ChiCon 8 Day 5

With all of the masking we’ve been doing for the last three years I’ve begun to notice that there is something private and sensual about seeing other people’s lips. Or is it just me?

First panel of the day was What Does Justice Look Like? (Christine Amsden, Jean Bürlesk, Matt Mitrovich, Su J Sokol) The panelists all appeared to agree that criminal justice should look like restorative justice and not incarceration or revenge. I really can’t argue with that belief because it seems to be backed up by facts and experience.

Economic and social justice could best be achieved by simply establishing universal basic income (UBI). Once again, experience and evidence seems to suggest that it is the best way to address so many ills of the world and would go a long way towards saving society money since eliminating poverty with UBI would end most crime and address housing, food and healthcare problems. How do we fund it? Imagine that every moment in any life has an attached value that can be monetized and the individual paid some significant portion of that value. This is simply redefining what basic economic value is. An accounting trick that benefits us all. That’s my interpretation of the problem, anyway. Most people including the panelists seem to be caught up in the delusion of money.

How do we achieve this new justice? Talk. Consensus. Action.


My second panel of the day was Viewing the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse (David Stokes, Jack Glassman, Randall Roman, Vanessa MacLaren-Wray) I’ve had the date noted as a scheduled post on the blog for a few years now. I need ideas and text to populate that blog entry, ergo my interest in this panel. Eclipses happen because of Syzygy: the nearly straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies (such as the sun, moon, and earth during a solar or lunar eclipse) in a gravitational system. This happens approximately twice a month. We don’t get eclipses twice monthly because the Earth, Moon, Sun system don’t quite line up, which leads to a lot of missed eclipses.

High ultraviolet and infrared light during low visible light portions of a partial eclipse is why you shouldn’t look directly at the sun without protection; at least until totality is achieved. Then you can look directly at it. Your pain sensors in your eyes protect you from overexposing and destroying your retinas during normal sunlight, however you can blind yourself by looking at a partial eclipse without ever feeling any pain.

So wear those protective lenses. There is a list of approved vendors on the American Astronomical Society website. One of the panelists had a handful of Rainbow Symphony give away glasses to pass out, the same kind of glasses that he hands out at eclipse events while performing his duties as a professor. He teased us with an image of the Coronado personal solar telescope. I’d still rather have a regular telescope and I’ll use the sun filters that come with one of those to look at the sun. A twofer.

There will be an annular eclipse in mid-October 2023, a preview of the total eclipse that will happen 177 days later in April of 2024. If you go to Albuquerque to see it you can ride in a balloon at the balloon festival and witness it, if that is your kind of thing.


The Wife and I broke down her art show display and packed it up for transport back to Austin. Very little art going back with us, which is the kind of thing you want to happen when you bring art to sell at a convention. We aren’t going to break even on this trip but we did sell enough to cover part of the costs at least.

After I finished lugging all the art back up to the room, I popped in to catch the last half of What Is Our Climate Future? (Angeli Primlani, Eli K.P. William, Mike Fortner, Vincent Docherty) I don’t know what was talked about before I got there but they seemed to be hung up on why mass transit sucks so bad in the US when it clearly works pretty much everywhere else in the world. I can answer that question. Social norms dictate structural development. Japan has better mass transit because social norms value the collective in ways that do not occur in the West and certainly don’t occur in the US, not even in the largest cities. If we want to limit climate change by getting away from individual car travel we are going to have to change social norms in the US. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that subject. Better to hope that auto-drive becomes a thing and that we can convince everyone to value shared resources like public vehicle transport. It’s a dream I have.

I discussed one of the subjects near and dear to my heart with one of the panelists as we walked down the hall. I may have to embroider the catalyst that I had in mind for one of the stories that I’m eternally working on.


Then it was closing ceremony time. The guest of honor for ChiCon 8 was originally going to be Erle Korshak. He died a year ago in August. None of us would be attending WorldCons today if it hadn’t been for the contributions of Erle Korshak. The convention became the open annual event that it is because he and the other early founders of speculative fiction fandom rebounded from the first convention in New York city and set about creating a repeating event that has continued until this day. Thank you Erle. We are all in your debt.

Steven Barnes and his wife Tananarive Due were tapped as Guests of Honor after Erle passed. I have read quite a few books of his that he co-authored with Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Their podcast is at lifewritingpodcast.com. The Glasgow gimlet won best drink. Royal Manticorian Navy won best party. That’s it. The show’s over. Hope to see everyone in Glasgow in two years.

ChiCon 8 Day 4

Wind and light rain all day today in the Windy City, so Sunday morning was spent shopping in the dealer’s room. What I have learned over the many cons that I have attended is that parties and the dealer’s room are beasts of the same color. The less time spent near them the better off you will be. I’ve also discovered that if I don’t buy gifts for the women in my life while near a dealer’s room then I will regret ever being born until the next time I’m near one. So I decided to hazard a few minutes and a few dollars in exchange for future familial harmony.

While there I ran across Stonekettle again. As we sat briefly talking over the finer points of Presidential theft of classified documents, a handful of my fellow minions wandered up alongside me to bask in his presence. One of them just happened to be Brenda Cooper (Yes, that Brenda Cooper) I recognized the name from Building Harlequin’s Moon. I don’t think there is a Larry Niven book out there that I haven’t read. On my way to my first panel of the day I just happened to share an escalator with David Gerrold (yes, that David Gerrold) a truly weird random circumstance since I had just been listening to how Bob of B Cubed Press (the table where I found Stonekettle) was working with David on writing a novel in which Stonekettle was a character. Just another day at a WorldCon.

