a nice review of Diplomatic Implausibility

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My first-ever Star Trek novel was published in 2001, a TNG novel called Diplomatic Implausibility, which was Worf’s first post-DS9 mission as Federation Ambassador to the Klingon Empire. It also served as the pilot for the I.K.S. Gorkon series of novels I did in the aughts.

Seventeen years after its release, Dan Gunther has reviewed it for the Trek Lit Reviews web site!

An excerpt:

For me, the strength of this novel lies with the characters and the various arcs they go through. At the beginning of the novel, Klag resents Worf a great deal, believing his position to be the result of nepotism due to his being a part of the House of Martok. However, over the course of the book, Klag recognizes Worf for the honorable man he is and they come to an understanding. There are some other great character moments in Diplomatic Implausibility, including an unlikely courtship between Leskit and Kurak which was a great deal of fun. Leskit has a terrifically sarcastic personality and his story was a joy to read.

4-Color to 35-Millimeter: Green Lantern

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Ryan Reynolds puts on Green Lantern’s ring, and the results are mixed to say the least. However, there is one scene that actually makes the movie worthwhile, though it doesn’t actually make the movie, y’know, good. The great superhero movie rewatch bewares the power, Green Lantern‘s light.

An excerpt:

This movie comes in for a lot of crap, to the point that Ryan Reynolds filmed a scene of himself as a time-travelling Deadpool shooting actor Ryan Reynolds in the head while reading the script for Green Lantern to avoid having this film get made.

And yes, it’s a bad movie, but it’s not actually that bad, and it has one scene in it that makes the whole movie worthwhile in my eyes.

It’s the scene where Jordan is surprised when Ferris recognizes him in costume still being Hal Jordan, and Ferris makes the single greatest speech in the entire seventy-year history of superhero movies:

“I’ve known you my whole life! I’ve seen you naked! You don’t think I would recognize you because I can’t see your cheekbones?”

Thus Green Lantern finally addresses the problem that every single live-action superhero production has had since Kirk Alyn first tried and failed to convince us that a pair of glasses would be enough of a disguise for Clark Kent in 1948. Most superhero disguises are adequate for hiding the person’s identity from the general public. But almost all superhero disguises would never for one second fool anyone who’d met both the superhero and the secret identity. It’s impossible to credit that someone who knew Barry Allen wouldn’t realize he was the Flash under that mask that still leaves his eyes, jaw, nose, and mouth exposed—especially since he has the same voice. Every once in a while you get a Christopher Reeve who is able to make it work with body language and voice work, but mostly you get the same person, and there’s just no way to believe that anyone would be fooled who met both.

And finally in Green Lantern we get exactly the right reaction from Ferris, the one we kept seeing characters not have and look incredibly stupid and unobservant for seven decades.

It’s only a pity the rest of the movie is kinda dumb.

I’m in The Neutral Zone!

When I visited the Star Trek The Original Series Set Tour this past June, I did an interview in the briefing room for The Neutral Zone podcast that the set tour runs. I talked mostly about my Trek writing career, as well as my upcoming stuff. (Hilariously, the two NDA items I couldn’t talk about are only half revealed — one is the Alien novel, the other still hasn’t been announced yet.)

Check it out below!

what’s new on Patreon

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Here’s what’s gone up on my Patreon in the month of November:

  • $1/month and up: a review of The Spy Who Dumped Me, with a review of The Grand Budapest Hotel coming in the next few days
  • $2/month and up: several new cat pictures
  • $5/month and up: reviews of the tenth season of M*A*S*HSnowfall, and Marvel’s Daredevil
  • $7/month and up: several excerpts from Mermaid Precinct
  • $10/month and up: two new vignettes, one featuring Shirley Holmes and Jack Watson, the other featuring Lieutenants Manfred and Kellan from the Dragon Precinct series
  • $20/month and up: first looks at each chapter of Mermaid Precinct as I completed them

Please consider supporting me in these endeavors. You’re missing out on some really fine stuff if you don’t.

