Monday, February 29, 2016

Musical Monday - Beam Down by Five Year Mission

I have mixed feelings about this song.

The redhead and I go to Gen Con in Indianapolis, Indiana every year. One of the highlights of the convention has always been attending the performance of Five Year Mission, the greatest Star Trek tribute band ever to take the stage, as they have participated in the convention's music program every year. Sadly, this year we will miss them. Not because we are not going to Gen Con, but rather because Five Year Mission won't be there.

Why not? Have they offended some convention staffer at Gen Con? Have they suddenly become too unpopular to deserve a place in the Gen Con lineup? No. They have instead become so popular that for the third time, the Star Trek Las Vegas Convention has asked them to be the convention's house band. And this time, they are there for the big fiftieth anniversary celebration. While that's great for the band, and that makes me happy, it means that we won't be able to see them at Gen Con, and that makes me sad.

On the other hand, from this video, it looks like there are a lot of very enthusiastic Star Trek fans who will be beaming down to the Star Trek Las Vegas Convention, and I hope they will appreciate Five Year Mission as much as the redhead and I do.

Previous Musical Monday: Come Home (Cardinal Pell) by Tim Minchin
Subsequent Musical Monday: Protocol (C-3PO's Lament) by the Doubleclicks

Five Year Mission     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Book Blogger Hop February 26th - March 3rd: The Vickers Type 143 Was a British Single-Seat Biplane

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do your children, siblings, or other family members enjoy reading as much as you do?

Many people in my family are avid readers. My parents and my siblings both read a considerable amount, as do several of my nieces and nephews, but they don't seem to pursue it with as much enthusiasm as I do. The only person in my family who reads as voraciously as I do is the redhead, who shares my library and even writes book reviews on occasion. She doesn't read quite as much as I do, but it is really close, and if I were to slow down by even a little bit, she would surpass me.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, February 26, 2016

Follow Friday - The Youngest Sole Roman Emperor Gordian II Was Killed in 244 A.D.

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Read All the Things.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Ten Reasons You Read Your Favorite Genre.

My favorite genre is definitely science fiction, with fantasy sitting in position as a close second.
  1. Spaceships. I love spaceships and everything about stories about sapceships. From massive generation ships that take thousands of years to travel the vast distances between the stars to faster-than-light battleships of the sky, if you have a spaceship in your book, that's a good way to get me hooked on it.
  2. The sense of wonder engendered by characters trying to figure out big dumb objects. There are so many stories like Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama where the characters are confronted by the unknown, and have to try to understand it.
  3. Space. I also love space. I almost feel cold when I am reading a story set in space. Unless the story takes place near a star, then the story feels hot.
  4. Science fiction allows authors to take on social and political topics that would normally be almost too controversial to address by using genre tropes as a metaphor.
  5. Science fiction explores what might have happened if the past had been just a little bit different. What if Babbage's difference engine had been built? What if dinosaurs had had an advanced technological society that sent astronauts into space millions of years ago? What if there was a parallel universe in which Neanderthals became the dominant hominid?
  6. Science fiction explores the effects that technology might have on human society. What would happen if there were people who actually were telepaths? What would happen if humans could teleport? How would banking work if humans had colonies scattered across star systems?
  7. Aliens. Science fiction often asks how an alien intelligence would regard humanity. Suppose aliens found humans to be incredibly foolhardy in the way we develop technology? Suppose aliens found humans to be unacceptably violent? Suppose, as in James Blish's novel A Case of Conscience, aliens had no concept of God or anything relating to beliefs like the afterlife?
  8. Cyberpunk. All the way back to books like Samuel R. Delany's Nova (and before then), science fiction authors have been examining what will happen to humanity as society becomes increasingly affected by mechanization and computerization.
  9. Ursula K. Le Guin. Even if I didn't have any other reasons to like science fiction, I would read the genre simply because of her writing.
  10. Jetpacks.

Follow Friday     Home

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Biased Opinion - Why Sad Puppy Complaints Aren't Taken Seriously

Stephanie S at The Right Geek, has some thoughts that she has titled Opening a Moderate Conversation with "Standback". Despite claiming to want a "moderate" conversation, her post is largely just a repetition of tired and false sad Puppy claims. For example, in the middle of her decidedly non-moderate tirade, Stephanie claims:
Others, meanwhile, have repeatedly called us vile and defamatory names in some very high profile venues and have yet to retract their statements.
The Sad Puppies have been called misogynistic. They have been called racist. And they have been called homophobic. The problem is that the Sad Puppies have earned those labels. Many of the Sad Puppy leaders and the prime Sad Puppy advocates have displayed varying degrees of these sorts of attitudes. Just to name a few offenders in this vein, Brad Torgersen, Michael Z. Williamson, John C. Wright all published commentary during the 2015 Sad Puppy campaign that was either sexist, racist, or homophobic, or all three. Some of the works nominated by the Sad Puppy slate - such as Transhuman and Subhuman - were homophobic and misogynistic in and of themselves. Stephanie S may not think of herself as a sexist, a racist, or a homophobe, but by identifying as a Sad Puppy, she is saying that she is willing to support sexism, racism, and homophobia.

Stephanie seems to have confused "accurately describing specific Puppies" with "defamation". The problem is that to be defamatory, a statement has to be untrue, and the sexism, racism, and homophobia of many Puppies has been extensively documented. To put it bluntly, you don't get to sign on to a campaign headed by someone prone to claiming that all previous winners only did so because of some sort of affirmative action, and then claim that it is unfair that your group of slate proponents is described as being racist and sexist. She goes on to make this rather dubious claim:
And lastly, there's a objective double standard in the way the opposing trolls are treated. While the Sad Puppies are urged to denounce Vox Day and other malefactors, Requires Hate continues to be published in Clarkesworld with nary an acknowledgement of the contradiction.
But there is no double standard. What there is is Stephanie making a false equivalence. Vox Day, also known as Theodore Beale, was intimately tied into the Sad Puppy campaigns of 2014 and 2015. Leaving Beale's complementary Rabid Puppy campaign aside, there is the fact that his work Opera Vita Aeterna was on the Sad Puppy slate in 2014. In 2015, several works placed on the Sad Puppy slate (and subsequently pushed onto the Hugo ballot) were published and edited by Beale. Beale is woven into the fabric of the Sad Puppy campaign at a fundamental level. By supporting the Sad Puppies, Stephanie was directly supporting Beale. When Sad Puppies are urged to repudiate Beale, they are being urged to disentangle themselves from an individual that their slating campaigns have explicitly supported and promoted.

On the other hand, Requires Hate, also known as Benjanun Sriduangkaew, is primarily published by a single editor - Neil Clark at Clarkesworld. Since her identity as Requires Hate came to light, Sriduangkaew has not been nominated for any awards, and Clark and the handful of other outlets that have published her stories have received some criticism from fan-related corners for continuing to publish her work. When published a story by Sridungkaew, the resulting comments were almost universally negative about their choice to do so. Of course, the question of who is publishing Sridungkaew is mostly orthogonal to whether non-Puppy fandom has rejected her - a point that Stephanie elides past.2 In 2015, one of the few non-Puppies on the Hugo Ballot was Laura J. Mixon for Best Fan Writer based entirely upon her expose that cataloged Sriduankaew's activities as Requires Hate. Mixon won the Hugo for her efforts. Fandom doesn't need to repudiate Sriduangkaew because fandom already has repudiated Sriduangkaew. When the actual facts concerning Beale and Sriduangkaew and the relating of Puppies and fandom to them are laid out, it becomes clear that Stephanie is being disingenuous at best when she claims there is an "objective double standard".