The panel I eventually ended up at was The Art of Eric Wilkerson. He played this Alan Watts speech as his advice for artists and creatives who think they can’t pursue whatever it is that they have a passion for:

Alan Watts – What do you desire?

I like this quote too:

The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.

Alan Watts

Although that one could easily be seen as being in contention with the message in what do you desire?

Then we rolled into the Remembering Nichelle Nichols (C. Taylor-Butler, David Gerrold, Tananarive Due) panel. Rather than write more about that subject here I will simply link to my previous article:

The panelists referred back to the documentary that I reviewed in that piece many times. This was another airmeet.com event which means that if you paid to attend the convention you should have access to the video stream for the month of September.

As day four came to a close I realized that I’m not a spring chicken anymore. Even at the slow pace that I’ve set for myself at this event, I am completely zapped and it’s not even 8 pm as I type this. Off to bed soon unless the Wife drags me out to the parties again tonight.

ChiCon 8 Day 3

Decaf today. It’s a good thing I’m planning on walking around outside this morning, I need to decompress. Unfortunately the architectural walking tour was a bust, poor communication between the convention planners and the museum that schedules the tours. We made up our own walking tour. We walked down the river to the lake front and then along the lake to Randolph and back uptown to the Cloud Gate. Then home to the hotel. It was a fun adventure in spite of the planning failure.

Today was mostly a rest day con-wise. I sat in on Using SFF for Science Communication (Annalee Newitz, Gretchen McCulloch, Jack Glassman, Leadie Jo Flowers) reference was made to Devs by the creator of Ex Machina. I’ll have to check it out along with the book Timescape. New concept learned today: repressive desublimation. Try to work that into a 15 second reference clip that can be summoned like a meme of Vogon poetry. Not doing that today. New podcast to check out: Lingthusiasm. Then the Wife and I went to see the entrants for the masquerade before turning in early. We had plans to go see John Scalzi DJ but just couldn’t find the energy to party. Early morning again tomorrow.

ChiCon 8 Day 2

Coffee for the second morning in a row. I think I may be pushing my caffeine limit. First panel was Technological Solutions to Environmental Problems (Claire McCague, Jill Engel-Cox, Karl Schroeder, Leadie Jo Flowers, Leon Perniciaro) I think the thing to avoid is screwing up the world worse than it is now by trying to fix it, al la The Colony or Snow Piercer (what does it say about us that we worry more about freezing to death than we do about frying? See Ministry for the Future for that scenario. My earliest memory of climate catastrophe scenarios was Silent Running. Not quite the same thing) A sun shade at Lagrange 1? In the scheme of things, that’s not as far fetched an idea as you might think. At the very least we’re going to need taller sea walls. Nine feet of ocean rise is already in the cards. We’re just waiting for the warming to catch up to the CO2 levels now.

BBC EarthThe Future Of The Oceans | Blue Planet II – Dec 10, 2017 (a suggestion from a fellow attendee)

The real thinker on the panel was Leadie Jo Flowers, in my opinion. Her idea is to get the next generation thinking in terms of doable scenarios, not overwhelming them with the hopelessness of an unavoidable dystopian future. Her education coordination website isn’t online yet, but it would be a worthy effort that I would devote some of my time to if it ever comes to fruition. (I think she said it would be called what if) Recommended reading from the panel:

A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet by Sarah Jaquette Ray

Waiting for collective efforts to manifest is probably a fruitless endeavor. It will take individual effort combined with government subsidy when they finally come online to get the majority of people to move in the right direction. In the end, the electric car will sell itself because it’s just a better car. I’ve owned one for nearly ten years already and I want a second one.

The next panel in the room I was already in at that time was for:

Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller by Alec Nevala-Lee 

Cult leader, conman, self promoter. He even designed a car, the Dymaxion. When it crashed and killed someone, he invented a story for why that happened that didn’t include the top-heavy design of the vehicle itself. He is the influence behind innumerable tech personalities whether they know this fact about themselves or not. Norman Foster was the architect who worked with Fuller, who had no formal education or licensure in architecture. Fullerene, the carbon Bucky ball, is probably one of the main reasons that people still encounter the name Buckminster Fuller.

I had an idea for standing seam triangular dome panels to prefabricate the geodesic domes with while I was listening to this talk. Not sure if that would help with the drainage problems, though. You still have corners all over the place that will trap and probably wick water into the structure. I’ve always been fascinated with Buckminster Fuller, like most people who stumble across the man’s legacy. It’s hard not to be, and that was by his design.

Then it was off to Yoga and Juicing Isn’t Fixing This (A. L. Kaplan, Amy Henrie Gillett, D. H. Timpko) a panel about coping with chronic illness. I write about the subject so often here that I felt I ought to at least pop my head in the room and see what was happening. People writing about their disabilities on their own websites is apparently a rare thing. Not a single person in the disability panel did what I do with this blog. I always knew I was weird. Giving yourself room to be sick in, while also striving to at least get out of bed and do something each day. Lessons I had already learned in the years I’ve been fighting chronic illness. The fact that I’m here at all is a testament to that.

I shook Stonekettle’s hand in the dealer’s room today. That would be my trip to Worldcon completed now. There were more panels to attend anyway after I had ravaged a few more portals in Ingress Prime. The Resistance rules the Worldcon portals. I missed the meetup for Ingress players today, but I did complete the mission for the convention on Tuesday, two days before the convention started. Yay me.

