Star Trek Beyond

Last night after work, I went to see Star Trek Beyond.

It was a really strange experience.  The theater wasn’t exactly the best (it smelled moldy and musty, and the air conditioning was off-kilter to the point where it wasn’t comfortable), and as I watched the movie I didn’t get as immersed in it as I wanted to be.  I think the gushing praise I’ve seen of it on social media (Facebook, Twitter) raised my expectations a bit too high, so the film didn’t quite get there for me.

Don’t misunderstand, I enjoyed the film and think it’s in the upper echelon of Star Trek films.  It was thoughtful, it had its action setpieces, I liked the characters and their interactions, it was funny in genuine ways in ways that Star Trek films haven’t been, well, ever.  Starbase Yorktown is a fascinating environment; a Death Star built for good is how I described it on a Facebook post, and it’s a place I wouldn’t mind a future Star Trek production revisiting.  It was trying to be a Star Trek story in an unambitious way — it didn’t feel the need to be an epic hero’s journey — and I was surprised at how completely unlike the previous twelve films it felt like.  The poster, with its large Chris Pine and its small Zach Quinto, should have clued me in; the balancing of the characters in this film was unlike anything in the original series films (where Kirk and Spock were co-equals) or the Next Generation films (where Picard and Data were co-leads, and everyone else in the ensemble was a replaceable non-entity), or even the two J.J. Abrams films.  Everyone does stuff here in Beyond, but it’s mixed and matched in different ways that had more in common with the way the television series back in the day handled its character dynamics.

And that’s the start of where my expectations fell short.  I found I couldn’t really turn my writer-brain off and enjoy the film for itself.  I kept taking it apart in my mind, and that put me at a distance from the experience of the film.

star-trek-beyond-poster-internationalThe script for Beyond was, after the labyrinthine script for Into Darkness, blissfully straightforward.  It wasn’t trying to tell a complex story; out on the frontier, the Enterprise responds to a distress call, discovers a mysterious planet, and things go very wrong.  The characters behaved the way I know this crew should behave.  The personal crises of Kirk and Spock worked and felt genuine.  But it was also a very mechanical script.  I kept seeing Chekhov’s guns on the mantelpiece; when they fired and moved the story forward I wasn’t surprised, and I could “feel” the act rollovers in its three-act structure like we were driving over speed bumps.  (For the record, I’d mark them at Kirk abandoning the Enterprise, and the launch of the Franklin.)

I was also consciously aware that I was watching actors, in particular Quinto and Anton Yelchin.  Quinto, because there were times where he didn’t really look like Spock; there was something weird about his hair, or maybe his face wasn’t properly gaunt at times.  And Yelchin, because I was too often conscious that he’d just died in a strange car accident.

Midway through the film I wondered if Simon Pegg had read David Mack’s Destiny trilogy.  There were some similarities, from the direct (a lost 22nd-century pre-Federation Earth starship that has an influence on the story’s present) to the more superficial (the crew of the lost starship becoming something other than human in their struggle to survive their fate).  I’d been spoiled, thanks to advertising, on the fact that there was a twist on Idris Elba’s character, but not the details or the nature of it.

Then I was curious what this story looked like in the original Star Trek timeline.  Which Federation starship found the Franklin and its doomed crew?  Did Starbase Yorktown exist?  Then I thought it might not; Yorktown seems far more advanced than anything the Federation had in Picard’s era.

I liked it.  I felt that Beyond captured the “Horatio Hornblower in space” nature of Star Trek better than anything since Star Trek II.  It also featured a sharply drawn take on Kirk as an introspective man with a deep curiosity who cares deeply for his crew and will go to the mat for them, and I felt that Chris Pine embodied Kirk better here than in the previous two films.

I probably won’t go see it again; I’m content to wait for the home video release.  It’s very well made, and it’s the most traditionally Star Trek movie we’ve had in a long, long time.

Thoughts on the Star Trek Beyond Trailer

I like it.

The first trailer, for a movie that’s out in seven months, doesn’t have to do a lot.  The idea is to whet the appetite, to remind the viewer of who these characters are and the world they inhabit.

That’s what the trailer for Star Trek Beyond does.

Yes, it’s loud and brash and full of explosions and stunts and derring do.

And I think that’s exactly right.

stbeyond-castStar Trek is supposed to be fun. The original series was wild and over-the-top and, above all, entertaining.  Star Trek was full of fun — flying leg kicks, ripped uniforms, fist fights, places we’ve never been, things we’ve never seen.  Ignore Gene Roddenberry’s stoned-out 70s revisionism where he started to believe his own bullshit and decided he was a prophet and a philosopher, not an entertainer.