Even though the rest of Stephanie's post is riddled with similar falsehoods and a narrative consisting of debunked Puppy talking points, that's not the interesting part of her commentary. First she says this:
Let's talk first about what I like to call the "pre-history" of the Sad Puppies. For the past fifteen years (at least), the character of fandom has shifted in a way that many Puppies find very troubling -- and by the way, for the vast majority of our number, this has nothing to do with race, gender, or sexuality.
Let's leave aside the disingenuous claims about the Sad Puppy slating campaign having nothing to do with race, gender, or sexuality. We'll also leave aside her vague hand-waving complaints about "codes of conduct" and alleged "shit lists", although one might note that one reason the Sad Puppies don't get taken seriously is that their complaints tend to be just that sort of vague and hand-wavy griping that is entirely lacking in substance. This important part here is that she gives a time frame: Fifteen years.

Stephanie is a little unclear on exactly when she thinks the Puppy slating campaign began, or whether by "the past fifteen years" she means the fifteen years before the date she published her post or the fifteen years before the Sad Puppy slates started appearing, or if she means after the first Sad Puppy slate (which a lot of Puppies seem to think doesn't count) but before the second one, or if she means something else. In any event, this is a more concrete time frame than most Sad Puppies give, so it is at least something to work with.1 Stephanie then talks about fiction a bit:
Over the same time frame, the Puppies have also become concerned about the artistic direction of our field. The "Human Wave" movement, the "Superversive" movement, and the more generalized complaints about "message fic" and "grey goo" that started gaining steam before last year's Sad Puppies campaign are all flailing attempts by the Puppies to describe the flatness we've perceived in many recent award winners -- particularly in the shorter fiction categories, where the stylistic sophistication and emotional catharsis beloved by creative writing professors and MFA programs the world over appear to be crowding out more accessible stories with identifiable plots and recognizably science-fictional ideas.
The problem here is that although Stephanie has set a date range for when she thinks the science fiction field went wrong, she gives no specifics. But what we can do in response is ask for clarification. One of the common threads that runs through many of the sets of Sad Puppy whining about awards is that in recent years, such awards have been rewarding, as Stephanie puts it, "message fiction" and "grey goo". What is almost always remarkably absent from such Puppy screeds is exactly which works have been honored that aren't "accessible stories with identifiable plots and recognizably science-fictional ideas".

Many Sad Puppies like to point to Rachel Swirsky's If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love, or John Chu's The Water That Fall On You from Nowhere as sparks that set them onto the path of joining an unethical campaign to back a politically motivated slate of works, but the recognition of both of those works took place in 2014, and thus post-dates the creation of the Sad Puppy slate campaigns. Chu's work also has a readily identifiable plot, and a recognizably fantastical idea (the Hugos are intended to recognize both science fiction and fantasy works). Some Sad Puppies gripe about John Scalzi's Redshirts, but that book doesn't match what Stephanie claims is the problem with recent awards either, since it is a story that uses one of the classic works of science fiction - Star Trek - as a jumping-off place to tell a quite well-defined story. In addition, Redshirts won a Hugo in 2013, which, as with the previously mentioned pair of works, also post-dates the beginning of the Sad Puppy slate campaigns.

This brings us back to the somewhat ambiguous nature of Stephanie's statement about the "pre-history" of the Sad Puppies. If the fifteen year period she describes is supposed to be the fifteen years prior to the creation of the Sad Puppy slate campaign by Larry Correia, then she is referring to the fifteen year period in which awards were handed out prior to 2013, or specifically 1998 through 2012. On the other hand, if she means the fifteen year period prior to the 2015 Sad Puppy slate campaign that dominated the Hugo ballot, then she is referring to a period from 2000 to 2014. The second version seems a little off, due to the line about the "pre-history" of the Sad Puppies, because including two years in which there were Sad Puppy campaigns doesn't seem at all like "pre-history". To be inclusive, I'm going to resolve this by actually looking to the seventeen year period, ranging from 1998 to 2014.

Which brings me to my question: Which Hugo winners (and Stephanie specifically talks about winners) over this time period have been "grey goo" or "message fiction"? Which have not been stories with identifiable plots and recognizably science fictional ideas? To help out, I'll list the Best Novel winners for the seventeen year period in question:

1998: Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman
1999: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
2000: A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge
2001: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
2002: American Gods by Neil Gaiman
2003: Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer
2004: Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
2005: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
2006: Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
2007: Rainbow's End by Vernor Vinge
2008: The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon
2009: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
2010: (tie) The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
          (tie) The City & the City by China Miéville
2011: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis
2012: Among Others by Jo Walton
2013: Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi
2014: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Over seventeen years, there have been eighteen winners. There is a story about teen-aged wizards, a story about gods living in the United States, a story about alternate dimensions, a post-apocalyptic story, a time travel story, a story about the singularity, a couple of alternate histories, and on and on. These stories are all quite firmly rooted in science fiction, and if any of them are "message fiction", they aren't any heavier on the message than dozens of winners before them. Stephanie did say that what concerned her most was in the short fiction categories, so let's see what won for Best Novella between 1998 and 2014:

1998: . . . Where Angels Fear to Tread by Allen M. Steele
1999: Oceanic by Greg Egan
2000: The Winds of Marble Arch by Connie Willis
2001: The Ultimate Earth by Jack Williamson
2002: Fast Times at Fairmont High by Vernor Vinge
2003: Coraline by Neil Gaiman
2004: The Cookie Monster by Vernor Vinge
2005: The Concrete Jungle by Charles Stross
2006: Inside Job by Connie Willis
2007: A Billion Eves by Robert Reed
2008: All Seated on the Ground by Connie Willis
2009: The Erdmann Nexus by Nancy Kress
2010: Palimpsest by Charles Stross
2011: The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang
2012: The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson
2013: The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson
2014: Equoid by Charles Stross

Looking at this list, I see an award dominated by quite mainstream science fiction. Maybe Stephanie can point out which of these seventeen stories she thinks are "grey goo" that don't contain recognizable science fictional (or fantasy) elements. Maybe the Best Novelette category will be rife with examples of non-science fictional "grey goo":

1998: We Will Drink a Fish Together . . . by Bill Johnson
1999: Taklamakan by Bruce Sterling
2000: 1016 to 1 by James Patrick Kelly
2001: Millennium Babies by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
2002: Hell Is the Absence of God by Ted Chiang
2003: Slow Life by Michael Swanwick
2004: Legions in Time by Michael Swanwick
2005: The Faery Handbag by Kelly Link
2006: Two Hearts by Peter S. Beagle
2007: The Djinn's Wife by Ian McDonald
2008: The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate by Ted Chiang
2009: Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear
2010: The Island by Peter Watts
2011: The Emperor of Mars by Allen M. Steele
2012: Six Months, Three Days by Charlie Jane Anders
2013: The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi by Pat Cadigan
2014: The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Huh. What are all of these stories about space, cyberpunk, and monsters doing among these award winners? Stephanie was quite clear that awards were being infested with "grey goo" "message fiction" that had neither identifiable plots or recognizably science-fictional ideas. There's even a Lovecraft-inspired story in this bunch. Maybe in the Short Story category we'll see a lot of non-speculative fiction being honored:

1998: The 43 Antarean Dynasties by Mike Resnick
1999: The Very Pulse of the Machine by Michael Swanwick
2000: Scherzo with Tyrannosaur by Michael Swanwick
2001: Different Kinds of Darkness by David Langford
2002: The Dog Said Bow-Wow by Michael Swanwick
2003: Falling Onto Mars by Geoffrey A. Landis
2004: A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman
2005: Travels with My Cats by Mike Resnick
2006: Tk 'tk 'tk by David D. Levine
2007: Impossible Dreams by Tim Pratt
2008: Tideline by Elizabeth Bear
2009: Exhalation by Ted Chiang
2010: Bridesicle by Will McIntosh
2011: For Want of a Nail by Mary Robinette Kowal
2012: The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
2013: Mono no Aware by Ken Liu
2014: The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere by John Chu

Except we don't. There are a couple of stories here that could be called literary in nature, which may be what Stephanie is referring to as "grey goo", but this list is dominated by fairly straightforward science fiction and fantasy stories. Until a Sad Puppy specifically highlights which of these winners have been somehow lacking in science fiction or fantasy bona fides, or plot, or how they amount to "grey goo", the only thing one can conclude is that there is no substance to their vague hand-waving complaints. I know this sounds like a broken record, but the point is that one of the reasons that the Sad Puppy claims get so little respect is that they are so obviously rooted in something other than reality. I suspect this is why the Sad Puppies always seem to make their claims about how the science fiction field has gone wrong in such generalities: Because when one actually looks at the facts, their claims simply don't add up. I suspect the other reason is that many Sad Puppies simply haven't read the fiction they are condemning as problematic, and are speaking almost entirely out of ignorance, but that's a question for another day.

So now that a specific time-period and a specific set of stories have been identified, the question is what exactly is Stephanie talking about? Which specific stories are "message fiction"? Which are "grey goo"? Which ones have the "stylistic sophistication and emotional catharsis beloved by creative writing professors and MFA programs the world over" (and why is that a bad thing) and are they indeed "crowding out more accessible stories with identifiable plots and recognizably science-fictional ideas"? This is the challenge to Sad Puppies in general, and Stephanie specifically: Identify the specific stories that have won Hugo Awards that you think are a problem, and show that they are predominating over more standard science fiction and fantasy fare. There are sixty-nine stories listed that won Hugo Awards between 1998 and 2014. Pointing to a handful as your examples doesn't actually make Stephanie's case. You need to point to a sufficient number of winning stories that one could conceivably call their collective set of victories a "trend" or "direction". I doubt any Sad Puppy will be able to rise to this challenge.

Finally, I point to this passage from Stephanie's post:
. . . prominent fannish critics have definitely been agitating against any "traditional" authors who happen to be short-listed. When Larry Correia was nominated for the Campbell back in 2011, for example, one such critic hyperbolically proclaimed that a win for Larry would "end writing forever."
The problem with this passage, like the problem with most of Stephanie's claims, is that nothing in it is true. No critic every said that Correia winning would "end writing forever". There is no such quote anywhere other than on Puppy-related blogs where the writer complains about the unattributed quote. No one ever provides a link to or a citation for the "end writing forever" quote, because there isn't one. It appears to be a quote that Correia invented as part of his "woe-is-me" routine when launching the original Sad Puppy campaign, and which has since become an accepted, and never questioned, part of Puppy-lore.

As to Stephanie's other claim that "prominent fannish critics have definitely been agitating against any 'traditional' authors who have been short listed", one only has to look at the lists of winning authors from the time period she has identified as problematic to see this is simply poppycock. While there may have been some criticism of them or their works, it seems to have been ineffective at preventing "traditional" science fiction authors such as James Patrick Kelly, Bruce Sterling, Brandon Sanderson, Vernor Vinge, Michael Resnick, and Robert Reed (among others) from winning Hugo Awards. To the extent that there have been critics agitating against "traditional" authors (which is a dubious claim, since the only support Stephanie gives for it is a quote that appears to have been fabricated), they have been remarkably ineffective at preventing those traditional authors from winning Hugo Awards on a regular basis.

The simple truth is that all Stephanie's "moderate" conversation has shown is that the Sad Puppy complaints are built on a foundation of sand. There is simply no substance to them. When one gets past all of the vague assertions and works one's way to the actual facts, there's nothing to support the grievances the Sad Puppies have advanced. What remains is the conclusion that the Sad Puppies are angry and disaffected because they want to be angry and disaffected, and nothing more. In the end, the reason that pretty much no one outside of the Puppy camp takes their complaints seriously, because there is nothing there to take seriously.

1 One might note that Stephanie has given herself a little wiggle room with the "at least" parenthetical. She says fifteen years, but that gives her the option to say that the things she is concerned about have been going on for longer. This is typical of Sad Puppy evasiveness, since their claims of how the character of award winners have been different for the last X number of years are inevitably wrong, and when someone points this out and shows that the award winners of the specified period are entirely in line with previous one, the time frame is changed from "X number of years" to "X plus 10" or some similar change.
2 As with many other Sad Puppy apologists, Stephanie S seems to routinely confuse professional publishers with fandom. This tendency on the part of the Sad Puppies to mix the two seems to be driven by the fact that the Sad Puppy slate campaigns have been (and continue to be) primarily driven by professionals in the field who appear to be using the efforts as part of a marketing campaign. Neil Clark continuing to publish Benjanun Srindungkaew doesn't really reflect on fandom, because fandom only has a mild influence on what Clark decides to publish or not publish. Sad Puppies placing works that Beale wrote, edited, or published on their slate and voting them onto the Hugo ballot reflects directly upon the Sad Puppies.

Biased Opinions     Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, February 22, 2016

Musical Monday - Come Home (Cardinal Pell) by Tim Minchin

Earlier today, it was reported that the Robert Carlson, the Archbishop of St. Louis, urged Catholic parishes in his area to cut ties with the Girl Scouts. It seems that the Archbishop discovered that the organization, dedicated to teaching girls to become leaders, was filled with ideas about treating women as actual people who could control things like their own reproduction. Carlson's admonition questioned whether the Girl Scouts did a good job of "forming the spiritual, emotional, and personal well-being of Catholic girls?"

Let's take a moment to remember what kind of organization Carlson is part of, and what kind of morally bankrupt shit stain he actually is. While being deposed concerning his time as the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul as part of a lawsuit against the Twin Cities archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona, Minnesota, he was asked whether he had known it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a child. His response was, "I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not." Let me repeat that: Carlson, who questions whether the Girl Scouts are doing a good job at teaching girls, claims that he didn't understand that adult priests having sex with children was a crime. Just think about that for a minute.

Which brings us to Tim Minchin's song about Cardinal Pell, the current cardinal of Australia and formerly the Archbishop of Sydney, who is currently hiding in Rome so he doesn't have to explain the child abuse he is alleged to have excused under his watch in front of a commission of inquiry. Pell claims to be too ill to travel, and the commission will question him in Rome, far from where his alleged crimes took place, forcing the victims of child abuse to travel to attend. In short, Pell is compounding the abuse suffered by people at the hands of priests under his supervision by making them travel for justice, pretty much because he is too scared to return to his home country to face the music.

