P.31: Star Trek Enterprise (A Retrospective)

Over the past few weeks, I watched/re-watched Star Trek: Enterprise. Wow, was I surprised. It was much better than I remembered it.

Its flaws are still there, of course, but I wasn’t bored. And if I’m not bored, that’s good enough for me.

Here’s just a few things that are a lot better than I remembered:

  • The sets. They really succeed at capturing a feel that looks dated compared to Next Gen/Voyager, yet advanced compared to today.
  • The horror episodes. There are only a few, but these were some of the standouts of the entire series to me. This is one thing ST:E did better than any of the other ST series. Silent Enemy was the best, but by no means the only good one.
  • The Andorians. The show goes a long way to fleshing out the species, one we barely saw before, despite the fact that they were one of the original few species to form the Federation. I wish the series brought a lot more of the early Federation member species into play. (Caitians, Tellerites, Deltans, etc.)
  • Limitations. We have a crew that wanted to help others it came across, yet a ship that’s not advanced enough to deal with much of what confronts them. While the show was criticized by many for making the ship too modern in some respects, ST:E actually does a great job at making the ship’s limitations impact the story. It creates problems on the show that the characters have to work around (aka good storytelling), and fits incredibly well with the show’s ‘early’ setting. Nothing’s easy, but they get it done.
  • The opening song. I used to *hate* it, as did most fans at the time. It eschewed the beautiful orchestrations from every previous Star Trek series for a pop song (!) — one first sung by Rod Stewart, at that. Maybe it’s been so long since we’ve last had a new Trek show that it doesn’t really matter to me anymore, or maybe it’s the JJ verse movies also emphasizing pop songs that have inoculated me, but now I find the song pretty catchy — and one that certainly fits the feel of the show.
  • Porthos, Captain Archer’s pet dog. Clearly, there should be more dogs in space.

The problems of the show are all still there, but it’s much better than most people give it credit for.

Advertisements

P.27: Axanar Axed, and Hopeful Sci Fi

Lots of people have been commenting on how the unofficial fan-made Star Trek series, Axanar, was axed by CBS. Its producers were sued for violating CBS’s copyright. It was a fan series that drew a lot of excitement and hinted at a ton of potential, but the chances of Axanar ever coming to life now appear to be at or near zero.

To be clear, CBS almost certainly has the right to block Axanar. While CBS had a long history of letting fans create non-profit fan-made series, it is under no obligation to continue. Ultimately Star Trek is CBS’s property and CBS could, at any time, kill any fan-made series, for any reason (even penny-sound, pound-foolish ones).

That said, the shocking thing to me is the lack of empathy so many seem to have for what’s happened to Axanar (and the fans who funded it). I’ve been very surprised to read the number of commenters across the net who’ve almost been gleeful about this decision. Many have criticized the fans behind it (and others), attacking the very concept of fan fiction as people wishing to ‘steal’ from their favorite fandoms for some kind of fame or fortune. Create your own IP, they say, do your own thing.

While they have a serious misunderstanding of fan fiction and why people make it… it made me wonder: do they have a tiny, glimmer of a point?

There’s something truly special (and rare) about Star Trek, its stories, and the Roddenberry vision of the future — where there are problems, but technology and togetherness are able to solve them.

Aside from Star Trek, there’s been a dearth of that in science fiction — especially in TV or movies. I couldn’t think of any other major movies or series where large crews work together in space, with a positive vision and a mostly-bright future. Maybe Babylon 5, although even that’s pretty bleak and came about a fairly long time ago at this point.

Part of me wonders if Star Trek’s decades of quality, forward thinking and its long-lasting legacy has sucked up all the oxygen, making it difficult for other, similar stories to take shape and click with audiences. Most successful sci fi space opera since Star Trek has succeeded for being different than Star Trek, darker, often downright dystopian.

Think BSG, Aliens and Blade Runner — none of them are great places for people, or offer much hope of a better future.

As difficult as it would be to replicate that Roddenberry secret sauce, hopeful, forward-thinking space opera is worth the effort. That’s especially true now, with CBS and Paramount moving away from the Roddenberry vision. The new movies have been some good popcorn fun, but not the kind of films that would inspire the next generation of scientists and NASA applicants, encourage people to think of our world as a place where we could find peace, or even satiate the people who grew up with TOS and TNG.

It seems doubtful that the new Star Trek streaming series that CBS is planning will change that direction, or that the latest film’s director (of Fast and Furious fame) will deliver a film that greatly differs from the two JJ Abrams made.

To be clear, I think there is space and should be space for fan fiction, including on film. I hope CBS doesn’t do unto the rest of the fan series community what it’s done to Axanar, and that it at least strongly hints at what sort of circumstances would prompt it to take action (or not) in the future.

Yet, let’s take this Axanar news and the changing direction of Trek, as fans and creators, as a challenge to make or support new, hopeful science fiction — new space adventures where society works together to overcome villains and environmental threats. Let’s see fans put together Axanar-like projects that may be inspired by Star Trek, but stand on their own.

The Roddenberry vision without Star Trek will be difficult, but the world needs more of it and Roddenberry was the one who told us to go boldly.

