Happy 20th Anniversary, Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force!

Gotta start ’em early.

I’m not much of a gamer. I mean, I’ve played and occasionally still do play the odd computer or board game, but I’m not a “Gamer With a Capital G.” At best I’m a casual hobbyist, despite generally enjoying myself whenever I venture forth into this realm. If I’m being honest, my heyday for gaming likely peaked in the early 1980s with the advent of videogame arcades before plateauing during the years with the first games I bought for what I now laughingly call my first home computers or game systems.

We’re talking the age of the Commodore 64 and the Atari 2600/5200, kids, which at the time were the absolute cat’s meow. The first Nintendo systems were years away at that point, and ended up being something for which I didn’t have much time. Way back when, the systems we had for home use paled in comparison to the fun one could have at the local arcade though. Tron, Gyruss, Star Wars, Defender, and I long ago forgot the sheer number of quarters I dropped into a Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator game whenever I happened across one, and those of you who follow me with any regularity know I still have an upright cabinet version in my home office.

This one’s for you, Bill Smith.

Still, as home computing (and home computer gaming) technology improved, I did sample the odd game. If it wasn’t an early first-person shooter or adventure game, as often as not it’d be some flavor of Star Trek game. The C64 had a decent port of the Strategic Operations Simulator that even looked better than the original arcade version, but there were also text-based adventures like The Kobayashi Alternative and The Promethean Prophecy, and by 1990s we were getting some pretty decent offerings like Star Trek: 25th Anniversary and its sequel, Judgment Rites. By the end of the 20th century (it feels so weird to write that, yeah?), games like Starfleet Academy were pushing the limits of what gamers could experience on their home computer systems.

(Aside: You have to know I still have these and others stashed in a box somewhere.)

Then we skip ahead to September 2000, and Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force.

Box art for Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force

Released in the UK on September 15th and celebrating the 20th anniversary of its US release today, Elite Force was one of Star Trek‘s early forays into the now quite-popular realm of first-person shooters.” For those unfamiliar with the term, these are video games where everything in the game is presented as if from your personal point of view. You can only see what’s in front of you, you have to navigate the game’s scenarios and obstacles as though actually traversing a tunnel, space ship, jungle, or whatever. This usually involves a lot of shooting at various things that want to eat or otherwise kill you. Long before Fortnite and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order begged for my children’s attention, we had games like Doom, Duke Nukem, and Star Wars: Dark Forces (another kick-ass game from days gone by).

At first blush, Star Trek having a game which could fit into this particular genre might seem off-putting, as Star Trek generally doesn’t evoke lots of images of ground combat or other situations where you’re blowing the shit out of things and people and whatnot. However, Activision and Raven Software managed a truly impressive feat with Elite Force: marrying an actual, bonafide Star Trek story to a first-person shooter setup.

You, the player, take on the persona of a character who’s part of Voyager‘s “Hazard Team,” a rapid-response group that could be described as something like Star Trek‘s version of a SEAL team. Voyager and its crew find themselves attacked by marauders and trapped in a graveyard of alien ships, you and the Hazard Team are dispatched to investigate. Along the way, you encounter various species previously encountered on the Voyager TV series like the Hirogen, Klingons, Malons, and…oh yeah…the Borg. You’re also introduced to all-new species created for the game as you and the team work to unlock the secrets of the graveyard and the mysterious creature that created it so Voyager can escape the alien trap.

Those reading this and thinking the solution is to shoot your way out will be pleasantly surprised to learn the game is much more than that, in the best Star Trek tradition. The entire cast from Star Trek: Voyager provided the voices for their characters, with whom you get to interact as you proceed through the game. Elite Force’s original release did not feature Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine, as her schedule at the time didn’t permit her to participate, but a software patch eventually came along and added her into the mix. Many of the Voyager‘s interiors were recreated or invented after only being referenced in dialogue with painstaking detail. There are also a number of surprises and Easter eggs baked into the game, and it would be poor form to spoil any of that here.

Star Trek: Elite Force comic, written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning with art by Jeffrey Moy & W.C. Carani, July 2000.

