Not coming soon to a bookstore near you

Pocket Books, publishers of the Star Trek novels, among other things, sponsor a writing contest every year–the Strange New Worlds anthologies which publish Star Trek fiction by previously unpublished authors. The first such anthology was published in 1998, the fifth earlier this year, and Pocket is currently accepting entries for the sixth contest, winners to be published next spring. The rules of the contest are, simply, these: write a short story, up to 7500 words, using the Star Trek characters, doing nothing to the characters that Paramount wouldn’t approve of. The resulting stories have ranged from interesting character pieces to fanwank rubbish, with most falling somewhere in the middle.

Interestingly, Enterprise, the new series, debuted a mere five days before the deadline for the fifth contest. Enterprise was represented in the fifth anthology by three stories. Deep Space Nine, which debuted in 1993 and saw its final episode in 1999, was represented in the same anthology by one story. I find it difficult to believe that Enterprise received three times as many submissions in five days as Deep Space Nine did in the five months that Pocket accepted submissions.

This year I’m writing a story for submission. Actually, I’ve already mailed one entry off, am finishing work on a second, and plan to write a third by the October 1st submission deadline.

Let’s discuss the entry I’ve submitted. Written, mailed off this past Monday.

Picture for a moment a young Wesley Crusher. He’s a precocious sort, prone to wandering around the USS Enterprise-D, get into all sorts of trouble, etc. But he’s merely a passenger aboard the Enterprise, this is early first season Next Generation, he hasn’t been made an Acting Ensign yet.

Suddenly, Wesley saves the ship, and Picard rewards him by dubbing him “Acting Ensign.” Wesley gets to do all sorts of things that the regular crew would do, people who have had advanced training, people who have suffered through Starfleet Academy. People who, basically, have a clue.

Wesley, however, is merely a gawky teenager who has no training, hasn’t been to the Academy.

Picard lets Wesley fly the ship. It’s his duty station.

What happened to the person that Wesley displaced? What happened to the person that went to the Academy and learned all about interstellar navigation, who worked his way up through the Academy, served on ships other than the Enterprise and earned his position through pluck and skill? How might he feel about young Mister Crusher?

Imagine all that. In one hundred words.

There’s a fictive form called the drabble. It’s a story of one hundred words precisely. No more, no less. Beginning, middle, end, one hundred words.

I harbor no doubts that many stories are disqualified each year from Strange New Worlds for reasons of length; the rules are specific, the story cannot be longer than 7500 words. But there’s no corresponding rule for brevity. So why not one hundred words?

I don’t expect the story to win. I would, frankly, be greatly shocked. But simply for the cachet of being able to say that I submitted a drabble to the Strange New Worlds contest, that makes the whole experience worthwhile.

More about the other stories as they reach completion.

Not coming soon to a theatre near you

Star Trek fans received some disturbing news today–the scenes with Wil Wheaton and Ashley Judd in Star Trek Nemesis were cut from the film for running time reasons. According to published reports Wheaton and Judd reprised their roles as Wesley Crusher and Robin Lefler for the tenth Trek film as guests at the wedding reception of William Riker and Deanna Troi.

Today, Wheaton reported on his website that scenes featuring him were cut as the film’s initial cut ran to nearly three hours, and the wedding reception added little in a story sense to the film. Character moments, yes. Plot developments, no.

Judd’s appearance was one of the things I was looking forward to with Nemesis. Very few of the film’s rumors had instilled any confidence in me, but the idea that Rick Berman could convince Ashley Judd, an actress well in demand, to give up a few days of her time out of her busy schedule, to shoot a few scenes to add flavor to the film, gave me hope that Paramount was putting together a winning film.

Now? I’m not so sure. Check back in December.

On Why Spock Isn't Spock Anymore

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan received a DVD “director’s cut” treatment this week. Most Star Trek fans consider this the best film of the series. While I’ve always loved Star Trek II and have fond memories of going to see it with my father in the summer of ’82, I count Nick Meyer’s other entry in the series, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, as my favorite Star Trek film. Both films are good and capture much of what makes Star Trek great.

I sat down earlier this week and watched Star Trek II again, perhaps for the fiftieth or sixtieth time, but instead of watching the film I took in Meyer’s audio commentary. There were no real surprises to be heard; the stories Meyer tells have been covered before in behind-the-scenes books like William Shatner’s Star Trek Movie Memories. What I did find surprising was Meyer’s lack of engagement on the controversies surrounding the film–his feud with Gene Roddenberry over the film’s creative direction, Spock’s death, the militarism of the film. Meyer, when he mentions these topics, treats them matter-of-factly and without much depth.