At some point in history, the Catholic Church may not have been a force for evil. That time has long passed. From their opposition to contraception and gay marriage, to their imposition of ridiculous and life-endangering standards for use in their hospitals, to their cover-up of systemic child abuse, the Catholic Church has revealed itself to be a corrupt and morally bankrupt organization. As a result of both his own bullshit claim to not know it is illegal to have sex with children and his membership in an organization that long since proved itself to be vile, the human garbage pile named Carlson has zero standing to criticize the guidance the Girl Scouts are giving to its members. More than that, Carlson isn't even as good as the shit that a Girl Scout might scrape off of the bottom of her shoe.

Previous Musical Monday: Tomorrow Belongs to Me by Mark Lambert
Subsequent Musical Monday: Beam Down by Five Year Mission

Tim Minchin     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, February 21, 2016

2016 Nebula Award Nominees

Location: Chicago, Illinois.

Comments: With the Sad and Rabid Puppies engaged in unethical slate tactics in the nominations for Hugo Awards over the last couple of years in order to place works of inferior quality onto that award's ballot, the Nebula Awards have begun to loom larger and larger on the award scene. The simple truth of awards is that damaging the quality of one award only serves to direct people's attentions elsewhere, and should the Hugo Awards continue to be dominated by a group that is bound and determined to treat it as a crony-driven marketing opportunity, no one will pay them much mind any more. What will happen is that people will look to awards such as the BSFA Award, the Locus Awards, and the Nebula Awards.

For their part, the Nebula Award voters seem to have stepped up the the challenge, and have nominated an excellent collection of works for consideration in 2016. Up and down the ballot there are works of superior quality for a fan to choose from. There is even a book published by Baen Books - Charles Gannon's Raising Caine - a work by an author whose repeated nominations for this award puts the lie to the oft-heard claim that Baen-published authors are routinely snubbed in award honors. The truth is, no matter what the Puppies of either stripe do, they will never accomplish what they claim their objectives are for the simple fact that fans will flow away from them to venues that remember that the objective of awards is to reward quality, rather than to reward spiteful political organizations.

Best Novel

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Other Nominees:
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Raising Caine by Charles E. Gannon
Updraft by Fran Wilde

Best Novella

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Other Nominees:
The Bone Swans of Amandale by C.S.E. Cooney
The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman T. Malik
Waters of Versailles by Kelly Robson
Wings of Sorrow and Bone by Beth Cato

Best Novelette

Our Lady of the Open Road by Sarah Pinsker

Other Nominees:
And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead by Brooke Bolander
Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds by Rose Lemberg
The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society by Henry Lien

Best Short Story

Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong

Other Nominees:
Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer (reviewed in Clarkesworld: Issue 100 (January 2015))
Damage by David D. Levine
Madeleine by Amal El-Mohtar
When Your Child Strays From God by Sam J. Miller

Ray Bradbury Award

Mad Max: Fury Road

Other Nominees:
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Jessica Jones: AKA Smile
The Martian
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Andre Norton Award


Other Nominees:
Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
Court of Fives by Kate Elliott
Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Seriously Wicked by Tina Connolly
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

Go to previous year's nominees: 2015
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2017

Book Award Reviews     Home

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Book Blogger Hop February 19th - February 25th: Aemilius Papinianus, the Greatest Roman Jurist, Was Born in 142 A.D.

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you have a favorite place to read?

Having a favorite place to read would suggest that I don't read pretty much everywhere I go. As I've noted before, I do a lot of my reading while commuting, but I am prone to pull out a book and start reading at almost any moment. I read a fair amount while sitting at my desk at home. I often read during my lunch break at work. I read while standing in line at the post office, or any other time I am waiting. I always carry a book with me to do some reading during "down time", and usually carry a second back-up book as well just in case I finish the first one. I guess the answer to the question "do I have a favorite place to read" is simply "wherever I happen to be". That's not a very illuminating answer, but it is the answer I have.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: 141 Is a Blum Integer

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Follow Friday - A Single Venusian Day Is as Long as 243 Earth Days

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - None this week.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging because I wanted a project that would make me write more. It didn't work out very well for the first few years - I didn't really have any focus so I didn't post very often, which kind of defeated the purpose of having a blog. After about two years, I started posting reviews on this blog, and that pretty much did the trick as far as keeping me writing on a regular basis.

Follow Friday     Home

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Review - These Are the Voyages: TOS, Season Three by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn

Short review: NBC moves Star Trek to a terrible time slot, cuts its budget, and makes ridiculous demands. Roddenberry quits in a rage. Freiberger takes over, and many terrible episodes and a series cancellation ensue.

The Way to Eden
plus And the Children Shall Lead,
Wow, these are awful

Full review: There is almost no doubt in the mind of any fan of the series that the third season of Star Trek was its weakest. Any list of the worst episodes of the series is certain to be dominated by ones from this season. Any list of the best episodes of the series is highly unlikely to have any drawn from the third season's offerings. When one evaluates the series as a whole, even the best episodes of this season are mediocre, making "pretty good for a third season episode" a statement that damns with faint praise. This does not mean, however, that volume three of These Are the Voyages is a bad book. In fact, it is the best of the series, as it shows in almost excruciating detail the collection of decisions that led to the show's demise. Contained within this book is a detailed look at the awful nature of television production, revealing a sight that is both sobering and fascinating.

This third and final volume of Cushman's series about the original Star Trek follows what by now is a familiar pattern to readers. Most of the book's pages are taken up with chapters about the individual episodes of the season, with a couple chapters at the beginning of the book detailing what happened after the letter writing campaign described at the end of volume two but before production began, and a couple of chapters discussing the events that took place after the set was wrapped on the final episode Turnabout Intruder, and an interstitial chapter concerning the mid-season break. Each of the episode-oriented chapters opens with a summary, then moves to now-familiar sections titled "Quotes", "Assessment", "The Story Behind the Story", "Pre-Production", "Production", "Post-Production", 'Release/Reception", and sometimes "From the Mailbag", and 'Memories". One change, reflecting the poor quality of many of the shows produced this season is the section concerning script development, titled 'The Story Behind the Story" in previous volumes, is frequently subtitled "What Were They Thinking" or "What Went Wrong" in this one.

For many of the episodes of this season, 'What Went Wrong" or "What Were They Thinking" is the appropriate question. Titles such as And the Children Shall Lead, Spock's Brain, The Way to Eden, and Let that Be Your Last Battlefield often elicit groans of disgust from fans of the show. Offerings such as Day of the Dove, The Savage Curtain, and Plato's Stepchildren aren't much better, and the "better" installments of the season such as The Enterprise Incident and Elaan of Troyius are too few and far between to provide much comfort. For a show that gave viewers such top notch material as The City on the Edge of Forever, The Menagerie, Trouble with Tribbles, and Mirror, Mirror, the plunge in quality was dramatic . . . and perplexing. In the first two seasons of the show there were a few missteps, but one could generally count on several good episodes for every clunker. When the third season rolled around, the bad shows dominated, and the good shows weren't actually so much "good" as they were "not quite as terrible as the terrible ones". What had happened to cause the show to drive off a metaphorical cliff like this?