I’ve not played the game in years, but I remember having a blast playing through it. Elite Force combined the best aspects of adventure and first-person gaming with a fine Star Trek tale. Long ago, when I first started writing Star Trek fiction, I wanted to novels and other ties to the game that might offer more adventures for the Hazard Team. We got something in that vein thanks to Wildstorm Comics, who published a one-shot comic tie-in that offers a somewhat streamlined adaptation of the game’s core storyline. If there were plans for other such comics, they likely ended when Wildstorm lost the license to publish Star Trek comics in 2001. While I did pitch the idea of Hazard Team stories to Pocket Books (and I doubt I was the only one to do so), nothing ever came of such odd wish-listing. Such is life, and all that.

Meanwhile, the game begat its own sequels.

Box art for Star Trek: Elite Force II.

First, there was the Elite Force Expansion Pack, which as you might imagine from the title added a series of new scenarios to the original game. Even after all of these years, I’ve never acquired a copy of this but maybe one of these days I’ll happen across it. A full-blown follow-up came in 2003 with Star Trek: Elite Force II, which transports the Hazard Team to the Enterprise just after the events of Star Trek Nemesis. Of the Voyager cast, only Tim Russ returns to provide the voice for Tuvok, but that’s offset a bit by the addition of Patrick Stewart reprising his role as Jean-Luc Picard. While I’ve played this game, I must confess I enjoyed the original much more.

So, maybe you’ve read my yammering to this point and you’re all the way down here and you’re thinking, “Gee, Dayton. This game sounds pretty cool and I’d like to play. But…you know…you just told us the thing is 20 years old today and do they even make computers that can run a game as old as this anymore?”

Well, you can at least get a taste of retro Star Trek gaming thanks to The Last Outpost, a group of dedicated gamers who – with the permission of CBS and Raven Software – have recreated the game’s multiplayer “Holomatch” component and made it available as a free download. All you have to do is follow this linky-type thing RIGHT HERE.

I don’t have much time for gaming these days, Star Trek or otherwise, but I have to admit to having a bit of an itch to revisit this one. If you’ve played the game, share your thoughts and memories in the comments. Maybe you’ll convince me to chisel out a bit of time to have a bit of old-school gaming fun for a while.

Happy 20th Anniversary, Elite Force!

Happy Birthday, Star Trek!

“Space…the final frontier….”

These are the voyages where the legend began, 54 years ago tonight!

I’ve mentioned this before (about a zillion times), but my earliest memories include Star Trek to some degree. I wasn’t old enough to watch the show during its original broadcast run, but I watched the reruns every day after school. Beyond that, I had the Mego figures and that crazy bridge set. I built the AMT models, and I read the occasional Gold Key comic book or poster book or collection of James Blish episode adaptations.

All of that was just filler of course. Anchoring all of that were the reruns. Always, the reruns.

Back then, before VCRs, DVD, iTunes or NetFlix, you had to wait for your favorite episodes to cycle back around in the rotation. I watched the series on a little black and white television and its crappy little antenna as the show was broadcast on a low-power local UHF station in Tampa. Depending on the time of day and prevailing weather conditions, I might not always get a decent picture. If I was out in the boonies somewhere–like my aunt’s house–I might have to fiddle with the antenna throughout the episode, and as often as not I might be forced to choose between having a picture or having sound.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that today also marks the 47th anniversary of the animated Star Trek series, which premiered on NBC on this date in 1973. I did catch (most of) those episodes during their initial run, and the show helped to spark a lot of the Trek-related toys and other merchandise which came out in the mid 1970s, like those aforementioned Mego action figures.

Today, of course, I have Star Trek literally at my fingertips: Blu-rays on the shelf or episodes streaming over the internet, and I even have my favorite episodes stored on my phone. Then there are the books (Fun fact: I’ve written a few of those, in case you were wondering), comics, role-playing games, computer games, toys, models, websites, and pretty much anything you’d care to name. Star Trek is everywhere. Hold up a picture of the original Enterprise or Kirk and Spock, and most people will know what you’re talking about.