Star Trek II is famous, of course, for Spock’s death in saving the Enterprise from the Genesis Wave. Meyer attacks the scene of Spock’s burial tube on the Genesis Planet in his commentary–he didn’t film the scene, he didn’t want it as part of his final cut, but the studio thought the film should end on a positive note. He goes on to say that he could have made Star Trek III but had no interest in resurrecting Spock as Paramount wanted. Once Spock had returned Meyer had no difficulty writing for the character in Star Trek IV and Star Trek VI, but he had objections to bringing a character back from the dead simply for its own sake as the resurrection robs the death of its emotional weight.

For me, Spock’s death in Star Trek II still carries an emotional punch. That Spock willingly gave up his life to save everyone, not knowing that he would come back still has a resonance, even if later events make that sacrifice something less than the character originally intended.

Here’s my view on Spock’s death and resurrection.

Spock died.

Spock regenerated.

The regenerated Spock isn’t the same being as the Spock that died.

They look alike, they have the same genetic structure, they have mostly the same memories, but they’re not the same. Fans think of them as being the same, but they’re really not. The regenerated Spock is more like a clone of the original, grown from a few cells in Spock’s corpse that weren’t killed off by the warp core radiations through the magic of the Genesis Effect. The regenerated Spock doesn’t remember dying. The regenerated Spock doesn’t remember entering the radiation chamber. His memories of his first life end with “Remember.” The Spock post-Genesis was “born” on the Genesis Planet. The consciousness has continuity stretching back another sixty years, but the body itself is relatively new though prematurely aged. The mental continuity may give the regenerated Spock the same personality as his predecessor, but their thinking patterns will be different.

A clone of Spock isn’t exactly Spock, even if the clone doesn’t realize there’s a difference.

The All-"Here Comes the Sun" Radio Station

Imagine for a moment that you get in the car and turn the key to hear the sounds of the Beatles streaming from the speakers. Imagine further still that you hear “Here Comes the Sun,” that magnificent song from the Abbey Road album. Sheer bliss.

Imagine hearing “Here Comes the Sun” on a continuous loop.

For some unknown reason, a local Philadelphia radio station has been doing exactly that, for at least six hours. Alice 104.5, which was once my preferred radio station (until they started mucking about with their format, the bastards), has spent the day playing “Here Comes the Sun,” fading it in as the song fades out. Hop in the car, it’s on. Get out of the car, it’s still on. What should have been sheer bliss has turned into sheer listening hell. I love the Beatles, but six hours of one song is simply too much.

Note to the audience: I did not actually listen to all six-plus hours of “Here Comes the Sun”–I value my sanity too much to do that. What I did do, however, is to check the station at periodic intervals, and sure enough, it’s still playing. And I would then listen to two play throughs, enough to be sure that Alice is, for whatever reason, stuck on the song.

It was bad enough having “Octopus’ Garden” ruined by psychotic filkers at Shore Leave a few weeks ago. Now this? Pretty soon I’ll never be able to listen to Abbey Road again. The bastards.

Sniping and other random thoughts

I hate eBay.

Okay, that’s a bit excessive. I’ve managed to acquire cool stuff that I never even knew I needed from eBay over the years and I will probably continue to do so. My own efforts at selling on eBay haven’t been at all successful, but perhaps that’s due in part to not having anything cool to sell. Who can truly say?

What I really hate is the behavior of some people on eBay. The snipers.

Imagine for a moment an auction. You have the high bid, it’s been this way for four days, and no one has bid since. Then, one minute before the auction ends, someone tops your bid. One minute.

It happened to me, two days ago.

I collect Beatles bootleg albums. A difficult hobby, but one that eBay has made possible. After years of searching, a John Lennon bootleg turned up, a collection of demos he made in the final months of his life, several of which were given to Paul McCartney and were considered for completion, two of which became “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.” I placed the opening bid, was topped three days later, and then placed another, much higher bid. For three days, no activity. Then, with the auction closed I received notice that I had been outbid in the final minute of the auction.

Perhaps I shouldn’t complain. If only I had bid more that second time, perhaps it might’ve been enough to top even that last-minute bid. If only I had been online at that precise moment I might’ve been able to retake my lead in the final seconds. If only.