[Update: this post has some food for thought that suggests the legal issues may be more complicated than I imagined, among other interesting points. It’s worth reading.]

 

P.11: Check Out Tade Thompson’s “Child, Funderal, Thief, Death,” Arie Coleman’s “20/20,” and Other Things I’ve Read

  • Child, Funeral, Thief, Death by Tade Thompson. Apex Magazine. I feel like I visited just visited Nigeria and bore witness to this story. The writing is gorgeous, the story builds quite nicely and I loved that Thompson was able to build an entire mythos here, and wasn’t afraid to go where he went with the ending. Loved it.
  • 20/20 by Arie Coleman. Strange Horizons. I really enjoyed the slipstream elements of the story — it’s so hard to pull off well, and Coleman succeeds here. Plus, as someone who’s known my share of nurses, I deeply appreciated just how real the writer made life working at a hospital out to be. Also, as a bonus, the wonderful Anaea Lay does a reading of it for the Strange Horizons podcast.
  • The Circle of Life by Aline Carriere. Daily Science Fiction. I love speculative fiction that tackles overpopulation, and this one succeeds in a very short word count. Some vague-so-as-to-avoid-spoilers food for thought: I can’t decide if I think the narrator is creepy as in a sociopath creepy, or creepy, but in her own empathetic and caring way. That said, I’m leaning toward the former. I don’t think the narrator’s decision is really about the person who she thinks it is. That’s just my 2 cents.

P.10: My Current Submissions and Why I Sent Them, 9/6/2015

For my tenth post, I thought I’d do something different and list all my current submissions, along with why I sent them to the particular magazine in the first place. Hopefully this should give a little insight into the thought process behind where people should send their stories (and why) – and where readers can find stories they’re not reading, but should.

  • I have a 1200 word dark, speculative fantasy piece at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. They only publish second world fantasy settings, which is a particular favorite of mine as a writer. I sent a previous story here that was rejected, but I got praise for the world building I did and was asked to send more. I sent another piece where I thought I did a really good job with the world building, with a story that I think is stronger and tighter than the first.
  • I have a 2700 word piece with my take on a new kind of supernatural creature at Urban Fantasy Magazine. Their guidelines say they liked stories with creatures like vampires or werewolves, but that since they get a lot of them, the competition for those stories were fierce. That’s advice for writers to consider different creatures or themes. The story I sent I think does a great job at creating my own urban supernatural creature, that I think does a really good job at being unique, with its own mythos, and yet feels ‘real.’ It also has a real-world setting that the magazine requires, and I spent a lot of time trying to make my characters feel like they come from Small Town, USA.
  • I have another (different) 2700 word uber-dark fantasy piece at Fantasy and Science Fiction. Their guidelines don’t offer much suggestion for stories they’re looking for, just that they liked character-based stories and I know from the magazine that rich, other-worlds are a good place for it. Those are the two things I think this story does best.
  • I have a difficult-to-classify dark fantasy poem at Interfictions, that’s bordering on a prose poem. Interfictions is a magazine that’s looking for difficult-to-classify or genre-bending poems and stories, so I thought this was a good fit. I don’t write much poetry (just the occasional dabbler), but I really liked this piece, so I figured “what the hell.” One piece of advice I’ve taken from a number of other writers, including here, was to not be afraid of sending things out. I put a lot of work in it, especially for its ~200 words, so I wanted to give it a shot.
  • I have another difficult-to-classify 5000 word piece at Interfictions. Is it an urban fantasy? Dark fiction? Horror? Coming of age tale, with deep autobiographical inspirations? I couldn’t exactly pin it, and Interfictions is all about blurring the lines, so I thought it would be a good fit. I also did something almost no short stories do and gave it two different character perspectives, a serious no-no from one of the writing blogs I linked to yesterday. I’m hoping that Interfictions is one of the few places where the editors may look past that, and given that I’ve spent a lot of time on it trying to get it right (because it’s so personal to me), I was glad I got it in their window.
  • I have a 3400 word sci fi piece at Crossed Genres, for their pronouns and gender themed issue (they have a different theme every month). I love the concept of themed issues, and the opportunity that gives authors to compete against just that one theme, instead of all the themes in the cosmos and fantasy realms. I really liked this theme in particular, and had an idea I had been kicking around for a while that this theme gave me an opportunity to explore — so it was worth the effort of crafting something particularly for this issue.
  • I have a 600 word dark fantasy at Daily Science Fiction. I sent DSF one of my strongest stories that I’ve written before, but unfortunately while it fit within their maximum word count range, it was longer than what they typically publish by a hefty amount. I didn’t want to make that mistake again, and so I sent something much shorter. This was the story I wrote while listening to Hozier, when the idea popped in my head.

Hopefully, this will give a sense to other aspiring writers the level of commitment it takes to just have a shot at getting published in short story markets. You need to write a huge swath of the absolute best stories you can, and then you need to find places where they could fit, and keep sending them because no matter how good you are, your stories are going to get rejected a lot before you find success. More good stories gives you more good shots.