Star Trek looks pretty dapper for 54. Enjoy your cake.

Happy 45th Anniversary, Space: 1999!

The totally unforeseen accident on the lunar surface has caused very serious repercussions here on Earth. The gravity disruption, the earthquakes in the United States along the San Andres fault, and in Yugoslavia, as well as Southern France, has caused enormous damage to life and property. The International Lunar Commission, with its new chairman, is in executive conference at this moment, deciding what steps might be taken to rescue the three hundred and eleven men and women on Moonbase Alpha. Little hope is held, however, that there are any survivors. For a short time it was thought a rescue might have been attempted from the Space Dock, until that too was hurled out of orbit. It has now been established that the Moon’s acceleration away from Earth has put it beyond the reach of any Earth launch….

September 13th, 1999: It was a bad day, all around.

space1999-titlecard

Premiering on September 4th, 1975 (in the UK; July 23rd in Australia; all over the place in US first-run syndication), Space: 1999 introduced us to the men and women of Moonbase Alpha, Earth’s first permanent lunar colony, which in the show’s continuity had been established in the early 1980s as a natural progression from the Apollo landings. Things were all hunky-dory for a time, with the base continuing its various research efforts and preparing to launch a manned mission to Meta, a mysterious planet that’s been detected by long range probes and which is believed to support “life as we know it.”

Oh, and they’re also overseeing the disposal of nuclear waste transported from Earth to the Moon’s far side, and dealing with a strange medical condition that’s been affecting numerous base personnel, including the astronauts slated to depart for the Meta mission.

Of course, and as things tend to do, the aforementioned nuclear waste finally decided enough was enough and opted to get back at the Moon by punching a gigantic hole in its taint. The result? Moonbase Alpha and its three hundred-plus colonists (“Alphans,” in moonbase hipster speak) are sent hurtling through space on a lonely quest, boldly going where at least a couple of science fiction shows from the 1960s had kinda sorta gone before.

And all of that happened just in the first episode, “Breakaway.” Dayuuuuum, amirite?

Created by the legendary Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, Space: 1999 actually began life as a proposed second series/season to another of their shows, UFO. By the time it was decided UFO would not continue, a great deal of pre-production work had already been completed or was still underway, so the Andersons repurposed that effort into the new series. In addition to containing several hints as to its UFO lineage, Space: 1999 also owes more than a bit of its visual aesthetic to 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, any similarities between the new series and Stanley Kubrick’s landmark science fiction film end pretty quickly.

Often described back in the day as a “successor to” or “son of ” the original Star Trek in particular, Space: 1999 quickly settled into a formula whereby the Moon drifts near or into orbit around an alien world, and Commander John Koenig and an assortment of Alphans proceed to get into some kind of trouble. The clock is usually ticking, as the Moon never hangs around any one planet for any real length of time, and if Koenig and his posse dawdle too long, they’ll be stranded as their home away from home continues on its merry way. Every so often a world offers the possibility of providing a new haven for the wayward travelers, but something always goes wrong and our heroes are left staring out the windows from Alpha as the Moon pulls away.

Then there’s the variation on the formula, whereby representatives from an alien species come calling for one reason or another, and hilarity ensues. Sometimes, just to shake things up, elements from both forks in the Space: 1999 story road are mixed together, and we go all the way to madness run amok, by golly.

At some point, theories begin to emerge that the Moon’s journey through the cosmos may not be random; that it’s being guided by some unseen hand, directed through wormholes or other spatial phenomena that might serve to explain how the Alphans are able to explore a strange new world (Sorry. Not sorry.) each week. This point, which is actually kind of cool on the face of it, is never really explained or exploited, particularly after the series moved to its second season.

Boasting the largest production budget for any British television series to that point, Space: 1999 starred Martin Landau and Barbara Bain as Commander Koenig and Dr. Helena Russell. Married at the time, Landau and Bain had previously worked together on Mission: Impossible. Needing a science officer to fill out the Trek-like captain-science dude-doctor triad, veteran actor Barry Morse (The Fugitive) was cast as Professor Victor Bergman, my favorite character of the whole shooting match. So, it figures his was one of the folks not brought back for the second year.