You know what I see here?  “Wagon Train to the Stars.”  Quite literally — frontier world, natives who say this is where the frontier ends, fistfights and canyons, the harsh realities of the wild.  That’s what Star Trek is.  That’s what this trailer captures.  Yes, it’s louder and brasher than Gene Roddenberry could ever do in 1966, because technology has come a long way and Paramount has more money to spend on this movie than he ever had.  It’s doing exactly what Roddenberry and Robert Justman and Herb Solow did in 1966, just it’s doing it the way we do it now.

This looks entertaining.  I got warm fuzzies from this trailer.  I’m confident I’ll enjoy the movie. :)

A New Star Trek Television Series

Today, CBS announced that there will be a new Star Trek television series in January 2017, executive produced by Alex Kurtzman, one of the writers of 2009’s Star Trek and 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness movies.

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Suffice it to say, I had thoughts on this today, which is why I wrote about it on Facebook:

No one has asked me, but here’s what I would do if I were in charge of the new Star Trek series.

Go way into the future.  I was thinking 31st-century, but it was pointed out to me on Twitter that Enterprise has shown us that, so go another hemimillennium at least.  In other words, go far enough out that Kirk and Picard are little more than names and the narrative chalkboard is blank.  (Plus, going out that far makes the question of which timeline this series takes place in meaningless.  Go 1500 years past Picard, and it simply doesn’t matter any more.)

Go wild with the tech.  Maybe the Federation, besides being a technological utopia, is on the cusp of becoming a Kardashev-III civilization.  It would be more accurate to think of the people of this time as post-human, even post-Singularity, not unlike the Borg but far more benign.

Go someplace new.  By this time, the Milky Way has been explored out, so let’s open up new galaxies.

Embrace arc-based storytelling.  As late as Enterprise, Star Trek was still told in an episodic style that went out of style circa 1982.  Modern storytelling moved on, and by the time the plug was pulled on Enterprise, Star Trek in general felt like a refugee from another time.

Those are the first four ideas that came to mind.

As I thought about it throughout the day, another idea occurred to me.

I would do a full reboot of Star Trek, rather than the partial reboot that the 2009 movie was.  And I should say that I like the 2009 and 2013 movies, especially Into Darkness (though I think it should end about twenty minutes before it does).  And a question on Facebook about the differences between Star Trek 1.0 (in other words, the original Star Trek series, the first ten movies, and the four spin-off television series) and Star Trek 2.0 (the 2009 and 2013 movies) and why I would create a Star Trek 3.0 (and what it should look like) led to write this:

I don’t think the tie between 1.0 (1966-2009) and 2.0 (the Abramsverse) is a bad thing, per se.  I understand why the decision was made to make 2.0 what it is, to reassure fans that they were still in the same universe, just its history went a little different.  But because 2.0 is built off of 1.0 in a very direct way, the puts some limitations on what can be done with it. 2.0, like 1.0, is still an alternate history rather than a depiction of our possible future.

What I would do with a 3.0 is to throw everything out and start with a blank slate.  Pick a century. (I think the 31st-century sounds good, but maybe that’s my Legion of Super-Heroes fandom speaking.) Start with the characters everyone on the street knows — Kirk, Spock, McCoy.  And start building from there.  Maybe there were no Eugenics Wars.  Maybe there wasn’t a Vulcan first contact in about fifty years.  Maybe travel through the galaxy happens via hyperspace shunts.  Maybe the Federation has existed for ten thousand years and humanity is a Johnny Come Lately.  Take into account the world of today.  Extrapolate body modification into the future.  Consider how tied we all are to our smartphones and consider the line between man and machine and how they will merge over the next fifty or a hundred years — and then imagine what a society that springs from that would be like.

In other words, invent the Star Trek universe again, as if it’s brand new, for the 21st-century instead of trying to build on top of the forty year history of 1.0.  When you look at 1.0 (and 2.0) now, what you see is a very conservative view of the future, specifically of humanity and what it will become; it’s like human society advanced to the late 20th-century and then stagnated.  Inventing a 3.0 can take Star Trek places that 1.0 and 2.0 could never go, and make it relevant to today’s audiences in a way that 1.0 and 2.0 aren’t.

I would add one thing to that.  Audiences are savvy enough to understand that the Superman mythos in next year’s Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice is completely unreleated to CBS’s Supergirl television series.  Or that the Spider-Man of Captain America: Civil War is unrelated to the Spider-Man of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 or Spider-Man 3.  Audiences would likewise be savvy enough to understand that the Kirk and Spock of next year’s Star Trek Beyond film are different than the Kirk and Spock of my hypothetical Star Trek 3.0 reboot.