The easy answer, and the one most fans seem to have gravitated to, is to blame the season's producer Fred Freiberger and be done with the question. To a certain extent, this answer is correct. As revealed in this volume, Freiberger was simply the wrong man for the job. He wasn't knowledgeable about the show he took over, and more critically, he didn't take the time to inform himself about it, watching only a handful of the shows produced in the first two seasons and, as D.C. Fontana notes in one chapter, he had apparently never even read the series bible. His instincts for scripts seem to have been weak as well as once the script assignments handed out by Roddenberry prior to the start of season three had run out, the ones commissioned by Freiberger generally ranged from uninspired to awful, and the handful that might have been interesting had any verisimilitude or excitement leached out of them by just enough rewrites to make the network happy and bring the show in under budget. In many cases he managed to offend and drive away talented writers like David Gerrold and D.C. Fontana. While working with new story consultant Arthur Singer (who once walked onto the transporter set and asked what it was supposed to do), Freiberger managed to get so far behind that some scripts had their final pages delivered after filming had been completed. When reading through the production diaries for the third season episodes is that what Freiberger never seems to have understood is that what made Star Trek work was creating a living and breathing world, not just filling air time. Freiberger seems to have been competent enough to helm a standard television show, but under his watch Star Trek became a pale and colorless shadow of its former self.

Blaming Freiberger for the misfire of the third season, while justified in many ways, places too much blame on him, and there is plenty of blame to go around. While Freiberger was a poor fit for the job and the decisions he made damaged the season tremendously, one must also look to the man who put him in the position to do so: Gene Roddenberry. In an effort to secure a better time slot for the show than the 8:30 to 9:30 Friday night position that it held during the second season, Roddenberry promised that he would be more active as producer and would write several of the episodes himself while giving the remaining script assignments to Gene Coon and D.C. Fontana. Given the fact that the executives at NBC really didn't like Roddenberry, this seems like something that would not be a particularly enticing offer, and instead of the 7:30 to 8:30 Monday night slot that Rodenberry expected, the network moved Star Trek to air from 10:00 to 11:00 on Fridays, what was normally regarded as a "death slot". In a fit of pique, Roddenberry essentially walked away from the show, remaining executive producer but abandoning the program in all but name. It was at this point that he passed over Robert Justman, who had been assistant producer since the show's inception, to bring in Freiberger to take over as producer. Through neglect, Roddenberry allowed Freiberger to exasperate D.C. Fontana and drive her away from the show. Roddenberry even managed to alienate John and Bjo Trimble by firing them from the mail order business he had started on the side so that Majel Barrett could take over, after which they abandoned any efforts at a new letter writing campaign to save the show. And so on. By acting as an absentee landlord, Roddenberry allowed the show he created to fall into disrepair and decay in the hands of people who simply didn't care about it as much as he and his team had in previous years.

The lion's share of the blame, however, falls on NBC and Paramount. Moving Star Trek to the "death slot" late on Friday night was their opening gambit in the long, slow execution of the series. But even in this time slot, it was not necessary for the show to drop in quality so precipitously. Unfortunately, NBC and Paramount saw to that by first cutting the per episode budget yet again (following a previous cut in prior seasons), and mandating an almost inflexible six-day no-overtime filming schedule that was almost impossible to meet. Directors who couldn't meet this schedule weren't invited back to direct additional episodes. Ralph Senensky was even fired halfway through the filming of The Tholian Web when he fell behind the production schedule by a half day. Because of the primacy placed upon keeping to the schedule, experienced directors familiar with the show were not rehired, and directors with reputations for working fast were brought in. Unfortunately, most of these new hires were unfamiliar with Star Trek and proved little better at keeping on schedule while turning out programs full of flat and uninteresting direction. These mandates were aimed at saving pennies, but resulted in episodes that were for the most part mediocre to miserable, and drove away viewers. The studio, while penny-wise, was pound-foolish.

Smaller budgets meant that there usually wasn't money to film on location or to build sets, resulting in many shows that were confined to the decks of the Enterprise. NBC clamored for more "planet" shows, but without the resources needed to make them, the production company was forced to ignore those requests. Budgetary concerns even changed the nature of scenes on the ship itself: Without money to hire background extras, many of the episodes for this season feature eerily empty corridors and painfully small landing parties. The network's efforts at killing the show didn't stop with reduced budgets and tight production schedules. The notes handed back from NBC's executives were all but guaranteed to result in a weaker and blander show. The network wanted action, but not only did the reduced budget mean that fewer set changes and fight sequences could be done, the executives continually sent back notes insisting that proposed battles be sanitized to an almost cartoonish level - in one case demanding that the results of a fight to the death be shown with dirty faces, but no blood. NBC wanted expensive episodes, but wasn't willing to pay for them. NBC wanted exciting episodes, but wasn't willing to allow exciting things to be put on screen. In the face of these contradictory demands and restrictions, it is no wonder that the show withered.

Oddly, even though NBC got what it ostensibly wanted - a Star Trek without the headaches caused by having to deal with Roddenberry that was produced on time and within budget - the network decided to cancel the show. What makes this decision somewhat perplexing is the fact that even with the slew of terrible episodes that are scattered through this season, the show had retained fairly good ratings, coming in second most weeks, and even taking the top slot away from CBS's Friday Night Movie a couple of times. At this juncture, the urgency of Cushman's continued campaign concerning the reality of Star Trek's ratings becomes clear. For three books Cushman has included every episode's Neilsen ratings, ostensibly showing time and again that the program was performing much better than fan lore would lead one to believe. But the real goal of this exercise only comes clear in the final chapters of this volume, as Cushman sets about documenting NBC's calculating dishonesty when interacting with fans disappointed by the show's cancellation. For years Herb Solow insisted that Star Trek only drew five million viewers per episode, asserting that shows that perform at that level simply don't get renewed. Cushman shows that Star Trek routinely drew at least twice that many viewers, and that Solow knew that, but lied anyway. Cushman presents the text of a deceptive letter NBC sent to fans who inquired about the show, misleading them into thinking that the show had been renewed when it had not. And Cushman presents details like a letter from NBC executive Stan Robertson to a fan in which Robertson flatly lies about how well the show had done in the ratings. As inexplicable as it seems, NBC cancelled a show that was performing better than anyone could have possibly expected despite its "death slot", and leaps and bounds better than they were willing to tell anyone. Fan lore concerning Star Trek's poor performance in the ratings is rooted in a deliberate lie told by NBC. The story of the cancellation of Star Trek isn't one of neglect and poor decisions. It is a story of a deliberate murder accompanied by a cynical cover-up.

These Are the Voyages: TOS, Season Three is a brilliant conclusion to an excellent series. Loaded with the same level of detail as the previous two volumes in the series, this contains the melancholy tale of the slow and deliberate death of something that started with such promise. By laying out the material in a methodical and comprehensive manner, Cushman tells a story that makes clear who the villains of the piece truly were, and the identities of the few heroes who kept things from falling apart entirely. For anyone who wondered how in the world The Paradise Syndrome or Turnabout Intruder ever got approved for production, this book is a gold mine of information. For anyone who has ever wondered what the process of killing off a show looks like, this book is a guided tour. And for anyone who loves Star Trek, this book, like the previous two volumes in the series, is a must read, although in this case, it is a must read that will probably anger the reader as much as it delights them.