Visually, the show remains impressive in many ways. The model work used to realize Moonbase Alpha in particular is still eye-catching, as are the Eagle transports, which in my mind still rank as one of the coolest space vehicles in all of science fiction. Behold, yo:

That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

Despite storylines that often stretched “scientific principles” from eyebrow-raising to outright laughable, and performances that sometimes felt as though the actors were store mannequins, I must confess to having a really big soft spot for Space: 1999…particularly its first season. The effort to make the show top-notch is obvious, in everything from the model work to the sets and props and–yes–even the storytelling, which was entertaining more often than not.

I’m less enamored with the second season, which was characterized by simpler, more action-oriented plots, the replacement of key characters, and other little choices that bugged me to varying degrees. Such changes were viewed as necessary following the show’s cancellation after the first year and last-minute renewal. On the one hand, I get having your command center not being in a giant room with a bunch of windows overlooking the lunar surface is probably a good idea when your base is always getting shot at by alien spaceships and death rays and whatnot. That said, the original “Main Mission” from the first season was some pretty kick-ass set design.

Space: 1999‘s television run was accompanied by the usual assortment of toys and other merchandise, including books, comics, models, action figures, and so on. I still have a complete set of the original novels/novelizations from the 1970s, later supplemented by editions of adaptations written years later. There are also a few novels written exclusively for foreign markets. There have been recent efforts to revive the property in novel and comic form, and of course the series is available on DVD and Blu-ray, the latter enjoying a complete series release just last year that is FREAKING GORGEOUS.

More recently, Big Finish has launched an audiobook series that is something of an update of the show’s premise while at the same time presenting it as an “alternate history” of 20th century human space exploration where things went very differently in the years after the Apollo program. The first installment is an updating of “Breakaway,” the TV series’ first episode, and the next entry is slated to be a trio of stories — two updated versions of TV episodes and one all-new tale. As I said in my review for SciFi Bulletin for “Breakaway,” it’s basically a period piece from an alternate history, and it totally works for me.

There’s on again-off again talk of a reboot, but I don’t know if that’ll ever happen. Regardless, we still have the original Space: 1999, which stands alongside Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Bionic Woman as cheesy yet charming 1970s TV sci-fi.

Eagle One, ready for lift-off!

Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Alien Nation!

After managing a trio of entries over a fairly short time span, I allowed more than a month to go by without revisiting this inconsistently recurring “blog feature. ” One of these days, I’ll figure out to make this more of a regular thing, but until then? Surprise!

The basic idea is pretty simple: I present a nostalgic look at a favorite series of movie or TV tie-in books. Usually this means something from Way Back When, but I’m also up for taking a look at more recent entries to the genre if inspiration strikes. To this point, previous installments have included looks back at novels based on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic WomanPlanet of the ApesSpace: 1999, and others. However, the Die Hard one was something of an odd duck that demanded a little attention. See? Unpredictable.

This time, I’ve decided to revisit a fondly remembered television series from the late 1980s/early 1990s as well as the film that spawned it, and in turn the novels it produced: Alien Nation.

This unlikely franchise began life as an oft-overlooked and underrated science fiction/noir/action flick that most people seemed to ignore when it was released to theaters in the fall of 1988. The story goes like this: in the “near future” of 1991, it’s three years after a giant spacecraft crashes in the Mojave Desert. We find out the ship was carrying 300,000 aliens, “Newcomers,” who end up settling in Los Angeles in a perhaps not-so subtle nod to the 1980 Mariel Boat Lift, during which more than 125,000 refugees fled from Cuba to Florida. After his partner is killed by a Newcomer during a robbery, Detective Matt Sykes teams with another alien who’s recently been promoted from uniformed cop to detective, and hijinks ensue. What follows is a fairly standard procedural with the added discussions and observations about racism, immigration, law and order, and civil rights all filtered through a science fiction-y lens thanks to the Newcomers being the marginalized group.

