Fifty Years of the Final Frontier

Is there a Klingon word for “idiot”?

Back in September, Star Trek celebrated the 50th anniversary of its premiere on NBC.  I made a small contribution to this auspicious occasion with this article from The Villages Daily Sun.

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I meant to post this on Sept. 8 or thereabouts, but apparently my calculations to reach Ceti Alpha V weren’t quite right. I’ll let Mr. Scott know immediately to get it right next time.

I hope you enjoy the article, and may Star Trek continue to live long and prosper.

A Harry Education

Recently, one of my former journalism professors posted something about a new biography on the late Harry Crews. Like magic, my mind cued up my experiences with the author.

While studying journalism at the University of Florida during the mid-late 1990s, I figured I should take a creative writing class for one of my electives. Looking in the course catalog, I found one and proceeded to sign up. Turned out I needed a writing sample to turn in to be considered, so on the last day, I happened to have a copy of a short story I had done. Turned it in, went home.

Blood Bone and Marrow BookI received my class schedule a few days later (I think; memory’s foggy about that) and saw that I was enrolled. Thought nothing of it. Figured everyone would’ve gotten in.

Until I discovered that only a small number of students were admitted. And it was being taught by THE Harry Crews, although I was still a bit fuzzy about how big this guy was.

Turns out my grandfather was a fan of Crews’ work, owning quite a few of his novels. Right under my nose! He wanted me to have Crews autograph one of he books, but I felt too weird to ask, only to have another student thrust a book in front of him to sign. He gladly did it, but class was starting by this point, so I failed in my mission.

I wonder if I was the only one in the class who wasn’t aware of Crews’ backstory. Maybe that was a blessing in disguise; I just wanted to learn more about writing fiction, not revel in Crews’ past shenanigans.

The syllabus said the stories we’d be writing about wouldn’t include “talking cats.” So: literary fiction. Thank God I turned in a high-schooler-in-turmoil story and not my usual science fiction fare.

We had to turn in two stories that semester, so I went with more adventures from the high school universe.

I wish I could remember some piece of advice Crews imparted to the class. Half the time, it seemed like he was too sick to teach. I do remember the workshop setting. We all printed out our stories, then handed out copies to everyone to critique the following week. That was a strange feeling to hear people tear apart your work. The kicker for me was when just about everyone said that teenagers going to the mall just to hang out wasn’t “real enough.”

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I still have Crews’ graded copies of my stories. The first story had just three handwritten words from Crews: “Reads well. Credible.”

The second story was filled with red and black ink marks, starting at the top with: “Problem: There is nothing of significance that can happen in a mall.” Throughout the tale, Crews could not fathom high schoolers hanging out at the mall when they could be sneaking away to have sex. I’m sure that might be true in some instances, but that wasn’t how I saw it for the characters at the time.

Looking back at his remarks all these years later, I could see his points. I probably should’ve tightened up certain passages or jettisoned them all together. But back then, I was mortified and angry. I could hear that guy from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: “You lost today, kid. But that doesn’t mean you have to like it.”

(Actually, I was so ticked off by what they said about the story, I rewrote it to make it a bit more “realistic,” changed the narrator from the main character to a third person limited, etc.)

At some point he had told the class this would be his final semester teaching. My journalism brain immediately said, “Hey! You could do a story on him for your reporting class! Maybe even get it published!” So I asked him if I could interview him. He seemed hesitant but agreed to it.

We met in his office in Turlington Hall, which, if memory serves, didn’t have much of anything in it. Just his briefcase. With the help of my friend, Najah, I came up with a few questions to ask.

I was a bit nervous interviewing him. Even though his body wasn’t running at one hundred percent, he still looked like he could kick my ass.

The interview lasted about 30 minutes, although he tried to cut off the interview about five minutes sooner. Luckily I convinced him to keep going.

I wrote the story, edited it heavily with the help of my friend, Sheri, then gave it to my teacher’s assistant for my Reporting class.

I earned the highest grade out of all the stories I had written, and it was the last one of the semester. I did good.