I had heard part of the discussion held for Science in Science Fiction Shows: The Good, The Bad, and the Amusing (Catherine Asaro) and the moderator didn’t venture into Discovery’s magic mushroom land so I had very little to say on the subject. I did manage not to get drunk at the bid parties tonight. That would be a first for me at a Worldcon. Goodnight all.

ChiCon 8 Day 1

We got here Tuesday afternoon and promptly crashed almost as soon as we got in the hotel room. TSA protocols about volumes of liquid kept us from traveling with the distilled water our CPAP machines required, so we hazarded our lungs with the remains of our bottled drinking water before passing out.

Wednesday was spent setting up the Wife’s art table display and the wall hanging display for her and the Daughter. There were frequent bouts of crowd anxiety battled by retreating to the hotel room to read the souvenir program (which doesn’t contain the actual program for the event. That’s online) and mapping out the events we plan attend once the starting bell is rung at 10 am. Today.

With my loosely planned agenda as a map, I head out onto the convention floor. Wish me luck.

10:24 am. Bumped into the con tour in progress (Dave Howell) outside the art show that I spent all day yesterday setting up. I can tell you all about one artist, at least. If I had been on time for the tour I would have known where to go for the table talk that I wanted to go to later.

The Wife and I bailed out of the first meeting we had on our schedule, a panel discussion of how to create things on the cheap. It was a useful discussion for people who hadn’t done 14 films on the cheap already. As I told her when I suggested going to the event “you should probably be on this panel.” The things you learn when you need a dozen millions to do effects and the producers barely have a few thousand in the bank.

My next event was a table talk with Jill A. Engel-Cox on the subject of renewable energy. She mentioned subjects that I had heard on a recent episode of the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, the possibility of being able to generate geothermal power pretty much wherever we want to by simply drilling down deep enough to be able to harness the energy gradient between the surface and the deep mantle of the earth. Fascinating subject. It reminded me of the subsurface air conditioning systems that I had encountered in some high-end houses I had worked on back in the day, but with the opposite purpose. It’s always 68 degrees Fahrenheit just under the ground. Very effective cooling if you have the funds to do the drilling it requires.

We also talked about books and movies that involved environmental disasters, a subject that she will be discussing on a panel later this week. Of the many titles mentioned, Station Eleven was the only one that I hadn’t heard of before. I’ll have to check that one out soon.

The last event that I made it to was one that I had missed the signup for, but was allowed to sit in on anyway. Michael Green Jr. talked about effective outlining strategies for stories and debuted his web app Lynit. As the hour progressed I had a flash of insight. It was while he was manipulating the character/plotline linkages on screen that I saw the correlation to design and planning of buildings. An outline is to a novel or short story as the construction documents are to the finished building. An almost exact correlation that I had never realized before. I also see some possibilities in the web app structure that could be applied to online home design software that would allow the people who want to take an active hand in their new home design to be able to show how they want to use spaces and the connections between those spaces.

Valuable insights that I hope to put to good use soon.

The final event of the day was the opening ceremonies (Annalee Newitz, Charlie Jane Anders) I was so tired that I feel asleep before they started. Luckily for me they were available online to watch later:

Chicon 8 Opening Ceremoniesairmeet.com

First day down! On to the next.

Woman in Motion

The title of the documentary about Nichelle Nichols,

Woman in Motion (2021)

Is also the name of the company she formed to work with NASA on women and minority recruitment back in the 70’s. This fan of Star Trek never took the time to find out why Nichelle didn’t do a lot more film and TV work than she did following her time on Star Trek. What she did was recruit the largest group of astronauts that NASA had ever trained up to that point, and she successfully saw the astronaut corps integrated for the first time. The first women and minorities in space were people that she convinced to apply to NASA. That was Nichelle’s impact on the future of manned space travel.

It was a little depressing to witness the progression of Alzheimer’s that was visible in the documentary. There were three distinct sets of video recordings that were sampled and included in the footage for the documentary. Two from previous short films and/or family video about her and a final video shoot made just for the documentary. It was clear that she was having some difficulty speaking towards the end of her life. The kinds of problems that young Nichelle and even older Nichelle did not have.

This made the way they ended the documentary that much more touching.

Nichelle Nichols – Fly Me to the Moon – 2016

Whatever was affecting her speech centers was not affecting her singing at all. Her rendition of this song brought me to tears. I couldn’t escape the image of Tommy Lee Jones’ character lying stranded on the moon in his spacesuit as the very same song played over the final scenes of Space Cowboys.

I’ll never forget meeting her at that convention in Tulsa, Oklahoma and getting the artwork that still hangs in my daughter’s bedroom signed by her. Hers is still the first memory I have of Star Trek. As much as she hated saying that line, that’s what I hear. “Hailing frequencies open, Captain.”

The world is a poorer place without you Nichelle.

All I can do is think of Nichelle Nichols as a force of nature unto herself.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Star Trek: Afterlife

News of its death had not been exaggerated.

One of my earliest memories is of a black lady in a red miniskirt, a beehive hairdo and what I would now think of as a Bluetooth headset hanging out of her ear. There were flashing lights on the communication boards behind her and she utters the line “Hailing frequencies open, sir” then the picture cuts to a man in a mustard colored shirt in a chair. I couldn’t explain the show to my mother, I also remember that. I was mad when they took it off the air and I tried to describe to my Mom about the alien with the pointy ears and the phasers and the bright red surfaces all over the bridge. The salt monster that had terrified me a few years previously. She didn’t remember the show although I got a hug for the disappointment of not seeing my show that day.