Previous book in the series: These Are the Voyages: TOS, Season Two

Potential 2016 Hugo Nominees

Marc Cushman     Susan Osborn     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, February 15, 2016

Musical Monday - Tomorrow Belongs to Me by Mark Lambert

In this political season, many people have described Donald Trump as a fascist. To be fair to those who make such claims, his ideas and slogans do definitely lean in that direction. Combining scapegoating an entire religion, a promise to "make America great again", a clumsy and brutish approach to foreign affairs, and almost total ignorance of how government actually works, Trump is full of bad ideas drawn from the authoritarian fascist playbook.

Recently, a group called the "USA Freedom Kids" put together what can only be called a Donald Trump theme song. And this reveals that even though Trump is a fascist, he's a thuggish and cloddish authoritarian bully who isn't even as polished as the fascists of the 1930s. Granted, the "USA Freedom Kids" are a trio of preteen girls doing badly choreographed dance moves, but that is pretty much the point: Trump can't even get a campaign song for his events that has any polish or panache. To be blunt, Trump is less stylish than either Mussolini or Hitler.

And that is one of the things that makes Trump's rise so perplexing. One can now look back with hindsight and see the evil of the fascist movements of the 1930s, but when those political groups were on the rise they were presented in a sleek and attractive package. This music clip is from the movie rendition of the Broadway musical Cabaret, so it is a little bit fictionalized, but the presentation is reminiscent of the package that the Nazis showed the German people: Clean cut boys in sharp uniforms singing about a brighter future. Trump's brand, on the other hand, is more or less the thuggish bully who took kids lunch money in school and then made fun of them for their weakness.

Previous Musical Monday: Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie
Subsequent Musical Monday: Come Home (Cardinal Pell) by Tim Minchin

Cabaret     Musical Monday Playlists     Mark Lambert     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Book Blogger Hop February 12th - February 18th: 141 Is a Blum Integer

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Are you able to read in the car?

Yes. In fact, reading while traveling is part of my normal reading routine. I commute an hour each way to and from work, using public transportation, specifically a commuter bus that runs to and from locations in Loudoun County and Washington, D.C. I usually use this time to read, providing me with the potential for two hours of reading time per day. As one might expect, this is a substantial boon when it comes to keeping up with the pace of reading and reviewing for an active book blog such as this one. This simply would not be possible if I were unable to read in a moving vehicle.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Review - These Are the Voyages: TOS, Season Two by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn

Short review: A comprehensive series biography of season two of the original Star Trek series.

Gene Roddenberry,
D.C. Fontana, Gene Coon,
Made this season work

Full review: In volume one of this series, Marc Cushman took on season one of Star Trek. In this volume, he turns his attention to season two of the series, providing an extensive and detailed account of the development of the individual episodes that comprised it. This volume also includes background on the personnel changes and corporate changes that affected the course of the season, as well as the struggles to get bthe show renewed for seasons two and three, including an overview of the letter-writing campaign spearheaded by John and Bjo Trimble.

Following an introduction by Walter Koenig, this volume picks up right where the first left off, discussing the struggles the show faced in getting renewed for a second season. This section also includes information about the status of numerous scripts that were in various stages of development at this time, including a number that were never produced. After this, the book turns to discussing the preparations for the season itself, including the elevation of DeForest Kelly to being a series regular, the addition of Walter Koenig as Chekov to the cast, and the contentious negotiations with Leonard Nimoy in which the production company went so far as to tentatively cast a replacement Vulcan for the series.

The preliminaries taken care of, the book returns to the episode-by-episode format that those who had read the previous installment will be familiar with. Starting with Catspaw and running through Assignment: Earth, each episode of the season is given a thorough treatment starting with a brief summary, then going on to "Sound Bites" providing quotes from the show, followed by an "Assessment", in which Cushman gives his own evaluation of the finished product. Each chapter details the development of the script in "The Story Behind the Story", the selection of the director, casting of guest stars, and construction of sets in "Pre-Production", the filming of the episode in "Production", and then the editing, scoring, and effects in "Post-Production". Finally, Cushman covers the ratings for each episode and the critical reception in "Release and Reception", the feedback from fans in "From the Mailbag", and reminisces from both contemporary fans and those involved in the production in "Memories".

These episode accounts are the meat of the book, and constitute most of its page count. For someone interested in Star Trek, this is a gold mine of information, providing in-depth detail on almost every aspect of each episode of the second season of the show. But this book is more than the dry details of how each episode was made, it is a living document that allows the reader to follow along with the highs and lows of the cast and crew as they celebrate orders for additional shows, and react to rumors of cancellation with trepidation. The book also allows the reader to follow along with the overall course of the show in smaller ways as well, such as the sage of Shatner's slowly increasing (and then decreasing) waistline, and the efforts made to hide the enlarged gut by the costuming department.

Where the book really shines is showing how the combination of Gene Roddenberry, Gene Coon, D.C. Fontana, and to a lesser extent John Meredyth Lucas, shaped and guided the show for the season, for better and, at times, for worse. The detailed accounts of the development of the various scripts, including notes and memos from all of the involved parties, reveal whose fingers were on each particular episode and exactly how they felt about them. In many cases, the various members of the production staff were of like minds concerning a particular script, but in many others, they had wildly differing opinions. What is especially interesting is to see just how often it was Roddenberry whose instincts were quite simply dead wrong. If Roddenberry had his way, fondly loved stand-out episodes such as Mirror, Mirror, I, Mudd, and Trouble with Tribbles would have never made it to the screen, or if they had, they would have been dramatically different.

As the book makes clear, much of what made Star Trek into the long-running phenomenon that it has become is traceable to the efforts of Gene Coon and D.C. Fontana, who injected much-needed humor into the series, and most notably developed the friendly sparring relationship between Spock and McCoy. These efforts weren't opposed by Roddenberry at absolutely every turn, but it was close. Without Coon and Fontana, the series would have been much more dour and stern, and I suspect, probably would have fared much more poorly over the years. On the other hand, Roddenberry's own track record was decidedly mixed, as he pushed some stories that were among the weaker ones of the season, including the terrible episode The Omega Glory.

In some ways, the story behind the development of The Omega Glory encapsulates the relationship between Roddenberry and NBC. This script was among the three that Roddenberry originally proposed as the "second pilot" following NBC's rejection of The Cage. After NBC wisely suggested that the script be shelved, Roddenberry begrudgingly set it aside, but then continued to farm it out to be tinkered with, and then tinkered with it himself, trying to mold it into a usable form. Finally, against the advice of Robert Justman, D.C. Fontana, and essentially everyone else associated with Star Trek, Roddenberry put the script on the production schedule without getting approval from NBC, or even telling them. Needless to say, NBC was nonplussed, but Roddenberry was enraptured by the script and put all of his credibility on the line. When one reads about NBC's reluctance to renew the series for a third season, these sorts of shenanigans by Roddenberry make it clear why they felt that way.