When I tried to get the Independent Florida Alligator, the campus newspaper, to publish it, they refused. I tried to explain to the editor that he was a Pretty Big Deal and it was his last semester teaching, it didn’t matter. So it never saw the light of day.

In 2010, I went back to UF to participate in a Storytellers’ Summit. The keynote speaker was bestselling author Michael Connelly. During his talk, he mentioned taking Crews’ class back in the ’70s, but he didn’t take away any big revelations from the class, either. At least I wasn’t alone. But maybe I did internalize some fiction advice he gave during the class, letting it seep into my brain.

Two years later, I felt an appropriate punch to the gut when I read that Crews had passed away. I wished I had read a few more of his books (I’ve only read one of Crews’ novels, Scar Lover), wished I had given him that book to sign for my grandfather.

While one is impossible now, another I can rectify easily.

What an awakening

I made a solemn oath. Never again.

Never again would I read anything spoilery about a movie, especially one taking place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

It was 1999. The Phantom Menace was a week or so away from blasting its way onto movie screens. Cough it up to luck or the will of the Force, I was an intern at The Gainesville Sun during this time, so they let me write a story or three about the movie. I did my best not to see too much about the plot, but, in all places, a Dave Barry column tripped me up.

At first I thought it was a joke, but in parentheses, he had said that Qui-Gon Jinn was going to die. I couldn’t believe it.

Sitting in the theater for that first viewing, I tried not to think about those few words, but sure enough, during the duel between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Maul, it happened. Even though I kinda knew it was coming, I still felt a pain when Maul killed Qui-Gon.

Still, from that point forward, I wanted to experience any subsequent movies as “clean” as possible.

Enter Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

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via StarWars.com

First off, I was beyond flabbergasted when the folks at Disney and Lucasfilm announced they were making more Star Wars movies. I was filled with more glee when they were carrying on past the events of Return of the Jedi.

Speaking of Return of the Jedi, when I was a kid back in 1983, I couldn’t wait for that movie to arrive. I read the storybook. I read the comics. I read a behind-the-scenes magazine. But I never saw the movie in the theaters. (I haven’t been able to get a clear answer from my parents) When the movie eventually hit VHS Land, I probably watched it constantly. Apparently I had no problems with movie spoilers.

Anywho. I told myself I would only watch the trailers for TFA, and try not to peruse Star Wars’ website.

So in Thanksgiving 2014, I sat down in front of the computer and watched this:

Holy smokes. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to this see this movie RIGHT THIS SECOND.

Unfortunately, I had to wait a few more months. In the meantime, I trained myself to avert my eyes to anything related to The Force Awakens. If a Facebook post showed some obscure fan site asking some clickbaity question, I immediately hit “hide everything from this site.” When the toys arrived in stores in September, I could look at the wall of action figures, zeroing in on those that just said “Star Wars.” If it had “The Force Awakens,” I immediately jumped to look at Transformers.

The days grew closer. More trailers arrived. I was thankful the trailers were completely vague about what they were showing, instead of explaining the whole plot in two minutes.

It’s now the week of the movie’s release. At first my wife and I originally planned to see it on Saturday, but she ended up working that day. BUT! Thanks to a convoluted plan Han Solo would love, we were able to get a babysitter so we could see the movie that Friday night.

The lights dimmed. Fifteen minutes of previews went by. Soon the Lucasflim logo emerged and dissipated. Those famous blue words appeared and faded.

Then, the fanfare.

Star Wars was back.

From the appearance of the opening crawl to the closing credits, I was drawn back into the world of Luke Skywalker and company, along with a new batch of characters from Rey to Finn to Poe Dameron to Kylo Ren.

For the most part, I was mainly in “OH MY GOD I’M WATCHING STAR WARS ON THE BIG SCREEN” mode for this showing. Two scenes in particular really got me in the feels, as it were (AND IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE YET PLEASE STOP READING): the death of Han Solo and Rey using the Force to take the lightsaber into her hands. Part of me hoped that Han would be able to convince his son to come back with him, but then my stomach somersaulted when Kylo killed him. I don’t think I recovered from that.

