Shore Leave 41.5: the virtual con!

Among the many mass gathering events impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 situation are comic and pop culture conventions. Whereas I likely would have attended at least a couple of such events by this point in the year, all of my 2020 con appearances have been cancelled or at the very least postponed until a date “to be determined.” Among those shows falling victim to this are two of my favorite cons: Starfest, held each year in Denver, Colorado, and Shore Leave, which takes place every summer in Hunt Valley, Maryland (just north of Baltimore).

I’ve been attending both of these conventions for many years, now, and I’ve made many friends to whom I look forward to seeing every year. For Shore Leave, it means a rare opportunity to meet up with several of my fellow writer friends, particularly among those of us who write Star Trek stories in novel or comics or even gaming formats. While I understand and appreciate the commitment to safety for staff, volunteer, and attendees who participate in these and so many other conventions, I regret not getting to see those aforementioned friends and getting the chance to make some new ones.

However! All is not totally lost. The fine folks responsible for putting on Shore Leave each year have taken a page from other shows and are presenting an “online con.” Through the wonder that is the internet and video conferencing software, we’re gonna get together and talk really geeky stuff. The con staff has assembled a series of discussion panels spread across this coming weekend beginning the evening of Friday, July 10th and sprinkled through the afternoon and evening of the ensuing Saturday and Sunday. What’s that? You want to see a complete schedule? Well then BEHOLD:

Shore Leave 41.5 Scheduleshoreleave-logo

Kicking things off on Friday evening? A panel discussion devoted to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, the new television series currently in development by CBS and Secret Hideout, Inc., who of course have already brought us Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, the (as I write this) upcoming Star Trek: Lower Decks animated series, and another animated series which also is in development but which has not yet been officially named or “announced.”

What about Strange New Worlds? Well, it’s set aboard the original U.S.S. Enterprise several years before Captain James T. Kirk commanded the fabled starship on its historic five-year mission of exploration as chronicled in the original and animated Star Trek TV series as well as enough novels, short stories, comics, video games, and other tales to account for pretty much every minute of those five years.

Cage-Pike-SpockThis show will focus on Kirk’s predecessor, Christopher Pike. For those of you who may not know (and really…what’s that about?), Pike was the Enterprise‘s captain in Star Trek‘s original 1964 pilot, “The Cage” (portions of which were incorporated into the two-part original series episode “The Menagerie”), and portrayed by the late Jeffrey Hunter, and who had serving under him a young Vulcan lieutenant named Spock and played by Leonard Nimoy. Only Nimoy was carried over from the unsole pilot when Star Trek was given a second chance, this time assigned as Kirk’s first officer, and so began the Star Trek we all know and love.

Greenwood-PikePike has featured in a number of novels and comic stories over the years and was played by actor Bruce Greenwood in 2009’s Star Trek reboot film as well as its sequel, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness. However, it was Anson Mount who helped bring the character back to prominence during Discovery‘s second season. Mount’s portrayal was one of the season’s true highlights, right alongside Ethan Peck playing a pre-Kirk Spock and Rebecca Romijn as “Number One,” Pike’s first officer. They along with an updated U.S.S. Enterprise which both evokes and effectively updates the classic 1960s ship had fans talking, and many clamored for Pike, Spock, and Number One headline their own series. Well, BOOM. It’s comin’, y’all.

SNW-Big3(Awwwwww yisssssssss……….)

As for our discussion panel, since the show is still in its earliest development stages, we’re left to wonder aloud what we might expect once Star Trek: Strange New Worlds hits CBS All Access sometime in the (hopefully) near future. Like the panel description says: “What can we expect from the new Pike – Number One – Spock show? Is it just retreading old ground or will it provide a chance to explore more of the 23rd century with three compelling characters?

It’s going to be a fun discussion, made all the more so because I’ll be joining friends and fellow word pushers Christopher L. Bennett, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Michael Jan Friedman, Amy Imhoff, and John Jackson Miller. The panel kicks off at 7pm Eastern time via Zoom. Details will be available on the Shore Leave 41.5 virtual con’s schedule page.