The film was written by Rockne S. O’Bannon, at that time formerly a story editor on the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone and still a few years away from giving us seaQuest DSV (the first season of which I will die defending and I remain convinced it would have been a better show throughout if he’d stayed with it) and the oh-so-amazing Farscape. So, right away genre fans should be thinking, “Okay, I’m listening.” The movie cast James Caan and Mandy Patinkin as its two leads and Terence Stamp as its main bad guy, so at this point you’re like, “Holy, shit! How can this not be awesome?”

While it wasn’t “awesome,” it was still a tight little SF/action hybrid. Caan as human detective Sykes and Patinkin as Sam/George Francisco make for an entertaining team in the best 1980s buddy cop tradition. Though it received mixed reviews from critics and enjoyed only a modest box office return, Alien Nation has since become something of a minor cult classic. Like many films of the 1970s and 1980s, Alien Nation received a novelization of its script from author Alan Dean Foster, who is pretty much a king of this particular corner of the tie-in writing field. It was thanks to this novel that I came to even know about the film, as I was stationed on Okinawa and so missed a lot of first-run American movies during this period. I scratched that itch with novelizations for several films and even a TV series or two which hit screens during the year I spent on “the Rock.” Indeed, my copy of Foster’s Alien Nation novelization still bears the stamp showing I purchased it in a Pacific Stars & Stripes bookstore.

What I don’t think many people were expecting was that the film would generate enough interest to inspire a television series, but that’s exactly what happened. Developed by TV veteran Kenneth Johnson — who’d already brought The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk and V to our television screens — Johnson took O’Bannon’s already juicy setup and characters and took them in directions the film itself didn’t have time or space or even money to do. Premiering on Fox during the fall of 1989, Alien Nation the TV series ever so slightly tweaks the film’s original premise to ease it into the weekly format. The heightened emphasis on the partnership between Matt Sikes (now played by Gary Graham and yes, they changed the spelling) and George Francisco (Eric Pierpoint) as well as the Francisco family allowed for further exploration of Newcomer (now known as “Tenctonese”) society and culture and a deeper look at prejudice, racism, rights, and all the other social issues the film hinted at but never got to really pick apart.

Despite being a critical and ratings success, Fox canceled the series after a single season (which ended on a pretty hefty cliffhanger!) due to financial issues larger than the show itself. However, fan support for the series remained high enough that it did return in 1994, in the form of what ultimately would be five television movies over the next three years, each reuniting the original series cast. The first film, Alien Nation: Dark Horizon, was a modified version of the storyline which would’ve served as the second season’s first episode, resolving the first season’s cliffhanger finale. This story in particular has its own odd history within the franchise. Hang on, we’re getting there!

Despite the series being cancelled in 1990, Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books imprint — which regular readers of this blog should recognize as a longtime publisher of Star Trek novels including several written by your blog host — began publishing novels based on the series. Eight novels were released between March 1993 and July 1995. The first of these, Day of Descent written by Judith and Garfield-Reeves Stevens, is arguably the strongest of the lot. A prequel to the film as well as the television series, the book reveals how the Newcomers came to Earth and what police sergeant Matt Sikes was doing as life changed not just for the citizens of Los Angeles but indeed people all over the world. It’s a meaty little tome and does a terrific job filling in a story hinted at yet never really examined throughout the TV series’ tragically short run.

The next three novels in the each draw on unproduced scripts for what would

have been Alien Nation‘s second television season. Dark Horizon by K.W. Jeter is particularly notable as it does a very effective job giving fans of the series what they so desperately wanted at that point in time: a conclusion to the cliffhanger season finale. In fact, Adventure Comics (an imprint of Malibu Comics), who’d begun publishing Alien Nation comics in 1990, beat Pocket to the punch with their own adaptation of this story. Likewise, Peter David’s Body and Soul gets a chance to examine the growing romance between Sikes and Newcomer Cathy Frankel, which had been hinted at during the series. These two stories would later form the basis for the first and second Alien Nation TV movies and while fans welcomed the return to television, there are those who prefer the prose version of the events depicted.