When I came home from school one day in 1977 and found my show in reruns for the first time, I was ecstatic. I remember dragging Mom into the den to watch with me. “It was Star Trek. See? I told you Mom.” I rewatched all but two episodes in reruns over the subsequent years as I watched the show after school with my brothers and sisters who would have rather been watching anything else.

I took my first date to watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture on its premiere weekend. I was stoked. I don’t think my date was because I never saw her again after that. The Motionless Picture (as the fans dubbed it almost immediately) wasn’t like original Star Trek but it was nice to see the characters again. I had no idea that what I saw onscreen was originally intended to be a second television series pilot that they punted into a movie instead. That knowledge came later with my introduction to the Wife and fandom at large, but I could feel Gene Roddenberry’s influence in every bit of it. The subtle trekkiness of it. It was there under the different costumes and muted bridge colors.

I went to see Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan by myself the first time. I thought it was so good that I dragged my friends with me to watch it a second time. I don’t think most people today would understand what that meant to me back then in 1982. I had never spent money to watch the same movie twice before, much less 27 times to see Star Wars over and over again like some of my friends in fandom had done. This was an action film that was also a Star Trek movie, and I loved it. It wasn’t quite as distinctively Trek as the first movie. Kirk’s son denounces Starfleet as just another military organization bent on perverting their science, er, their ridiculous life-generating magic bomb into a weapon.

If you ignored the embarrassing technobabble about the science it was a great movie that expanded on one of the best episodes of the series. If you had been a fan of the show for as long as I had been by that point, the fast and loose nature of some of the science in the show was just one of the things that you learned to suspend disbelief about. After all, you can’t enjoy the show if you are busy picking it apart while you are watching it. Spock’s death scene in Wrath of Khan still makes me cry decades later even knowing they bring him back in the next movie.

On The Media – I’m Brooke Gladstone and I Am a Trekker – August 11, 2021

I can say what Brook won’t in that episode of On The Media. I was a Trekkie, not a Trekker. I used to say that it was a distinction without a difference Trekker vs. Trekkie but I’m not so certain this is true any more. The Wife and I fell in love over a box of Star Trek (and Superman!) comic books. She revealed that she was much more of a fan than I had ever been, having ordered from Roddenberry’s groundbreaking marketing arm Lincoln Enterprises pretty much as soon as it was announced. She walked around with a golden Enterprise necklace the way some people walk around with a golden cross or a St. Christopher’s medal. She had also been on the official Star Trek mailing list and attended several conventions before we even met. She could win trivia contests about the show and I could not.

I turned in my fandom pin when I met the Wife and the cadre of fans that she brought me in contact with. For example, I can’t be a true fan (the sensitive kind that wants to be called a Trekker and not a Trekkie) because I didn’t know these three characters were all played by the same actress, Diana Muldaur. I have no idea why I’d never made this connection; or why, if one of the fans I lead as Captain of a local Star Trek club alerted me to this fact, I still don’t remember that they were all the same person to this day. Trivia is a thing that I’ve never found important enough to remember, thereby earning its label of trivia. The fact of this doesn’t keep me from losing when we play trivial pursuit.

The Wife and I went to see Star Trek III: The Search For Spock together as well as every Star Trek movie after that one. Every Star Trek movie until they stopped being Star Trek movies in 2009.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation aired I began to notice the change. In movies it is easy to plot a simple story and hand-wave your way through the deeper questions of social order and the fabric of society. In a television series that has to produce (at the time) more than twenty one-hour shows each and every year, the show has to rely on the actors who appear on the show to invest more of themselves into the characters than is asked of the average movie actor. This is also true of the writers who have to produce the scripts that create the bones of the social interactions that the actors lend themselves to. It is a herculean task to create a television show even now with computer effects, short seasons and padded budgets. Back in the day when Star Trek aired, 1967-69, it was nearly an impossibility and had never been done that way for television until Desi Arnaz made it the television standard.

Speculative fiction like Star Trek is meaningless unless it reflects facets of the world outside, and the world outside the view of the television cameras had changed quite a bit since the original series had been on the air. The Vietnam war had been raging outside the camera’s range back in 1960’s America and the Cold War had dominated the lives of everyone living on the planet since the 1950’s. We were all going to die in the the thermonuclear fallout from World War III, that was the world that Star Trek was born into.

Star Trek was a breath of fresh air in that climate with it’s portrayal of a bright future where we could all get along. When The Next Generation (TNG) hit television screens we were living in that future. The predicted nuclear wars hadn’t occurred and the future was different than we expected. It wasn’t bright and it wasn’t going to get bright any time soon. The destruction of world civilization had been delayed a few generations but it was still a possibility that we all worried about, even if it wasn’t nuclear holocaust and the USSR that dominated our nightmares anymore. TNG had to be different from the future that Gene had created for his original Star Trek thirty years previously.

TNG was more militaristic for starters. The militarism was still subtle, but it was there all the same. The science was weaker, too. Star Trek made science shortcuts for reasons of storytelling and cost cutting. You can’t tell a story about characters if those characters don’t survive the journey from one planet to the next, so you introduce warp drive to shorten transit times into something more like a sea voyage. You introduce transporter tech so that you don’t have to film separate scenes of shuttles taking off and landing on each planet you visit (just don’t think about dying each time you get into the transporter only to be reborn on the planet surface) we can print food now with fabricators so the replicators in Star Trek aren’t even that much of a stretch anymore. Your flip phone that you used to love did the flip thing that it did precisely because Kirk did the flip thing with his communicator in 1967.