Hope to “see” you there!

Happy 121st Birthday, Indiana Jones!

Today marks the birth date of Dr. Henry Walton Jones, Jr., famed archaeologist and obtainer of rare antiquities, renowned professor, traveled adventurer, and all around nice guy.

If ever you need an historical artifact or object of the occult located and liberated from uptight French rivals, scheming Nazis or commie graverobbers, he’s your man.

If you’re starving in some backwater village and worried about some ancient voodoo rocks rather than finding a decent sandwich shop, this is the dude you call.

If you’ve got alien bodies that need studying before they’re whisked away to secret military warehouses, he’s good at that, too.

If you want someone to show you the folly of bringing a sword to a gunfight, he’s got it covered.

Indiana Jones: July 1, 1899 – ???

Smart, tough, resourceful, and ruggedly handsome. There are so few of us.

Were he still alive today, he’d be 121 years old.

On the other hand, he did drink from the Holy Grail. Maybe he really is still out there, crackin’ his whip and chasin’ after fortune and glory. Hmmmmmmm?

IndianaJones-1992(Indiana Jones, circa 1992)

You just never know about these things.

So, just in case…Happy 121st Birthday, Dr. Jones!

Your Moment of TrekZen*

Back in a time before Star Trek was the global, multimedia entertainment juggernaut it is today, merchandise was….funky.StarTrek-A&BC-Kirk CardI’ve seen cards from this set here and there over the years. Getting your stinking paws on a complete set seems to be like finding the Holy Grail or a copy of The Thing: Infection At Outpost 31 which won’t cost you a kidney. Produced in 1969 by a company called A&BC out of England, this was the first set of all-color Star Trek trading cards, predating the more commonly known set from Topps by seven years.

The 55-card set features images from a single episode of the original Star Trek series, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” Given the guest character for this story was Roger Corby,” this likely explains the erroneous listing Captain Kirk’s first name as “Roger.” Somebody had Roger on the brain, yo. As choice of episodes go, this isn’t the worst candidate, but something like “Arena” or “The Doomsday Machine” or “Balance of Terror” might’ve been cooler, amirite? Then again, none of those episodes have Sherry Jackson sporting one of William Ware Theiss’s more memorable costume designs.

StarTrek-A&BC-AndreaCard

The choice of photos from the episode aren’t too bad, all things considered, even if some of the text has some unfortunate errors. Spock is a Martian, according to his card, for example. In addition to relaying text about the image on the front, several of the cards also have “space facts,” like the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Many of these infonuggets are outdated in a charming, whimsical 1950s science fiction way. Ah, such innocent times. All in all, the card set is pretty average, even if the captions lack much of the flare of the earlier Leaf card set, but what are you gonna do?

I doubt this set will ever be reprinted, but I’ve learned to never say never when it comes to pop culture merchandising. Until then, you can check out more info about these cards from this rather helpful website: Wixiban.com – Star Trek Trading Cards.

StarTrek-A&BC-CardWrapper

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

Happy 45th Anniversary, Jaws!

Y’all know me. Know how I earn a livin’. I’ll catch this bird for you, but it ain’t gonna be easy. Bad fish. Not like going down the pond chasin’ bluegills and tommycods. This shark, swallow you whole. Little shakin’, little tenderizin’, an’ down you go. And we gotta do it quick, that’ll bring back your tourists, put all your businesses on a payin’ basis. But it’s not gonna be pleasant. I value my neck a lot more than three thousand bucks, Chief. I’ll find him for three, but I’ll catch him, and kill him, for ten. But you’ve gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then ante up. If you want to play it cheap, be on welfare the whole winter. I don’t want no volunteers, I don’t want no mates, there’s just too many captains on this island. Ten thousand for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing.”

June, 20th, 1975: The day everybody started reconsidering their summer beach vacation plans.