At this point, it should be said, we know pretty much nothing about what the new Star Trek television series will be, except that it’s unrelated to Star Trek Beyond, it will debut on CBS, and then be streamed exclusively on CBS All Access rather than broadcast on the traditional network.  Setting and characters are unknown.

Of course, the lack of facts and hard news won’t stop Star Trek fans from speculating or, worse, hyperventilating and fearing doom.  Such things come with the territory. :)

Is Captain Kirk a Republican?

The New York Times Magazine ran an interview with Ted Cruz yesterday.  It’s an interview to promote his new book, but he segues into pop culture — Spider-Man, Star Wars, and Star Trek.  While it’s interesting to read a sitting United States Senator talk about Darth Vader, it’s his Star Trek comments that have garnered the most attention:

Let me do a little psychoanalysis. If you look at Star Trek: The Next Generation, it basically split James T. Kirk into two people.  Picard was Kirk’s rational side, and William Riker was his passionate side.  I prefer a complete captain.  To be effective, you need both heart and mind.

The original Star Trek was grittier.  Kirk is working class; Picard is an aristocrat.  Kirk is a passionate fighter for justice; Picard is a cerebral philosopher.  The original Star Trek pressed for racial equality, which was one of its best characteristics, but it did so without sermonizing.

I think it is quite likely that Kirk is a Republican and Picard is a Democrat.

It’s the last thing that Cruz said — “I think is is quite likely that Kirk is a Republican and Picard is a Democrat” — that has seen the most commentary.  People from William Shatner to Brannon Braga to the Washington Post have weighed in and said that Cruz is wrong about Captain Kirk’s politics.  The more I think about what Cruz said — and I’ve read the whole quote — I’m not convinced that he’s entirely wrong.

A caveat.  It’s impossible to compare Star Trek‘s future to the present.  For one thing, Star Trek is fiction.  For another, it’s not self-consistent; the Star Trek universe is what a writer needed it to be in a particular week.  In general, Star Trek shows us a post-scarcity, post-religious future that doesn’t model to any historical human society.  There’s apparently no economic inequality in the 23rd-century.  People aren’t killing one another over trivial religious reasons.  No one is going bankrupt because of health care, nor is anyone dying because they can’t access the health care system.  Nor is there hunger or poverty.  Quite simply, the political issues of today have no analogue in the Star Trek future.

That said, I could believe that Kirk is an Eisenhower Republican.  Or a Teddy Roosevelt Republican.  He might even have supported Ford.  But he’d have broken with Goldwater and Reagan, and he would have been savage to Bush the Younger over Iraq.  Kirk would have supported the Republicans who built the Interstate Highway System and passed civil rights legislation.  He would not have supported the militarism of Goldwater or Reagan, and George Bush’s war of choice would have been anathema.

Kirk wouldn’t support any of the Republicans in the presidential clown car, nor would he support the Republicans in Congress, nor would he have much time for the reactionary, nativist, and evangelical Republican base of today.  These groups represent the very sort of monolithic and dangerous thinking that Kirk went around the galaxy kicking over whenever he had the chance.  He would probably wonder where the Republicans are keeping Landru.

There are periods when Kirk’s ideology aligned with that of the Republican Party and it wouldn’t be entirely wrong to call Kirk a Republican.  This, however, is not one of those times.

The Itch to Build

In my closet there’s an ammunition crate, painted red.

It’s where I keep my LEGO bricks.

There are LEGO bricks in that crate that are older than some of my coworkers.  No, I’m not kidding.  There are some LEGO boat pieces (that float on water) that I know date from the late 1970s, and I have coworkers who were born in the 1980s.  I can’t be 100% certain, In my KRE-O/LEGO Enterprise, which sits on my bookshelf at the office, but I’m sure there are a few pieces older than my coworkers.  (Note: The images at that link don’t work.  I need to fix them.)

Suffice it to say, there’s a lot of LEGO in that crate.

I really should do something with them.  I should build with them; I haven’t really dug into the box in a year.  I still have a couple of LEGO Lord of the Rings sets to build, to say nothing of a few KRE-O Star Trek sets and the K’Nex Beatles Yellow Submarine set.

Once upon a time, I’d have said, “It’s not LEGO, so it must be crap.”  Then I started working with non-LEGO bricks, and I discovered there’s some quality out there like KRE-O and Character Building.  (There’s also crap, like Best Lock’s Stargate SG-1 sets.) I liked Hasbro’s KRE-O Transformers sets; in some respects, they “feel” more authentic in my hands than the LEGO Alien Conquest sets did.  (On the other hand, Hasbro’s older Transformers Built-to-Rule sets were crap.)

This Saturday is “Bricks and Baseball Night” with the Harrisburg Senators: “The Senators will be wearing special Lego themed jerseys presented by PSECU.”  Of course I’m going to be there.  I love that jersey.  All the primary colors.  The right typeface for the team name.