But three days of no activity? I cannot believe that the sniper chanced across the listing in the final minutes of the auction. Even Spock, renowned for calculating odds, would find it impossible to determine the probability that a person would simply happen to place the winning bid in the final minute of an auction.

Snipers blow.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from Kevin Dilmore, mentioned on this page two days ago as the co-author of an article about Enterprise‘s relation to previously established Star Trek continuity in the most recent issue of the Star Trek Communicator. Kevin writes: “Note that the article is written by Kevin Dilmore and Dayton Ward, not Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore. This is an important distinction to make as the Dilmore/Ward billing always indicates a scholarly, well-reserched and thoughtful musing on Star Trek, whereas the Ward/Dilmore billing is reserved for writings of lesser import.” Kevin is, of course, correct. I erred in citing the article as Ward/Dilmore, and I offer my sincerest apologies. At least reading the article didn’t cost me thirty-five dollars, but even if it had, the article would’ve been worth every penny.

I realized with some horror this week that August 6th will cost me dearly. Five releases on DVD, all of which I simply must have:

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: The Director’s Edition
The Simpsons, Season Two
Doctor Who: Tomb of the Cybermen
Doctor Who: The Ark in Space

Better start selling stuff on eBay, I suppose.

Enterprise and Continuity

The newest issue of the Star Trek Communicator features an excellent article by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore that looks at Enterprise and its adherence (or lack thereof) to previously established Star Trek continuity, particularly of the Original Series. It’s an interesting article, and it makes the point that the perceptions of fandom that contunity is being tossed out the window left and right doesn’t quite match the reality where the production staff is well aware of Star Trek‘s past and legacy. The article falls short, however, in failing to stack up Enterprise in comparison to the Original Series‘s one foray into the 21st century, the third season episode “Requiem For a Martian.”

Over Star Trek‘s nearly forty year development the vision of humanity’s future in space has altered subtly in some cases, radically in others. Episodes such as “Space Seed” suggested that the 21st century paralleled the development of a Heinleinesque future, with burgeoning space industries, asteroid mining, ready and convenient traffic across the solar system. “Requiem For a Martian” gave Star Trek viewers their first real glimpse of humanity’s spread across the solar system in the mid-21st century, a time before Zefram Cochrane discovered the warp principle, as McCoy and Sulu are stranded on 21st century Mars due to a temporal accident and have to deal with the frontier mentality rampant among the colonists before their rescue. The vision “Requiem” presents of 21st century Mars would not be out of place in the pulp science fiction magazines of the 1940s, and matches the Roddenberry ideal of humanity learning from its mistakes and moving forward into the future secure.

Enterprise ignores all this, presenting instead a humanity moving out into space in the 22nd century, the ghosts of the past still being put behind them. A Voyager episode, “Friendship One,” shows Mars being explored only tentatively in the mid-21st century, a far cry from the frontier towns that McCoy and Sulu found in their temporal journey. More, Enterprise has ignored the indigenous Martian species, exemplified by Richard Kiley’s Martian Shazzerd, the last of his kind. The humanity shown in Enterprise isn’t the secure, mature humanity seen in the Original Series. Humanity’s expansion into space in Enterprise lacks the confidence and certainty that “Requiem” showed was possible.

The Washington Expos?

Acclaim Sports’ video game, All Star Baseball 2003, has a nifty feature–you can create your own expansion team, pick its city, its uniform, its name, its league, and off you go. Some of the choices for cities strike me as a bit odd–Monterey, Mexico, but not Vancouver, British Columbia. You can put a team in Brooklyn, but you can’t call them the Dodgers because there’s already a Dodgers in Los Angeles. And then there’s Washington. The natural name for a baseball team from Washington is the Senators. Unfortunately, All Star Baseball doesn’t give you the option of using that name. So, the Washington Admirals or the Washington Burros or twenty other names for the picking. It’s not ideal, not by any stretch, but for the fan who really wants baseball in the nation’s capital it’s as close as he’s likely to get for the next few years.

This season the Washington Post has been following the trials and tribulations of the ownership groups interested in bringing baseball back to Washington, covering stadium siting issues to the objections of Peter Angelos of the Baltimore Orioles to day-to-day issues such as how many fans a potential Washington team might draw. Last Monday’s Post had an interesting article about the plight of the Montreal Expos this year, a team owned by the other 29, possibly on its last legs, the known target of contraction once this season has finished. Or perhaps not. According to the article, Bud Selig has said that the owners are prepared to carry on with the Expos for another year pending the ruling of the contraction question, though perhaps not in Montreal. And, this article went on to say, perhaps Washington might be a suitable venue for the 2003 Expos. I can think of nothing more ironic than Washington wanting a baseball team and being able to support a baseball team at the same time that a team that originated in Washington and had a long and storied history there, the Minnesota Twins, is in danger of being dissolved.