Based on Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel of the same name, Jaws essentially paved the way for what we now know as the “summer blockbuster event” movie. 45 years to the day after its initial release, the film really does hold up very, very well (yes, even considering what is obviously a fake shark.). What makes up for the sometimes scary/sometimes goofy-looking shark itself is the screenplay, keen directorial choices made by then-journeyman filmmaker Steven Spielberg, a landmark, haunting, and timeless musical score as delivered by veteran composer John Williams, and the razor-sharp performances of lead actors Roy Scheider (police chief Martin Brody), Robert Shaw (the salty sea fisherman Quint), and Richard Dreyfuss (oceanographer Matt Hooper).

As for the shark, Spielberg, owing to persistent malfunctions with the model and perhaps planning for the worst while hoping for the best, elected to keep the shark “behind the curtain” for most of the film. He waits until the one-hour or so mark to provide the first teasing glimpse, when it attacks a boater near the Amity beach. Even then we only get a fleeting look at the creature’s head before the camera cuts away, and we’re left to consider just how frikkin’ big this thing really is. It’s not until the pivotal moment twenty minutes later, when Brody is tossing chum into the water behind Quint’s boat, the Orca, that the shark reveals itself to the boat’s crew, and us, and provides what is arguably the most memorable line of the entire movie: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Jaws-BiggerBoat

There are a few things which obviously date the film, such as fashion, automobiles, and the like. Speaking of clothes, actor Murray Hamilton as Amity mayor Larry Vaughn gets my vote as worst-dressed dude in a movie not featuring Austin Powers. Holy Shit on a Ritz Cracker…that multi-colored pinstripe number? Is he trying to cosplay a Time Lord? I still have nightmares about going to prom wearing something like that. Still, such things are easy to dismiss when we’re talking about a film that’s able to transcend the era in which it’s made. For such movies, I simply consider them period pieces, and enjoy.

Yeah, these days we know that much of the shark’s behavior is wholly at odds with the way sharks really act, but we don’t care. It’s still a riveting story of man facing off against one of nature’s perfect creations; the consummate eating machine which goes about its singular purpose with simple, brutal efficiency. As for the lead characters, Scheider brings what would become his patented “every man” approach to the role of Brody, a regular joe caught up in a ridiculously extraordinary situation. Richard Dreyfuss is our translator as Hooper, explaining the shark’s actions and drive to do what it does, and providing much of the comic relief in the film’s latter half. Robert Shaw offers up an assload of quiet menace to his performance as Quint, and his recounting of the U.S.S. Indianapolis sinking and its aftermath is quite simply one of the most bone-chilling monologues in cinema, period.

Jaws did phenomenal business during the summer of 1975, and continues to be listed among the best films ever made by whoever bothers to make such lists. As for what came after? A sequel was inevitable, especially considering one of the producers involved with the film, Richard D. Zanuck, was the head of 20th Century Fox Studios when the original Planet of the Apes was made and greenlit the first of the sequels to that film (Hey, the man knew how to capitalize on an idea). What about the Jaws follow-ups? Jaws 2 is a serviceable if largely unremarkable sequel, the only saving grace of which is the always watchable Roy Scheider reprising the role of Brody. The less said of the subsequent two films, Jaws 3-D and Jaws: The Revenge, the better.

No. We’re not talking about those films here. Ever.

There have been a good number of shark movies since Jaws hit screens – The Shallows, 47 Meters Down, and The Meg being recent and prominent examples – and there have also been rumors circulating for years that a remake of the original film is in the works (in 3-D, even). Whether this might be a straight-up retelling of the film itself, or a new take on Benchley’s original novel never seems to crop up during such mindless blathering. So far as I’ve been able to tell, cooler heads at Universal have prevailed in this regard, at least so far. Perhaps they’re worried about Steven Spielberg’s continued association with the studio (via Dreamworks), and the belief that he might aggressively fight any attempts at a remake, along with making miserable the lives of as many Universal execs as he’s able. In a world that’s given us Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus and Sharknado, I’m content for studio folk to leave this one well enough alone.

Yep, even after all these years, the original Jaws remains an eminently rewatchable film.

Hey! It’s Captain Picard Day!