Short Treks: “Calypso”

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I review the second Short Treks episode, belatedly (couldn’t watch it in Italy, annoyingly), “Calypso,” starring the great Aldis Hodge and cowritten by Michael Chabon.

An excerpt:

This is a sweet, wonderful, tragic story. It has the Trek hallmark of bonding between people from wildly different backgrounds to make each other better, as well as the belief that just because intelligence is artificial, doesn’t make it not real. (A theme explored in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” and “Requiem for Methuselah” on the original series, and through the characters of Data and the EMH on TNG and Voyager, respectively.) And while no details are forthcoming about life in the 33rd century (the farthest ahead in the timeline any onscreen Trek has gone, supplanting Voyager‘s “Living Witness”), we do know that humanity continues to thrive

me at Wintercon this weekend!

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This weekend I’ll be at my last convention of 2018, Wintercon: New York Comic and Sci-Fi Expo, which will be held at the Resorts World Casino in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens.

I’ll be at the Bard’s Tower booth with my brudda from anudda mudda, David Mack. We’ll be selling and signing books both days of the convention (Saturday the 1st and Sunday the 2nd of December). Come on by and say hi and buy a book or six!

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story review

This is the review I did of Solo for my Patreon, which I wrote back in June when the movie hit theatres. For more reviews like this, please support my Patreon — to get the regular movie reviews, it’s only $1/month.

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The biggest problem with Solo: A Star Wars Story is that the title character is the least interesting person in it.

Given that Han Solo was, up until now, the most popular character in the Star Wars franchise, this is kind of a problem.

First off, let me say up front that I enjoyed myself at this movie. It’s a fun little heist movie, albeit one with too many car chases and blaster battles and too little actual heisting. (Tellingly, the two best sequences in the entire movie are the actual heists.) The visuals are superb, the acting is mostly first-rate, the pacing is good, and we get some superlative characterizations of many of the folks in the movie, some of them with very little screen time.

There are a number of show-stealing performances in this from the supporting cast, starting with Woody Harrelson as Beckett, who is fantastic. Harrelson has aged nicely into the scrappy-redneck-middle-aged-dude-who’s-seen-it-all type, and his Beckett is exactly that role, and he nails it. You know what’s going to happen to him, because his character is that much of a stereotype, but Harrelson makes it work with his floppy hair and innate charisma.

Emilia Clarke does some superb work here, as her Qi’ra in the opening sequence is young and hopeful and in love with Han, and when we next see her at Dryden Vos’s party, it’s blindingly obvious to everyone (except Han, of course) that she’s not that person anymore. The tragedy of her life is etched on her every facial expression, and while the idealistic young person comes out periodically during the Kessel run, she’s still very obviously trapped. After all, the tattoo on her wrist isn’t Dryden’s, it’s Crimson Dawn’s, and her killing Dryden doesn’t change her enforced loyalty. She’s called a lieutenant, but the body language between her and Dryden makes it clear that she’s his slave—but, as we’re reminded repeatedly, Dryden has people he reports to, also. Dryden is in charge of his fiefdom, but he’s as beholden to Darth Maul (which was a great reveal, by the way, and ties in nicely to the Clone Wars TV series) as Qi’ra is to Dryden. The ending just shuffles Qi’ra a little higher on the slave food chain, but she’s still a slave. Clarke subtly and magnificently plays the character’s tragedy.

Speaking of which, Paul Bettany, like Harrelson, does a remarkable job of taking a character who’s a big honking stereotype and making it work. In this case, it’s entirely due to his honeyed voice and physical charisma.

Much has been said about Donald Glover’s amazing Lando Calrissian, and I will only add to the praise, as he’s magnificent. I’m 100% convinced that this is a younger version of the guy we met in The Empire Strikes Back, and Glover imbues him with tremendous charm and verve and wit and roguish charisma. So many great bits, from his negotiating with Beckett to his shock at realizing Han has figured out how he cheats at cards to his devastation at L3-37’s demise to his dictating his likely very exaggerated memoirs.