Meanwhile, The Change was the first of two Alien Nation novels written by renowned science fiction author Barry B. Longyear, a name genre readers should recognize for – among many other things – Enemy Mine, the Hugo and Nebula award-winning novella which was adapted into a cult classic film of its own. His next contribution to the series, Slag Like Me, is one of the line’s strongest entries. Inspired by journalist John Howard Griffin’s groundbreaking book from 1961, Black Like Me, Longyear places a human journalist undercover as a Newcomer to expose the systemic racism and discrimination endured by the aliens as they strive to assimilate to life on Earth. When the journalist is murdered, Sikes goes undercover as a Newcomer to find those responsible.

The series’ final entry, K. W. Jeter’s Cross of Blood, is also one of its high points. Whereas the romance between Sikes and Cathy Frankel had attracted scrutiny and varying flavors of commentary since its introduction during the TV series, Cross of Blood kicks things up several notches when Cathy becomes pregnant with Sikes’ child. The idea of such a child had already been the subject of Body and Soul but of course it’s a much bigger deal here as it involves main characters, and there’s much more focus on the social and political ramifications of humans conceiving children with members of an alien species. It’s the sort of thing at which Alien Nation excelled throughout its brief TV run and Cross of Blood honors the spirit of the show in fine fashion.

Like so many other book series that came and went during my formative years, the Alien Nation novels were over and done with long before I even entertained the crazy notion of entering the realm of professional writing. They suffered the same fate experienced by many such books based on television shows: once the parent property is no longer active on TV (or movie) screens, interest tends to dwindle as fans and readers move on to other things. There are exceptions to that unwritten rule of course; Star Trek is a prime example but let me tell you some time how novels based on Murder, She Wrote continue to be published two decades after that TV series ended.

But for the most part? Such books tend to have a pretty limited lifespan, which is a damned shame. Like many fans almost certainly did, I came up with a couple of ideas on how to revisit Alien Nation, either as a continuation of the series and character or else a sequel set years if not decades later. Don’t take me too seriously, though, as I’ve harbored similar notions and dreams for pretty much every science fiction TV series I’ve enjoyed for the past 40-odd years. It’s a sickness, I tell you!

Meanwhile, if you’re a fan of Alien Nation, particularly the series, and you’ve never sampled these novels, here are eight stories you may have missed which might feed your fannish fever.


Previous entries in this series:
Introductory Post
The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman
Planet of the Apes
V
Space: 1999
The “No-Frills” Books
Alan Dean Foster!

Die Hard

Talking Star Trek novels with David Mack and the Inglorious Treksperts!

I admit it: While I’m always happy to talk Star Trek, I really do enjoy talking about Star Trek novels, particularly when they’re not the one I wrote and I’m trying to promote.

StarTrekBlish1Many if not most fans know – even if they’ve never read a single one – Star Trek novels enjoy a rich history, stretching all the way back to the days when the original television series was still in production. Star Trek, the first collection of original series episode adaptations written by noted science fiction author James Blish, was published by Bantam Books in January 1967. It would later be renamed Star Trek 1 once it was obvious that the program of translating the original series scripts to prose form would continue, and indeed it did for eleven more volumes. Blish would also pen one of the very first original Star Trek novels, 1970’s Spock Must Die! 

AgentsOfInfluence-CoverSince then, there has been at least one Star Trek novel or novelization (and in most cases, way, way more than one) published every year. In addition to novels and short stories based each of the spin-off television series and films, Captain Kirk and the crew of the original Starship Enterprise continue to have adventures on the printed page (book and comics!) decades after their televised exploits ended in 1969 (or 1974, if you’re counting the animated series, and we that here.). Indeed and as I write thist, the most recent novel to feature yet another tale set during the historic “five-year mission” Captain Kirk talks about in the show’s famous opening narration is my own Agents of Influence, published in June. Meanwhile, friend and fellow wordsmith David Mack is making sure the “rebooted” crew introduced in the 2009 Star Trek feature film is treated well in written form with his own new novel, More Beautiful Than Death, which was just published on August 11th.

MoreBeautifulThanDeath(Okay, I suppose a little shameless promotion is inevitable. My kids like to eat. Sue me.)