I need to get back to building.  The reason I don’t is a lack of space.  I’d want to build something and put it on display, but I don’t have the space to do that in my apartment.

LEGO building is an expensive and space-consuming hobby. :)


Topic taken from The Daily Post‘s “Toy Story” prompt.

Harve Bennett: A Reminiscence

There is a generation for whom their Star Trek isn’t one of the television series.  It’s the movies.  Maroon jackets.  Admiral Kirk.  James Horner.  “Of all the souls I have encountered…”  Protomatter and Project Genesis.  “My god, Bones, what have I done?”  Humpback whales.  “A double dumb-ass on you.”  Born too late for the animated series, already into teenage years when Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted, the Star Trek films hit at just the right time.

I’m part of that generation of Star Trek fans.  The Star Trek movies are my Star Trek.  Everything else is just prologue or footnotes.

The man who shaped that era of Star Trek was producer Harve Bennett.  Bennett died today, aged eighty-four, less than a week after his friend and colleague Leonard Nimoy.

Nimoy’s death saddened me, but Bennett’s breaks my heart.

I wouldn’t be a Star Trek fan today were it not for Harve Bennett.  And, were it not for Bennett, there wouldn’t have been the four television series from the mid-eighties to the mid-aughts; people who came to Star Trek through Voyager or Enterprise would not have done so had Bennett not rescued and reinvigorated the franchise in 1981 and 1982.

I’m not overstating this.  Bennett, a well-regarded television producer, was brought on to salvage the mess that Gene Roddenberry had made of the property with Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  He made three well-received films and showed Paramount that there was still life in the Star Trek name.  Because of Bennett’s work, Paramount decided to begin production on what would become Star Trek: The Next Generation, returning the property to television with four series and a combined twenty-five seasons.

I met Bennett at a convention.  Between 2006 and 2009, Bennett attended the Farpoint convention, usually held in the vicinity of Valentine’s Day weekend, in Baltimore.  His first appearance, in 2006, was his first convention appearance in almost thirty years.  I made a point of going, and I made a point of attending his talks.  He talked about his career, he read from his unpublished memoir.  (And it’s still unpublished.  He had a publishing deal for it, but the publisher went out of business.) And he talked about his relationships with people, some famous, some not.

I found an e-mail I wrote, dated February 20, 2007.  Let me quote from it:

I loved both of Mr. Bennett’s talks this year.

The first, on Saturday, was not especially well attended, but it felt very intimate.  He spent an hour talking about working in radio, and it was absolutely fascinating.

The second, on Sunday, was a great way to close out the convention.  His stories of his encounters with people like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Ted Williams were very well told.  The emotion in his stories of Ingrid Bergman and Leonard Nimoy was very real and very touching.  I’m glad I was there to hear those stories.  He’s a fantastic speaker.

At the span of eight years, I do not remember what he said about Sammy Davis, Jr. or Ted Williams.  I remember a little bit about his story of working with Ingrid Bergman on a movie about the life of Golda Meir.  (She was emotionally distraught during the filming, it looked like she was going to cause the film to go over schedule and over budget, and she found it in herself to turn in a marvelous performance.)

I remember his story of Ricardo Montalban.  He first saw Montalban, as a young man, on stage.  He was in a musical, the name escapes me.  He had a fine signing voice, and there was a magnificent dance number.  It just so happened that one of Montalban’s legs was shorter than the other, by about an inch, due to a childhood accident.  It sometimes caused him great pain, and he often walked with a pronounced limp.  Bennett asked him about this, how it was that he could dance so beautifully when he was in so much pain, and Montalban’s answer ran something like this: “I may have a limp and suffer pain, but my character does not.  When I’m in character, I feel no pain and the limp vanishes.”

The story of Leonard Nimoy.  I’ve told it, but I’m not really sure that it’s mine to tell.  It was a story of personal failings, professional misunderstandings, a strong relationship that fell to tatters, and the more powerful friendship that emerged, to Bennett’s surprise, from the wreckage.  When Bennett began the story, his voice was strong and assured.  When Bennett finished, he was in tears, and I doubt there were many in the audience who were not likewise in tears.  It was a powerful moment, and I will cherish that memory forever.

I had the opportunity to speak with Bennett for a few minutes.  Again, from that 2007 e-mail: “I told him Sunday afternoon in the autograph line that I’m anxious to read his memoirs whenever they’re published, and he said that the Farpoint convention has motivated and inspired him to get them finished.”  But that wasn’t all we spoke about.  I thanked a man for the difference he made in my life.  I told him I wouldn’t have been a Star Trek fan were it not for him.  I told him he did good work.