Speaking of L3, Phoebe Waller-Bridge has the biggest theft in this movie, and L3 is an absolute delight. Her droids’ rights crusade is beautifully played, and it’s way past time we had a droid in the SWuniverse that identified as female. Her death is also a massive tragedy, as it’s obvious that Lando cares for her more than any of the organics he knows (except maybe his mother). Her snarky commentary on the proceedings is greatly missed after Kessel, but of course, she needed at the very least to be damaged in order for us to eventually get Han and Chewie in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. But the best moment in the film is when she frees one droid and it starts a cascade effect of droids rebelling, which also leads to the mine slaves rebelling, and the pure chaos it unleashes, allowing the gang to steal what they need.

Beckett’s other cohorts, who are killed during the train heist, are also excellent. Val, as played by Thandie Newton, is brilliantly competent, and it’s telling that she dies entirely on her own terms. Rio not so much, but Jon Favreau imbued him with a full personality, making his death all the more frustrating.

All the above do an amazing job of stealing the show, and that’s both the movie’s greatest joy and its greatest flaw, because the two leads make that theft ridiculously easy.

First off, while Joonas Suotamo is better here than he was in The Last Jedi, he’s still a pale imitation of his predecessor. Peter Mayhew did such a superb job of imbuing Chewbacca with emotion and personality, and Suotamo just isn’t there yet. The improvement since last year’s film is good to see, but it’s frustrating to get only about 60% of the Chewbacca we should be getting.

And the biggest issue is what I said in the first paragraph: Alden Ehrenreich’s young Han Solo just isn’t that interesting.

Only part of that is Ehrenreich’s fault. Where Glover had me completely convinced that he would age into Billy Dee Williams, I never quite got that same vibe from Ehrenreich, that he would age into Harrison Ford. (I did get the vibe that he might age into Karl Urban.) He has the Han Solo smile and the Han Solo arrogance, but not quite the Han Solo personality. It’s probably never more evident than in the line where he talks about the landing gear maneuver he learned from a friend, who died while doing it. Harrison Ford would’ve nailed that line, but Ehrenreich’s delivery simply did not, er, land. (Sorry…)

But the script doesn’t do him any favors, either. We don’t get nearly enough of an impression of Han’s life on Correllia because the movie is far more interested in showing us a spectacularly uninteresting land speeder chase instead. It’s not the most boring “car” chase in a Star Wars film, as that place of dishonor is still held by the early scenes of Attack of the Clones, but it’s right down there. And that was time that could’ve been spent actually showing what Han is supposed to be escaping, and why he wants to go. Instead, we get lots of people telling us how bad Correllia is, and also a car chase that has me bored before we’re ten minutes into the movie.

There are so many other, more interesting movies that Solo hints at. The heist movie with Beckett, Val, and Rio. Qi’ra’s story of how she got off Correllia. Lando and L3’s adventures together. Lando and his Mom’s adventures together. Hell, anything with Glover’s Lando.

Having said all that, Solo is fun. The train heist is a truly spectacular bit of filmmaking, and honestly the movie’s worth seeing in theatres just for that scene. There are some truly fine characters inhabiting this film.

And I should give credit to one thing: I totally buy the first meeting of Han and Chewie and their friendship as it develops across the movie. That’s the one element of these two characters that both the script and Ehrenreich and Suotamo get completely right.