What, you didn’t know this? Shame on you. It’s June 16th, which means…..

CaptainPicardDay-Banner'

That’s right, today we pause to recognize the life and accomplishments of Jean-Luc Picard: captain extraordinaire, explorer, diplomat, tea connoisseur, and 24th century renaissance man.

Oh, and he’s also a role model. Just ask him.


Of course, all he wants is to sit in the sun and read his book. Alone. Afterward? He really hasn’t thought that far ahead.

So, hey! Don’t just have a great Captain Picard Day. Get out there and “Make It So.”

Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Alan Dean Foster!

After an irregular, infrequent attempt last year to kickstart this (hopefully) recurring feature here on the blog, here I am with the second installment in less than a month!

The idea is simple: I’m a tie-in writer. Before that, I was a tie-in reader. I still am, of course, but way back when? I had no idea reading such books would lead me to writing anything, let alone my own tie-in books. Weird how life works sometimes, right? And yet, here we are.

Now that I’m a regular to this somewhat misunderstood and oft-derided genre of writing, I like to look back at the works of those who preceded me; books I read as a kid and which in hindsight proved to be something of an inspiration to me. Previous installments of this feature/wannabe column have included looks back at novels based on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Planet of the Apes, V, and Space: 1999.

You’ll note all of these are television series, and in the 1970s and 80s tie-ins to science fiction and fantasy shows were particularly commonplace, but we can’t forget about novelizations of popular genre films. I read a whole bunch of those during this same period, as well, and no conversation about the great film novelizations of this era can happen without some mention of the one and only Alan Dean Foster. Indeed, the man deserves his own conversation on this topic, which is…well…what I’m about to do here.

Continue reading “Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Alan Dean Foster!”

An interesting Agents of Influence observation.

AgentsOfInfluence-CoverI originally posted a version of this on my Facebook page, but upon further reflection I decided to have a bit more fun with it. So, bear with me. I’m writing this to avoid doing actual work for a little while longer.

Anyway, it’s like this: An intrepid fan over on the TrekBBS has made an intriguing observation regarding my upcoming Star Trek original series novel Agents of Influence.

According to his observations, this title will be the 100th novel released by Simon & Schuster since it began publishing Star Trek novels in 1979 which is explicitly set during the period chronicled by the original television series, “the five-year mission.” It’s an interesting milestone, if a bit of a confusing one to anyone not mired in this stuff.

(Another term for such individuals is “normal people.”)

HoratiusThere have been hundreds of Trek novels published over the years and featuring Kirk and the gang (or some subset of those characters), dating back to 1968 while the original show was still in production. With the advent of the feature films, many early S&S novels (published at that time by their imprint, Pocket Books) were set in an around the various movies, mixed in with those set during the TV series timeframe. This doesn’t even take into consideration those based on the spin-off series, or “original” book spin-offs like Star Trek Vanguard, Star Trek: New Frontier, etc. It gets really confusing when you consider that at the time Pocket Books was publishing Star Trek novels, the films featuring the original series characters were in regular production and even though a novel might be set during the time of the TV show, as often as not it might sport cover art reflecting the most recent movie at that time. Examples:

TrekNovels-Sample(Click to Enlarge)

And yes, that’s also including the times the art took liberties and gave us TV-movie hybrids of existing uniforms, which was a common thing when legendary artist Boris Vallejo was painting the Star Trek book covers in the 1980s. They may not have been the most screen accurate, but daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn did they have style. I want a book of nothing but Star Trek book cover art, with a subsection devoted to Boris, because…again: daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn.

Anyway, our intrepid fan pushed through all the obstacles and distractions, keeping his eye on the prize while doing the work to arrive at a list of “just five-year mission stories” published by Simon & Schuster and what do you know? According to him, Agents of Influence will be #100.