The book makes clear that the show's struggles were not all the result of self-inflicted wounds. Both the production company and the network bear a substantial share of blame. Desilu, in financial trouble as a result of producing expensive shows such as Mission Impossible and Star Trek, was sold to Paramount halfway through the season, at which point the show's budget was cut yet again. In addition, Paramount insisted that the production schedule be shortened, effectively reducing the filming schedule for a complicated show that often ran long to a mere five and a half days of work per episode. These troubles seem somewhat minor compared to the travails imposed upon the series by NBC, first moving the show from Thursdays to a much less desirable slot on Fridays, and then surrounding the program with other shows that were almost putrid in quality. Most damaging was NBC's start-and-stop approach to the production of the show, first ordering sixteen episodes, then waiting until the last minute to purchase two more, and then waiting until the last possible moment yet again to place an order for a further eight. With the entire show under near constant threat of cancellation, developing scripts ready to be put into production was incredibly difficult, and morale on the set was low.

By telling the story of the series in an episodic format, Cushman is able to walk the reader through all of these developments in a step-by-step manner that is easy to follow along with. As a result, when Gene Coon departs from the show, his reasons for doing so are readily apparent. When Shatner and Nimoy cross swords with various writers, one can easily understand their position - and the position of the writers on the other side of the debate. One quirk in the presentation is that among the details presented, Cushman provides what amounts to a "what was happening in pop culture" update in conjunction with the production of each show, telling the reader, among other things, what songs and movies were most popular when the cast and crew started filming the episode. But this information seems almost out of place, as one would expect a pop culture phenomenon like Star Trek should be put into context with what was popular when it aired, not a couple of months earlier when it was filmed. Cushman also continues to flog the fact that Star Trek performed better in the ratings than fan mythology would lead one to believe, but some of his assertions seem to be stretching the facts a bit, and even though much of what he says is probably true, it does get a bit tiresome after the first dozen or so times the point is made.

Aside from these admittedly quite minor criticisms, These Are the Voyages: TOS, Season Two is an excellent piece of work. Covering topics ranging from the decisions concerning renewing the show for the second season, to the development of scripts (and an account of the many unproduced scripts), the interactions between the cast and fans, and the battles between the production team, the production company, and the network, there is something for almost everyone in this volume. This book even contains an entire chapter devoted to the unprecedented letter writing campaign spearheaded by John and Bjo Trimble that resulted in a third season renewal. These Are the Voyages is obviously appealing to hard core Star Trek fans, but it will probably be of interest even to more casual fans of the series, or to those who are merely interested in television production or pop culture of the 1960s. Quite simply, this is an excellent and detailed account of the cultural phenomenon that was Star Trek, and is, as Spock would say "Fascinating".

Previous book in the series: These Are the Voyages: TOS, Season One
Subsequent book in the series: These Are the Voyages: TOS, Season Three

Marc Cushman     Susan Osborn     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, February 8, 2016

Musical Monday - Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie

#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: November 21, 1981 through November 28, 1981.

We live in an age of wonders.

Jenny Lind, also called the Swedish Nightingale, was one of the most popular opera singers of the nineteenth century. After a successful career in Europe, P.T. Barnum brought her to the United States for a series of concerts, where her performances earner her several hundred thousand dollars. Lind is believed to have been the inspiration for at least three of Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tales. Despite her fame, some critics of her day were critical of her abilities, comparing her unfavorably to some of her less celebrated peers. That said, the fact that she was one of the most famous celebrities of her day is undeniable.

But here is the tragedy: We have no idea what she sounded like. She may have recorded a primitive phonographs disc for Thomas Edison, but if she did, it was lost, and in any event would have been too crude and too long after she retired to actually provide any useful information about her talents. Like so many other performing artists of her era and before, she has been lost to us. There are literally thousands of years of singers, musicians, and actors whose contributions to the culture of their day have been lost to the mists of time. For most of human history, once a singer stopped singing, once a musician stopped playing, and once an actor stopped acting, their artistic voice went silent forever. As with Jenny Lind, we have records of the existence of many such artists, but we cannot reach across the gulf of time and see the work that made them famous. If you were an author, we can read your stories hundreds of years after you died. If you were a historian, we can still read your academic works. If you were a newspaper reporter in the nineteenth century, we still can read your articles. But if you were one of the most celebrated singers of the 1850s, your voice has been forever silenced.

But that era of human history is now over. Freddie Mercury died in 1991. David Bowie died in 2016. They didn't actually appear together in the video provided. And yet we can not only hear their performances in their famous duet, we can see them take the stage. Well, a virtual stage constructed out of disparate clips anyway. The salient point is, short of the collapse of human civilization, we will always have performances by Freddie Mercury and David Bowie that are accessible to us. The artists may be dead, but their art will live forever.

Previous Musical Monday: Shore Leave by Five Year Mission
Subsequent Musical Monday: Tomorrow Belongs to Me by Mark Lambert

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic by the Police
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Begin The Beguine (Volver A Empezar) by Julio Iglesias

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Queen     David Bowie     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Friday, February 5, 2016

Review - These Are the Voyages: TOS, Season One by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn

Short review: A comprehensive series biography of the first season of the original Star Trek, complete with biographies of the people involves, and accounts of the making of every episode.

Fifty years ago
A new show was created
And changed television

Full review: The opening volume in a three book series, These Are the Voyages: TOS, Season One is a must read for committed Star Trek fans. Actually, this book is probably a must read even for slightly less dedicated fans of Star Trek, or even for those who are merely interested in the history of televised science fiction (or, more broadly, the history of television). This installment of These Are the Voyages contains a detailed history of the people behind the series, the development and sale of the series, and finally, the production of both pilot episodes and the twenty-eight remaining episodes of season one. While at least some of the information contained in this book has been published before, there has never been a comprehensive resource that compiles all of it into one place as this volume does.

These Are the Voyages is an incredibly detailed work, starting with a fairly extensive biography of Star Trek's creator and executive producer Gene Roddenberry. Cushman's treatment is methodical, working through the chronology of Roddenberry's life one step at a time, following him from combat airman on World War II, to Pan Am pilot to Los Angeles police officer, to television writer, to television producer. The book provides a similar biographical background for virtually every person who worked on Star Trek in any substantial capacity, although most are not nearly as extensive as that supplied for Roddenberry. As a general rule of thumb, the more important the person was to the show, the more extensive their background sketch is. In short, if you ever wanted to know a fair bit about the personal and professional history of, for example, the actress who played Yeoman Barrows in Shore Leave, then this is the book for you.

The book devotes a fair number of pages to Roddenberry's efforts to get a television series on the air, including background on his failed proposals, as well as material concerning his short-lived series The Lieutenant. The book then moves on to Roddenberry's pitch for Star Trek and his attempts to convince first Desilu executives and then network executives to put his brain-child on the air, both of whom were fairly skeptical. The book details the work that went into creating the first pilot The Cage, and then when that was rejected and the studio approved the unprecedented step of filming a second pilot, the book explains the process that led the show from how it looked in The Cage to how it looked in Where No Man Has Gone Before. The most important evolution that is covered in this section regards the changes to the crew and how they came about, as Leonard Nimoy playing Spock was the only cast member carried forward from The Cage to Where No Man Has Gone Before.