Star Trek wasn’t the entirety of his work.  Far from it; his association with Star Trek lasted just a decade.  But that decade touched me and millions of others, and it kept Star Trek alive and in the public eye until another generation could boldly go.

The joy I feel in my memories is tempered by the feeling that, today, a light has gone out.  Thank you, Harve Bennett.  I’m glad I got to meet you.

A Correction: Though Bennett’s death was revealed today, March 5th, he actually passed away last week, on February 25th, two days before Nimoy.

Building the KRE-O Enterprise

Last summer, to tie in with Star Trek Into Darkness, Hasbro released several Star Trek-themed KRE-O sets.  KRE-O is Hasbro’s LEGO-compatible building set series, and they’ve released Transformers, Battleship, and zombie-themed sets in addition to Star Trek.

I’ve built some of the Transformers sets, and I’ve liked them.  The bricks may be a little slicker (in a tactile sense) than LEGO’s bricks, but they snap together and apart cleanly and, when finished, it looks like something built with LEGO.  (Much better than Hasbro’s earlier “Built to Rule” Transformers sets which, frankly, were god-awful.)

I’ve had all four miniature ship sets, but I’d only built the USS Kelvin.  This morning, while eating breakfast and drinking coffee, I built the Enterprise.

Here’s how it looked.

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It went together quickly, and the result looks okay.  But just okay.  Because, unfortunately, it doesn’t look a lot like the Enterprise.

Let’s take a look from another angle.

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There’s no neck.  There’s a weird catamaran thing going on with the engineering hull that looks like it belongs on Captain Picard’s Enterprise.  And the nacelles are mounted at the front to the pylons.

Fortunately, I have a box filled with old LEGO pieces, and I was certain that I could make the KRE-O Enterprise look more like it should.

And here’s what I came up with.

IMG_20140706_084128

I found four flat 1×2 white pieces.  Two were affixed to the nacelles in the place where the pylons would mount.  Then, I attached the nacelles to the pylons one stud back of the front.  The other two flat 1×2 white pieces went under the catamaran-like structure to make the engineering hull look a little more substatial.

And as you can see from that angle, I rebuilt the Enterprise‘s neck.

Here’s a better angle.

IMG_20140706_084140

Except for the two 30% slope gray pieces, the neck is now 100% LEGO.

I found two flat 2×2 white pieces, and I mounted them atop a flat 2×3 white piece.  Then I found a sloping gray piece of unknown provenance, and that became the rear of the neck.  I removed the KRE-O 2×4 flat white piece that was the neck and rebuilt the neck as you see here.

I put it all together, and it looked better than what it was.

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that the saucer was too small.  And, really, the nacelles should have caps.

Back to the LEGO box!

First, the nacelles.

I removed the 1×2 white flat pieces I had added to the nacelles and replaced them with 1x3s.  Then, I added flat yellow 1x1s and capped them with the 1×1 translucent blues that came in the set.

Second, the engineering hull.

I wanted to move the nacelle pylons back.  There’s now a 2×6 flat white and 3 additional 1×2 white flats.  One of the white 1x2s went behind the 1×2 translucent blue, then the nacelle pylons, and this was topped with the 2×6.  Then, to finish off the engineering hull, two 1×2 whites were stacked and affixed to the 2×6’s overhang.

Finally, the saucer.

It’s now wider by one stud, and it required a great deal of experimentation.  I found 2 1×6 white flats and 2 1×3 white flats.  Treating these as though they were 1x9s, they intersected at the 5th stud, then 1×4 whites were added above and below to make a stable structure 2 levels thick.

The four quadrants of the saucer where fitted around this central structure.  And, on the bottom, I made a 5×5 square using flat white 1x4s to brace the saucer and hold it together.

To attach dishes to top and bottom, 1x2s with a single stud in the middle were used for the one below. For the one above, a flat 2×3 was affixed roughly to the center of the saucer, a single 1×1 stud was attached to that in the exact center of the saucer, and the dish was attached to that.

Fourth, the neck had to be reworked.  It was made one layer higher, a translucent yellow brick was added as impuluse engines, and the top level of the saucer was made of two 1x2s with a single stud so that the saucer could attach to it.

This was the result.

IMG_20140706_111920

If you ever wanted to know if you can mix and match LEGO and KRE-O, the answer is yes.  You can do so with impunity.  The Enterprise is now roughly 40% to 45% LEGO parts, partly from additions, partly from subtractions.  Other than age and grime (some of the LEGO bricks are very likely thirty to thirty-five years old — and they look it), you can’t really tell the difference.

In conclusion, with a little thought and some modification, the KRE-O Enterprise can look more like Matt Jeffries’ design than it does out of the package. :)

Boldly Going Where No Word Salad Has Gone Before

Like everyone, I receive “word salad” spam. By “word salad,” I mean spam that uses words and phrases from other sources that go together and make sense to try and get past a Bayesian filter.