So, it seems fitting that Mr. Mack and myself recently were guests for a fun discussion about the topic of Star Trek novels with the Inglorious Treksperts podcast. Hosts Mark Altman and Daren Dochterman, both Hollywood veterans and acknowledged Star Trek gurus, gathered Dave and myself along with writer/producers Ashley E. Miller and Robert Meyer Burnett, the latter of whom may very well be an even bigger nerd for Star Trek novels than I am. It’s a distinction I’m not inclined to dispute, because for one thing this was a conversation he’d been wanting to have for a while and we ended up recording it pretty much as a birthday present for him. So, there’s no way I’m harshing that mellow.

SpockMessiahThe resulting discussion covers a lot of ground in just a little over an hour’s time, tracing our earliest encounters with Star Trek novels from those early gems of the late 1960s/early 1970s right up to the most recent publications. Our respective experiences with these books during our formative years are largely in step with one another, as we all came to Trek more or less within the same era: watching reruns of the original show in the 1970s and latching on to whatever Star Trek merchandise there might be here and there. Those early James Blish novelizations and the handful of original novels along with other publications like the Star Trek Poster Books was what kept us interested during those years before the first feature film came along and elevated the franchise to new heights of public awareness it enjoys to this day.

EntropyEffectOf course we had to discuss some of our early favorites, which for me include Vonda McIntyre’s The Entropy Effect, Ann Crispin’s Yesterday’s Son, Margaret Wander Bonanno’s Strangers from the Sky, and Diane Duane’s The Wounded Sky.

(I’m gonna stop there because seriously…I could do this all day.)

There is also plenty of discussion about how one actually goes about writing such books, both for shows like the original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as novels based on the shows currently in production, Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard.

Vanguard1Dave and I also get to take a bit of a trip down Memory Lane as we revisit our own past endeavours. This included the absolute blast that was, along with Kevin Dilmore and Marco Palmieri, writing the Star Trek Vanguard novels, which still rank as one of the most fun and creatively fulfulling Star Trek projects with which I’ve ever been involved. 

Star Trek novels have been around for over 50 years, and there’s no sign they’ll ever be stopping soon. I don’t know how many more I have in me or how much longer I’ll even be able to do so, but it’s been a privilege contributing to this wondrous little sandbox and to be a part of such an amazing publishing legacy. So, for those of you who await the next Star Trek novel to show up on bookstore shelves or your eReader device, spend an hour with us as we wax nostalgic about some of those that came before.

IngloriousTreksperts-Banner

Inglorious Treksperts: “Book ’em Danno with Dayton Ward & David Mack

Many thanks, to Mark, Daren, Rob, and Ashley for having us on the show. It was tremendous fun!

Talking Star Trek V with the Trek Geeks!

TrekGeeksLogoBecause sure, two interviews posted in as many days isn’t annoying. At all.

To be fair, this really isn’t an interview so much as it is three fans sitting around, yakking about Star Trek. In this instance, it’s me joining Trek Geeks hosts Bill Smith and Dan Davidson to talk about – and even to defend to a certain degree – Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

“Wait….what?” I can hear some overeager Star Trek fan starting to utter. I can hear the frothing and even the drawing of lines in the sand as they stand ready to die on the hill that is proclaiming this film as the worst Star Trek movie EVER. To those folks, I say, “Yo, simmer down a minute.”

StarTrekVposterTo be fair, Star Trek V holds a not undeserved reputation as being very flawed, and there are those do most definitely do consider it the worst of the Trek feature films. I tend to dismiss such easy, kneejerk criticisms the same way I give sideeye whenever somebody bellows, “‘Spock’s Brain‘ is the worst episode of Star Trek!” It’s low-hanging fruit. It’s the one non-fans and casual passersby can point to because it has that rep and let’s them get in on the action. Meanwhile, those of us over here in the fan circle know things like “And the Children Shall Lead” and “Code of Honor” exist and they suck the sort of donkey balls “Spock’s Brain” couldn’t find with two hands, a flashlight, and Siri guiding them in from the interstate.