There were goofy stories based on the goofy tech introduced to tell the stories in the first place, but TNG made whole seasons of goofy stories about goofy science and goofy tech a thing. Which was fine, if it wasn’t a little much in the way of content to consume.

Then there was Deep Space Nine. I liked DS9 but I liked Babylon 5 more, which was interesting because the theme of a remote station on the edge of known space was a central story point that seemed to be shared between the two of them? Well, I’m sure J. Michael Straczynski doesn’t care much anymore. He got to make his show with the money that wasn’t mentioned in the settlement between him and Paramount. DS9 was better than TNG just as Babylon 5 was better than DS9. They were more real and dealt with more real subjects and didn’t seem to have so many goofy tech stories in their repertoire.

After that was Voyager and Paramount’s first betrayal of Star Trek fandom. I wanted to watch the show but wasn’t allowed to because Paramount wanted the fans to carry their UPN broadcast networks on their backs. I wasn’t having any of that. Then there was Enterprise and Nemesis:

…and I realized that there was speculative fiction that I liked and speculative fiction that I distinctly didn’t like. I probably should have thanked Paramount for the revelation that I could hate some kinds of fiction, even fiction offered under the guise of being Star Trek. I would thank them, but they weren’t done ruining Star Trek for me yet:

The Abramanations were definitively NOT Star Trek. This assessment goes far and beyond not liking story points or characterizations in these movies. I mean; red matter was an impossibility, a stupid impossibility just as Khan’s magic healing blood was a stupid impossibility in Into Darkness (Another aptly named film) There were stupid action sequences and stupid humor sequences. Too much stupid to ever be able to talk to other fans about the stupid without my having an aneurism suppressing the desire to throttle said fans as they praised the stupid; and so, I declared Star Trek dead because of those two films. But it wasn’t up to me, was it? I’m not the rights holder.

I signed up for Paramount+ recently. I signed up because I wanted to watch Picard and Woman in Motion. (I still need to watch that, now that I think about it. We miss you already Nichelle) I like the actors in Picard and I like the characters that they are reprising in the series; so I watched it, and it was better than I had expected it would be. It was so much better than I expected that I talked the Wife into watching it. She also liked it. Could it have been better? Come on, it always could be better. It was good for what it was, a tribute to the shows and characters that have come and gone in Star Trek history. Was it really Star Trek? I think you could say it was. TNG Star Trek if not classic Star Trek.

(Et in Arcadia Ego one and two. The Eclogues)

I would have preferred if they had ended it in season one, but they made season two; and after finishing watching season two I had to say it was also worth watching. I won’t hold my breath for season three but I will probably watch that too despite reservations.

However, Paramount+ kept showing me ads for Discovery and Strange New Worlds at the beginning of each episode of Picard. After I had watched all of Picard that there was the watch, I decided I might try Strange New Worlds. It was, after all, about Captain Pike, Kirk’s predecessor as captain of the Enterprise. Unlike the show, Enterprise, which was not part of Star Trek canon in even the slightest sense (there was no warp capable ship called Enterprise before the one mentioned in the original Star Trek) Captain Pike had been established as being part of the Star Trek universe from the very beginning. Even before the beginning of the show itself since it represents the premiere of the show that could have been but wasn’t (See The Cage for those who aren’t Trek nerds) so I started the first episode and hit my first snag.

Pike had appeared in Discovery before Paramount had decided to create Strange New Worlds. Was I willing to try to suspend disbelief for two seasons of a show that I already knew was bad? I mean, I had panned Discovery claiming worlds with the Federation flag in advertising a few years ago, could I watch two seasons of the show knowing that they were probably going to do horrible things to my beloved Star Trek? I’d survived the Abramanations, I thought to myself. Surely I can survive two seasons of Discovery.

Oh, how wrong I was. It started with the first episode of the series. The ship, Discovery, travels on magic mushrooms. No, I am not kidding when I say that. They are mushrooms and they are magical; ergo magic mushrooms. Magic mushrooms, spore trails through sub-space, or whatever technobabble you want to make up. Same fucking difference. Might as well chew a fungus and go their in your dreams. Your dreams will be better, I can promise you this.

I made it to the end of season one. I don’t know how. The story arc itself might have been interesting enough to hold my attention if only EVERY SINGLE THING about the show didn’t pop me right out of the ability to suspend disbelief with an audible WTF!?! Giant tardigrades. Microscopic critters that could eat you whole. The entire saucer section of the ship, when they start up the magic mushroom drive, spins. There are people on those parts of the ship, and it spins like a gyroscope. Even in the Star Trek universe there ain’t inertial dampeners strong enough to negate those forces, so how does the crew survive? They never even address it.

When Pike popped onto the ship at the end of season one, I knew that I could not watch season two and put him in with the crew of Discovery and their magic mushroom driven atrocity. So I stopped watching and haven’t been back.

I wouldn’t even be writing about this now if William Shatner hadn’t called out the current crop of Trek wannabes for not being Star Trek. That got their attention. William Shatner says that our Trek isn’t Trek enough? Where does he come off saying that? They offer up Gene Roddenberry’s panning of Star Trek V, as if that is proof that Bill Shatner doesn’t know what he is talking about.

On June 3, 1987, Roddenberry wrote a memo to Shatner expressing his distaste for the story. “Bill, as you undoubtedly know, I expressed to Harve Bennett at lunch last Monday my deep disappointment in the proposed Star Trek V film story,” Roddenberry wrote. “I simply cannot support a story which has our intelligent and insightful crew mesmerized by a 23rd Century religious charlatan.”