I never really gave too much thought to how many books were set in which particular timeframe. Indeed, the other day a friend on Facebook asked me how many “original series” stories I’ve written over the years, and I had to stop and think for a minute. To be honest, I had to come back here and review my own backlist to get a correct count, and this is what I came up with this list of short stories and novels:

“Reflections” – Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, June 1998
“The Aliens are Coming!” – Star Trek: Strange New Worlds III, June 2000
In the Name of Honor – January 2002
“First, Do No Harm” – Star Trek: Constellations, September 2006*
Things Fall Apart – Star Trek: Mere Anarchy, September 2006*
That Which Divides – March 2012
From History’s Shadow – August 2013
Elusive Salvation – May 2016
Purgatory’s Key – September 2016*
Agents of Influence – June 2020

And that doesn’t even count “original series-adjacent” stories featuring original characters and situations yet taking place in that same time frame like these:

Star Trek Vanguard:
Summon the Thunder – July 2006*
Open Secrets – May 2009
Almost TomorrowStar Trek Vanguard: Declassified, July 2011
What Judgments Come – October 2011*
In Tempest’s Wake – October 2012

Star Trek: Seekers:
Point of Divergence – August 2014*
All That’s Left – November 2015*

Star Trek: S.C.E./Corps of Engineers:
Foundations – 3-part story, June-August 2002*
Where Time Stands Still – September 2004*
Distant Early Warning – June 2006*

Other:
The First PeerStar Trek: Seven Deadly Sins, March 2010*
“The Menace of the Mechanitrons!” – Star Trek: Waypoint (comic), November 2016*

* = written with Kevin

Of everything listed, all but three take place during the period of time covered by the five-year mission. So, you know…that’s a lot of stuff in that window, and that’s just me/me & Kevin. Yikes, amirite?

StarTrek-JamesBama ArtI know there are those who feel the five-year mission era is pretty crowded at this point. Over the course of nearly 54 years as I write this, two television series along with novels, comics, video games, role-playing games and such have mined the territory pretty well. One could make the argument there have been enough such stories and it’s time to leave that period alone.

I give such people side-eye.

For me, this era of Trek “history” is a setting; a point of departure. Just as Superman or Batman or Nancy Drew or Mack Bolan or James Bond never age and remain in their prime even with the passage of decades since their first stories were told, I view Kirk and company in the same light. I can always find a new tale to tell with these characters. If I have my way, I’ll be reading a good original series-era tale while being wheeled into the dining facility at the retirement home.

With luck, they may even still let me write a few. 🖖😎

Trek-5YM-Negativity

Tied Up With Tie-Ins: The “No-Frills” Books!

Last year, I started an irregular feature here on the blog: offering a nostalgic look at a favorite series of movie or TV tie-in books. So far, we’ve revisited novels based on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Planet of the Apes, V, and Space: 1999. The feature ended up being far more irregular than I’d originally envisioned and as you can see with a simple glance at the calendar I’m not doing all that well with it this year, either. However, I figured it was time to give it another go.

This time I have a brief look back at a very quirky collection of tomes: the “No-Frills Books.”

GenericBeerPublished in 1981, this series of four “books” (each really not much more than a very long short story or perhaps a lean novella) were exactly what they purported to be: a generic, no-frills tale written for the specified genre. I only vaguely remember seeing them here and there in places like Waldenbooks or the book/magazine section of the local grocery store, which made sense because at that time such stores were really leaning into the idea of cheaper “generic” products for store shelves. I recall entire sections of aisles and coolers in the frozen food section devoted to this stuff, just as I remember my father opting to try out a six-pack of generic beer and lamenting it tasted like diluted monkey piss.

(How he might know what undiluted, full-strength monkey piss could taste like was one of those questions I opted to let go unasked.)

Anyway, books. “No-Frills Books,” as it were.

Continue reading “Tied Up With Tie-Ins: The “No-Frills” Books!”

Happy 50th Anniversary, Beneath the Planet of the Apes!

When the original Planet of the Apes film arrived in theaters in the spring of 1968, public reaction to the movie was so strong that executives at 20th Century Fox wasted little time putting wheels into motion to develop a sequel.

Did it matter that the film’s star really had no interest in reprising his role? Nah.