Nothing would be worse for the future of baseball in Washington than to make it the home of baseball’s lame duck team for one year and then contract the team out of existence. First, it’s cynical–Give the fans who want a team something to root for, and then take it away after a year for reasons beyond those same fans’ control. Second, it doesn’t help the game–Just sell the team and spread the revenue from the sale to the other twenty-nine clubs and it’s a short-term fix for some of the financial problems plaguing Major League Baseball. At this point the Washington ownership groups have resigned themselves to the fact that none of them will be owning a baseball team for the 2003 season. I’d like to say, “There’s always 2004,” but with the way things are going in the ongoing labor negotations between the ownership and the players, I’m not so sure that I can say, “There’s always 2003.”

Road to Perdition

Last night my sister and I went to see Tom Hanks’ new film, Road to Perdition.

I’ve never been a gangster film fan. There’s something about the era of Al Capone and Eliot Ness that bores me to distraction. Perhaps it’s because I really don’t understand that era of American history. Perhaps it’s because I simply don’t comprehend the politics around Prohibition, and by failing to understand that root cause of the 1920s gangster the whole period comes up short for me.

My sister adores Tom Hanks, absolutely adores him. How many Tom Hanks movies have we gone to see together? Too many to count, and when a new Tom Hanks movie comes out we block out the time to go on a joint venture to see it. Road to Perdition succeeded in every way, from acting to direction to art and sound design. I don’t know that I would go as far as some of the reviewers and say the film is Best Picture material, but for people who like films there’s a lot here to love.

I’ve read the original comic book on which Road to Perdition is based. My sister didn’t realize until we left the theatre that the film was anything but an original film. There’s a stark quality to the comic, the pages rendered in black and white, that conveys the grime and decay of the 1930s well. In some way I think the film loses that starkness, and the casting, though excellent, doesn’t entirely match the characters’ look in the comic. And a glaring failure of plot logic in the film makes perfect sense in the comic. My recommendation? If you like the film, search out the comic and spend an afternoon engrossed with it.

Best scene in the film? About twenty minutes out from the end, a gangland killing in a downpour. The sound design for this scene is absolutely remarkable, with the the sound of the rain drowning out the sound of the tommy guns. Other than the fall of rain, silence reigns. The world feels somehow green. A brief exchange of dialogue plays out between two characters, and in that moment you can see the depth of feeling between the two characters and how much the roads they have taken to reach that point have cost them personally and how much more the road forward will cost. The whole thing is staged so magnificently.

Excellent stuff. Check out Road to Perdition at the first opportunity.

Ewoks! Exterminate!

Is it truly wrong to hate the Ewoks?

Everyone knows the Ewoks. Those cute, cuddly, walking teddy bears that populated the last half of Return of the Jedi. In a series of films about the fate of the universe and the titanic struggle between the forces of good and evil, the Ewoks seemed curiously out-of-place. They lived in trees, they had tribal councils, they were aboriginal. In short, the Ewoks were the antithesis of the very technological world that George Lucas had painstakingly created.

Some have argued that Lucas’ intention in creating the Ewoks was to create something marketable out of the Star Wars films. Never mind that the series made Lucas a millionaire several thousand times over. The Ewoks were the pinnacle of a merchandising bonanza, best exemplified by the fact that the word “ewok” is never once uttered during Return of the Jedi, yet even people who haven’t seen a Star Wars film knows what the Ewoks are.

Suffice to say, I don’t much care for the Ewoks.

Suppose for a moment that something very nasty came along, something very evil. Something that wanted to exterminate the Ewoks.

Thus was born “The Dalek Invasion of Endor.”

The first version of “The Dalek Invasion of Endor” appeared on the Psi Phi Star Trek Books Bulletin Board on March 22, 2001. The second version, a drabble of exactly one hundred words, was posted to alt.drwho.creative on March 29, 2001, and was my first attempt at a drabble, the result of some judicious paring of words from the original idea.

Is it fair for the Daleks to exterminate the Ewoks? No particular reason why they shouldn’t. Daleks out in the forests, hunting down Ewoks, has a certain, nasty vision to it, don’t you think?

Who should be Who?

