I edited.) And, lo, thus was the humble beginning of Middle-earth Envisioned: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings On Screen, On Stage, and Beyond by Paul Simpson and Brian J. Robb, out now in time for that Middle-earth fanatic on your holiday list. Just helping it along in that little way was fun, but there was more to come. 

I’ve known Paul for several years. I first worked for him when he was editing the official Star Trek Magazine, contributing articles about my first fanatic fave, which I’d discovered prior to Tolkien by about five years. Reversing roles, he wrote That’s What They Want You to Think, a conspiracy 101 eBook, for me at Quayside. Then he invited me to contribute a sidebar to the Middle-earth book. Woo-hoo! That meant I would be professionally published in my favorite fictional past as well as my favorite fictional future. I jumped at the chance, and you can read the result when you rush out and buy the book, which is gorgeously designed and illustrated. Go ahead, I’ll wait here, you can grab it from your local bookstore or order it from Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, or Amazon

My sidebar, “Middle-earth Beyond The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings,” talks about those other Middle-earth texts mentioned above and how Peter Jackson drew on those sources for his film adaptations of the four novels. For space reasons, I wasn’t able to include every example of material outside the novels that informs the films, so what follows are a few interesting tidbits. 

In part, The Silmarillion recounts the strife between Ilúvatar—the creator—and Melkor, who is, to greatly simplify things with a common archetype, a fallen angel. Melkor became the Dark Lord Morgoth in the First Age of Middle-earth, and he created the Balrogs, the last of which appears in The Lord of the Rings. Morgoth’s chief servant was Sauron, also a terrible threat across the ages of Middle-earth. These are prime examples of the deep history that resonates throughout Tolkien’s writings.

Jackson & Co. expanded Arwen’s role in the Rings films to counterbalance the novel’s dearth of female roles. When her father, Elrond, counsels her to leave Middle-earth by foreseeing her future after Aragorn’s death, his dialogue draws directly from Appendix A of Rings. Arwen and Aragorn’s future son, Eldarion—whose appearance in a vision turns Arwen away from the Grey Havens and back toward Rivendell—is another detail drawn from Appendix A.

 Expanding The Hobbit into a three-film extravaganza also necessitated drawing on additional sources. The first film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, includes a meeting of the White Council—Elrond, Gandalf, Galadriel, and Saruman—where Gandalf expresses concern about how Sauron could use Smaug if the dragon were not destroyed, which is taken straight from dialogue in Unfinished Tales (although in a different setting). 

Hardly a complete list, and more examples will certainly appear in the remaining two parts of The Hobbit. Now that a whole new generation of viewers have been drawn into Tolkien’s world by these films, I hope young fans discover that not only is Middle-earth more than the films, it’s more than the four books that inspired the films, and is well-worth exploring more deeply.

My Patrick Stewart Story

ImageBack in 2001, I had the pleasure of seeing the Guthrie Theater’s production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The play starred Mercedes Ruehl, Bill McCallum, Carrie Preston, and some English chap named Patrick Stewart, who seemed very familiar to me. 

It was a great production, and all the actors were very good. I decided to try to get a memento of the performance. I packed up my paperback copy of the play and mailed it to Patrick Stewart care of the Guthrie. I enclosed this sincere and silly letter: 

Dear Mr. Stewart, 

I’ve followed your work for many years now, so it was a pleasure to see last Sunday’s matinee of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a thoroughly entertaining performance. I wonder if it wouldn’t be too much trouble for you to sign the enclosed copy of the play and send it back to me in the enclosed return mailer. If the rest of the fine cast had time to sign it as well, that would be most appreciated. 

This was the first time I’ve seen the play on stage—I have, of course, seen the film version many times. Now, having seen it performed live, I understand Albee’s negative comments about the film, although I don’t entirely agree with him. The stage play, especially in the first act, is much funnier than the film. I think the black and white cinematography combined with the closeness of the film medium made for a darker, more claustrophobic atmosphere. And yet, this seems to me a valid interpretation, not necessarily ruining the play, as Albee has said; look at some of the marvelous reinventions of Shakespeare that have been done over the years. But perhaps if Shakespeare were alive today he would consider Ian McKellen’s fantastic fascistic interpretation of Richard III (which I also had the pleasure of seeing on stage) a ruining of the play as well—and who would have the nerve to disagree with a nearly four-hundred-and-forty-year-old man, especially given Elizabethan bathing habits? 

Congratulations on a fine performance. In fact, I hope to see the play again this month. Thank you for your time. 

Sincerely,

[signed] Scott Pearson 

PS: I guess I should mention that I’ve been a raving Star Trek fan for almost thirty years. Do with that information what you will. 

Only a week or so went by before my book came back signed by all four of the actors, as you can see in the photo. That’s so cool. It’s a fun coincidence that the book was published by Pocket Books, who also publish Star Trek fiction (although this edition came out a couple years before Pocket got the franchise license).

So that’s my Patrick Stewart story.