Did it matter that one of the actors who so convincingly portrayed an intelligent ape the audience loved wouldn’t be available due to other commitments? Nuh-uh.

What about the original movie’s director, who also was working on another project? No worries.

Did we mention the sequel was getting a budget less than half that allocated for the first film? What’s the big deal? Quit screwing around and let’s get on with it!

Beneath-PlanetOfTheApes-Poster

Continue reading “Happy 50th Anniversary, Beneath the Planet of the Apes!”

Star Trek IV movie watch party…with me!

“Dayton, we want to ask you some questions about your writing and other stuff, before we all sit down to watch a movie together, and then we want you to keep talking all during the movie.”

I’ve trained my whole life for this moment.

Okay, so here’s the deal: Friend David Weiner is – among other things – a writer and documentary filmmaker. His In Search of Darkness: A Journey Into Iconic 80s Horror made quite the splash when it was released last year. I highly recommend checking it out, but bring a lunch as it’s over 4 hours long and you’re not going to care. As I write this he’s in the midst of assembling a similar project, In Search of Tomorrow: The Definitive 80s Sci-Fi Documentary which is at this moment in the final days of its Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign and promises to be as epic as its predecessor.

FamousMonsters286-CoverI “met” David several years ago thanks to the wonder that is the internet. At that time he was working as the editor for Famous Monsters of Filmland, and in that capacity he contacted me and my best bud Kevin about writing a couple of articles for the magazine as part of its celebration of Star Trek‘s looming 50th anniversary. Write for one of the magazines that fueled my interest in movies and TV in that oh-so innocent pre-internet era? Yeah, you know that had to happen.

Thanks to social media we’ve managed to keep in touch even after David left Famous Monsters. A lot of his writing time is focused on his own site, It Came From Blog, an ongoing celebration of all things nostalgic from a childhood and early adulthood that in many ways very eerily resembles my own experiences from the 70s and 80s.

Star Trek IV, Dayton,” I can hear someone saying. “I saw Star Trek IV in the title and that’s why I’m here. Get on with it.”

Okay. Cool.

A few weeks back, David invited me to do a virtual sit-down/Q&A as a bit of pregame prior to a virtual watch party for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, just one of the many awesome 1980s science fiction films which will be highlighted in the aforementioned In Search of Tomorrow (ISOT). The plan was for me to do the interview online before everybody cues up/streams their copy of the movie. I’d then get out of everybody’s way so the group of people who’ve been assembling for the other films in this series of get-togethers could enjoy the movie in peace.

But wait! There’s more!

They actually invited me to stay with them while everybody’s watching the movie, and continue our dialogue in some manner. Whether that’s me pointing out things about the film or offering up trivia or other Trek nerdity, or me participating in a dialogue with David and others as things move merrily along, I’m honestly still a bit fuzzy on. However, I’m told all will be good and fine and it’s about the communal experience….less movie theater and more living room as we all enjoy each other’s company and a shared love of the flick itself.

I admit I was hesitant at first. As I told them, I didn’t want to come off like that jackass who can’t shut up while people are trying to watch the movie, but I’m assured that won’t be a problem and is indeed part of the draw. All righty, then. Also, I wasn’t even sure I could hang around for the whole thing, but with our current and common situation and  stay-at-home advisories being what they are, I realized there was nothing keeping me from sticking around and seeing how things went once the movie starts.

So, here’s how (I think) it’s going to go: The fun is scheduled for this coming Sunday, May 10th, beginning at 3:30pm Eastern Time/12:30pm Pacific Time. The Q&A/Watch Party is being hosted via the Discord app. The ISOT group has a community within the service, and those interested in joining the festivities are encouraged to visit this link I’ve highlighted with these words and things right here. They’ll put me through the wringer for a half-hour or so, and then we all push “PLAY” and get on with the movie. Sounds easy, right?

Yeah. I’ll find some way to dork it up.

If you’ve got time to chill-ax and watch one of the better Trek movies with a bunch of virtual friends old and new, come on out (virtually speaking). Maybe I’ll “see” you there!

STIV-WatchParty