Best of all, though, is that this movie does what Disney has generally done since taking over the SW franchise, and that’s show what life is like for actual real people in the galaxy far, far away. The first six films were all concerned with Big Events and Major Happenings and Heroes of Destiny. But The Force Awakens and especially Rogue One, The Last Jedi, and Solo give us a universe of people and consequences and what happens to the normal person growing up on these worlds and facing a horrible life. One of the fascinating things about the SW universe generally, which George Lucas doesn’t get much credit for, is that it’s one that reflects the history of humanity in that most of these characters are people who are not educated, illiterate, and enslaved. The first two are more subtle (though my friend Ryan Britt examined it in depth in the title essay of Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths), but the latter is front and center. It’s a good reminder that the notion of literacy for anyone other than the upper classes and the notion that slavery is bad are both, historically speaking, very recent developments. For most of the history of civilization, most people couldn’t read and slavery was a commonplace practice. And in the SW universe that’s still the case, and this movie does a very good job of showing just how awful life is for most people.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is the most flawed of the films that Disney has put out since taking over the franchise, and that’s no doubt partly due to the tumultuous process by which it was created (with original directors Phil Lord & Christopher Miller being replaced by Ron Howard, who reshot about 80% of it). But it’s still tremendous fun, with a plethora of Easter eggs for SW fans (and also for fans of the Indiana Jones movies), from “I hate you” “I know” to “I have a good feeling about this” to why C3PO thought the Millennium Falcon had a weird computer in Empire to the presence of a crystal skull and a golden idol in Dryden’s office to the Imperial Death March playing in the background of the empire’s recruiting video, etc. etc. etc.

Stan Lee and William Goldman, RIP

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Two writers who I would consider huge influences on me, particularly if you asked me that question in 1990 or so, died while I was on vacation in Italy.

William Goldman was the bigger surprise of the two. He’s also the one that affected me less, but still hit pretty hard. Even if Goldman had done nothing else, he gave us The Princess Bride, both book and movie, each of which is an absolute classic of its form. (And if you haven’t read the book, do so. It’s different, obviously, from the film, and digresses more, and has a nastier ending, and lengthy flashbacks, but it’s still magnificent.)

But Goldman also was one of the finest screenwriters extant, not just for his adaptation of his own novel, but for tons of other films as well. He also wrote some great books about screenwriting. My personal favorite is Which Lie Did I Tell? as it told the story of The Ghost and the Darkness, which is not his best film, but the story of its development is fascinating. It also led me to seek out the real story of the Tsavo lions that Goldman based the movie on, and which served as the basis of the plot of the Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers novella Invincible that I co-authored with my good buddy David Mack.

Goldman also wrote one of my favorite lines of dialogue in any work of fiction, spoken by Inigo Montoya to Westley shortly before their swordfish the in The Princess Bride: “I work for Vizzini to pay the bills. There’s not a lot of money in revenge.” With that one simple line, Goldman addresses the elephant in the room of far too many fiction plots, to wit, how the heck do people pay for stuff? There are so many fictional characters whom I wonder how they feed and clothe themselves.

 

Of course, the past master at that was Stan Lee, who also died recently. This was less of a surprise, as he was in his 90s and his wife Joan died last year. Unlike Goldman, whom I only knew as a fan, I actually knew Stan personally and worked with him extensively when I worked for Byron Preiss from 1993-1999. I was the editor in charge of a series of Marvel novels and anthologies, and for the latter, Stan served as the nominal editor, which basically meant he wrote introductions to each one. Since Stan’s name was on it as editor, I could also write for the anthos (other editors in house edited my stories), which means two of my first-ever works of fiction (“An Evening in the Bronx with Venom,” written with John Gregory Betancourt, in The Ultimate Spider-Man and “Improper Procedure” in The Ultimate Silver Surfer) have Stan’s name on the cover.

Stan’s importance and influence can’t be overstated, especially in this era when the most popular movies and TV shows on the planet star superheroes. His desire to show superheroes as real people with real problems is a big reason why the comics he did with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, his brother Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and others in the 1960s became so popular and have endured for so long.

Working with Stan was an absolute delight. His persona was not an act. I’d call him on the phone and he’d sound the same as he did when he was narrating animated series or giving speeches at conventions. My favorite memory of him was at San Diego Comic-Con in 1996 or 1997. Byron invited Stan and Joan to dinner with the staff, including me. Stan spent the entire dinner with Byron’s then-eight-year-old daughter, playing with the action figures she’d bought that day on the show floor.

The amazing thing about Stan was that he was always having fun. He had the best job in the world, and he never lost sight of that.