I’ve just received a Star Trek word salad spam. This is a first.

The subject line, as it arrived:

Picard smiled cautiously. \”No, not at all, sir. We shall be happy to attend.\”

Yes, the backslashes are in the original.  Google says that comes from Howard Weinstein’s Star Trek: The Next Generation novel, Power Hungry.

The text of the word salad:

\”No surviving crew members?\” he asked.Even as Enak argued, however, it had already resolved to act in its own defense if the crew persisted in this madness. If one of them actually attempted to damage the ship, Enak would have to shut them down.
He was interrupted when warning lights began to flash.
\”Benjamin? You\’re alive? Kira said-\”

Let’s break this down.

The line beginning with “No surviving crew members” comes from Nathan Archer’s Deep Space Nine novel, Valhalla.  (“Archer” is a pseudonym for Lawrence Watt-Evans, by the way.)

“He was interrupted…” comes from Jean Lorrah’s Next Generation novel, Survivors.

Finally, “Benjamin? You’re alive?” comes from Diane Carey’s Deep Space Nine novel, Station Rage.

Google Book Search is amazing.

This is so totally mental I will never, ever delete this spam.

On Things I’ve Been Reading

Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation2 #5
IDW Publishing
Written by Scott & David Tipton
Pencils by Gordon Purcell
Watercolors by J.K. Woodward

It’s safe to say that after the fourth issue of Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation2 that I was ready to give up on this series.  My two favorite science-fiction franchises, sharing the same story!  How could it possibly go wrong?  But, just as the Chicago Cubs find new and interesting ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, Assimilation2 was taking something that should make every Star Trek and Doctor Who fan feel excited like they’re thirteen again and making it plodding and underwhelming.  After four issues of that, I had no expectations for the fifth issue.

Let’s just say that the fifth issue is a stay of execution for Assimilation2.  It’s not great, it has the same problems as the previous four issues, but it actually does something and it does it competently even if it’s unsurprising in its development.

When we left Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the eleventh Doctor on the bridge of the Enterprise-D, the Borg-Cybermen alliance had shattered, and the Borg were asking for Picard’s help — or, rather, Locutus‘ help — in defeating the Cybermen.  Picard, however, rejected the Borg’s entreaties out of hand because of his assimilation at the hands of the Borg, and he brushed off the Doctor’s insistence that the Cybermen posed a greater threat than the Borg.

Everything that happens in this issue I expected.  When writing of the fourth issue two weeks ago, I said that that the Locutus twist “seems like something designed solely to create more conflict between Picard and the Doctor as the Doctor clearly thinks that Locutus is a good thing, not knowing that this would actually be a bad thing” and that “I assume that the Doctor will take Picard into the future (much as he did to Sarah Jane Smith and Marcus Scarman in ‘Pyramids of Mars’) to show Picard the result of not cooperating with the Borg.”  Both happen, and they’re tied together with a flashback, conversations, and more conversations.  If this were a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, we have a clip sequence, no guest cast, and a lot of standing set use, particularly Picard’s Ready Room.  In short, we have ourselves a budget-saving bottle episode issue here, and it’s one of the passive, talky ones at that.

Yet, it mostly works.  And we get our first sign that there’s actually a Doctor Who story going on here as well as the Star Trek story.

Is there anything new to the conversations?  No.  Guinan once again tries to push Picard to trust the Doctor’s judgment.  Picard once again states his firm decision not to work with the Borg, firmly.  Rory and Amy once again have pointless conversations with Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troi so that we can pretend the Ponds have a role to play in a story that has no narrative room for them.  And then Picard finally decides to listen to the Doctor — and then suddenly we’re in a Doctor Who story.

The Doctor’s trick of taking a recalcitrant local on a trip into the future isn’t new.  The fourth Doctor does it to Scarman in “Pyramids of Mars.”  The Doctor of The Infinity Doctors takes the Sontaran and Rutan leaders into the future to show them the result of their eternal conflict.  And here, the Doctor takes Picard for a little spin in the TARDIS, visiting both Star Trek and Doctor Who planets, showing Picard the remorseless march of the Borg-enhanced Cybermen across the galaxy, decade by decade, and the consequences of inaction.  At last, five issues in, with the six pages of the Doctor in the TARDIS it beings to feel as if the promise of the series is about to be fulfilled.