Being a Doctor Who fan in these Wholess times is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in the sense that Who fans are, at this point in time, being so long without the real deal, so to speak, the devoted, the true fans. A curse in the sense that every little rumor gets scrutinized to such a degree because there aren’t any new episodes, new series on the horizon and there’s simply nothing left to talk about except the future of Doctor Who. The current speculation on Doctor Who‘s future is whether or not the BBC will commission a new series to coincide with the 40th anniversary, and if so, who will star in the series.

While my personal preference would be to see Paul McGann, star of the 1996 FOX Doctor Who telefilm, return to the role that he’s continued in the Big Finish audios, it’s not a foregone conclusion that the BBC would want McGann to return.

Who else could essay the role? The current rumor, according to Outpost Gallifrey, is that Anthony Stewart Head, best known to Americans as the Maxwell House Coffee guy or Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has been tapped by the BBC for a future Doctor Who series, but Outpost Gallifrey has also debunked the rumor in the same breath with which they reported it. I have no objection to Head as the Doctor; based upon his performance in Big Finish’s Doctor Who: Excelis dramas I think he could do a creditable job with the role. Head’s strength is his quiet reserve, a trait that several Doctors (particularly Troughton’s and Davison’s) displayed in contrast to the bombast of the Bakers, Tom and Colin.

Head would not be my first choice, however, for a ninth Doctor. And no, neither would Rowan Atkinson, despite his appearance in “Curse of the Fatal Death” as the ninth Doctor.

If Doctor Who ever returns to television (at least, within the next five years), I would want Stephen Fry as our favorite Time Lord from Gallifrey. I can’t put my finger on exactly what qualifies Stephen Fry to be the Doctor in my mind. Some of it comes from watching Jeeves & Wooster. Some of it comes from watching the Oscar Wilde biopic he did a few years back. Some of it’s just a gut feeling. There’s nothing I can really point at and say, “That makes him the Doctor.” On the other hand, I have the feeling he’d do a pretty damn good job.

Imagine for a moment, Malcolm McDowell. He’s a real stretch to visualize as the Doctor, especially because he’s not all that young any more and all of his roles tend towards the sinister, with Time After Time being about his only not-sinister role. However, if you ever watched the revised Fantasy Island, you’d see the Doctor’s qualities in Mr. Rourke.

The problem with McDowell as the Doctor is this: going by his past roles you’d expect him to be a very dark Doctor, almost sinister. And yet, McDowell is capable of a hell of a lot more than that. Even as Mr. Rourke he had more than a slight touch of sinisterness beneath the surface, but the way Rourke was presented he didn’t come across as being dark or vindictive. Manipulative, yes, because that was the whole point of the show, but not malignant and evil. And I think the final episode, where Rourke’s daughter appeared, went a long way toward affirming for me the qualities in McDowell that suit him to being the Doctor.

To be the Doctor, to really carry it well, McDowell would have to play the role against his type. He’s got the perception of being a sinister character, a loose cannon, and I think that could get people tuning in or packing the seats, and I wonder if he couldn’t play the role in an almost Hartnell manner, the kindly grandfather sort. People certainly wouldn’t be expecting that out of McDowell, and I imagine he might not be able to picture himself in the role in that manner, either. All of that said, I can see McDowell stepping out of the TARDIS and looking around. Even with his white, spiky hair.

Another oddball choice might be Tim Curry. He seems a little bit of a lightweight to play the Doctor, but in many of his roles he has the manic quality that being the Doctor almost requires. I could see Curry as being bombastic and ruthless. In other words, a lot like Colin Baker. I think Curry could do it, and be absolutely stunning in the role. I think he’d come across as a Troughton-like Doctor, clownish and out of touch but in the end a force you really wish you hadn’t messed with and underestimated.

The problem with making any cast list, I think, is that I keep looking for actors that demonstrate qualities that past Doctor actors have shown. In other words, I’m looking for someone who could be a Tom Baker-ish Doctor or a Troughton-ish Doctor, instead of looking for a good actor that could do the role justice on their own merits. After all, if Peter Davison couldn’t picture himself as the Doctor when John Nathan-Turner offered him the role, then surely there’s some British actor out there today that could do a damn fine Doctor but hasn’t had a role that would necessarily play up the characteristics we normally think of being associated with the Doctor. While I can see any of these actors as portraying the Doctor well and effectively, the truth of the matter is that the next Doctor after Paul McGann will probably be someone we Americans are absolutely unfamiliar with, just as the previous Doctors had largely been.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.