Yes, I could see some similarities to A New Hope, and I smiled goofily when various callbacks appeared, but I let it slide.

Now that the Blu-ray of The Force Awakens has made its way to my collection, I’m able to catch things I missed that first go-around. Especially in the beginning, when Lor San Tekka was talking to Kylo Ren on Jakku. It’s so cool when writers drop clues at the beginning like that. I tried looking for glimpses of Han when he heads to Starkiller base, perhaps never to come back. And yes, I still bawled when Han fell into that chasm. (sniff)

It’s been fun watching the behind-the-scenes featurettes, seeing how this movie came to life. Oh, to have been on the set when Han and Chewie entered the Millennium Falcon.

To think that in a few months, ANOTHER Star Wars movie is coming out, this time all about how the Rebels acquired the Death Star plans.

And then next year, hopefully we get to find out what happened with Luke and Rey on that island.

What a glorious time to be a Star Wars fan.

Ready to fly in No Man’s Sky

Space, the final frontier. The cosmos. The universe. A galaxy far, far away.

Whatever you want to call it, I’ve been a big fan of heading out beyond our planet’s atmosphere and journeying to other planets, whether it was through a book or TV show or comic book or movie. To explore a science-fictiony world in a video game is almost like the real thing.

A few weeks back, SETI’s Twitter handle had posted this link:

I clicked on the link, read the article, and was immediately gobsmacked. Why hadn’t I heard of this game before? (Wait! I know the answer to that one. Truth be told, I don’t follow the video game world that much, so I may have missed something.)

Like most other subject matters, once I decided that No Man’s Sky piqued my interest, I had to travel back to find out as much as I could about this game. I discovered IGN’s monthlong blowout about No Man’s Sky. I found the official web page. I pored over every frame of YouTube video.

From what I’ve gathered, I love the concept: you’re placed in the midst of this vast universe, and off you go exploring, discovering strange new worlds, earning money for better starships, or becoming an outlaw by laying waste to everything in sight. Or something like that.

And there’s 18 QUINTILLION planets to discover, each created on the fly through some mathematical equation. That should keep me busy for a few years. Talk about replayable value.

No Man’s Sky will be available on the PS4 initially. I had been debating what video game console to get should that need ever arise. I’ve been mostly a Nintendo guy throughout my life, from the NES to the GameCube (I didn’t get a Wii, sadly), but a lot of the upcoming games I was interested in (Star Wars Battlefront and Transformers: Devastation, for starters) were only available on the PS4 or the Xbox One. It would seem my choice has been made.

Sean Murray, the head honcho for No Man’s Sky, appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert last night (Feb. 2), and he showed off some more game footage. It was worth staying up later than I wanted to catch it.

Should I ever get a PS4, No Man’s Sky (whenever it’s released) definitely will be a part of the video game library, so I can get lost in the vastness of the cosmos.

Taking our first step into a larger (new) world

What happens next?

That’s the question a writer hopes to hear from the reader. It means the writer has created a story that has pulled the reader into that world, that he or she wants to know the outcome of what’s transporting on the page.

I heard that question in my mind a lot when reading Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath.

Chewie! Jabba punked us again! We can't fit this thing in the Falcon!
Chewie! Jabba punked us again! We can’t fit this thing in the Falcon!

The book arrived on my doorstep last Tuesday. I finished it today. In between those days, I found myself looking at the clock and thinking, Okay, I can read a little bit more. I won’t be tired in the morning.

Short version: This book was amazing.

Slightly longer version (with some spoilers, so be forewarned): As you may have seen from previous blog posts, I’m a fan of Star Wars. So when I heard about Aftermath, I jumped for joy. First, we were getting a novel set after Return of the Jedi that was officially official! Second, it was being written by Wendig, a writer whose blog posts over at Terribleminds have been profanely funny and infotainmential in the writing world. I had read the excerpt on Entertainment Weekly’s website and was sucked into the story almost immediately. I couldn’t wait to read the rest.

Then came the book’s release. Then came the slimos.

Now, I know this book has received some, um, attention from “fans” (although I’m not sure that is a correct term; I’m thinking of a more colorful metaphor), especially when it comes to the book’s rating on Amazon. I couldn’t believe it. Surely this book couldn’t be THAT bad?

Ah, but this is the Internet. I soon learned the reasons for these low ratings, and I wanted to bash my head into the bulkhead.

STUPID REASON NO. 1: Wendig used third person present tense to narrate the tale.

Well, in my eyes, it gave the story a sense of urgency. I’m sure if it were told in third person past tense, it might have retained that chugging feeling, but I think telling it in the present worked just fine.

STUPID REASON NO. 2: The main characters from Episodes IV-VI are pretty much off-camera.

Okay, I guess it’d be cool to see what Luke was up to at this point in the timeline, but I was perfectly fine following the exploits of Norra Wexley and Rae Sloane.

STUPID REASON NO. 2.5: The main characters are WOMEN! THAT CAN’T BE! WHERE ARE DA MENZ?!?

To which I say, grow up.

STUPID REASON NO. 3: There were several gay characters in the novel. GASP! HORRORS! OH NOES!!!1!!1! 

See above.

STUPID REASON NO. 4: IT DIDN’T TELL ME ABOUT THE FORCE AWAKENS BUT YOU SAID IT WOULD!

It did say “Journey” on the cover. Can’t give everything away before the movie is shown, right?

Well, now I had to read this novel and see what all the fuss was about.

From the prelude showing the short-lived celebration on Coruscant at the end of Jedi all the way to the epilogue, Wendig captured all the things that make Star Wars such a wondrous universe. Although the celebration at the end of the movie made for a great closure to the trilogy, Wendig shows that the Empire didn’t quite scamper into the corner.

Throughout the book, Wendig gives us interludes from across the Galaxy Far, Far Away to show how people are dealing with what’s left of the Empire and what the New Republic is doing, including a certain scruffy-looking nerf herder.

Perhaps it was the will of the Force, but I had gotten Ultimate Star Wars for my birthday, which features short bios on all sorts of things from the Star Wars universe. I found myself reading entries one day, only to recognize them later while reading Aftermath, like a connection to the bounty hunter Jas Emari. It was also cool to spot references to the Rebels TV show, including Fulcrum.

And then there’s Mr. Bones, that lovable battle droid put together by Norra’s son, Temmin. That droid needs his own series. He should team up with Artoo and Threepio posthaste.

I don’t know if I’m in the majority, but I like the idea of having the new canon. It makes perfect sense, especially with the upcoming movies. Gives everyone a clean slate to work with. And fans can still enjoy the now-labeled Legends novels.

Legends. The third rail of Star Wars.

This has been bugging me for ages. I have always known that the Expanded Universe wasn’t part of the official timeline. I wish I could remember the article where I saw it, but it specifically said that the EU is a “might-have-happened,” and whatever George Lucas came up with was official. So you can imagine my confusion when it seems like there’s somebody going, “If you don’t make the novels canon again, I’ll never read a new novel again.” THEY. WEREN’T. CANON. TO. START. WITH.

Ahem.

If there’s anything to be learned from this brouhaha, it’s “don’t read the comments.”

Leaving all that aside, Wendig has crafted a worthy addition to the Star Wars mythos, and I’m looking forward to reading what happens next.

Star Tours Flight 1138 to Star Wars Land boarding soon

Earlier today, while reloading my Twitter feed regarding the D23 Expo, I learned the best news of all: Disney is making a Star Wars Land at Disneyland and (more important to me geographically) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World.

Concept drawing of the Star Wars Land, from StarWars.com
Concept drawing of the Star Wars Land, from StarWars.com

I did all I could to not make the sound of a Krayt dragon. The first version.