The best thing about working with Stan is that he still had that great work ethic. When it was time to do an intro for one of the Marvel anthologies, we’d talk over the phone about what he’d write, I’d give him a deadline, and then one of two things would happen: he’d turn it in on time or he’d turn it in early. He was never late with anything.

I also got to help plot a novel Stan cowrote with Stan Timmons, The Alien Factor, a World War II-era science fiction novel that Byron published through his ibooks imprint in 2002 (four years after I wrote a detailed plot based on notes from Stan and Byron for Timmons to base the manuscript on). Never did get a copy of the book — Byron and I weren’t on speaking terms by the time it came out. I should probably try to track it down……..

 

Both William Goldman and Stan Lee helped me become the writer I am. I’ve written a lot of superhero fiction and a lot of deconstructed fantasy stories, and I don’t think the Super City Cops or the Dragon Precinct series would exist without the influence of these two great writers.

Rest in peace, gentlemen.

 

stuff for what I’m thankful

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While the history of Thanksgiving is one filled with nonsense, and based on assumptions about the British settlers in New England and the local Natives that have proven to be mostly bullshit, the actual holiday is a generally noble thing: pausing to reflect and give thanks for things, plus also time to spend with family, whether blood or chosen or both.

This particular Thanksgiving has been unique for me because I spent it with my wife in a foreign country where it was pretty much just Thursday. (Having said that, the stores do Black Friday here, an “event” whose sole reason for existence is because many folks have the day after Thanksgiving off, a uniquely American thing, yet the transmogrification of that into Black Friday is now a worldwide phenomenon. Everyone calls it “Black Friday,” mind you, even if English isn’t their primary language. It’s like Cinco de Mayo. But I digress……..)

And because we’re vacationing in Italy, my Thanksgiving day post is going up on Black Friday instead, because I’ve been too busy relaxing and having fun and enjoying our Tuscan getaway to write the traditional giving-thanks blog post on the day itself.

So anyhow, as I sit here on a train that is taking us from Firenze back to Roma (though I’m actually posting it in our hotel room in Roma, as the train wifi in Italy is not great), here’s some of the stuff for what I’m thankful:

First, the obvious: my wife, Wrenn Simms, with whom I am now finishing the niftiest vacation ever. We spend a ridiculous amount of time together, since we both work from home, and we just spent 2.5 weeks gadding about Italy. We’re still not sick of each other, we still love being with each other, and we still love each other. This trip has been a delight, as we both love a lot of the same things (museums, wandering around, shopping, drinking copious amounts of cappuccino, drinking an equally copious amount of wine, eating superlative food, etc.).

Second, my family, both blood and chosen: The Forebearance, the Godmommy, Meredith, Matt, Anneliese, Sas, David, Lilly, Alex & the brood, and all the aunts, uncles, and cousins.

My dear friends, too numerous to list, but basically everyone we invite to our house for our parties (you know who you are) and with whom we spend as much time as we can, even if it’s not as much time as we’d like.

My karate family, which is manifold and glorious. We start with the adults at our Honbu (headquarters) in the Bronx, with whom I train and spar. Then there’s the kids whom I teach and encourage and whose progress always fills me with pride and joy. Then there’s the kids I teach in my afterschool programs, who always keep me on my toes. Then there’s our sister dojos in South Africa, Japan, Chile, and right here in Italy. The Italian dojo in particular has shown me and Wrenn tremendous hospitality and love during this trip, including a lovely day trip to San Gimignano and Volterra, a Saturday-night wander around Firenze, several delicious meals (including a fun celebration in honor of Kyoshi Filippo’s twenty-fifth anniversary as a karateka), not to mention three wonderful classes at the dojo (and also getting to help teach a kids class). In addition, I have several friends who study other martial arts styles who are all part of a friendly, wonderful, supportive community. Being a martial artist has enriched my life and my health in so many ways. I expected the improved physical health; I’m continually surprised and grateful for the mental health, the friendships, the camaraderie.