But getting to this point isn’t perfect.  The bits with Guinan feel, like they did in the fourth issue, like nothing more than reprises of other Guinan scenes.  Amy’s conversation with Picard is reminiscent of her conversation with Kazran in “A Christmas Carol” and Lorna Bucket in “A Good Man Goes to War.”  The conversation she and Rory have with Troi doesn’t feel authentic at all; what reason do Troi and Crusher have to trust anything about the Doctor and his companions?  And Picard’s final decision in the issue doesn’t feel like a decision at all because it never feels like a choice.  The dubious plotting of the series, which Stuart Ian Burns has addressed in his reviews of the series continues unabatted, then.

The artwork is also variable.  We continue with the Gordon Purcell and J.K. Woodward team from the previous issue, but this issue’s artwork doesn’t appear as rushed or unfinished as previous issues.  There are also some sequences that look as if they’re Woodward flying solo, in particular most of the Picard-on-the-TARDIS sequence.  Purcell’s Karen Gillan likeness is better than in the previous issue, though there are panels where she looks more like a titian-haired Anne Hathaway.  Purcell’s Arthur Darvill likeness, however, is atrocious; if anyone can tell me who that is on page 11, please let me know.

And, let’s be honest, the story is absurd.  Star Trek: The Next Generation fans know that the Borg are a serious threat — they assimilated Picard, they trashed two Starfleet task forces, etc.  To accept the story that the Doctor ahd Guinan are telling Picard about why the Cybermen are a threat on the same level, you first have to accept that the Cybermen are a galactic, nay universal threat.  Really? On paper, maybe.  But have you seen “The Tenth Planet”?  “Attack of the Cybermen”?  “Silver Nemesis”?  The Cybermen are a bit crap when it comes to plans.  They can barely overrun a moonbase, it’s not likely that the Cybermen could overrun a galaxy.  The Cybermen aren’t a cosmic-level threat and have never been a cosmic level threat.

Still, the visuals of Picard’s journey into the Cyber-ized future are fabulous.

One problem with the Cybermen and their threat is the series hasn’t made the threat posed by the Cybermen and Borg credible.  To date, they have been conceptual rather than actual threats, and on the basis of nothing whatsoever the Doctor is able to explain to Picard what the Cybermen want and how they’re going to accomplish it.  The series has an unfortunate habit of telling and not showing.  The Away Team mission in the previous issue gave the characters some information, but there should have been some indication of how the Doctor arrived at his conclusions.  Of course Picard doesn’t trust the Doctor’s assertions; I don’t trust the Doctor’s assertions.

So why do I say it “mostly works”?  Two reasons.

As absurd as the story is, I avidly turned the pages to see what would happen next.  My inner thirteen year-old, who would have loved to see Colin Baker striding across the bridge of the Enterprise-D, loved this.

And, I honestly have no idea where the story is going from here.  In broad strokes, this series has been ridiculously easy to predict.  I suppose that if I were looking for a plot twist in issue #6, it would be a betrayal by the Borg, but I don’t know how to get there from here.  Basically, at this point, Assimilation2 is capable of surprising me.

Also, the fifth issue has the strongest final moment of the series to date.  The way the fifth issue ends is the way the fourth issue should have ended.  Late though it may be, it’s welcome.

I was fully prepared, before I read the issue, to post a JPG of Enchanter Tim with the caption “Get on with it!” as the sum total of my thoughts on this issue.  However, this issue worked for me, in ways that previous issues did not.  I’m not to the point of liking Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation2 yet, but neither am I on the verge of dropping the story unfinished.  The fifth issue, while not perfect, was satisfying enough to earn it a stay of execution.

I am, curiously, optimistic.

On Allyn’s 2012 Shore Leave Schedule

At long last, Shore Leave is at hand!

Shore Leave is a convention, held outside Baltimore in Hunt Valley, that I’ve attended every year since 2001, and every year as a guest since 2006.  Normally, Shore Leave is in July.  This year, however, it’s in August.

The big thing for me this year is the release of Crazy 8 Press’ ReDeus: Divine Tales.  I have a short story in the anthology titled “The Ginger Kid,” a baseball tale set in an urban fantasy world.  It’s a different kind of story for me, but I’ll say no more at this juncture.

The big thing for you, the reader of this, is where I can be found this weekend at Shore Leave.  And to that end, I’ve produced this handy stalker’s guide.  Did I say stalker?  I meant fan.

Friday, August 3rd

The Dark Knight Rises
6pm, Hunt
Panelists: Greg Cox (the author of Titan Books’ novelization), Glenn Hauman, David Mack, and me
A discussion on the final chapter in the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman trilogy.

Meet the Pros
10pm, the Downstairs Hallway
The annual book signing fest.  I’ll have a few copies of ReDeus: Divine Tales for sale, and I probably have some older stuff as well.