Roddenberry went on to point out that Shatner had previously agreed to recognize using religion in the script, which Roddenberry felt was unsuitable for the post-religious world he had created in TOS. The memo continued: “I had also thought that we had a clear understanding, man to man, that I would be consulted before any story went to screenplay.”

Roddenberry was so upset by the narrative Shatner had proposed that he also wrote similar letters to Bennett (who ignored him and appears in a cameo role in the final cut), his lawyer Leonard Maizlish, and head of the studio Frank Mancuso. In fact, Roddenberry was so incensed by the narrative direction Shatner had chosen, that he also wrote to sci-fi literary legends Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke to enlist their help in discouraging the studio from making the film. Both authors sent letters agreeing with Roddenberry’s position: Star Trek V “wasn’t Star Trek.”

movieweb.com

You know what? Gene was right. Spock had no brother, ergo Star Trek V couldn’t have been canon and probably shouldn’t be considered Star Trek. So what? Citing authority about Shatner’s work has no bearing on what that same authority might say about your work, your favorite new shiny thing that you love so much.

Bill happens to be right, at least when it comes to Discovery. That show is a joke and the actors involved, while very talented and dedicated, should have insisted on there being science advisors on the show during filming and during the writing process. Paramount should have cared enough about their property, Star Trek, so as to not dilute it with the crap that they’ve made under the Star Trek mantle since Gene’s death. I don’t care what Gene’s son thinks about the shows, either. Gene Roddenberry, the great bird of the galaxy himself, laid it all out in the Star Trek bible.

I’m a little unclear about technological devices of the future.
Can we invent anything which sounds reasonable?

Simply think of something logical, with some kind of science
or projected-science basis. Generally best are projections
of things we have now or which science is beginning to
build now. For example, in the pilot we had a hospital bed
which continually monitored all the key bodily functions,
and in fact some advanced hospitals today are already doing
part of this and working on further improvements.

Star Trek Writers Guide

Magic mushroom drives do not meet that standard. Discovery is not Star Trek just as the 2009 movie and Into Darkness are not Star Trek because the crap they came up with to explain their plot points doesn’t make fucking sense. I rest my case.

In the meantime I will say this. I was a Trekkie. I might still call myself a Trekkie if that means I can isolate myself from the Trekkers that think that magic mushroom drives, magic healing blood and red matter are things they want to be mystified by; otherwise Star Trek is even deader in my estimation than it was in 2009. Bill Shatner, you are right once again.

Strange New Worlds

I finally sat down and watched the first season of Strange New Worlds, all that there was of the show at the time that I wrote this. I wish I could come to the show with fresh eyes and not the same eyes that have watched the journey of Gene Roddenberry’s creation from the time that it first appeared on television screens way back when. Watched all the things that I detailed above come to pass. If I hadn’t seen all of those things and been offended by a good number of them I might be able to give this show the praise it probably deserves to receive.

Unfortunately I’m not that person, I’m just the jaded old fan that I am and hopefully always will be. So here goes my review of the first season. The first episode annoyed the fuck out of me. Transporting something into Spock’s eyeball? Great way to make his eye explode. Stupid tech solutions to stupid story plot points. I’ve seen these kinds of imaginary moments of crisis way, way too many times now on too many shows that should have had the collective intelligence to known better than to try that shit.

Children of the Comet

The second episode made me want to love the show. It perfectly encapsulated the moral quandary of the best of speculative fiction. I was truly impressed with the episode right up to the point where Captain Pike has to go through his quandary about being shown how he dies when he was part of the magic mushroom joyride that is all of Discovery.

Every episode of Strange New Worlds does some stupid thing or other that sets my teeth on edge. Dr. M’Benga storing his daughter in the transporter buffer, a sub-plot that leads up to the episode where she becomes a… god? Who knows what she is now, at least she’s not a dead person stored in a transporter buffer. Then there is the season finale that once again calls back to the magic mushroom joyride and makes it quite clear that this time crystal bullshit from Discovery is going to be a theme across the entire series. Every single episode does something that makes me ask “why am I watching this?”

I can’t. I just can’t. From a storytelling perspective I can appreciate the value of illustrating why Captain Kirk was the right man for the job illustrated in Balance of Terror versus the bungled job that Captain Pike does in A Quality of Mercy. From a philosophical perspective I don’t think that the writers or the producers of the current show understand what it was that Gene was trying for with his show about a future human society. Nor do I think they are interested in what Gene intended for the show beyond the fact that the fans demand more of it and the rights holders for it want to make money from that demand. I see no need to put money in their hands given my disturbed thoughts on the subject.

“Rest in peace, Star Trek. Say hi to Gene for me.”

Litany Against Fear

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Dune

If I was to risk my life to see a movie, this is possibly the only movie that I would cross that line for:

DUNE – FINAL TRAILER – Oct 7, 2021

Check out the ‘thopters, man. Finally someone gives me real ‘thopters. That alone will get me to go watch the movie, even in a time of plague.

Dune – Official Main Trailer – Jul 22, 2021

I just hope the movie has a story. A story that feels something like the story in the book. I’m not looking for the book as a movie, I’m looking to feel the same way about the story in the movie as I do about the story in the book. Fingers crossed.


The first movie of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune ends immediately following Jamis’ Tahaddi challenge. Given the place in the first book where the movie ends, I would say that there are at least two more movies of material left to put on the screen. That is, if we are talking about the series of movies ending where the first book ends. If we go on to Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, then we have at least a nine-film epic.