Though the sections detailing the production of the two pilot episodes, Cushman sets up the format that will be carried through the rest of the book. Each chapter covers one episode and starts with a brief synopsis of the episode, and frequently, a quote from TV Guide about it. Then there is a section titled "Sound Bites" consisting of a selection of quotes from the episode, followed by a brief "Assessment", giving Cushman's own evaluation of the episode as a whole. Each chapter then proceeds to the details of the development and production of each episode starting with "The Story Behind the Story", which identifies the scriptwriter for each script and the process that took their script from idea to being approved for production, then moving to "Pre-Production, which outlines the selection of the director for each episode, the casting decisions related to it, as well as set design, and then "Production", describing the day-by-day work on the episode. Finally, the chapter details "Post-Production", including the editing and scoring, but also (and in many cases, critically), the special effects work done for the series. After covering the production aspects of the featured episode, each chapter then goes on to "Release/Reaction", discussing the Nielsen ratings for each show, as well as the comments given by reviewers of the day, then to "From the Mailbag" which presents a few letters written to the series or one of the featured actors, and then sometimes a section titled "Memories" in which those associated with the production reminisce about making it.

Once this pattern is established, the book develops an easy rhythm as Cushman works his way through the two pilots and twenty-eight other episodes of the first season of the series. There is a break in this format to discuss the mid-season hiatus, and then a chapter at the end capping off the book, but otherwise, most of the book is presented in a fairly predictable manner. Rather than making this book dull, as one might expect, this regularity highlights the unique features about each episode. By comparing an episode with its peers, it becomes apparent where in the script development process The Alternative Factor went off the rails, or why The Corbomite Maneuver suffered the post-production delays that caused it to be repeatedly pushed back in the broadcast schedule. The descriptions provided are incredibly detailed, and include excerpts from internal production memos as various involved parties debate the cost and practicality of various script elements, and argue over whether an episode has enough action or not (with "action" mostly seeming to mean "some member of the crew gets into a fist fight") or whether an episode was too cerebral (with "cerebral" ending up meaning "an episode people who love Star Trek will love). These memo excerpts are supported by quotes from various individuals, either from interviews done for this book, or from other sources such as magazine and newspaper interviews.

Putting all of this material together makes some things quite clear about the series, or at least, the first season of the series. One important note is that there seems to have been very little connection between the cost of an episode and its quality. Some fairly poorly regarded episodes, such as The Galileo Seven were incredibly expensive, while others, like Tomorrow Is Yesterday, that are fondly remembered were brought in for a much more modest budget. One other thing that becomes readily apparent is that Star Trek's biggest proponent, Gene Roddenberry, was also one of its greatest weaknesses: His rather abrasive personality resulted in the show burning through large numbers of writers, directors, and staff members. While some friction with the network was almost inevitable with a show as experimental and expensive as Star Trek was, Roddenberry seems to have made things worse by at times intentionally thumbing his nose at the executives. On the other hand, there is no doubt but that some of the hurt feelings and bruised egos were the result of Roddenberry taking steps that improved the final product, in other cases he seems to have gotten involved just to have a hand in, and his involvement actually was detrimental and annoyed those he was working with for no good reason.

These details also show why the series developed as it did. They show how D.C. Fontana went from being a secretary to being a script writer to the show's story editor all in less than a single season. They show why John D.F. Black (who wrote the introduction to this volume) quit his staff position in disgust after Roddenberry rewrote several prominent writers, as well as one of Black's scripts, making them worse in Black's estimation. They show the importance of Shatner to the show, and how his abilities provided much of the drama infused into the show. They show how important the addition of Gene Coons was to the show, and how many of the elements that we now associate with Star Trek - the Federation, the Prime Directive, the humorous banter between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy - simply would not have been introduced to the show without his influence. They show just how petty and trivial many of the network concerns were - focusing on whether one could use a hypodermic needle to inject someone or not, or criticizing how brutal a fight was while clamoring for "action" at the same time. And they show just how expansive the vision some of the writers for the show had, and exactly how much had to be excised from their scripts to come close to fitting into the budget allocated for each episode. One thing the details also show is just how pervasive Westerns were in television programming of the mid-1960s. Virtually every actor with any experience who took a job on Star Trek had appeared in numerous televised Westerns, which probably accounts for the constant urging from then network to ramp up the fisticuffs.

The details also highlight just how shameful the network's treatment of Grace Lee Whitney, who appeared on several early episodes of the series as Yeoman Rand, truly was. By the middle of the first season, the network insisted that she be dropped from the show as a cost-cutting measure, insisting that her role could be filled by one-shot deals with individual actresses, possibly including Grace among their number from time to time, albeit at a reduced salary. Grace, however, told a much darker story, alleging that a network executive sexually assaulted her after a holiday party, and to cover it up, had her fired from the show. Buttressing the notion that someone associated with the production of the show had an ax to grind with the actress, her role in The Conscience of the King, her final contractually required episode, was reduced to little more than a walk-on. At several points after her contract ended, it was suggested that she be brought back for a particular episode, but each time this idea was quickly shot down. Adding insult to injury, immediately firing her for "cost-cutting" reasons, the network approved several scripts that turned out to be among the most expensive to produce in the season. In short, the material provided in the book shows just how shamefully Whitney was treated by the production, and just how little Roddenberry, famous for butting heads with the network, did to prevent it.

Another thing that is readily apparent from the material is just how prevalent Westerns were on television in the mid-1960s. Virtually every actor cast on Star Trek who had any amount of experience had appeared in numerous Westerns over the course of their career. DeForest Kelly, for example, had carved out something of a niche as a "heavy", with a career playing villainous characters in multiple Westerns. The dominance of the straightforward action adventure Western genre explains why there was so much pressure placed upon Star Trek's producers to add action to the show, and is also the probable explanation why virtually everyone was blind-sided by the popularity of Nimoy as Spock. Reading through the book it is obvious that no one expected Spock to be a popular character - network executives feared that his "Satanic" appearance would play badly in Southern markets, and even Nimoy was hesitant to take the part as he thought it would be cartoonish. But, like the show, this "cerebral" character proved to be wildly popular proving that a steady diet of fast paced adventure had been ignoring a possibly more intellectually inclined segment of the television viewing audience.

These Are the Voyages is not entirely without flaws. Cushman is almost obsessed with demonstrating that Star Trek did well in the ratings in its first season. He spends a fair amount of time first complaining about, and then attacking the myth that the show did poorly when it came to Nielsen ratings, and he backs up his argument with convincing evidence. The problem is that he belabors this point, returning to it time and again, even well after any reasonable person would have been convinced. Eventually, the constant harping on the fact that Star Trek had a strong viewership despite the belief that it did not becomes a little tiresome. Cushman is also quite clearly a fan of the series, which seems natural, as almost no one would write a book of this sort if they were not. Unfortunately, this means that his assessments of the various episodes, and his evaluations of the events surrounding the development and production of the show, are sometimes less than objective. It is clear that he tries to be as even-handed as possible, but even still there are times when he cannot prevent his inner fan from poking through, at which point the book veers from a biography of the show to a hagiography.

But these are minor quibbles. Taken as a whole, These Are the Voyages: TOS, Season One is a brilliant work of historical scholarship. Although much of this information has previously been available in some form or another, it has never been compiled together and organized into a cohesive whole as has been done here. Some of the information, such as the Nielsen data for the series, has never been made public before. Gluing all of these bits of historical trivia together is Cushman's text, weaving together what could have been a collection of dry details into a fast-flowing and engaging narrative. Anyone who is a Star Trek fan, or just a science fiction fan, should have this book on their shelf.

Subsequent book in the series: These Are the Voyages: TOS, Season Two

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