The submission process is a huge time sink, but unfortunately you can’t get published without it — at least not professionally. So hopefully a peak into where I’ve sent things, and why I sent them there, will be helpful to some.

P.9: Check Out Wendy Nikel’s Rain Like Diamonds, JT Gill’s Full Circle, and Other Things I’ve Read

  • Aidan Mohler of A Dribble of Ink says goodbye. I’m terribly sad that A Dribble of Ink is getting put on the shelf. It’s one of the first sci fi/fantasy blogs I loved. I wish I found it years and years earlier.
  • Rain Like Diamonds by Wendy Nikel. Daily Science Fiction. A really nice spin on a story about a queen and a dragon, with a really strong ending. Loved Nikel’s descriptions. I also really enjoy Daily Science Fiction’s propensity to include a brief statement about what inspired the author to create the story. DSF should be required reading for aspiring authors.
  • Short Story Elements don’t have to be Confusing, a blog post from Kat Hutson. Here’s some good tips on writing clear stories. I liked these. It offers a great approach for writers to take on writing high quality stories — though I think stories can work without all these elements, if writers are prepared for them to be a bit more niche.
  • Full Circle by JT Gill. Every Day Fiction. Strong writing. I really liked how he painted society discovering clear evidence of an alien vessel. It was in an entirely mundane way — there were water cooler conversations, cognitive dissonance in the face of clear evidence, and a guy worrying more about his girlfriend than whether there’s an imminent invasion coming. You get the sense that if the story continued for a few more days, aliens would become old news fast and people would be on to the next story that dominates the headlines. Ah, 24 hour news cycles.
  • io9 thinks Killjoys is an okay B-TV show that suffers from an overstuffed plot. I don’t necessarily disagree with the criticism that Killjoys unloaded a lot (maybe too much), especially in its early episodes, but it was never a huge issue for me — it never distracted me from the show. The only real problem with Killjoys is that SyFy didn’t know what it had. It’s an amazing, fun show — but it’s a B-TV show that needed an A-TV budget. Imagine Killjoys with Firefly’s or BSG’s far better production values and more intricate sets, and maybe a slightly more fleshed out cast. I think it would have easily stacked up with those shows.

P.8: Guardians of Galactic Diversity

As someone who’s fully on board Team Diversity, it baffles my mind that there’s anyone out there who wants less of that. Yet, about when I decided I wanted to take my writing seriously and bring it to the next level, we had a number of people in the sci fi and fantasy community who started organizing around making fantasy and sci fi a place where diversity wasn’t welcomed or celebrated at all.

Being the half-glass full kind of guy, I think that has a lot to do with the fact that most people don’t have a ton of exposure to all the differences that exist in the world, including the different experiences many people face in life because of something like their gender or the color of their skin. Exposure can change that, and give people an a-ha.

Weirdly, many of those a-ha movements have come from the ultimate popcorn movie: Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that’s as whiz-bang and as fun as it gets. Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. More than any movie like it, Guardians gave us a galaxy filled with diverse characters, who not only look different, but behave or think differently, as well.

I felt really inspired when I read about a kid on the autism spectrum, who found his fictional hero in Drax because Drax was just like him — he didn’t get metaphors. It was something so simple, but so powerful to a kid who grew up in a world where there were no super hero characters he could relate to. It allowed the kid to feel cool and powerful, just like Drax.

Another kid, with dyspraxia, a disorder which can effect speech and fine motor skills, was inspired by Groot. Like Groot, he was limited in what he could say. Groot changed his whole behavior and the way he interacted with the world — even the way he spoke, letting him open up.

“He would start mimicking Groot by changing the way he would say ‘bah.’ Groot became his voice — he was able to change ‘bah’ to ‘Groot.’ His behavior changed, and his communication with others did as well.”

Increasing diversity in fiction (or elsewhere) isn’t about repressing those who have enjoyed the comforts of being in the majority, of being “normal.” It’s about making sure those who didn’t grow up that way, or aren’t growing up that way, can have characters they can relate to and feel inspired by. It’s about letting them feel empowered, seeing opportunities they maybe couldn’t before.

Making sure fantasy and science fiction is at least as diverse as our own world can only have positive impacts. I hope some of the skeptics, the people who’ve grown up with fantasy and science fiction that mostly looked like them, read about the hope and inspiration these kids with neurological disorders have derived from characters like Groot and Drax. I hope they try to imagine all the other kids out there, looking for their characters, trying to find their own hope and power through fiction. I think they’d be glad Groot and Drax existed — and that they’d want more of them.

P.2: Check out “Eve’s Father” by Miriah Hetherington

This could be one of the best stories I’ve read in some time, published in yesterday’s Daily Science Fiction.

In an very short number of words, it manages to have:

  • A well developed plot, covering a number of events that have wide impacts on the story.
  • Characters which all feel very real and three dimensional.
  • Characters which also manage to change over the course of the story, no small feat in Flash Fiction.
  • Incredible world-building. I can visualize this place, imagine what it would be like to live in this society.
  • Some great writing, that flows really well for me.

If you have 5-10 minutes to spare, I’d check it out. Hetherington did an amazing job with this story.