I liked his handling of the story as far as it went. He departed from the text several times, and yet the story remains intact underneath the changes. The director deftly weaves a tale that was made for the screen out of the text that Frank Herbert wrote, and he does it better than all the others who have attempted to tell the story before.

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2014)

Documents the first time someone tried to bring the book to the big screen. While the attempt was fatally flawed from the beginning, the collaborations that started with that endeavor went on to generate a dozen other works that would be sorely missed today had the attempt not been made. I’m glad the movie was never finished. There is no way the completed project could equal the grandeur of the vision that is presented in the pitches for the movie.

Dune (1984)

Unfortunately for us, David Lynch did complete his attempt to put Dune on the big screen. Luckily for us, David Lynch went on to make better movies. Don’t get me wrong, there are facets of the 1984 Dune that are grandiose almost beyond imagining unless you have seen the movie yourself. The guild steersman in the first act; in fact, all of the first third of the movie was excellent. All of the casting for the Harkonnen’s including Sting as Feyd-Rautha was excellent. Unfortunately the production couldn’t create ornithopters that looked like ornithopters. They also abandoned the Prana-Bindu training/fighting in favor of creating a gadget that they called a weirding module to make the fighters unbeatable.

The production suffered from many problems during the course of the movies’ creation and this shows in the finished product. There were long exposition sequences throughout the film, a shortcut to storytelling on film that is never a good idea. The Wife walked out of the movie back in 1984, midway through one of the sequences that featured a bloody battle scene while the voiceover track intones “…and Paul and Chani were in love.” The horror of it was too much to bear. She spent the remaining hour of the movie playing video games in the arcade attached to the theater.

I have watched the movie several times over the years. It never got better for me, which is its own condemnation of the effort in my eyes. When you know a story before seeing the movie made from it, the anxiety of what you are about to see enacted on something you know and love overshadows everything. This has proven to be true for me for every movie that I have watched after reading the book. The first viewing is almost painful to endure. If the movie is good though, the later viewings get better and more enjoyable because you already know how the movie treats the thing you are nostalgic for.

1984 Dune treated a novel that I had read more times than I had read anything else very poorly. It strayed from the meaning and intent of the story almost from the moment the characters touch down on Arrakis. I had read the first four novels seven times through before seeing the movie in 1984 and most books never get a second reading by me. Dune spoke to me in ways that other books did not. Frank Herbert understood realpolitik, and he wove his vaguely recognizable societal groups into a believable future framework that gives the reader insight on the world of power politics, and what can happen when an oppressed population is given a savior that they recognize instinctively. Almost none of this was present in the 1984 version of Dune.

Dune (2000) Miniseries

This version was superior to Lynch’s version. It was more like the story it was trying to tell than 1984 Dune. True, they still didn’t get the ornithopters right, and they didn’t have Sting as Feyd-Rautha, but they made do with what they had and at least tried to tell the story that Frank Herbert wrote. I’ve never managed to catch this series since it first aired, so I have little recollection of it now. I just remember being glad to see the story treated more like I expected it to be treated, instead of being buried behind special effects sequences that could never replace real storytelling. They even went on to make:

Children of Dune (2003) Miniseries

An adaptation of the second two books of the series. I remember even less of this series than I do the first SyFy series, although I remember watching both. This one didn’t impress me with it’s ability to bring the story to the screen. In the end the small screen can’t compare to the big screen and these stories deserve to be on a big screen.

All of this is my way of saying that I look forward to seeing Jason Momoa returning in movie number four as the Goula Hayt. I’ll be along for the ride for at least that long. Here’s hoping that Denis Villeneuve gets the green light to continue with the second movies’ creation.

What Dune achieves – as Frank Herbert himself wrote – is an ambivalence and suspicion of “good wars.” The film’s allegiance is with the natives, and certainly with cultural humility toward the unfamiliar and the unknowable. Colonizing another is a brutal if not a fatal mission.

npr.org
Postscript

I always wondered why Frank Herbert’s world of Dune seemed so deeply human and real. It seems that he borrowed a lot of Arabic social norms and words to flesh out his world in a way that made it seem both real and foreign:

Throughline – Bonus: The Deep History of Dune – November 9, 2021

Setting aside the mistaken belief that because whole parts of the world were borrowed from them that then the story belongs to them (every reader thinks this about the stories they love and identify with) that episode of Throughline sheds some interesting light on the framing that Herbert crafted to tell his political epic in.

The Babylon Project Reborn?

Back in February I wrote this article:

In it I opine about the deluge of bad Trek spinoffs, so much bad Trek that it would be easy to drown in the volume of it all. As a closing observation I tossed out a few paragraphs about the complete lack of revisits to a popular science fiction television show that I felt got short shrift back in the nineties, Babylon 5, and then proceeded to lament this fact. I said, in effect:

You, Hollywood mogul. Why don’t you leave the corpse of Star Trek alone and go mess around with the dream given form? It could use a bit more attention.

I have lamented about the sorry state of affairs that was the five-year run of Babylon 5 since the days that we waited breathlessly for each episode to drop, for each season’s contract to be picked up, for the replacement of cast characters, etcetera. It was a pins and needles affair through the entire experience.