My readers, without whom my writing career would be much less impressive. I’m especially grateful for the constant feedback one can get in the twenty-first century, what with blogs, e-mail, Goodreads, Amazon, social media, etc. Sure, it’s not always positive feedback, but all feedback is useful to some degree or other. And this year in particular I’ve been enjoying seeing people discovering older works of mine for the first time.

The fine folks at Tor.com, including the wonderful staff and the even more wonderful readers. The site is one of the most vital sources of pop-culture commentary around, and I’m honored to be a part of it. The conversations on my own writings—whether the superhero movie rewatch, the Star Trek Discovery reviews, or the reviews of Marvel’s Netflix series—have been cogent and friendly and non-acrimonious, a rare beast on the interwebs.

My Patreon supporters, who have given me a method of continuing to write TV and movie reviews that don’t fit in with Tor.com’s mission statement (or which someone else is writing about for them), and whose support helps keep the lights on and the bills paid.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Mike McPhail, and Greg Schauer, the wonderful people at eSpec Books, who took over the publication of the “Precinct” series, reissuing Dragon Precinct, Unicorn Precinct, Goblin Precinct, Gryphon Precinct, and Tales from Dragon Precinct, as well as signing me up for four more books: the just-completed Mermaid Precinct, as well as the novels Phoenix Precinct and Manticore Precinct and another collection, imaginatively titled More Tales from Dragon Precinct. They also reissued Without a License, and we’re talking about doing a second collection. I’m so happy to see my longest-running original series have a happy new home. And Danielle challenging me to come up with two new novels has actually proven to be a wonderful prompt for new stories about the Cliff’s End Castle Guard.

Speaking of that, huge thanks to the folks who supported “The Fall of Iaron,” another story set in Flingaria, but not featuring the Castle Guard. It’s encouraging me to do more stories outside the norm in this fantasy world of mine.

My three biggest projects this year were finishing A Furnace Sealed, the first book in my urban fantasy series about a nice Jewish boy from the Bronx who hunts monsters, and writing the novels Alien: Isolation and Mermaid Precinct. All three books will be out in early 2019. I am extremely thankful to Kevin J. Anderson, Marie Whittaker, and D.J. Butler at WordFire Press, Steve Saffel at Titan Books, Steve Tzirlin at 20th Century Fox, and the aforementioned eSpec folks for all their work in shepherding these three novels through.

My agent Lucienne Diver, who remains the best ever, as well as her wonderful husband and daughter. Lucienne and Pete and Abby were dear friends before Lucienne was my agent, and they remain dear friends all these years later. I wouldn’t want anyone else representing me.

I’m extremely grateful to Chris Metzen, the former story coordinator at Blizzard Games, with whom I worked closely on my World of Warcraft and StarCraft fiction a decade ago. Chris was the one who recommended me for a game tie-in (the one that sent me out to L.A. back in May), which is proving to be a phenomenal project that I’m having a blast working on. Can’t wait to be able to talk about it. I will, however, thank the folks involved in that project, in California, Vancouver, and Korea, who have been fabulous to work with.

All the conventions that have had me as guests this year. Some were new conventions that invited me directly for the first time (e.g., ConGlomeration). Some were the regular conventions I attend every year (e.g., Dragon Con). And some were done under the auspices of Bard’s Tower (e.g., Planet Comic-Con). All of them have been amazing, giving me the opportunity to spend time with friends, with readers, and with colleagues. Huge thanks to all the con organizers, and to Alexi Vandenberg and Erika Kula Marter at Bard’s Tower for getting me out into the world.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (who run the four zoos and one aquarium in New York City), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (who also run the Cloisters), the New York Botanical Garden, and the American Museum of Natural History, all places we’re members of, which enables us to visit them any time we need a sanity day. The glorious displays of art and nature at those locations never fails to renew and replenish us.

Thanks to everyone who reads this blog, and who follows me on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram, for reading my inane ramblings. And thanks to anyone I might have forgotten, as I’m sure I did, because there are a lot of people who make my life awesome, and it’s far too easy for me to lose track of them.

Happy (day after) Thanksgiving!