Saturday, August 4th
The Hobbit: A Long-Expected Film
11am, Salon F
Panelists: Me
This December Peter Jackson returns to the world of Middle-Earth with his long-awaited film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, nearly a decade after Frodo Baggins cast the One Ring into the fiery chasm of Mount Doom.  What can audiences expect of the return to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, and will Jackson recapture the Middle-Earth magic?
Note: I’m sure I’ll address the news today that The Hobbit, planned as a two film set, will now be split into three with reshoots and additional filming to take place next summer.  Mind you, I don’t know anything official, but I have a theory. :)

What Is a Weekend?: The Magic of Masterpiece‘s Downton Abbey
12 Noon, Salon E
Panelists: Me, Jen Rosenberg, Howard Weinstein, Renee Wilson
For two years PBS audiences have been captivated by the world of Downton Abbey, with its noble aristocracy headed by the Earl of Grantham and its serving class led by the unflappable Mr. Carson.  Audiences have swooned to the romances of Matthew and Mary, Mr. Bates and Anna, and hissed at the machinations of Miss O’Brien and Thomas. What has made this British import such a hit in its two seasons, and what can fans expect from the forthcoming third season?
Note: Yes, I pitched a straight-up Downton Abbey panel at a science-fiction convention.  I love pitching off-the-wall things…

Everything is Better with a TARDIS
1pm, Salon A
Panelists: Me, Lorraine Anderson, T. Alan Chafin, Kieryn Nicolas, Phil Giunta, Terri Osborne
Doctor Who is a unique television program in that it can cross genres from story to story, moving from sci-fi space opera to historic costume drama to contemporary settings without missing a beat.  The panelists will discuss non-Whovian movies and television series that would work as Doctor Who stories and speculate on which existing characters would work as companions.  Get a different view of your favorite stories by dropping the Doctor into something like Blade Runner, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, A Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, and many more, and discover what makes a good Doctor Who story work!
Note: I’m going to double-check with my co-panelists and make sure they’re okay with this concept for a panel; it’s what I pitched, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure that they don’t think I had an ordinary “Steven Moffat is a golden god” Doctor Who panel in mind.  There’s three other Doctor Who panels at Shore Leave this weekend.  Yes, four hours of Doctor Who programming at Shore Leave.  I remember when I suggested one back in 2005 and got a packed room.

John Carter: Barsoom Rising
3pm, Chase
Panelists: Me, Peter David (writer of Marvel Comics’ John Carter: World of Mars), Rigel Ailur, Steve Wilson, Aaron Rosenberg
In March, Pixar visionary Andrew Stanton released his first live-action film, John Carter, based on the Martian novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Despite weak reviews, the film was warmly received by Burroughs fans and science-fiction fans as a century-old novel, A Princess of Mars, was brought up to date for modern film audiences.  Did John Carter work?  What could the film have done better?  Is there a future for this franchise?  And did the film lead audiences to discover the work of Burroughs?

Sunday, August 5th
Beyond Watchmen
10am, Derby
Panelists: Glenn Hauman, Allyn Gibson
Twenty-five years ago Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons revolutionized comic book storytelling with their graphic novel, Watchmen.  This summer, DC Comics controversially revisits the world of Watchmen with a series of mini-series, Before Watchmen.  Why has DC Comics decided to return to the world of Watchmen?  What do these characters say to modern audiences?  Are the Before Watchmen series worth the controversy?  The panelists discuss the comics, the work of Alan Moore, and more!
Note: I need to get caught up on Before Watchmen this week before the convention.  Also, I’m sure the Rorschach toaster will get brought up.

ReDeus: Divine Tale
1pm, Salon E
Panelists: Bob Greenberger, Aaron Rosenberg, Phil Giunta, Allyn Gibson, William Leisner, Steve Wilson, Dave Galanter
This panel is devoted to the book that’s launching at Shore Leave this weekend.  In the world of ReDeus, the ancient deity pantheons return to Earth in the present day and demand worship and fealty.  What was it like to work on this project, and what will readers get out of the book?


I’m planning this week on writing up notes for my panels.  Talking points are helpful to have, and when I try and “wing” a panel I either talk aimlessly or I run out of things to say.  Notes are a roadmap and they’ll keep my focused.

I intend to do something different with those notes.  Basically, I’m going to turn them into an epub, so I can carry them on my Nook.  Then, after the convention, I may let people have my Shore Leave panel notes if, for some reason, they want them.

A random thought.  It’s a packed convention.  There’s stuff going on all the time this year.

My schedule isn’t quite as grueling as last year’s.  (I’ve had to beg off two panels due to double-booking.) And I’m still thinking about trying to arrange a guerilla happening — a group reading of Wesley Crusher, Teenage Fuck Machine.  Yes, because I’m just that crazy. :lol:

And maybe I’ll see some of you there! :h2g2: