Your Moment of TrekZen*.

Courtesy of friend Aaron Harvey, we have this bit of 1970s Star Trek merchandising goodness.

I have to admit – and this is something I get to say with decreasing frequency as the years go by – but I’d never even heard of this particular item let alone seen one before yesterday. It’s totally insane and yet has everything I love about that early era of Star Trek merch.

First, there’s the obvious “label slapping,” whereby the toy manufacturer just adds the name of a popular TV show, movie, comic book, or whatever onto something that evokes the tagged property in no meaningful way whatsoever. But then there’s the groovy box art that really makes this worthwhile. I admit I like it way more than the actual “Phaser Rocket Gun.” I’d actually rather collect just the box over the toy itself.

This gem was produced in the UK and likely never made it over here to the States in any signficant numbers, making it a definite rarity and item of curiosity for many a hardcore Star Trek collector. There was one other toy from “Lone Star” that I did know about: their “Inter-Space Communicator” which as you can plainly see bears absolutely no resemblance to anything you might’ve seen Kirk or Spock talking into on the original series.

“Can you hear me now?”

I didn’t do a particularly deep dive on this, and so only found these two examples of Star Trek merch from Lone Star, which I’ve decided had to be the British successor to our very own and very much beloved Remco from the late 1960s while the original show was still in production. You know what I’m talking about…..

For anyone interested along with any of you who keep insisting I’m hard to shop for, as I write this there’s currently an eBay auction for the “Phaser Rocket Gun,” with an opening bid of $350. So, so you know….bid early and often!

(* = with acknowledgments–and apologies–to The Daily Show)

December writing wrap-up.

Our journey into the future continues as we welcome 2022! Let’s take a look at the future history calendar to see what milestones we might expect from this new year.

Oh.

Well, damn. I wonder if we taste like chicken.

(If you’re one of the few people left who doesn’t get the reference, go here.)

The last month of 2021 was…active? Yeah, that’s a word. There was writing, of course, along with a lot of reading, reviewing, commenting, and discussing all sorts of other things. Since this is my monthly writing wrap-up blog, I should probably just stick to talking about that here.

So, with that in mind, what went down in December? Let’s have a look-see….

Continue reading “December writing wrap-up.”

My first two decades as an alleged novelist.

How’s that song go? “It’s been a long road…..”

Yeah. Twenty years in the rearview mirror, just like that.

It was on this date in 2002 that my first novel was “officially” published. As it happens, it was a Star Trek novel, In the Name of Honor, and as is often the case with mass-market paperbacks, it had been showing up in stores in the days running up to its scheduled release date. Today, however, is the day I circled on the calendar way back when.

Little did I know what might come next.

Those of you familiar with my secret origin story know that this first novel came about after I sold short stories to each of the first three Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthologies. I still recall the afternoon that John Ordover, at the time the editor overseeing the bulk of Pocket Books’ Star Trek fiction output, called me at my office in the fall of 1999 to tell me that he was buying my story “The Aliens Are Coming!” for the third edition of the annual contest and its resulting anthology. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something along the lines of, “Okay, I’m buying your story. This is your third sale, so you can’t enter the contest anymore. I think it’s time you wrote a Star Trek novel for me.” The rest…as they say…is a frappin’ mystery.

(Takeaway: All of this is John’s fault.)

Is it a stretch to say that phone call changed the course of my life? I don’t think so. Until then, I was rather happy with my career as a software developer. Writing fiction was something I’d taken to doing as a creative outlet, with no real thoughts – serious or otherwise – about ever being professionally published. That was something “real writers” did. I was just writing goofy stories to make my friends laugh, or the occasional bit of Star Trek fan fiction just because it was fun. Only after a dear friend, Deb Simpson, basically dared me to enter a story in that first SNW contest did I ever write something with the idea someone might consider buying it, and I was as stunned as anyone else when my name was announced as one of that first contest’s winners.

At the time I considered it a fluke, but there was no denying the utter rush of seeing my name in a table of contents in an actual book you bought at an actual bookstore. There’s nothing quite like it, I think; that sense of accomplishment, indelibly recorded for all the world to see. Even then, In the Name of Honor was different. This was the first time my name was on the front cover, and that was its own level of “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” Holy hell. How did this happen?

(Again, blame John.)

They should find a way to capture that sensation so you can drink or smoke it, because it’s an incredible feeling, and even after all this time, the experience is the same every time I get my first look at a new cover with my name on it. If that excitement ever fades, I’ll know it’s time to get out of this game and go do something else.

Since then, I’ve been afforded some amazing opportunities – things I can’t imagine ever doing if not for those SNW contests and this first novel. For one thing, I met the dude who would become my frequent writing partner to say nothing of my best friend, Kevin Dilmore, but I’ve also befriended so many other people – writers, fans and fellow Star Trek enthusiasts, people involved with the various Star Trek television series and films (and a few non-Trek, productions, as well), and even a couple of honest-to-goodness astronauts.

Eventually, the writing and everything that came with it expanded to influence so much of what I was doing that I cast off my corporate shackles and took up the challenge of writing full-time. I don’t mind saying that was an exciting and yet petrifying period, but I have absolutely no regrets.

Over the years, I’ve written and published original fiction, and even had the chance to write stories in other favorite “universes” like 24, Planet of the Apes, and Predator, but Star Trek has been and continues to be very, very good to me. Without a doubt, Star Trek opened all of those other doors but if you’d told me back in 2002 I’d still be writing and publishing anything – let alone Star Trek stories – twenty years later, I’d have thought you were high. If you told me back then I might eventually find myself in a position where Star Trek pretty much dominates my every waking and working moment, I’d have asked for your dealer’s contact info.

But, here we are. It’s been a long road, all right, but I’m honestly having the time of my life.

Every day, I’m privileged to work with talented and dedicated people who love this thing as much as I do and who want to do right by it. Any list of people to thank is pretty damned long at this point and I know I’d accidentally leave off someone, but I’d like to think they know who they are. They have – each and every one of them – elevated my game, and I can only hope I’ve somehow found a way to return that favor at some point along the way.

With that said, the opportunities and success I’ve enjoyed these past twenty years all track back to In the Name of Honor and – even more so – that first Strange New Worlds contest. For that, I am and will forever remain grateful to John Ordover along with writer and SNW editor Dean Wesley Smith and Paula Block for making it all possible in the first place.

Here’s to the next twenty years, or however many the Fates decide I have in me.

So, 2021….or is it “2020 won?”

2021: Because apparently there was just too much 2020 to stuff into a single year.

It’s a year later than the last time I did this sort of post, and where are we? COVID is still a thing, albeit in something resembling an “evolved fashion.” Just like 2020 and despite the protestations of YouTube and TikTok mouth holes everywhere, I did what I’ve always done when it comes to health stuff: Trusted the advice of people who actually went to school to learn about this shit, and did what they suggested I do. Because that’s really all there was to it. It appears we may all well be turning a corner, even though many challenges remain (Did someone say, “Omicron?”). I guess we’ll have to see what the new year brings on multiple fronts. Here’s hoping.

On the home front, we’ve done our bit to keep on keeping on. Our daughters, now in 9th and 8th grades, were able to return to in-person learning at their respective schools. It occurs to me that these next few months mark the last time they will be on different school schedules, as they’ll both be at the same high school starting in the fall. How all of that time flew past remains a mystery. Our oldest daughter continues to pursue her interest in music. She’s playing or learning to play three different instruments: viola, piano, and guitar, and she plays the former for her school orchestra. She’s also got a thing for arts and crafts, namely painting and pottery, and she reads a lot. I mean a lot.

Meanwhile, our younger daughter continues to play volleyball, both for her school team as well as a private club out in town. She’s also into her own hobbies like puzzles and reading. Indeed, we got her a lavishly illustrated, leatherbound edition of The Princess Bride as a Christmas present. Oh, and a new laptop. Both girls continue to make the principal’s honor roll at school, so all is well on that front.

My wife is enjoying a bit of a well-earned work sabbatical. Taking advantage of this time, she’s picked up her own violin and resumed playing (she originally went to college on a music scholarship, you know) and is even attending lessons with our viola-playing daughter. She’s also taking guitar lessons. I get to listen to her and our daughter playing upstairs, which is kinda neat, I must say.

Then there’s me.

Work at home is a whole mood forever, now.

One personal item I haven’t mentioned – either at the time or since then – is that it’s coming up on a year since my father passed away. Outside of immediate family, it was news I shared only with a very small, very close circle of people (if you counted on one hand you’d have fingers left over). I didn’t have a lot to offer about it at the time and still don’t. To say that my relationship with him was “strained” — especially the last 15 years or so — is a pretty big understatement. His passing brought forth a lot of anger I’d been holding in for a long time, and while I think I’ve let most of it go I can’t deny there’s still a bit of it lurking around the fringes. I know there’s nothing to be done about it now, but I’m still working to a point where I can shove whatever’s left into a box and be done with it.

In happier news, 2021 saw me continuing in my role as a consultant to ViacomCBS Global Franchise Management, and that arrangement has been renewed for 2022. What does this mean? Basically, I consult on various projects such as novels, comics, games, and other initiatives that help expand “the Star Trek brand” beyond just TV and film. To that end, I read a lot of proposals, outlines, scripts, manuscripts, and whatever else they want me to review and comment on so far as making sure everything stays consistent with what’s been established on screen. This primarily means efforts based on the newer Star Trek series, and we’ve had a bunch of those made available for your viewing pleasure since 2017.

It should surprise no one that this train is definitely continuing to roll. New seasons of existing shows in development? Yep. New series on the drawing board? Ayup. Other things here and there? You just never know. There’s also no shortage of material tying into the classic/”legacy” series, and I get pulled into some of that action, too. So, yeah….they’re finding all sorts of ways to keep me busy, which is good because there are standing orders that I’m not to be left unsupervised for any great length of time.

On the writing front, most of the buzz around my 2021 output has circled around the Star Trek: Coda trilogy, the project on which I worked with friends and fellow wordsmiths James Swallow and David Mack. The culmination of two years’ worth of on-again/off-again brainstorming, plotting, planning, and writing is now out there in the wild, bringing down the curtain on 20 years’ worth of storytelling and interconnected continuity spanning dozens of tales across multiple Star Trek series. It was a tremendous undertaking unlike anything I’ve ever attempted since starting this odd writing journey of mine. How we carried it off is ultimately up to each individual reader to decide, but — at least according to some of the email I received — anyone who thinks we didn’t take the job seriously or (worse) we approached it callously, cynically, or disdainfully is simply mistaken.

Elsewhere in the Star Trek universe, I was privileged once again to join a very talented team of writers for the Shackleton Expanse Campaign Guide, a comprehensive sourcebook for the Star Trek Adventures roleplaying game.

Under the guidance of the game’s project manager, Jim Johnson, I got to work alongside friends and fellow writers Derek Tyler Attico, Kelli Fitzpatrick, and Scott Pearson as we put together a pretty fat portion of the book’s contents. This does not even include the material provided by other writers including Patrick Goodman, Rich Handley, John Kennedy, Ian Lemke, Fred Love, and Aaron Pollyea, to say nothing of the game designers, artists, and other creators Modiphius brought to the table. It is by far the most work for a single project on which I’ve worked for the game. I have no idea what the future holds for me and Star Trek Adventures, but I’ve learned to never say, “Never,” when it comes to this kind of thing.

Outside the Star Trek realm, Kevin and I got back together to write a few short stories. One of those, “Protocol 23,” was published in 2021 as just one of the tales comprising Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2021. Edited by Bob Greenberger and published by the band at Crazy 8 Press, it was a bit of a departures from the usual sorts of things Kevin and I write together. What can I say…we made ourselves laugh, and it’s always a treat to work with Bob for any reason. I don’t know if we’ll dip our toes into a pond quite like that again, but I think the premise we came up with for this story lends itself to additional tales. I guess we’ll see.

We wrote two other stories during 2021, both for anthologies which will be out sometime in the coming year. The first is for The Four ???? of the Apocalypse, edited by Keith R.A. DeCandido and Wrenn Sims through their small-press publishing house, Whysper Wude. A publication date hasn’t yet been set, but I’m sure Keith and Wrenn will let us know in due course.

The other story is another departure for us: a space western! It’s for a publisher with whom we haven’t previously worked, and for an editor who’s a friend but this is their first time inviting us to a project they’re shepherding. We had a lot of fun with it and it’s another concept we think lends itself to additional stories. Whether that happens depends on time, availability, and other factors, but we’re certainly keen to revisit the premise if the planets align.

Which brings us to 2022’s writing! Kevin and I are planning a pitch or two for anthologies we know will be opening to submissions in the near future. We’re also still yakking about things like revisiting the aforementioned space western setting as well as the Vogue Theater we created for our 2020 story “Helluloid” for the anthology It Came from the Multiplex from Hex Publishers. We’ll see how things shake out.

Elsewhere, the coming year will see publication of Jurassic World: The Official Cookbook from Insight Editions. This was another step outside my normal wheelhouse, but my editors at Insight were confident I could pull it off. I had a lot of fun with this one, especially working with food stylist Elena Craig, who created 50 recipes that evoke the fictional island of Isla Nublar and the cuisine of the equally fictitious Jurassic World resort and indeed the very real Costa Rica region where the island is supposedly located. That will be out in April.

Meanwhile, I’m toiling away on a new (as yet unannounced) project, with a due date in late February. I’m also considering what might be next after that and I have a few ideas I’d like to pursue. Of course, if someone comes knocking with another job offer, that’ll change my priorities, so I guess we’ll just have to see what we see.

I may even get to sleep a little this year.

Nah. Probably not.

Star Trek: Coda – interview round-up!

It’s been pretty quiet around here, lately. My only excuse is that I’ve been busy on the writing and consulting fronts, as well as the usual sorts of family and home things along with my volunteer stints at the museum. Between all of that and just trying to find small chunks of time to decompress if not outright relax, I haven’t devoted much in the way of effort to this space (so the thought of running something like a Patreon or Substack page where I’d ask people to throw money my way for new “content” and other online interaction seems pretty ludicrous, yeah?). I’d like to say things will be better in the new year, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, all right?

For those of you tuning in to our program already in progress, you may or not be aware that over the past few months, the three books comprising the Star Trek: Coda trilogy were released. You may have heard about it, as word started spreading way back in February. Up to that point, I along with my literary co-conspirators, James Swallow and David Mack, had toiled in secrecy dating back to the summer of 2019. Over the next two years in on-again/off-again fashion, we developed a storyline to drive the books we each contributed to the effort.

I kicked things off with Book I: Moments Asunder, which hit shelves back on September 28th. Jim picked up the action a month later on October 26th with his Book II: The Ashes of Tomorrow, and on November 30th Dave brought it all home with the concluding Book III: Oblivion’s Gate.

It’s fair to say the books have generated a broad spectrum of reactions. There are reviews aplenty littering the lawless hellscape that is the internet, from personal posts on individual social media platforms to message boards and Facebook groups all the way to full-blown critiques from all manner of websites. Beyond simply thanking them for the time and effort they expended, I tend to refrain from engaging those who post such reviews be they postive, negative, apathetic, whatever. I never want folks thinking I’m lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce should they somehow cross whatever imaginary line they feel I’ve drawn for such things. For one thing, it’s a dick move for an author to make, and there are plenty of examples of authors being justifiably roasted for going after readers who’ve posted something less than a glowing review of their latest pet project.

So yeah, we’re not doing that here.

In conjunction with each book’s publication, the three of us have all participated in various interviews. Most of these consist of one of us flying solo, as the thrust of said interview was our individual entry in the trilogy. However, the three of us have also had the opportunity to get together and discuss the entire project, its evolution, and so on. I’ve done my best to keep track of them as well as hunt for those one or two I missed, and collected links to them here. For those of you who’ve been holding off on listening to such interviews until you’ve had a chance to read the books or for some other reason you’re only now getting around to searching out such things, I’ve attempted to compile a one-stop shopping list.

First up? Me, talking about the trilogy in general and Moments Asunder in particular:
Trekcore.com (print interview)
Daily Star Trek News (print interview)
Beyond Trek Podcast
Go Trek Yourself Podcast
Literary Treks Podcast
Positively Trek Podcast
Trek Geeks Podcast
Mission Log Podcast

Next, we’ve got Jim with his take on our collaboration, highlighted by his own contribution, The Ashes of Tomorrow:
Trekcore.com (print interview)
Beyond Trek Podcast
Literary Treks Podcast
Positively Trek Podcast

Last but certainly not least, we’ve got Dave with his own thoughts on the joint effort, anchored by his senses-shattering* conclusion, Oblivion’s Gate:
Trekcore.com (print interview)
Beyond Trek Podcast
Literary Treks Podcast
Positively Trek Podcast
PaulSemel.com (print interview)
Traversing the Stars Podcast

And as if that’s not enough, we also have interviews with all three of us! Together! Noses pressed against our webcams as we stare out from our respective pillow forts into the webosphere:
Infinite Diversity Podcast

Is that all of them? I feel like there should be more. Either way, methinks that’s a lot of yakking.

Anyway, reading and listening to all of that should keep you busy. I want to say we have at least one or two more joint interviews coming up after the holidays, so stay tuned for updates. And as always, thanks so much for reading and supporting our wordy efforts.

* = Yeah, I read a lot of Marvel Comics when I was a kid. Deal with it.

My 2021 shameless holiday shopping suggestions guide.

It’s like this: I’m a freelance writer, which means I’m obligated at irregular yet all-too frequent intervals to throw myself on the mercy of a discerning populace and make my case for convincing you to part with some of your hard-earned spondoolicks in exchange for one or more of my collections of scribblings.

On the best of occasions, this takes the form of me standing behind a proud display of my works; tomes arrayed like little literary Stonehenges placed with Pythagorean precision while patrons browse the titles in search of something interesting. If the gods choose to smile upon me, I will trade many of these volumes for coin or notes, though there have been times when I departed the bazaar carrying the same burden with which I arrived.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic which continued to hound us throughout 2021, all but one of my scheduled convention appearances were cancelled. As I did in 2020 when this mess started, I completely understand and support each of the con promoters and their decisions to act out of concern for public safety. Likewise, I sympathize with those same promoters along with the vendors and creators who exhibit at these shows, for they all lost huge chunks of revenue they obviously count on to earn a living. As for me, it’s entirely possible someone might well have bought a book from me at one of these shows, with the intention of presenting said book to a friend or relative as a gift. Birthday present? Perhaps, but this time of the year it might well be an offering for the looming holiday season.

With that in mind, I figure I’m not at all above pointing potential buyers to some of my titles that I think make fun gifts for that reader and/or Star Trek fan on your shopping list. For the most part I’m steering away from my novels and focusing instead on those books with a better chance of appealing to the casual fan as well as the hardcore Trekkie.

Yeah, I lied in that last paragraph. I’m actually starting with a novel, but with good reason: It’s the first book of a massive trilogy I undertook with friends and fellow word pushers James Swallow and David Mack. Star Trek: Coda marks a turning point in the massive, interwoven continuity of Star Trek novels published for the past 20 years. As of November 30th, all three books are available in trade paperback, eBook, and audiobook formats. Follow the links below for more info:

Book I: Moments Asunder
Book II: The Ashes of Tomorrow
Book III: Oblivion’s Gate

Elsewhere within the Trek realm, I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer up the closest thing I have to “evergreen titles” I think make fun gifts for the hardcore or even casual Trekkie on your shopping list.

First up? A pair of books to carry with you when you finally decide to blow off Vegas or Cancun and take a real vacation. Hop a transport to Vulcan or the Klingon homeworld, Qo’noS, and be sure to pack along a handy travel guide to your chosen destination. Hidden Universe Travel Guides – Star Trek: Vulcan will give you all the info you need to make your way around Earth’s oldest interstellar ally and one of the Federation’s founding members. Check out the planet that gave us Spock, Sarek, Tuvok, T’Pol, and Michael Burhnam. The book even comes packed with helpful hints in the event you find yourself taking part in a Vulcan marriage ceremony or even becoming the unwilling recipient of a dying Vulcan’s living spirit. This book wouldn’t be half as good as it turned out if not for the artistic stylings of Livio Ramondelli and Peter Markowski.

Vulcan too laid back or even Lebowski for your tastes? Kick your vacation up a notch with Hidden Universe Travel Guides – Star Trek: The Klingon Empire. In addition to giving you all the deets for visiting the homeworld, this guide also provides infobits about other planets within the Empire that are well worth a spot on your travel itinerary. Lots of tips from seasoned pros and welcoming locals, along with plenty of anecdotes from prominent Klingons as well insights into Klingon history and culture. Once again, my efforts are made all the better by the contributions of Livio and Peter, whose art graces nearly every page.

Looking for something to help someone get their craft on? A few ideas to appeal to that younger gift recipient who might like puzzles and models are the line of IncrediBuilds book-and-model sets.

There are dozens of options to choose from just by following that link, featuring kits tying into various entertainment properties as well as all manner of science-related topics. I’ve partnered with the IncrediBuilds team on five of these projects (so far?), including three Star Trek offerings: one each for the original U.S.S. Enterprise, the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the Klingon Bird-of-Prey seen in several Star Trek feature films and television series. The models consist of a laser-cut wood sheet with pieces that don’t require glue or other adhesive, and are very easy to assemble. My contribution to each of these was a booklet of history and information about each vessel. Each was a fun way to write for a younger audience than I’m used to addressing.

Moving away from Star Trek, I also did two of these IncrediBuilds projects tying into theToy Story franchise, with models based on Buzz Lightyear and Sheriff Woody. As with the Star Trek sets, I provided a book for each model, this time telling different parts of the stories from the films as seen through each character’s eyes. Again, these presented an opportunity to write for a younger audience, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

My most recent collaboration with Insight Editions is also something I had a total blast writing: Star Trek: Kirk Fu. That’s right…we’re talking about the definitive guide to fighting like the one and only James Tiberius Kirk, famed captain of the Starship Enterprise, accomplished brawler of Klingons, Romulans, giant space lizards and imaginary Western black hat types. Artist Christian Cornia provides all of the art, including big, beautiful full-color splash pages along with step-by-step diagrams for each move. Be sure to stretch well before undertaking any of the moves illustrated in this handbook. Or, you could heed the warning and don’t try any of this at home because it’s all made up, yo.

Maybe somebody on your list likes role-playing games and Modiphius has you covered with Star Trek Adventures, fully-realized RPG set in the realm of the final frontier. I mean, sure…they DO have games based on a variety of premises, but right now we’re talking about Star Trek, all right? After helping game editor Jim Johnson and fellow writer Scott Pearson develop the game’s “Living Campaign” playtest storyline, I also managed to make some minor contributions to the game’s Core Rulebook. Next, last year I provided material that was included in 2020’s Klingon Empire Core Rulebook, which basically has everything you need to play Star Trek Adventures pretty much exclusively from the perspective of Klingon characters.

The most recent release is the Shackleton Expanse Campaign Guide, a massive book featuring a complete sandbox setting which greatly expands on information first created for the Living Campaign. I got to work with Jim and Scott as well as friends and writers Kelli Fitzpatrick and Derek Tyler Attico to develop a ton of all-new material to really flesh out what Scott and I started way back when. All sorts of other goodies are over there in the Modiphius shop, just waiting to help you make your STA experience a bold one.

The last couple of years have seen an uptick in my collaborative fiction output with by best friend and occasional writing partner, Kevin Dilmore. We had stories in two different anthologies last year and since then we’ve written three more such tales. with at least one more on the way.

For 2021, we were tapped by friend Robert Greenberger on behalf of Crazy 8 Press to contribute an all-new story to his anthology Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2021. A follow-up to 2019’s Thrilling Adventure Yarns, this is yet another volume crammed to overflowing with 1940s-style pulp action-adventure tales. We get to hang out with some of our favorite writers and friends, and it’s always a gas when we get to work with Bob and the Crazy 8 gang.

If all goes to plan, Kevin and I will have new stories in at least two new anthologies during the coming year, and as I write this we’re tossing ideas back and forth for a project that’s recently popped up on our radar and we’ve decided it’s too cool to pass up at least submitting pitches.

But since we’re here and I’m still digging on this particular tome, I’m going to remind you of this fun little project to which we contributed and which also came out last year. The pandemic ate into a lot of the marketing and promo this one was supposed to enjoy, so I’m boosting the signal again. It Came From the Multiplex: 80s Midnight Chillers, is an unabashed celebrations of 1980s horror movies, as well as Kevin’s and my first collaboration with the gang at Hex Publishers.

We had so much fun with this story that we decided the setting – the Vogue, an old-school single screen theater in the center of a small nondescript town in Anytown, USA – could more than lend itself to other tales told within those troubled walls. So, it’s entirely possible that may be something we do for goofs one of these days.

All right. I suppose that’s enough shameless promotion for one day. Obviously I’m hoping you’ll see fit to check out my various wares, and here’s hoping you find something either for yourself or that one particular name on your shopping list.

Some personal favorite holiday reading suggestions.

When I was a kid, this time of year usually meant a slew of Christmas specials on TV. Charlie Brown, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the Grinch to name just a few folks who stared out from the family television all through the month of December. Nowadays, you can’t go a single day of the month without running into some channel airing something holiday related, and that’s without considering streaming/on-demand options or the really hard core folks who break out a Blu-ray, DVD, VHS or Beta tape, or LaserDisc.

(If you’ve got How the Grinch Stole Christmas! on LaserDisc, you are a holiday binge watching beast.)

Know what else is good to do this time of year? Curl up with a good book. Make it a holiday-themed book if you really want to be so sweet you break out in spontaneous diabetes. Would I ever write such a book? Sure, if I was able to conjure an idea. I thought I had the makings of a pretty decent one several years ago, but it turns out I wasn’t the only one with that same notion, and they beat me to the punch. Take a guess.

Until then, I’ll stick with a few favorites written by more capable people.

Granted, most of the options on this list are aimed at children, but so what? Unless you’re just utterly dead inside, you’ve still got a bit of kid hunkering down within you, so why not feed that little tyke with some smooth, seasonal words of joy and celebration….well, most of the time, anyway (see below). For example:

A Charlie Brown Christmas – An adaptation of the classic special shown every year since 1965. There are actually several different adaptations running around out there, so finding one is pretty easy. You could do worse than to add a copy to your bookshelf. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown!”

The Polar Express – The movie might’ve been disappointing for some folks, but Chris Van Allsburg’s original storybook – for which he provided the gorgeous cover and interior art – remains an annual tradition for children and adults alike.

Home Alone: The Classic Illustrated Storybook – Adapted by Jason Rekulak and illustrated by Kim Smith, the heartwarming tale of 8-year old maniacal killer-in-training Kevin McCallister and his epic Christmas Eve battle against robbers Harry and Marv attempting to break into his family’s home makes for a charming kid’s story. Come on. It practically sells itself. I suspect it’s only a matter of time before we can all behold Love Actually: The Illustrated Holiday Classic.

The Magic of Friendship Snow – One of the more recent entries into a rather packed category, I found this one by accident one day while looking for something else. The cover caught my eye and after reading the description — a young girl struggling with making new friends during the holiday season — I realized this was the kind of book I wish had been around when my daughters were younger. Andi Cann is an accomplished author of children’s books and it shows here on every page, and the interior art is simply wonderful.

A Wish for Wings That Work – I’ve been a fan of Berke Breathed’s Bloom County (and, later, Outland) since the jump, including the more recent “reboot.” I still have a stuffed Opus and Bill the Cat in my home office, and I breathlessly await word of a reunion tour for Billy and the Boingers. Since I was already buying the collections of Bloom County strips at the time, it was a foregone conclusion I’d add this to my library, too. Opus just wants to fly. Is that so much to ask? But, it is Christmas…the season of miracles….

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914 – Author/illustrator John Hendrix takes his cue from real stories from the first Christmas celebrated on the Western Front during the First World War. I discovered this book at the gift shop while volunteering at the National World War I Museum and Memorial, and decided to add it to my growing collection of WWI titles.

A Very Klingon Khristmas – Written by Paul Ruditis and lavishly illustrated by Patrick Faricy, the text is fun and the artwork is absolutely amazing, making this a keeper right out of the gate. How this wonderful tome isn’t offered in stores every year alongside other perennial favorites remains a mystery to me.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – It’s just not Christmas without Dr. Seuss’ classic tale. A version of this story first appeared in an issue of Redbook Magazine in October 1957, and most of us have seen the animated special that’s aired every year since 1966. The story’s been adapted for film, the stage, and audio dramatization, but how many of you have a copy of the original story on your shelf?

A Die Hard Christmas – Destined to become a classic worthy of its place on the bookshelf alongside other iconic favorite yuletide tales. You already know how I feel about Die Hard being regarded as a Christmas movie, so you have to know that I had a copy of this bad boy the day it dropped just like Hans Gruber taking a dive off Nakatomi Tower. Yippee Kai Yay, Mr. Kringle!

And there you have it: A short list to get you started. This obviously isn’t meant to be anything definitive, or a “best of” list, and neither did I “forget” anything. Feel free to chime in with your own suggestions in the comments. Go on. You know you wanna.

However you choose to observe or celebrate the season, I hope it’s a safe and happy occasion!

Happy 30th Anniversary, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country!

“Captain’s log, stardate 9529.1: This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man…where no one…has gone before.”

Far out in space, the U.S.S. Excelsior commanded by Captain Hikaru Sulu observes the destruction of the Klingon moon Praxis. This is followed by a request for aid from the Klingon Empire when it’s learned that the moon’s obliteration has contaminated the atmosphere of the Klingon home world, threatening all life on the planet within fifty years. Unable to combat the ecological disaster on their own, the Klingons have come, hat in hand in the form of Chancellor Gorkon, leader of the Klingon High Council, who proposes a peace between the Federation and the Empire.

Dispatched to escort Gorkon to Earth to meet with the Federation President, Captain Kirk and the Enterprise soon find themselves caught up in a conspiracy when the chancellor is murdered aboard his own ship. The Enterprise crew is implicated in the assassination, and Kirk and Dr. McCoy tried in a Klingon court and sentenced to imprisonment on a remote Klingon penal colony. Spock and the rest of the crew must now race against time to expose the conspiracy and prove Kirk and McCoy’s innocence, before assassins can strike once again at an upcoming peace summit.

And hilarity ensues.

Released on December 6th, 1991, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country marked the final time the entire cast of the original Star Trek series would appear together on screen*. The film brought to a close one of the more remarkable resurrections and evolutions of an entertainment property, from cancelled 1960s television series to full-blown multi-media franchise. Its release concluded a year marked by celebration and mourning, highlighted by the observance of Star Trek‘s 25th anniversary as well as the death of original series creator Gene Roddenberry.

Developed by Leonard Nimoy and director Nicholas Meyer, the story was conceived as a way to bid farewell to Captain Kirk and his crew, clearing the decks for the eventual promotion of Star Trek: The Next Generation to the big screen. This proved to be accurate not just in real life but also within the fictional construct of the Star Trek mythos, as the film depicts the thawing of relations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. This leads to an uneasy alliance between the two interstellar powers which eventually allows for the presence of a Klingon, Lieutenant Worf, on the bridge of the Galaxy-class U.S.S. Enterprise nearly eighty years after the events of this story. Indeed, that bit of progress was even foretold in “Errand of Mercy,” a first-season episode of the original series in 1967, in which the alien Organians predict that the Federation and Empire would one day work together as friends.

Pretty cool, huh?

In addition to making sure each of the main cast has at least one moment to shine at key points throughout the film, Star Trek VI also boasts an impressive guest cast including David Warner (Time After Time, Tron, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier), a pre-Sex and the City Kim Cattrall, a post-Robocop Kurtwood Smith, Brock Peters reprising his role of Admiral Cartwright from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (and who would later portray Joseph Sisko, father to Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and the late, great Christopher Plummer.

It also has what I still rank as my favorite teaser trailer of any Star Trek movie ever:

Though Star Trek VI marks the end of adventures with the original Enterprise crew, we would later see Scotty appear in “Relics,” a sixth-season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Sulu would appear in a third-season episode of Star Trek: Voyager, “Flashback.” And we can’t overlook “Trials and Tribble-ations,” where the cast of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine insert themselves into the events of the classic original series episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.” Archival footage of Leonard Nimoy as Spock also appears in 2020’s third-season Star Trek: Discovery episode “Unification III.” That episode is itself a sequel of sorts to two-part Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Unification,” broadcast in 1991 prior to Star Trek VI‘s release.

On the big screen, Scotty, Chekov, and Captain Kirk in particular would factor into the events of 1994’s Star Trek Generations, which would cement the passing of the baton to Jean-Luc Picard and his Next Generation crew. Fifteen years later, Leonard Nimoy would reprise his role of Spock and help to usher in a full-on reimagining of Kirk and the gang for 2009’s Star Trek reboot film. His final on-screen performance was as Spock in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness.

Still, Star Trek VI ends up being somewhat bittersweet. Though my fellow fans and I were happy to see our heroes in action once more, I also knew even as the end credits rolled and the theater lights came up that Star Trek–the Star Trek I grew up with, at any rate–was over. There would be more adventures in the Final Frontier, of course, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was saying goodbye to old friends for the final time. The last scene of the film, with Kirk reading his log entry as the Enterprise sails away before the cast “signs their names” across the screen and the music builds to a rousing rendition of the original Star Trek fanfare, is still something to watch.

It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s still a worthy sign-off for lifelong friends, celebrating the end of an era (of sorts) for those of us who love this stuff.

Happy 30th Anniversary, Star Trek VI.

* in addition to the DS9 episode, the other notable exception is a photograph of the cast inserted into a brief yet touching scene from Star Trek Beyond, released in 2016 to celebrate the franchise’s 50th anniversary.

Happy 35th Anniversary, Heartbreak Ridge!

The Marines are looking for a few good men. Unfortunately…you ain’t it.”

Holy crap! Heartbreak Ridge, the 1986 film starring and directed by Clint Eastwood, turns 35 today.

After all of these years, this film remains one of my guilty pleasure flicks, possessing two things I can never have enough of: movies about Marines, and movies featuring Clint Eastwood. As much a fan as I am of Eastwood the actor, it’s Clint the director who’s also given me a healthy number of films I enjoy revisiting. I started to really take notice of his directorial talents with 1985’s Pale Rider, which for me signaled a shift in my appreciation of the man as a filmmaker. At some point several years ago, I realized the older Clint was getting, the more inclined I was to like a movie he was in. That went double if he was directing. Of course, he’s directed a few in which he did not appear, and those usually have been worth checking out, too. Indeed, this past year has seen a sharp increase in my desire to watch Western films and sample more Western fiction, and Eastwood’s contributions to that particular genre have been well-represented during my various revisitations.

Meanwhile, there’s this not at-all Western, Heartbreak Ridge.

It’s a familiar formula: A hard-assed, battle-tested veteran is put in charge of a group of malcontents or otherwise underperforming troops and has to whip them into shape before they head off to combat. Of course they hate him at first, doing their best to side-step or undermine the salty vet’s efforts until he finally earns their respect and they come together as a cohesive unit just in time for the bullets to start flying.

In this case it’s Eastwood as Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway, a grizzled Marine who’s this close to being sent out to pasture, having nearly reached mandatory retirement. Before he was a Marine, Highway served in the Army during the Korean War, and awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic action during the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge.

As for the movie? The plot is pretty simple: In 1983, Highway is a decorated, battle-tested warrior without a war to fight. Rather than ride quietly off into the sunset and retirement, he opts for a transfer back to a combat unit; in this case, a Force Recon battalion attached to the 2nd Marine Division. It’s the unit in which Highway served many years earlier, so it’s a bit of a homecoming. The battalion sergeant major is a familiar face, a buddy with whom Highway served going back to Korea. The recon platoon Highway is tasked with leading is another matter, filled as it is with a bunch of slacking loafers who’ve been allowed to lapse into a state of utter shambles thanks to Highway’s inept and ambivalent predecessor. Highway’s task: make the young Marines combat ready, with their first test coming as President Reagan sends troops to Grenada.

Gunny Highway, getting to know the troops.

I have a few fond memories of this movie. When it was filmed in the spring and summer of 1986, several scenes were shot at Camp Pendleton, California (which stood in for Camp Lejeune, North Carolina), and at the time I was a lowly private first class stationed there. I got to see some of these scenes being filmed, though unlike other Marines I didn’t get to serve as an extra in the background or anything like that. One scene in particular near the movie’s beginning shows Eastwood as Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway walking across a collection of amphibious landing vehicles, which are/were a sort of outdoor museum showing the evolution of such craft. That area was just a couple of hundred yards from the barracks building where I was living at that time.

In a later scene when Highway steps outside and salutes the flag as it’s lowered for evening colors? That was the headquarters for the 1st Marine Division (standing in for the 2nd Marine Division, in this case). Several of the training areas shown in different scenes where Highway is getting his men into shape? Been there, done those.

One of the other memories which sticks out about the film is how roundly disavowed it was by pretty much anyone high up in the Marine Corps chain of command. Upon seeing an advance screening of the film, Marine officials denounced it, even going so far as to issue directives prohibiting Marines from going to the theater in uniform to see it. According to them, Eastwood’s portrayal of Highway–a rude, crude, throwback “salty vet,” forged in the fires of combat from Korea to Vietnam–was not in keeping with the image the Corps wished to convey as being commonplace among its ranks.

I’m pretty sure none of the folks raising objections ever met my drill instructors, or any seasoned senior enlisted Marine. At that point in my young career, the upper enlisted ranks still teemed with Vietnam vets, and most of them were like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” upon hearing about the condemnation of Eastwood’s Gunny Highway. I distinctly remember an editorial cartoon from the local newspaper showing a Marine general covering the eyes of a young private to prevent him from seeing Eastwood’s grizzled image.

None of this stopped me and my friends from hauling ass to town from the base on a Friday night to check out the flick for ourselves, of course.

(Yes, I’m keenly aware that I am, of course, 35 years older than I was that night. I’m choosing not to dwell on that right now, thanks very much.)

This isn’t to say the film isn’t without its problems. There are several inaccuracies of varying degrees, most of which will not bother “regular” viewers one whit. The notion of a Force Recon platoon harboring so many completely useless losers for longer than one day is something that’s hard to swallow, of course. As arrogant and super-confident as Marines can be so far as their being the “best of the best of the best” and all that jazz (It’s true, you know.), Force Recon Marines occupy their own level of badassery with even fewer peers. In the unlikely event a couple of shitheads infiltrated the ranks, you can be sure the rest of the platoon would see to such “deficiencies” in short order.

That Highway could unleash live ammo over the heads of his Marines during a training exercise isn’t out of the question, but just doing it without clearance from four or five different links in the chain of command is a tad unrealistic. Also, there’s very little chance anyone would talk to a Medal of Honor winner the way Highway’s commanding officer treats him during the course of the film. Okay, it could happen, but my money’s on the MoH winner stomping a new mudhole in the other guy’s ass and then walking it dry. Come to think of it, how does a supply weenie get put in charge of a combat battalion in the first place?

Anyway….

Despite these and a few other flaws, Heartbreak Ridge has its share of good moments, most of them involving Eastwood. As is the case with almost all of his films, Eastwood himself is always great to watch. His gruff, war-weary Tom Highway is pretty convincing, at least to me. Several of the other characters tread a bit too close to the line of caricature, but even then the performances by actors such as Mario Van Peebles, Boyd Gaines, Everett McGill, Marsha Mason, and so on are pretty solid. The story also suffers from a couple of logistical hurdles, in that the “Heartbreak Ridge” battle that gives the film its title (and where Highway earns the Medal of Honor for his actions) was actually an engagement involving the Army rather than the Marines. The script solves this problem by having Highway in the Army during the Korean War, then changing to the Marines at some point after that conflict. The Army also handled most of the heavy lifting in Grenada, though Marine elements also were involved.

Why the weirdness? Well, the script as originally written featured Highway as a Soldier, with the action taking place at an Army base and leading up to Grenada. When the Army expressed reservations and declined to offer their support–technical or otherwise–for the film’s production, Eastwood and his people took the screenplay to the Marine Corps, who were all about this thing…until seeing that aforementioned advance screening.

So, yeah. It plays fast and loose with historical fact and Marines in general. Eastwood is – to put it kindly – a “throwback” to what is largely (but not completely) an outdated old-school military stereotype, something far more obvious today than when during the film’s original release. On the other hand, I’d argue there are, among a certain generation of those who’ve served in uniform during the past two decades, individuals who’ve since come to know if not become themselves a more modern version of the uncouth, no-nonsense hard-charger whose methods don’t count for much with dinner parties and recruiting films but represent just the sort of warfighter you want by your side when shit gets real.

With all due respect, sir, you’re beginning to bore the hell out of me.

Happy anniversary, Gunny Highway!

November writing wrap-up.

And just like that, here we are: The final month of 2021.

Time keeps in slippin’ slippin’ slippin’…etc. Meanwhile….

November was “active” on multiple fronts. On the consulting side of things, there was the usual assortment of reading, reviewing, writing and meeting about various things. There’s a lot of Star Trek moving around out there, on numerous fronts and across multiple platforms. Overwhelming? I don’t know if that’s the right word, but I get to work on Star Trek stuff, so I ain’t complainin’.

On top of that, I’m still tending to various writing things of my own, along with home and family stuff. Both kids are active in afterschool/extracurricular activities, which is of course awesome because they both have found things they’re passionate about. But it does add a number of items to the family calendar. And I’m still volunteering a few times a month at the museum, which is a nice change of pace from my work routine.

Still got those deadlines, though. Speaking of writing, here’s the November rundown:

Continue reading “November writing wrap-up.”