Ever since the Star Wars films have blasted their way onto the big screen, I’ve always wanted to experience that world firsthand. I finally got that chance in the early 1990s when our family went on vacation to Disney World. I’m sure upon entering the Disney-MGM Studios, I made a beeline to Star Tours (or clamored my parents to let us go there first). I had seen behind-the-scenes footage on the Disney Channel, but now I was here in the flesh, watching Artoo and Threepio in the first waiting area. I was especially gobsmacked upon taking that wild ride in the Starspeeder. Then, as I walked down the long hallway and entered the merchandising area (Endor Vendors at first, now Tatooine Traders) I gawked at all the cool stuff, wondering if I should get the T-shirt or the keychain.

With Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, which I only first experienced last year, the Star Wars experience was now in 3-D, and you didn’t know where in the galaxy far, far away you were going next. Tatooine? Hoth? Would I ever see Han Solo in the opening portion?

And now comes today’s news. A whole area in the park devoted to Star Wars. A chance to fly the Millennium Falcon? Sign me up! Going into a Cantina? I’ll keep my lightsaber handy, in case any scum and villainy cause trouble. The folks at Disney Imagineering are pretty good at that whole immersive experience thing at the parks, so I’m sure they’ll create something amazing with Star Wars Land.

This would definitely give Disney’s Hollywood Studios the shot in the arm it needs. I’ve always enjoyed going to this park, but despite all the things you can do there, it still felt like there wasn’t a lot to do. Sounded weird in my head, too. And with all the various attractions closing the past few months, I wondered what the heck they had in store.

Perhaps I found my answer.

I’ve never been to the Harry Potter worlds at Universal Orlando, but from what I’ve seen and heard from commercials and such, I have a feeling the Star Wars land will replicate that: the idea of being in the world. Sure, your imagination can conjure all kinds of things after watching the movies or reading the books or playing the video games. But there’s something special about being in a location, soaking all the senses and processing them in your brain.

Whenever this land opens, I will be able to bring a childhood dream to life: to experience more of the Star Wars universe in the real world.

Did that Rodian look at me funny?

Comic contest cavalcade

I was gonna do it. I wasn’t gonna do it.

Late last summer, I read about a talent search the comic book company Top Cow was running. What interested me was they were accepting entries from unpublished writers as well as artists. So I uploaded the rules. Seemed OK. All I had to do was choose from a plethora of characters from the Top Cow universe.

I eventually decided on the futuristic world of the green-haired assassin Aphrodite IX. I picked up several issues featuring the character. I came up with a couple of possible story ideas.

Then I got cold feet.

I closed the comic script file and dillydallied on other writing projects. All the while, I’d get some idea spark, jot it down in the file, then forget about it.

This went on for several months. I eventually resigned to the fact I wasn’t going to enter the contest.

But the character kept nagging at me to write a story. All right, I told myself. I’ll give it a try.

Four days before the deadline in March, I fired up the laptop and got to typing. I came up with a quick outline for the story, typed Page One, Panel One, gulped, and dove right into the tale.

It was done within a couple of days. I read through it to make sure it didn’t have any glaring plot holes, then nervously sent it off to contest land.

Sadly, I did not win. Otherwise, I would have written a blog post that simply read, “OH MY GOD I WON THE CONTEST!1!!1!” It would have been cool to have my name printed on the cover of a comic book saying that I wrote this story, but alas, it wasn’t my time.

Am I burning with rage that I didn’t win? Absolutely not. I’ve got more than 30 rejections from my short story submissions. This is part of the process. I have to tell myself the story wasn’t right for the editors at that particular time. Otherwise, it’ll eat you alive and you may not get back to writing, which is what I should be doing anyway. Trying to get better.

And hey, I entered the contest, so that’s half the battle. The other half: I finished a comic book script.

Should Top Cow do another talent contest, I may give it another shot. Unless I get published elsewhere before that time. Which could happen. Maybe.

The story itself, “Lessons Learned,” was born from Aphrodite IX: The Hidden Files. That comic sports a lengthy timeline of the Aphrodite project. I noticed there was a wide gap from the time the character is put in stasis to when she is awakened in the first issue. I thought, I wonder what one does while in stasis.

The answer is in the script, found below the fold.

Continue reading Comic contest cavalcade