As a wannabe storyteller, I wept when Commander Sinclair was replaced with Captain Sheridan. I knew what a hampering of the overall story arc that this replacement would represent. The compromise that was worked out that allowed Michael O’Hare to retire marked the show and altered everything that happened after it. Michael O’Hare wasn’t the first actor to be replaced from the original pilot lineup of characters. This wasn’t unexpected, but the number of actors who came and went as the story progressed was a staggering number for any series, culminating in the loss of my favorite character, Susan Ivanova played by Claudia Christian at the beginning of season five.

The syndication contract that was arranged at the beginning of the show proved to be a constant sore, with each succeeding season being marked by negotiations that threatened the show’s continued existence, much like the fictional threats to the five mile long space station that the show was about. All alone in the night. The fifth season was such an open question that series creator, J. Michael Straczynski (Joe) felt compelled to complete the majority of the storylines at the end of the fourth season instead of gambling on getting a fifth. In the end the fifth season was picked up by another network, but the snafu of getting all the contracts carried over caused the loss of Claudia Christian from the cast, which in my personal estimation marred the last season irrevocably. The fire had gone out of the show for me, and I watched with only passing interest as the series wrapped up its promised fifth season and bid us all a fond farewell.

The problems with the show didn’t end there, though. The coveted DVD copies that made or broke shows after their airtimes were finished back in the day were glacially slow in making their appearance, and they weren’t of the quality that we hardcore fans expected. The Wife and I made the ill-advised move to invest in laserdisc copies of the show, but the run of discs was never completed and we ended up having to sell the ones that were released for a pittance. That loss left a sour taste in my mouth, and has turned me against Fox media in all its forms ever since.

My ire for Fox is well-earned. They went on from defrauding us of the promised full release of laserdiscs for Babylon 5, went on to cover up for the fact that they skimped on putting together the episodes for airing. Fox never finished the composite shots correctly for widescreen display, and they never transferred the animation sequences to high definition formats, making display of the show on high-definition television an irksome task of squinting from just the right distance to make the show look good. All of this making Joe’s work to produce a show that could be transferred to new technologies in the future a waste of effort.

Today I read in the news that far from having hard feelings about Fox’s betrayal of his interests, Joe has decided to go back into business with Fox:

twitter.com/straczynski

To be continued.

You cannot step in the same river twice, for the river has changed, and you have changed.

Heraclitus

Mirror Earth

While listening to the Rachel Maddow show tonight, I noted that she casually referenced Earth 2 as the place where Donald Trump is still president. It was an amusing bit of Science Fiction trivia to bring back to the front of mind for a few minutes while contemplating the looming destruction of democracy as we know it at the hands of the Republican’s favorite tyrant. The idea of a mirror Earth is one of the tropes that you hear repeatedly over and over again wandering around in and out of fandom. Pramila Jayapal can be forgiven for not knowing the reference later in the show. I doubt very many people do know it, or they might even be confused as to which Scifi/fantasy experience is the one being referenced.

I mean, there are multiple references that will come up if you go looking for the phrase Earth Two on Google. There was a recent television show and even a 2011 movie that run along the same vein. I had to go looking for the title of the movie that I was pretty sure Rachel was referencing myself because I hadn’t seen it since I moved out of that garish Abilene apartment that I shared with a friend back in 1984.

My roommate had one of the first VCR’s on the market, and he had compiled a pretty impressive catalog of movies including an off-air copy of Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, the film by Gerry Anderson’s production company that was released in 1969. That is where the phrase Earth 2 comes from. The uneducated rube that I was at the time made fun of the cheezie effects in the film, even though I had been a serious fan of the Thunderbirds series produced by the same company back in 1966.

The movie was named Doppelgänger in Europe. Americans had to have a more explanatory title. Mystery isn’t a thing that the mundane American viewer can appreciate, I guess. here’s the trailer:

Journey to the far side of the Sun – Trailer (USA)

This is where the idea of a mirror Earth came from. While Star Trek’s Mirror, Mirror episode aired earlier than this movie it wasn’t in production before Doppelgänger was and doesn’t feature a mirror Earth suspended in space in the same universe as our own.

The fascination with evil twins predates this film, true. That goes back to the beginning of recorded history; and if you wanted to, you could say that Earth 2 is a reference to the duality of existence that has been a part of philosophy for a very long time. I don’t know how that could be seen as anything other than a hasty generalization, though. Give credit where credit is due, Doppelgänger is where the idea of a mirror Earth comes from today, no matter how widely spread the fear of the evil twin is in the media we consume.

I can’t find the movie anywhere that I can watch it without paying for it at the moment. I’ll have to keep looking because I really would like to sit down and watch it all the way through at least once without mocking it again. It’s the least I can do.


I have a lot of nostalgia for those old marionette shows, and not just the Thunderbirds series. I doubt that I would still find them edge-of-the-seat suspenseful like I did as a six year old child. There have been multiple attempts to restart Thunderbirds with modern digital effects and new stories:

Thunderbirds Are GoOfficial Global Trailer – Mar 13, 2015

…and I have resisted the urge to watch any of it as an adult, even the old shows themselves. They were so cool back in the sixties when they came on right after school. I would run home just to watch them with Major Astro and they were probably why I wanted to watch Star Trek when it debuted. I can’t imagine how they could be anything other than embarrassing to watch as an adult. Like the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift, the adult experience can’t hold a candle to the memories of a child.

Postscript

The featured image is a screenshot I took of a pivotal scene in the movie. I discovered a version of it streaming online and watched it through for completions’ sake. It was much better than I remembered it being, and yet just as flawed as I thought it would be on watching it again. It was both memorable and flawed in fundamental ways. If you can find it to watch somewhere, you should give it a chance and let me know what you think.