TrekV-cupWith all of that said, I’m actually not here to tell the Star Trek V haters they’re wrong. First, I really don’t care that much, and second……there is no second. I simply don’t care. Like what you like, don’t like what you don’t like, we all shake hands (or bump elbows in the world of COVID-19…or offer matching Vulcan salutes) and move on with our lives. In the case of Star Trek V, I acknowledge its flaws but at the same time I’m not one to dwell on discussions about things I hate. With that in mind, what I came to do with Bill and Dan is talk about what there is to like about this flick.

Why? Because you’re not hard core unless you live hard core, which is why I still have that Star Trek V tumbler pictured above. Go big or go home, amirite?

Turns out, there’s plenty to like about this movie while still agreeing it’s got its share of problems. Yes, the special effects are a marked step down from previous installments. Bill, Dan, and I came down on similar spots with respect to how the story treats the characters of Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov. While they were “merely” supporting characters portrayed by contract day players during the time of the original Star Trek series, with the feature films they were elevated in stature at least to a degree and deserved more time in front of the camera.

To be fair, each of the films struggles with this problem but it’s very obvious here, coming as it does after the events in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home where everyone gets their moment to shine a bit. Here, the focus is more on “the Big 3” of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy and while there are certain scenes that might make a fan wince, I will say without hesitation this film contains some of my very favorite moments between these three characters.

On the visual side of things, Industrial Light & Magic’s absence is keenly felt throughout the film and the ending is hampered by budget issues and perhaps director William Shatner’s being a bit too ambitious and failing to account for all the difficulties surrounding realizing his big climax the way it was originally envisioned. That said, I’m never gonna fault a guy for swinging for the fences.

Another aspect of the film I will absolutely defend is Jerry Goldsmith’s score. The music he wrote for Star Trek V revisits some motifs which had become familar by the time this movie was released. The main theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture – later modified for use as the title theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation – gets a few new bells and whistles, and cements what will become a staple of Goldsmith’s future Star Trek film scores: wrapping this signature theme around music unique to each movie for its respective end titles sequence. He would do this three more times – Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, and Star Trek: Nemesis – but the end title theme for Star Trek V is my favorite variation on this particular theme. Another fan-favorite cue is the “Klingon theme,” which Goldsmith also created for The Motion Picture and gets its own new take here, as well. The new material he wrote for this outing is some of my favorite Star Trek music, across the board.

We get into all of this and so much more during a chat that runs something like 98 minutes in length, but it goes pretty fast as the three of us found ourselves getting caught up in the spirit of things. No, our “fresh assessment” isn’t going to make Star Trek V: The Final Frontier a better film and maybe it won’t change anyone’s rankings when they list their favorite (and not so favorite) Star Trek films, but if we can convince even one person to appraise the movie and find something to like they may have dismissed the first (or tenth) time around, then it was worth the effort. Even if we don’t get that kind of response, I still had fun. Check out the results of our nerdfest right here:

Trek Geeks Episode #225 – The Final Frontier

TrekGeeksEp225

Many thanks to Bill and Dan for having me back on the show. As always, I had a blast hanging with them and I’m sure I’ll find a reason to wander back over to their sandbox somewhere down the road.

 

 

 

Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Die Hard!

After resuscitating this infrequent and haphazardly recurring blog feature last month, here I am in an ongoing attempt to make it more of a “regular thing.” The basic idea is pretty simple: I present a nostalgic look at a favorite series of movie or TV tie-in books, often from days gone by but I’m not opposed to checking out more recent offerings. So far, previous installments of this wannabe regular column-like thing 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.

This time, I’m deviating from the established formula a bit and veering away from novels and such which tend to be novelizations of films or television episodes or instead original stories featuring a film or TV series’ established characters. For this latest installment, I’m adding in a dash of flavor as we take a look at novels or other source material that served as inspiration for the popular Die Hard film series, and we can’t do that unless we go all the way back to the very beginning with a book that really has nothing at all to do with any of the Bruce Willis films….

Continue reading “Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Die Hard!”

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 unsold 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 to 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!