I just watched Star Trek Into Darkness for the second time courtesy of the newly released DVD. (Side note: because we’re still rocking DVD instead of Blu-ray, we shrugged off the controversial marketing ploy of spreading the extras across multiple vendor-specific Blu-ray releases and just bought the cheap DVD.) Being hardcore Trek geeks, my daughter and I had attended a 3-D midnight premiere back when it hit theaters. We came down on opposite sides of the fence on the film, which you can hear us discuss on our podcast, Generations Geek, Episode 9, “Into Geekness.” The kid loved it and went back to it a couple times in theaters, but I was not highly enamored of JJ’s second film after finding the first one an entertaining joyride (even if the script was in need of a coincidencectomy or two or three). I was in no rush to see it again. [Spoiler alert: the rest of this post contains spoilers.] 

As often happens in these situations, I found the second viewing much more entertaining because, knowing what was coming, I wasn’t as put off by several key what-the-huh moments of the screenplay (e.g., hiding a spaceship from a nonspace-faring race not in space where they couldn’t possibly see it but instead offshore right by them where it’s quite possible they will see it). I touched upon some of those moments and the increasingly bizarre backlash against fans who didn’t like the film from fans who did in a couple of previous blogs, “JJ Trek’s New Clothes” and “Deja Vu(lcan).” To recap, my objections to the film are not a manifestation of some sort of subconscious problem with everything beyond the 1969 cancellation of the original series; in fact, my problems with STID often have little to do with Star Trek as such (certainly nothing to do with judging whether it’s “really” Star Trek…I find that notion as annoying as judging whether someone is “really” a geek); rather, my problems are frequently with issues that I would be critical of regardless of the specific film in question or the genre to which it belonged. In a nutshell, plot points that make no freaking sense, like the parenthetically aforementioned hiding of the Enterprise underwater. It’s kind of like Batman telling Robin, “No, we’ll hide the Batmobile outside of the Batcave. No one will think of looking for it there.” Or when the Enterprise gets shot to pieces over the Moon causing it to fall almost immediately into Earth’s atmosphere. I’m no rocket scientist, but I believe there’s this little thing called “about a quarter of a million miles” between the two. If I trip on my doorstep in St. Paul, Minnesota, I don’t land outside of a pub in Warwickshire, England. I wish I did, but gravity and space and time behave in largely predictable ways, as Newton and Einstein might tell you (if they weren’t in fact still dead). I don’t like my movies to disregard all common sense or matters of scale. If JJ Abrams made a movie about climbing Everest, would the lead character start out in L.A., get on a bus, and an hour later get dropped off at base camp? Would the mountain be five miles up but only two miles down? These things matter. A story that makes sense matters. That’s the difference between a well-crafted screenplay and just a series of exciting set pieces that barely hold together under the weight of all the details being ignored to make them happen. 

All that said: Scotty. He kinda steals the show. Simon Pegg is just brilliant in this role. And I noticed one line he has that I missed the significance of the first time round. Complaining about having the Enterprise underwater, he says that they’be been there since the night before, which implies they went underwater under cover of darkness, which is a nice detail. Still no explanation of why they’d go underwater in the first place, but still a nice detail that also implies they were thinking of leaving under cover of darkness as well. 

Other quick thoughts: I want to write fan fiction about that navigator with the shaved head, because she looks like she could kick some serious ass. I hope she’s back in the third film. 

Dammit, I miss Pike already. Greenwood nailed that role to the wall and then hit it with three bull’s-eyes, if I may mix metaphors, and I believe I just did. Although many people didn’t like how Kirk’s a bit of a dickweed in JJ Trek, I didn’t mind it, especially while watching him get his ass chewed by Pike. Of course, that fabulous scene in STID is undercut by the fact that Kirk almost immediately gets the Enterprise back again after Pike, once again, gets attacked by a vengeful madman. If I were Kirk’s superior officer in that universe, I would never punish him, because you’d know within moments you’d be getting eaten by a Gorn or something, and Kirk would suddenly be a hero again. Just let the dickweed do what he wants, admiral, it’s not worth the risk. 

After the torpedoes detonate aboard the Vengeance, I know things got pretty hairy aboard the Enterprise, what with there only being about a mile and a half between the Earth and the Moon, but maybe if someone had told Khan that they still had his crew alive, he wouldn’t have plunged the Vengeance into San Francisco, killing untold thousands. Or maybe he would have, because, you know, vengeful madman. 

Concurrently with seeing the film again, I was reading the novelization by Alan Dean Foster. He tried to cover up lots of plot holes with a geeky spackle of technobabble and a fresh coat of retcon, but there’s only so much you can do with some of these things. He didn’t touch the Enterprise underwater. I mean, come on. 

But anyone who loved the movie should read the book…there are bits here and there where I don’t know if they’re Foster’s work or represent scenes in the script that didn’t make the final cut—maybe they’re in some of those deleted scenes you may or may not get to see by tracking down all the versions of the Blu-ray—but they are some nice little touches. I won’t spoil them with examples, you can look for them like Easter eggs.